Reimagining Vocation: Queer, Lutheran, with Room for All

“We do theology because we want to collaborate fundamentally in bringing about a different kind of world in the here-and-now.”   –M. Shawn Copeland


Vocations and Challenges to Vocation 

[1] Can you recall a time when you felt truly welcomed and accepted? Can you remember a moment when you brought the fullness of yourself to what you were doing? Were you making music, playing sports, spending time with friends, earning money, making love, or helping others? Do you recall the freedom and grace that you felt?  

[2] Some of us have had the luxury of experiencing the integrity and joy that comes from bringing the fullness of ourselves and our gifts into community to serve others. The Lutheran tradition teaches that all persons have an equal vocation to serve God and neighbor in the world. From this perspective, almost any role or work counts as a vocation: baking or banking, planting or parenting. Much of the current literature on Christian vocation posits that vocations involve a (a) call from God, or community, or self; (b) using one’s gifts and passions; (c) and serving others in creation. 

[3] The word vocation has its roots in the Latin term vocare, meaning to call. In his commentary on the Book of Genesis, Martin Luther describes vocation in the following way. “Thus every person surely has a calling. While attending to it [they] serve God. A [monarch] serves God when [they] are at pains to look after and govern [their] people. So [does] the [parent] of a household when [they] tend [their] baby…and a pupil when [they] apply [themselves] diligently to [their] studies.”(1) Luther also recognized that every person engages in several vocations at the same time. “How is it possible that you are not called? You have always been in some state or station….Are you a [spouse], and you think you have not enough to do in that sphere to govern your [spouse], children, domestics, and property so that all may be obedient to God?”(2) Scholar Marc Kolden says that Luther recognized that each person is in multiple relationships (or offices) and therefore has numerous vocations simultaneously. Kolden writes, “at any given time one will have a vocation that involves many different offices…spouse, parent, student…citizen, community member, etc.”(3)

[4] All persons should have the right and the opportunity to bring the fullness of who they are and their gifts to the world. However, far too many LGBTQIA+ persons are prevented from equitably pursuing their vocations because it is not safe or acceptable for them to be honest about their lives and loves in their multiple vocations.(4) Heteronormative stereotypes about vocation, work, family, biological sex, and gender identity, as well as essentialist interpretations of identity, often function in ways that make it difficult for queer folks to be authentically who they are as they live out their vocations.(5)  

[5] I teach at Augsburg University, which is a university of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). As part of their required studies, all Augsburg students explore their vocations instead of merely focusing on their careers. Staff and faculty encourage students to ask, who am I? What type of person do I want to be? What kind of life am I being called to live? Who is calling me? What am I called to do? What are my gifts? And what are the needs of the community that I hope to address? These are vocational questions—inquiries about life’s meaning and purpose. Augsburg students and alums report that the university’s vocational framework of call, gifts, and needs of others helps them form their vocational identities and deal with complex life choices.   

[6] However, after teaching about vocation for almost 20 years—while also teaching queer theory and queer theologies—I’ve observed that many models of vocation and texts about vocation frequently are not useful for LGBTQIA+ students.(6) In fact, some of these resources actually harm and marginalize some students and community members. Too many vocational texts assume that all persons are heterosexual and cisgender, that vocation flows from a true and unchanging self, and that vocation requires participating in heteronormative, family-centered, capitalist consumerism.(7) Some texts encourage readers to find and pursue their one, true single-path vocation. This works for a few individuals, but many people find that their vocations change depending upon their age, abilities, their call, and their community. The one-path approach does not work for them. Furthermore, many Christian frameworks about vocation ignore or condemn members of the queer community. (Here I use the word queer in a positive way as an umbrella term that includes persons who identify as LGBTQIA+).  

[7] Before offering my detailed critique, I wish to lift up the work of others who have put forward important challenges to teachings about vocation from their particular perspectives and social locations.(8) Prof. K. Brynolf Lyon builds on the work of African American theologians Archie Smith Jr. and Dwight N. Hopkins and argues that too many models of vocation fail to acknowledge that racism and white privilege are inseparable from the broader context in which individuals live out their vocations. Lyon writes, “Vocation is racialized in the sense that it not possible to conceive of the means of vocation…apart from the color-coded world and selves in which we create and discover vocation.”(9)

[8] Theologians Frances Young and John Swinton interrogate the ableism present in many teachings on vocation. They argue that the lived experiences of persons with physical and intellectual disabilities challenge ableist, capitalist models of vocation. Young contends that persons with disabilities “have a vocation to enable that shift in values…away from individualism, dominance, competitiveness, to[wards] community, mutuality—a human ecology which has the potential to be ‘angelic’.”(10) Young and Swinton emphasize the beauty, vulnerability, and prophetic dimensions of the vocations of persons with disabilities.  

[9] Theologian Timothy Snyder argues that too often vocation is offered as a sort of script that ignores how context shapes and limits an individual’s vocation. Snyder writes, “Vocation as a theological script…for meaning-making….is thin in that it fails to take into account the ways our everyday lives are limited by the social structures and constraints that define them.”(11) Finally, Caryn D. Riswold urges those who work in institutions of higher learning to see that technology, race, gender, class, sexual orientation and gender identity factor into vocational discernment (in both positive and negative ways). If vocation is to be a humanizing process, as Riswold avers, educators must understand that, “Vocational exploration and discernment….takes place at the intersection of the personal and the political, the social and the theological….It requires a recognition that human life is enmeshed in myriad systems and institutions that have bearing on who we understand ourselves to be, what we imagine we can do, and how we respond to the multiple callings we hear.”(12)  

[10] Today, many LGBTQIA+ Christians are enmeshed in heteronormative systems and institutions that prevent their vocations from flourishing. All of these important critiques and re-imaginings of vocation are worth pursuing because they engage the heuristic (the script) of vocation and make it increasingly concrete and diverse, and therefore more useful to a greater number of people.  

[11] In what follows in this essay, I critique the problems I find in—what I call—heteronormative (and frequently single-path) models of vocation.(13) I then weave together a queer, Lutheran theology of vocation. This tapestry includes seven vocational strands that provide a vision of call, gifts, and needs that encompass the identities and journeys of all persons, regardless of their biological sex, family configuration, embodiment, race, ability, or gender identity. And it also reflects and aligns with many current theoretical and theological commitments of queer Christians of all ages.  


Traditional (Heteronormative) Models of Vocation Harm Queer People 

[12] Listening to the vocational stories of queer adults and young adults reveals how heteronormative and essentialist theories of vocation often function to harm and/or exclude LGBTQIA+ persons. There are a multitude of books, articles, videos, podcasts, and blogs available today about vocation, and although some recognize the complexity of vocation, many still hold heteronormative and essentialist views of the gender identity and biological sex. A significant number tacitly accept the dominant heterosexist and consumerist vision of a successful life. I have identified eight specific ways (or operating assumptions) in which queer persons are often marginalized and harmed by heteronormative (single-path) theories of vocation. Some of these exclusions are secular and philosophical, while other discriminatory claims are theological.  

