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Did Jesus challenge gender norms?

By Trisha Elliott

A favourite passage of feminist theologians, Galatians 3:28, is now a scriptural cornerstone of queer theology. The juicy bit for feminist theologians, and now queer theologians: “nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It not only dispenses of traditional male and female gender roles but also makes Jesus gender-fluid.

Queer theory has been described as “an umbrella term gathering together diverse issues within a common struggle: a resistance against heterosexual knowing,” writes Lisa Asherwood and Marcella Althaus-Reid in The Sexual Theologian: Essays On Sex, God And Politics. It says you can’t take complex human beings and stuff them easily into male and female boxes. Gender isn’t either/or.

Queer theology, which emerged in the 1990s, re-examines theology and the Bible through an LGBTQ lens and challenges restrictive gender norms.

The late queer Argentinian theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid writes that God needs to come out of the closet through a process of theological queering or “deliberately questioning the heterosexual experience and thinking that has shaped our understanding of theology.” 

Queer theologians contend that Jesus was not only gender-accepting but also gender-fluid, pointing to scripture passages like Ephesians where the male Christ is said to have a female body in the church. Others reframe the Bible through queer experiences — reframing the incarnation, for example, as the divine “coming out” to humanity.

The United Church is no stranger to exploring gender issues. It recently dipped its toes into queer theology with a tool kit for congregations called Celebrating Gender Diversity

On the ground, queer theologians encourage congregations to welcome those who don’t fit binary gender roles and to support differences in dress, behaviour or family configuration. Even the use of pronouns can be touchy because gender plays a role in determining which pronouns people prefer. The United Church tool kit advises creating an opportunity for people to share their preferred pronouns and discusses what to do when someone uses the wrong ones.

The latest queer theology books explore the intersection of gender and race. Rainbow Theology by Patrick Cheng and Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology by black lesbian scholar Pamela Lightsey add a new dimension to the emerging discipline. It’s too soon to say what the lasting impact of queer theology will be. But there is no doubt that it already takes the rainbow to new heights.

Rev. Trisha Elliott is a minister at Southminster United in Ottawa.

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