Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sex, Gender and Christian Doctrine: Semester 1, 2018

Updated Feb 14th 2018

This unit is being taught by me and Monica Melancthon at Pilgrim Theological College in Semester 1, 2018.

Part 1: March 2nd-4th  (Sessions 1-6)

Part 2: April 27th-28th (Sessions 7-10)

Below is the outline of the content for each session, including a summary of the respective aims of each of the two parts. Check out the full schedule here

Part 1 of this Intensive will survey the contemporary interface between Christianity and the discourses of sex and gender (and the contentions about them within Christianity) and develop the concepts, language, and questions required to develop informed, mutually critical but constructive conversations which occur at that interface. With both a biblical scholar and systematic theologian involved in the teaching, there will also be opportunity to explore the relationship between doctrine and scripture.  

A brief history of how sex and gender have become major points of disputation in the relationship between Christianity and Western cultures. Doctrinal discourse (and particular doctrines) will be introduced as a dynamic and constructive enterprise able to engage in lively, and not merely reactive, conversations with the discourses about sex and gender.

Body in Christian Scripture and Early Christianity
Christian theology is an embodied theology embedded in creation, incarnation, resurrection and sacrament, making the body both the site and the recipient of God's revelation. Even so, the body has been problematic for theologians and the church. What do the  Christian scriptures say about the body? How has the scriptural understanding of the body been received and understood by thinkers and theologians in the formative years of Christianity? How has these early understandings impacted our understandings of body and sexuality

Sex and Gender: contemporary discussions
Historical, philosophical, political and scientific developments have radically reshaped Western discourses about sex and gender. These include feminist exposure of patriarchy, Queer claims about gender fluidity, historical studies of the diverse meanings of ‘sex’, and biological explorations of gender diversity and intersex. The impact has been to place ideas about sex and gender very close to the centre of the West’s cultural identity.

Sex, Gender, Creation and Anthropology
Christian anthropology is the default doctrinal locus of sex and gender. The idea of the gendered human bearing the image of God has a complicated history within Christian doctrine. Now it is even more complicated. Is there anything about human being as imago dei that can be illuminated by contemporary ideas of sex and gender, and vice versa? Also relevant are recent developments in the broader doctrine of creation, notably evolutionary diversity and disputed questions of the order of creation.

Sex, Gender, and Eschatology
From Christianity’s origins, belief in the resurrection and its associated eschatology has given the body a pivotal  place in Christian thought. The resurrection at once affirms bodily existence but also points to a transformed body. The early equivocation towards, but never absolute denial of, marriage and sex was one manifestation of living in that tension. How does this perennial tension within Christian thought engage contemporary discussions of sex and gender. 

Sex, Gender, Christology and Trinity
Classical Christology is usually seen as a barrier to conversations between doctrine and contemporary discourses of sex and gender. On the other hand, classical Trinitarian theology is almost the first-chosen partner for such conversations. Christology will be explored for its fruitfulness for an understanding of what human ‘nature’ is. The Trinity will be explored (with more caution than has sometimes been the case) for the understandings of personhood which flow from it. A conversation around these issues has much potential.

Part 2 will focus on using the framework developed in Part 1 to engage a variety of specific and recent proposals for linking particular Christian doctrines to particular areas of sex and gender. These will include desire, celibacy, orientation, intersex, and marriage. Each of these proposals gives particular weight to particular Christian doctrines. Each will be studied closely and critically evaluated. But the framework will also be challenged by considering the issues of sexuality and gender from a non-Western context, namely that of India. We will conclude by canvassing how the insights gained unfold in the life of the church, both locally and globally.

Proposal A: Sarah Coakley’s God, Sex and the Self. In this book, British theologian, Sarah Coakley, explores the connections between the doctrine of the Trinity, desire for God and sexual desire. Drawing on patristic writers, Coakley develops a post-Freudian theology of desire.

Proposal B: In his book Spiritual Friendship, American biblical scholar, Wesley Hill, argues for a classical doctrine of marriage according to which it is closed to gays and lesbians. He argues for celibate, covenanted spiritual friendship as the appropriate structure for same-sex attracted Christians.

Proposal C: Robert Song’s Covenant and Calling also employs the notion of covenant for same-sex relationships, but in his case for relationships which involve sexual intimacy. Arguing from the doctrine of creation, he argues that openness to pro-creation is a definitive element of marriage.  But his notion of covenantal relationships embraces a connection between sexual intimacy and both faithfulness and permanence.

Sexuality in India
Discussion on sexuality in India is often limited to the Kamasutra or the many erotic temple sculptures or miniatures. The latter should be seen as 'irrigularities' or 'symbols' of artistic licence that are in fact lodged within an overarching narrative of repression.What is sexuality? How is it understood? Where is it embedded? What are the challenges that confront discussions on sexuality in India today? These are some of the questions that will be addressed.  

Proposal D: In Sex Difference and Christian Theology Megan DeFranza argues, in part, from Christology for a concept of the imago dei which ‘decentres’ sex and gender from that image. She developed this argument with particular reference to the realities of the intersex community.

Proposal E:  Roman Catholic theologian, Jean Porter, argues from a doctrine of nature and an understanding of natural law by which procreation is paradigmatic for the institution of marriage,but it is not essential to every marriage. Accordingly she extends marriage to same-sex relationships.

Sex, Gender and Christian discipleship, Christian witness, and church unity.
The issues explored in the previous sessions have implications individual Christians. They also have implications of the corporate life of the church. These include the understanding of baptism and the composition of the Christian community; the witness of the Christian church in a context where the church’s traditional teachings on these matters have become a form of ‘anti-witness' (Robert Song); and for the unity between churches of the West and those of other contexts where the issues of sex and gender have are framed differently than they are in the contemporary West. Against the background of the close nexus in the contemporary West between sex, gender and cultural identity, the place of sex and gender in Christian identity will also be explored.