Queer eye on the Bible for Pride Month


Presbyterian journal Unbound presents LGBTQIA+ perspective on the Gospel of Mark

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Lee Catoe

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — As part of the celebration of Pride Month, Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice has launched a series called “Queering the Bible,” which will start with a 16-part study of the Gospel of Mark written by LGBTQIA+ leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and beyond. The series launched June 1 and continues through July 22.

The Rev. Lee Catoe, editor of Unbound and the co-host of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast,” talked to Presbyterian News Service about the series and what inspired it. The following is a transcript of that conversation lightly edited for length and clarity. You can watch the interview in its entirety above or by clicking here.

Q: Let’s start with a definition. What do we mean by “Queering the Bible”?

A: When we’re talking about “Queering the Bible,” first we’re going to talk about what queering means. Queer has been used a lot in derogatory ways. But when we’re talking about queer, queer means to kind of go against what societal norms or what has been constructed to say this is how you should be in the world when it comes to our gender expressions, when it comes to our sexualities, and queering that means that we’re going against the status quo, and what society kind of places upon us and kind of being who God created us to be as queer folk. And oftentimes when we’re looking at Scripture, historically, it’s been a lot of straight white men who have interpreted Scripture and then creating theologies.

So, when we’re talking about queering the Bible, we really are wanting to have the voice of queer folk, trans folk, who read Scripture, look at Scripture and interpret that Scripture through that lens. We all interpret Scripture through our lens of our own experiences. And we have really kind of pushed aside the marginalized voices of queer folk when it comes to theology. And that is what this series is all about, it is learning about how we experience God as queer folk, and how we experience Scripture as queer people. It’s going against all the heteronormative ways that Scripture has been interpreted and creating some new theologies that we can use.

Q: Where did you get the idea for the “Queering the Bible” series, and what made the Gospel of Mark the book to start with?

A: In progressive denominations, during pride month, it’s all about inclusion. And we put up the rainbow flags, we wear T-shirts — Target, everybody’s selling Pride stuff, and it can often be very superficial, and it can also be like that in the church. Churches put up pride flags, or they’re at pride parades. And that’s important.

But when it comes to Scripture and how queer people interpret it, you often don’t see that very much. And it’s really challenging us to go deeper in our inclusion, to go deeper in our welcoming of queer folk. So, we have to start in a very foundational thing that is a part of our faith, and that is Scripture. And that’s where the idea came from, to kind of deepen that inclusion. And the Gospel of Mark is one of my favorite gospels. It’s short, which made for a good intro into this series, which will happen every year. And the Gospel of Mark is so straightforward. It tells stories in a quick and often fast-paced way that I think is just very easy to digest when it comes to kind of an intro into a biblical text. Mark has some very interesting stories that speak about inclusion and what that means, that has stories where Jesus is encountering people who have different experiences, marginalized folk, and so I just think it speaks to the queer experience, very much, right now. And it’s my favorite.

Q: We got our first entry this morning (June 1) with a look at Mark 1 and John the Baptist through that lens. Obviously, you’ve seen quite a few, or maybe all of the entries by now. What has particularly struck you about some of the approaches that contributors have taken?

A: The way in which a lot of the writers have kind of approached the chapters is that, for one, they kind of give a little summary of what the chapter is. And then they focus in on a story or a pericope, if we want to get really technical in the language. It’s just a specific story within the narrative of Mark. And how they have not only called out how these verses have been interpreted in very unhealthy ways, but also providing healthier theologies and more inclusive kind of interpretations as they go. So, we can then build up healthy, life-giving theologies.

Oftentimes, when we’re talking about inclusion we do focus on — and rightfully so — the negative how this has been destructive, and how it’s been, in all honesty, very death dealing to a lot of queer people. And it has been a very intentional choice to have constructive things that come out of this to say let’s think about it this way. What if we had this perspective? And how will this then continue to build healthier theologies of how we experienced God and how others may experience God in life-giving ways. Each chapter kind of deals with that. It’s a deconstruction, but it’s also a constructive piece for a theological kind of reflection. It’s been very life-giving for me.

Q: Any favorites that are coming up that you hope people will look out for?

A: Well, they’re all very wonderful. The people who are writing for this, it’s a very intentionally diverse group of people. And I know we’re in the Presbyterian Church, but many of the folks who are writing may not necessarily identify as Presbyterian. A lot of our writers are younger. A couple of them, this is their first writing experience, which is kind of what Unbound is all about: giving people an opportunity, that don’t normally get to write, don’t normally get to express their theological perspectives, giving them a platform to do so. A couple of them have never written for a publishing platform before.

That’s been very interesting, and having that perspective of young queer folk, alongside older queer folk, and having intergenerational perspectives as well. Every issue that we talk about in the church, in the Presbyterian Church, when it comes to racism, classism, when it comes to systems of white supremacy, all that intersects within the queer community, too. So, having those perspectives as well, of all different types of expressions within the queer community be a part of it, that is what you’ll see, which I’m very proud to be a part of.

Q: Where do you think it will go from here? What do you expect next from “Queering the Bible”?

A: There’s not many queer commentaries when it comes to the Bible in general, and so I think we’re going to take on the Old Testament next time to see what comes of it. As Christians, we often concentrate on the New Testament a lot, but I think it is important to also have commentary on Old Testament. Who knows? We might do a parables one. We might do a beatitudes one. All kinds.

There’ve been several comments like, why would you do that every year? Why would you have a “Queering the Bible” series every year? We have all these commentaries written by straight people that we always use, and why not do it every year? And so that’s kind of my mentality going into it and saying, yeah, why not do it? Because this is something that needs to be integrated into our faith and our theologies.

Unbound is part of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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