[13] The following false assumptions operate in many resources about and models of vocation. 

  • Individuals follow the same (single-path) vocation throughout their lives. 
  • All persons are heterosexual (and cisgender). 
  • Vocations are pursued on a level (or equitable) playing field. 
  • Each person has a true, essential, or authentic self. 
  • Every person is either male or female. 
  • A person’s biological sex dictates (or is coextensive with) their gender identity. 
  • Individuals should give up self for others. 
  • Regarding vocation, the Bible is frequently read individualistically and ahistorically. 


[14] To begin, some vocational literature assumes that individuals follow a single path throughout their lives. It is not hard to find vocational resources that argue that a person only needs to figure out who they truly are and then live out their one true identity on a single vocational path. But what if one’s sense-of-self changes, one’s orientation shifts, or one’s body-mind is re-created? If we are deeply relational beings, and if gender, biological sex, and identity are constantly changing—as I contend—then one’s vocation must change throughout one’s life. Many queer individuals find that their vocations and identities take intended and unintended transgressive turns. 

[15] Next, the authors of many books and blogs about vocation assume that their readers are straight, and cisgender, and that persons should follow the path of monogamous marriage, children, and home ownership. Almost all the vocational resources I surveyed never mention how a person’s gender identity (or race or ability) constrains or empowers their vocation. Heteronormative privilege is operating. Yet many queer Christians (and others) don’t pursue the socially-rewarded path of marriage and procreation. They choose other creative vocational paths. 

[16] Third, even thoughtful reflections on vocation ignore the reality that pursuing one’s vocation does not take place on an equitable or level playing field. The realities of heteronormativity, racism, ableism, nationalism, and colonialism, mean that pursuing one’s vocation often involves discrimination and harassment. A 2021 report shows that 29.8% of “LGBT employees reported at least one form of employment discrimination.…One-third (33.2%) of LGBT employees of color…reported experiencing discrimination….Nearly half (48%) of transgender employees reported experiencing discrimination.”(14) And over half of all of these employees reported that “the unfair treatment was motivated by religious beliefs.”(15) As these numbers reveal, many LGBTQIA+ persons struggle for equitable treatment in their paid vocations. 

[17] Next, many Christian approaches to vocation assume that each individual has a true or essential self that rarely changes throughout their lifetime. Their supposedly-true vocational path should also align with this supposedly-true essence. Thus, changes in relationships, practices, careers, and self are questioned or discouraged. But emerging research from the neurosciences and insights from critical theory reveal that individuals do not have or possess a singular true essence.(16) Rather, all humans change and grow significantly throughout their lives as they continually become who they are and as their contexts and communities change. 

[18] Critiques five and six are interrelated. To begin, I have read fewer than five resources on Christian vocation that employ an anti-essentialist view of biological sex and gender identity. Almost every vocational text encountered assumes that persons are either male or female. In addition, the authors of most vocational resources hold that a person’s biological sex dictates their gender identity.(17) There are usually three unstated assumptions operating here. The first is that heterosexuality is normal and divinely planned. The second assumption is that there are only two biological sexes, even though scientific findings demonstrate that not everyone is male OR female.(18) The third assumption is what some theorists call the coextensive view of sex and gender.(19) This is the belief that a person’s biological sex (assigned at birth) dictates that individual’s gender identity. This coextensive view is challenged by some (not all) LGBTQIA+ persons. For many individuals, their gender is not necessarily determined by (or coextensive with) the biological sex that was assigned to them at birth.(20)

[19] Next, some of the vocational resources surveyed—especially those written for women—ask individuals to ignore their own voice or give up too much of themselves for the sake of the other.(21) Giving up self for other is especially dangerous for queer persons and other historically (and currently) minoritized communities.(22) These individuals have been forced to hide or minimize or invisibilize (borrowed from Womanist theologian Delores Williams) their identities so they don’t offend family, risk discrimination at work, or face physical violence.(23) Many queer persons have struggled to hear, trust, and respond to the call of their own voices regarding their identities and vocations. For some, the experience of responding to a summons from self and honoring that call is the beginning of trusting and loving themselves as well as others. 

[20] Finally, some of the more conservative Christian authors who write about vocation read the Scriptures in ways that are individualistic and ahistorical. For example, when exploring the vocational journeys of notable biblical figures, these authors frequently oversimplify the complexity of the biblical character’s vocational struggles and stories. A closer reading of the texts reveals that many of the best-known biblical characters—such as Hagar, Abraham, Mary, and Paul—struggled to follow their calls from God, self, or community. Moreover, their ancient narratives frequently involve some of the queer strands of vocation highlighted in the rest of this essay: unpredictability, pursuit of justice, faithfulness to self, truth telling, and transgression.  

[21] Yet, the preceding eight false assumptions and mis-readings are frequently found in many heteronormative (single-path) resources regarding vocation. If congregations, Christian communities, universities, and leaders who work with young adults wish to employ vocation as a lens for thoughtful reflection on the Christian life, then vocational resources must create a space for all of the body-minds that comprise the body of Christ.(24) Heteronormative (single-path) models of vocation must be laid aside. And a theology of vocation that honors the calls, gifts, service, identities, and lives and loves of all persons must be taken up.  

[22] In contrast, this queer, Lutheran tapestry of vocation includes seven threads that empower and encourage LGBTQIA+ persons to bring to the fullness of who they are to their vocational journeys in their homes, their communities, and in their places of employment. A fruitful and vibrant queer, Lutheran theology of vocation includes the following seven strands. 

  • Queer vocations are rooted in God’s ongoing creation. 
  • Queer vocations flow from the baptismal and enlivening presence of the Holy Spirit. 
  • Queer vocations are neighbor-centered and challenge injustice. 
  • Queer vocations involve loving faithfulness to oneself. 
  • Queer vocations involve foolish truth telling. 
  • Queer vocations are softly assembled. 
  • Queer vocations are transgressive. 


[23] Some of these strands are drawn from Martin Luther’s commitments regarding vocation, while other threads are drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures/Tanakh, the Christian New Testament, contemporary theology, psychology, and poststructuralist theory.  

[24] I begin by borrowing threads from Luther’s teachings. He argued that vocations are rooted in God’s ongoing creation, flow from the Holy Spirit, and should serve the neighbor. 


