Alexandra J. Cavallaro, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
(Published: February 13, 2015)
If you stood outside the venue of "Centerville's"1 fourth annual Pride Festival, you might not know that anything out of the ordinary was happening. There is little to indicate that there is any disruption to the usual activities of this small, Midwestern mall, that is, until you see a young teen wearing a Pride flag as a cape on her way through the door, or maybe you notice an unusual concentration of Human Rights Campaign bumper stickers in the parking lot. Although Centerville's Pride may not be the kind of large, sparkling festival one would find in a city like San Francisco or New York, it represents a unique moment to celebrate the presence of LGBTQ lives in a community where they are typically rendered invisible.
Centerville is a large, Midwestern town with a major research university, surrounded by corn and soybean fields, and home to more than just a few churches. Each year at this Pride festival, Pastor Lauren Miller-Smith of the United Church of Christ offers a "Biblical Self-Defense for GLBTQs and Allies" workshop.
Figure 1: Pastor Lauren Miller-Smith's PowerPoint Presentation
At the 2013 festival, approximately twenty participants took a break from dancing, drag performances, and games to attend, making this event far more popular than any of the other workshops offered. As music from the festivities filtered in through the closed door of the conference room, Pastor Miller-Smith, accompanied by a colorful PowerPoint presentation, provided the audience with a set of strategies that constitute a queer reading practice, one that takes into consideration the social, political, and historical contexts under which the Bible was composed. In doing so, participants in the workshop came to see that biblically-based justifications for LGBTQ oppression and discrimination reside in the way the Bible has been mobilized rhetorically in arguments, removed from its historical context of composition. Through the development of queer biblical literacies, participants learned to engage with audiences who use the Bible as a justification for anti-LGBTQ arguments and articulate an identity that disrupts the dominant narrative that LGBTQ and Christian identities are mutually exclusive, a narrative that infuses political discourse in powerful ways.
Over the course of the hour-long workshop, participants were taught to counter the biblical "clobber passages" (what biblical scholar Mona West calls a "defensive" strategy) and to disrupt and problematize the very category of "the Christian," a category often positioned as having a stable, unified meaning (a destabilizing strategy). Taken together, the push and pull between these two strategies challenge deeply engrained ideas about the relationship between sexual and religious identities. And since sexuality and religion are deeply interconnected in a number of visible and highly contested political debates—including same-sex marriage, abortion, and birth control—queer reading practices take advantage of the instability of textual interpretation in order to engage in the complex rhetorical work such political debates require.
The curriculum offered in this workshop is similar to a number of initiatives across the country whose aim is to foster the integration of religious and sexual identity. Websites including "Believe Out Loud" and "Would Jesus Discriminate?" provide information on and justification for LGBTQ-inclusive Christianity, and queer theologians have, for many years, worked to deconstruct essentialist understandings of sexuality and gender as they relate to religious faith and practice. This case study, therefore, offers a local, grounded opportunity to examine literacy and rhetorical practices at the intersection of sexual and religious identity, while representing a larger trajectory of literate and rhetorical activity.
"Alternative" Sites of Rhetorical Education and Queer Rhetorical Pedagogies
This workshop is part of a long, rich history of rhetorical education in the LGBTQ community, a history that has its roots well before the Stonewall Rebellion. Historically, these sites of rhetorical education have taken many forms, ranging from clandestine bars to support groups, community centers, archives, websites, online discussion forums, and social media pages. While scholars in composition and rhetoric have long been interested in studies of everyday literacy and rhetoric in a wide range of similar extra-institutional or extra-curricular sites (e.g. Gere, Nystrand and Duffy), and recent scholarship has illustrated the ways sexuality is central to our understandings of what it means to be literate in a democratic society (e.g. Alexander, Alexander and Rhodes, Wallace), there is little research that brings the two together. Similarly, despite the extensive research that argues for more nuanced understandings of the connections between spirituality, literacy and academic discourse (e.g. Daniell, Moss, Rand, Ringer, Vander Lei), the relationship between sexuality and religion has typically been cast as a contentious one in both popular and scholarly treatments of the subjects, and are rarely brought together in conversation. The workshop illustrates the need for intersectional literacy practices that consider the ways religious and sexual identity intersect in people's lived experiences.
