This post is written in honor of Marge Mayer (1941-2022), with whom I worked at the Los Angeles Archdiocese Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Catholics in 2001. Her compassionate approach to ministry and support for parents of queer youth inspired me then and continues to inspire me today. Marge wanted everyone to feel welcome and included in the church. Marge modeled the creative fidelity that Pope Francis invites us to in Amoris Laetitia (2). May she rest in peace.

Rev. Peter J. Liuzzi, O. Carm., Emily Reimer, Marge Mayer, 2001, Los Angeles Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Catholics (MLGC)

Amoris Laetitia opens up new conversations in the Church because of the way that Pope Francis advocates for an approach that addresses “concrete realities” (31) and that privileges discernment and conscience (37, 79). While Francis did repeat earlier teachings about marriage as an intimate partnership of life and love (80), and cited Humanae Vitae to reiterate the importance of openness to new life through procreation, his use of the Bible throughout Amoris Laetitia focused on motifs of mercy, accompaniment, and compassion. These themes were recently reiterated by the pope in a message to LGBT Catholics. Still, when Francis draws on Genesis in AL 9-15, he does not problematize heterosexual normativity, the gender binary, or procreationism.

Queer biblical hermeneutics offers other ways of interpreting Genesis 1-2. This brief post can only be an overview possible queer interpretations, given the constraints of space. But for LGBTQ readers in the Church who are thirsty for fresh perspectives on Scripture, my hope is that these resources will provide creative energy and hope in a month that is meant to celebrate queer life and love.

What does a queer reading of the Bible even mean? Interpreting the Bible is not as simple as reading a text. What the text says is not the same as what the text means. The meaning-making project of interpretation involves the reader’s encounter with the text and the text’s reception history. A queer interpretation of the Bible, then, on one level, means reading the Bible from the perspective of queer life. It means asking, as Ken Stone does, about what sorts of interpretations might result if homosexuality functioned as a legitimate condition of knowledge about the Bible. [1] The goal is not, then, to ask what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. The goal is for queer readers to shape contemporary interpretations of the text by describing their understanding of the meaning of those texts, read from their lived experiences. Mona West explains that queer biblical scholarship means adding the voices LGBT readers to those marginalized groups who are reading the bible from particular social locations. [2] On another level, queering the Bible can mean an intentional method of questioning what has been considered to be the normal, normative, natural, dominant, or legitimate interpretation. In this sense, being queer is different, in a good way, and a queer reading of the text can help readers to see how dominant discourses may collude with injustice. Gerald West and Charlene Van Der Walt, drawing on Itumeleng Mosala, add that a gift of queer scholarship is the understanding that the Bible is a site of “struggle” with regard to what should be considered normative interpretations of sex, gender, sexuality, and kinship. [3]

A queer reading of Genesis 1-2 may begin by raising questions about how two different creation stories could co-exist in the sacred text at all. To forward two seemingly contradictory accounts may seem queer to the modern reader. Were the first human creatures created at the same time (Gn 1:27) or at different times (Gn 2)? Is God best portrayed as a powerful but distant Creative life force or as a personal companion in the garden? Given what we know about the reactional processes in which texts are regularly “collected and then composed, re-collected, and re-composed,” even the gathering of these ancient stories presents a history of struggle, both for the communities behind the text and for the communities appropriating them today. [4] Our first queer move, then, is to enter the struggle ourselves and adopt a symbolic imagination that can be open enough to multivalent interpretations. We risk bringing our own questions to the text, knowing that we are not alone in our struggle with the text. We enter into an interpretive space in which we can appreciate a both/and encounter that opens up new questions and opportunities for deeper reflection on assumptions that we may have previously held. We see that the Bible– and life itself–is more complex than we had assumed.

OK, but what does it mean? Genesis 1 presents themes of order, blessing, delight, diversity, and dignity. Strictly speaking, the text does not describe God creating from “nothing.” We have instead (in translation) God creating from a formless void with darkness covering the face of the deep. It may be too superficial to say that God brings order from chaos, but certainly the motif of order is a theme of the priestly redactors even as the diversity of God’s creatures is celebrated. God simply delights in creation in Genesis 1. At each step of the way, as the creation story unfolds, the Creator expresses pleasure and satisfaction: “God saw that it was good.” In Gn 1:27 we read:

So God created humankind in his image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

All human creatures, no matter their sex or gender, are created in the image of God; the gender binary here could be read as an expansive understanding of the imago Dei in every person given the gender assumptions of the time in which the text was constructed and redacted.

