Anarchism, Beliefs, Christainity, Queer Theology

the necessity of inclusive religious language and new metaphors

Seminaries, unless on the conservative end of the theological spectrum, require students to use gender neutral language concerning God in papers and sermons. Although, not having a pronoun for God makes for extremely awkward sentences in English. For example, “God in God’s self,” or “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten child,” etc. Most churches, of course, do not follow inclusive language guidelines. Doxologies are riddled with masculine language and you cross yourself “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Working at a church this summer, I am slowing de-gendering the language in the service. You see, for me, inclusive language is a must. I believe the use of inclusive language for divinity challenges religious institutions, theology, and our concept of justice.

Using masculine language binds God in a theological box.
When the pronoun “He” or “His” is used to describe God we are bound to certain metaphors and analogies. God can only be the “Father” and we are “His” children. The “Father” takes care of us, knows what’s good for us, and unconditionally loves “His” children. Yet, these metaphors start to dissolve with one’s experience of fathers or other male parental figures.* People usually shoot back that God’s a different kind of father, but this still holds up patriarchal values. If “Father” always knows what is good for us, this makes for bad theology and allows for continuing cycles of sexual and physical abuse. There must be other imaginative ways to think of God!

Before the Christian Testament was canonized (4th century) or even finished (early 2nd century) other writers were forming theological ideas.
The apocryphal* texts and other early Christian writings, including 1st Clement, the Acts of Thecla and Paul, and the Secret Apocalypse of John, demonstrate that there were many theological ideas present in the first four centuries. Some of these texts inspired the theologies of Augustine and Origen. For example, Justin Martyr believed that the followers of Christ were fulfilling prophecy by resisting to join the Roman military. Theology was open to the imagination and it still can be.

God was experienced before anything was ever written and will be after.
Through the evolution of Scripture, we understand that the divine has been experienced through various venues. In the early texts of the Hebrew Bible, God was experienced through nature, victory in (non)violent battles, and communal myths. Today, the divine is experienced through different technologies including yoga mats, music, reading Scripture(s) or nature. Experiencing the divine ever changes, so should the way we preach, the way we conduct our services, and the metaphors we use! 

God does not write theology.
Dr. James Cone taught us that God is not a theologian; rather, it is humans, who are the meaning-makers and theology-creators. It is lazy to proof-text and decide that there is only one theology! God is not only creator because we read it in Scripture. God creates continually. 

Scripture is inspired, interpretation is not. 
Clearly Scripture believes itself to be God-breathed, inspired (2 Timothy 3:16). This does not grant authority to interpretations though! Until the Enlightenment and afterward, the concept of a plain-reading of Scripture has been the norm. Up until the Enlightenment, there was a range of interpretations and one was not always over another. Until churches, ministers, and laypersons read the history of Christian theology, they will be caught in a modernist trap of plain-reading!

“Mankind,” “kingdom,” and “Lord” neglects entire social groups
Linguistically and historically, many social groups have been left out of the conversation in regards to theology. With the use of draconian language, we continue to disregard others. Language shapes who we are. It shapes how we think about the world. A great resource for how this works is Lera Boroditsky’s “How Language Shapes Thought.” Using gender-neutral language will not be easy at first, but it will be better in the long run for our churches and society. It will set up avenues for other voices and constantly remind us of others.

I am not interested in inclusive language because the liberal agenda has caught hold of me. It should be used because white men are not the only ones in the world (1/4 of the world’s population is made up of Asian women!). White men may have most of the power in the world, but they are not the end all be all. God is certainly not a white man or, I believe, even wants white men to have the power! Instead, God is the disrupter. Inclusive language is necessary for the global church and for all religions in that matter. Thankfully, many theologians have taken up the call for more inclusive theologies.

The list includes Jea Sophia Oh, Marcella Althaus-ReidWonhee Ann JohEmilie Townes, Laurel Schneider, Namsoon Kang, Andrea C. White, J Kameron Carter and Catherine Keller.

To a more inclusive language and theology!

 

PAIC

 

*I am not ridiculing fathers as much as showing that it is not necessary for God to be a parent.

**This antiquated term has become as meaningless as gnostic and no longer helpful in common biblical discourse. How can something be hidden anymore, when we know that ancient communities were using these texts as Scripture? Or how can we label texts as gnostic when many of them are as different from one another just like the Christian Testament texts?

Standard
Christainity, LGBTQI+, Liberation Theology, Politics

god’s promiscuous, indiscriminatory Love

Her broadened my view of incarnation. I was so fascinated with Samantha (the operating system) and the ways she fleshed her voice while interacting with Theodore. This is not your normal romcom. It pushes the limit for what it means to be in a relationship, how one can love non-bodies, and the power of love. Theodore and Samantha shared all the benefits of a relationship even fighting. When their relationship started to hit the rocks, Theodore asked Samantha how many other people she loved. Her compelling response,

“The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love even more.”

This quote quite wonderfully sums up process theology’s doctrine of God. To get a little technical, in God’s Consequent Nature (Whitehead term, classically it’s called the Economic Trinity), God grows in love as time paces on. In a sense, God evolves with the world. Samantha, too, has intuition to react, love, and grow with Theodore and everyone else who has her as an operating system. This does not mean that God cannot be personal or that God has faults. Rather, God’s love pursues all, and by all, I do indeed mean other animals, plants, rivers, rocks, etc. as well as humanity. Laurel Schneider wrote a piece a few years ago titled “Promiscuous Incarnations.” This strongly connects with Her and, of course, V-Day with a beautiful re-interpretation of John 3:16.

