Leave it to a self-proclaimed Christian, who also is a practicing homosexual, to pen an apologetic for ‘queer theology.’ That is exactly what Dr. Patrick S. Cheng attempts to do in his book titled Radical Love.
Cheng’s credentials to pen such an apologetic are quite admirable. He is an attorney and a Ph.D., and he currently serves as a visiting professor of Anglican studies at Union Theological Seminary. He is also an associate priest at the Church of the Transfiguration in New York City. Despite his accolades, I became acutely aware while reading Radical Love that as a theologian and an attorney, Cheng’s arguments for queer theology were weak, even specious.
The foundation of Cheng’s queer theology comprises repeated phrases and anecdotes from other LGBT scholars and ministers. He addresses sex and gender almost completely without reference to the Bible or the early church fathers, except for statements in passing about how creeds and biblical passages really do not undercut homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Most often, when Cheng mentions a biblical doctrine, it is either an inane attempt at parallelism or an outright queer and fallacious reinterpretation.
As a Christian with earned graduate degrees in biblical studies and Christian apologetics, I felt compelled to provide the readers of Minding the Campus with some straight talk about Cheng’s radical love.
Cheng begins with the oft-repeated phrase “dissolving existing boundaries” and connects this phrase to the thesis of his book. The dissolution of boundaries, he contends, is necessary to realize that “the connections between Christian theology and queer theory are actually much closer than one would think” (p. x in Cheng). He then proceeds to explain that “radical love is premised upon safe, sane, and consensual behavior” (p. x), and that “the place where Christian theology and queer theory meet—is all about radical love” (p. x). Hence, the title of the book. But what exactly is queer theology?
Defining Queer Theology
Chapter One of Radical Love defines queer theology as “queer talk about God.” Queer theory, aside from being associated with LGBT groups and sex,
challenges and disrupts the traditional notions that sexuality and gender identity are simply questions of scientific fact or that such concepts can be reduced to fixed binary categories such as homosexual vs. heterosexual, or female vs. male. As such . . . queer refers to the erasing or deconstructing of boundaries with respect to these categories of sexuality and gender. In other words, queer theory argues that the significance of traditional categories of sexuality and gender identity are actually social constructions (p. 6).
One would expect at least a passing nod to Christian theology or the Bible in defining queer theology. Instead, Cheng provides all the evidence one needs to know about radical love. It is a woke concept, born of a preconceived personal bias and visible through a lens of liberation theology and erotic personal experiences. As a result, biblical theology takes a back seat to that which is queer.
Cheng argues from lived experience, which is a fallacy. Philosopher Timothy Hsiao agrees: “The emotional power of experiences makes them a tempting tool . . . No matter who uses them, the reasoning is still flimsy. But woke activists are unique in that they view these experiences as sacred and unquestionable. While most recognize that experiences are useful illustrative tools, lived experiences take on the status of quasi-divine revelation for the woke.”
Cheng assumes that since he is a homosexual, and since bisexuals and heterosexuals exist, that sexuality is complicated. It is only complicated when Christians decide to add their own woke interpretations to biblical passages, or omit them completely. What Cheng forgets is the Apostle Paul’s passages in his letters to the Roman, Corinthian, and Galatian churches of the first century, A.D. For example:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor those habitually drunk, nor verbal abusers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. . . . Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, 19–20, NASB).
If Cheng does not use the Bible as the foundation for his queer theology, then how does he support this “radical love”? What are the sources from which queer theology arose? He asserts, “Like all other theologies, queer theology draws upon at least four sources: (1) scripture, (2) tradition, (3) reason, and (4) experience. . . . theology is a synthesis of all four sources, and each of these sources acts as a check and balance for the other three” (p. 11). Let us briefly examine these four.
Queer Theology and Scripture
Cheng states that “queer theology draws upon scripture—that is the Hebrew and Christian scriptures . . . in creative ways” (p. 12). One of these “creative ways” is to deconstruct so-called “texts of terror,” or biblical passages with clear exhortations against homosexual acts. For example, queer theologians often interpret the Genesis story of Sodom and Gomorrah as “a condemnation of the sin of inhospitality toward strangers.”
LGBT theologians and ethicists Nancy Wilson and Kathy Rudy “Have queered the Sodom narrative by placing hospitality at the center of queer theological reflection. . . . Wilson has constructed a queer theology of sexuality by focusing on the gift of promiscuous or bodily hospitality that many LGBT people have . . . and Rudy, an open lesbian ethicist at Duke University, has suggested that nonmonogamous sex acts—including anonymous and communal sex—can be viewed in terms of a progressive ethic of hospitality” (pp. 12–13).
