Queering Wesley, Queering the Church

March 8, 2017

“Queering John Wesley”

On March 3-4 I attended the Wesleyan Theological Society’s annual meeting, featuring scores of distinguished scholars, and gathered this year at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. It was a wonderful experience that highlighted the ongoing vitality of orthodox Wesleyan thought.

Here is my generalizing observation. The more conservative and adamantly orthodox scholars tended to be United Methodists who have reacted against their denomination’s historic liberalism by more strongly affirming classical Wesleyan distinctives. The more liberal scholars often tended to come from historically more conservative evangelical denominations against which they reacted by pressing theological boundaries, sometimes provocatively.

The most provocative example was a paper presented in a breakout session called “Queering Wesley, Queering the Church: Toward an Ecclesial Circumcision of the Heart.” The author, Keegan Osinski, describes herself on Twitter as the “Church of the Nazarene’s worst nightmare.” Her denomination is an historically conservative church from the Wesleyan holiness tradition, which in the late 19th century broke from mainstream Methodism’s perceived worldliness to pursue a more stringent version of Christian life. Further self-identified as a “budding librarian and theologian,” she is a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, which was originally Methodist but has no current church affiliation.

Osinski in her paper noted that “holiness churches…often look to the margins, where Jesus would be most likely to dwell.” She recalled that “John Wesley himself emphasized the importance of being in community and solidarity with the marginalized, not only to help them in their need, but also to engage with and learn from them as the locus of God’s presence in the world.”

So Osinski offered “a queer reading of John Wesley’s 1733 sermon ‘The Circumcision of the Heart’ in an effort to show that the perspectives of LGBTQ+ people have vital contributions to make within the holiness church that so often marginalizes them.” Instead of “restrictive legalism,” she suggested “reading John Wesley queerly offers “an expansive openness to the grace of God.”

What exactly does Osinski mean by “queer?” She explained:

As an adjective, “queer” signifies that which is not normative, particularly as relating to sex, gender, and sexuality and the expressions thereof. To use “queer” as a verb is to engage in the practice of problematizing normative narratives and assumptions — to f-ck with those givens that perpetuate power structures that baptize and uphold some norms while damning and marginalizing alternative ways of being. And finally, a “queer reading” is an attempt to queer—that is, disrupt and interrogate the sex- gender- and sexuality-norms of—a text.

Osinski likened queerness to circumcision, which has often set the Jewish people apart “in the face of threat and ridicule,” and which ultimately like circumcision requires a “radical allegiance” and is a “specific grace and gifting of God.”

Spiritually circumcizing the heart, about which Wesley preached, is “similarly to be made queer in that it is a resistance to normative powers and expectations,” Osinski said. Holiness is a matter of the heart, according to Wesley, and so too are “gender or sexuality,” she insisted.

Responding to Wesley’s call to humility, Osinski complained that “queer people” have been told they are “sinful” by the “normative hierarchy of cisheteropatriarchy—that is, the structure of society in which cisgendered, heterosexual men establish and maintain norms.” The correction to this injustice may require the “embrace of a queer holiness” and the “humility of the heteronormative church.” She also surmised that Wesley’s call to “unselfish love and pleasure that points to God” is a “radical affirmation of all love and pleasure, perhaps even queer love and pleasure, inasmuch as it leads to God.”

Osinski suggested Wesley’s call for a circumcised church entails rejecting “heteronormative patriarchy” in favor of the “queer eyes that see as Christ sees. To look on others with the queer eyes of faith is to look toward mutual liberation. It is to disrupt the systems that exclude and reject and place themselves as the ultimate authority and rule rather than God.”

The church, Osinski, said, in the spirit of Wesley’s vision of hope, should reject the “impulse to require adherence to a strict code of conduct, but rather abiding in the queer hope that God works in hearts in an abundant diversity of ways, all leading toward Christian perfection, freedom, and holiness.” Indeed, “all manner of pleasure might contribute to and bolster our holiness, inasmuch as it leads us to love the One who is the Creator of such love and pleasure.”

Osinski concluded:

The markers of the circumcision of the heart that Wesley recognizes—humility, faith, hope, and love—all might point together toward a rather queer existence, which is ultimately the marker of Christian life—a life that declares the inbreaking of the queer Kingdom of God in which the mighty are cast down, the rich are sent away and the exalted are humbled, in which, perhaps, the normative have received their reward, but the queer shall be abundantly blessed.

