A House of Prayer for All People
Contesting Citizenship in a Queer Church
- ISBN: 9781517902148
- Published By: University of Minnesota Press
- Published: October 2017
Increasingly, more and more publications in the field of religion (and more specifically, the study of Christianity) are questioning the unfounded assumption that religion stands in an adversarial relationship to both gender and sexuality. This is a long overdue adjustment. For far too long, the shadow of a puritanical, misunderstood, and ultimately false form of Christianity has overshadowed our scholarship in gender and sexuality studies. This recent book by David K. Seitz provides a helpful and eloquent correction. In the words of the author: “For many people, church as a good part object [sic] seems to promise a means of becoming coherent, being made whole, and finding home and comfort in community” (17). One does not often come across such a positive view of what a church can offer its congregants.
This book is part ethnographic study, part psychotherapeutic rhetoric (à la Melanie Klein), and a good deal of queer theorizing. It centers on the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto (MCCT), a member church of a world-wide LBGTQ religious organization founded by the Reverend Troy D. Perry in the late-1960s in Los Angeles: the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. (The denomination has since moved away from an exclusively LGBTQ identification.) Seitz is primarily concerned, as the book’s subtitle indicates, with bringing to light “some of the ways MCCT comprises a space of citizenship neither beyond nor squarely within, but besidethe Canadian nation-state” (20). In other words, he is concerned with exploring issues of “improper queer citizenship” (45). A broader question might be: how can churches such as MCCT become places for the expression and manifestation of alternate, and ultimately liberating, forms of queer citizenship in the modern world? The overall response offered by the book is a defiantly positive and affirmative one, though not without some caveats.
This concept of “improper queer citizenship,” grounded in a variety of cutting-edge theoretical perspectives, nicely frames the various focused analyses the author provides in the book’s four chapters. The first examines issues of race, gender, and affect in the MCCT, particularly with respect to women of color. The question asked here is whether or not there is a perception of too much racialized and gendered diversity in the church’s liturgical planning and leadership. Chapter 2, entitled “Pastor-Diva-Citizen,” and by far the most interesting of the four, looks at the charismatic MCCT pastor and minister, the reverend Brent Hawkes, a nationally-known Canadian religious figure, and the ways in which he has performed improper queer citizenship on the municipal and national scenes. Though this chapter comes close to taking an adulatory perspective on Hawkes, it resonates with a perceptive and nuanced understanding of, and deep appreciation for, his leadership within the broader Canadian LGBTQ community.
The third chapter is more general in focus. It takes up the question of the global “missional” outreach of MCCT—in other words, the rather problematic question of what has been called homo-nationalism. Seitz outlines a number of conflicting tendencies within the organization with respect to this question, with none really carrying the upper hand. Finally, chapter 4 scrutinizes what might be considered the most pressing of global citizenship questions today, those of asylum, immigration, refugees, and refugee sponsorship, specifically “the asylum seeker as a queer figure” (184). It looks closely at MCCT’s refugee program from the perspective of debate within the organization, as to whether vulnerability in and of itself, quite apart from the genuineness or appropriateness of the refugee request, is sufficient to garner full church support. Brent Hawkes’s response is decidedly affirmative; this is what improper queer citizenship really and truly means in his view.
Perhaps the most obvious criticism of the book is the hermetic nature of its language, as seen in this passage: “Such critiques of the occlusions and inadequacies of representational politics prove incisive. The domain of representation and subjectivity is indeed both belated and anticipatory, inadequate to an understanding of affective encounters as they actually happen” (48). This is most assuredly not a book that will appeal to the uninitiated. It is an unfortunate mark of much recent queer theorizing that it fails in making its words and definitions truly accessible and comprehensible to those unversed in its sometimes regrettably arcane forms of expression. This certainly need not be the case. There is much queer scholarship out there that garners both enthusiastic and comprehensible response.
On the whole, however, Seitz is clearly caught up with his topic. His affection for, and fond memories of MCCT come through articulately and very touchingly. As an ethnographic study, this is first-rate work, and the book’s queer theorizing, though dense in parts, is both thorough and thought-provoking.
Donald L. Boisvert is Affiliate Associate Professor (retired) in the Department of Religions and Cultures at Concordia University, Montréal.Donald L. BoisvertDate Of Review:April 10, 2018