Queer Church

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The chapters in the second part of the book remain with the church, and consider how Christian thought queers accepted notions of sexual desire, difference, and fecundity. For as the authors show, Christianity's eschatological orientation changes the way these things are thought. The point is not to queer the tradition, but to let its orientation queer us.

In many ways, Elizabeth Stuart's chapter is programmatic for this book; certainly for the argument of this introduction. For Stuart highlights two ways in which queer theology ends sex: in the sense of overcoming sex as an untruthful, oppressive regime, and in showing the telos of sex to be other than reproduction. The first of these has been accomplished by queer theory, but the second is the gift of theology, and it shows how we can evade the melancholy that Judith Butler finds in sexual desire and identity. For Butler, our (sexual) identities are hard won through the repudiation of other possible identities, and these repudiations have to be tirelessly repeated if our identity is not to slip. We must constantly repudiate what we are not in order to maintain who we are.13 But this means that we are forever in mourning for the selves we have rejected, and this is as true for homosexuals as it is for heterosexuals. Against this, Christian theology offers an identity constituted not through exclusion, but through a radical inclusion.

Queer theory has shown the instability and malleability of sexual identities, as these are variously constructed and reconstructed in different times and places. But this insight is in one sense belated, because Christian theology has always already found the body of Christ to be fungible flesh, a transitioning corporeality; never stable but always changing, becoming other. Christ's body is transfigured, resurrected, ascended, consumed. Born a male, he yet gives birth to the church; dead, he yet returns to life; flesh, he becomes food. As Stuart says, the "the body of Christ is queer."

And it is in becoming part of this queer body that our own bodies - and their identities -are set upon a path of transfiguration, resurrection, and ascension: a baptismal path of eternal transformation. It is also a way of desire, of movement toward an end that is itself always moving, leading us on. Baptism is the gift of wanting "the endlessness of God" (Rowan Williams 2000: 211). This process of endless becoming eludes melancholia because the identity it gives is not constructed through disavowal, but received through grace; it is not achieved but bestowed, and in bestowal we participate in the movement of desire that is always leading us on, to an end that always eludes our grasp. Baptismal identity is not something we make, but is being made in us.

Stuart is aware that the identities by which we are socially built - of race and class, sex and gender - are not such that they can be remade easily. Indeed, such identities and their remaking can be a means of grace to us; as when, in "coming out" - as "gay" or "straight" - we discover the freedom of owning our desires, a sense of homecoming. But finally, all these identities are (to be) washed away in the baptismal waters. They have no ultimacy in Christ. And this is shown in the way that Christians - in the past and still today - are called upon to parody all existing, potentially idolatrous, identities. As Stuart argues, parody -"extended repetition with critical difference" (Linda Hutcheon) - is a way of taking what is given and "playing it out in such a way as to expose the other world breaking through it."

The church was once much better at parody than it is today - infected by modern sobriety When it more fully parodied heterosexual marriage in vowed celibacy - the polygamous marriage of all celibates, male and female, with Christ - it knew that carnal intimacies were not ultimate, and ultimately served to teach desire for God, to whom all desires are (to be) ultimately ordered. But now even the churches seem to think heterosexual marriage of ultimate significance, to be constantly lauded and safeguarded at all costs (for strangely, it seems that heterosexual marriage, despite its natural ubiquity, is a very fragile achievement, easily destroyed - and civilization along with it - by a few gay marriages).14

If baptism is the sacrament by which bodies are liberated for participation in the life of Christ, then it is in the Eucharist that they more fully receive - and learn to receive - that life. Stuart notes how a single-sexed priesthood distorts the sign enacted by the priest: for the priest represents the multi-gendered Christ who does not destroy, but passes beyond gender. When only men are priests, the priesthood fails to signify the "eschatological horizon" to which the church is called by Christ. (This argument is further addressed by Gavin D'Costa in chapter 18.)

Christianity queers sex by making it a means by which we may be sanctified, and so only secondarily a means of reproduction, which itself becomes a means of grace when taken up into the gift of sanctified and sanctifying bodily desire. Heterosexual marriage is sanctified through its likeness to the queer marriage of Christ and church, when even the supreme pontiff becomes a bride yearning for his/her lover. In this sense queer theology becomes an utterly conservative endeavor, recalling the church to Christ's call to transgress the boundaries of men.