Wesley of course would be very surprised by Osinski’s “queer” interpretation of his sermon about circumcizing the heart, which urges the follower of Christ to “take up his cross daily” and pursue a “constant and continued course of general self-denial.” He insisted:

Love, cutting off both the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, — engaging the whole man, body, soul, and spirit, in the ardent pursuit of that one object, — is so essential to a child of God, that, without it, whosoever liveth is counted dead before him.

It’s not clear how Osinski fits her celebration of “all manner of pleasure” with the Wesleyan and orthodox Christian call to constant self-denial. As a self-identified post-modernist, cohesive consistency is likely not her goal.

After presenting her paper, Osinski tweeted: “Ok my paper was really well received and no torch and pitchfork mob came after me so I’ll post a link.”

Anyone active in official United Methodism over the last 40 years would not be shocked by her attempt to reinterpret Christian faith through sexual identity politics. It would provoke mostly yawns. Fortunately, globalizing United Methodism is leaving that phase of late 20th century USA liberal Protestantism for a return to orthodoxy.

But significant chunks of elite and academic opinion in once conservative evangelicalism, including traditionalist Wesleyan denominations, are now embracing the fads that captivated liberal Protestantism decades ago, apparently unaware of or indifferent to the tragic consequences. Is there anything new under the sun?

Even as United Methodism rediscovers Wesleyan distinctives and Christian orthodoxy, I hope we can warn and teach our friends in evangelical denominations to avoid the thorny paths that nearly, but for divine grace, led to our demise.


  • LeeRaleigh

    I’d really like to know what kind of relationship she had, and has, with her earthly father. I have a guess.

    • KT

      That is terrible. I don’t know you and won’t judge your character based on this one comment (just like you don’t know the presenter of this paper and should withhold your own judgement), but this one comment is unkind and uncalled for.

      • Shawna Norris

        and yet you type and judged

        • KT

          I offered my commentary on the comment. I didn’t judge the character of its author.

      • Nutstuyu

        Again why? Studies show a large majority of LGBT have abusive or broken home pasts, much higher than the general population.

    • Liam O’Donnell

      literally disgusting comment

      • LeeRaleigh

        As opposed to an episode of Girls, which is Oh So Wholesome.

      • CDGingrich

        No.

      • Nutstuyu

        Explain why.

    • Sandy

      Yes Lee. Osinski has no relationship with Jesus. And liberal ignorants below imply a “disgusting” intent.

      Lets thank God we’re not ‘liberal’ in mind.

      • Jeff Brady

        Who are you to judge whether someone does or doesn’t have a relationship ship with Jesus? #Pharisee

        • Nutstuyu

          Matthew 7:16

          • Jeff Brady

            Exactly. The fruit here is that of negative, close-minded, judgmentalism. If you had actually read the paper you’d have seen Osinski speaking to how queer we Christians are (a la in the world but not if it). She did not advocate for full acceptance of LGBTQ+ into membership. Simply reminding each of us his queer our faith names us and maybe that can make us more loving towards those who are different. So yeah, there is a fair amount of pharisaical judging happening around here rather than truly evaluating the actual paper.

    • Casey Ng

      It’s one thing to judge a person’s character based on something they say. And something completely different to insinuate relational problems about someone based upon another person’s blog. KT wanted to withhold judgement about you, but I feel no need. 2 sentences reveal your immaturity, lack of empathy, and a perverted worldview. Your comment is sickening.

  • mj58

    Keegan Osinski’s Jesus is not the one in the Gospels. He’s a fictional character, invented by gays and used to browbeat church bureaucrats into submission.

  • Nancy

    It seems to me “all manner of pleasure” leads more to love of self than love of God.

    • Seth Kevin Lowery

      “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1.17, NASB)

      Feel free to disagree on what is considered a good and perfect gift, but let’s all remember that God wants people to be happy. Loving self can enhance the way we love God. Obviously not to be selfish, but there is a healthy way to do it.