This intersection has an important place in studies of literacy and rhetorical education because of the ways the two discourses interanimate each other to "saturate ideological formations, inform individual and community lives, and shape persuasive possibilities," playing a key role in contemporary political discourse (Geiger 249). Given the ways sexuality and religion are interrelated, critical attention to extra-institutional sites of rhetorical education is necessary to understand the ways materially-consequential literacy and rhetorical practices are learned since such sites often provide opportunities to challenge commonplace ideas about writing, rhetoric, and their connection to identity.
Scholars who study "alternative" (Enoch) sites of rhetorical education, with approaches ranging from historical case studies (Kates, Logan, Royster, Sharer) to contemporary ethnography (Finders and Gonçalves), attempt to broaden our understanding of how socially and politically marginalized groups use rhetoric toward their own ends and acquire specific kinds of rhetorical education denied to them, frequently challenging and redefining rhetorical and literacy practices in the process. While institutional settings like schools often provide explicit training in composition, reading, and speaking, "alternative sites" are characterized by mentored learning about rhetoric that happens outside of formal contexts of schooling, but nonetheless have what David Fleming might call a rhetorical curriculum. The goal of such an education is, following Fleming, "the formation of the good rhetor, the person who has mastered the 'knowledge' of speaking and writing well, and who is conceived first and foremost as a free and equal member of a self-governing community...concerned primarily with the inherent difficulties of social discourse" (184, emphasis in original). At the heart of these sites is the integration of theory, practice, and inquiry in community-specific activities.
For LGBTQ people, extra-curricular or "alternative" sites are especially crucial to learn to navigate a largely heteronormative world. These sites present opportunities to acquire what James Paul Gee calls "secondary discourses," which must (generally) be developed and learned outside of one's home of origin (154). Historian Larry Gross characterizes this awareness of self-representation as something LGBTQ people "encounter and develop at a later stage in life" as it tends not to be most people's "native tongue" (18). Furthermore, such sites are opportunities to see how specific groups of people seek out the rhetorical education they need even when it is not offered to them through traditional methods of schooling or in home communities and, in this case, to see the practices that equip people to take decisive rhetorical action in debates surrounding sexuality and religion.
Though LGBTQ people are not wholly and systematically denied access to educational institutions—and much scholarship on alternative sites of rhetorical education focuses on those who were—alternative sites are important because they are set apart as spaces where LGBTQ people can develop the rhetorical and literacy practices necessary to counter rhetorics that support their oppression and discrimination. This is the kind of education that is not offered in home or school contexts and that Pastor Miller-Smith enables in her workshop. The queer reading practice she advocates in her curriculum challenge existing arguments and rhetorical constructions, thereby creating new possibilities for those who hold both LGBTQ and religious identities.
"Who are you and why should we trust you?": Constructing Ethos
Members of the LGBTQ community continue to struggle with naming and claiming their identities, narratives, and lives amidst a vast field of competing ideological forces. Adrienne Rich, in a preface to a 1977 collection of coming out stories, illustrates the importance of that process of struggle:
When I think of the "coming out process" I think of it as the beginning of naming, of memory, of making the connections between past and present and future that enable human beings to have an identity...But much depends on how she names her own past, how she remembers it, how she has been permitted to name and remember it given the limitations of language. (Penelope and Wolfe 8-9, emphasis mine)
In a revised edition published in 1989, the editors emphasize the need for affirming contexts that allow LGBTQ people to meaningfully engage in this process of making their own identities, stories, and lives: "In order for our self-naming to be affirmative, we must have a context of our own that makes our naming meaningful. We don't need labels scavenged from dusty books on library shelves (homosexual, invert) or from bathroom graffiti (queer, lezzie)" (1). Though published nearly 40 years ago, finding meaningful contexts for self-naming remains a challenge.
Given the contentious history between many Christian churches and the LGBTQ community, the difficulty of finding such meaningful contexts to grapple with the intersection of sexual and religious identities was an apparent theme at Centerville's Pride Festival. Christianity has come to be viewed with suspicion in many sectors of the LGBTQ community, and with good reason: it is often "a tool used by the radical right for the imposition of certain moral beliefs on organized society" (Rand 350). At the information tables, several local churches went to great lengths to counter this image by advertising themselves as welcoming and affirming.
In light of this atmosphere, Pastor Miller-Smith began the workshop with a question: "you may be wondering," she asked, "who are you and why should we trust you?" This question is an important one, especially since she is a heterosexual woman who is not a member of the community she is addressing. In order to establish herself as an effective and trustworthy leader for this workshop, she drew from personal experience and articulated her commitments to the LGBTQ community in her long history as a heterosexual ally.
