Marcella Althaus-Reid was a queer theologian whose controversial books include “Indecent Theology” and “The Queer God.” Born in Argentina, she became the first woman appointed to a chair in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 2006. She held that post when she died on Feb. 20, 2009 at age 56.
Althaus-Reid (May 11, 1952 – Feb. 20, 2009) was baptized as a Roman Catholic and grew up in Buenos Aires. She earned her first theological degree there from ISEDET (Instituto Superior Evangelico de Estudios Teologicos). ISEDET is Latin America’s renowned center for studying liberation theology, which emphasizes God’s “preferential option for the poor.”
Next she gained recognition for working on social and community projects in the slums of Buenos Aires. As she continued her studies, Althaus-Reid applied the principles of liberation theology to women and sexual minorities, including LGBTQ people.
Her first book, “Indecent Theology,” was published in 2000 and established her international reputation as a self-proclaimed “indecent, Latina, bisexual theologian.” The book challenges the sexual oppression behind traditional Christian concepts of decency and introduces theology rooted in the context of people whose sexual freedom has been limited. In 2003 she wrote “The Queer God.” The book aims to liberate God from the closet of sex-negative Christian thought and embraces God’s role in the lives of LGBTQ people.
She wakes up the world with statements such as, “All theology is sexual theology.” Her originality and flashes of insight are expressed in the following quotation from her book “The Queer God”:
“Our task and our joy is to find or simply recognise God sitting amongst us, at any time, in any gay bar or in the home of a camp friend who decorates her living room as a chapel and doesn’t leave her rosary at home when going to a salsa bar.”
According to her obituary in the Herald Scotland, Althaus-Reid was a member of Moderator Nancy Wilson’s advisory theological team in Metropolitan Community Churches and felt at home in MCC’s Edinburgh congregation, although she was formally a member of the Quakers and the Church of Scotland.
Her writing style is often dense and her books continue to be controversial, even among LGBTQ people of faith. But nobody denies that Althaus-Reid took risks to raise important issues based on queer life and spirituality.
Her theology is summed up well by Hugo Córdova Quero, a scholar who worked with her personally. He wrote a reflection about her for the Jesus in Love Blog on the fifth anniversary of her death. Quero states:
“An embodied spirituality must also be sexual. Otherwise, salvation is not completely attainable. Marcella thus guides us towards a spirituality which does not force us to sever our sexuality. On the contrary, she leads us to honor it as a path to holiness. Her indecent theology is a truly queer theology that has opened the doors of the closets of traditions and prejudices and prophetically calls us out to walk towards liberation.”
Marcella Althaus-Reid’s reputation keeps growing
Her reputation continues to grow with the release of books based on her work, such as the 2016 collection “Indecent Theologians: Marcella Althaus-Reid and the Next Generation of Postcolonial Activists,” edited by Nicolas Panotto. Diverse contributors build on her subversive landmark book “Indecent Theology.” They come from the USA, Europe and a wide variety of Latin American countries. They include Susannah Cornwall, Leopoldo Cervantes-Ortiz, Adrian Emmanuel Hernandez-Acosta, Jorge Aquino, Gabriela González Ortuño, Nicolás Panotto, Emilce Cuda, Claudio Carvalhaes, Robyn Henderson-Espinoza and Oscar Cabrera. Panotto is an Argentinean theologian from the IU ISEDET (Buenos Aires). It is included on Q Spirit’s list of the top 35 LGBTQ Christian books of 2016.
A new portrait of Althaus-Reid (at the top of this post) was dedicated in 2016 at a Scottish university classroom renamed in her honor. The Althaus-Reid Room, formerly known as Room 1.07, was dedicated on Sept. 15, 2016 at New College School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh.
The portrait was painted by David Martin, an artist living in Scotland. It is a rare portrait focusing on the intellectual power of a woman. In the painting Althaus-Reid smiles seriously next to a chalkboard and a wall papered with pictures representing various parts of her life and theology.
As of February 2017, the divinity school was awaiting room redecoration before putting the painting on exhibit. A school spokesperson told Q Spirit that they intend to display it in in the Rainy Hall, a communal dining room that is the social hub for students and faculty of the divinity school. The elegant Gothic revival room features various portraits, fancy chandeliers, ornate gilding, and wood paneling adorned with coats of arms.
Key concepts from Althaus-Reid’s theology are handwritten in chalk on the blackboard in the painting: otherness, difference, decency, indecency, freedom, undressing and sexual ethics. The images on the wall behind her include the virgin of Guadalupe, a portrait of socialist philosopher Karl Marx, an antique map of South America, a snapshot of a couple dancing the Argentine ballroom dance known as the tango, and a poster for an Argentine rock band.
A photo of a woman in high boots may be a reference to the 2011 book “Dancing Theology in Fetish Boots: Essays in Honour of Marcella Althaus Reid,” edited by Lisa Isherwood and Mark D. Jordan.
Books by or about Marcella Althaus-Reid
Indecent Theologians: Marcella Althaus-Reid and the Next Generation of Postcolonial Activists,” edited by Nicolas Panotto
Dancing theology in fetish boots: Essays in honour of Marcella Althaus Reid edited by Lisa Isherwood and Mark D. Jordan
Marcella Althaus-Reid wrote the chapter on Mark’s gospel in “The Queer Bible Commentary,” edited by Deryn Guest, Robert Goss, Mona West and Thomas Bohache
Links related to Marcella Althaus-Reid
“Marcella Althaus-Reid: Saint of a sexually embodied spirituality” by Hugo Córdova Quero (Jesus in Love)
Queer theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid honored in new portrait (Jesus in Love)
Prof Marcella Althaus-Reid obituary and memorial page: Light a candle or add your own tribute
Remembering Marcella Althaus-Reid, “Indecent theologian” (Queer Saints and Martyrs – And Others)
“En La Caminata: Remembering Marcella Althaus-Reid” by Alejandro Escalante (Indecent Theology blog)
Top image credit:
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.
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