Queer Vocations are Rooted in God’s Ongoing Creation 

[25] Earlier I critiqued the way that many heteronormative (single-path) models of vocation assume that a person has a true self, a fixed biological sex, and a coextensive gender identity. In addition, these models frequently assume that one’s vocational path should follow a constant course that reflects this true identity or sense-of-self. One significant false assumption often undergirds these heterosexist misrepresentations of vocation—that is—God is no longer creating new things. This false belief harms queer persons whose sense of self and relationships may change and grow. Luther can help here. He taught that creation is not something that happened only once. Rather, novel things continually come into being, and God accomplishes new things through human vocations. Luther wrote, “As in Christ God bows himself under the cross, so, through the faith and love of [humans], God also bows [God’s self] under the drabness of human vocation. In both cases, God creates ‘out of nothing’….Creation, incarnation, and vocation are in line with each other.”(25) Luther also taught that God works through Christians as they live out their vocations by using their gifts. “God no longer wants to act in accordance with [God’s]…absolute power but wants to act through [God’s] creatures, whom [God] does not want to be idle. Thus [God] gives food, not as…when [God] gave manna from heaven, but through labor, when we diligently perform our calling.”(26) 

[26] This commitment to continuing creation through human vocations is also found in the work of contemporary theologians. Philip Hefner describes humans as created co-creators. “Human beings are God’s created co-creators whose purpose is…acting in freedom, to birth the future that is most wholesome for the nature that has birthed us.”(27) And Kiara A. Jorgensen argues that Christians must see a part of their vocations as protecting the planet from climate change. She writes, “tethering notions of vocation as a form of creation continua [continuing creation] is critical, lest our ambitions of today eclipse the promises…of tomorrow.”(28)  

[27] This emphasis on newness and ongoing creation is central to this queer, Lutheran tapestry of vocation. It reminds everyone that God is still creating and that humans co-create with God. This newness also counters the essentialism regarding biological sex, gender, and identity often present in heteronormative (single-path) teachings about vocation. God’s ongoing creation may be expressed in relationships, works of justice, new ways of thinking (epistemology), creating family, scientific insights, theology, jobs and careers, or in the arts. Queer Christian artist Cherry Kittridge, describes the powerful queer representations of Our Lady of Guadalupe painted by Latina and Latino artists. For example, the piece, Mary Magdalene and Virgen de Guadalupe, by Alex Donis, artfully presents Mary Magdalene and the Virgin of Guadalupe kissing. These transgressive and beautiful images are examples of ongoing queer creativity in creation.(29) By emphasizing novelty, this queer theology of vocation also counters claims that appeal to what is “natural” or part of “God’s plan”. When vocations involve co-creation and change, space opens up for transgender Christians who co-create congruity and coherence between their body-minds and their sense of self. Transgender theologian Justin Tanis describes this. “Trans bodies also speak of a collaboration between God and humanity in co-creating what our bodies are and what they become.”(30) When someone expresses a new (or previously unexpressed) gender or sexual identity as they pursue their vocation, this is part of God’s continuing creation.(31)

[28] The ongoing creativity of vocation is good news not only for queer Christians but for all who find their loves, lives, body-minds, and vocations to be novel and surprising. Luther scholar Gustav Wingren sees this fluid, emergent quality in Luther’s understanding of vocation. Wingren writes, that there is a “flexible and changing character of external life, as Luther sees it…in connection with God’s new creation that goes on here on earth without cessation.”(32) Affirming the promise that creation is ongoing and that humans are created co-creators empowers queer persons to craft new identities, pursue new careers, gather in new faith communities, and weave together new configurations of family. And celebrating God’s presence in human work helps everyone see their numerous vocations as part of God’s ongoing activity.  



Queer Vocations Flow from the Holy Spirit 

[29] Some heteronormative models of vocation encourage individuals to find their true, core self and discern God’s single-path (or plan) for their lives. I regularly hear students quote the prophet Jeremiah to articulate their belief that God has an intended path for them, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Students often believe there is only one, divinely-planned path for them, and if the student strays from this path, their vocation is somehow of lesser value. A queer theology of vocation however, springs from the unpredictable Holy Spirit. Queer vocations are therefore open to fluidity and change—in one’s identity, one’s family, and one’s callings.   

[30] Luther’s teachings about baptism and the Holy Spirit can be woven into this tapestry of vocation. First, vocation flows from baptism. Luther wrote, “I can speak differently about my vocation and my activities from the way…an unbelieving saint can speak; for I am not only a…man or a woman (sic), who administers an office or vocation as the others also do; but I am also baptized and washed with the blood of Christ.”(33) Second, a life of vocation springs from the enlivening presence of the Spirit. “Hard on this faith there follows…a most sweet stirring of the heart….(that is love, given by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ), so that a person is drawn to Christ…and made a thoroughly new and different person.”(34) Third, baptism and vocation are communal. Individuals are baptized into a specific community and in becoming members of the body of Christ, they are called to serve one another.(35) Finally, Luther sources vocation in baptism because baptism changes the baptized, and this transformation should lead to works of service in creation. Luther writes that Christ works through the Holy Spirit “‘through daily purging of sin and renewal of life’ so that we do not remain in sin but are enabled and obliged to lead a new life, abounding in all kinds of good works.”(36) 

[31] Luther knew that vocations ebb and flow. His own life took several unexpected turns, and he trusted that life’s many vocations flow from the Spirit-infused waters of baptism. Embracing the presence of the Holy Spirit means that human vocations change as they are guided and accompanied by the unpredictable Spirit. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Luther recognized the newness that the Holy Spirit gives, writing, “As for the Christian, their action as a new [human] rises from the presence of the Spirit within [them], and no rules can be written for the works of the spirit.”(37)  

[32] In contrast to heteronormative, single-path models of vocation that require a set identity and a fixed path, grounding vocation in the baptismal presence of the Holy Spirit helps queer Christians affirm the various twists and turns in their journeys. For many LGBTQIA+ Christians, coming out—sharing their authentic stories and identities—springs from their baptism.(38) As Amber Cantorna says in their book, Unashamed: A Coming Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians, coming out involves the Holy Spirit. Cantorna writes, “The Spirit grants freedom to those who are in Christ Jesus….the law of sin and death is that which keeps you captive to the closet…and eats away your soul. Freedom awaits you on the other side of living out your God-given LGBTQ identity.”(39) Transgender scholar-activist Monica J. Cross frames coming out as a process that generates new life. Coming out relates to gender, and Cross avers that it also involves coming out from white privilege and colonialism. Cross writes, “coming out…changes the destiny of all concerned, even of God.….[it is] a yearning for a radically different vision of humanity.”(40) The Holy Spirit accompanies Cross and other queer persons in this process. Some individuals are celebrated when they come out. But for others, coming out is dangerous and brings emotional, physical, financial, and familial risks. Responding to the call of the Holy Spirit in their lives may help queer persons trust the presence of the Spirit in their body-minds and in their vocations. And affirming the Holy Spirit’s ongoing presence encourages everyone to attend to the ways that the enlivening Holy Spirit moves in their numerous vocations.  


