By Mihee Kim-Kort
Fortress Press, 2018
Paperback, 212 pages
Reviewed by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott
To profit profoundly from Outside the Lines, it is vital for the reader to grasp what Mihee Kim-Kort means by the word queer. Here is one important definition: “Queerness is the recognition that we are all passing for something as we work out our identities and relationships… we are constantly learning about ourselves and therefore pressing up against boundaries of gender, race, and ultimately the definition of being human” (p. 124).
Or the reader might try this on for its implications. When Mihee Kim-Kort had been ordained and looked at herself in her ministerial robes, she realized that the robes resembled a dress. So she concluded that “We [clergy] talk, we sing, we preach, and we lead in drag” (p. 154). Therefore, “the pulpit can be used as an instrument to dismantle the norms around masculinity and femininity.” In this way, “a queer spirituality slays the binary” (p. 161-162).
As Kim-Kort knows all too well, the binary demands an either/or mentality that requires restraining oneself to fit inside traditional gender lines. But “queerness is found in those spaces in between – not only in-between male and female in various forms of transgender identity, but also the in-between of anger and peace” (p. 201). Of, for that matter, in-between is the location of any emotion, complex action, or profession that takes us beyond the part we have become used to acting. Dare we move into that space that feels queer because we have never felt or acted quite this way before?
When I was a young teacher it Nyack College, the senior class leaders decided that I should receive a box of crayons in all shades of gray. This was their way of proclaiming that they had grasped my conviction that nobody is truthfully restricted to a binary like bad or good, black or white, masculine or feminine. Everybody can help to fill out Christ’s Body by becoming fully themselves plus whatever calls them to spaces in-between.
Just after I had finished reading Outside the Lines I got into a painful misunderstanding with a friend I have loved for many years. I was deeply depressed until my friend insisted that real friends can be frank and sincere about their differences, that true love requires access to that in-between place of love that can love spaciously even while being honest about differences. Gradually I realized that despite my gray crayons, I had been hoping for a love filled with roses, pinks, and perfection. My friend took me back instead to the many shades of gray we will move through as we learn to step outside the traditional boxes.
Kim-Kort assets a freedom that traditional definitions have never allowed. She writes, “My hope is that we will embrace friendship, not coupled love,’ as the normative adult human relationship, where “friendship undergirds [all] our commitments” (p. 129).
I have often thought, as I heard couples express their wedding vows, that people are being required to promise something impossible — a love based on sexual attraction that will last until death. But everything feels more free if we define love as a profound friendship. This is something we can promise without fear that our desires will change.
Instead of regarding friendship as superficial and unimportant compared to marriage, we might find that the sharing of values which friendship develops provides a far stronger basis for loving one fellow human being than the marital promise to “leave all others” (p. 129).
As a young Christian lesbian, I used to marvel that God loved King David – he who stole another man’s wife and arranged to have him killed in warfare. But what clearer illustration could there be for Kim-Kort’s insistence that God’s love is “boundary breaking” (p. 6).
I will admit that occasionally in Outside the Lines, I felt there were places where the author spoke too sweepingly. For instance, she writes, “God makes space for all kinds of desire — queer desire — loosening the restraint around gender, sexuality, and sex” (p. 21). Does she imply that all sexual acts are fine with God? I remember that God loved King David despite his evil acts, but does Kim-Kort intend to abolish even the most practical of lines, especially those involving violence and lack of consent?
Kim-Kort presents a challenging discussion of polyamory, including many biblical examples; Jacob’s many wives; Solomon’s hundreds of wives; Hannah’s abandoning her son to the temple; and so forth (p. 115).
But again, when she describes contemporary “purity parties” where girls receive rings from their fathers in return for promises to stay celibate until marriage, Kim-Kort never mentions the incestuous implication of dancing with Daddy and promising Daddy to observe absolute abstinence until the first kiss at the altar.
Nevertheless, Kim-Kort makes some very strong points about a true church that lives outside the lines. The church is continually called out — to perform labors within the surrounding community. But the church is also called in — to community. So being church outside the lines means “addressing all the bodily realities of people who are daily facing erasure in all its forms: physical, structural, psychic, spiritual, and religious” (p. 65).
So if you are interested in learning how Embracing Queerness will Transform Your Faith, Outside the Lines is an inspiring place to begin. Especially if you have the courage to expand your abilities beyond the usual stereotypes concerning the categories you have been filling – especially then, I think you will experience transformation of your faith.