DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

She Said “God is Queer!”

Written by: on April 5, 2018

I feel pretty safe saying that we Christians love our binaries. Good and evil, saved or unsaved, heaven and hell – it’s like we aren’t comfortable unless we can label a situation with a coin of two sides. It’s part of our desire for a tidy spirituality, I think. It’s even better if we can find a verse or passage in the Bible that supports or condemns a particular ‘side.’

 

I’m not sure why we think that the Bible full of messy stories, turbulent lives, and depraved humans whom God calls ‘friend,’ will offer us neat and tidy answers to anything but the basics of faith. Even those basics (such as, what does atonement really mean?) are under constant debate among the thousands of denominations, sects, non-denominations, and movements in Christianity. Yet each group insists on the certainty that they are correct and the others are not. One would think that to have faith means you are absolutely certain not only what you believe, but exactly what the Bible says about, well, everything.  Scholars such as Erdozain, however, remind us that some people have always been certain and others who are skeptics or doubters, and that has kept the church both relevant and orthodox.[1]

 

When we search the Scriptures for answers and help to know what to believe, we are ultimately told to love God with everything we have, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40). I don’t believe for a minute that loving people lets us off the hook for the other things we are taught in Scripture, but I do believe that, if we are fully committed to loving God with our whole selves, and loving others as our whole selves, the confusing words of Scripture become clearer, or maybe just less critical. When we are looking for ways to bring people TO God rather than exclude people FROM God, some of the passages that we use to clobber and zing might not offer the obvious answers we expected. Sometimes, as we learned a couple of weeks ago from Marin’s Love is an Orientation, love means sitting in the middle ground, holding tension between “the Bible clearly says…” and “I don’t agree with that interpretation…”

 

When we (students from our doctoral program) were in South Africa, Rev. Michelle Boonzaaier uttered a statement that cleanly sucked the air from the room – “God is a queer God.” I’m going to admit, that her words brought tears to my eyes and I found myself nodding – not because she was saying God is LGBTQ or that I think God should be categorized as such, but because I heard her say that God is above, beyond, and outside of gender all while being every gender. God is queer because God’s gender is completely inexplicable. God’s intimacy is ineffable. As Thatcher explains, “Crucially, and against the wisdom of the ancients, we need not think God is ultra-masculine and so we do not think that men compromise the image of God when they do things that women do.”[2] Not only is God not ultra-masculine, God is not only masculine, or feminine, or somewhere on that gender spectrum. God’s gender does not exist in the binary.

 

Thatcher talks a great deal about gender and sex (which makes sense, considering his book is titled, God, Sex, and Gender) but I feel like there is a deeper thread that runs through his book. He is telling us to loosen up a bit, ask questions, say scary or taboo things out loud, and for everyone’s sake TALK about these things rather than sweeping them aside. If I were to teach a Spiritual Formation course, this book would be part of the curriculum because it is too easy to focus on the soul part of spiritual and forget that our bodies are deeply enmeshed in the spiritual as well. Our bodies are part of our identity. Who we love, how we identify, and how we practice physical intimacy are obviously important to God, yet we create another binary – spiritual or physical – and focus on the part that doesn’t make us quite so squeamish.

 

There are many arguments and assumptions Thatcher makes that I think are, to say the least, a stretch, but even reading those thoughts forced me to process them and decide why I would discard what he has to say. In a couple of places, I thought to myself, “Well, why not?” In others I thought, “I need to review a few interpretations and commentaries to process that further.” In a few, I caught myself saying out loud, “Yeah, no.” That’s why I think books like this are crucial, especially as text books. We cannot build our fortresses and keep our distance from thoughts that challenge our own, or ideas that stretch our faith. This is not a “love God, love people” mentality. Opening ourselves to new ideas, to people who are different, and to things with which we are uncomfortable is most certainly dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as closing ourselves off from them.

 

[1] Dominic Erdozain, The Soul of Doubt, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 266.

[2] Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex, and Gender, (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 173.

Also referenced:

Andrew Marin, Love is An Orientation, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).

About the Author

Kristin Hamilton

16 responses to “She Said “God is Queer!””

  1. Mary says:

    Yes on every count, Kristin, especially the reminder that ultimately we are required to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus said everything was summed in that. I looked through the Gospels again and I can’t find where Jesus condemned anybody except maybe the men who were condemning everybody else.
    I still remember when Michelle Boonzaaier said that God is a queer God. I wasn’t sure if she could have picked a less “hot button” word, but now that I’ve read Thatcher’s book I see that it is a word in use, just new to me.
    I also agree that this book would be a good addition to spiritual formation courses – I agree with you that we are whole beings.
    And last thought, I don’t think God even has a gender as we think of it. How would you describe Him?

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Thank you Mary!
      I don’t usually use gender pronouns to describe God because I think God is “all that and more.” Our genders reflect parts of God’s image, but God is so much more beyond that. I really believe that people who see themselves on a gender fluid spectrum can offer us insight into this. It’s strange and difficult to grasp, but if I am looking for God in them, I have to be willing to look there as well.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Kristin, you have a gift of speaking clearly and cutting through all of the background noise. It’s a wonderful gift. You said many good things, but one, in particular, is so germane to all we do.

