Queer theology has obvious implications for Christian practice. These implications are varied, but the most prominent of them are directly related to the lives of LGBT+ people. Foremost of these implications is the expansion of marriage beyond heterosexual cisgender couples, which has absorbed much of the popular debate and discussion connected to queer theology.
6.1 Same-sex marriage
The debate surrounding the legitimacy of same-sex marriages is more complex than a simple opposition of LGBT+ Christians and their allies being uniformly opposed to a traditionalist perspective. For example, some LGBT+ Christians (sometimes referred to as ‘side B’) hold that same-sex relations are impermissible and oppose same-sex unions (Yarhouse et al. 2017). Some ecclesial polities, such as the Church in Wales, hold a compromise position whereby same-sex civil partnerships can be blessed but same-sex marriage remains impermissible. In many legal jurisdictions, legal recognition is granted to marriages officiated in Christian churches, which involves state power in these debates. Sometimes, debates over the theological legitimacy of same-sex marriage are entangled with broader disputes between competing ecclesial authorities and the construction of competing ideas of accepted belief and practice (Brittain and McKinnon 2011).
These complexities make it very difficult to make blanket statements about the state of same-sex marriage in different churches. Some bodies of Christians, like the Eastern Orthodox Church, have a fairly uniform position, although this uniformity is not total (Gallagher and Tucker 2019: 7–9). In other groupings, the picture is more mixed: the Lutheran churches of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden bless same-sex unions, but the Lutheran church of Finland does not. For denominations like the Methodists, the issue is often delegated to individual congregations and there can be substantial variations at global, regional, and even local scales. Any discussion about same-sex marriage ought to be grounded in a particular geographic and ecclesial context.
6.1.1 Same-sex marriage in the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil
The debates and developments concerning same-sex marriage within the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil (Igreia Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil – IEAB) exemplify many of the features common in similar debates in other ecclesial polities. However, it should be remembered that this does not mean that other examples will perfectly mirror the IEAB in this regard.
During the 1980s, Brazilian theology saw the emergence of a ‘theology of the body’ that understood human bodies as the focus of different pleasures. Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, happening through the medium of a human body, theologically affirms these pleasures. With the development of queer theology in the Global North, queer theologians in Brazil brought foreign works of queer theology together with this existing Brazilian theology to produce a distinctive Brazilian queer theological perspective (Musskopf 2017).
In part as a response to this developing theological direction, the IEAB released a statement in 1997 that affirmed the divine origins of sexuality and stressed the need for pastoral sensitivity regardless of sexual orientation. As other churches within the Anglican Communion moved to ordain those in same-sex relationships, the debate within the IEAB became increasingly fraught. In 2005, the bishop of Recife and 32 clergy of his diocese were deposed for their outspoken opposition to LGBT+ inclusion. After a period of quiet, LGBT+ inclusion returned to the fore in 2013 with the IEAB adopting a range of different measures to further LGBT+ acceptance. This culminated in a 2018 vote in the General Synod that allowed individual dioceses of the IEAB to amend their canon to allow for same-sex marriage (Filho 2020). This position has seen the IEAB distanced from conservative elements of the Anglican Communion who have recognized the Anglican Church in Brazil (an alternative ecclesial polity in Brazil) as the legitimate Anglican Church in the region.
While many of these details are specific to the IEAB, they resonate with the debate over same-sex marriage in other churches. The acrimony of debates; the interrelation of domestic theological developments and an international queer theology; and the threat (or actuality) of schism are repeated themes that will be familiar to many across the world who have been involved in this debate.