At the age of 17, Pastor Miller-Smith first became a self-described "outspoken ally" when her school tried to fire a teacher because he was gay. She continued this work by starting a Gay-Straight Alliance chapter at her undergraduate college and served as a pastor at several "open and affirming" churches. Her particular denomination, a UCC church on Centerville University's campus, ordained the first openly gay minister in 1972, has been officially open to and affirming of LGBTQ people since 1995, and overwhelmingly voted to support "same-gender" marriage in 2005.
By linking these two histories, she bridges her identity as an ally to the LGBTQ community with her role as a church leader. Pastor Miller-Smith's introduction acknowledged the reality of the fraught relationship between Christian churches and the LGBTQ community, but fostered a sense of trust between herself and the audience by narrating a story that positions both her and her church as allies—not adversaries—to the LGBTQ community.
Much like the pastor, I, too, come to this site of rhetorical education as a partial outsider. As a lesbian woman who thought I had left behind my religious, Roman Catholic upbringing, I saw an advertisement for this workshop and, intrigued by the idea of "biblical self-defense" as a rhetorical strategy, made arrangements to attend. Pastor Miller-Smith generously accommodated me, but because of my position as an outsider, I am only able to focus on her teaching in this case study. Since this event did not require participants to sign up in advance, I had no opportunity to introduce myself to the group in order to secure permission to talk with them. Arriving to the event with a stack of permission forms as a stranger, without having an opportunity to establish a trustworthy ethos of my own as she does, would have been wholly disruptive, especially in a space where some degree of safety and confidentiality is expected.
Pastor Miller-Smith built on the theme of trust by framing the first part of her lesson with a contrast between kinds of Christian identities. Her next slide read, "out of ignorance and fear, there are people who will use their Bibles as weapons against you."
Figure 2: The Bible as Weapon
The slide contained several pictures of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church and their signs denouncing the "sinfulness" of the "homosexual lifestyle." She contrasted this slide with one that contained pictures of Christian-identified people showing support for the LGBTQ community, telling the audience, "though these people [the Westboro Baptist Church] exist, it is important that you know there are also these kinds of people who will affirm you."
Figure 3: Religious Affirmations
One picture, for instance, showed a woman holding a sign that reads, "God blessed me with a gay son! Amen." These visuals contradict the usual religious readings of gayness, turning what some groups of Christians view as a negative—using the language of "sin," "deviance," and "abomination"—into a positive, a "blessing," with an ending like a prayer: "Amen."
Though there is evidence that Americans' attitudes toward LGBTQ rights are rapidly changing, especially among young people ("The Global Divide on Homosexuality," "Poll: Attitudes Toward Gays"), Pastor Miller-Smith cited boundary cases like the Westboro Baptist Church to create a contrast that remains a reality in more than just the popular imagination. Though many participants are unlikely to actually engage with members of the Westboro Baptist Church, she uses them as an example to stand in for the imaginary audience of less extreme—though hardly less vocal—religious opponents. This technique resists a characterization of Christians as a monolithic whole by drawing a contrast between "types" of Christians (that is, those who view members of the LGBTQ community as "blessings" and those who view them as "abominations" or "sinners"). This allows Pastor Miller-Smith to align herself with the former in order to prepare the audience to engage with the latter. This introductory strategy serves a two-fold purpose: in combining the history of her church and her own life with visions of Christians and Christianity, she not only established herself as an effective leader for the workshop, but created a space for a relationship between Christian and LGBTQ identities, demonstrating that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive, regardless of how popular discourses may position them.
Despite the presence of Christian-identified people who may support gay rights or identify as LGBTQ themselves, the reality of a heterogeneous Christian population requires that LGBTQ-identified people be ready to encounter audiences who will levy biblical passages against them. Though many Christians affirm the lives of the LGBTQ community (like the woman calling her son a "blessing"), Pastor Miller-Smith offers the workshop to prepare people for accusations of deviance and abomination.
