Theology from Below as Examples of the Wisdom that Guides Our Days

queer family wisdomOne example in contemporary religious thought which can be helpful in thinking about how there is a wisdom that guides our days, which other’s unique experience can reveal, is what I like to call “theologies from below”. At one point, the predominant approach to theology was a “theology from above”, in which the grand themes of Scripture and religious tradition were set up as sort of cathedrals of ideas into which people’s lives were expected to fit.
In recent theological work, there has been emphasis on how in Christian tradition God became particular flesh and blood, in a certain embodied life. And so in the embodied life of individuals there is a truth, a wisdom, of the type we have been talking about. If this is the case, rather than looking for overarching truths to force others into, whether they work well or not, perhaps we can look at the experience of individuals and of groups, especially the oppressed.
Liberation theology, for instance, emphasizes the experience of those facing oppression and the lessons about God their lives teach. Recent work on feminist and womanist theology emphasizes the way in which women’s lives embody the Sacred in unique ways, with a wisdom that not only speaks to women but all people and all creation. Similarly queer theology focuses on the experience of queer people, such as gay and lesbian, transgender, and other sexual minorities throughout the world. It has as its heart the message that there is a lesson such stories, when fully heard, can teach.
queering the churchI thought it would be helpful as we reflect on ways we can hear an individual’s wisdom that guides their days, to reflect on the wisdom some of these approaches discover in the experience of often overlooked groups.
In this post let’s look at the experience of queer people and the wisdom they can teach us.
In his book Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow, theologian and Baptist minister Cody J. Sanders suggests that rather than thinking of ourselves (we who are straight and cisgender like myself) as ones bringing light and truth to queer people, we ought to embrace the idea of queer people as teachers of us and our communities. He writes,
“While many churches remain embroiled in a debate to determine whether or not queer people can also be faithful Christian, queer lives actively extend an invitation to churches to pay careful, compassionate attention to our queer faith. The time has come for queer Christian to become our churches’ teachers, if we are only wiling to change our question the ‘cans’ and ‘shoulds’ of suspicious scrutiny and boundary maintenance, to more important inquiries of compassionate curiosity, asking: ‘How can learning from the examples of queer Christian faithfulness reinvigorate the lives of our struggling congregations…?”
Charting the connections between the experience of queer people to various aspects of life, Sanders suggests multiple lessons. Let me highlight just a few.
One key area is how the ways in which queer people engage in relationship calls into question our commitment to rules of living that lock people into rigid gender binaries.
“… when no predefined gender roles exist to unthinkingly guide how intimate relationships are to be fostered, the potential – at the very least – is present for relationships forged not according to centuries of gender role residue (the majority of which has been served to subjugate women to male dominance), but instead through commitments to mutuality and equality. While same-sex relationships are not immune to power inequalities, those in same-sex relationships must, of necessity, give explicit consideration to their preferred rational roles when the relationships are not formed between man and woman, but between two men or two women.
“These considerations start with the ever-confusing questions straight people wonder to themselves about gay and lesbian relationship: Who does the dishes? How do you know who should pick up the check on a date? Who proposes to whom? But then moves on to grapple with more important questions, such as: Despite our cultural examples, how can a committed relationship be formed around an ideal of equality? In what ways does the idea of mutuality influence the way re relate sexually? Which cultural lessons about what it means to be a ‘real man’ or ‘real woman’ do we wish to retain and which do we want to shed as undesirable cultural baggage that diminishes equality and mutuality in our relationship?” (25-26).
To me at least, as a cisgender straight man who spent many years pastoring predominantly in the queer community, I find the wisdom of queer relationships and the questions they raise as shedding new light on the possibilities our lives and relationships offer. They challenge me to rethink my assumptions about what love looks like and how it can be expressed.
The lessons the lives of queer people give me encourage me to put mutuality, equality, justice, and mercy as the heart of what guides my relationships, not traditional ideas of a man on the top as head of household and a woman as submissive person guided through relationships by her husband. It encourages me to not to be afraid to embrace my emotions and vulnerability nor be afraid of women in my life who exercise what is considered stereotypically “masculine” strength.
Learning how to relate in new ways and new categories is a part of the wisdom Dr. Sanders, as a queer theologian, finds at the heart of the experience of queer people.
I suggest as we continue to ask questions about others, lessons as deep and profound, particular to their own life journey, will also emerge which can illuminate our lives and also guide them.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

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