Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology

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Book Review – Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology by Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey

Podcast Review – Queer Theology Bible Podcast – Intersections with Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey – January 23, 2022

Using a womanist methodological approach, Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey explores the impact of oppression against Black LBGTQ women and introduces her reader to queer theology. This review combines both a book review of Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology by Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey, and a Queer Theology Bible Podcast interview with Lightsey.

Lightsey is a womanist theologian, and an ordained elder in the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church. Elder status is the highest order one can attain in the United Methodist Church. Lightsey is the first out African American ordained queer lesbian elder in the United Methodist Church as of August, 2015. She currently serves as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Constructive Theology at Meadville Lombard Theological School (MLTS). As a Christian and Methodist working in a Unitarian Universalist context, she indicated in the podcast interview that she is learning to respect different ways of thinking and being. She is enjoying a certain liberty at MLTS and learning new language and ways of thinking about the sacred and divine.

Lightsey states that she wrote the book because there was no book by or about Black queer women. “This deserved some analysis and interrogation,” she proclaimed. “I wanted to write what I felt would be a love story to Christians that God does love them (LGBTQ individuals) …People wrote me and thanked me…It is sad that there are still people out there that believe God hates them…This is a sad commentary, not on God, but on Christian leadership,” she stated in her interview.

Lightsey’s book takes the reader on a journey to explore contemporary debates such as same sex marriage and ordination rights. She reminds her readers of a basic premise; sexual identity is not fixed. According to Lightsey, one of the many benefits of using a womanist theological framework is that it provides Black women with theological resources in ways that do not privilege whiteness or patriarchy. She acknowledges that she was “spiritually suffocating in the closet,” and that her entry into queer theology and research was inspired by womanist dialogue. [1]

Reading Sacred Text as a Radical Act

Applying a queering reading to scripture claims the sacredness of queer identity and invites a critical interrogation of all forms of traditional interpretation that condone oppression. Queer Theology views each person as sacred and loved. Applying a queering of sacred text has produced a revisit of King David’s love for Jonathan. The Ethiopian eunuch who converted to Christianity in Acts is another biblical passage that has undergone a new interpretation using Queer theology, according to Lightsey. Jesus’ relationship with his disciple John, viewed within a Queer theology framework, also takes on a different meaning.

In chapter four, Lightsey interrogates the ways in which queers of faith seek understanding about God. Womanist Christian queers understand God as the Divine Creator of all that is, the Cause of All Being.[2] Like the theologian Karl Barth, Lightsey believes that God is revealed in “who He is in His works.”[3] She accompanies the reader to the creation story themes to remind some and inform others that God, “formed the orderly, determinate world and did so with no pre-existing material.”[4]

In her podcast interview, she poses questions about hymns such as, “I’m a soldier in the army of the Lord.” War is destructive, she notes, yet she thinks “about the goodness of God.” Lightsey ponders the evil in the Bible. She identifies these evils as rape, murder, incest, and sexism stating, “…I don’t respect any human being trying to harm other human beings. I have long stopped idealizing the hierarchy of the church… Human beings are capable of doing great things and dastardly things in the name of God.”

Queer Womanist Methodology

The goal of Queer Womanist Methodology, according to Lightsey, is to “demonstrate how reason appeals to scripture in making theological arguments, and to make clear that arguments about God and revelation cannot be grounded in scripture alone.” She cites several Black womanist scholars who use intersectional analyses, including Monica Coleman, Nikki Young and Elanda Clay.[5]

Lightsey asserts that God reveals himself through events in our lives. This is consistent with womanist theological theory, which posits that humans come to know God by their experiences of God. As a result, womanist theologians maintain that theory and practice must be done from the context of the experience of the oppressed. Furthermore, any theology that does not respect the context of queer Black women has no purpose and is dead, according to Lightsey.[6]

Queer theology accepts diverse cultural perspectives about God and requires accepting a healthy conceptualization of God. Far too many Black lesbians were made to believe that God was a white male that hated homosexuals. As we know, academics and Black clergy have been guilty of this limited worldview.

Queer Black Christians have been forced to reinterpret the scriptures, and to unpack the textual images to provide hope for the world in which they live. They have refused to receive destructive texts attributed to God that condemn them. In the same tradition of their ancestors who rejected the verse, “Servants submit to your masters,” Black Queer Christians have rejected the scriptural references that ensure the ongoing enslavement of Black Queers.

Lightsey reminds her readers of several important considerations:

  • language is a powerful resource, and we must always consider how it influences and is influenced by our social location;
  • we cannot rely solely on what the Bible says and what humans have to say about God;
  • using the Bible as the sole text for knowing God is idolatrous and dangerous for people who say they love God;
  • there are incidents in the Bible that would be contrary to the accepted humane practices of the current day—she cites genocide of an entire people (Joshua 6:17-21); rape (Deuteronomy 22:28); revenge by dashing one’s enemies’ babies against rocks (Psalms 137:9) and condoning of slavery (Colossians 3:22);
  • there would be no queer theology without the deconstruction work done by post structuralists;
  • deconstruction is foundational to understanding the philosophical arguments of Queer Theology

Lightsey quotes Copeland on page 75 as follows, “A healthy appreciation of sexuality is crucial to generous, generative, and full living. A full embodied spirituality calls for the integration of sexual energies and drives, rather than repression or even sublimation.” Unitarian Universalists in general embrace a healthy perspective on sexuality. This is demonstrated through the teaching of Our Whole Lives at all ages and levels of development. UUs speak about and practice, for the most part, healthy expressions of sexuality.

UU Research

While no research to this writer’s knowledge has been conducted on whether the inclusion and acceptance of Black queer lesbians is a factor in their attraction to UUism, I speculate that UUism poses an inviting acceptance to Black queers regardless of their theologies or lack of. Perhaps we might one day ask the question or conduct research to determine the reasons Black queer women are attracted to UUism, or if born into UUism, what has prompted them to remain UU. Until then, may UUism continue to acknowledge the full humanity of individuals. And may Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey continue to be the voice in the wilderness seeking safety for Black Queer Lesbians.

While Lightsey loves teaching, in her spare time she loves fishing. Her next book will explore what it means to be a human being functioning in a world when walking out the door could cost you your life.

– Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman

• • •

[1] Lightsey, Pamela R. Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology. Eugene: Pickwick Publications. 2015. p. xiii.

[2] Lightsey, Pamela R. Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology. Eugene: Pickwick Publications. 2015. p. 36.

[3] Lightsey, Pamela R. Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology. Eugene: Pickwick Publications. 2015. p. xiii.

[4] Lightsey, Pamela R. Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology. Eugene: Pickwick Publications. 2015. p. 37.

[5] Lightsey, Pamela R. Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology. Eugene: Pickwick Publications. 2015. pp. xiii, 45.

[6] Lightsey, Pamela R. Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology. Eugene: Pickwick Publications. 2015. p. 38.