Queer Reading

— Book by gay Catholic theologian finds new publisher

Miguel H. Díaz, Ph.D., holds a copy of his new book, “Queer God de Amor.”

By Brian Bromberger

It was a disturbing email notification that was received in June by Miguel H. Díaz, Ph.D., a gay man and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and currently the John Courtney Murray, S.J. University Chair in Public Service at Loyola University Chicago.

Sent from the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America Inc. (aka Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers), the June 9 notification ended Díaz’s agreement with Orbis Books to publish his book “Queer God de Amor,” which had been scheduled to be released in June, having been sent to the printer in mid-February and heralded in the Orbis spring catalog.

Díaz wrote to the Bay Area Reporter, “No reasons were provided for this decision nor was any process identified for coming to this determination.”

The B.A.R. contacted Orbis publisher Robert Ellsberg, who replied, “On this subject I can only confirm the information that was conveyed to Miguel by the chief operating officer for Maryknoll, that the decision not to publish his book was made by the Maryknoll Society. I am sorry we were not able to publish Miguel’s book. He is a dear friend and author of many years. I’m afraid I can’t really make further comment on this.”

Several attempts were made to get in touch with Maryknoll COO Robert Ambrose to ask why it withdrew its offer to publish “Queer God de Amor,” but despite promises to call back, he never did.

Orbis had previously published “The Word Became Culture,” which Díaz edited.

Fortunately, less than two weeks later, Fordham University Press acquired the book and the Disruptive Cartographers: Doing Theology Latinamente Series from Orbis. The series is designed to “to re-map theology and push it in new directions from varying coordinates across a spectrum of latindad as lived in the U.S.A., publishing boundary-breaking scholarship and supporting underrepresented voices,” it stated.

Díaz’s new book focuses on the 16th-century Spanish theologian/poet/mystic St. Juan de la Cruz/St. John of the Cross (1542-1591).

“Juan’s spiritual teachings and theological arguments, especially in his poems all of them rich in homoerotic imagery, helped me see more clearly than I ever saw, how heterosexism and heteronormativity are indeed socially constructed idols that must be challenged and rejected,” he said.

Jorge Aquino, chair of the Theology and Religious Studies Department at the University of San Francisco, explained why Díaz’s latest book is significant.

“The publication of ‘Queer God de Amor’ will make an important mark on Roman Catholic debates on sexuality in the U.S.,” he said. “Díaz presents a significant theological argument in favor of a more open church teaching on sexuality. And Díaz’s own story as a sexual subject — a man who came out as gay later in life, having fathering children in a long-standing heterosexual marriage — presents fruitful pathways toward a new thinking in Catholic theology. The fact that Díaz is one of the most prominent public theologians in this country, having served as ambassador to the Holy See during the presidency of Barack Obama, will force more conversation about the need to rethink today’s unsustainable anathemas against non-heterosexual love and queer families.”

Tom Poundstone, Ph.D., associate professor of theology and religious studies at Saint Mary’s College of California, views Díaz’s work in terms of its pastoral implications. “Hearing Díaz read a passage from his book that mentioned shame and wrestling with angels, a student shared that, by virtue of being a lesbian, she couldn’t help but feel that in her very being she was disappointing God,” he said. “What should we say in response to that pervasive sense of shame and sadness? Does the good news of the gospel extend to her, to all of her? Like this student crying out from the depth of her heart, many in the LGBTQ communities feel the church has no good news message from them, and no sense that Christianity is an invitation to intimacy with God.”

As ambassador (2009-12), Díaz, 59, launched his Building Bridges initiative that brought together religious voices, political leaders, educators, and civil servants to tackle issues such as the climate crisis, human trafficking, immigration, religious freedom, and poverty. Díaz sees his book as continuing that bridge building initiative, only now between queer Catholics and the institutional church.

The B.A.R. interviewed Díaz, 59, when he visited San Francisco to give a September 29 lecture, “A Sanjuanista Queering of the Mystery of God,” based on his book at USF’s Lane Center.

Some controversy

He was asked what inspired him to write the controversial book.

“This book was birthed from numerous queer persons whom I have been privileged to meet and accompany since I started the process of coming out to myself, family, and friends,” he said. “Coming out is not always as liberating as it is oftentimes assumed to be, as anyone who has accompanied LGBTQ+ persons (in particular, Brown and Black queer bodies) knows. Cultural realities connected to my Cuban background and to my Catholic faith obstructed my journey of self-discovery and self-transparency.

“As is the case for many queer persons, coming out involves an ongoing wrestling with angels to reject powers and principalities that stand in the way of human flourishing and our ability to know and unite with God and neighbor,” he added. “Shame-based trauma, often related to ill-conceived religious ideas, theologies, and religious practices, keeps many of us from beginning and continuing this process.”

