Controversies in Queer Theology (Book Review)

Adam J Stevenson, Methodist Minister

Susannah Cornwall (2011) Controversies in Queer Theology. ISBN 978-0334043553.

Charles Wesley writes in a hymn ‘those dear tokens of his passion, still his dazzling body bears’. It is an exploration of the bodily nature of Jesus post resurrection. It matters that his scars are visible on the other side of death, in this new experience. And for the gay community the scars of our history are vitallity important. Susannah Cornwall attempts within her work Controversies in Queer Theology, to map out some of that history, and some of those scars, while dealing at the same time with some contemporary questions. It is a big ask of any book to deal with the interwoven nature of theory, praxis and theological development. Especially true when the strands are both secular and religious. Cornwall doesn’t always get the balance right for a book which is entitled Queer Theology.

I have other niggles too: the use of other authors’ works (30 pages of listings in the index), while suggesting a depth of scholarship, leaves little room for actual comment or development of the arguments and leaves Cornwall with the role of a narrator. Is this a ‘reader’ in Gay Theology, or is it a serious attempt at drawing together disparate strands? It is not made clear to us as the reader what Cornwall’s intentions were.

Still less clear to us as readers is where Cornwall herself is on this journey? You may think surely as an academic that does not matter for her? But I think it does for us. If we accept that Queer Theology is a part of the wider liberation movement of theologies what is missing here is any real comprehension about where the author stands, and it leaves us with questions: why these authors over others? Why these questions over others? Why this viewpoint and not a different one?

Cornwall’s silence about her own lenses in the end becomes a shattering noise of frustration, as you try to critically engage with the subject matter on offer.

In short, if you are new to Queer Theory and its relationship and development for Queer Theology, this book will be a useful reference on your shelf. If you already have some knowledge and are looking for something that will challenge and take you deeper, I think this will leave you more frustrated than enlightened.

Finally as a minister engaged in pastoral practice it was good to find certain questions tackled, such as – Is the Bible Queer? and should Queer people  stay Christians? But as there are some more pressing issues of gay justice in the Church both in the UK and world wide, it is disappointing that they didn’t receive any attention.

This text was originally published in the Quest Bulletin, no. 64 (Autumn 2012)

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