“Queering” biblical stories is a hallmark of LGBT theologians and professors. They must queer stories that are intolerant to the LGBT narrative for two reasons: (1) They are reminded by the biblical texts of the persecution some have endured, and (2) queer theology is actually a liberation theology, focusing on dissolving barriers that exist between tradition, culture, and society. Cheng makes this clear.
He agrees with LGBT theologians reinterpreting the Bible to soften it in favor of queer theology. He writes, “It is important to note that queer theologians have gone beyond . . . texts of terror and have read the Bible in creative and constructive ways as a means of affirming the LGBT experience” (p. 13). Thus, LGBT theologians do not rely on the authority of Scripture.
Queer Theology and Tradition
Cheng quotes LGBT scholars, whose queer theological interpretations of biblical passages are kinder to homosexuality and homosexuals (pp. 15–16). Although it is clear that there is a bias against evangelicals and the Roman Catholic Church for positions taken on same-sex marriage and LGBT radicalism, for Cheng, challenging these traditions is paramount. These challenges amount to solid evidence for LGBT advocates, assuring them that “queer scholars have located the LGBT experience squarely within the history and teachings of the church.” Cheng argues that queering the Christian tradition “suffices as a source for constructing our [their] own theologies” (p. 16).
Queer Theology and Reason
Cheng makes an astonishing admission when he states that “reason has not been seen as a queer-friendly source of theology.” He blames this lack of friendliness in large part on the “Roman Catholic view of nonprocreative sexual acts (including same-sex acts) are always intrinsically evil as a matter of natural law” (p. 16). But then he inserts his own brand of queer reasoning as a counter to the Roman Catholic church by affirming that “there are hundreds of animal and bird species in the natural world that engage in same-sex acts or gender-variant behavior.”
Cheng also points to numerous catholic leaders, priests, and others who have come out and written about their LGBT experiences. The bottom line is that “queer theory rejects the traditional view that categories of sexuality (that is homosexual vs. heterosexual) and gender identity (that is female vs. male) are natural, essentialist, or fixed” (p. 17). While attempting to defend radical love, Cheng has moved from the reinterpretation of Scripture to the rejection of the same.
Cheng’s queer reasoning brings him to the point where “there is no reason why a person’s genitalia must automatically determine everything from hair and clothing styles to preferred color (for example pink vs. blue) to family role to career choices . . . the spectrum of behaviors normally associated with an individual’s birth-assigned sex are actually a matter of a social convention that is constantly changing” (p. 18).
The last point Cheng makes to defend queer reasoning is that “queer theologians—and especially queer theologians of color—are drawing upon other forms of reason and philosophy, such as postcolonial theory, in their talk about God” (p. 18). In this statement, Cheng demonstrates that he has moved beyond the reinterpretation and rejection of Scripture and into its replacement.
Queer Theology and Experience
Radical love as queer “draws upon experience as a source for theology . . . [and] queer experience is an important—if not critical—source for doing theology from a queer perspective” (p. 18). Let us examine three LGBT professionals who do theology through queer experience.
First, Robert Shore-Goss boldly proclaims his “erotic love for Jesus” (p. 19). Shore-Goss recounts his days as a novice with the Jesuits, when he “imagined a naked Jesus as a muscular, handsome bearded man.” Cheng shares an abbreviated version of Shore-Goss’s queer experience when, as Shore-Goss recalled, “later on during passionate lovemaking, I felt Christ in a way that I had only experienced in my solitary erotic prayer” (p. 19). For Shore-Goss, queer theology has an eroticized Jesus.
Second, Carter Heyward, an openly lesbian theologian and former professor at Episcopal Divinity School, writes about “finding God in her sensual and embodied connection with nature while walking with her dog” (p. 19). Her queer experience seems to contradict Cheng’s dismissal of natural law earlier in his book.
Heyward is most certain that “her sensuality is her most common link to the rest of the earth and can be trusted” (p. 19). Queer theology, apparently, is sensual—we also see this in Laurel Dykstra, an open bisexual theologian of the Catholic Worker movement, who maintains that “her sexuality and spiritually [sic] are closely connected. As a result, queer theology is sexually spiritual.”
God’s Radical Love
In Chapter Three, Cheng refers to God sending His radical love (viz. Jesus) and to “His coming out” through revelation. His coming out is to be considered so radical that “it dissolves existing boundaries,” even “the boundaries between the divine and the human” (pp. 44–45). A personalized dissolution of boundaries is realized each time a person comes out as LGBT. Moreover, Cheng asserts, coming out is “an act of boundary crossing . . . an act of radical love that parallels how God reveals Godself to us through revelation” (p. 46.).
Olive Hinnant, an openly lesbian minister with the United Church of Christ, argues that God
comes out of heterosexism whenever an openly LGBT clergyperson preaches the Word. That is, the closet door opens and reveals a gay God who longs to be welcomed into full communion. In the same way that Jesus embodied revelation of the ineffable God, coming out allows the LGBT minister to become an embodied revelation of the abstract notion of homosexuality, or queerness. In this way, the boundaries between LGBT people and the church are dissolved (p. 47).
