What then, might it mean to shepherd a flock that includes LGBTQIA members toward Christlikeness? The questions we have raised thus far are pastoral as much as they are theological, for it is in particular communities of faith that they will be worked out. How can pastors work to encourage apprenticeship to Jesus, while creating space to attend to the agent of queering? How can LGBT Christians be formed into Christlikeness, able to entrust themselves to a tradition which until recently (and even now) has caused them grave harm? In his book, The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith provides a helpful model for understanding spiritual formation, derived from the work of Willard, Foster, and others. His “golden triangle” of formation differs slightly from Willard’s, but incorporates the wider themes of the Curriculum for Christlikeness proposed by Willard in The Divine Conspiracy. Formation, Smith suggests, is the work of the Holy Spirit along three primary means: narrative, practices, and community. Our narratives provide the shaping stories about God, self, and others by which we live; an essential part of formation into Christlikeness is changing these stories so they become more like the stories Jesus lived by. This is done by engaging spiritual practices, which train these narratives into our physical and emotional selves indirectly, a process that takes place only in community — the tradition of practice in which we are apprenticed. Using this model, I want to explore briefly what a community of formation which takes the presence of queer persons seriously might look like.
First, the narrative pastors teach such a community would be an open-ended theodrama rather than a closed “epic” narrative. Nicholas Healy develops this concept in his book Church, World and the Christian Life. Unlike “epic” narratives which put the Church in possession of final Truth and Superiority, the theodrama is God’s story, a horizon witnessed to but never owned by the Church or its tradition. The Church does not constitute a certain, authoritative tradition; “rather, it is the communal embodiment of the search for truthful witness and discipleship within the theodrama. It is a religious body which knows that truth cannot be possessed, but must be continually received, and with due humility in face of its sinfulness and finitude. It is a religious body that knows that the gift of truth is essentially dependent upon genuine engagement with both the divine Other and human others.” As participants in the theodrama, our knowledge of God’s truth is essentially limited — not only by our situated position as human creatures, but also because of the nature of the divine Other. As in the apophatic tradition, such a community’s story of God would include essentially that he is Other, disruptive of binaries, norms, and preconceptions. Indeed, just as Karl Barth introduces an image of Trinity as “Revealer, Revelation and Revealedness,” we can explore the Trinity as Queer, Queered, and Queering. The Father, who is “Unoriginated Origin” and therefore “confronts humanity as the ‘totally other’” in alterity, is the ultimate Queer — unexpected, other, strange, beyond boundaries. Jesus is seen by queer theology as “Queered,” as both humanity and divinity are rendered strange in the Incarnation and union with humanity. And the Spirit is “Queering,” the one whose hovering over all things renders them mysterious, strange, other and calls us past false binaries into the mysterium tremendum of both God and creation. In brooding over the chaos of our constructed order, the Queering Spirit invites us into the true order that we, at first, perceive as transgressive chaos. This theodramatic narrative recasts the tradition of the church — the “craft” into which apprentices are initiated — from a static into a dynamic form. Rather than “masters of knowledge,” Christians become “masters of seeking,” the people whose tradition forms them well for openness to the Queering Spirit. This story is the one pastors can tell without collapsing the queer in their community out of the picture.
Secondly, a central function of pastoral-prophetic work will be to create communities whose members excel at the practices of communal discernment. Rather than assuming that the “masters” of the community already know what to do and how to do it, the true masters in this community will be the ones who know how to create spaces where the gathered community can listen to one another and discern, through mutual invitation, the voice of the Spirit. This is not a new concept; indeed, in the Rule of Benedict the abbot is instructed that in case of any important decision, they shall “call the whole community together… and after hearing the advice of the brothers, let him ponder it….” This is, Benedict explains, because “the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.” This is indeed a queer insight! The practices of communal discernment do not assume that the “normal” or “masters” of the community will be the ones through whom God reveals truth or direction. They assume instead the opposite: that the Other, of whatever form,
may not only have a different perspective upon the church and its interaction with other traditions, they may have clearer insights into its sinfulness and inadequacies, into the challenges it faces, and perhaps as to how it should be reformed. [The community], then, would benefit from as inclusive a theological assessment of the church body by its membership as possible. Thereby it would attempt to respond to the entire spectrum of challenges made from within the church to its present form, and become more aware of external challenges.
The constellation of practices that support this communal discernment will thus be aimed at engendering humility, openness, ability to hear with empathy, the ability to recognize what constitutes human flourishing and the willingness to be corrected on this count.
This finally requires a community of a special sort — a community which not only offers to, but receives hospitality from the Other. Cheri DiNovo, pastor of Emmanuel Howard United Church in Toronto, Canada, writes of her experience welcoming transgender members into her church and their impact on the telos of their church community. “Queers can remind us of what Biblically we should know. We should know that we do not know the answers, only who is the answer, to any of life’s nearly of ethical dilemmas….. in scripture there is only one truth, the truth that walked among us as Jesus Christ.” The surprising experience of her church was that, contrary to their expectations, it was not only the queer members who needed discipleship but also the “normal”: “Evangelism is experienced as hospitality tomarginalized and hospitality from the marginalized commencing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” They found that “when the queerest among us feel welcomed, and that we can allow ourselves to show our own queerness.” This community is one where the outsider, the agent of queering, is welcomed not only as beneficiary of hospitality but provider as well and thus retains both their belonging and the dignity of difference.
When pastors work to foster this kind of narrative, practice and community, then the critiques of Foucault and queer theory are not side-stepped, but incorporated into the fabric of expectation. That the church not only may, but will tend toward dominating uses of power, can be a simple fact of the matter, driving members to seek out the Other who will confront and disarm their unrecognized domination. That norms may be useful in general, but at times unhelpful or even crushing is wisdom seen from the very life of Christ, who broke Sabbath to heal and crossed lines of “normal” propriety to heal, and even learn from the Other (the Syrophoenician woman, for example). And that God’s ways will confound, disrupt and continually redirect us toward greater love than we had expected, will be woven right into our central stories. None of this makes the experience of “queering” easy — but it trains us to welcome it.
Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), ch. 9.
James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 24.
Quoted in Gary D. Badcock, Light of Truth & Fire of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 179.
Catherine LaCugna, God For Us: The Trinity & Christian Life(New York: HarperOne, 1991), 303.
Timothy Fry, trans. RB 1980:The Rule of Benedict in English (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1982),25.
Cheri DiNovo, Qu(e)erying Evangelism (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2005), 146.