Community of Counter-Conduct: Politics and Practices of LGBTQ Christian Activism in Evangelicalism
University of Kansas
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Scholars working at the intersections of American religious studies and gender and sexuality studies have broadened our understanding of the overlapping histories of faith communities and LGBTQ social movements in the US. Despite recent contributions to the history of LGBTQ activism in American religious traditions, this scholarship tends to overlook LGBTQ Christian identity work and activism in conservative Christian communities. Based on participant observation fieldwork with a faith-based nonprofit called The Reformation Project (TRP), this dissertation is an ethnography of how some LGBTQ Christians negotiate identity and difference and seek to create change within evangelicalism. TRP is a national parachurch organization with Kansas roots working to change, through grassroots organizing and theological training, mainly conservative evangelical attitudes and teaching about LGBTQ people. The material for the project is drawn from fieldwork with TRP at church services, conferences, organizing meetings, and other places over a twelve-month period beginning in late 2014. While mostly about the strategies and conversations specific to TRP's efforts to foster change, I also use TRP as a window into broader conversations underway in evangelicalism about what it means to be LGBTQ and Christian. I make two main arguments throughout the dissertation. First, I argue that the LGBTQ Christian activism I studied can be understood as constituting a community of counter-conduct. Drawing on a concept proposed by Michel Foucault to describe movements of resistance that arise within regimes of power, I show how LGBTQ Christian activism in conservative evangelical spaces is productive of new ethical and political possibilities and ways of being. Second, I describe how the LGBTQ and ally Christians I met attempt to create meaningful inclusivity, while wrestling with not only the exclusionary politics of conservative evangelicalism but also their own assumptions about what it means to be LGBTQ and a Christian. By doing so, this project provides fuller accounts of the overlapping relationship between evangelical and LGBTQ social movements and the everyday negotiation of identity, politics, and democratic values in religious spaces.
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