Saturday, February 9, 2019

Rainbow Mail: Queer Christian Letters In Response to the Epistles

"On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect."

1 Corinthians 12: 22-23

Assignment Overview

In this exercise, the seminar will respond to selections from the Epistles. These texts are framed as letters to early Christian communities in the first century AD/CE. Many of them are written by St. Paul who is considered by many to be the first theologian of Christianity, on the grounds that he did not encounter Jesus before his death. They represent one part of an ongoing correspondence between members of a faith tradition that was still defining itself. Readers can imagine the epistles that were written before or after the letters that are available in Christian Bibles. In fact, that is exactly the task for today!

Breaking into small groups, you will form committees working for the Queer Christianity Congregation. As an emerging church, you have received a series of letters and texts from fellow members of "The Way," especially from one very passionate convert from Tarsus, Paul. Because of the number and fervor of the correspondence, each committee is tasked with responding to a different item in the mail bag, taking care to represent the mission of the open and affirming, pro-LGBTQI ministry at the Queer Christianity Congregation. Indeed, the particular letters you are tasked with engaging today articulate Paul's problematic theology around gender and sexuality.

As a 21st century ministry, your committee's response will take the form of a Youtube "mail-bag" video. Each video will be about 7-10 minutes, including (1) a restatement of the letter's content, especially those passages which reflect problematic theology around gender and sexuality, (2) counter-arguments that critique the fallacies of the letter, and (3) an acknowledgement of points where the letter's statements or spirit might be synthesized for the Queer Christianity Congregation without betraying any of its missions. The video should take time at the end to respond to at least 3 comments from the viewers.

Note: as an in-class exercise, the "video" may be a framing device for an oral report before the class and the commenters are questions raised by the fellow class-mates. An actual video need not be produced. Alternatively, a written letter may take the place of a video or oral presentation if circumstances make those methods difficult.


Sample Groups

Group 1: Queer Love
1 Romans 1

Read "1 Romans 1" with special attention given to lines 22-27.

"22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error."

Terms to research: gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, gynosexual, androsexual.

Group 2: Queer Afterlives
1 Corinthians 6

Read "1 Corinthians 6" with special attention given to lines 9-11.

"9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."

Terms to research: cisgender privilege, down low, in the closet, coming out, heterosexism, heteronormativity, HIV-phobia, stealth.

Group 3: Christian BDSM
Ephesians 5: 22-33

Read "Ephesians 5:22-33" with special attention given to lines 22-24.

"22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands."

Terms to research: BDSM, bottom, top, versatile, femme, butch, and switch.

Group 4: Queer Identity
Galatians 3

Read "Galatians 3" with special attention given to lines 27-28.

"27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

Terms to research: agender, asexual, androgynous, gender queer, gender fluid, bisexual, and pansexual.

Alternative Scripture

The assignment might also be expanded to include other texts or pieces of scripture that are not in letter form. Playing on the theme of anti-LGBTQI passages, Genesis 18 might be one such candidate. The questions may have to be adjusted in these cases.

Group 5: Sodom and Sodomy
Genesis 18-19

Read "Genesis 18-19" with special attention given to when and why Sodom is condemned to destruction and what the primary crimes are against the angels and their protectors.

"18: 20 Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! 21 I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”"

"19:4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; 5 and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” 6 Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”"


Starter Questions

1) What is the overall message of the letter? What are the specific claims that address gender and sexuality? How are they phrased and imagined? What are the underlying cultural, leaps in logic, and theological assumptions that seem to underpin the claims?

2) Does the overall message correspond to the core values and beliefs of the Queer Christianity Congregation? How might the specific claims be answered directly? How might the phrasing of the letter be deconstructed or reimagined? In what respects are the cultural differences between Paul and the QCC made evident? What leaps of logic are rather too far for credulity? What theology or scripture might be offered to counter the letter's claims?

3) Granting that in either the specifics or in the general spirit of the letter there is something positive to be received, what elements or sentiments of the letter might still be useful for the Queer Christianity Congregation?



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