West and Van Der Walt explain that Genesis 2 has a queer narrative shape: a creation that is incomplete, with complications that follow, and a series of intersecting resolutions to those complications. The androgynous earth creature that God created “from the dust” was not satisfied without a suitable partner; God later makes two sexed creatures, man and woman. [5] West and Van Der Walt explain what makes this queer:

“God’s resolution to the complication is to make a companion for the earth creature (Gn 2:18). What is queer is that God begins by forming animals, wondering if, perhaps, there may be among the animals an appropriate companion (19-20). What is even more queer is that God gives the earth-creature the right to make the choice (20). God does not dictate. The earth-creature is the agent of the act of recognition. When the earth-creature does not find a suitable companion among the animals God has formed, (20c), God follows another course of making. God now builds a companion from the very body of the earth-creature (22). God then brings the product to the earth-creature, as God brought the animals. The narrative shape is identical. The earth-creature is again the agent of recognition…. God does not decide that this is now an appropriate companion. The earth-creature decides. The Christian tradition has tended to emphasize the product: a woman. A queer interpretation emphasizes the process: that it is left to us to decide who our appropriate companion is. The recognition and acceptance of an appropriate companion is a human responsibility. God creates and the human chooses.” [6]

West and Van Der Walt’s interpretation opens up space to talk more concretely about discernment and LGBTQ relationships today. How can Christians today create spaces for LGBTQ Catholics to take up the responsibility of thinking about what it means to be an appropriate companion? If God creates and humans choose, how are we to form our consciences so that we choose wisely, leading to relationships that foster flourishing in community?

Another queer aspect of Genesis 2:23-24 is that the human creature does not praise his new partner’s difference and complementarity to himself. The man does not say “This one at last is different from me! Our genitals fit together! I am naturally masculine and she is naturally feminine and we are as different as night and day!” On the contrary. The man instead focuses on sameness, their common humanity. “This one, at last, is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh!” This one, unlike the previous animals, is a true partner. But our interpretation for sexual ethics need not zero in on sexual complementarity too quickly. What is celebrated is the miracle of finding someone to love, someone to share one’s life with, someone to share the struggles of life. At this point in the story, their partnership is rooted in their shared humanity. Genesis 2 describes the first human couple becoming “one flesh” (Gn 2:24) and being naked without shame (Gn 2:25). Contemporary readers may see here not just physical intimacy but spiritual intimacy and trust, a relationship rooted in mutual love and justice.

In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis says that the “essence of the family is love.” (AL 13). Queer interpretations of Genesis 1-2 provide further avenues of reflection to interrogate this central theme of love in Amoris Laetitia, even as we acknowledge that the privileging of procreative heterosexual couples remains central in Catholic sexual ethics. We should not be afraid of asking questions of the text, challenging dominant frameworks of interpretation, or welcoming voices that have been traditionally marginalized in biblical hermeneutics. As Sharon Bong has wisely noted, “Welcoming LGBTQ+ persons to the bountiful messianic table–as a moral and political imperative–entails challenging the Church’s heterosexism, i.e. systemic and systematic discrimination, even demonization of LGBTQ+ persons.” [7] We have considerable work left to do. Where else can we start, but “in the beginning”?


[1] Ken Stone, “Safer Text: Reading Biblical Laments in the Age of AIDS,” in Sexuality and the Sacred, 349. Here Stone is drawing on the scholarship of David M. Halperin and his theory of queer politics as resistance. See also Ken Stone, Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2001), 16.

[2] Mona West, “Reading the Bible as Queer Americans: Social Location and the Hebrew Scriptures,” Theology and Sexuality 10 (1999), 30.

[3] Gerald O. West and Charlene Van Der Walt, “A Queer (Beginning to the) Bible,” Concilium Journal for Theology (2019), 110.

[4] Itumeleng J. Mosala, Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology in South Africa (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 125. Cited in West and Van Der Walt.

[5] Here they reference the scholarship of Phyllis Trible.

[6] West and Van Der Walt, 113.

[7] Sharon Bong, “Becoming the Queer, Postcolonial (Eco)Feminist Body of Christ in Asia,” Concilium (2019), 77.