Anthony Elliott’s text, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction is comprehensive and easy to navigate. He highlights multiple theories in this second edition, and challenges the reader to critically engage in understanding societal theories of change in “contemporary social life”. Because it’s intended to be used as a textbook (and the cost reflects that), very few reviews exist. Generally, fellow sociologists report the book is “a remarkable overview of thinkers and themes”.
One such theory discussed in the text, Queer theory, merits further exploration. It was evident from our experience in South Africa of hearing Rev. Michelle Boonzaaier discuss her organization, IAM.org (Inclusive and Affirming Ministries), the use of the term “queer” evokes high emotion. During her presentation, Rev. Boonzaaier stated “Our God is a queer God”. This single sentence challenged listeners – and let’s be honest – angered many.
What exactly is queer theory? Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick, described as “the mother of queer theory” believes Queer can be defined as whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate and the dominant. The study of queer theory has been used by social theorists to “critically interrogate sexualities and the decentering of identity.” “In simple terms, we can conclude that queer theory is an approach to literary criticism or study that rejects the informal norm. Queer theory is not only the study of gays or lesbians, but also the study of transgender, hermaphroditism, and all other sexual orientations that compete with society’s formal sexual norms.”
So…how should a ministry practitioner respond to this theory? Should it be rejected immediately as unnatural? Argued as sinful? Judged as deviant? I think I can safely say the issue of sexual identity in the church is a hotbed for debate. How does the church currently respond to this theory? Not well. Christians have a long history of misuse of scripture – oppression of black people, institution of slavery, oppression of women, use of Apartheid, the exile of Palestinian’s from the Middle East by Israel, and last, but perhaps most poignant in modern times, condemnation of homosexuality. “The human community has suffered for so long from dehumanizing racial prejudice. People need to be cleansed and freed from all forms of destructive prejudice, including that which is based on a person’s sexual orientation.” I want to believe ministry practitioners could agree that scripture should be interpreted under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – using the core values of the gospel – goodness and holiness, wholeness and humanity. Obviously the “church” has changed their Biblical interpretation on issues of slavery and racial and gender oppression in recent years – because those writings were “of the times” vs. “for the times” (essentially a cultural attitude that worked during that time in history). “Yet it is a strange and sad fact that, in spite of this, so many Christians would appear to think that the more they take the Bible literally, the more they are somehow being faithful to Scripture, and that they are the true and authentic Bible Christians! We must object strongly to this presumptuous claim. This literalistic way of treating the Scriptures is misguided and simplistic and leads to all kinds of problems. It is precisely in this way – the quoting and literal reading of a particular text as God’s clear will and command – that the Bible has been tragically and dogmatically misused and abused down the ages to justify all manner of injustice and wrong.”
I’m aware the challenging statements in the prior paragraph may trigger outrage to the literal Bible interpreters. As outraged as you may be to the suggestion that the Bible shouldn’t be literally interpreted, are you equally as outraged by the vulnerable and marginalized people in your neighborhood, state, country, and world? Are you outraged enough to spend as much (or more) energy on seeking social justice and facilitating discussions with key stakeholders as you are in trying to defend your interpretation of the Bible or thrust your judgement on marginalized people? I’m asking how willing are you to be the hands and feet of Jesus….?
Let me offer suggestions on how to move forward in Biblical love (Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. —Matthew 7:1):
- Seek the truth of Christ in the spirit of Christ
- Seek to move beyond corners of conviction
- Seek first to understand and then to be understood
- Seek to see the human face of this issue
- Seek to become well-informed
- Seek to celebrate the gift of diversity
What a beautiful opportunity we have as Christians to err on the side of love, be open to contemporary social theories on sexual identity, and to usher in the new generation of followers to a Christian faith that is less legalistic and more Jesus. I, personally, want to err on the side of Jesus.
 Lechte, John. Higher degree Convenor (SOC), Macquarie University, Australia
 Turner, Bryan. Alona Evans Distinguished Visiting Professor of Sociology, Wellesley College, USA
 Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction. New York: Routledge (2014)
 Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction. New York: Routledge (2014)pg249
 Boone, Emily. “What is Queer Theory”. March, 2013. https://prezi.com/ezvybihgmvzk/queer-theory-presentation/
 Methodist Church of South Africa. Christians and Same-Sex Relationships. MSCA Conference in 2003.