Countering the "Clobber Passages" with Your "Blaster Shield"
The "clobber passages" of the bible are so named by queer Christian organizations becausethey are the passages most often used as weapons in an effort to exclude, marginalize, and silence LGBTQ people. These few passages, according to biblical scholar Mona West, have turned "...the whole Bible into a text of terror because of the ways in which our abuse has been justified by the misinterpretation of a few obscure passages" (35, emphasis mine). In order to counter the use of the Bible as a text of terror, Pastor Miller-Smith told participants, "arm yourself with the following information...I hope this information will be like a blaster shield that protects you from all the hate in the world" (emphasis mine). Clobber. Armed. Shielded. Protected. Because of the way these passages have been mobilized in religious and political discourse, these words reference the need for self-defense in a metaphorical war against the texts of terror, employing language that evokes the "armor of God" passage in Ephesians: "Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (6:11, NRSV). Instead of standing against the devil, this armor, this "blaster shield," provides both protection from arguments that exclude and marginalize LGBTQ people from Christian communities and enables the construction of counter arguments to wage their own attacks.
In total, Pastor Miller-Smith analyzed four clobber passages, teaching the audience to read contextually should someone use these passages in an argument against them. She encouraged the workshop participants to examine each passage through the lens of social, cultural, and historical context and to use that to form counter arguments.
"You are reading something written a very long time ago," she said, "so this context is your best weapon." She called this context a "key" that can be used to question dominant understandings of biblical passages. These keys, far from imposing a new "correct" way of reading, opens the text to a new range of possibilities that show how unstable interpretation can be, and how this can be used advantageously.
The first passage she selected as an example is from the book of Leviticus. Leviticus 18:22 is part of a book that prohibits, among other things, eating shellfish, tattoos, and mixing cloth, but also includes the oft-cited phrase "you shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (NRSV). The contextual "key" to open up and destabilize the interpretation of this passage is the purpose of the book of Leviticus. "It's a purity code, written to keep people safe," she told the audience. "It represented the worldview of a pre-science culture. It's important to remember that these people were just trying to survive. They needed to procreate. So, anything that could kill you or not produce life...Forbidden!"
Explaining the original purpose of the book of Leviticus is her way of positioning the text as serving a particular function, one that does not apply to a modern context. This passage is usually mobilized to prove LGBTQ relationships are morally wrong through emphasis on the word "abomination," but this interpretation situates that passage in a cultural—not moral—framework, effectively taking away its strength as an argument.
Pastor Miller-Smith continued this strategy in the next passage she selects for scrutiny from the book of Timothy. In 1 Timothy 1: 8-10, the passage reads, "Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching" (NRSV). The reference to "sodomites," classified here with other "unrighteous" people, is, according to Pastor Miller-Smith, an issue of a "mysterious Greek word translation." For this passage, the contextual "key" to open up interpretation is a complicated translation issue. She explains that the English translation of the original word, arsenokoitai ("????????????"), is something that Greek scholars contest. When it is translated as "homosexual" or "sodomite," that is a decision on the part of the translator, and not a decision that all scholars agree with. In reality, there is no word in Ancient Greek equal to our contemporary understanding of "homosexual" because homosexuality itself is a modern construct.2 Some scholars, Pastor Miller-Smith explained, think the word might have referred to a man paying for sex in a bathhouse, usually with a young boy, which, of course, is not the same as our contemporary understanding of consenting relationships between two adults.
Though the pastor is not a scholar of Ancient Greek (and she didn't expect the participants to be, either), questioning translation is a powerful strategy that opens up the field of interpretation, as the very act of translating is an active decision and has a profound impact on the way we read and interpret texts. She explained, "Someone made a decision and now we have to live with it. People don't think about the fact that they are passive recipients of someone else's translation choice." To argue that a very old text can be translated definitively is not just an argument over particular words, but with the whole scholarly tradition of translation studies and a number of experts who would say—and prove—otherwise. The ability to make this argument doesn't necessarily require one to speak ancient languages or to have a deep level of expertise in matters of translation. Simply familiarizing oneself with these debates and being able to reference potential difficulties with translation enables workshop participants to challenge arguments that often hinge on a single word. This kind of challenge opens up interpretive possibilities, in contrast to relying on definitive translation choices, which closes those possibilities down.
