Linn Marie Tonstad’s Queer Theology adroitly wrangles major figures and texts in queer theory and Christian theology into an accessible book. Her well-timed humor amidst rigorous analysis demonstrates an amalgamation of her research and teaching in queer theology. She concisely defines terms and constructs a useful shorthand for otherwise unwieldy theorists and theologians. As such, Queer Theology is an ideal text for undergraduate courses as well as graduate students or scholars unfamiliar with the terrain of queer theology.
Despite my ongoing reservation that acclaimed queer theologians are pressured to ascribe to respectability politics by reproducing conventional theological forms, I have found Tonstad’s corpus to be unmatched for thinking through innovative queer theology that has more to do with engaged politics than detailing sex practices. Queer Theology does much of the work that queer theologians might not want to take the time to cover during class but understand is necessary before delving into what it might mean for theology today. Unquestionably, it is an invaluable contribution to the field.
The panelists featured on this Syndicate symposium include Nikki Young, Kent Brintnall, Peter Mena, and Leonard Curry. Each offers a thoughtful response that readers are encouraged to engage in the comments section, where Tonstad will also be an active participant. That Syndicate offers academic symposia to the public in this manner is a gift that enriches public scholarship and lived theology. I encourage you, the reader, to be bold. You are invited to think with these outstanding scholars of queer theology. Take this opportunity to ask questions and engage in conversation.
First, we will hear from Nikki Young, who praises Tonstad for pushing the theological conversation beyond apologetics and into sociopolitical transformation, because linearity is a nonsensical orientation to divine providence and participation in the world. She is especially invested in Tonstad’s argument that queerness represents a destabilizing movement.
After underscoring Tonstad’s useful reorientation of queer theology, away from sexual ethics and towards social justice, Kent Brintnall queries: “What is the norm, what is the source of the norm, that helps us to define, describe, and demarcate oppression and exploitation?” He speculates that the answer might lie within our understanding of corporeality, and provocatively suggests that perhaps norms are necessary to the task of pursuing economic justice.
Peter Mena reminds readers that Tonstad’s call to dismantle multifarious oppressive techniques will never be complete. Importantly, he asks, “If finitude is inescapable and inevitable and indeed is affirmed by both queerness and Christianity (except for the certain types of Christians who see finitude as ‘something wrong’), what then do we make of the unevenness of death?”
Last, we will hear from Leonard Curry, one of Tonstad’s former students. Curry finds that Tonstad’s argument that God is the difference beyond difference with respect to creation helped him to further reconcile God’s relation to creation and expanded his understanding of the meaning of transcendence. He then invites Tonstad to reflect further on the racialization of reproduction, theological eccentricity, beyond apologetics, and the individual conscience.
With Curry, I wonder: “What does it mean to move beyond apologetics if we have to go through apologetics to get beyond?” Must queer theology regulate which voices are respected and valued within the discipline, or is that a reproduction of the very structures that it claims to rail against? Although Tonstad identifies the shortcomings of conventional theological forms, such as apologetics, and extolls Marcella Althaus-Reid’s ability to outperform theorists and theologians while undoing established methodologies, the structure of Tonstad’s work remains legible to convention rather than reimagining Althaus-Reid’s invitation to do our work differently. I cannot shake the feeling that too often queer theology reproduces conventional structures due to fear—fear that our work will not be recognized as rigorous—and not because something new would be ambitious. We are already doing difficult work.
Is our aim to make room for ourselves, or, more broadly, as Tonstad suggests, to pursue economic justice for all? If the latter, how might we heed Brintnall’s suggestion that adjudicating justice necessitates norms? The work of queer theology is vital and requires “indecent” voices and visions. Won’t you join us?