Is it possible to be queer AND religious?
Religion and queerness have never been easy bedfellows. So can you really identify as LGBTQ+ and be a person of faith?
We welcome Dr. Chris Greenough of Edge Hill University to the Queer Collective blog to discuss this very question.
Do you remember all the pretend games you used play as a kid? You’d imagine and act out being a sick patient, a heroic doctor or selfless nurse when you played hospitals. Or, at breaktime in school, you’d actually even play school. Bonkers, isn’t it? But, it’s only as an adult that I have learnt that my favourite game wasn’t a popular choice at all. I mean, does anyone else remember playing church?
I played church, a lot. I was always the priest, of course. I’d spend my pocket money on bags of white chocolate buttons and my greedy brothers and friends would line up to listen to my sermons and tuneless hymns before I shared the white circles of heaven on the streets of Aintree. I preached and I blessed. The seven-year-old-me hadn’t been hit by hormones or yet realised that religion would conflict with my future-sexual identity as a gay man.
Thirty-ish years later, with a little education and a lot of learning from others, massaging the tensions between religious identities and LGBT+ lives are literally my day job. While working as a secondary teacher and Assistant Headteacher, I studied part time to complete postgraduate courses. I was awarded a PhD in queer theology in 2016.
People react puzzled when I tell them my area of research. Queer theology – is that a real thing? Or there’s a little embarrassment because some people are unsure if you can even say ‘queer’ or not any more. But that’s what I do. It is a very broad academic discipline and not all queer theologians agree on the same things. Specifically, my work looks at the lives of people and how they live out their queer identities with their faith identities.
Can you be LGBT+ and Christian? There’s a real tension when discussing religious identities with queer lives. Traditionally, Christianity has been seen as an oppressor, labelling same-sex relations as sinful. Love the sinner, hate the sin. Bible verses have been used as a point of reference to support prejudices against LGBT+ people. But popular slogans like ‘It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’ cause hurt.
The social rules of not talking about religion, sex or politics in polite company means people shy away from giving air time to discussing themes in religion and LGBT+ people. I suspect with the political climate in the UK today, more people would prefer to talk about sex and religion than politics in any case!
Where there’s tension, there’s often confusion. So, discussion of religion and queer lives lead to muddled conversations about whether Christian cake makers should bake for same-sex marriages. It’s always a popular theme on Sunday morning debating programmes.
Despite the perceived hostility, not all Christians are conservative or traditional or prejudiced. The Bishop of Liverpool is one of the many members of the church who recognises the need to welcome and include LGBT+ people of faith. I’m one of many who are grateful for his visible stance of support. In Liverpool, Open Table, offering a sacred space to all LGBTQIA+ people, is an ecumenical worship community offering and inclusive church.
I teach and research at Edge Hill University, where I am Senior Lecturer in Theology and Religion. My work shows how queer people use their own life experiences to inform their beliefs. Queer religious people base their beliefs on their own self-understanding, self-awareness and their own life experiences. This allows them to be queer and Christian at the same time, though individual practices and beliefs vary. But that’s the same with all Christians and all queers in any case!
In my book Undoing Theology, I examine the usefulness (and limitations!) of using our own experiences to inform our beliefs. I explore the three life stories - an intersex Catholic, an ‘ex-gay’ minister and a heterosexual Christian who engages in kink practices. The stories allow us to re-examine traditional ideas in theology, but they also lead to the slow transformation of religious understandings of queer lives. You can read the review here.
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The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of Liverpool Queer Collective.