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December 7, 2007
Theology of the Homosexual Body: Defining Sexuality
December 11, 2007

Ever since the early 1980s, Pope John Paul II has held the monopoly on theologies of the body. An inadvertent product of talks given to the College of Cardinals produced one of John Paul’s most treasured works. The interaction of body and spirit is, of course, an important topic in theology and has recently (and unapologetically) become the topic of debate in less mainstream congregations. What, after all, does it mean to relate the body and the spirit? Is there a right and a wrong relationship? What does morality say on the topic?

Sadly, the early years of John Paul’s papacy introduced a neo-orthodoxy that pulled the church back to a very strict treatment of alternative sexualities. The catechism speaks to this neo-orthodoxy by making clear the “disoriented” nature of homosexuality. Though its genesis and origin remain unclear, it was–and still is–viewed by the church as an opportunity for “disoriented” Christians to “take up the cross of Christ” and live out an abstinence that precludes sinful homosexual acts.

Though it has become clear that the church has never meant their teaching to suggest the individuals claiming alternative sexualities were themselves innately sinful, there is still much work to be done on theologies of the body. How can a healthful approach to spirituality be taken by someone who is homosexual, knowing from the start that they must suppress part of their natural desire? This is what’s worth exploring.

Unfortunately, the theologies of the body that Pope John Paul promulgated are faulted in two primary ways. First of all, they fail to recognize the manifestation of Christ in creation, i.e. the people of the world. A theology that separates God from His people is inherently flawed. Rather than treating God’s people as the bride with Christ as the bridegroom, we should appreciate an even more intimate bond–so intimate, there is no need for joining two separate entities. We are instead, already joined, already one. The spiritual and emotional energy we devote to understanding our relationship with God–on all levels–should be more of a discovery among ourselves than an attempt to contrive an artificial and unhealthy way of life. Secondly, John Paul’s Christian perspective fails to appreciate the views which other religious traditions have shared. Indeed, if the epistles which Paul wrote in the early days of Christianity, bringing Gentiles into the faithful flock of God, are in any way symbolic for us today, we should appreciate that all created people of God have a voice in the understanding of sexuality. The Theology of the Body which John Paul expounded is lacking in this perspective.

My aim, therefore, is to forge a new theology. I hesitate to be specific in my labeling, particularly since I am familiar with a Christian lexicon, and know this to be anathema to many gay people. When I say “theology,” I merely mean a profound understanding of sexuality in spiritual terms. How do the two relate? How can we shape a healthy view of the spirit inclusive of our manifold sexual identities? It is important to know that I do not implicitly suggest a Christian “God” in this theology, but merely that this discussion cannot be successful without appreciation of all faith traditions, including Christianity.

I have also realized, in my understanding of the importance of voice and perspective in this new theology, that it cannot possibly be completed by myself alone. There is much I haven’t experienced–as many of my friends would testify–and my visions, however open they may be, are the visions of only one person. I intend, therefore, to open the dialogue to those whose lives are far different from my own, embracing disparate cultures and societies, different age groups, and vastly different personalities. If we are the people of God in sum, then a theology of the homosexual body must come from all homosexual people.

This is the beginning. I encourage everyone and anyone–gay, lesbian, straight, transgender, bisexual, or questioning, to freely comment on and contribute to this theology. I should hope that it is never finished, and that there is much left to be said and experienced long after I am gone. But I mean to begin the discussion.

At the outset, then, I offer this foundational, if simple, question:

What is sexuality to us? This is not a communal question, but a very personal one. I encourage you to answer anonymously. What does it mean to you as an individual, with all of your unique traits and qualities?

Please comment ad nauseum. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts. Let’s begin a counterpoint to John Paul’s rigid theology of the body, informing ourselves as we inform others on what makes sexuality such a rich component of our spirituality. Perhaps now we can uncover what ostracized so many gay people from the church and heal the wounds that have festered over so many decades.

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I see it no differently that what it means for a man to love a woman or vice verse. I just so happens that the people I (a man) am attracted to, intrigued by, seeking intimacy from, having crushes on, want to spend eternity with are male.

    Personally, none of these things work for me with females.

    I also would only say the a small subset of the males I have met, heard of, seen in the media, read about in books, or thought of in my own imagination would fit this criteria. I imagine/speculate this is also how it works for heterosexual people.

    I cannot speak for groups nor is this what you are inquiring about. This how I feel personally; my own experiences.

  2. David Casper says:

    I’m sorry if this comes across as rude, but reading this post, I find myself wondering just how well you read the Theology of the Body, and if you ever used a resource like Christopher West’s “Theology of the Body Explained” to help you unpack it.

    You asked, “How can a healthful approach to spirituality be taken by someone who is homosexual, knowing from the start that they must suppress part of their natural desire?” I think you missed a great deal of what John Paul II’s message entails, and its context within the greater body of Catholic teaching regarding proper use of sexuality. No sexual desire is meant to be “repressed.” One of the concepts that must be understood to grasp the Theology of the Body is that our world has set up a false dilemma: we must either repress our sexuality or indulge in it. We as a society no longer see that there is a third option: to give it to Christ, whatever our sexual desire may be, so that He can redeem it.

