God is dead: queering the Christian witness after Orlando

by Paul Daniels, II

I am male.

I am Black.

I am Queer.

I am Christian.

I speak from a place of psychological, existential, and theological privilege: the product of a Black church in the American South whose 12-year-old mind was shaped by a priest-scholar who proclaimed that Queer people are the beloved of God.

And I believe that God has died, God is risen, and God is coming, coming, coming… come; always and everywhere, the Kin(g)dom of God is within us [Luke 17:21].

“What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

This is the concluding line of “The Parable of the Madman” found in Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, published in 1882 (semantically apropos, but not actually referent to the matter at hand). It is one of a few places in Nietzsche’s writings where appears the proclamation, “God is dead.”

A “madman” runs into the marketplace carrying a lantern and exclaiming, “I seek God! I seek God!” His incessant shouts garner laughter and ridicule, and laughter and ridicule seduce a sermon of sorts, which could easily be preached in any 21st century church:

“Whither is God?… I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. …God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

The massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL came at the hands of a perverse man who vowed allegiance to Daesh (ISIL). But Omar Mateen is an ideological stand-in for the daily assaults on Latinx and Black Queer bodies—particularly Trans folks—exacted in the name of God and State, in the name of Christian purity and American civil decency. We cannot allow mainstream media to pivot away from the complicity of the Christian Church and American heteropatriarchy in this sinister event. Orlando is but a climax in a seemingly never-ending requiem to Queer life.

Judeo-Christian-American heteropatriarchy and its ideological and actual war on Queer life is rooted in a hermeneutic known as Biblical Literalism. And the Black Church in America has been a proponent of this movement. All the while failing to realize that Biblical Literalism, in its contemporary theological leanings, is a product of white supremacist Christianity—underwritten by the likes of Billy Graham and John Hagee.

I am concerned here with the Christian witness of Black folks, primarily because those who lost their lives in Orlando were people of color. And I am haunted by the thought that someone may have, standing on the ledge of death, considered that God’s wrath had finally come to rapture them for being Queer and proud.

This haunting consideration alone compels me to exclaim that the God of Biblical Literalism is dead. This God died with every pulse-severing bullet in Orlando. This God is puny, limited, volatile, and as perverse as the adherents who kill in his name.

We cannot on one hand be distraught by the Orlando massacre, and on the other search for comfort in a God who inspired it.

Dare I say that this God, the dead God, was never God in the first place—just another ideological stand-in for that which we fear and have not the grace or compassion to confront in ourselves.

So, who and what is God?

The Christian myth has it that God, full of compassion, aching to be reconciled to humanity, made God’s-self known to humanity through Jesus Christ. And this brotha’ named Jesus preferred the company of society’s outcasts [read: Pulse nightclub], and society’s most vulnerable [read: Sandy Hook]. And for his culturally transgressive praxis of love this brotha’ named Jesus was lynched on a cross.

A few days later this brotha’, apparently, rose from his death; and a few days after that ascended to Heaven. And after his ascension came a Spirit, amongst a diverse group of Jewish tribes, that reconciled their varied tongues with a common divinity, made possible—made known—by the perfect, indiscriminate love of God.

God was made man to show us that within us is the possibility for the miraculous, transfiguring transformation of human consciousness into God consciousness; of human hatred into Divine love; of individualism into Community; of chaos into harmony.

The other day a friend asked me how I conceive God. I told him: “For me God is not man nor woman; God is the immediate instantiation and evolution of all of life’s dynamic processes. God is perfect harmony—always making something out of nothing, always making a way out of no way, always bringing peace out of chaos, and using us to do it!

The very stuff of life’s processes is dynamism—ever-changing, ever-evolving, always pointing us toward deeper interdependence and community, in all of our complexity. This is what is essentially Queer about God—God’s capacity to step in and out of different forms and figures, processes, and moments all at once. God is Queer.

This was the God of our slave ancestors who knew, from an original place of unforgetting, that the Christianity of the slave master was a debased tool of racist manipulation and splintering. They found God in scripture in new ways, but they also found God in their experience.

They knew that their survival through centuries of toil was but for the grace of something much more robust than their small lives alone—God was found in the sun, the moon, the stars, and community. God was all of life’s dynamic processes compelling them to freedom. And by the inspiration of God, from an original place of unforgetting, they made a way out of no way—relying on the community of life’s processes (nature, relationship, song) as a guiding light.  

Biblical Literalism continues to thrive as the intellectual evil of 21st century Christian life for Queer people. It has stirred chaos, crucifying Queer bodies on crosses, nightclubs, and street corners. However, God—the God that is harmony, community, and reconciliation—can use Queer folk to resurrect a new Christianity.

Queer erotic love is prophetic love—untethered from rigid concepts of sex and gender, moving in and out of forms—Queer erotic love is transcendent love rooted, deeply, in the complex-communal. Queer erotic love is the unfolding of God consciousness, because it challenges those still bound to white supremacist Christianity to ponder the broadness of God’s expressivity.

I agree with Nietzsche—the Enlightenment God of colonialist pillaging is dead. And the Enlightenment God’s cousin, the God of Biblical Literalism, is dead, too. They have no moral ground to stand on. But, I don’t believe that God remains dead. We have simply refused to see God, because we have refused to see the prophets of our generation, those of us whose erotic dynamism is the imago dei.

For the Queer God is the risen God, the God of eternal life, the God of dynamic life, the God of harmony and community—ever-changing, ever-challenging us to be new, to be better, to be reconciled, particularly with the most vulnerable amongst us.  

“And I am convinced,” said the Apostle Paul “that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” [Romans 8:38].

God has died.

God has risen.

God is coming, coming, coming… come.

My God is a Queer God—ever-changing us, ever-challenging us, always pointing us toward one another’s complexity and love. Any other God is dead.  

Paul Daniels IIPaul Daniels, II is a Queer Black wanderer, wonderer, first-year graduate student at Yale Divinity School, and aspiring theologian. 

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  1. Michael Nailor June 22, 2016 — 7:47 pm

    Thank you for your thought-provoking piece.

    James Cone in Black Theology and Black Power observes, “It is the oppressor who attempts to tell black people what is and is not Christian – though he is least qualified to make the judgment.” I think the same thing goes for queer Christianity. I am done with trying to justify to anyone that queer lives matter and that the Christian church must pay attention. If heteronormative Christians don’t get it, they are not in relationship with the same queer Jesus and queer God that I know and love.

  2. So wonderfully and brilliantly put. Sending this to my friends who are now ordained priests. They need to read this. Thank you for this wonderful testimony. Be blessed.

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