"God Doesn't Make Mistakes": Disruptive Queer Reading Strategies
The turn toward deconstructing essentialist understandings of Christianity echoes the efforts of scholars in composition and rhetoric to use queer theory as a theoretical foundation to critique and disrupt normativity as it appears in and influences both teaching and scholarship (e.g. Alexander and Wallace). In calling for the inclusion of queer critique and attention to sexuality, it is important to note that this is more than just a call to add another set of "diverse" voices to our already crowded research and teaching agendas. In fact, Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes argue that we should leave the practice of inclusion behind altogether because, in their words, "...it is one thing to include diverse identities and stories; it is quite something else to undertake systematic analyses that complicate our understanding of how people experience the world differently—both rhetorically and materially" (434). The second part of Pastor Miller-Smith's workshop can be read through this lens, as she ultimately calls for the transformation and disruption of understandings of religious identity and the way people engage with religious texts.
The story of David and Jonathan is often held up as a male friendship that exemplifies the ideals of brotherly—and, of course, utterly platonic—love. When read through a queer lens, however, the pastor shows how this traditional reading is unstable when the reading is situated in historical and social context. After David defeats Goliath with only a slingshot and returns to Saul's court, "the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David" and Jonathan gives David his armor and cloak (1 Samuel 18:1, NRSV). We know from historical context, Pastor Miller-Smith argued, that a soldier's armor was considered a prized possession, a symbol of status. Furthermore, the Bible says that "[Jonathan] loved him as his own soul" (1 Samuel 18:1, NRSV) and she argued that if David were a woman and Jonathan had given her his most prized possessions, surely we would consider this to be a great love story. Much like her argument about the translation of 1 Timothy 1, it is important to note that she is not arguing that David and Jonathan were a gay couple in any contemporary sense of the term, especially because this concept only emerged in the late 19th century. Rather, she queers their relationship in a move that destabilizes heteronormative interpretations, opening up interpretive possibilities when read through this lens.
She uses this same queer reading technique in the story of Ruth and Naomi, drawing linguistic parallels between the book of Genesis and the book of Ruth. After losing their husbands, Ruth and Naomi stay to make a life together instead of returning to their families, a risky decision in a culture where women had no social standing outside of their relationships to men. Ruth "clung" to Naomi, making a vow in a passage often read at (heterosexual) weddings: "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God" (Ruth 1: 15-17, NRSV). The key to Pastor Miller-Smith's queer reading lies in the verb "cling." It is the same Hebrew word used to talk about Adam and Eve: the "way Adam felt about Eve" is the "way Ruth felt about Naomi." After God creates Eve in the book of Genesis, the Bible says, "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh" (2:24, NRSV). In drawing attention to the fact that the same word was used for the relationship between a man and a woman as the relationship between two women, she disrupted a heteronormative interpretation of Ruth and Naomi's relationship. Like David and Jonathan, though, she did not assert that the women were lesbians in the modern sense of the word: "Were they a couple? I don't know. But the fact is, in a society that said you shouldn't make a life together, they did. That's telling, regardless." Drawing on linguistic and historical context, Pastor Miller-Smith underscored both the similarity of the language used to describe their relationship and the fact that their decisions run counter to established cultural expectations. Taken together, these strategies can be used to destabilize traditional conceptions of biblical relationships.
In addition to constructing queer identities for biblical figures, she identifies several passages that can be read as affirming queer identities. One of these passages is Galatians 3: 28, which reads, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (NRSV). She says, "our human divisions are called into question," and argues that this passage can be used to demonstrate that there is no reason to exclude anyone from a church community, and what she sees here is a story of "inclusion...of radical, full inclusion." This is not, however, the kind of inclusion that queer scholars in our field are actively working against, but an actual breaking down of important identity categories ("male and female," for example).
In moving away from constructing arguments for defense, this queer reading strategy authorizes multiple interpretations of biblical passages that challenge unquestioned textual authority. Pastor Miller-Smith doesn't argue that you can say the text means absolutely anything you want it to, but that there is a way to read it historically, to look at its authorship and the factors affecting translation, all of which open up a wide territory for interpretation. Her queer biblical literacy practices illustrate that there is more than one way to ground arguments, more than one possible interpretation. Unlike those who would use the Bible to conclude narrow interpretations that foreclose those possibilities against LGBTQ people, her strategies open up interpretive possibilities. This strategy facilitates a vision of LGBTQ people as full and equal members of Christian communities, not as people who should either be fully excluded for engaging in "abominations" or partially excluded because of a "love the sinner, hate the sin" philosophy, but as people who can challenge seemingly fixed categories of identity that uphold and underpin traditional Christian views of family, sexuality, marriage, and gender roles.