      • Emman Chapman

        I agree Seth, after all, are we not to love our neighbour as we love ourselves? Of course we must combine this with loving each other as Jesus loves us. Therefore, we selflessly love ourselves and others because of the image and presence of God that is in and with us all. I was not there to hear Osinki’s paper nor have I read it yet (I just found her paper on her website) so I am making assumptions based on the above summary. I think the difficultly for me is not allowing words such as “queer” and “pleasure” to box me into the derogatory and negative stereotypes my culture has taught me up to this point. Queer in this context just means abnormal or different or challenging the status quo, which is something Jesus did every day of His ministry. And I wonder if pleasure here is not meant as unadulterated lust, but more so the result of a loving relationship that is sacrificial, committed and as Osinki said, is drawing us closer to God and who God intends for us to be. I know the pleasure I experience in my marriage is emotional, mental, physical and Spiritual. I know that my marriage and the pleasure I experience through it is used by God (because I offer it to God) to bring me closer to God and people and closer to the human being God longs for me to be. As Wesleyans, who do believe that circumcision of the heart is what matters and that the Holy Spirit transforms us (sanctifies us) throughout a journey of grace and love, I think we may have room in our theology for seeing this occur in the LGBTQ+ community.

  • Jeff Lane

    Keegan’s words give me hope!

    • Denny

      For what? Huge membership loss? That’s what’s happened in all the left-wing churches. They don’t grow, they shrink.

      • AndRebecca

        Good point. I think going left in the churches is to shrink the membership and to take over for the evil one… Get rid of the Christians and promote evil using a religious setting. It’s like something out of the “Screw Tape Letters,” and has been going on for centuries but not quite as out in the open like today.

      • Jeff Lane

        Denny, I don’t judge faithfulness to Jesus by membership size. I’ll stand with Keegan and her vision to be a people of inclusion and grace any day.

        • Denny

          You don’t care about membership size? Then why is it that the religious left always accuses the religious right of driving people away from the churches? You insist that traditional Christianity turns people off, so that makes it sound as if we are being bad people by making the church smaller. But when someone points out the hard data – that liberal churches are shrinking, you claim that numbers don’t matter.

          Whether numbers matter or not to God, it is a verifiable fact: Your left-wing Christianity is shrinking faster than orthodox Christianity. I understand your peevishness about this, because it doesn’t fit your narrative. You believe your “inclusive” churches SHOULD be growing, SHOULD be attracting young people – but they don’t.

          You sided with the seculars in the culture war, and what did you gain from it? Your churches are melting away to nothing.

      • Seth Kevin Lowery

        Left-wing churches lose membership because they don’t utilize the guilt tactics of Evangelicals or the RC Church.

        • Palamas

          Really? Check out this little guilt trip from the United Church of Christ: http://newsacred.org/2016/06/so-you-say-youve-got-white-privilege-now-what/

          • Seth Kevin Lowery

            I’m failing to see how conviction over a social issue is the same as shaming people into attending church services, which was what we were actually talking about.

          • Palamas

            Yes, far better to make people feel guilty about things they can’t change (skin color, history, membership in a group) than something they can change. People ought not to be shamed into church attendance, and in fact using guilt that way rarely works, if at all, for more than a short while. But if you bothered to read the article at the link, you would know that the author is using guilt in one of the most reprehensible way possible–to make people think of themselves as responsible for or benefitting from acts to which they have no connection whatsoever. And that was aimed at the people who agreed with her!

        • Denny

          No, you lose members because people can get their SJW indoctrination without having to set foot in a church.

          Your UCC will probably cease to exist in a few years. Membership is shrinking, seminaries are shutting down or being forced to merge. The UCC announced its official support of SSM in July 2005. It had lost 54 congregations in 2004, but 117 in 2005, 115 in 2006, and 141 in 2007.

          Gays drove the Christians away. Are you proud of yourselves? You like those empty pews? Pretty impressive, the UCC lost more than half its members in 50 yrs. That “God is still speaking” campaign didn’t work out too well. “God is still speaking… and he told us to leave because this church isn’t Christian, it’s a Sunday morning club for white liberals.”

  • steverankin

    Your summary and analysis help to show the double-sided nature of the “queering” quest. It employs irony to get at perceived injustice, but the irony turns out to be indistinguishable from demonic parody.

  • Walhei

    Isn’t it amazing how words and ideas can be twisted? I see this with Democrats. They are masters with Words! They are Word Smiths!

    Good people do not have the same kind of vocabulary. Good people do not know how to answer in like kind to accusations and persecution by Words.

    Democrats, the Liberal Left, Progressives and Communist are all of one kind. All can be joined under the banner of Communist right now. All have the same goals. Take down the Church, Jesus, and His teachings. Take down the constitution which is a Christian Document. Take down the family.

    Remember there are only Two Sides in this Whole World. God’s side and Satan’s Side. Which?

