On the Trinity (3)

In this final installment, I’ll respond to the third question posed in this article posted by the Commission on the MCC (Metropolitan Community Churches) Statement of Faith.

How might thinking about the Trinity as a relational community help you see God?

The first time I understood that the doctrine of the Trinity had practical consequences for my Christian imagination, I was reading about “God is Love.” In order for that to be true, this theologian was saying (though I can’t remember his name), God would need to have a communal relationship with Godself, if God was also self-sufficient (a conviction shared across Judaism, Islam, and Christianity). Because God is One but not Three in Judaism or Islam, our sibling faiths could say that God is “loving,” but not that God is Love, because love is relationship of dependence at some level. I grasped with deep satisfaction that God does not have an ego problem that temporarily subsides when I sing my favourite worship song. In fact, I have learned over the years that because the Godhead is truly love and truly free, I have tremendous, joyful responsibility–and even authority–in the Earth, because this amazing God, known especially in the face of Jesus, has called me ‘friend’ rather than ‘slave.’ Trying to think about the grandeur of that calling makes my skin crawl. I believe it, and yet I can barely lean in to it–it is too wonderful for me.

I’ve always been comfortable with Father, Son, and Spirit as the names for the hypostases of God. But thanks to some very careful thinking by progressive Anglican theologians (and to a lesser extent, Evangelical feminists), I realised I needed to expand the names I give the Sacred Three. Why? Not only because Christians could understand the Persons as a patriarchal hierarchy (which I believe goes against the grain of the Scriptural witnesses taken together), but because given that the Spirit is fully God, I need names that express “her” relationships to the other two persons! We call the first person Father and the second Son, but what name do we give the relationship between the Father and the Spirit, or the Son and the Spirit? Personally, one of my favourite names for the Trinity is “My Most Wild Lover” (which paradoxically implies a polyamorous and faithful relationship), and one of my favourite names for the Holy Spirit in particular is (along with St Francis of Assisi), my Little Sister. I have been experimenting lately with calling the Persons Lover, Beloved, and Witness.

When we expand the names and potential genders of the Sacred Three, however, I think there are two models that we should likely avoid: the Trinity as a nuclear family (sometimes common among evangelical feminists who want to exclude queer experience from serious theological reflection) and the Trinity as incestuous menage-a-trois (suggested, not-quite-in-jest, by Stephen Moore in his book God’s Beauty Parlor. (Though fantasy and role-play in many queer subcultures does not really have serious incestuous overtones, I think it is well-established in the helping professions that the vast majority of incestuous relationships within families of origin cause deep harm to the participants, especially because there is usually a victimizing power differential, and also the tendency to confuse or stunt the safety, guidance, and friendship necessary for a holistic sense of self and good personal boundaries to emerge or heal–even well into adulthood.)

I look forward to expanding my language around the Trinity and the persons, but I also want to caution against what the ancient Church called modalism. (If I am guilty of modalism, I hope someone will gently point it out to me!) For example: to invoke “Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit,” for example, is proper for the latter two persons; Creator, however, is a role that belongs properly to all three (and tends to imply, when used interchangeably for Father, that the other two persons are not Creator). Likewise with Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier: The Sacred Three are all involved in these processes as the One God.

It continues to move me more than I can say that by offering the Church (and me!) theosis or divinization, we are invited to be surrounded by and to participate (in) God’s own life! (Think about that for a moment. What if that’s not a weak metaphor? What if that’s going to happen when we are raised from the dead?)

The power of this God in the Church today is the source of establishing, maintaining, and repairing just relationships; when all things are made new, our relationships with ourselves, others, creation, and God will receive depth, healing, and permanence the likes of which I can barely understand. And if the Godhead is paradoxically a community, and I am the image of that God, I need community in order to be fully human (which is what Genesis 2 says anyway). Perhaps it’s even more accurate, in the biblical context, to say that my individuality emerges from the community. Allegedly Enlightened modernity gave us the opposite conception, which might give us the opportunity to resist certain kinds of oppression, but also bequeaths to us the assumption that even something as central to God’s plans as the Body of Christ is, at rock bottom, only (!) a voluntary association of which we can opt in or out at will.

I am not the first Christian mystic to wonder that if grounded and loving orgasm with other human beings can open us up powerfully to the action of God in this life, what will the intimacy of the next life be, especially if, according to Jesus in Matthew, in the Kingdom there will be no marrying or giving in marriage? Personally, I don’t think there will be any loss, but only strong gains: lacking patriarchal marriage does not mean lacking deep and provocative intimacy with others. (Theologian Elizabeth Stuart even has the courage to ask, “Is there sex in heaven?” in one of her excellent essays.)

If the Triune God represents perfect mutuality and intimacy into which I’m invited, I also understand that all hierarchies in this world (even if they appear long-standing) are ad hoc. They are not ontological, but functional. And I dare to speculate even further, though I don’t know whether I have a firm opinion about the following: Even though I am a creature, distinct not only in grade but in kind from the Creator (take that, Duns Scotus!), eventually the distinction may not matter in any functional sense. Meister Eckhardt and several other Christian mystics seem to suggest that if all of humanity is in perfect communion with God, one can easily imagine that though there will be “self,” and resurrected bodies, do we need to make sure we know where I stop and God begins?

This concludes my reflections (for now!) on the three questions put to interested parties by the Commission on the Statement of Faith. I hope some folks will find it useful and life-giving. I offer the paragraph below as one summary of “where my heart is” as I try to answer these questions (and to deliberately, and gently, call those with deeply problematic views of the Trinity into loving conversation (and perhaps mutual understanding, if not agreement!).

The doctrine of the Trinity, which shapes and even explains much of my own life and testimony, has a kind of bizarre and explosive beauty about it, which touches almost every aspect of my Christian experience (and that of the Church throughout the ages). Making it optional, or discounting it altogether–as some are in the habit of doing, even among ordained leadership!–will cause the MCC to lose most of the truly queer imaginative resources available within the Christian tradition. In a phrase: How boring. How much better, I think, to find ways of leaning into a relational understanding of the one God, who makes humankind in the Divine image (without, it should be noted, making humans inherently divine, but only by gift) and calls us, in Christ by the Spirit’s power, to clear the way for the fully realised and present Commonwealth of God. That amazing biblical and theological vision–should we tune our hearts to it–is the truest substance of calling ourselves a Human Rights Church; but calling ourselves such a Church without Trinitarian resources risks capitulation to ill-thought-out political fads and anemic Western liberal responses to the deep human needs to which MCC feels the call to respond.

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