A/V Pastoral

I puddle-hunted yesterday, on my way to an empty church, to talk to the pastor about a gig operating the audio equipment. He wanted to know who I was, and I told him I’m a photographer, with four years of experience working audio at a church, who also got a degree in religious studies from Long Beach State. The pastor told me that the church was almost progressive, and that the church was part of the ELCA, which meant that they support the gays, although half the church left after the denomination had made that decision, while the rest remained silent. I thought of the Episcopal church, where we have gay priests, and there cannot be silence. “Silence is not the answer,” was a social-justice theology book my grandma gave me, before she passed, from the same church. “Your grandpa keeps his cards close to his chest,” said the pastor, wondering what my grandpa thought of gay people. I did not come out to the pastor.

He asked me what I was reading, and I said Giorgio Agamben (controversial) and some other post-structuralists, like Foucault and Derrida. He asked me how I was reading graduate level books—why the religious studies program at Long Beach would teach that—and I said I read them on my own; that a professor might recommend them. “You’re in the epistemological drain,” he said, and I shrugged—what does that even mean?—while he recommended comparative theology books.

“I read Georges Bataille,” I said, “which is kind-of an anti-theology. I’m not so sure about theology.”

“It will be a leap for sure,” he said, “and the theologians kind-of just ignored the epistemological problems that the post-structuralists raised, moving along.”

“Oh okay,” I said.

So he recommended some religious studies books, and one about secularism (I’m bored by secular/sacred dichotomies, because like, we make all that stuff up. In the words of Robert Pirsig, “The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower.” Would you call a motorcycle, or a computer, sacred? Who cares). He talked about his master’s in comparative religious dialogue.

“Speaking of religious dialogue,” I said, “I ended up spending a lot of time digging into queer-religious studies and queer theology.” He said that the Buddhists had a third gender person. I told him “I know,” and thought of the epistemological drain (this skepticism that we can really know very much, or that doubt our language and structures of thought correspond to an “objective” “reality,” which is not a denial of reality—just a skepticism). 

I think of how comparative religious dialogue means finding queerness across religions for the pastor (relying on the safety of religious categories), and how for me queer people sometimes find their own (non)religious structures (aka: what is religion?!). And I thought of how most queer theology I’ve read resides “inside” the “epistemological drain,” for, as some theorists say, even the category “queer,” and often LGBTQ people in general, and particularly within the church, are an “epistemological” threat to the church. And queer people have often had knowledge used against them, so are in a place to interrogate who knowledge is for, how knowledge is produced, and what knowledge does (Foucauldian!). 

For the pastor to just ignore the problems raised by the post-structuralists and leap to theology seems to be the symptom of silence; if the subjects of our conversation probed not whether it was safe to come out to a pastor, but how (with the strength of his knowledge) he would think about gay people, I can understand why, in my gut, not owing anyone anything, I did not come out to him. Maybe next time.