How Queerphobic Christianity Shoots Itself (and Everyone Else) in the Foot
November 10, 2016
Author’s Note: I wrote this piece before the American presidential election on November 8. Interestingly, Donald Trump parts ways with those in his party who relentlessly demonize LGBTQ people. But queerbaiting has long been a staple tactic in the overall Republican political strategy to mobilize disaffected voters; and this year bashing queer people—trans people especially—played a role in races across the US and was written into the Republican Party platform. This piece reflects on the Colombian vote on the peace agreement. Though the American election involved a more complex array of concerns, there is no overlooking the centrality of numerous issues at the forefront of this campaign, including treatment of immigrants and foreigners, on which the teachings of Christianity are quite clear.
On October 8, The New York Times reported that conservatives who opposed the peace agreement in Colombia used gay-baiting tactics to rally evangelical Christian and Catholic voters to their side. Given how close the election was, it is entirely possible that such tactics played a role in the outcome of the vote.
The campaign took place amidst protests against the legalization of marriage equality and efforts by President Juan Manuel Santos’ openly-gay education minister, Gina Parody, to adopt practices like mixed-gender bathrooms. The Times article notes that opponents of the peace deal successfully linked these issues to the peace deal in some voters’ minds, harnessing homophobic sentiment to draw conservative religious voters to the polls. Pastor Marco Field Ramirez, for instance, expressed concern that those promoting the peace deal were trying to advance same-sex marriage. “This was a fundamental objection and a danger to the natural family in Colombia [which] consists of a man and a woman,” he was quoted as saying.
This report demonstrates just how severe the consequences of religious gay bashing can be, and not just for people who identify as LGBTQ. For those of us who are Christian, it should also be a clarion call to recognize the damage that Christian homophobia inflicts on our ability to do the most basic work that our faith tradition demands: honoring God by working to bring justice and peace to the world that God created.
As an Episcopal priest who is also a lesbian, I have long noticed the resonance that exists between queer and Christian ethics. Queer people are called to discern an identity, tell people about it even in the face of material risk, find others who share a comparable identity marker, build community, and look to the margins to lift up those who are still struggling. This is an ethical path is nearly identical to the path that Christians are called to walk.
This resonance is no accident. Queer theory is all about rupturing false binaries. LGBTQ people constantly rupture—or queer—the idea that male and female are wholly distinct categories. Queer people may be androgynous in our dress; our marriages often do not include “one man and one woman;” and growing numbers of transgender people reject any neat conception of themselves as male or female at all.
This queer approach to binaries has helped me think in a new way about Christian faith. As a priest, I have long noticed that Jesus challenged false binaries all the time: human/divine, life/death, sacred/profane—Jesus queered all of that. He especially did this in his parables, stories designed to crack open our hearts and minds, getting us to think in new ways about how God’s realm works. The more I peer into our tradition, the more I understand that Christianity is outright queer, constantly challenging us to disrupt conventional thinking and rupture overly rigid categories of self and other that pit us against one another.
The vote in Colombia reveals the insidious and corrosive impact that queerphobia has on the Christian tradition as a whole. As I listened to the voices of people who had suffered hideous loss at the hand of FARC rebels, my heart ached with sympathy. I understood why some people could not bring themselves to accept the terms of the peace deal, even as many communities most impacted by the war voted overwhelmingly for peace. My heart swelled with respect and admiration for the people who, despite their pain, swallowed hard and voted to end the half-century conflict. Though many of these people may not themselves be Christian, they demonstrated precisely the gritty resolve to put down enmity that Christians are supposed to model to the world.
It should be a shock that those who enthusiastically claim the mantle of Christianity would reject peace as part of a knee-jerk hatred of LGBTQ people. The degree to which this is an affront to Christian mission cannot be overstated. Yet this is fully and completely the “fruit of the spirit” of queerphobic proclamation. It gestures powerfully toward the theological and ethical vacuousness of such teachings and goes a long way toward explaining the crisis in credibility that plagues the contemporary church.
There is a crying need in today’s world for people who can summon the intestinal fortitude demonstrated by the Colombians who voted for this peace deal. Global Christianity should play a robust role in preaching this vision and helping people walk this challenging path, the coordinates of which exist in the very marrow of our tradition. This is queerness at work, and until Christian leaders recognize this, people the world over will continue to pay a very steep price.
About the Author
The Reverend Elizabeth M. Edman is an Episcopal priest and a political strategist who has been expanding people’s understanding of faith and sexuality for over twenty-five years. She has worked on the most pressing contemporary issues in the intersection of religion and sexuality, serving as an inner-city hospital chaplain to people with HIV/AIDS from 1989 to 1995 and helping to craft political and communications strategies for marriage-equality efforts. She lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @liz_edman and visit her website.