This is the first post in a series I’m doing on my summer reading. I’ve chosen nine books, with a few ground rules: nothing by straight white men, balance fiction and nonfiction, limit the amount of theology. I’ll write something here about each book…a review? reflection? something else? We’ll figure that out as we go, I guess.
I was waiting for this book. I wanted something that integrated queer theology with a strong sacramental understanding; I was hopeful that I had found it in Chris Glaser’s Coming Out as Sacrament. Unfortunately, after a strong start, Glaser’s work struggles with the same question every freshman comp student faces: who is this for, exactly? Is this a book of serious theology or a devotional guide for the layperson? Glaser never seems to pin this down, oscillating between insightful theological reflection and almost embarrassingly simplistic biblical exegesis.
The good stuff is really good, though. The first chapter is a masterwork of constructive queer theology; Glaser lays out his view of coming out of the closet as the sacrament for LGBTQ persons. He begins with a nuanced unpacking of what exactly is meant by “sacrament”: they are fundamentally embodied, communal, and part of an ongoing process. In his search for the queer sacrament, Glaser realized that coming out fits all three criteria. Coming out is embodied: it requires the physical vocalization of revelation of identity. Coming out is necessarily communal: it is an act of vulnerability that must be shared, with a friend, family, community, or the world. It is also ongoing, with no terminus: just as the Eucharist is offered regularly and baptism is confirmed, so too must the revealing of one’s self through the act of coming out be repeated when new people enter one’s life or new discernment is made regarding identity. Glaser summarizes his sacramental understanding of coming out thusly: “At their best and deepest level, sacraments renew life, relationships, community, and communion with God. At its best and deepest level, coming out means a new life, fresh and refreshed relationships, access to a new community, and increased intimacy with God” (pg. 11). To which, all I can say is: Yea, verily. Amen.
From this masterful first chapter Glaser loses his way, somewhat. He takes his focus off strictly sacramental theology and moves into a interpretation of biblical texts through a queer lens. Its something of a confusing side-step, one that I think must be due to Glaser’s training as a pastor. Instead of a coherent theology, we get a exegete working through texts as he would in preparation for a sermon or something. That the exegesis isn’t very good is almost secondary to the fact that it’s an unnecessary pivot from the purpose of the book. It’s these exegetical and methodological missteps that make Coming Out as Sacrament ultimately disappointing. Were it a book comprised entirely of comparisons between Joseph’s “coat of many colors” and the rainbow flag (a real, cringe-worthy example), that would be one thing. But the moments of brilliance early in the book cause the clumsy exegesis to look that much worse, and vice versa.
As disappointing as this section is, Glaser nevertheless goes on to prove he can walk the tightrope of balancing theory and practicality, demonstrated most deftly in the final third of the book. It’s a collection of new language for various rites of the church, including settings for the remembrance of baptism, a corporate confession of the sins of homophobia and heterosexism, and an especially moving rite of affirmation. These are all geared toward (indeed, assume as a given) the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church, affirming their lived experiences without patronizing or over-sensationalizing. The beauty and power of these settings of the liturgy reveal Glaser’s true gift; again, first and foremost, he’s a pastor. As mentioned above, this can work to the book’s detriment, but here he’s able to use the language and theology of the church in a way that shows great care for his community of faith.
So while I’m disappointed I didn’t get the queer sacramental theology I was hoping for (I’m still looking for that, by the way, if you’ve got any leads), what I found was perhaps more important: a queer theology that works on-the-ground, that speaks directly to the actual experiences of LGBTQ people, and uses language and visible action as the sign and symbol of the grace of God, extended to all people. And that’s about as sacramental as you can get, I suppose.