One of the hardest things for people of faith in community to talk about is sex and sexuality. The stigma and taboo of sexualized discourse in the North American church has its roots in the Puritanism of our nation’s theological roots. This tension around sex and sexuality is inextricably linked to our desire to avoid conversations about and simultaneous obsession with genital contact. The pulpit has become the last place in many religious contexts where we expect to hear anything about our sexuality, and the preacher/theologian the last person we hear from on the topic. This is much to the detriment of our religious communities and society more broadly. We are remiss in our duties when we fail to engage in a serious conversation about sex and sexuality from a theological understanding. To avoid the theological discussion of sexuality is to ignore the entire range of feelings and behaviors which human beings have as embodied persons in the world, expressing their relationship to themselves and others through look, touch, word, and action (Timmerman 1992).
Sexuality, in sum, is the physiological and emotional grounding of our capacities to love, and yet it is so much more. Sexuality includes the range of feelings, interpretations, and behaviors through which we express our capacities for sensuous relationships with ourselves, with others, and with the world. While sexuality is rooted in our bodied realities, it is much larger than these always involving our minds, feelings, wills, memories, self-understandings, and powers as embodied persons (Longfellow 1994). Sexuality then is both an embodied reality and a disembodied reality simultaneously.
When searching for a definition of sexuality, it can be said to be a sign or symbol, as well as a vehicle of our call to communication and communion. This is most apparent in regards to other human beings, and other body-selves. There is mystery in our need to reach out to embrace others both physically and spiritually. Sexuality is our physical and spiritual need for intimate communion – human and divine (Douglas 1999).
Human sexuality, when it unfolds within a spiritual mantle of love, is a gateway to the highest transcendence (Pearce 2002). Human sexuality is not simply about the press toward intercourse, as profound and pronounced as that may be. It is also about God –imaging relationality, finding self in another, intimate connecting, tenderly entering and receiving a different human heart (Kelcourse 2004). Human sexuality is a primary mode of expressing personal meaning. It is clear to me that sexuality, like mysticism, is an interior journey with exterior consequences. Sexuality is not a separate compartment of human life; it is a radiance pervading every human relationship, but assuming a particular intensity at certain points. Sexuality in sum, is the physiological and emotional grounding of our capacity to love (Longfellow 1994).
Theology as an art and science is confessional, for the theologian (as exegete, prophet, teacher, preacher, and philosopher) must clarify the church’s faith in relation to its participation in God’s liberating activity in the world (Williams 1993). Viable theology has a reciprocal relationship with the community with which it interacts, and the current sociopolitical climate in the United States demands extensive liberation theology with a resistance edge. So, our conversation about sex must fundamentally address the ways imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy has contributed to a loss of human flourishing in our sexual identities. The American culture has formed an atmosphere of powerful and pervasive prejudgments—based on race, gender, sexuality, and religion—that comprises an active epistemic framework affecting what we see and how we engage the world around us (Kornegay 2013).
The hermeneutical circle begins and ends in human experience. Codified tradition both reaches back to roots in experience and is renewed and/or discarded through the examination of experience. This experience includes relationship to the Divine, oneself, the community, and the world (Ruether 1993). Our communities are begging for insightful theological exploration of sex and sexuality rooted in the real experience of the faithful in conversation with the ancient sacred text. Perhaps we may begin by exploring the exile narrative of Hagar, who represents the marginalized body in that she is a non-bourgeois, sensuous, and rejected slave body. Hagar is rejected because of her sensuality, sexuality, and slave status due to her nonnormative body. Her choice to survive and thrive is the first step toward liberation from trauma (Crawley 2017). Hagar’s intersectional realities situate her story and that of her son as foundational for an emerging theological conversation.
Wherever we enter the conversation, it is time for us to engage seriously the work of human sexuality as a part of engaging society in Gospel values. We must be available for the conversation in ways that lead to human flourishing for all.
Non schola, sed vitae,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry | Assistant Clinical Professor
SEATTLE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY
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Crawley, Ashton T. 2017 BlackPentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. New York: Fordham Press.
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church:A Womanist Perspective . Maryknoll: Orbis .
El Kornegay, Jr. 2013. A Queering of Black Theology: James Baldwins Blues Project and Gospel Prose. New York: Pelgrave Macmillan.
Kelcourse, Felicity B., ed. 2004. Human Development and Faith: Life-Cycle Stages of Body, Mind, and Soul. Danvers: Chalice Press.
Longfellow, James B. Nelson and Sandra P., ed. 1994. Sexuality and the Sacred. Louisvile: Westminister/ John Knox Press.
Pearce, Joseph Chilton. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street Press.
Ruether, Rosemary. 1993. Sexism and God Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston: Beacon Press.
Timmerman, Joan H. 1992. Sexuality and Spiritual Growth. New York: The Crossword Publishing Company.
Williams, Delores S. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness . Maryknoll: Orbis.