Monday, August 12, 2013

A Group Interview with the Editors of Queering Christianity - Part I

Why is the publication of Queering Christianity important at this moment in history—that is, how does it relate to today's news headlines or connect to contemporary questions or issues?

Robert Shore-Goss (RS): As the ghettoized church is drawing to an end, except for some geographic areas, it brings LGBTQI experience into dialogue with mainstream Christian denominations. At the recent UCC General Synod, the head of the Open and Affirming Churches (some 1,200 churches) indicated plans to recommend the book. There is a strong parallel between marriage equality and churches opening up to include LGBTQI people into their churches, ordaining them and marrying them. This has led an upsurge of gay/lesbian students in the seminaries.

Patrick Cheng (PC): LGBTQI issues have been in the headlines recently with the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California Proposition 8. Religious debates over LGBTQI issues remain hotly contested, however, and I believe that books such as Queering Christianity are important contributions to the broader conversations about LGBTQI issues.

Thomas Bohache (TB): In the public/civil/secular sphere we see more and more progress in rights for LGBTQI people. However, we do not see the same sort of progress in the religious sphere. This book I believe will open non-queer people to some points of view foreign to them; for queer people, the book will make them realize that they do indeed have a place at the table, even if they have not yet found it.

Neil Thomas (NT): In the changing religious and political scene, with the growing acceptance of LGBTQI peoples in mainline religious organizations, this book is both vital and timely in the ongoing understanding and evolution of God’s revealed Word.

Joseph Shore-Goss (JSG): As the marriage equality movement moves forward in the United States and in other countries there are still places where the LGBTQI community are still persecuted and even killed for being who they are…created and loved in God’s image. This book helps move that conversation forward…but more importantly, move it forward in a Christian context.

Megan More (MM): With the increased focus on the LGBTQI community regarding marriage equality and job protections, removing the stigma and dispelling the ignorance is more important than ever, especially when it comes to religion and dogma.

Joan Saniuk (JS): We are in the midst of an incredible sea change in the culture. The overturning of DOMA is a legal acknowledgment that LGBTQI people, and the families we form (or not), are for real. Queering Christianity gives voice to the experience, and wisdom, that this community has learned in the past half-century. It’s a perfect time to bring that wisdom out into the open.

What drew you to the topic of Queering Christianity? How does the topic relate to you personally?

PC: As an openly gay seminary professor and a queer theologian, I have written extensively about the intersections of theology, pastoral care, and the spiritual lives of LGBTQI people.

TB: Inclusivity is extremely important to me for it is the central message of Jesus. We cannot call ourselves followers of Christ if we do not embrace and encourage inclusivity across all boundaries. I am a gay man who was ejected from the table and told not to make a reservation again, so this topic is very dear to my heart. After 25 years of ministry to the LGBTQI community(ies), I see that it is still just as important as it was in my youth.

NT: As a pastor in Metropolitan Community Churches for the past 24 years, this is both my journey and my story to understand that God’s Word is queer, subversive, and includes me.

JSG: I have to admit my husband is an editor so I am close to the context to begin with. I had just finished my M.A. thesis on pastoral care and counseling with transgendered youth and that is what actually led to the invite to write for the book. I have been openly gay and active in the LGBTQI community since I was 22. I have always been involved deeply in my community, and this book allowed me to engage some topics in a deep spiritual context where my passion for my faith and my community can come together.

MM: As a transwoman and ordained minister, I feel that a legitimate "trans" voice must be heard.

JS: I joined MCC in the 1990s –a time of horrific stress in the queer and HIV-affected communities. It was both baffling, and alarming, to see many organizations disintegrate, whether through exhaustion or with bizarre infighting, as Eric Rofes and Urvashi Vaid among others have chronicled. I needed to understand how I—how we as MCC—could maintain a ministry of hope amid all that chaos.

What did you learn in the course of your research; what discovery surprised you the most?

TB: That the diverse types of discrimination are all located in the concept of power—who has it, who wants it, and what people do to keep it.
Thomas: I discovered much more about God’s radical inclusion and the misinterpretation of God’s Word as revealed through evangelical Christianity, which has dominated the religious discourse in this past century. This dominant culture is shifting and changing, and a more progressive voice is emerging.

JSG: What truly astounded me in my research was that no one--I mean no one--had addressed pastoral care for transgendered youth. This is one of the most underserved populations within the queer community and a group at the highest risk as often they are kicked out of homes, living on the streets, susceptible to drug abuse, prostitution, and/or rape.

MM: Little surprised me in relation to my own writing, since these are issues that have been dear to my heart for some time. Realizing how this has affected other theologians and authors was my own pleasant surprise.

JS: I discovered Leanne McCall Tigert’s work on trauma theory at the same time that I was studying congregations where there had been abuse. Suddenly, all the drama I’d observed began to fit into a larger pattern.

What challenges did you face in your research or writing?

JSG: The most difficult thing was taking old concepts or hetero-normative language and seeking out the expression of thought that I believed would be more accessible to the LGBTQI community.

MM: My only real challenges is the lack of writing on this issue overall. Transgenders in religion is not a very expansive subject, yet.

JS: I really struggled with how to apply the information from trauma theory, to talk about some very real psychological challenges without pathologizing. 

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