Black, Gay, British, Christian, Queer

The Church and the Famine of Grace

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Jarel Robinson-Brown
  • London, England: 
    SCM Press Imprint
    , July
     2021.
     144 pages.
     $29.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780334060482.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

“Our churches can only be considered holy spaces when we are able to bring our whole selves into them” (106), Jarel Robinson-Brown writes in Black, Gay, British, Christian, Queer: The Church and the Famine of Grace. The author argues, however, that the possibility of bringing one’s whole self into contact with the sacred through worship and community is stifled or prevented for many Christians. Robinson-Brown pinpoints the impediment to such an encompassing freedom as a distinct lack of grace, likened to a famine in which “the grace of God for all God’s beloved children feels as though it is in scarce supply” (2). Christian institutions have a long history of refusing to afford this grace to those who are not White, straight, and cisgender.

For those who hold the intersectional identities of Blackness, queerness, and Christianity, this grace is often entirely withheld—replaced with either outright rejection or an exhaustive list of terms, conditions, and requirements that seeks to conform marginalized folks into narrow reflections of their oppressors. Robinson-Brown keeps the body (namely the Black queer body) central to this discussion of withheld grace. A lack of grace is manifested in Christian institutions when they erect barriers to Black queer bodies fully participating in congregations and institutionally accessing the sacred. The church’s unwillingness to extend grace also manifests in the form of brutal physical violence done to the bodies of those the church excludes, making such bodies “a sign of the suffering Christ in the world” (76).

This book will be a useful resource for individual parishioners, congregations, and leadership bodies within the Christian community who seek to increase their welcoming actions. While the literature of queer Christian theology and religiosity has certainly grown in readership and popularity over the past decade, much of the emphasis has been on the theologizing of gay cisgender men in majority-White evangelical Protestant contexts in the United States. Robinson-Brown acknowledges such work, while also arguing for the development of more inclusive theologies that directly pertain to the lived experiences of Black queer Christians.

For scholars of religion, this book highlights the importance of acknowledging intersectionality in order to gain better understandings of religious subjects. This recognition of the myriad complex identities Christians can hold decenters the White straight conservative evangelical American Protestant who is so frequently the subject of scholarly and popular inquiry, often viewed uncritically as paradigmatic of Christianity as a whole. Further, scholars who study congregations and other religious bodies often shy away from theology as a topic of study, declaring it elite or specialist knowledge to which lay practitioners do not have regular access. Conversely, Robinson-Brown highlights the importance of theology in the lives of Christian laity by detailing the lived, embodied effects of racist, transphobic, and homophobic theologies on the bodies and minds of marginalized Christians.

Black, Gay, British, Christian, Queer is an indictment of the Christian church, particularly in Great Britain, but also on a far wider scale. The book details the church’s neglect of Black LGBTQ+ Christians, its refusal to embrace the intersections of Black and queer identity, and its failure to ensure that Black LGBTQ+ Christians have representation and opportunity within ecclesial settings. “To listen to the stories of Black LGBTQ+ Christians in the Church is to learn the harsh truth, which is that love is lacking for Black Queer Christians in the Body of Christ, and this lack of love, symptomatic of a lack of wisdom, is nothing other than sin” (2). Robinson-Brown argues that Christian institutions have failed to fully appreciate grace as an unbounded love which extends to all, and have abdicated their responsibilities to Black LGBTQ+ Christians, engaging in a willful hatred of those the church should vehemently defend and embrace. These institutions have scapegoated Black queer bodies as sites of sin, perpetuating acts of brutalization and dehumanization.

To rectify these grievous harms and engage in processes of repentance, Robinson-Brown’s visioning of a path forward is rooted in institutional abolition and a commitment to renewal, being “born again” in humility and a more Christlike love (157). To spur the kinds of extravagant welcome that many churches aspire to with signs that read “ALL ARE WELCOME” and “YOU BELONG HERE,” churches must go beyond apologetics to include marginalized groups and break the cycle of these churches’ internal shortcomings that sustain and perpetuate exclusion on the basis of race, sexuality, and gender identity. Theological and institutional barriers to an understanding of grace which extends to all must similarly be broken down. Churches must fundamentally shift how they understand difference, applying a lens of intersectionality when crafting actionable steps for combatting oppression in their midst.

Robinson-Brown contends that renewal will come when the church demonstrates fundamental behavioral change, employing actions to treasure and celebrate the lives, bodies, and voices that have been discounted or preventing from existing within ecclesial structures as they currently exist. Robinson-Brown’s vision of a reformed Christianity—like “a new heaven and a new earth” of Revelation 21:1 in which all former things have passed away—sees a shift of focus from a Christianity that is irrevocably lost to exclusion and gatekeeping to a Christianity in which Black queer Christians may equitably find a home and fully claim the legacy of Jesus Christ.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Benjamin Hollenbach is a doctoral candidate in the department of anthropology at the University of Michigan.

Date of Review: 
September 25, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jarel Robinson-Brown is a liberation theologian and an Associate Chaplain at King's College London. Previously a Methodist minister, he is now training for ordination in the Anglican church. He has served churches in Cardiff, South Wales and most recently in South East London. Prior to full-time ministry Jarel studied classical music as a pianist and organist at the London College of Music, and privately in Paris.

Keywords: 

Comments

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.