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Lesbianism, Cambridge and a “Queer Christ”

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The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., is a queer seminary in more ways than one. Not only does the school boast among its faculty two of the original “Philadelphia 11,” a group of lesbians ordained by the Church of The Advocate during the summer of 1974, but also it advertises with pride its feminist, liberationist and gay theology as the hallmarks of the social life and academic perspective available to its ministry students.

I had not known of the seminary until this past week, and for good reason. A casual examination of its faculty members’ curriculum vitae reveals a largely unpublished or obscurely published hodgepodge of angry dissenters and ecclesiastic renegades who have wreaked havoc in each of their respective confessional traditions. For lack of an interested constituency or any broad confessional appeal, this ragtag group of malcontents has distilled themselves onto the beautiful campus of a Northeastern seminary whose architectural and landscaped grandeur betray its moral and doctrinal perversity.

The much vaunted “queerness” of Episcopal Divinity School was articulated during the seminary’s chapel service on February 19, 2004, when one of the school’s lesbian professors of theology, The Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward, gave an address on “The Queer Christ: Transforming Anger into Hope.”

But before I carefully elaborate on the professor’s numerous and profane blasphemies, perhaps an introduction to Carter Heyward would be helpful.

Against the counsel of the presiding bishop, Carter Heyward joined ten other women on July 29, 1974, for an ordination service in a small and disenfranchised church on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Heyward had been open from day one about her universalism, feminism and lesbianism, and she soon became the poster person for homosexual clergy in the Episcopalian Church of America. It comes as no surprise, then, that she was among the staunchest supporters of openly gay New Hampshire Bishop Gene V. Robinson. For her it was the latest victory in the battle begun thirty years ago by a group of eleven rogue women clerics.

In the course of her academic career, Heyward has written a few autobiographic pieces about her own struggle for equality, a pamphlet manifesto for homosexual clergy and several small books on justice, war and social theology. Interestingly, an online search revealed that Archbishop Desmond Tutu commends her work wholeheartedly. Is anyone really surprised?

The purpose of Heyward’s chapel address last month was “to celebrate the affirming presence of an angry and queer Christ.” Standing in a chapel whose windows are graced by a stained glass commemoration of Frederick Denison Maurice, a 19th Century theologian fired from Kings College in London because he rejected the doctrine of eternal punishment, Heyward paid tribute to every perversion of moral and biblical fidelity imaginable.

The term “queer” does not only refer to being “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other ways of being at odds with dominant gender culture,” according to Heyward. “Queerness is public solidarity in the struggle for sexual and gender justice and of irrepressibly making connections to other struggles for justice, compassion and reconciliation.”

Heyward then makes the giant leap from affirming her own lesbianism, which she says is “by the grace of God,” to discussing the queerness of Jesus Christ. To what authority does Heyward turn to affirm the queerness of Christ? Strangely enough, she talks of her own mother, Mary Ann Heyward.

“Some of you have heard me say that my 88 year old happily heterosexual mother is the queerest member of my family. Yes, she has a dyke for a daughter whom she loves and many other lesbians and gay and bisexual and transgender folks in her life whom she loves and respects.”

But the queerest thing about her mother, Heyward explains, is “that she is such a bundle of apparent contradictions. She is confrontational and compassionate, angry and gentle, representing for me One through whom we meet God face to face.”

Did you catch that? This professor of theology has taken language that the Gospels use to reveal the unique relationship of Jesus and the Father, and she has transferred that language to her own mother, who, it seems, is manifest God in all her cranky ways. But Heyward’s blasphemies don’t stop there.

She continues: “There are many people, including many right here in this chapel, who embody Christ for me in stunning ways. But there is no one through whom I catch stronger intimations and glimpses of the Wisdom of God, Christ herself, than my own queer mother.”

Christ herself? It’s no wonder that the doctrinal jump from Jesus to Heyward’s mother isn’t that difficult. In typical feminist fashion, Heyward makes Christ a woman, her aged mother a god, and herself an ecclesiastic crusader on an angry mission to undo the Christian faith as articulated by the apostles and prophets.

And why is she so angry? Because “without anger, we cannot be good Christians,” Heyward says.

“We remember the murders of our brothers and sisters who have hung on these crosses and still do, more than we will ever know, and we are angry. We listen ad nauseum to the fear-based voices of legislators, governors, candidates, president, bishops, [and the] pope – and they make us angry. We are beaten up by the absurdities dressed in Christian rhetoric and by hate disguised as Christian love. Of course we are angry. And if we are not angry, we are dead or we are dying.”

Bingo, Dr. Heyward. Your theology is dead and your seminary is dying.

Carter Heyward wants us to be sure that she is on a mission, and that she is not alone. Just who is with her, you ask? Why none other than God herself, she suggests.

“God will help us. She will not fail us. She goes with us. Thanks be to God.”

As the homosexual marriages begin in New York and continue in San Francisco, and as the Massachusetts legislature bows to the whim of an unrestrained court, and as the nation struggles frantically to reinforce the foundation of marriage in our culture, a little lesbian in a little seminary in Cambridge invokes her female goddess before a chapel of would-be ministers who have been deceived into thinking that they are a part of something noble.