  • Jeff Brady

    I love how the presenter’s words are being twisted and taken out of context just as she’s being accused of the same. In the older definition of queer it does mean exactly what she presented – an oddity. If we Christians and Wesley-ans have forgotten what it’s like to be in the world but not of the world (queer), I am concerned about our future. Apparently we are no different from the patriarchal culture we find ourselves in: judgmental, quick to assume, lacking compassion, and unwilling to find points of compromise or unity rather than demanding conformity to human standards. Proud of us.

    • AndRebecca

      Yes, the Bible is all about a patriarchal society. It is about following God’s Word and not about doing the communitarian thing, which does not come from God, but Karl Marx. God knows what He is doing, and the followers of Marx do not. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

      • Evan Abla

        Yes, exactly! Marx . . . oh, and Acts 2 . . .
        43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

        • AndRebecca

          They worked for the things they sold and shared, and still had some left over. The Bible from beginning to end has a lot about work and taking care of your family and having enough left over to help those in need… after putting God first. It is about order, not personal wishes or commands of tyrants.

          • Evan Abla

            Whatever you need to justify your perspective. Hey, it’s like my people, Republicans/Conservatives, have decided to ignore the commands of my Lord, Jesus the Christ. That’s okay, we can figure it out with or without you…i wish we could work and converse together, though.

          • AndRebecca

            What are you talking about? You’ve lost me.

    • phishing4men

      If you do not understand he is talking about sodomites your blind, your brand of unity is unknown to the Word

      • Jeff Brady

        If all you see in that is Sodomites, *you’re* blind.

  • Mike Ward

    Her paper is rambling nonsense. Why on earth was it presented at Asbury?

    • Mr Cleats

      Incremental, creeping liberalism.

  • Janju

    I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene, and have been a member in the UMC for the past 24 years, I am appalled at this woman’s thinking. She obviously has NOT read the Bible, nor studied the writings of John Wesley. Like others of her ilk, she twists the words to fit and justify her beliefs, or the lack of. There is a stated consequence in God’s word for doing this. She’s to be pitied.

  • Sandy

    Why can’t the people of The Book simply say this twister of rhetoric be kicked forever from the church?

    Why do the back-and-forth of language and take a stance? You know, like against lions in the Coliseum?

    Take a stance!!

  • Until X’ers and Boomers can learn to have these conversations respectfully and without all this drama, we can forget about any sizable return to church for millennials and gen Z. Even if we don’t believe in acceptance of others regardless of who they are, they do and they will not darken the doors of any place that cannot tolerate authentic two-way conversation about it.

    • MRFinOhio

      Even Jesus hung out with the outcasts, beggars, criminals and prostitutes, because he loved them all as his children. His desire to be in relationship with them, because he knew they were lost, was overwhelming. He simply wanted them to know his Father, because Jesus understood the true nature of life.
      And when these people actually met Jesus face to face, they willingly left their sin behind, just so they could be in his presence.

      Let us, as Christians, also show Jesus to those who are lost. Repentance is their business. Salvation is God’s business. All we need to do is share His love with others.

      However, growing the numbers of the church should not be the motivator. This isn’t a business we are engaged in; we are bit players in the redeeming of souls.

      • Nutstuyu

        And yet Zaccheus was compelled to completely change his life not continue living in sin.

  • krehlaw7204

    We must be careful how we react. One objective of any emotional and extreme article is to initiate controversy, stir up publicity, and then characterize opposition as oppressive, narrow, and bigoted (“patriarchal”) And it works!
    Indeed, it is right and good to know what is being said via this article, and a solid response should emphasize the poor logic and unbiblical content in a firm but respectful manner. After all, it is she and others who are extremists and unorthodox. Also, we must let God judge her soul since we know not her heart.
    My view, anyway.

  • Alan Towson

    …and everything that does not come from faith is sin

  • CDGingrich

    She lost me at “Vanderbilt University”. Vanderbilt has already slumped toward Gomorrah. I am sure you become very popular at Vanderbilt by being outrageous. But that has nothing to do with advancing God’s kingdom.

  • Seth Kevin Lowery

    “He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.'” (Acts 10.28, NIV)

    • Denny

      If you want to play the prooftext game, here goes:

      Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
      1 Corinthians 6:9-10

      They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator-who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
      Romans 1:25-27

  • Dan

    Would it be impolitic to suggest that our sovereign God predestined her to this queer, heretical interpretation of scripture? 🙂

  • Skipper

    Although this person rejects Wesleyan Theology, today’s Christian needs to be able to defend the faith with such people. The tragedy is that people who would corrupt the legacy and teachings of leaders of the faith like John Wesley, won’t hesitate to make God’s Word in the bible say anything their “itching ears” would like hear. So many lost people, so little time.