    “We cannot build our fortresses and keep our distance from thoughts that challenge our own, or ideas that stretch our faith.”

    Well said! Thank you for another great post.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Thank you Jim! Your words are always so encouraging. I appreciate the way you refuse to live in a fortress, but stay open and kind in all of these discussions.

  3. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “He is telling us to loosen up a bit, ask questions, say scary or taboo things out loud, and for everyone’s sake TALK about these things rather than sweeping them aside.”

    This is a much needed thing in our churches. I know that some seminaries teach “a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew”…and I get that. But maybe pastors need groups (across denominations) in order to wrestle with some of the “mists” in their minds. I am fortunate that the DMinLGP program has created that for us.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      I think that is one of the greatest things about this program, Stu. We have all seen how much bigger God is than we ever imagined and have learned from each other.
      I think we have to talk about these things in our churches, but we also have a responsibility to offer the topics gently and with grace so as not to overwhelm and divide.

  4. Kristin, thanks for the post. Great as usual. I too loved Michelle’s talk in SA. One of the things that has stayed with me from it, and part of why it was so powerful for me at least, was when she talked about her experience of heading to seminary. How she had grown up ‘knowing’ that God was the God of the oppressed, etc. and then coming face to face with some from the groups that had oppressed her and her people – and recognizing that God is also the ‘God of the oppressor’. (that needs unpacking that is bigger than this post)
    Your point that God is bigger and beyond gender is an important connecting point to this – no matter that it doesn’t make any sense to us, God isn’t on one ‘side’ or the other – God is most definitely ‘for’ all of us.

    I think you also pulled out an important point from Thatcher – the need to ‘loosen up a bit’ or at least enough to be able to actually listen to and dialogue with divergent voices. How else can we grow and learn and change?

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Yes Chip! I have thought about that part of Michelle’s talk so often. My God is also the God of the men who told me I have no business in theology. What do I do with that? How is God on the side of those who are open and loving, and also on the side of those who are closed and damning? I don’t know.

  5. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Great point Kristin: “…it is too easy to focus on the soul part of spiritual and forget that our bodies are deeply enmeshed in the spiritual as well. Our bodies are part of our identity.” Integrating our minds, bodies, and spirits is so critical to a life of stability and peace. And yet, it seems our Western society repeatedly wants to split our bodies from our spirits. Taking a more holistic approach in medicine, psychology, and religion makes a lot of sense to me.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      I think there is the beginning of a trend, Jenn, to view ourselves more holistically in many aspects of life, but for some reason the church continues to resist this and sink into dualism. I do believe that when we finally are able to disregard dualism we will have a better understanding of how we reflect the Image of God.

  6. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Yes Kristin!!! Wow!!! Well said!!! I was so looking forward to your post this week. Binaries are so dangerous. It is unfortunate that we use them to try to make us feel assurd or secure but it presents us with a false sense of reality. You said it well we are messy and complex. I appreciated your reflections on what Michelle said. I had heard the 6’s say just wait until you read Love is an orientation or God,sex and gender to understand their dislike for what she said. As I read through those books they affirmed her message and her ministerial approach. Lastly, I appreciated your heart in this post. I could feel it as I read each word. I hope you do get a chance to teach a spiritual formation course! ❤️

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      I hope so too, Christal!
      Maybe the 6’s were saying that they didn’t like these books either? I don’t know. I know many of them were put off by what she said but it is a hard topic to work through if you aren’t ready to hear from everyone.

  7. Lynda Gittens says:

    Hi Kristen, I too had many thoughts about his books. Some of the things I read in his book I was like nope.
    Your statement “We cannot build our fortresses and keep our distance from thoughts that challenge our own, or ideas that stretch our faith” I believe this book needs to be read by those who have experienced life and are mature in their spiritual journey so that they have many resources to balance their reading of this book. If an immature spiritual person read this before their development, I fear confusion in their spiritual walk that could lead to false beliefs. How do we handle views so far from ours and remain balanced?

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      I hear what you are saying, Lynda. I can see this book being somewhat overwhelming to an immature Christian or I can see it as helping them clarify that they don’t have to listen to the gatekeepers out there for all of their do’s and don’ts. These discussions are happening in high schools, on college campuses, in offices, etc. If we aren’t prepared to engage the conversation, we will likely leave those immature Christians hanging in the wind with no answers.

  8. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    While some struggle with the emerging paradigm of post-modernism, one aspect of it which I heartedly embrace is the sense of accepting ambiguity. I think it’s our modern sensibilities that like things nicely bounded (anyone edge your lawn lately?), whereas we’ve seen a shift in willingness to view the world more as a spectrum (rainbow? Even the colors blend into each other).

    I also love the wisdom of recommending this text in light of spiritual formation. What an important reminder that the Word became FLESH and dwelt among us, that our matter matters.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Yes, Katy! Living in the tensions and paradoxes are hard, but necessary. A willingness to say, “I don’t know” about right and wrong on a complex issue leaves us room to grow and stretch with the leading of the Spirit.
      Thank you for that reminder about the Incarnation. I’m going to add it to my someday notes!

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