Queer Vocations Are Neighbor-Centered and Challenge Injustice 

[33] It is not difficult to find articles and stories about “living one’s best life” that focus solely on satisfying the self, securing the dream job, and marrying the ideal spouse. The goals are personal success, financial stability, and familial satisfaction. It is also easy to find Christian vocational resources that focus on how God called individuals in the Scriptures and how God still calls individuals today. Unfortunately, many of these same resources often ignore the biblical call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). A queer, Christian theology of vocation—following Luther—prioritizes justice for neighbor and for self. Luther said that one’s vocation should be measured by how it meets the neighbor’s needs. “I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me. I will do nothing in this life except what is profitable, necessary, and life-giving for my neighbor.”(41) Luther also described the loving intimacy that can exist between self and neighbor. “As Christians we live in Christ through faith and in the neighbor through love. Through faith we are caught up beyond ourselves into God. Likewise, through love we descend beneath ourselves through love to serve our neighbor.”(42) The promise that vocation is about love and neighbor relationships and not just about living one’s best life or meeting the expectations of others is wonderful news, particularly for queer Christians who pursue—and are also in need of—neighbor justice. 

[34] Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer resisted the Nazi regime; he strongly connected vocation to prophetic critique and responsible action in the world for the sake of others. He wrote, “Vocation in the New Testament sense is never a sanctioning of the worldly orders….Its Yes always includes at the same time the sharpest No, the sharpest protest against the world….Vocation is the place at which one responds to the call of Christ and thus lives responsibly.”(43) The connection between justice for the neighbor and vocation is also clear in the ELCA’s social statement, Faith Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action (2019). “Because we are freed in Christ for others, we are able to respond to God’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves. In society, neighbor love takes the form of neighbor justice.”(44) This neighbor justice is connected to gender justice throughout the social statement. “This church commends these principles to create and support neighbor justice, specifically gender justice for the neighbor.”(45) And the implementing resolutions of Faith Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action (2019) call the church to pursue neighbor justice for the queer community.  

[35] ELCA leaders and members are “to oppose discrimination against these [LGBTQIA+] persons so that they may live into the promise of gender justice.”(46) As I conduct research for this article (in March 2022), “15 states have restricted access to gender-affirming [medical] care or are currently considering laws that would do so.”(47) These heteronormative laws discriminate against and harm transgender youth and young adults who are seeking to live according to their internal sense of gender. In addition, “The bills carry severe penalties for health care providers, and sometimes families, who provide or seek out gender-affirming care for minors.”(48) Based on the language in Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action (2019), all ELCA members should oppose these laws. Neighbor justice and gender justice must be pursued.(49)  

[36] If vocation involves saying “Yes” to the neighbor, then queer vocations must say “No” to unjust structures, laws, and beliefs. For LGBTQIA+ Christians and their allies, saying “Yes” to justice for the neighbor leads to diverse vocational journeys. In her poem/essay, “Womanist Understanding of Vocation,” Emilie M. Townes emphasizes the connection between vocations and justice. Townes writes, “vocation means declaring that part of who we are is about seeking liberation, daring transformation, living justice, vocation is unfolding our faith journeys into wholeness and into the lives of others.”(50) Pursuing justice for neighbor in queer vocations might involve protesting homophobic laws and practices in housing and employment. It might include welcoming a homeless LGBTQIA+ youth or young adult into one’s home. It might mean pursuing justice in policing or fighting to end mass incarceration. It might involve caring for elders in the queer community who are not supported by their families of origin. It might entail pursuing justice regarding reproductive rights. Queer vocations—like most vocations—also involve day-to-day service to neighbor through gestures of friendship, caregiving, play, truth telling, art, and other activities and practices of accompaniment that extend justice to neighbor and self.  

[37] These three strands from Luther’s theology add historical richness and theological texture to this queer tapestry of vocation. Following Luther, queer vocations are rooted in God’s ongoing creation, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, and center on neighbor justice. Next, I weave four additional strands into this queer, Lutheran theology of vocation. From the Hebrew Bible/Tanakh, I weave in the promise of loving faithfulness. From the Apostle Paul, I incorporate the practice of foolish truth telling. From psychology, I borrow the insight that queer vocations are softly-assembled. Finally, from poststructuralist and queer theories, I incorporate the commitment that queer vocations are transgressive.  


Queer Vocations Involve Loving-Faithfulness to Self 

[38] A queer theology of vocation encourages individuals to extend faithful, steadfast love to themselves. Earlier I stated that queer vocations respond to a call, employ gifts, and serve neighbor. These commitments remain. But too often LGBTQIA+ persons are forced to prioritize the needs of others rather than responding to a call from self. This diminishing-of-self is exacerbated by heteronormative (single-path) vocation models that encourage individuals to give up so much of self for others that the self is almost lost. This emphasis on self-sacrifice is frequently found in vocational texts written for women. For queer Christians, this giving-up-too-much-of-self can take the form of staying in the closet, using pronouns they have not chosen, or not being honest about one’s identity with one’s family of origin. This diminishing and invisibilizing of self and one’s vocation is also experienced by others from historically (and currently) marginalized groups. As many liberation theologians have pointed out, too often people with little or no agency or power are told to give up the little they have for the sake of others. A queer, Lutheran tapestry of vocation compels LGBTQIA+ persons to treasure and love the self and respond faithfully to the summons from their own voices. 

[39] The loving faithfulness that I draw upon here is grounded in the Hebrew concept of hesed, which is frequently found in the Psalms in the Hebrew Bible/Tanakh. Many have heard the comforting words, “Surely goodness and mercy/hesed shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love/hesed; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1). Hesed is often translated into English as steadfast love, faithfulness, loving kindness, mercy, or covenantal love.(51) Most biblical scholars agree that hesed is a fundamental part of who God is. God steadfastly loves creation and God is faithful to the covenant God established with God’s people. Some Bible scholars, like Walter Brueggemann suggest that hesed is also something humans should strive for in their relationships with others.(52) For example, in Psalm 109:16, the author of the Psalm writes that their accusers fail to show hesed to the psalmist or to others. “For [they] did not remember to show kindness [hesed], but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted to their death.” In the Psalms, hesed has both a vertical direction (between God and creation) and a horizontal direction (between creatures).  