For all her blasphemies, Carter Heyward is right about one thing: it is okay to be angry. It is okay to be angry when Jesus Christ, God’s sinless Son, is enlisted in a cause as foreign to his gospel as that which now threatens to corrupt our national morality. It is okay to be angry when lesbian theologians breach the trust of the churches their seminary serves and uses the endowed chairs of theology in which they sit to advocate all manner of sexual perversity. It is okay to be angry, Dr. Heyward, because God is angry.

I’m not sure that anger, however, is the emotion Carter Heyward should be expressing. Theologians like Heyward ought rather to be grateful – grateful that the church long ago stopped enforcing the Old Testament prescriptions for dealing with false teachers. She should be grateful that the Episcopal Church in America has lost the moral and ethical courage to apply without hesitancy the command of Christ to tie a millstone around the necks of those who show ultimate disregard for the implications of their teachings.

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About Ben C.

  • m raitt

    I think that for the sake of the pious, learned, virtuons priests of the Anglican church in the past, this organization should now be disbanded.
    In an attempt to hold its real estate, it has abandoned any vestage of its theology and is outdoing the sins and extravagances of the public

  • I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. She sees what she is doing as work on behalf of God, but you see it as blasphemous.

    These past two elections, I have seen people who have said to represent the ideology of moral values and of faith, poo-poo torture as frathouse pranks, I’ve seen organizations like Media Matters have to be created, to set straight the misrepresentations and blatant lies of these moral crusadeders who claim to run on the values of integrity, honesty and religious moral principles. I’ve seen these people of faith mislead their congregations into thinking their individual right to worship is being attacked, if they aren’t allowed to have high school microphones and federal courthouse walls as platforms.

    I realize these people truly believe they are working properly for the betterment of their faith. Myself and others see the same level of blasphemy you see in a lesbian minister. Perspective, I guess.

  • Well, we can all see why so many former Episcopalians have embraced the Anglican Exemption and moved under the umbrella of the Catholic Church.


  • “For all her blasphemies, Carter Heyward is right about one thing: it is okay to be angry. It is okay to be angry when Jesus Christ, God’s sinless Son, is enlisted in a cause as foreign to his gospel as that which now threatens to corrupt our national morality.”

    Here I agree. It is okay to be angry. I am angry because the writer submits that Carter Heyward is a blasphemer. National morality is not corrupted by two people of the same sex living in a loving, monogamous relationship which hurts no one around them. National morality is corrupted when those who fly the banner of Christ do so for very self serving purposes.

    Show me where Christ Himself says that homosexuality is wrong. You will find no direct quotation attributed to the Son of Man. Since the day Paul claims he saw Christ on the road to Damascus, the Christian Church was doomed. Christ and His followers were a tool in Paul’s arsenal against the status quo. The teachings of Christ were twisted and reworked to suit Paul’s needs. By the time Mohammed (pbuh) came on the scene, political considerations played heavily in the evolution of Islam and the subsequent Qur’an.

    By the time Charlemagne came on the scene a hundred years later, there was a need for a state religion to bring the Roman Empire together. Were it not for Muslims who reneged on an agreement with Charlemagne, it is quite reasonable to assume that the majority of the civilized world could have been converted to Islam. As we know, that didn’t happen. Charlemagne, in his wisdom, realized that Christianity was the religion that most served his purpose and vision for the Roman Empire. It was politics, not faith, which caused Christianity to flourish.

    The early Christian Church, the Roman Church and most sects within Christianity’s umbrella have been the catalyst for fostering hatred and bigotry. Many, especially the Roman Church, have been headed by corrupt powers who were most interested in centralizing their own power and wealth. While the Protestant Reformation may have wounded the Roman Church, Paul’s interpretation of the Living Christ remains the foundation of most Christian sects. Plenty of Church leaders throughout Christianity’s 2,000 years “lost the moral and ethical courage to apply without hesitancy the command of Christ.”

    If Jesus Christ Himself rendered “unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” what gives me the right to render my government to God? I render to God that which is His based on the common teachings of all religions – that being do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I cannot believe that only 33% of the world’s population will be eligible for Paradise. There is nothing immoral about pure, unconditional love. There is nothing immoral about practicing a religion as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of another individual who freely chooses not to accept it.

  • Eric Olsen

    obviously, Heyward’s entire deviation from traditional theology is based upon her definition of “queer,” which she broadens out to virtual meaninglessness: “Queerness is public solidarity in the struggle for sexual and gender justice and of irrepressibly making connections to other struggles for justice, compassion and reconciliation.”

    This isn’t “blasphemy” – it’s an assault on the “clear meaning” assumtions of language.

    Benjamin C – another writer come and gone

  • Rachel

    Actually Carter Heyward’s work is quoted by many other theologians including Elizabeth Johnson. Her book “A Theology of Mutual Relation” is a major work and is quoted often.