Ok this post may stray into warmish waters but it is a sincere attempt to get at the cutting edge of what Jesus is saying in his Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. If there isn’t an edge to application from that radical Sermon then we’ve quite simply missed its core.
These are questions coming out of two areas of reading and teaching I am doing at the moment
- Love in Luke 6
- Queer Theology
This post has three parts.
- What is the core principle within the Golden Rule?
- What or who is a contemporary example of the ‘Other’?
- What does it mean to apply the Golden Rule in regard to Queer Theology?
What is the Core Principle within the Golden Rule?
Luke 6 contains what has become known as the ‘Golden Rule’ –
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
In the verses that follow, Jesus repeats the phrase ‘what credit is that to you?’ three times. His point in each case revolves around the identity of those ‘Others’. The whole point is that ‘they’ are NOT like ‘us’.
There is no ‘credit’ in safe and easy love of those ‘like us’ – the people we feel comfortable around and like to hang out with. You know, people who share our values, faith, sense of humour, probably of similar socio-economic background, education, likely skin colour, maybe age – and mostly likely heterosexuality.
Such ‘safe’ and ‘comfortable’ love costs us little. ‘Love for those that love us’ is just typical human behaviour; it is fairly unremarkable. This is Jesus’ point about ‘even sinners do that’. In other words, those outside the kingdom of God love like this, so there is nothing particularly credit worthy and exceptional if disciples love each other in this way. It is to be expected.
However, there is, it is implied, ‘credit’ in loving people NOT like us. That is distinctive and rare because it does not make ‘natural’ sense. This sort of love is not to be expected.
Given the context of the sermon, the ‘Other’ is not just different to ‘us’, but is opposed to us in some way (enemy love begins and closes the main part of the Sermon vv 27-36)
That opposition is not necessarily personal, but holds opposing beliefs and values that perhaps stand in sharp conflict with some of our own deepest commitments.
So – who is NOT like you? And is opposed to you in some way?
Queer Theology as a contemporary example of the ‘Other’
The opposing ‘Other’ could take many forms. Bitter divisions of course exist around areas of political, racial and religious commitments and identities. But the area I’m focusing on in this post is sexual identity.
What does it mean to ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’ where the ‘Other’ is articulating a theology of sex and identity that is deeply at odds with orthodox Christian teaching?
To be more specific – what does it mean for evangelical Christians (since this is the community to which I belong) to love the ‘Other’ where the ‘Other’ is committed to Queer Theology? (I am deliberately focusing on a theology rather than a person. These are musings on general principles on how Jesus’ teaching applies in a contemporary situation. I don’t want to make it personal).
So a definition is needed at this point. What is Queer Theology?
An entry route is Patrick Cheng, Radical Love: an introduction to Queer Theology. In it Cheng claims that
“Christian theology itself is a fundamentally queer enterprise because it . . . challenges and deconstructs—through radical love—all kinds of binary categories that on the surface seem fixed and unchangeable . . . but that ultimately are fluid and malleable.” (10)
This quote captures the essence of Queer Theology’s agenda. It is to shake up or ‘queer’ accepted ‘norms’, particularly around gender and sexuality. All sexual identities are constructed, nothing is fixed or ‘normal’. Whatever sexual identity someone has (and it can be fluid and changing) it is a ‘gift’ – to be welcomed, expressed and affirmed. ‘Radical Love’ is to accept this dissolving of boundaries.
Traditional religion, with its commitment to the ‘norm’ of heterosexuality is exclusionary and coercive and oppressive. Queer Theology is therefore a type of liberation theology, ‘on the side’ of the marginalised LGBT+ communities.
In his book, Cheng proposes a Queer Theology around systematic categories of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He also talks of a queer reading of Scripture.
The results are very radical indeed:
- The Bible is reinterpreted. For example, sin in Sodom and Gomorrah is ultimately about inhospitality to strangers
- God the Father is understood as “coming out” in radical love that dissolves boundaries. Boundaries between sexual and non-sexual relationships; between marriage and queer sex.
- Jesus is the ‘boundary-crosser extraordinaire’. Cheng even sees Jesus as physically male and genetically female as a result of the virgin birth.
- The Spirit is the work of God in breaking down boundaries and effecting radical love. All sexual, erotic, and other boundaries that separate are overcome by his ministry of radical love.
- Sin is redefined as human rejection of God’s radical love; of human rejection of God dissolving boundaries and divisions. Sin is holding on to divisive and judgemental ideas around heteronormativity.
- The sacraments are reinterpreted as ‘coming out’ for LGBT people. This is expressed in baptism which signals a leaving behind of the old life in the closet and embracing a new life out in the open.
There is much more but this gives a flavour. For most Christians, Queer Theology’s novel and radical nature makes it an example of the ‘Other’. This is a theology that is ‘not like us’ and the people espousing it are most definitely opposed to traditional orthodox Christian teaching on sex and holiness (Obviously this is a broad statement, but there is a clear identifiable core agreed body of Christian teaching on sex, singleness and marriage).
So, in terms of theological response, here is an initial assessment of Queer Theology claims.
I’d argue that this sort of theology is not recognizably Christian in any meaningful sense. It is not even clear to me why Cheng and other Queer Theologians focus on the Bible and Christian faith at all. If there are no boundaries, why tie things to systematic Christian theological categories? Why not ‘queer’ things even more consistently and take any source you like? Why not just use the vast array of LGBT+ stories, poems and art as the source to support the boundary breaking vision of ‘radical love’?
It is also pretty clear to me that Queer Theology is profoundly unorthodox. It lies outside any recognisable Christian tradition. Indeed, it is effectively heretical in its doctrine of God, sin and salvation. It radically relativises the Bible and interprets it through the lens of sexual identity politics.
So that is a very negative response. Some might say such a reaction is judgemental and unloving. I’d say not necessarily. It is an assessment of specific theological ideas. Disagreeing in itself is not unloving. Whether it becomes unloving or not depends on how the next question is answered.
What does it mean to ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’ in regard to Queer Theology?
Going by the Golden Rule, the question to ask next (and often isn’t) is How would I like to be treated by people who disagree profoundly with what I believe?’ ‘How, therefore, should I act toward those espousing Queer Theology?
Here are seven thoughts in response:
1. I would not want people to dismiss what I believe out of hand as so obviously wrong that it is not worth taking seriously. So I should not do the same to Queer Theologians.
2. I would not want people to misrepresent or caricature what I write or say in order to win an argument. So I should take time to understand and fairly state what Queer Theology is.
3. I would not want people to attack my character for daring to be different from them. So I should not do the same to people self-identifying as Queer.
4. I would not want people to assume that because I disagree with Queer Theology, that I am a homophobic bigot. I should therefore not assume that others’ motives are malign.
5. I would not want people to not bother to try to understand why I believe what I believe because they disagree with me – and see me as a sinner. So I should seek to understand and listen to why people hold to Queer Theology.
6. I would not want people to try to silence me by threats or coercion of any kind. Or refuse to talk to me because I am morally obnoxious in their eyes. So I should not do likewise.
7. I would not want people to pretend to be who they are not, or to ‘spin’ their real beliefs, in order to try to build an unreal sense of unity. So I should speak honestly about what I believe, but with grace and respect.
Comments, as ever, welcome (I think).