Directions for a Queer Pnuematology
Despite the relative paucity of the Spirit in queer theology, there are significant directions in the existing literature that we can take as entry points for developing a queer pneumatology. Just as Clark Pinnock argues that our Western Christo-centric theology needs to make room for an equally vital pneumatic theology, so too can queer theology discern the Spirit brooding over its pages. In this section I will briefly outline some of the most promising directions in queer theology for such a pneumatic revival, in particular: the queered Christ, the transgressive sacraments, and universal experience of Spirit. I will conclude with the suggestion that we can see the Trinity particularly as Queer, Queered, and Queering persons, with the Holy Spirit given the robust role of “queering.”
First, we can find a door to queer pneumatology in queer Christology. As mentioned above, there is in queer theology no lack of meditation on the incarnate Christ. The impassive, too-divine Christ of some Western theology is rejected: “this restricting and regulatory Christ… needs to be queered, to have the boundaries moved.” Graham Ward performs such a queering, arguing that “Jesus’ body undergoes a ‘series of displacements’” culminating in the ascension, so that his body “by incorporating the members of the church… ultimately becomes a multi-gendered body, and, as such, ‘the body of Christ is queer.’” For Ward, the union of the body of Christ with the bodies of the redeemed is quite literal, so that Jesus’ body “bears the bodies of men, women, and those who do not easily fit in these categories.” What is not considered closely, however, is how this union takes place — in other words, how is the body of Christ “queered”? Here a robust Trinitarian theology like that of Kathryn Tanner can help us: “through the power of the Holy Spirit we are united with Christ… United with Christ by the Holy Spirit we go with Christ to the Father.” If Christ is queered, then a rich pneumatology will see the Spirit as “queering.”
Second, the queer reimagining of the sacraments as transgressive provides an entry for queer perspectives on the Spirit. The common experience of queer people is exclusion from the church; one study found a common thread of “isolation” and “profound loss” in the stories of gay Christians who come out. A queer perspective on the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, however, finds them to be tools of radical inclusion. “Liturgical space, rather than solidifying and reinscribing hetero-patriarchy, is the place where this is smashed…. Eucharist must be inclusive because the Divine is inclusive.” Noted queer theologian Marcella Athlaus-Reid argues that true worship has “three major functions: 1) enact a communal relationship to the Divine, 2) demonstrate radical inclusivity, and 3) offer resistance to hegemonic forces in church, state, and society.” So Eucharist is the gathered table of “all-inclusive communal celebration” — but what must not be missed here is that this action is, liturgically, explicitly within the epiclesis, the calling of the Spirit to enact “the divine Trinitarian community of superabundant love.” If then Eucharist is “queered,” again the Spirit is “queering.” So too with Baptism: here, united to Christ, “we are no longer the autonomous, atomized subjects that modernity trains us to be. Rather, we become ‘ecclesial persons.’” Baptized persons relate as “neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male or female,” so that “baptism gives us an ‘anti-identity,’ one which problematizes and exposes all other ones” as constructed and non-ultimate. But here, too, we must not forget the Spirit’s role. Traditionally the baptism is followed by chrismation, anointing with oil to signify the Spirit, because it is understood that the new identity (or “anti-identity”) is given by the Spirit. Again, if union with Christ in baptism is to become “queered,” then the Spirit is “queering.”
Finally, as Clark Pinnock argues, the work of the Spirit can be seen as universal throughout creation. “Spirit is present in the farthest reaches of this wonderful, ambiguous world.” So too do queer theologies find the experience of God and the union of community in far reaches from “normal” or sanctioned Christian experience. Examining the experience of black gay Christians, E. Patrick Johnson finds the expression of gay spirituality in the night club, which “becomes an alternative ‘sanctuary.’” Here where “like the spirit, sexuality is ‘just like fire, shut up in the bones,” and can finally be expressed, the unitive experience of belonging can be seen as the very idea of sanctuary and ecclesia becomes “queered” — and it is Spirit who does the “queering.”
Building on these directions, I want to suggest that 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. As we have seen above, Jesus is seen by queer theology as “queered,” as both humanity and divinity are rendered strange in the Incarnation and union with humanity. But the role of the Spirit in all this is crucial: the Spirit is “queering,” the one whose hovering over all things renders all things mysterious, strange, other—who 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 a truer order that we, at first, perceive as transgressive chaos.
Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 79ff.
Cited in Cheng, 85.
Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001) 60, 54.
Brenda L. Beagan & Brenda Hattie, “Religion, Spirituality, and LGBTQ Identity Integration,” Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling 9, no. 2 (2015), 102.
Cited in Buechel, 80.
Ángel F. Méndez-Montoya, OP, “Eucharistic Imagination: A Queer Body-Politics,” Modern Theology 30, no. 2 (April 2014), 336.
E. Patrick Johnson, “Feeling the Spirit in the Dark: Expanding Notions of the Sacred in the African-American Gay Community,” Callaloo 21, no. 2 (Spring 1998), 412.
Cited 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.