The book is scholarly and academic. Díaz tried to clarify his thesis for a lay, largely secular audience. “Consistent with other liberating religious perspectives, it outs God from heteronormative closets and restores human sexuality as a resource for theology. This outing of divine queerness — that is, the ineffability of divine life — helps to align reflections on the mystery of God with the faith experiences of queer Christians,” he said.

“My book highlights the sexual experiences of those that have been marginalized and oppressed. My central thesis is that God and queer sexuality belong together,” he said. “Sexuality, broadly understood, entails our God-given capacity to relate to others in consensual and life-giving acts. As sexual beings and in our sexual expressions, we give to and receive from others. Queer sexuality focuses on the specific ways that queer persons embody and express this act of sexual hospitality. Sadly, one is often hard pressed to find words like God, queer sexuality, and sex used in the same sentence, except in perspectives that often threaten queer lives. I draw from the writings of John of the Cross, particularly his poems, to offer an alternative interpretation.”

Díaz acknowledged why some may find his book contentious.

“Traditional Christian teaching would hold that God is love and that God is ineffable, that is, incapable of being boxed and limited by any human experience, image, or concept,” he said. “It is in this sense that I use the term queer God of love. In particular, I turn to God’s queerness to disrupt heteronormative notions and images associated with the sacred and to let God come out of restrictive closets that stand in the way of God’s ability to speak to queer persons and their sexuality … and cause narrow-minded understandings of what it means to be human in the image of God.

“And all theologians, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, must contribute to the work of dismantling heterodox notions of God,” Díaz said. “God is not male, no more than God is female; God is not straight, no more than God is gay; God is not white no more than God is Black. We must keep in mind that no theological construction based on any human experience can ever speak the last word on God. The mystery of God cannot be confined to any human closet.”

Díaz talked about the implications of his book on Catholic teachings on sexuality and homosexuality.

“I wrote this book to open new possibilities of relating divine life and queer lives,” he said. “In this way, the book disrupts Christian theologies that exclude and invites the construction of ‘catholic’ that is inclusive understandings of God and humanity. I take very seriously the belief that we are spiritual beings who thirst for meaningful and life-giving personal encounters in our life. Religious faith matters to me and queering it for the sake of persons that often find themselves excluded has now become a quintessential task for me to undertake.”

Díaz uses bedroom imagery as a place of human encounter with God.

“In sexual intimacy, in lovemaking, lovers choreograph a dance that makes room for one another,” he said. “This making room for others is what I mean when I use the term ecstasis. What characterizes ecstasis, divine and human, is a dynamic movement to personally encounter others. God makes room for us, we make room for God, we make room for one another. An ecstatic person is one that gives to and receives from others.

“As the ecstatic being par excellence, I believe God reaches out to find us in the bedroom and in our human sexual expressions, just like God encounters us in other places and human experiences,” he added. “In this sense we can say that ‘In intimacy is found ecstasy; in ecstasy we find God; and in God, we find others in sexually and culturally embodied ways.'”


There are three things Díaz wants readers to take away after finishing his book.

“First, I want readers to consider the possibility that God is queer, and by queer, I mean, ineffable, disruptive, and beyond human definitions and categories,” he said. “I want them to embrace the notion that God’s love is ‘catholic.’ Divine love excludes no one and, thereby, also manifests itself in queer persons and in their queer sexual expressions.

Secondly, he wants readers to understand that “religious perspectives and theologies matter,” Díaz said.

“I want readers, and in particular queer readers, to take seriously the methodological premise of my book that relates faith and queer experiences,” he said. “I also would invite them to embrace the theological arguments I provide as a springboard for further theological explorations, questioning, and conversations around life-issues that affect queer persons and others who suffer marginalization on the basis of religion.

And, thirdly, Díaz said, he wants “queer persons of faith who experience rejection and religious isolation because of their gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual expressions, to seek the support they need to reject and detach themselves from beliefs that undermine their humanity. In solidarity with queer bodies, I pray that our ‘dark nights’ become the seeds of human flourishing so that we may grow in greater love of God, of ourselves, and of our neighbors.”

For Díaz, religion can be a force for good as well as undermining fundamental human rights.

“I dream of the day when all LGBTQ+ children of God will not be judged by the ‘color’ of their gender identity or sexual orientation, but by the content of their character, the faith they witness to in the God of life, and the valuable contributions they make to the church and society,” he said. “Our uncommon faithfulness stems from our firm belief that in spite of the sexism and heterosexism we have endured — all tied to the abuse of power — we remain proud, queer, and Catholic members of Christ’s body. As members of this universal body, we will continue to stand for the dignity of all LGBTQ+ persons worldwide.”

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