Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Loving Promiscuously: A Queer Theology of Doing It

The Anarchist Reverend, in conjunction with the Sanctuary Collective Empowerment Project, has called upon bloggers and writers to share in a synchroblog on queer theology. Thinking about how I wanted to begin to creatively reflect on such a task of writing a queer theology, I was immediately taken back to when I was planning a queer chapel service at Harvard Divinity School.

My queer friends and I gathered to plan a chapel service that would be hosted by the LGBTQ student group. As we thought about how we would order the service, what message, songs, and 'scripture' we wanted to share during this time of worship and fellowship, we were left with one question: What is queer worship?

After moments of sitting in silence while we all tried to think of some sophisticated and thoughtful way of responding, we all, almost unison, all blurted out: SEX! This response couldn’t be more appropriate and it’s the theme I wish to reflect on in this queer theology synchroblog.

It’s all about sex. Even when it’s not, it’s still about sex. Conversations about queerness are almost always about whom we are having sex with. Discussions about homosexuality and the Bible are inevitably about sexual behavior, whether we be debating over whether men should lay with men, or if God struck down Sodom because the men wanted to gang rape other men (even though they were angels), or if Paul witnessed men and women engage in ‘unnatural’ sexual acts. And to stir the pot even more, the mass media often overtly sexualizes representations of queer life—portraying a culture of sex, partying, drugs, and more sex.

There is an entire sexual culture that is imposed upon LGBT/Queer individuals. It’s quite a diverse culture of sexualities. I would argue that it’s a culture of promiscuity that is placed on the image and representations of queerness. In constructing a queer theology, rather than attempt to counter or reject this sexualized culture that’s attributed to being LGBT/Queer, I seek to theologically embrace it.

Promiscuity: Excess and Indiscriminate Love

By theologically embracing queer sexual culture, and sex in general for that matter, I move toward developing a promiscuous theology that can be synonymously used for queer theology. A promiscuous/queer theology that engages sexuality and sex speaks to an intimate relationship between the flesh/body and divine.

I draw on Laurel Schneider’s suggestive concept of “promiscuous incarnation” (from The Embrace of Eros: Bodies, Desires, and Sexuality in Christianity) to flesh out this intimate relationship that I believe is exemplified through queer sexual culture. Schneider writes,
“Promiscuous incarnation” links two terms that normally operate at a remove from one another. The adjective commonly refers today to “sexual indiscrimination.” The noun refers to “a body, person, or form in which a soul, or deity is embodied,” which in Christian-dominated English usage is virtually synonymous with “God in Christ.”
“Promiscuous” here functions as a modifier to “incarnation.” While “promiscuous,” with its contemporary meaning of sexual excess, may in this sense, “sex” the divinity of Christ, Schneider, acknowledges the multiplicity of meaning in the term as she pairs it with “incarnation,” in which “it’s more primary meaning of ‘mixture’ and even its rare occurrence as a ‘third gender’ are allowed to come into play, ‘promiscuous’ offers more to the concept of incarnation than sex alone.”

The provocative term of “promiscuous” represents the refusal of divine exclusivity in God’s choice for fleshly intimacy with humanity. Further developing the concept of promiscuous incarnation, Schneider writes,
Promiscuity—whether it refers to mixture or to sexual openness, or to a third gender between male and female—suggests intercourse and multiplicity, a posture of generosity toward change and of ambiguity toward identity, any of which goes a long way actually to describing the character of Jesus’ interactions in the narratives of his life.
She continues by arguing, “Promiscuous incarnation suggests excess and indiscrimination in divine love.” If we turn to the Gospel of John we come across the very memorable line that describes how “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” making incarnation not only a distinctive feature of Christian faith, but an unveiling of intimate and passionate divine love. This begs the question, then, does this expression of divine love stop at Christ?

It is through a theological celebration of our sexuality and sexual cultures—the revelation of the divine in people's sexual experiences—that may help facilitate the liberation of the sexually oppressed (queers) and thus disrupt the normative trajectories of 'straight' rhetoric and language in dominating theologies. Marcella Althaus-Reid argues that all theology is a sexual act: an act of desiring a relationship with the divine, a desire to experience the flesh.

Doing It: Loving Promiscuously

Reflecting on the incarnation, Schneider states that its purpose is "radical, compassionate, promiscuous love of the world to such an extent that suffering in any person, any body, is a wound in God's flesh, a diminishment of God's own beloved, a gravitational pull God to come, again. And again." This understanding of promiscuous incarnation, the excessive sharing of the divine, is the defining factor of what it means to do queer theology.

A queer theology based on the very nature of a sexualized culture and promiscuity is ultimately characterized by an excess and indiscriminate practice and expression of divine love—an experience of divine love that does not stop at just Christ. But rather is experienced and shared through the multiplicity of the flesh or through multiple bodies.

By practicing—by doing—this indiscriminate and excess expression of divine love through the body, we build community: one body. Sex is a shared experience. Everyone becomes participatory in one form or another, and thus, they all become one flesh. So why not sex as a community experience?

I remember Googling "gay sex" a while back, and the image results providing me with many photos of gay orgies. It's interesting though, if I think about an indiscriminate practice of sexual behavior an orgy does come to mind. So what do orgies teach us about developing a queer theology? Well, as the Apostle Paul writes, "We who are many form one body."

Through the participatory sexual act of an orgy, we dissolve lines of separation in flesh and bodies. There is truly an indiscriminate expression of desire and love. There is a level of cooperation on the part of the people in the orgy. They humble themselves to one another. Everyone serves a role. Everyone wants to help each other experience the pleasures of the flesh. It is a communal, shared expression of love and desire. So again: “In Christ, we who are many form one body,” Paul explains. If this is so, then we share the same divine flesh as Christ. We can experience the divine through the practice of excess and indiscriminate love.

God’s love for the world simply cannot stop in its manifestation of the body of Christ. Rather, Christ’s body is broken so we can all share in the multiplicity of God’s divine love. It is a promiscuous understanding of love. A promiscuity called upon by the sexual nature of queer culture. A new reading of queer theology in terms of a “loving promiscuously” can undo a history of trying to explain oursevles as queers, and instead allows us to live a holy life through the expression sexual freedom. Our desire to experience the flesh can come from submitting ourselves to each other. After all, if God created things, and if God is in all things, then we too can share the expression of an excess and indiscriminate divine love with the world.

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