Progressive Christian Sexuality?

I’m glad to report that I’m feeling a little less panicked about being asked to share my “progressive views” on sexuality at the upcoming Generous Spaciousness Conference and Retreat. There are lots of reasons for this, but they have to do with another “cluster” of circumstances and conversations I’ve had recently. (I’ve noted before that God sends me “clusters” of conversations when (s)he is trying to teach me something.)

As recently as last night, I had a pretty raw and honest conversation with God. In spite of my academic work, I know a lot less of how to integrate sexuality and Christian spirituality (especially of a pentecostal variety) then some people think. I’ve been realising this is true in my life, along with not knowing much about physical healing and the emotion of anger (in all its varieties).

For me, a potential way forward is just to say, “Lord, I long for you. I want to learn.” Humility is essential, especially if I am offering something atypical (which, for the Evangelical and pentecostal folks likely to show up at the Retreat, is very likely). Several conversations recently have reminded me that other people have just as many problems as I do in remaining humble and exercising faith in God! Just today God reminded me that I need to be careful about measuring my faith as “more” or “less,” because the strength of faith is not its amount, but its object. Faith/fulness is a perspective that has to be well-directed, regardless of the amount–if my faith is in Jesus, my faith is placed well, and therefore the amount doesn’t matter much (“If you have faith as small as a mustard-seed…”).

It also helps to (inadvertently) find respected Christian theologians who make most of the statements I feel I need to with both eloquence and graciousness. These are people like Nancy L. Wilson, Robert Shore-Goss, Jim Brownson, and Elizabeth Stuart, who make points like:

  • “eunuchs” include people that we would consider gay men and transgender people today, and they were (contrary to popular Evangelical teaching) sexually active outside of culturally-understood marriage;
  • complementarity is not a biblical way of assessing how men and women relate in Scripture;
  • the Song of Songs (easily the sexiest book in the Bible!) does not contain any married people, but lots of sexual activity and fantasy; and
  • the concept of one-fleshedness does not necessarily need to include genital sexual expression, and applies to relationships that seem to include more than two people (Ruth/Naomi/Boaz)!

Perhaps the gist of this whole post is: I don’t have to feel crazy or alone for having the viewpoints I do. Other theologians and activists have arrived first and find them life-giving. I am not talking about theory as though people have never lived the ideas that they present. That sense of incarnation or of embodiment is crucial for Christian conversations about sex and sexualities.

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4 comments

  1. Blake Kanewischer

    It’s hard to know what comes first: the chicken or the egg. Is one’s lived / shaped / (misin)formed experience the lens by which these ideas emerge, or can the ideas emerge from a tabula rasa, so to speak? I recognize the latter gets uncomfortably close to a “plain reading” or “literal reading” of Scripture, and I would prefer (myself) to acknowledge a dynamic spirit with my God and her s/Scriptures. But that dynamism projects much of ourselves onto God–and we are her creation, so what better to project back to her?

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    • theologywriter

      My very good, dear friend!

      I think we are in a great deal of agreement here; I’m intrigued particularly by your last sentence! I agree with you that it’s not possible to be a tabula rasa, since we have an entire embodied ethos before we use language, never mind encounter the book(s) called the Bible! I don’t want to let go of a “literal” reading if what we mean is deploying the best we know of history and the study of texts to reconstruct increasingly plausible readings of what is in the Bible. But I get to have my cake and eat it too, because given a literal reading, the God we encounter in Scripture(s) welcomes the dynamism of relationship with human beings, not least by means of argument–and sometimes the humans win! 🙂 The struggle within the dynamism, for me, is part of what our tradition calls “sin.” In my alienated or misinformed state, I have ideas of God, methods of ‘study,’ or even ways of living that are not worthy of the Living and Faithful God. For me, this is partially resolved by looking carefully at the bibical-historical figure of Jesus (which mirrors the best of the Scriptural and Christic focus of my Evangelical heritage), and by welcoming the real and disruptive Holy Spirit (which mirrors the best of pentecostal spirituality). Though I may project onto God, she has ways of coaxing me into a deeper, truer and perhaps even more accurate understanding of her, even if this makes me deeply uncomfortable. I am glad of this, because frankly, I don’t want to worship a god I have made in my image: it’s difficult enough living the mystery of being hers! Do you think we are in agreement, friend?

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  2. Blake Kanewischer

    It’s interesting that the dynamism gets painted as “sin,” when, as you point out, even in a literal reading, we are (sometimes) rewarded for arguing with God. Just more grist for the critical thinkers’ mill. So yes, we’re essentially on the same page (I’m hedging only because I’m not sure of the size and shape of said page :P)

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    • theologywriter

      I should clarify, because I only meant that the dynamism includes real sin from the human side, not that the dynamism is sinful! For example, to choose something far from sexuality but still fraught: Is God cruel and violent, or have cruel and violent humans got it wrong (and yet God is willing to take the risk that her reputation will be stained by her own Scriptures)? By the way, the fact that you characterize Scripture as somehow belonging to God is actually a rather striking agreement between (which some progressives would reject outright, I suspect), regardless of how to slice ‘theology about what Scripture actually is.’

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