Toward A Black Queer Theology by Leonard Curry and Judith R. Clerjeune
What constitutes a black queer theology? What is the purpose of a black queer theology and on what grounds must a black queer theology be constructed? These questions will guide the co-creation of a black queer theology (BQT) for the 21st century. From the position of a black bi-sexual Haitian American woman and a gay black American man, a BQT will be articulated. Because it is descriptive and not prescriptive, a BQT needs to think of itself as a fluid, adaptable, interconnected, interdependent, with a capacity for a robust analytic. It is both responsive and creative, accountable to community in its ingenuity. The authors have agreed that a BQT has these marks:
- Grounded in lived experience.
- We have to speak to the realities of blackness and queerness, even while those terms are contested. A BQT has to be specific to the kinds of blackness that we are talking about: shaped by class, ability, language, nation, gender, etc. This is equally true for queerness. Because we cannot speak for all of these things, we can only speak for ourselves. We seek neither to arbitrarily limit the reach of our speech or to false universal our speech. Rather, we hope to speak with precision and accuracy to our lived experience.
- Speaks to/takes on contemporary and historic trauma.
- A BQT must be responsive to contemporary and historic social conditions. This includes these events from our current moment: Pulse, Bill Cosby, police officers raping black women, Kim Burrell, Moonlight, Pariah, #metoo, #BLM, and the ongoing murder of black queer children by their parents like the murder of Giovanni Melton by his father Wendell Melton. Moreover, this includes moments from our collective and relative pasts. Christian histories are embedded in the demonization of black sexuality, a demonization made useful to American empire making. A BQT must take on several histories and pasts relevant to this endeavor.
- Speaks to/connected to risk.
- A BQT does not see itself as exceptionally risky but desires to speak to a particular kind of risk incurred when one is black, queer, and theologically-minded. Inasmuch as a BQT endeavors to speak theologically, it rejects the voicelessness imposed upon it by the heterosexism and homophobia of traditional theological speech. Moreover, it is much harder to make claims across the public-private divide. Public speech-acts promote a public-facing self that can ignore the very materiality of black queer existence. People’s ability to have and find shelter, people’s ability to eat, people’s immediate and intimate selves can be made insecure by speaking up. Contemporary laws make it difficult for queer persons to acquire and keep employment or to have and maintain families with children. The becoming self-authorizing and self-authoring of black queer persons is a major risk, and is a major endeavor of a BQT.
- Inasmuch as we are articulating a theology, we are articulating hope. We call on something higher, a posture of hope, that things can get better. We hope then for social, structural and personal transformation. And, insofar we are articulating a theology, we call upon imagination to envision new structures, new possibilities, new repertoires, and new practices.
Convergence and Divergence. Judith will explore community, god as community in particular. In this endeavor she will talk about the queer expectations that we have of one another and their influence on a black queer theology and on black queer communities. What happens when we are in community with one another but our communal values are hidden from one another? Leonard will explore the relationship between a BQT and his current life as ordained clergy in the AME Church. How do the values of “the family,” “the church,” and “the academy” come together to shape, constrain, and make possible his person? What needs to be said that remains unsaid? Together, these theologies converge and diverge, bringing community, personhood (theological or otherwise), divinity, and hope into and through the matrix that is a Black Queer Theology. Let us start imagining.
Leonard Curry is a 4th year PhD student at Vanderbilt University in the area of
Ethics and Society where his research focuses on the emergence of objects for
thought and the role of Christianity in conceptions of race and sexuality. An
ordained itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, he is a
native of Cleveland, Ohio, and holds both the Master of Sacred Theology (STM),
and a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degrees from Yale Divinity School, a Master of
Arts in Teaching (MA) from Christian Brothers University, and a Bachelor of Arts
in Religious Studies (BA) from Rhodes College. Leonard loves the moon, music,
and art, and finds sparks of the divine in flashes of creativity.