    • Umbrella Man

      Amen.

  • Give Osinski credit for her proficiency in mental gymnastics.

  • Too many comments on here do not resemble the God I worship. It’s shameful. No wonder kids are leaving ‘the church.’

    • Tianzhu

      Would you like to see how fast the pro-gay churches are growing?

      Here’s their phenomenal growth:

      Episcopalians
      1960: 3.2 million
      2015: 1.7 million

      United Church of Christ
      1960: 2,056,000
      2015: 914,871
      More than half its members in 50 years.

      United Methodist
      1960: 11,026,000
      2015: 7.06 million

      Presbyterian Church USA
      1983: 3.1 million
      2015: 1.5 million

      Lutherans (ELCA)
      1987: 5.2 million
      2015: 3.6 million
      The ELCA approved the ordination of non-celibate gays in 2009: it lost a half-million members in 2010-2011, so clearly there was a cause/effect relationship in this case between gay issues and membership decline.

      Disciples of Christ
      1960: 1.8 million
      2014: 497,423

      American Baptist

      • Skipper

        You are mistaken about the United Methodist Church. It does not believe in immoral sexual relations, like some of the others mentioned, but rather honors God on sexuality in our church law. “Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Through our Church Law, the United Methodist Church continues to be faithful to God, regardless of some members who are unfaithful to God on sexuality. We have no control over those who disrespect both God’s law and our church law. But what church can control all it’s members? You are unfair to expect this.

        We did have a homosexual woman elected bishop in violation to Methodist Church Law, so perhaps that is what caused the confusion. She should be removed in a few weeks when our court system convenes. As the woman is self-confessed, her removal should be an open and shut case. Many Methodists pray that our system will respect God’s clear teaching in the bible and our church law.

        Also, your 7 million figure sounds too low. That could be our U.S. membership only, not the entire church.

        • Tianzhu

          Skipper, the UM “officially” does not condone homosexuality, but in practice, it does – hugely. Church Law says one thing, but is it enforced? (Catholic church law also prohibits homosexuality and pedophilia – but those laws aren’t being obeyed, are they?) If you’d care to access the websites of any of the UM seminaries, you would see quite clearly that those seminaries are training future UM pastors to be pro-gay. I realize that congregations vary considerably, from very orthodox to ultra-liberal. There are most definitely gay and lesbian UM clergy, “out” and known to their congregations. I know lots of people who, like myself, left the UM because of its liberalism, of which the acceptance of homosexuality is a huge part. If you want an education, just do some browsing on some random UM congregations. You will be surprised how many rainbow flags show up.

          Regarding the membership figures: Yes, those are just for the US. The UM in the US is, obviously, in serious decline, and liberalism is largely to blame.

          • Skipper

            Fortunately, church law is enforced in my area, and so sorry about yours! So glad you took action when problems in your area got out of hand. Around here UMC Seminaries are a known hazard and usually avoided altogether. My dad went to one, but that was another day!

            We have a good bishop today, and so thankful after the last one we had to endure.

            Pray for us and the weak leaders we have in some places in the U.S. I really believe the immoral bishop will be removed. We cannot afford to let God down over this. Thank you for not putting up with ungodly leaders in your area and do pray for us as we try to restore God’s truth to our denomination in the U.S.!

          • Skipper

            I see what you mean in the Northeast and West Coast where we have Baal Worshipers in the United Methodist Church. They are saying it’s alright with God for people to commit unnatural sex acts and marry people of the same sex. Methodists have always been a moral people, and right now that’s more important than ever.

            I hope all good people will remain in the UMC until the court rules on the homosexual bishop. Surely they will remove her. A woman who says she is a man and has married another woman. God’s Law (and our Church Law) have been violated and snubbed.

            “Don’t give the Devil an opportunity.” Ephesians 4:27

            Jude 1:8 speaks about Apostates: “These dreamers likewise defile their flesh, despise authority, and blaspheme glorious beings.”

    • John S.

      Which is more important the God who is or the god people want to worship?

  • Carl Fuglein

    Okay, so she is just full of crap, subverting the Gospel to justify her own pathetic existence. We are justified by grace, period.