Related Posts

On Preaching: Queering the Liturgy through Language and Performance

Lis Valle-Ruiz

Lis Valle-Ruiz, Ph.D., is assistant professor of homiletics and worship and director
of Community Worship Life at McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois.

God is queer. God’s original pronouns are we / they. Genesis 1:26 states that God said, “Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness. God incarnates in Jesus a female wisdom in a male logos. As biblical scholar Tat-siong Benny Liew analyzes in his essay “Queering Closets and Perverting Desires: Cross-Examining John’s Engendering and Transgendering Word across Different Worlds,”1 the Gospel of John presents Jesus as a drag king. Jesus is Sophia in drag. As theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid argues in her book The Queer God,2 God the Trinity is a queer concept that can be interpreted as God the orgy.

If God is queer, then we worship a queer god. A queer god deserves queer worship. Feminist theology has challenged liturgists to use inclusive language for humans and expansive language for God as it relates to gender. Queer theology calls us to do the same as it relates to sexuality. Moreover, given that gender is performed, Queering the Liturgy needs to go beyond language and address the doing of worship and preaching. 

In The Queer God, Althaus-Reid defines her approach to theological queering as “the deliberate questioning of heterosexual experience and thinking which has shaped our understanding of theology, the role of the theologian and hermeneutics.”3 Transferring that approach to liturgy, the act of Queering the Liturgy may be defined as the deliberate questioning of heterosexual experience and thinking which has shaped our language and practice of worship. Questioning the normative heterosexual ethos of worship leads to worship language and practice more reflective of the queer experience. Some ways to go about this task include recovering biblical imagery that connects spirituality and sexuality, recovering erotic mysticism for queering the language of prayers, and welcoming queer performances as valid preaching genres. 

Biblical Imagery

The most evident resource in Scripture that provides imagery that connects spirituality and sexuality is the book of Song of Songs. The book provides language that can be used in worship, and its reception history also models how to use the sexual experience to describe mystical union with the Divine. Queer the liturgy by reading from it or queer the liturgy by writing in a similar style.

Queer Prayers

In recovering the tradition of erotic mysticism that uses sexual language and imagery to describe mystical union with God, queering the language of prayer may look like the following prayer in preparation for participating of the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion.

Word that was in the beginning,
as we pray for these elements to be holy, 
separated for this mystical moment,
we would like to feel your breath
over our necks,
over our ears,
over our faces,
over our noses.
We would like to feel deeply
when you blow life’s breath into our nostrils once more
so we can come to life. 
Word that was in the beginning,
we would like to feel your flesh inside of ours.
As we eat bread together,
we would like to taste the flavor of your most delicate skin.
We will eat your flesh. We will drink your blood.
We will let your body enter ours.
Cannibalism; Eucharist; Communion.
We take in your flesh.
We give ourselves and share our flesh.
It’s so erotic.
It is so mystic.
Mystic. Erotic. What’s the difference?
We enjoy God-given gifts.
We reach the point of praise.
We exclaim,
O, God! O, God! O, God!
Erotic. Mystic. There is no difference.
We pray. We praise. We love.
We share. We are. We become one,
One with you, One with each other,
as we share the bread of life and the cup of salvation. Amen.

In centering queer lived experience of latines in the United States, a version of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples may look like the following prayer.

Our Queer Parent que estás en todas partes,
promiscuizados sean tus nombres.
Thy Eros come.
Your love be made on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us each day our daily pleasure.
Forgive us our -isms,
as we forgive them that exclude us.
And lead us not into suicidal thoughts,
but deliver us from heterosexism and binary thinking.
For ours is the kinship, the power, and the glory.
Forever and ever. Amen.

Queer Performances

Preaching through burlesque and drag is a thing now. When in 2017 I preached through a burlesque dance with no words, I had never seen or heard of a burlesque sermon. I had seen a burlesque show featuring several pieces, all about religion and theological themes, but that was not in a worship service. Now, in 2023, preaching through burlesque is a thing. I have seen and been invited to a worship service in which the sermon had the shape of a burlesque piece. Granted, the preacher did not take off any clothes. He used the rhetorical strategies of burlesque of teasing and ending with a big reveal to shape the sermon.

I have also been invited to worship services in which the sermon had the shape of a drag show. These seem to be more prevalent, and the drag performances are indeed drag performances. What makes these performances a sermon? The same things that made classic Roman oratory a sermon: repurposing them. Preachers repurpose an accepted form of communication to proclaim the good news of the gospel, to interpret Scripture, to bring people to Christ or to edify the body of Christ, the church. To go about this task, most homiletic theories teach preachers how to exegete the biblical text, how to exegete the congregation, and how to compose a message that puts the two in conversation. That is exactly what needs to be done to preach through burlesque or drag or any other means of communication that is familiar to the congregation. 

Whether the preacher borrows the rhetorical strategies or the grammar of burlesque or drag, or the preacher performs the genres, the important thing is to preach the good news of the gospel, to share one’s interpretation of Scripture through the lens of a chosen genre or form. Preaching through burlesque and drag is a way to queer liturgy that gives visibility to queer ways of being, challenges heteronormativity in the pulpit, and embodies the queerness of God, incarnated as female Wisdom in male Logos, fully Divine made flesh.


1. Marcella Althaus-Reid, The Queer God (London and New York: Routledge Press, 2003).

2. Althaus-Reid, The Queer God, 2.


On Liturgy – 56.2

On Liturgy – 56.2

One Friday during a recent low point in our community’s COVID-19 infection rates, my husband and I bought tickets to a dinner show at an iconic jazz club in our city. The evening’s featured performer was a local musician who also happened to be a congregation member—I had not yet had the chance to meet him, and I was eager to hear his music.

read more
On Liturgy – 56.2

On Preaching – 56.2

In keeping with the Directory for Worship, Kaela (not her real name) was presented for baptism with neither undue haste nor undue delay. She was thirteen years old, wearing her backpack and clinging to a stuffed animal as she walked to the baptismal font. Her mothers had been Presbyterian for a little over a year—they joined soon after visiting our church’s booth at the downtown Pride festival the year before.

read more