What Religion or Reason Could Drive a Man to Forsake His Lover? Relational Theology, Co-Creativity and the Intersexed Body of Christ

I have a chapter in the newest volume in the SCM Press series Controversies in Contextual Theology. This collection, edited by Lisa Isherwood and Elaine Bellchambers, is entitled Through Us, With Us, In Us: Relational Theologies in the Twenty-First Century, and my essay is called "What Religion or Reason Could Drive a Man to Forsake His Lover?" Relational Theology, Co-Creativity and the Intersexed Body of Christ" (p.33-51).

I draw on Carter Heyward's assertion that "there can be no religion or doctrine; no ethic or moral suasion; no racial, sexual, class or ethnic pride; no technological feat; no ends or means; nothing in heaven and earth - not even a deity - that is any more valuable, any more important, any better than human love for humanity" (The Redemption of God, p. 181). As far as Heyward is concerned, it is in and through the ways in which humans love one another that God continues to be created. 

I suggest in the paper that Christian over-emphasis on a particular kind of deity, and specifically a particular kind of deity-become-human in Christ, is part of what has driven men, women and others to "forsake" their fellow human beings. Those, in particular, whose sexed and gendered identities have been deemed deviant, difficult or recalcitrant by a largely heteronormative church, have been further excluded by imagery whereby a male body, that of Christ, is made unproblematically to stand for all humans. In fact, to say that we as humans co-make and co-create Christ – through what Heyward and others have called “godding” – means something even more devastating for any of our sexed images of Christ’s body in particular.

Humanity in Christ exists as far more than gender-coded jigsaw pieces. Humans are not rendered complete via so-called gender complementarity. The Body of Christ is intersexed, because its members (that is, its constituents) include intersexed bodies. The Body as a whole, like some of the individual bodies within it, is ambiguous, recalcitrant, not neatly or unproblematically gendered or sexed. But we have summarily failed to explore what this really means both for the Christ we remember and re-member in worship and liturgy – for “more creative epistemologies of the divine and a sense of twisted transcendence” (Althaus-Reid 2003: 50) – and for the wider human body we make and constitute beyond church walls.

Crucially, and revolutionarily, Heyward argues that there is nothing in heaven or earth – not even a deity – that is more valuable, important, or better than human love for humans, since it is in human love that we meet and make the God who is love. In fact, she says, “Our love of humanity is our love of God; and our love of God is our love of humanity. Simply that” (Heyward 1984: 184). There is therefore an imperative here to explore images of Christ’s body – and their implications for our own self-understanding – which admit of the uncomfortable truths inhering in human bodies.

Every time our liturgies and practices fail to acknowledge the diversity and multiplicity of the Body of Christ, they also fail to acknowledge the Christness, the messianic capacity, of everyone whose body is less able or white or unambiguously male than the images of Jesus we are used to. It has almost invariably been a male body of Christ that has been figured as a site of salvation, and this tacitly devalues all bodies which do not reflect Jesus’ maleness. Female sexuality, non-maleness, and all modes of bodily excess or ambiguity are often diminished, and the bodies in which they exist are often not deemed suitable to minister to the rest of the community. It is in this way that our small, narrow religion and reason drives us to forsake our lovers, the other humans in whose reciprocal love we should be “godding”.

(Fans of 80s synthpop will notice that I borrowed part of the title from Erasure's song "A Little Respect" - since I've always been drawn to the lines about doctrine and dogma being less important than love, and about the advantages of making love not war, and all the other things you would expect from a hippie lefty Green like me.)

Other contributors to the volume, and the titles of their pieces, are as follows:

Carter Heyward, "Breaking Points: Shaping a Relational Theology" (9-32)

Ursula King, "Pneumatophores for Nurturing a Different Kind of Love" (52-70)

Beverley Clack, "Knowing Thyself: Psychoanalysis and Feminist Philosophy of Religion" (71-86)

Mary Grey, "Sustaining Hope when Relationality Fails: Reflecting on Palestine - a Case Study" (87-106)

Catherine Keller, "Tangles of Unknowing: Cosmology, Christianity and Climate" (109-120)

Lisa Isherwood, "Wanderings in the Cosmic Garden" (121-136)

Diarmuid O'Murchu, "How to Relate in a Quantum Universe" (137-152)

June Boyce-Tillman, "Even the Stones Cry Out: Music, Theology and the Earth" (153-178)

Maaike de Haardt, "Monotheism as a Threat to Relationality?" (181-196)

Jenny Daggers, "Transcendence and the Refiguring of God as Male, the Absolute Same" (197-211) 

Natalie K. Watson, "The Place Where Love is Possible: A Feminist Relational Attempt to Rethink the Cross" (212-229)

Mary Condren, "Relational Theology in the Work of the Artist, Psychoanalyst and Theorist Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger" (230-263)