Expanded Relationality in the Body of Christ

In February 2016, I was invited to write an article for the Valentine’s Day edition of The Door, the LSTC student newspaper, about the scholarship and activism I was doing around Vision and Expectations. This initial article invited people to the first meeting of the “Gender and Sexuality Coalition of Seminarians for Justice.” Later that semester the coalition produced the statement and summary that today are the center of the Naked & Unashamed movement. We are so grateful to all the students that contributed to the beginning of this movement, and to all the others across the ELCA who have come forward publicly and privately to support our work.

Here is the article from a year ago. I hope it still speaks truth and power to you this Valentine’s Day.

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Last November I gave a presentation highlighting my critiques of Vision and Expectations for Ordained Ministers, using the sexual-political “indecent theology” of Marcella Althaus-Reid. Much of the document is grounded in Lutheran sacramental theology, but I find that some of it, especially the section on “Holy Living,” is based on hegemonic, patriarchal, heteronormative cultural premises of sexuality and marriage. My own “vision and expectations” for our church is that our theology of relationality be based on the “indecent” relationality modeled by the God-person of Jesus Christ, and the transformative relationality experienced as a baptized member of the Body of Christ. My presentation provided an examination of how the Western Christian church conflates hegemonic cultural standards with Christian doctrine, and how this conflation oppresses us and bears no resemblance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, I proposed that we articulate a theology of relationality that centers around the “indecent” Christian values embodied by Jesus that should grow in all kinds of relationships, and stop policing intimacy according to category of relationship.

The response was amazing – over twenty students of all degree programs and identities signed up to share about their experiences of relationality and navigating the relational expectations of the ELCA. This semester, I’m partnering with Malina Keaton to create the Gender and Sexuality Coalition of Seminarians for Justice. Our vision is to create a movement across the country that will push back on the ELCA for relational oppression experienced by prospective and current rostered leaders, including sex-shaming in candidacy committees and creating internalized pressure for single ministry leaders to be married in order to validate their sexuality.

We call for an expanded understanding of relationality in the Body of Christ. We are poly-relational beings. We thrive when we experience a variety relationships in life –  strangers, acquaintances, classmates, friends, blood family, adopted family, close intimacies, and partnerships of all kinds. We resist the limited cultural norms upheld implicitly and explicitly by Vision and Expectations that prioritize marital relationships as the highest and only appropriate form of intimacy, and seeks a more transformed and liberative relational theology based on our faith in Jesus Christ. According to our scriptures, Jesus prioritized time with strangers and outcasts over his own blood relatives and defied notions of decency and purity in his religious context. Vision and Expectations says that the highest form of relationality is marital sexual intimacy, but Jesus says that it is laying down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Through baptism, we are transformed as a church into a body, a family, and distinctions of race, sex, and class that control power dynamics in the human world are equalized in the body of Christ. The way the Bible speaks about relationality does not automatically equate to the “1950’s Americana” standard of marriage and procreation as the goal of our love life. We can expand the definition of “appropriate Christian relationality” from one allowable kind of romantic/sexual relationality to become more open and authentic, more healing and publicly accountable, and less secretive and shaming about relationships and sex in the ELCA.

This Valentine’s day, do not let the pressure of finding your one great love get you down, or focus only on celebrating one primary romantic/sexual relationship. Celebrate the love and support you receive from all your relational connections, and the variety of intimacies you share in your life, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life and love.

Love, Raye

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