Since writing this post I’ve written three more posts moving toward an ecclesial and trinitarian understanding of sexuality and gender:
Rowan Williams, in his essay The Body’s Grace , proposes a way forward in thinking about human sexuality that can both hold to the Tradition of the Church and at the same time be open to and affirming of the diversity of human sexuality and gender expression and identity. As I read The Body’s Grace, Williams sees desire and human sexual intimacy as rooted in God’s own desire: “ God’s desire for God” and God’s desire for humanity and creation. Our sexulaity and our sexual intimacy , or how we view and conduct ourselves as sexual embodied beings, is key to our spiritual development as persons (It is important to note here that celibacy is seen by Williams as a way of being sexual and having sexual intimacy, thus we don’t need to be “sexualy active” to be fully living into our sexual embodiedness.) What I take away from The Body’s Grace (and this doesn’t exhaust the essay) is that human sexuality and gender expression and identity are bound up in God as Trinity, the Incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth, and the actuality of the Ecclesia.
In the connection of sexuality to ecclesiology (God’s desire for and being espoused to God’s people) Williams and Traditionalists are making a similar point. In my own theological reflections on human sexuality and gender identity and inclusion of LGBTQ I’ve generally avoided thinking along the lines of ecclesiology and Trinitarian theology as being directly related to sexuality. It dawned on me as I read Williams that part of the objection of Traditionalists is their sense that the views of acceptance of LGBTQ abandon the ecclesiological and trinitarian dimensions that can be found in the traditionalist position on marriage. Another way to say this is that traditionalists often react to a denial that who God is and has revealed God’s self to be has consequences for the meaning of our sexuality and gender. Further more ,traditionalists also are concerned that we who seek to be open to and affirming of LGBTQ tend to shy away from Trinitarian language (and the specific Name, Father Son and Holy Spirit) and high Christology.
Thus the downside of The Body’s Grace is that, although thinking in terms of Trinity, Christology and Ecclesiology, Williams avoids specifically trinitarian language and names. For instances he says “God’s desire for God” rather than the more directly trinitarian (and Johannine) “The Father’s desire for the Son.” While Williams is clearly aiming at many of the same things traditionalists are aiming at he consistently stops short of explicitly invoking the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the Incarnation. Though, it is clear to me that the essay is thoroughly grounded in the Trinity and high Christology and high ecclesiology. Or if the essay isn’t so grounded I find it to be quite solipsistic in its view of God and otherwise nonsensical.
However, whether or not I’ve correctly discerned Williams’ intent, through The Body’s Grace I came to see Trinitarian theology, Christology and ecclesiology as rich soil in which to be open to and affirm a diversity of human sexuality and gender expression. So, I’m seeking to set out from The Body’s Grace taking up this traditional language and ecclesial way of speaking about our human sexuality, beginning with the marriage of a man to a woman and its use as imaging God’s desire for God’s people and humanity, and move that into a broader understanding of the diversity of human sexuality.
Some might object that doing so is too risky. The risk is that taking this all very seriously will simply reinscribe the same patriarchal and heterosexist place in which we’ve already found ourselves. For others the risk may be in bringing current conceptions of human sexulaity and gender into these orthodox spaces I will have already begun down a path that has departed from the Faith. I do not deny these risks. However, in embarking on this risky endeavor I’m enacting another aspect of The Body’s Grace, the riskiness of sexual intimacy and true human and divine encounter. If one believes God is Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit, that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnation of the Son, The Word of God and that the Church is the locus (though not the full extent ) of God’s liberating transforming work then this must be risked. And I do trust in and rest in all of the above. After reading The Body’s Grace I feel I can’t but risk this path.
I will begin with a reading of Ephesians along these lines. In doing so I will be looking squarely into (without discarding) “…and God created them male and female…” as well as the gendered and heterosexual images of God’s desire for God’s people. However, I suggest our starting point be in this regard Paul’s understanding of the mystery of “ …And for this reason a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” What is this mystery why is the marriage of a man and a woman as sacrament? The mystery isn’t’ the union of the two people rather the mystery is what is revealed of Christ and the Church. But do note that I’m saying this is the beginning. This is risky and difficult because traditionalists assert it is the beginning, the ending, and the whole story. I wish to take Paul on his own terms and accept that as revelation and let this trust guide the exploration. This beginning point is to say our sexuality, and sexual and gender identity is an ecclesiological question and thus it is also a christological and Trinitarian question. So beginning here while accepting the diversity of sexuality and gender identity and expressed as part of our humanity, is then to approach that diversity formed by Orthodox affirmations of God as Father Son and Holy Spirit and of Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnation of the Son. If you choose to follow this thread this will be a focus for the coming months in Ecclesial Longings.
I hope you my readers will engage this journey. I do not have the end already sketched out, . You who read this are seeing this exploration in process. At the beginning of this risky endeavor I have some questions for you my reader:
What frightens you about this exploration? What in this exploration is risky for you?
What in the above sketch of our journey excites you or pulls at your heart?
Do you have suggestions of books and authors I should be reading and consulting? Who should be our companions on this way? I’m especially looking for voices that may be from the margins as well as mainstream voices. Also, are there commentators on the book of Ephesians that I should be consulting as I take us on this journey?