What is missing from such theology? How about biblical texts? But an examination of queer doctrine presents an even deeper set of problems.
Queer Theology and Doctrinal Beliefs
Throughout the rest of the book, Cheng forces queer theological doctrines upon the reader, with the hope that they bolster LGBT theology regarding God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and Holy Scripture. Some of the statements that follow would be considered blasphemous to most evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics, and others who hold to the strict orthodoxy of the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds.
The following excerpts from Radical Love illustrate some of the doctrinal views held by proponents of queer theology.
• God is found in that which is erotic. “God has a fluid sense of gender that is manifested in erotic friendship among all creature in creation” (Carter Heyward, p. 51 in Cheng).
• YHWH can be understood as being the top (homosexual partner position) “in a homoerotic relationship with David, the king of Israel,” while Israel is “the bottom” (Theodore Jennings, p. 52 in Cheng).
• “God is fundamentally queer because, like the term queer, God is fundamentally an identity without existence . . . God is radically unknowable” (p. 54 in Cheng).
• “The Trinity needs to be understood as an orgy, which breaks down the privileging of binary or pair-bonded relationships. Initially, the Trinity appears to be an example of restricted polyfidelity, in which the three persons of the Godhead are themselves in a closed or fixed sexual relationship” (Marcella Althaus-Reid, p. 59 in Cheng).
• “In contrast to the legalistic approach to sin . . . sin can be better understood as the rejection of radical love” (p. 71).
• “Jesus Christ is the embodiment of radical love. Because—in addition to crossing divine and social boundaries—Jesus also crossed sexual boundaries. That is, Jesus’ life and ministry can be viewed as dissolving the rigid lines between heterosexual and homosexual . . . In terms of Jesus Christ’s bisexuality . . . the most obvious way to see Jesus as a sexual being is to see him as bisexual in orientation, if not in his actions” (Nancy Wilson, pp. 80–81 in Cheng).
• Jesus is also viewed as “possibly sexually attracted to men” (Robert Williams, p. 81 in Cheng).
• “[Justin] Tanis . . . has an interesting take on the parallels between Jesus’ resurrection and those trans people who complete gender reassignment surgery. Many people who have transitioned feel a sense of resurrection in that one part of them dies and another is reborn in their new gender” (p. 83 in Cheng).
• “. . . from conception, Jesus is caught up in the divine queering of sex. . . . Jesus is born of no male matter. As such, Jesus crosses traditional gender boundaries about what it means to be chromosomally male” (Elizabeth Stuart, p. 85 in Cheng).
• “The Holy Spirit is not just about sexual passion . . . It is also the one who guides us in unexpected ways to falling in love with others. . . . The Holy Spirit was at work among the drag queens and bulldykes in the Stonewall Inn . . . and empowered them to fight back publicly against the police that frequently raided the secretive culture of gay bars” (Robert Williams, p. 102 in Cheng).
• “Coming out is the central sacrament for LGBT people . . . coming out is like baptism in that LGBT people let their old closeted lives dies and are born into a new life” (Chris Glaser, pp. 120–121 in Cheng).
Any theologian who claims that Scripture is an important factor in forming one’s theology, while at the same time elevating experience as progressively revelatory has a convoluted, emotionally based theology. Queer theology is little more than innovative blasphemy, and a twisting of logic that is rivaled only by the supposed fluidity of truth. For woke, queer theologians, truth is then constructed on a foundation of the self, gender, and sex. The problem with queer theology is that it poses as truth, while in reality it falls short of the mark. It falls short while:
• aggressively holding onto errant ideas, such as that biological sex does not exist,
• arguing that animals can help to determine human sexual behaviors,
• positing that biblical passages referring to LGBT-related topics are boundaries to be dissolved,
• arguing that Jesus was homosexual, or bisexual, and
• interpreting Scripture and viewing God through the lens of eroticism and sexuality.
Errors that pose as truth are still errors. The same is true about the popular phrase, love is love. What are truth and love? Love is not love if, by love, the truth cannot be told. Cheng missed the mark with queer theology because it lacks truth. Queer theology places the individual at the center of determining theological truth and his own identity. If all competing experiences are true, then there is no objective truth, which places Cheng in a precarious spot theologically. By contrast, there is nothing queer about John 14:6, where Jesus states, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; No one comes to the father except through Me.” Objectively exclusive claims are consequential.
Let us turn away from queer theology and toward our ancient faith, one summarized by a creed affirmed by the Councils at Nicaea (A.D. 325) and Constantinople (A.D. 381):
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made . . .
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