For the granddaughter of legendary evangelical minister, V. Raymond Edman, Episcopalian minister Liz Edman, who regularly preaches at St. Andrew & Holy Communion Episcopal Church in South Orange, N.J., feels that faith is written on her DNA. She followed the calling despite the challenges of being an open lesbian. In her new book, Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity (Beacon Press, May), Rev. Edman recounts her own experiences of being a “queer priest” and examines the queerness of Christianity itself.
Queer Virtue first refutes the assumption that Christianity is directly opposed to and hostile toward homosexuality. “When you listen to the public airwaves and hear some of the things that come out of some Christian leaders, I totally understand why that’s public consciousness,” Rev. Edman told PW.
Nevertheless, the reverend doesn’t agree with the notion that the Bible is “notoriously anti-gay.” On the contrary, she criticizes the verses often used to demonize homosexuality as an abomination, calling them “quite marginal to the cannon and rather unclear.” Instead, her focus is on what she sees as the overall message of Jesus—or as she put it, “the central thrust of scriptural heritage.”
“[I look at] the parts of scripture that I find central to our heritage and just vastly more important in understanding who we as Christians are called to be,” she said. An example from her book addresses the message of unity in John 2:1-11, in which Jesus turns water meant to separate people through purification rituals into wine for all to share.
Edman also makes a case for how Christianity and its teachings share values with queer culture. She contends that “both queerness and Christianity have at their center the impulse to rupture binary thinking.”
For example, “Queerness, historically, has ruptured male and female as definitive roles,” Edman said. “Christianity has ruptured all kinds of things, all over the place. Jesus himself ruptured the divide between human and divine, life and death, and sacred and profane. Paul in his letters to Galatians ruptures the divide between the biggest binaries of his day.”
Queer Virtue speaks to two definitive audiences, the first being the LGBTQ community, which Edman acknowledges “has been injured by queerphobic appeals to religion and to scripture.” The second audience is “progressive Christians, who long have been struggling to articulate what we believe with power.”
Rev. Edman hopes to make clear in her book that she takes great joy in both her queer identity and her faith. “This is my attempt to name both of those sources of joy and to articulate for me how they are deeply interrelated,” she said.
Gayatri Patnaik, executive editor of Beacon Press, explained that the acquisition of the book was directly related to a changing era in Christianity. “We’re living in a time when queer Christians are looking for more than to be simply tolerated in the church… They want to be seen as valuable and even celebrated because of what they bring to the faith,” she said. “And I think the sense of joy that Edman exudes as a queer Christian is powerful and healing—a corrective to many years of denigration.”
Five mini-sermon videos based on Queer Virtue will be used as part of a social media campaign surrounding the release. The book will also be marketed to national and regional radio stations, and with ads in the Gay and Lesbian Review, in addition academic promotion in gender studies and religious studies.