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Undoing Theology: Life stories from non-normative Christians, by Chris Greenough 

16 November 2018

Adrian Thatcher reads about the experiences of the marginalised

THE aim of this engaging and thoughtful volume in the SCM Research Series is “to explore the content of the spiritual and religious journeys” of three non-normative Christians, in order to explore “the cumulative impact of traditional theological discourse regarding sexuality” on their lives.

Alyce is an intersex person, an “XXY Catholic”. S/he inhabits the body of a 62-year-old presenting married man. Caddyman is an “ex-gay survivor”, once a director of a well-known conversion-therapy programme, who has finally accepted his homosexuality and lives with his male partner. And Cath (all names are pseudonyms) is a straight woman and a practising Christian who practises BDSM.

There is positive theological engagement with the sexual stories of each of these Christians (all frankly told), together with the wish, amply fulfilled, that storytelling of the kind heard in the book will contribute to the filling of a hiatus in practical and sexual theology. These storytellers “inhabit Christianity differently”. Their testimonies report the damage done by the Church’s “repeating a heteronormative, vanilla, understanding of sexuality and of binary gender, without critical difference”. They can lead to the “undoing” of this type of theology and so to the slow transformation of it.

The influence of Marcella Althaus Reid and Elizabeth Stuart is acknowledged. There is a lot of undoing in the book. Butler’s Undoing Gender influences the title. Greenough subtly defends experience as a source of theology by conceding its limitations (for instance, its shifting character and the limitations of the language by which it is articulated). Queer theory and queer theology, like experience, also require undoing. They help us “to deconstruct previously traditional dominant theologies”, but they don’t figure in the lives of people, and they don’t recognise the need to preserve what is good within master narratives.

Christians of the more “normative” kind will learn much from the book as well. Simply listening to the stories told (and thousands of others like them) is a simple act of neighbour-love and plain human respect. We need to learn the pain that we cause. This is a bold, truthful book (unusual also for its comprehensive, well-constructed index).

Dr Adrian Thatcher is Honorary Professor of Theology in the University of Exeter. His latest book is Redeeming Gender (OUP, 2016).

Undoing Theology: Life stories from non-normative Christians
Chris Greenough
SCM Press £65
Church Times Bookshop £58.50

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