Queering Worship and Gendering the Pulpit

Published: April 23, 2014

In her recent lecture given on her second book, The Gendered Pulpit: Sex, Body, and Desire in Preaching and Worship, the Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber spoke on two subjects which are of great interest to me: gender and sexuality in the pulpit, and queering worship.

YarberAs a trans-identified person, I am not comfortable in the pulpit. How can I be? For centuries, my community and I have been mocked, belittled, and condemned by those who occupy that space. The desire to reclaim the pulpit is there, but the pain and injustices suffered leave a sour taste in my mouth. Dr. Yarber spoke to the need for the Church to affirm the LGBTQ community in specific terms in order to begin the work of healing and reconciliation, as broad language of inclusion will no longer suffice. The LGBTQ community has been specifically excluded from the Church for centuries, and so it follows that we have a need to be specifically affirmed. There is a difference, Dr. Yarber stated, between welcoming LGBTQ people with language of inclusion and diversity, and actually queering the Church.

This brings me to Dr. Yarber’s other topic: queering worship. Queer is a word with many meanings and connotations. Here, it is meant to be transgressive. To “queer” something is to upset the status quo, to deconstruct the boundaries of our society and discover what exists between the binaries. Dr. Yarber presented us with some practical examples of how one might queer worship, namely using LGBTQ examples in the sermon and/or liturgy.

Our socially constructed notion of what is “normal” leads us to assume certain things when we hear words like “family” and “couple”. We think of a cis-gendered, heterosexual, usually white upper-middle class couple, with two or three kids (all biological children, of course). But what if we also speak about the other realities that exist in our world? What if we include a story about a trans-man and his cis-gendered boyfriend? Or a biracial lesbian couple with an adopted child? These are ways to specifically include the LGBTQ community in worship, thus transforming a broad and mostly meaningless statement of inclusion into real affirmation. Dr. Yarber spoke these words near the end of her lecture, capturing the essence of all she had said into a single sentence: “When we gender the pulpit in the direction of justice, there is enough room for everyone”.

Adam Plantadam
First Year

Adam is a first year student at Wake Forest School of Divinity. He has a passion for queer theology and hopes to use his voice to do advocacy and reconciliation work between the Church and the trans* community.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Angela Yarber was invited to lecture by School of Divinity student group, Kaleidoscope – a voice for the full and equal participation of LGBTQ people in all areas of our shared academic, social, and faith life. Dr. Yarber is a scholar, dancer, artist, and minister. She has a Ph.D. in Art and Religion from the Graduate Theological Union at UC Berkeley. Read more about Dr. Yarber online.

* Trans* denotes  whole range of gender identities including (but not limited to) transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming, two-spirit, and genderless.