But when queer theology recalls the church to its queer origins, gay and lesbian people should not assume that their desires more perfectly figure the divine, for all sexual identities are finally brought to naught in Christ. And in Christ this is figured through the death to which baptism gives birth. As Stuart notes, it is through participation in Christ's death and resurrection - dying to death - that Christian faith refuses melancholy, and in dying to death the Christian in life and death passes beyond all identities constructed through exclusion. As Stuart shows this is nowhere better figured than in the liturgy of the Christian funeral: 'All bonds, associations and worldly achievements pale into insignificance beside the status of the deceased as a baptized member of the body of Christ." None of our humanly made divisions and distinctions survive the grave. All that is left is God's creation, made for love - as the Catechism teaches.

Like Stuart, Graham Ward also understands Christian life as a way of undoing those identities by which we seek security against others - including Christ. And one of those identities is named "sexual difference": the idea that we are either man or woman, and that sexual relationship arises out of this irreducible difference. "[S]exual difference is original, nonderived, nondeducible (incapable of representation), because it presents itself as an immediate dimension of fundamental human experience" (Scola 2005: 221). Against this biological fundamentalism - which is of course discursive and historically contingent -Ward argues that sexual relationship does not so much arise out of (hetero)sexual difference, as that bodily difference arises out of relationship, sexuality out of eros. Ward sets his arguments about sexual difference against those of Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar, but like them, he articulates his arguments through a close reading of Scripture; in Ward's case the Johannine stories of the resurrection encounters between Christ and Mary Magdalene, and Christ and Thomas. These paralleled meetings are both powerfully erotic and subversive of any attempt to read them as simply heterosexual or homosexual. Ward moves deftly between the original texts and their highly sexualized reading in later Christian cultures, and not least in the Western tradition of painting; in - say - Caravaggio's seductive chiaroscuros. Ward also moves deftly between phenomenological and ontologi-cal modes of discourse in order to find an ordering of human flesh and desire as diastasis, one which is more properly theological than the disguised biologism of a Barth or Balthasar.

Queer theology thus has an interest in reminding the church of its remarkable early antipathy to sexual congress, which was, of course, an antipathy to sexual reproduction. The interest is not to advocate a return to such extreme sexual abstinence, but to relativize modern obsessions with heterosexual marriage. In the light of the tradition this obsession is aberrant, and very strange when the concern of celibate men, who have themselves abjured sexual fecundity. But of course, sexual abstinence was mainly honored in the breach, and tradition changes, and today the church recognizes that marital sex is graced, and that children - the fruit of sex - are gifts of grace. So what can queer theology offer to the theology of family and parenting?

David Matzko McCarthy reflects on fecundity, and on what should be the church's understanding of family in the modern world, a concept and practice which are now so resolutely compromised by the interests of consumer capitalism. McCarthy is more wary than some contributors to this book of thinking sex and sexuality "constructed." But this does not mean that he advocates a "nature" which operates independently of our social selves. Rather he wants an account of the self and its desires which attends to their constitution as natural and social. Society and nature are not agents which stand over against the self, and which the self must either accept or reject. Rather they are the domains in which the self acts and is acted upon; and McCarthy is concerned to argue that within these interwoven domains, sexual activity is reproductive, both naturally and socially: "sex is social reproduction." Sex not only produces children but reproduces patterns of desire that are as much social as they are natural. And McCarthy fears that the dominant patterns in Western societies follow from viewing the self as the source of natural consumerist desires, which society must satisfy through selling what is wanted. But these desires are themselves produced through society, and their satisfaction is met by an array of social products, which include sex and children. "If sex is socially reproductive, then a grammar of desire, market capitalism and contractual individualism fit together as a dominant network of social reproduction."

It is against this economy of social reproduction that McCarthy sketches his vision of the Christian household, which is not one thing but many, within a confederacy of households. McCarthy argues that sex should be understood within the practices of the home. Sex has an intrinsic worth, but it is not an end in itself, since that worth - as Stuart argues - is the nurturing of our desire for God, and the nurturing of such desire is the telos of the Christian household. But sex will not deliver this in and of itself, as in various versions of Christian romanticism. Rather it must be set - practiced - within a larger array of household practices - mundane hospitalities - that constitute the body of Christ at home. "The household, set within the formative practices of the church, is an economy that is directed toward reproducing the social body and shaping the self in imitation of Christ." Sex is thus part of the household's social reproduction, and in many households - and not only heterosexual ones - this will happily result in the production of children, who arrive, not as the satisfaction of needs, but as forms of that divine desire which is ever burgeoning in charitable life.

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