Book Review – Queer Theologies: The Basics by Chris Greenough

For those of you who know me, you know I LOVE reading. It is a passion of mine and a way I seek to learn more, empower myself, but also disconnect from the reality in front of me. Because of this, I thought it would be nice to begin doing book reviews on things related to religion and sexuality! The first book I will be reviewing is Chris Greenough’s Queer Theologies: The Basics. I provide a summary (as brief as I could make it!) and then my review.

TL/DR: This book is a great starting place for those interested in queer theology. It is a basic introduction with fabulous bibliographies. 

The overall arc of Greenough’s work is to give us an overview of queer theologies. The introduction interrogates the definitions of “queer”, “theology”, and then “queer theology” to help us understand the work of the book. Chapter one deals with how queer theologies developed by looking at the history of liberation, feminist, and gay and lesbian theologies respectively. It the main gift from liberation theology is the thought of Jesus as the liberate for the poor and oppressed (9). From feminist theology, this showed that theology is highly male-centered and needs a dismantling of its patriarchal structures (10). Gay and lesbian theologies came from people trying to center gay and lesbian lives. This movement led to Pride and the move from diagnosing “gay” or “lesbian” as an illness to be treated (13-14). This all combined to helped shape queer theory which disrupts identities and deconstructs the world around it (17-18).

Chapter two deals with how what is considered “traditional” theology has been queered or can be viewed from a queer perspective. Greenough discusses how much of queer theology is apologetic and there are calls to move beyond this (33). The main point of queer theology is to be anti-identity in order to remove all the labels a person is assigned and allow them to just be (34). Greenough then shows how traditional aspects of Christianity have been queered such as attempts to take God out of the closet and show God as a sexual being (39), queering religious images (43-44), and redefining the sacraments to show the queer nature of them (51-57).

Chapter three looks at the global context of queer theologies and gives a brief history of queer theologies from other continents and countries. This seeks to show us that the queer theology we know the most (U.S.) is not the only queer theology and we can make postcolonial critiques of it. Greenough goes very quickly through different American perspectives as well as giving us brief introduction to queer theologies elsewhere such as Asian queer theologies, Latin American, African, and Australian.

The next chapter deals with the Bible and how it has been, can be, and should be queered. The Bible is a text that still holds a lot of influence and significance in our society (95). But this authority may be misplaced and should be questioned (96). Do we worship God or the Bible? Queer biblical studies challenge the status of the Bible (96). Greenough then goes through various LGBTQ+ identities and ways they might read the Bible.

Gay and lesbian theologies look at how the Bible has been used as a weapon (97). There is a tension to cut out these passages but also remember the history of oppression (99). The Bible is viewed as not literal and a pick’n’mix approach is often used (100). Intersex theologies highlight the similarities they find in the texts such as with eunuchs (101). This section mentions the interesting point that most of theology is focused on the functioning of the penis and completely misses the vagina (101). 

Greenough then goes through three queer approaches in biblical studies. Biblical hermeneutics and same-sex relationships look at literary and linguistic structures and the context of the Bible (104). This approach looks for examples in the text of same-sex relations such as with David and Jonathan (105). A second approach includes queering the Bible through reception criticism (107). Four R’s are listed here as strategies for queering the Bible – resistance, rupture, reclamation, and re-engagement (108-111). The third approach involves queer ways of telling and how this disrupts the notion that all characters in the Bible are heterosexual and cisgender (114). This chapter ends by looking at queer readings in global context and ends by discussing how the queer Bible allows for freedom and prioritizing the reader (122).

The final chapter discusses queer theologies from queer lives themselves and the importance of acknowledging the lived experience of people. There are two concerns in producing queer theologies which include focusing on issues of non-normative sexuality and moving beyond identity (126). Greenough begins by showing two positions on “homosexuality” and how both are ambiguous but still not affirming (128-129). Greenough talks about how listening to individuals can damage systems, which is the point of queer theology (131). In studies, it has been shown that queer lives often rank personal experiences most important for their faith (134).

Greenough goes through various identities and how they use theology in their lives. Trans lives show the importance of grounding in experience (139). Intersex lives are made as God intended, regardless of the church’s position (140). Asexual or celibate lives are often left out even though they ask valid questions (141). Straight people can be included in queer theology as a commitment to justice as queer is anti-identity (143). Kinky Christians show a connection to the self-inflicted pain Christians have done for centuries (145). And a final example of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence highlights how people live out their queer theologies (146). They all highlights the fact that learning from one’s experience can strengthen others (148).

REVIEW:

This book helped me think about definitions and what queer might mean in any given context. Looking at the definitions from the introduction and thinking about the global contexts of chapter three really hit home that context matters and your space is not the only space. It also gave me examples of queering things. I have heard of queering texts, worship, or other pieces of the Christian tradition but did not always know what that meant. The section on queering the sacraments was very helpful and helped me begin to think about other ways the church can be queered. 

Queer Theologies helped me learn more about the individual lives of those involved in queer theology. This book is breaking down the monolithic block that I unknowingly assumed as characteristic of queer theology. It is also opening up areas I want to explore further in the field of religion and sexuality while helping me remember some of the dangers of this work in marginalizing people even when trying to bring justice. 

Simply put, I highly recommend this book as a starting point for someone interested in queer theology. It introduces topics really well and each chapter ends with a bibliography that can point you to more resources if interested. It is not an advanced, high-level book, it is an introduction. That is why I like it and think it is a good book for people to begin with!