Queering Spiritual Formation, part 4
The Agent of Queering
The first, and most crucial, implication of the inclusion of LGBT persons in the church should be the awareness that, though representing Christ in the world, the church is deeply fallible, and requires in every age what I will call an “agent of queering” in order to follow Christ truly. This language of “agent” is borrowed from John Howard Yoder’s essay, “The Hermeneutics of Peoplehood.” Yoder argues that “practical moral reasoning” occurs in contexts that direct how we conceive the ethical task; this context is shaped by the voices of particular essential agents in conversation. Yoder suggests a non-exhaustive set of agents that are needed in a community: an Agent of Direction, who situates the community in their history; an Agent of Memory, who brings out of Scripture and tradition stories of the faithfulness and failures of the past; an Agent of Linguistic Self-Consciousness, who pays attention to the way rhetoric directs the community toward self-understanding and action; and Agents of Order and Due Process, who protect and enable the open conversation of the community.
With this approach in mind, I would like to suggest that church communities require an “agent of queering.” The situation of queer Christians affords perspective on how heteronormativity has created norms and structures that inevitably marginalize. Indeed, one of the internal tensions of queer theory is the fact that the act of defining “brings in and domesticates the defined, rendering the queer no longer outside of anything, and so no longer queer.” Awareness of this very tension is the gift the agent of queering offers our discussions. The church, in the act of articulating and living out its narrative, has a tendency to forget its history: “you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9, NRSV.) No better than Israel has the church maintained its awareness of this reality, so there will always be a queer voice crying to be heard. By building an agent of queering into our hermeneutical conversations, the church centers humility/disruption into interpretation. Acknowledging that it is inescapably blinded to the ways its understanding occurs within a horizon, the church cannot perfectly observe the ways it obscures queer experience. The church will always need the queer, in whatever form, to “trouble” its interpretation.
This is because the Church has a tendency toward over-realized ecclesiologies. In “pure” form, the Church is thought to be in possession of the deposit of truth, and without error (though we may admit that the institution rarely lives up to this purity). But as theologian Nicholas Healy argues, the church was never intended to be the truth, but to point to the one who is Truth:
To the extent — and only to the extent — that the church, in the Spirit, orientates itself to the Father through Jesus the Christ, it is superior to all other religious and non-religious bodies… So the claim to superiority is hardly about the church at all. It is about that to which the church witnesses, often indifferently and sometimes quite badly, namely Jesus Christ crucified.
On this understanding, the church can freely admit that its moral discernment on a variety of topics — for example, race, gender, holy wars, sexuality, science — is frequently at best a pale shadow of the goodness of Jesus. The voice of dissent, the agent of queering, need not be a surprise or a dissident to be disciplined into conformity, but a gift inviting the Church to que(e)ry its presuppositions and enter more deeply into communion with the mysterious Triune life.
John Howard Yoder, “The Hermeneutics of Peoplehood: A Protestant Perspective,” in The Priestly Kingdom(Notre Dame, IL: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 21.
Laurel Schneider, “Queer Theory,” in Handbook of Postmodern Biblical Interpretation, ed. A. K. M. Adam (St. Louis, Mo: Chalice Press 2000), 206.
Nicholas Healy, Church, World and Christian Life: Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 18.