Abstract: In the public political rhetoric that surrounded AIDS at the height of the crisis in the United States, AIDS was primarily interpreted theologically as God’s punishment for the sin of homosexuality. This rhetoric created a social theodicy that made sense of the suffering associated with the AIDS epidemic by correlating homosexuality with sinfulness and developing the image of a (violently) righteous God who punished that sinfulness with a disease that destroys the sinner. At the same time, the people of the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco (MCCSF) found themselves at the heart of the AIDS epidemic as they worshipped and ministered in the gay center of San Francisco—the Castro. As a gay-affirming Christian community, they engaged in political activism and pastoral support that sought to disrupt the
cultural conflation of homosexuality, AIDS and death. Particularly in their worship, MCCSF endeavored to counter the dominant social theodicy, engaging in ritual activity that performed a counter theodicy. This dissertation investigates worship at MCCSF from 1982–1997 in order to address the “how” question of theodicy in the specific context of the AIDS epidemic: how does God’s love act in consort with the human suffering brought about by the AIDS crisis. Elaborating a methodology based on queer theory, particularly the work of Judith Butler, which revolves around mapping difference, deconstructing binary oppositions, and analyzing parody as revelatory disruption, it seeks to further develop the notions currently operative in the field of Liturgical Studies regarding how liturgy performs theodicy by addressing the particularity of suffering and bridging the gap between interpretation and performance. Through the creation of an historical ethnography of worship, several strategies of theodicy operative in the worship practices of MCCSF become apparent, including: performing relational solidarity, enacting simultaneity, and constituting community. These strategies of theodicy form the basis for the beginnings of a performative liturgical theodicy centered on an intimately involved God whose relationality makes suffering meaningful and on the performance of simultaneity that constitutes the Body of Christ with AIDS.