    Redemption of sexual desire is necessary for both gay and straight people alike. Both fall victim to different manifestations of lust, which is the corruption of true and pure sexual love. It’s not that straight people are good to go while gays have to repress their desire – it’s that both need to allow their hearts to be radically transformed so that they can see other people for who they truly are. That transformation and redemption entails changing the ultimate objective of sex, from finding its fulfillment in the union of the two people (which is only the appetizer) to finding its fulfillment in imaging the very union of heaven itself (which is the true feast). When that objective is fully taken into the heart, and a person aligns their sexual desires to that purpose, that transformation realigns the desires of man; in a homosexual’s case, it should realign the desire to have sex with a person of the same gender, instead redirecting it to desiring to image the union of Christ and the Church through heterosexual union. In short, when you change the destination, the path to get there also changes.

    (continued in second post)

  3. David Casper says:

    Second, you said, “First of all, they fail to recognize the manifestation of Christ in creation, i.e. the people of the world. A theology that separates God from His people is inherently flawed.” Again, I apologize, but you have completely missed the point of the Theology of the Body, so dramatically that I don’t understand where you got this idea. The whole purpose of the Theology of the Body is to show how God stamped His very image and being into creation, into man and woman, and then entered creation Himself in the flesh to show us how to live that out to perfection. Nothing could be farther from your stated perception of the Theology of the Body than the actual TOB itself.

    You said, “Rather than treating God’s people as the bride with Christ as the bridegroom, we should appreciate an even more intimate bond–so intimate, there is no need for joining two separate entities.” Again, you missed some huge concepts. The image of the Bride and Bridegroom in heaven is just that – an image. It is a way of speaking about the union of heaven in such a way that we might be able to understand it in some small way. The actual union of heaven IS far, far above and beyond that, an utter sharing in God’s very being, which is why John Paul II said that God “divinizes humanity”. Our marriages between man and woman here on earth are also mere images of that union in heaven, but that is their very purpose – to be an image of that union – and as such, they must be between a bride and bridegroom to fulfill the image. Anything else is like painting a more attractive picture of yourself on your bathroom mirror – you’ve covered up the real image with the image you PREFER to see instead.

    Third, you said, “Secondly, John Paul’s Christian perspective fails to appreciate the views which other religious traditions have shared. […] we should appreciate that all created people of God have a voice in the understanding of sexuality.” If I understand your meaning correctly, then what you’re saying is that we humans get to determine what our understanding of sexuality should be, rather than trying to understand what God (who CREATED sex and sexuality) meant to accomplish with it. Nobody “has a voice in the understanding of sexuality,” if by that you mean determining what sexuality is and how it’s supposed to work. God made it, not us, and if we humble ourselves before that truth, then we can proceed to learn what He made it for, rather than try and hash out a meaning ourselves.

    Your reaction to all this has been to start your own theology. Do you not know, then, what theology is? It is the study of God, who is Objective and Absolute Truth. It’s not your opinions about God. It’s What He Is. There are ideas about God that are true, and ideas about Him that are false. Starting your own vein of theology is only bound to lead you to your own personal understanding of God, which will undoubtedly be quite separate from who and what He actually is. JP2 certainly didn’t start his own vein of theology with TOB – he simply presented the Catholic Church’s same age-old understanding in a new light and language.

    Sorry that was so long. Peace to you and yours.

  4. David,

    Thank you for your in-depth and sincere comments on my post. Truth be told, I never expected anyone so long after its posting to offer their thoughts. That being said, I have a response for you.

    First, let me say that this was, indeed, posted four years ago–at a time when I was in a very different place in my faith journey. My thoughts and feelings on the subject are not the same now as they were then, and I appreciate you drawing me back to earlier days to see where I came from and, hopefully, where I am going.

    Second, I concede you make some good points in your response. I acknowledge that building an autonomous theology is a foolish endeavor; the most influential and meaningful of the theologies that are currently accepted are those that build from centuries of thought and discernment. Dismissing these is not only a mistake, but hardly makes any sense.

    Third, I crafted this post in a time when my reaction to the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality–particularly homosexuality–didn’t resonate with me. Not only that, but I found that a book as vital to the faithful discernment of one’s sexual role in day-to-day life as Theology of the Body should have been more accessible than it was. Yes, Christopher West did indeed parse it for the layman, but is himself a conservative Catholic. I needed perspective on the Theology of the Body from both sides–liberal and conservative.

    A good part of what drove this “introduction” was a Catholic upbringing that forced me out of the fold. I came out as a homosexual in late 2000, and found that it was difficult to reconcile my understanding and discernment of God and my innate sexuality. The Catechism–and, as far as I read it, TOB–made little, if any, room for that discernment.

    As I’m sure you noticed, I did not continue this “series” as I first intended. There is indeed much more I need to learn and experience before making any kind of sound commentary on theologies of the body, but have immersed myself in other traditions that take varying views on the role of sexuality in one’s life. Perhaps my greatest concern with the Catholic Church is that that kind of openness does not exist; there is little room for variance in individual discernment of healthy sexual fulfillment if it differs from the Church’s teaching.

    All this being said, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my post. I am curious how you found it–perhaps just by searching on Blogger? I have started many blogs since this one, and continue to spend many posts on spiritual and theological concerns and questions. It’s a journey, after all.

    Thank you again, and respond as you are able and willing.

    Peace,

    Jeff

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