Tree of Life by Robert Lentz

Protection of the environment is celebrated today on Earth Day (April 22) by people around the world, including queer theologians.

LGBTQ Christians are transforming the larger church with a message of inclusion and embodiment, showing that God’s all-inclusive love goes beyond traditional categories to welcome every sexual orientation and gender expression. A few pioneering LGBTQ green theologians are taking the next step to extend the church’s welcome to the earth itself.

“My passion for the Earth came with the recognition of queer Christian inclusion and the radical inclusive mission of Jesus,” says Robert Shore-Goss, a theologian and pastor who brings together queer and green spiritualities. He is the author of LGBTQ classics such as “Queering Christ” and “Jesus Acted Up.”

The renowned queer theologian expands his vision to the whole environment in his 2016 book “God Is Green: An Eco-spirituality of Incarnate Compassion.”  He  redefines Original Sin, “greens” Biblical hermeneutics, and retrieves the revolutionary spiritualities of medieval saints such as Francis of Assisi and Hildegard of Bingen.  The author presents the risen Christ as Gardener who liberates people from restrictive spiritualities that exclude and damage the earth.  The book aims to foster ecological conversation and action in churches.

He also wrote a comprehensive chapter called “Grace is Green: Incarnational Inclusivities” in the 2013 book that he co-edited, “Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians.”

“Christian blood atonement theologies have historically been violent, if not bloodthirsty — scapegoating Jews, women, Muslims, indigenous peoples, non-Christian religions, and LGBT folks,” he writes in the chapter. By contrast, he says, “The green cross includes all life everywhere.”

Shore-Goss puts queer green theology into practice as pastor of Metropolitan Community Church / United Church of Christ in the Valley in North Hollywood, California. His mostly LGBT congregation installed solar panels, jack-hammered an asphalt area to make a garden on their property, and found many ways to cut their church’s use of energy and water. As described on his website mischievousspiritandtheology.com, water conservation became a spiritual discipline for Lent and gardening was an Easter practice.

“We understood the Earth as a living being, producing and evolving diverse life forms,” he wrote in his chapter. “We made the Earth a member of the church on one Earth Day Sunday to symbolize the great commandment that loving God and loving our neighbor included loving the Earth and taking responsibility for diversity of life.”

Connecting ecology and Christianity from an LGBTQ viewpoint

Green spirituality has been explored by many people, from ecofeminists to radical faeries, but Shore-Goss is among only a handful of theologians who have written about the connections between ecology and Christianity from a LGBTQ perspective. Others include:

* Essays on the intersection of religion, nature, and queer theory are compiled in “Meaningful Flesh: Reflections on Religion and Nature for a Queer Planet.” It will be published in fall 2017 by Punctum Press.  The book is edited by Whitney Bauman, associate professor of religious studies at Florida International University in Miami.  Other contributors include Jacob J. Erickson, Jay Johnson, Timothy Morton, Daniel Spencer, and Carol Wayne White.

* Kathy Rudy, lesbian feminist activist and associate professor of ethics and women’s studies at Duke University, applies her experience of the LGBT liberation movement to animal rights in her book “Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy.”

* John Michael Clark, who taught English and religious studies at various colleges in Atlanta, shows the contribution that the LGBT liberation movement makes in an eclectic ecological vision with his book“Beyond Our Ghettos: Gay Theology in Ecological Perspective.”

* Daniel T. Spencer, who teaches environmental studies at the University of Montana, weaves together gay and ecological perspectives to build a solid Christian ethic in his book “Gay and Gaia: Ethics, Ecology, and the Erotic.”

Tree of Life

Nature and Christianity come together in the Tree of Life cross, one of the earliest symbols in Christian art.  Every Tree of Life cross is filled with leafy vegetation.   Sometimes the face of Jesus is in the center.

Other versions simply show a vine — or a tree with trunk growing upward from the base and branches stretching out along the arms of the cross.  The image symbolizes the connection between heaven and earth.

