Theologian Patrick Cheng Rethinks Sin and Grace from a GLBT Perspective

Patrick S. Cheng is an ordained minister with the Metropolitan Community Churches and a professor of systematic theology at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. He is also a religion columnist for the Huffington Post. I discovered his writings via the Other Sheep newsletter. In the opinion columns and scholarly articles on his website, Cheng draws the connection between a truly incarnational Christian theology and the healing of our oppressive legalism and dualism surrounding human sexuality.

As Richard Beck recently observed on his Experimental Theology blog, our current liturgical season of Pentecost celebrates an end to “othering” (viewing our fellow human beings as alien and subhuman). Beck writes, “The Kingdom is marked by its assault on Othering. Where Othering has vanished the Kingdom has come.”

Similarly, Cheng contends that the marriage of human and divine natures in Jesus ought to serve as a model for non-dualistic thinking about gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and other categories we use to divide and oppress one another. In his article “Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today”, Cheng writes about four christological models and their parallels to the lives of gay and trans people, one of which is the “Hybrid Christ”:

Hybridity is a concept from postcolonial theory that describes the mixture of two things that leads to the creation of a third “hybrid” thing. For example, the experience of being a racial minority or an immigrant within the United States can be
described in terms of hybridity. In the case of Asian Americans, they are neither purely
“Asian” (because they live in the United States) nor are they purely “American” (because
they are of Asian descent). Rather, they are a third “hybrid” or “in-between” thing,
which ultimately challenges the binary and hierarchical nature of the original two
categories of “Asian” (outsider) and “American” (insider).

For me, the Hybrid Christ arises out of the theological understanding that Jesus
Christ is simultaneously divine and human in nature. He is neither purely one nor the
other. In the words of the Athanasian Creed, Jesus Christ is simultaneously both “God
and human,” and yet he is “not two, but one Christ.” As such, he is the ultimate hybrid
being. This hybrid nature is reflected in the double consciousness that is experienced by
many racial minorities in the United States such as Asian Americans, African Americans,
Latino/as, Native Americans, and others.

Marcella Althaus-Reid, the late lesbian theology professor from the United
Kingdom, wrote about the Hybrid Christ in her book Indecent Theology. Specifically,
Althaus-Reid wrote about the “Bi/Christ,” in which the bisexual Jesus challenges the
“heterosexual patterns of thought” of hierarchical and binary categories. Just as the
bisexual person challenges the heterosexual binaries of “male/female” and “straight/gay,”
the “Bi/Christ” challenges the either/or way of thinking with respect to theology (for
example, by deconstructing “poor” and “rich” as mutually exclusive categories in
liberation theology) and therefore can be understood as the Hybrid Christ.

Thus, a theology of the Hybrid Christ recognizes that Jesus Christ exists
simultaneously in both the human and divine worlds. This can be seen most clearly in
the post-resurrection narratives. As a resurrected person with a human body, Jesus Christ
is “in-both” worlds (that is, both human and divine), and yet he is also “in-between” both
worlds (that is, neither purely human nor purely divine). Although this can be a painful
experience — metaphorically speaking, Jesus Christ has no place to lay down his head —
his hybridity is what ultimately allows him to build a bridge between the human and

If the Hybrid Christ is defined as the One who is simultaneously both human and
divine, then sin — as what opposes the Hybrid Christ — is singularity, or the failure to
recognize the reality of existing in multiple worlds. For example, sin is failing to
recognize the complex reality of multiple identities within a single person, which in turn
silences the experiences of those individuals who exist at the intersections of race,
gender, sexual orientation, age, and other categories. As postcolonial theorists have
pointed out, this kind of singularity (for example, defining the “gay” community solely in
terms of sexual orientation and not taking into account race) results in the creation of a
number of “others” who are never fully part of the larger community and thus feel like
perpetual outsiders (for example, LGBT people of color).

Read the whole essay here.

Other notable writings on Cheng’s website include “Kuan Yin: Mirror of the Queer Asian Christ” and the Huffington Post article “‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ and Other Modern-Day Heresies”. An excerpt from the latter follows:

…I contend that people who advocate “love the sinner, hate the sin” with respect to LGBT people are actually the ones who are the modern-day heretics. In my view, these people are nothing more than contemporary versions of the gnostics who were condemned by the early Church. The gnostics, strongly influenced by Platonic philosophy, believed in a dualism of the spirit and flesh. That is, spirit was good, whereas flesh (indeed, all matter) was evil. For example, the heretical religious thinker Marcion (d. 160 C.E.) believed that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures was in fact evil because that “god” had engaged in the “evil” act of creation! (Even the great theologian Augustine of Hippo was a Manichaean dualist before his conversion to Christianity, and in some ways he never entirely gave up that world view. See, e.g., De Civitate Dei at 14.6.)

Traditional Christian theology, going at least as far back as Irenaeus in the second century C.E., has condemned such dualism because orthodox doctrine understands creation to be good and that God has created humanity in God’s own image and likeness. This is why we profess in the Nicene Creed that we believe in “one God” who is the creator of “all that is seen and unseen,” including the gift of human sexuality in all of its forms. And that is why the central revelation of Christianity involves the incarnation, or the goodness of the Word made flesh. Indeed, of all the possible ways of reconciling Godself to us, God chose to take on the form of human flesh. To paraphrase the Eastern Orthodox concept of divinization, God became human so that humans could become divine.

As such, I believe those Christians who “hate” LGBT sexualities and gender expressions while allegedly “loving” LGBT people are nothing more than modern-day gnostics. It is simply not possible to divorce one’s sexuality or gender expression — LGBT or otherwise — from one’s spiritual self, particularly if such sexualities and gender expressions are rooted in the love of God, the love of the other, and the love of the self.

This is why I still care about traditional Christology. It’s a justice issue. The liberal image of Jesus as a merely human role model still leaves in place the most fundamental dualism, the gap between God and man. Then we have nothing left to do but choose sides. Liberals choose compassion for neighbor while conservatives choose obedience to God. Neither rubric is adequate to deal with Othering, “the root cause of sin” (to quote Richard Beck’s post again).

In Jesus, as traditionally understood, God and neighbor are one.

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