[40] Here I queer hesed (in the sense of troubling or extending hesed), and argue that humans can offer loving faithfulness and steadfast love to themselves. Because as individuals, we exist in relationship with our complex selves. Thus, hesed has a circular and reciprocal direction as well. LGBTQIA+ individuals can offer hesed to themselves when they accept themselves, designate their own names, craft their own body-minds, read the Bible through queer eyes, and weave their own vocations. The act of respecting and loving one’s self was also encouraged by Jesus who taught, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Being loyally faithful to self in one’s vocations might involve advocating for equity at work or singing in one’s own most-authentic voice in the choir. One place where many LGBTQIA+ persons practice self-hesed is by reading the Bible through their own experiences and identities. For example, independent scholar Lewis Reay finds affirmation and dignity in reclaiming the Scriptures references to eunuchs, writing, “the genealogy of Christ…is radicalized to include even those who cannot procreate…those whom society considers the most marginal.”(53) Reay extends loving faithfulness to self through engaging the radical reign of God. In his book, My Name is Brett, Truths from a Trans Christian, Brett Ray describes weaving his identity as an affirmation of self—as hesed. Ray writes, “Choosing my name, then, was an act of radical self-love. I had never done something so loving for myself.…In choosing my name, I decided that my happiness and self-care were worth the effort.”(54)

[41] In contrast to heteronormative (single-path) models of vocation that ask persons to deny self, this queer, hesed-infused, Lutheran model of vocational balances love from God, love for God, love for neighbor, and faithful love to self. Loving self faithfully does not mean that the needs of the neighbor are ignored; but pursuing neighbor justice should always involve working for justice for self as well. Extending hesed to oneself is a powerful way to care for self when faced with heterosexism and essentialism. And when one is asked to prioritize the voices of others or meet other’s expectations, the call to hear and follow one’s own voice and pursue one’s own hesed-infused vocation is a creative act of dignity and transgression.  


Queer Vocations Entail Foolish Truth Telling 

[42] There is another scriptural strand in this tapestry of vocation: foolish truth telling. This is an especially radical activity for LGBTQIA+ persons who are continually told to conceal their identities and deny the truths of their lives and loves. Telling their own truths of freedom and authenticity pushes back against models of vocation that ignore queer persons or force them down the path of heteronormative (single-path) consumerism. In I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul uses the Greek word moros/µωρόs (usually translated as fool) to reveal the foolishness of the gospel. Paul wrote, “We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute” (I Corinthians 4:10). Here foolishness can have two meanings. First, it can mean that following a crucified, Jewish man seems foolish from the perspective of a pagan, Roman or from the standpoint of a follower of Judaism. Second, the reference to fool can mean that one tells dangerous truths to those with power.  

[43] New Testament scholar Laurence Welborn argues that when Paul was writing about being a fool, Paul’s Roman-influenced audience would have immediately thought of the familiar character of the fool in Roman theater. According to Welborn, the fool in a play was often cast as simple, bald, and physically-atypical, and the actors who played the character of the fool were “frequently lumped together with other low-life denizens—whores, pimps, and thieves.”(55) (Welborn notes that theatron/Θέατρον is used in the previous verse (nine). Unfortunately, it is usually translated into English as spectacle—not as theater—and therefore the association of the fool with theater and plays is weakened.) Welborn contends that Paul became a fool, or a foolish truth-teller for Christ. Paul spoke the seemingly-foolish truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to those in power. Welborn writes, “Paul’s acceptance of the role of the fool mirrors the strategy of…intellectuals…who exploited the paradoxical freedom which the role permits for the utterance of dangerous truth.”(56) This foolish truth telling was a central part of Paul’s unfolding vocation as an apostle. 

[44] There are numerous examples of foolish truth telling by members of the LGBTQIA+ Christian community. In his article crafting a “Bi/Theology of the Eucharist,” Joseph N. Goh lifts up “a strategy of talking back to the authority of ecclesiastical theologizing….talking back displays theological counter-narratives in which ‘God and Jesus’…‘are not as strict as the Church preaches’.”(57) This is a form of foolish truth telling. In the public sphere, many queer persons advocate for changes to laws and policies that dehumanize or criminalize queer folk. By telling the truth of their own lives and loves and pursuing justice, they utter the dangerous truth that heteronormativity, biphobia, and transphobia are personal and structural sins. Drag is another expression of foolish truth telling that is widely accepted by many in the queer community. In most drag performances, heteronormative claims and stereotypes are parodied to expose false assumptions about biological sex, identity, gender, race, and power. Another example of foolish truth telling can be seen in Christian congregations that affirm and ordain LGBTQIA+ persons as congregational members or leaders. Ordaining a LGBTQIA+ pastor or deacon tells the dangerous truth that queer folk are already bringing many gifts to their faith communities, and it speaks the seemingly-foolish truth that cisgender heterosexuality is not a requirement for ordained leadership. 

[45] Some of my students pursue foolish truth telling in their vocations by claiming new names and pronouns that express their self-understanding. Unfortunately, their family members often refuse to recognize and use the student’s chosen name and pronouns. This self-expression is a powerful form of foolish truth telling precisely because it expresses the truth of the student’s lives. And this foolish truth telling challenges heteronormative, coextensive, binary, and essentialist views of biological sex, gender, and self-identity, and it helps these young adults live out their queer vocations. LGBTQIA+ persons accomplish several vocational goals through foolish truth telling. They respond to their own call, flow with the Holy Spirit, pursue justice, love self steadfastly, and speak their own truths as a way to advance equity for all.   


Queer Vocations Are Softly Assembled 

[46] In contrast to heteronormative (single-path) models of vocation which assume that self, gender identity, and biological sex don’t change—and which often fail to recognize how one’s context influences one’s vocation (positively or negatively)—queer, Lutheran vocations are “softly assembled”. The concept of soft assembly comes from the dynamic systems theory approach to developmental psychology; specifically, to the study of how infants move, think, and solve problems. Some developmental theories view thinking as computational or claim that cognition is based on symbolic language or representation. In contrast, developmental psychologists who employ dynamic systems theory understand that how infants move and reach is complex, embodied, unique to each infant, and context-dependent.(58) Instead of being set and uniform, actions like reaching and walking are softly assembled. “[B]ehavior is always assembled from multiple interacting components that can be freely combined from moment to moment on the basis of the context, task, and developmental history of the organism.”(59) For example, an infant’s “stepping patterns come and go depending upon the weight of the infant’s legs, whether the infant is…upright, lying down, and so on….soft assembly is critical to allow the child to act in a changing and variable world.”(60) Instead of looking for one single cause to explain how an infant reaches out for an object, for example, the dynamic systems approach investigates how the inter-related components of the system work together. Similarly, adult actions and cognition are also softly assembled. For example, when walking on an even surface your legs move in a predictable way. But when climbing up a rocky hill or walking on slippery ice, many elements of your body-mind work together in novel ways to adjust to the challenging terrain. Eyes, ears, core, legs, arms, past experiences, and context come together so that you can walk successfully up the hill or on the slippery ice. This walking is softly assembled; no single element of the system determines how you move.  

