Queer Prayer

In New Elucidations, Balthasar sets quasi-magical prayer "techniques," such as he believes to dominate most non-Christian practices of prayer, over against the Marian model of crea-turely femininity in the worship of God. He describes prayer techniques as "a kind of religious homosexuality, in which the creature would relate himself to God in a masculine fashion . . . whose perverse encroachment on God himself... is depicted in the story of Sodom and its destruction. With God there can be no union of the same sex but only a feminine dependence on God ... no taking but only a being taken" (Balthasar 1986a: 188).

Leaving aside the dubious characterization of non-Christian religions here and elsewhere in Balthasar's work (for a somewhat over-appreciative discussion of which see Gawronski 1995), we should reflect on the implications of this passage. Why is there a reference to Sodom here, rather than (as would seem more obvious in the context of what is actually being discussed) to the actions of the priests of Baal, the request of Simon Magus or the Pharisees' "demand for a sign"? The actions of the men of Sodom clearly are a "perverse encroachment on God" in the form of God's messengers to whom Lot has shown hospitality. But why should these men and their fate be the key image for a quasi-magical prayer technique?

It would seem that at this point Balthasar is attempting to make the analogy of sexual difference face in two directions at once. On the one hand, assuming that gay sex can unprob-lematically be characterized as "perverse encroachment," he uses the image of the men of Sodom to attack "unfeminine" prayer. On the other hand, he seeks to reinforce the rejection of gay sex by assimilating it to what he has already demonstrated to be an unacceptable approach to prayer. "With God there can be no union of the same sex" is a Janus-faced phrase; if it is to be applied only in terms of the analogy with prayer, it cannot straightforwardly be transferred to the sphere of sexual ethics. Especially if it has already been stated that both women and men can and should be "feminine," in the sense implied by the "Marian principle," it is clearly illegitimate to transfer a claim about the Creator-creature relationship, unargued, to a claim about human sexual behavior.1

Part of the problem lies in the unquestioned assumption that God must invariably be "masculine" vis-à-vis humanity. While Balthasar is quite happy, in the discussion of inner-trinitarian relations, to allow "supra-femininity" as well as "supra-masculinity" in the Persons of the Trinity - even in God the Father, who "receives" fatherhood from the Son -the act by which God enters into relation with creatures can only be understood in terms of God's "masculinity." Balthasar is careful, in his discussions of analogy, to stress the maior dissimilitudo that conditions every analogical predication, of God, of the characteristics of creatures. In considering sexual difference, however, this maior dissimilitudo can easily be lost. If we want to pursue the sexual analogy with regard to prayer, "perverse encroachment" (and the attempt to control God or take from God) sounds most like rape; at which point the demand that God's masculinity be preserved at all costs begins to sound distinctly sinister. Why is the action of the men of Sodom so much better an example of "perverse encroachment" than that of the men of Gibeah (Judges 19)? Is the point at issue, in fact, not the ontological difference but (heterosexual) male sexual power? At the very least, the two have become so entangled through the rapidly shifting analogies that it will be difficult to detach them without some explicit statement of the immense difference between divine "supra-masculinity" and human masculinity.

It should also be noted that Balthasar's condemnation of "union of the same sex" is a condemnation of male homosexuality; the masculinity of God makes this inevitable. It is no coincidence, as we shall see, that the possibility of a female "union of the same sex" does not enter consideration.

The next section will examine Balthasar's concept of personal mission, as an aspect of his anthropology that, on the one hand, appears to hold out possibilities for a "queer theology" and, on the other hand, through the use of gendered categories makes such a theology more problematic.

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