One of the unique things about my story is how deep prayer became the heart of my deepest cross-gender friendships. My experience reminds me so much of what I read what happened between Madeleine L'Engle and Luci Shaw: “We prayed our way into friendship.”
Of course, we not only prayed our way into cross-gender friendship, we prayed our way into an ever-deepening friendship with God. How could there be anything else greater for a man and woman to share the unfathomable presence of God?
It is such a humbling quest to stay at the center of the intersection between God’s powerful and unlimited friendship with us, humans, the mind-blowing theology of diverse sexualities, and the practice of mutual presence in prayer.
As much as I understand it, Susannah Cornwall is a straight white woman who teaches theology and religion at a British university. She specializes in all these diverse sexualities. In her book, Theology and Sexuality, she coined the term, “sexchatology.” We’ve come a loooong way from Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, baby. As an aging baby-boomer, I remember the days when the end times were about biblical literalism and bickering over chronological charts.
Now, it could be that you are not familiar with Cornwall or sexchatology. In this particular book, she surveys the various theologies/theologians on sexuality
ranging from hetero-celibacy, to open, to polyamory. Granted there are now gay, lesbian, queer, straight, trans, celibate, and other sexualities, does “sexchatology” define relationships with a Freudian essentialism? We have a wide variety of sexual orientations. But where is embodied wisdom on the goodness, beauty, and sacrament of sex?
At the end of the book, she observes, “Christian theologians of many different backgrounds and persuasions have insisted, in various ways, that sex isn’t simply a private matter. The ways in which people behave sexually have implications for their families and communities.”
In her conclusion, titled, Sexchatological Tensions: Sex in the Light of Last Things is where she sits back and reflects on sexchatology. For those of you have been educated along traditional lines of eschatology, there is no mention of pre, mid, or post-sex. But for theological students of eschatology you will find the issues of continuity and discontinuity focused not on charts over Bible verses but on sexuality.
You are certainly tracking if you understand the debate is between what is part of the new creation and what gets um, left behind. I couldn’t resist. Does nuclear family, marriage, and sex disappear in the new creation? Many theological sexualities are arguing that sex, sexuality, embodiment, and so on, will continue.
With all this going on, Cornwall suggests a "sexchatological hope." All the theology of sexualities are reflections about the hope in the new creation. Secondly, in this new creation these sexualities are not to be deleted, diminished, or transcended. She is certain that jealousy, self-loathing, violence, doubt, shame, tragedy, and pain are all part of the discontinuity.
In light of this all, she suggests that we take “the long view” as we approach sexual relationships. She doesn’t want to castrate sexual relationships emerging from these diverse sexualities but she urges, “that participants must take into account the implications of their sexual encounters beyond the immediate ones.” She adds that the long view, takes into consideration questions of “safety, consent, emotional and physical justice.” These, she says, should not be brushed off because of “inconvenient, unsexy distractions.”
For sexual wisdom, how does Cornwall suggest we address what sociologist Eva Illouz calls the "intense sexualization" of relationships? Does Cornwall propose any wisdom for "positive-sex?" A number of Christian feminists are claiming positive-sex as a result of their desire for full equality and autonomy when it comes to sexual pleasure.
But the positive-sex movement is not merely about premarital sex vs. covenantal sex. In the positive-sex ethic, sex-- “healthy sex”--is at the center of all relationships. It is a Freudian essentialist compass orientation that guides ethical choices. There is “episodic” sexuality ("healthy" enjoyable, pleasurable sex with strangers or acquaintances ranging from one time to several) and recreational sexuality with no romantic trajectory involved.
In a recent book that drew positive reviews from sex-therapists, Chris Donaghue’s book, Sex Outside the Lines: Authentic Sexuality in a Sexually Dysfunctional Culture argues that being sex-positive means not demeaning or pathologizing anyone's sexual choices or interests. Furthermore, it means "not placing monogamy or marriage above open or casual relationships."
He opines that "Relationships no longer need to be “going somewhere,” with the goal of all life, sex, work, and relationships geared solely toward partnership, which is limiting, constraining, and future-oriented. This new sexual-relational ethic is based on an unbounded intimacy that allows for the needed flexibility and temporariness of commitments that current life requires, along with increasing desire for autonomy and mobility untethered by permanent ties.”
According to Donaghue, the new sexual integrity in the sex-positive world, “means living in ways that honor what arouses you and are consistent with your chosen value system, not a system you inherited from mainstream culture, psychology, religion, law, or the media.”
Now, in light of the new sexual integrity of in a sex-positive world accompanied with the intense sexualization of relationships what does Cornwall propose in her sexchatology? She turns to friendship. That's right. To be clear, she doesn't explicitly refer to a theology of friendship. But anyone familiar with the friendship conversation among theologians, philosophers, and sociologists will see that the sexual wisdom within her sexchatology is a significant turn toward friendship. Cornwall is going to put her finger on something that some sociologists have pointed out.
She writes, “Sex is about pleasure and self-fulfillment, but not to the extent that it dismisses the needs of the other or others involved.” For sexual wisdom, she suggests, we need sexchatology--a turn to see sexual choices with a "long view."
"A society in which there were no long-term, committed sexual relationships would be a spiritually poorer society as a result. Those who have sex with no regard for the wellbeing, flourishing or overall good of their partners are likely to undermine the wellbeing, flourishing and goodness of others in general...This means that any kind of selfish or exploitative sexual activity will be very difficult to integrate into the sexchatological vision."
For those of you not up to speed on Aristotle's categorizations of friendship, there were friendships for usefulness/help, friendships for pleasure, and then, character friendships--which in Aristotle's mind were the only real friendships. It was Aristotle who said, "Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” Philosopher Todd May's recent book, Friendship in an Age of Economics explores how present-day consumerist relationships are centered on pleasure without commitment. "Consumer pleasures," he notes, " are transient...Friendships worthy of the name are different."
Along similar lines, Saint Aelred explored in his classic treatment of spiritual friendship distinctions between carnal friendships, worldly friendships, and--real friendships which he called spiritual. Like Aristotle, he urged discerning wisdom and caution. The essence of his message for developing spiritual friendships was do not rush to intimacy.
In her sexchatology, Cornwall is deeply concerned that we take a non-instrumentalist, long term view of human sexuality. Of course, this has always been at the heart of ancient conversations until the present-day about friendship!!! Todd May observes, "To trust a close friend is not to think that it is likely that she will not lead one astray; it is to be in a space where that thought doesn’t arise, because one has put herself at her friend’s disposal."
Or, as Samuel Kimbriel writes, "The deepest desire for friendship seems to be the desire that we two might commune with each other in reality, non-instrumentally" (Friendship as Sacred Knowing).
So, in introducing sexchatology, I haven't been able yet to return to deep prayer, God, and friendship. What would happen though, if sexchatology was a subset for "God is friendship"? I'll come back to this in my next post, but Roman Catholic Bernard Cooke suggests, that although there is great power in the human sexual pair bond, "it s not the deepest level of human relationships, for friendship is both more extensive and basic. It is friendship that can function in human experience as the key symbol of relationship to God."
Stay tuned for part 2.
I have some thoughts about deep prayer, friendship with God, and sexchatology in light of the sex-positive movement in my next post.