6.1.2 Same-sex marriage and queer theology
Despite its prominence within popular discussion, same-sex marriage has occupied a more mixed position within theology. For queer theologians aligned with the more disruptive cluster of queer theological positions described above, same-sex marriage has been understood as, at most, a marginal gain for the broader project of queer theology. If Christian conceptions of marriage are rooted in a patriarchal socio-economic order concerned primarily with ensuring the legitimate transmission of power and property across generations and if, moreover, monogamous marriage is structurally bound up with a heteronormative reading of intimacy, then simply changing the genders of the participants is not a very disruptive transformation (Tonstad 2015: 258–259). For these queer theologians, the ability of LGBT+ Christians to now participate in the institution of marriage should not be read as a queer development.
At the same time, some queer theologians have understood same-sex marriage as valuable in so far as it uncovers the confusion of different theologies that undergird heterosexual marriage. For Mark Jordan, close attention to the debates over the legitimacy of same-sex marriage has revealed the surprising absence of a coherent theology of marriage that is itself grounded on a deep historical ambiguity over sexuality (Jordan 2005: 100–106). Efforts to theologically legitimate same-sex marriage have forced a clarification of theologies of marriage and sex from both proponents and opponents. This has revealed these theologies to be far more historically pliable and contingent than is often thought (Bradbury and Cornwall 2016: 4–5).
Other queer and aligned theologians have offered far more positive appraisals of same-sex marriage as a theological good. For some, this is because of the similarity of same-sex marriages to heterosexual unions, which can be a ‘means of anticipating God’s catching human beings up into that wedding feast that God celebrates in the life of the Trinity, an elevation that the tradition has had the wisdom to call consummation’ (Rogers 1999: 27). For others, it is the difference between same-sex marriages and heterosexual marriages that marks the former’s theological goodness. By affirming the value of sexual intimacy outside of a reproductive context, same-sex marriage has the potential to radically upset the close association of reproduction and marriage that is dominant in many Christian circles, with possible implications far beyond just same-sex couples. Moreover, it has been suggested that the experience of being in a same-sex relationship can point to entirely new directions for conceiving of marriage and intimacy that develop and diversify existing Christian practice (Haldeman 2007).
6.2 Queer Christian practices beyond marriage
The implications of queer theology for Christian practice extend beyond same-sex marriage. Some of these practices relate to the specifics of the lives and experiences of LGBT+ people, but others are broader in scope and affect the routine practice of all Christians.
6.2.1 Liturgical resources for queer rites of passage
Many Christian communities have developed ‘rites of passage’ that celebrate important milestones in the life of a believer, and these often have specific liturgical resources and patterns of worship attached to them. These liturgical resources are not always attuned to the particular details of LGBT+ lives and, as such, some LGBT+ Christians and allies have worked to produce liturgical material that better reflects these particularities.
For example, many LGBT+ people understand coming out and the public recognition of their sexuality as an important milestone. Some LGBT+ Christians have wanted to see this milestone marked liturgically, but traditional liturgical resources lack directly applicable material. This has led to the emergence of liturgies, prayer books, and other worship materials that are applicable to this ‘queer rite of passage’ (Storey 2002). These alternative liturgical resources have received different degrees of approval from different ecclesial polities, with some Christian communities incorporating them into their own bodies of approved liturgical resources. As an example, the Anglican Church of Canada is currently trialling a supplemental set of liturgies focusing on gender transition and affirmation.
6.2.2 Queering the Eucharist – open communion
Beyond the specifics of LGBT+ lives and experiences, queer theology has sometimes become connected with elements of Christian practice that are seemingly unconnected to issues of sexuality or gender. This is exemplified in the practice of open communion (the offering of the Eucharist regardless of church membership) which has become a core practice for the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a highly influential community in the history of queer theology. It has been argued that the MCC’s practice of open communion is inextricably part of a broader queer approach that challenges conventions surrounding propriety and decency (Shore-Goss et al. 2013).
However, open communion is not only practiced by Christian communities that understand themselves as queer or LGBT+ affirming. Nor do all churches that understand themselves as queer or LGBT+ affirming practice open communion. This demonstrates that Christian practices can be queer, but only as part of a broader queering project. No single practice can be queer on its own (Garrigan 2009).