[47] Heteronormative vocational models frequently assume that a person has a fixed biological sex, a set goal, and a true, unchanging self that is somehow distinct from one’s context. In contrast, queer, Lutheran vocations are softly assembled. Vocations depend upon embodiment and the context which includes the problems to be solved, calls to be pursued, gifts to be used, and neighbors to serve. They are complex, dynamic, embodied, and profoundly influenced by one’s material conditions. There are numerous benefits to describing queer vocations as softly assembled. First, by its very definition, soft assembly implies that there is no singular element—genetics, hormones, environment, physiology, family, or context—that lead an individual to express a particular gender identity or sexual orientation. Next, a softly assembled vocation takes embodiment seriously. A person’s body-mind and physical needs are a requisite part of each person’s vocational journey. Justin Sabia-Tanis artfully connects one’s call to one’s embodied reality. “Calling is about a way of being—a calling to awaken to, realize, and manifest who we are. For trans people, our calling is to a way of embodying the self that transcends the limitations placed on us.”(61) Tanis’s celebration of their vocation aligns nicely with my claim that vocations (and our embodied experiences) are softly assembled—not determined. This assertion that embodiment is a part of experience, cognition, and vocation also aligns nicely with Luther’s teaching that humans are fully embodied, whole persons (totus homo).(62) Finally, if vocation is softly assembled—like walking on a slippery surface—then one’s vocation is constantly and profoundly shaped by body-mind, context, and community—how one walks, the ground upon which one walks, and the neighbors with whom one walks. A softly assembled vocation is open to the reality of the lives and loves of many LGBTQIA+ persons, who may change careers, pronouns, gender identity, family configurations, and biological sex as their vocation flows. Over a lifetime each person can live out their softly-assembled vocation in loving response to the summons from their own voice, the beckoning of a faithful God, and the call of the neighbor. 


Queer Vocations Are Transgressive 

[48] A queer, Lutheran tapestry of vocation also includes the practice of transgressing accepted boundaries or established limits of what has been deemed natural, divinely-planned, Christian, or acceptable. Some of this transgressive character was previously highlighted when discussing how queer vocations seek justice and tell seemingly-foolish truths to those in power. Unfortunately, many texts on vocation assume that all persons should follow a path that acquiesces to global consumerism and accepts dominant heteronormative claims regarding biological sex, gender identity, race, ability, and family. Queer persons and their allies are transgressing these false views of vocation. Many contemporary queer theologians employ the strategy (or critique) of transgression and trace it to the work of philosopher Michel Foucault. Early queer theologian Robert Goss writes, “Transgression is essential to the hermeneutical development of queer theologies and queer hybrid theologies.”(63)  

[49] In the poststructuralist sense of the term, transgression involves crossing and subverting boundaries, limits, or borders. These limits can be external—such as the so-called scientific truth that there are only two biological sexes. Or they can be internal, as when an individual accepts and internalizes this so-called truth. Next, the very act of transgressing a rule or norm reveals how unstable or constructed a norm really is. For example, transgressing the norms of white privilege reveals that racial categories are constructed and enforced by social, legal, and religious discourses. Foucault describes the ongoing process this way: “transgression forces the limit to face the fact of its imminent disappearance, to find itself in what it excludes.”(64) In addition, a transgressive event does not merely invert or reverse the way identity and power are shaped and expressed. Transgression should lead to something new—to new ways of being—and to the end of exclusionary limits. For example, transgressing norms about biological sex helps people realize that biological sex is not binary, and crossing these norms creates a space for the previously-hidden (and medically-masked) lives of intersex people. Finally, one transgressive act should always lead to another. According to Foucault, “Transgression, then, is not related to the limit as black to white, the prohibited to lawful, the outside to the inside….Rather, their relationship takes the form of a spiral which no simple infraction can exhaust.”(65) Transgression never stops. Foolish truth telling resonates nicely with transgression because both acts expose the constructed and enforced nature of concepts regarding gender, biological sex, race, and ability, etc., that many of us were taught to hold as natural or of divine origin. And transgression and foolish truth telling both challenge existing power structures and relations. 

[50] Transgression is already central to queer activism, art, resistance, politics, and theology, and it must be central to queer vocations. One example of transgression is seen in the vocations of persons who live as intersex, nonbinary, genderqueer, genderfluid, or gender non-conforming.(66) These individuals courageously reject the binaries of female/male and feminine/masculine. By doing so they transgress the rules or limits which claim that biological sex falls into only two categories, that a person’s gender must be masculine or feminine, and that one’s gender identity is coextensive with one’s biological sex. Foucault scholar, David Ingram states that transgressive critique, “resists normative limits. It invents new vocabularies for describing who we are and what we want to be as individuals—all new ways of expressing and caring for ourselves.”(67)  

[51] The transgressive nature of vocation is especially important for queer Christians today, and there are countless ways that LGBTQIA+ persons expose and transgress heterosexist social, racial, and theological boundaries and limits. In their 2021 article, J. Pace Warfield-May argues that resistance and living in the freedom of authenticity are important parts of the vocational journeys of many queer Christians. Luther’s emphasis on Christian freedom empowers Warfield-May, and this new theology of queer freedom transgresses compulsory heterosexuality and individualistic views of freedom. “[T]he freedom from having to conform to heteronormative gender and sexual identity, the freedom from a gender binary…that freedom can be life-saving, let alone life-affirming.”(68) Warfield-May also identifies coming out and living authentically as expressions of vocation. “[M]y call story followed the same narrative arc as my coming-out story, my self-realization of being queer. Living authentically is a resurrection, an embrace of life.”lxix This queer vocation of authenticity and resistance resonates nicely with my argument here. Queer vocations involve ongoing transgression, and that transgression—like vocation—involves the entirety of one’s life and all of the softly-assembled components of one’s embodied identity. More ongoing transgressive acts for justice for neighbor and self must be taken by queer persons and their allies so that everyone has the opportunity to live out their vocations equitably in the world.  


Concluding Thoughts 

[52] Heteronormative and all single-path models of vocation must be challenged, and some must be laid aside. Re-weaving and queering vocation are necessary if LGBTQIA+ persons are to see the colorful strands of their lives within the broader tapestry of Christian vocation. But this new tapestry of vocation is not only for queer persons. It is for everyone who finds that the fluidity, unpredictability, and creativity of their lives, families, loves, and body-minds do not fit into heterosexist and single-path models of vocation. This queer, Lutheran theology of vocation can help all of us weave the meaning of our own narratives onto the story of God’s love in Jesus Christ and bring the fullness of who we are into a vocational life that continues creation, flows from baptism and the Holy Spirit, pursues neighbor justice, steadfastly loves self, tells foolish truths, is softly assembled, transgresses dehumanizing boundaries, and honors the God who calls. 