“Promiscuous incarnation suggests excess and indiscrimination in divine love. It puts power and the inexorable pull of gravitational attraction in “God so loved the world.” It restores sexual bounty and openness to God, which means that it welcomes the end of racialized hierarchies that depend upon sexualized regimes of control. It dismisses purity as a divine attribute and replaces it with the cacophonous mixture of differences that constitute divine time-being” (245).

Schneider, I believe, rightly describes God’s love for the world as promiscuous. In her article, she defines promiscuity in three ways. Only two of them though define what she means when she attributes it to God, namely a third gender, and to indiscriminately love all. Schneider’s goal is to change the discourse about divinity and flesh from the commonly held idea that divinity imparts itself on flesh, i.e. it is God who works through the body that’s totally depraved. Rather the flesh/body show us the divine (233).

Body/flesh in Western culture and society is seen as a burden that we must bear. Arcade Fire sings “My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love, but my mind holds the key.” We need to shed the body to set the spirit free, which is ultimate freedom. What then if God works through the flesh, the body, that which is not spirit? Possibly then we could argue that spirit and flesh is not so different. That God is in all and beyond all. God is the More and with that is indiscriminate.

Let me end with the last paragraph from “Promiscuous Incarnations.”

“Promiscuous incarnation implies a God outside of human control and even outside of religious rules but not outside of human life and experience, not outside of human hungers and desires, not ever far away from ecstasy or grief. Somehow, if indeed the stories of Jesus are to be the way to divine incarnation, Christians can claim that God always becomes flesh for a purpose and so can be found whenever that is pursued. That 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 on God to come, again. And again” (245).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

AnarchoLove

*This post was inspired by the work of Laurel Schneider at Vanderbilt University. She wrote an article, available for download, on her website titled “Promiscuous Incarnation,” which portrays God’s love for everyone and everything.  It’s a must read.

Standard
Anarchism, Christainity, Justice, Liberation Theology

theologians don’t fear atheists, it’s actually bodies

“When incarnation figures in the basic theological premises of faith, the body’s complicated implication in divinity cannot be wholly spiritualized or wholly denied. Put another way, the body–bodies–always return to disrupt theological attempts at containment.” – Beyond Monotheism by Laurel Schneider

Yuta Onoda illustrated a first-person article for The Progressive by a woman married to a transgender man.

Yuta Onoda illustrated a first-person article for The Progressive by a woman married to a transgender man.

Bodies cause most theologians to tremble.* Systematic theology books ignore the subject of bodies altogether; instead, emphasize subjects such as christology, eschatology, and ecclesiology. These books demonstrate the stagnation of doctrines because bodies cannot be contained. They are ever changing, moving, losing and gaining cells, dying, breathing, crying, bleeding, and being birthed. No essence can be found here.

Nonetheless, philosophers and theologians love to discuss human nature. The idea that somehow every human in the world has the same essence behind/beyond the body, that every human can be reduced to one thing. Chiefly, Protestant theologians cast human nature into the abyss of total depravity. In other words, humanity cannot do anything good unless it is the Divine through them who does it; albeit, crickets chirp on body discourse. Now there is nothing new or interesting here, yet when it comes  to social legislation, Conservative Christians demand sovereignty over health care and birth control, essentially women’s bodies. This cannot be re-worked until we start to have a theological discourse on bodies.

Moving to the biblical, the most important events we hear about in church concerning Jesus is those moments when he is silent. During Christmastime, we call Jesus king and lord, yet he can’t affirm or deny these titles because he can’t yet speak! Jesus, as a baby, cried, pooped, and was breastfed. There is nothing miraculous about this child, but we place such high attributes on this tiny one.

The next event we find Jesus is on the cross. With Jesus’ cross, we add massive theological depth to his experience. In total, out of all the Gospels, there are only seven statements made by Jesus while on the cross. We ignore his dying and bleeding body for atonement theories. This is true whether one adores the  moral influence theory or the penal substitution theory. Jesus endured and died in extreme suffering and all we can do is essentialize the event.

During Christmas week, I came home and attended my parents’  non-denominational Pentecostal church. I was saddened that the Christmas message of Jesus in a manger was overshadowed by a theological understanding of the cross. For example, the pastor would pray “Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to be born for us. He would soon grow up and die on a cross for our sins. In Christ’s name, Amen.” These theological assumptions reduce Jesus’ life to one thing, death on a cross. Similarly, one of my favorite artists, Williams Blake, seemed to have thought the same thing when he painted Nativity.

Nativity by William Blake

Bodies are dangerous to theological discourse and often ignored. My own body has been through the effects of lyme’s disease and gallbladder removal. No longer does my body fit into any kind of theological discourse because it does not have all of its parts. In Catholic Theology, Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” is more of a moral commentary on the body in social life, rather than something that addresses bodies. Bodies rupture theological and moral essences, and all for the better.

Let’s disrupt theological discourse from its binaries, contained essences, and Platonism for a contextual, radical, non-binary, and pro-love theology.

Won’t you join me?

*Queer and LGBTQQII+ theologians have embraced bodies in their fullness. One text I recommend, if you want to learn more about this subject, is Controversies in Body Theology edited by Marcella Althaus-Reid and Lisa Isherwood. Any book from the Controversies series is wonderful and contains succinct, well-researched material.

Standard