As I work toward a conclusion, I'd like to return, for a moment, to my earlier discussion of queer theory in composition and rhetoric. Scholars who do this work argue that it is simply not enough to include LGBT/Q people in our research or our teaching, because, as Mark McBeth pointed out in his 2014 CCCC talk on the history of the Queer Caucus, "we're here, and getting used to it doesn't cut it anymore." Instead, scholars who are interested in the transformative potential of queer work are interested in the ways that we can use queerness as a lens to challenge normativity and anything considered "normal," "given," or "natural." Merely including queerness, Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes argue in their recent CCC article, can result in a "flattening effect" where crucial differences are elided in favor of narratives of common humanity. They argue we should instead proceed with "...both a recognition of our common humanity and a strong critical sense of our radical alterity, of the critical differences that exist among different people's and different groups' experiences of the world" because "collapsing distinctions in our experience of equality and justice in order to narrate the story of our common humanity runs roughshod over the very critical stories that show us systems of inequality and injustice at work" (431, 443).
The particular approach to developing queer literacies in this workshop, I believe, illustrates an example of the productive work that comes from negotiating the push and pull between both normativity and disruption. While the defensive strategy of countering clobber passages may represent a more conservative, less transformational rhetorical impulse (much like inclusion), silencing the "texts of terror" is still a necessary use of these literacy strategies. It is unfortunate that it is still necessary to make these arguments, but as long as the clobber passages are being mobilized against LGBTQ people and carrying significant weight in the political arena, then this strategy is still needed.
This does not mean, however, that we wait for disruption until defense is no longer needed, if such a point in time could even be imagined. In the meantime, reading the Bible for affirmation and constructing queer identities for biblical characters moves toward transformation and disruption, questioning interpretations of the Bible that rely on heteronormative worldviews and ideologies, calling into question what makes a Christian, a marriage, a family, and other similar issues that are at the heart of contemporary political debates. In that way, this is not just about winning or losing arguments or convincing people to stop excluding or bracketing the participation of LGBTQ people in Christian communities, but about creating new narratives of Christianity, of challenging the meaning of important categories like Christian, or family, or woman, or man. The interplay between these literacy strategies allows us to see where work still needs to be done, and where we can transform more foundational understandings of seemingly naturalized categories. The interplay between constructing arguments for defense and destabilizing conventional norms in this workshop illustrates the complex, overlapping, intersecting work of queer literacies, in both their merely inclusive and wholly transformational forms.
When the workshop comes to a hurried end because the next group is waiting to use the room, Pastor Miller-Smith sums up her presentation while handing out additional literature.
"I hope that when you leave and feel like this," she says, snapping to a picture of an angry man yelling at a gay couple, "I hope you can return to this [workshop], knowing what the Bible really says, and know that God did not make a mistake." In a world where religious groups may be some of the most vocal objectors to LGBTQ rights, many LGBTQ people have experienced great pain and ostracism from religious communities. For those who wish to have connection to those communities, the workshop gives them a way to read an important religious text and find themselves in it as a way of affirming dual identities as Christian and LGBTQ, while painting a more complex picture of these identifications. Moreover, it allows them to engage with audiences who would challenge those connections, that place of belonging in religious communities. In this site of rhetorical education, participants learned to see that the ostracism and oppression they have experienced is not inherent in the Bible itself, but in the way it has been mobilized in arguments. Such arguments are their own rhetorical strategy, and no one is powerless to combat that. There are no "mistakes," as Pastor Miller-Smith emphasizes in her conclusion, but a space for the fullness of everyone's lives, and the recognition of that fullness can be a productive space for future change. As people gather their things and file out the door, a few stay behind to ask additional questions, eager to continue the conversation. As I leave, I feel their eagerness and find myself wondering what further conversations these queer literacies can generate.
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1 All names and locations have been changed. This research was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
2 Scholars of sexual history demonstrate that the concept of homosexuality did not exist prior to the work of the sexologists in late 19th/early 20th century and its subsequent dissemination into the public consciousness (D'Emilio and Freedman, Faderman). Lillian Faderman, for example, argues in her history of lesbian life in American that until the sexologists defined same-sex attraction as deviance or "sexual inversion," there was only "the rare woman who behaved immorally, who was thought to live far outside of the pale of decent womanhood" (2). With the introduction of this concept, what was once seen as isolated cases of immoral behavior now became an abnormal sexual disorder.