The Tree of Life icon at the top of this article was created by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons.  He is stationed at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland. The icon’s official narrative at TrinityStores.com explains what the image says about Christ’s relationship with the earth:

He is the fulfillment of the ancient Green Man of old Europe, as well as the vine spoken of in John’s Gospel. He is the World Tree, Yggdrasil, the pole of the universe, upon which shamans and other mystics travel to experience the divine. Having become part of creation, and unjustly executed, he is the advocate of all those who have been trampled underfoot. Slain on the cross, but risen, he declares that God’s greatest miracle is to bring life and light even out of injustice and death.

Animal blessing ceremony

One way that many LGBTQ people engage with the natural world is through their animals companions.  Kittredge Cherry, a lesbian author ordained by MCC, wrote an animal blessing in the book she co-edited, “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies and Celebrations.” Here is an excerpt:

Cats and dogs often become surrogate children for same-sex couples…. The discrimination faced by lesbian and gay people is linked to attitudes that devalue animals and the rest of nature. Western thought sets up dualities in which spirit is better than body, male is better than female, human is better than animal, intellectual is better than sexual — and sexuality defines gays and lesbians in this way of thinking. Gays and lesbians, like nature itself, are seen as something that must be controlled. The result is a sterile, exclusive church and a polluted earth. Many lesbians and gay men seek to remedy this situation by healing the spirit-body split in Christianity. For all these reasons, it is appropriate to bless animals in the context of lesbian and gay spirituality….

Saint Austremonius with wild animals

“Saint Austremonius with the beast of the wild” (Wikimedia Commons)

May we remember that humanity is but one small, fragile strand in the interdependent web of life.

May we remember that we human beings are not the only ones created to look at flowers, to taste cool water, to listen to the wind, and to feel the earth beneath our feet.

May we remember that what befalls the earth befalls all who live on her lovely shores.

May we never forget that to harm the Earth is to scorn the Creator.

We pray for the animals who are our companions.

We pray for the wildlife displaced as we develop land for human use.

We pray for the animals who work for us, including the seeing-eye dog, the carriage horse, and the laboratory rat.

We pray for animals who are bought and sold, animals who live in cages, and animals who live free.

We pray for animals indigenous to this particular place, including [name a few species].

We pray for the animals who have made our lives possible by becoming food and clothing for us.

We pray for endangered species, including the giant panda and the California condor, and we remember the dinosaurs, passenger pigeons, and other extinct species.

We pray for all human beings who have felt degraded by being compared to animals.

God, we know that you hear all or prayers, those spoken and those that we hold silently in our hearts. We claim your loving presence with us now.

“Miss American Green Cross”

Cherry appears in a photo with a monument honoring the early environmental movement. A female Christ figure stands in front of a green cross with arms outstretched over a pile of tree stumps and sawed-off logs. Her plea is stated on the pedestal: “Help save our trees.”

Kittredge Cherry visits a green-cross sculpture honoring the early environmental movement

“Miss American Green Cross” was sculpted in 1928 by artist Frederick Willard Potter for the Green Cross Society, an ecology group based in Glendale, California. According to press reports, “It is the first of dozens of statues to be erected all over America as part of the doctrine of saving the nation’s forests.” The organization disbanded in the 1930s, but the statue and its strikingly contemporary message remain.

Some have mistaken the mysterious Miss American Green Cross for Joan of Arc about to be burned at the stake. But this goddess-like bronze figure appears to be a female Christ, embodiment of Holy Wisdom (Sophia). She seems to express the theology of the green cross described by Shore-Goss and others, drawing parallels between the destruction of forests and the crucifixion of Jesus. The sculpture is located at the Brand Library in Glendale. The photographer was Audrey Lockwood.

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Top image credit:
Tree of Life” by Robert Lentz

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, events in LGBTQ history, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
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Tree of Life by Robert Lentz mugIcons of the Tree of Life and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

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Kittredge Cherry

Founder at Q Spirit
Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author who writes regularly about LGBTQ spirituality.She holds degrees in religion, journalism and art history.She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its national ecumenical officer, advocating for LGBTQ rights at the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches.
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