[1] Martin Luther, “Lectures on Genesis Chapters 15-20,” ed. Jarslov Pelikan, trans. George V. Schick, in Luther’s Works vol. 3 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1961), 128.

[2] Martin Luther, quoted in Marc Kolden “Luther on Vocation” Word and World 3, no. 4 (Fall 1983): 386.

[3] Ibid., 387.

[4] LGBTQIA+ refers to persons who claim their identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning), intersex, asexual, or aromantic. Please see the GLAAD Media Reference Guide 11th edition for detailed definitions of these terms. Language relating to biological sex and gender identity changes rapidly. At the time of publication, the terms used in this essay were the best practice terms.  “GLAAD Media Reference Guide,” 11th ed. GLAAD, accessed June 4, 2022,

[5] See “Heteronormativity” in the “American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology,” American Psychological Association, Accessed June 1, 2022,

[6] There are many definitions of the word queer. I find the following definitions helpful. “Queerness indicates merely the failure to fit precisely within a category, and surely all persons at some time or other find themselves discomfited by the bounds of categories that ostensibly contain their identities.” William P. Turner, A Genealogy of Queer Theory (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000), 8. “‘Queer,’ then, demarcates not a positively but a positionality vis-`a-vis the normative—a positionality that is not restricted to lesbians and gay men but is in fact available to anyone who is or who feels marginalized because of his or her sexual practices.” David Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards A Gay Hagiography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 62.

[7] For a history of the term cisgender see, Sunnivie Bryndum, “The True Meaning of the Word ‘Cisgender’,” The Advocate July 31 2015, The term heteronormative is a term that denotes the worldview that assumes and promotes heterosexuality as the preferred or assumed sexual orientation.

[8] David W. Loy argues that the concept of vocation—especially as it is used in contemporary higher education—is individualistic, avoids family (unchosen) commitments, and is often elitist. See David W. Loy, “Luther, Vocation, and the Search for Significance,” Lutheran Quarterly 35 (2021): 50-72.

[9] K. Brynolf Lyon, “Uses of Otherness in Group Life: Racism, White Privilege, and Christian Vocation,” Encounter 68, no. 1 (Winter 2007): 31.

[10] Frances Young, Arthur’s Call: A Journey of Faith in the Face of Severe Learning Disability (London: SPCK, 2014), 143; See also John Swinton, “Disability, Vocation, and Prophetic Witness,” Theology Today 77, no. 2 (July 2020): 186-197.

[11] Timothy Snyder, “Towards a New Agenda for Vocation,” Dialogue: A Journal of Theology 60, no.1 (December 2021): 75.

[12] Caryn D. Riswold, “Vocational Discernment: A Pedagogy of Humanization,” in At This Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 74.

[13] I am dealing with two specific bodies of vocational literature. There is much to commend in books like Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life by Douglas J. Schuurman (2003), or Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be, 2nd edition by Mark R. Schwehn and Dorothy C. Bass (2020); and Callings: 20 Centuries of Wisdom on Christian Vocation, edited by William C. Placher (2005). Yet, even these helpful texts ignore and exclude queer persons. There are also numerous vocational texts written by more conservative, evangelical, Christian authors, who (in their other publications and media presence) usually view LGBTQIA+ persons as sinful and disordered. Examples include, Destiny: Step into Your Purpose by T.D. Jakes (2016); and Your Calling Here and Now: Making Sense of Vocation, by Gordon T. Smith (2022).

[14] Brad Sears, Christy Mallory, Andrew R. Flores, and Kerith J. Conron, “LGBT People’s Experiences of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment,” UCLA School of Law, Williams Institute, September 2021, 2-3,

[15] Ibid., 3.

[16] For more on the challenge to the true, stable subject and new relational theological anthropology see my book, The Human Subject and Sin: The Anthropology of Pannenberg, Ruether, and Fulkerson (Saabrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2010).

[17] For a detailed exploration of essentialism, see “Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed June 27, 2022,

[18] To learn more about intersex people see, “Intersex People” “GLAAD Media Reference Guide,” 11th ed. GLAAD, accessed June 4, 2022,; and “What is intersex?” e resources from InterACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, accessed April 25, 2022,

[19] Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” Theatre Journal 40, no. 4 (December 1988): 523; and Ashleigh Rushton, et. al., “Beyond Binary: (Re)Defining ‘Gender’ for 21st Century Disaster Risk Reduction Research, Policy, and Practice,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 16 (2019): 3, https://doi:10.3390/ijerph16203984.

[20] For more on the coextensive view of biological sex and gender see my previous article, “A New Creation: Sex and Gender in ‘Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action’,” Currents in Theology and Mission 47, no. 2 (March 2020), accessed March 2022,

[21] In his new 2022 book on vocation, Michael Berg writes, “There is nothing more beautiful than a mother. She dies to herself and lives for her children.” Michael Berg, Vocation: The Setting for Human Flourishing, (Irvine: New Reformation Publications, 2022), 73.

[22] See Daphne Hampson, “Luther on the Self: A Feminist Critique,” Word & World 8, no. 4 (Fall, 1988): 334-342; and Mark Kolden, “Christian Vocation in Light of Feminist Critiques,” Lutheran Quarterly 10, no. 1 (1996) 71-85.

[23] Womanist theologian Delores Williams employed invisibilization to describe how Black women are invisibilized (and sinned against) by the dominant, white, Christian culture. She writes, “Individual sin has to do with participating in society’s systems that devalue Black women’s womanhood (humanity) through a process of invisibilization—that is, invisibilizing the womanist character of Black women’s experience and emphasizing the stereotypical images of Black women.” Delores S. Williams, “A Womanist Perspective on Sin,” in A Troubling in my Soul: Womanist Perspectives on Evil and Suffering, ed. Emilie Townes (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1993), 146.

[24] “I have often used Dewey’s term, ‘the body-mind,’ which is intended to capture the fact that what we call ‘mind’ and ‘body’ are not two separate and ontologically distinct entities or processes, but instead are aspects…of an interactive…process.” Mark Johnson, The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 274.

[25] Martin Luther quoted in Gustav Wingren, Luther on Vocation, trans. Carl C. Rasmussen (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publications, 2004), 142.

[26] Martin Luther, “Lectures on Genesis,” LW 3:274.

[27] Philip Hefner, The Human Factor: Evolution, Culture, and Religion, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 27.

[28] Kiara A. Jorgenson, Ecology of Vocation: Recasting Calling in a New Planetary Era (Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, Lanham: 2020), 130.

[29] Cherry Kittredge, “Queer Lady of Guadalupe: Artists Re-Imagine an Icon,” Q Spirit, (December 11, 2021) accessed February 16, 2022,

[30] Justin Tanis, Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 2003), 166.

[31] For more on the gifts transgender Christians are sharing, please see my previous article, “From the Same Spirit: Receiving the Theological Gifts of Transgender Christians,” in Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 56 no. 1 (March 2017): 28-37.

[32] Wingren, Luther on Vocation, 144.

[33] Martin Luther, “Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16,” ed. Jarslov Pelikan, trans. Martin H. Bertram, in Luther’s Works vol. 24 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1961), 220.

[34] Martin Luther, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520),” in The Annotated Luther: vol. 3: Church and Sacraments, ed. Paul W. Robinson (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 43.

[35] Luther wrote, “Finally, we must also know what baptism signifies and why God ordained precisely this sign and external ceremony for the sacrament by which we are first received into Christian community.” Martin Luther, “The Large Catechism,” in The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 464; Elsewhere Luther wrote, “For here we have one baptism, one Christ, one sacrament…one spiritual body [Eph. 4:4-5], and each person is a member of the other [Rom. 12:5]. No other fellowship is so close and strong.” Martin Luther, “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods (1519),” in The Annotated Luther vol. 1: The Roots of Reform, ed. Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2015), 252.

[36] Martin Luther, “On the Councils and the Church (1539)” in The Annotated Luther, vol. 3, 418.

[37] Martin Luther quoted in Wingren, Luther on Vocation, 146.

[38] For help understanding the coming out process for transgender persons read, “Tips for Allies of Transgender People,” in the GLAAD Media Reference Guide, 11th ed., accessed June 1, 2022,

[39] Amber Cantorna, Unashamed: A Coming Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 148.

[40] Monica J. Cross, Authenticity and Imagination in the Face of Oppression, (Eugene: Resource Publications, 2016), 54.

[41] Martin Luther, Freedom of a Christian, trans. Mark D. Tranvik. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 82. This theme of neighbor-love is so rich that scholar Gustav Wingren says that for Luther, “neighbors…have the function of serving as unforeseen moderators of my actions.” Wingren, Luther on Vocation, 148.

[42] Luther, Freedom of A Christian trans. Mark D. Tranvik, 88.

[43] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, vol. 6 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, ed. Clifford J. Green, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 291.

[44] Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action, 2-3, accessed March 1, 2022,

[45] Ibid., 7.

[46] Ibid., 83.

[47] Kerith J. Conron, Kathryn K. O’Neill, Luis A. Vasquez, and Christy Mallory, “Prohibiting Gender-Affirming Medical Care for Youth,” UCLA School of Law, Williams Institute, March 2022,

[48] Ibid., 2.

[49] In 2009, the ELCA appealed to a Lutheran understanding of bound conscience as a way to allow both conservative and progressive Lutherans to remain in the ELCA after the ELCA approved Human Sexuality Gift and Trust (2009), accessed June 15, 2022, For a critique of this use of bound conscience and how it undermines neighbor justice, see Mary Elise Lowe, “A Lutheran View of Conscience: Bound and Free, Constrained and Embodied,” in The Crux of Theology: Luther’s Teachings and Our Work for Freedom, Justice, and Peace, eds. Allen G. Jorgenson and Kristen E. Kvam (Lanham: Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2022), 27-54.

[50] Dr. Emilie M. Townes, “Womanist Understanding of Vocation,” accessed March 29, 2022,

[51] For more on how transgender Christians are bringing the gift of hesed for self to the larger Christian community, see my article, “From the Same Spirit: Receiving the Theological Gifts of Transgender Christians,” Dialogue: A Journal of Theology 56, no. 1 (March 2017): 28-37.

[52] Brueggemann, Walter, “Psalm 109: Three Times ‘Steadfast Love’,” Word & World 5 no. 2 (Spring 1985): 144-154; See also, “KHESED” in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol 3, ed. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008): 495-496.

[53] Lewis Reay, “Towards a Transgender Theology: Que(e)rying the Eunuchs,” in Trans/formations, ed. Lisa Isherwood and Marcella Althaus-Reid (London: SCM Press, 2009), 158-59.

[54] Brett Ray, My Name is Brett: Truths from a Trans Christian, copyright 2015 Brett Ray, 93.

[55] Laurence L. Welborn, “Paul’s Appropriation of the Role of the Fool in 1 Corinthians 1-4,” Biblical Interpretation 10, no. 4 (2002): 429.

[56] Ibid., 435.

[57] Joseph N. Go, “You Must Follow Our Belief or Else You Can’t Receive God”: Constructing a Sexual Bi/Theology of Eucharist,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 53, no. 2 (June 2014): 153-154.

[58] See Esther Thelen, et. al. “The Dynamics of Embodiment: A Field Theory of Infant Preservative Reaching,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24, (2001), 1-34.

[59] John P. Spencer, Sammy Perone, and Aaron T. Buss, “Twenty Years and Going Strong: A Dynamic Systems Revolution in Motor and Cognitive Development,” Child Development Perspectives 5, no. 4, (December 2011): 262, doi:10.1111/j.1750-8606.2011.00194.x.

[60] John P. Spencer et. al. “Moving Toward a Grand Theory of Development: In Memory of Esther Thelen,” Child Development 77, no. 6 (November/December 2006): 1533.

[61] Justin Tanis, Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2003),147.

[62] See my chapter, “The Queer Body-Mind in Martin Luther’s Theology: From Subaltern Sodomite to Embodied Imago Dei,” in The Alternative Luther: Lutheran Theology from the Subaltern, ed. Else Marie Wiberg Pedersen (Lanham: Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2019), 118-136.

[63] Robert Goss, Queering Christ: Beyond Jesus Acted Up (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2002), 229.

[64] Michel Foucault, “A Preface to Transgression,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 34. See also, Michel Foucault, “What is Enlightenment?” in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), 45-46.

[65] Foucault, “A Preface to Transgression,” 35.

[66] For an exploration of genderqueer see, Hailey Otis, “Genderqueer: What it Means,” Ursidae: The Undergraduate Research Journal at the University of Northern Colorado 4, no. 3 (January 2015),; and see, Evan Urquhart, “What the Heck is Genderqueer? The Slate, March 24, 2015,

[67] David Ingram, “Foucault and Habermas,” in The Cambridge Companion to Foucault, 2nd edition, ed. Gary Gutting (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 269.

[68] J. Pace Warfield-May, “Resistance and the Freedom to Live Authentically: Queering Martin Luther’s View of Vocation,” Currents in Theology and Mission 48, no. 3 (July 2021): 7,

[69] Ibid., 6.


Dr. Mary Lowe, Augsburg College

Mary Lowe

Mary Elise Lowe is Professor of Religion at Augsburg University. She teaches and publishes in the fields of Lutheran theology, Queer theologies, vocation, and contemporary Christian theologies.