Inspired by the conversation following Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente’s post yesterday, I offer here a little synopsis of Marcella Althaus-Reid’s work in Indecent Theology: Theological Perversion in Sex, Gender, and Politics.
Marcella Althaus-Reid opens her book by recalling a question she received from one of her colleagues: “What has sexuality to do with a Feminist Liberation Theology?” To answer she reflected on early liberation theology when it was still in formation and later liberation theology as it gained its place in the academy and the church:
[T]imes change and subversive theology becomes incorporated: church leaders claim that they themselves have always been liberation theologians. They guarantee to the state that there is no danger here…It is acceptable in the academy, entertaining to the wider public and a valuable commodity to publishers. Having reached calm waters, why would I as a feminist liberation theologian risk rocking the boat by introducing such a scandalous theme as sexuality, especially when it is not the theology of sanctified sexuality? (Indecent Theology, 2)
In answer to her friend, Althaus-Reid asserts that the reason one must “rock” the boat is that once a theology becomes incorporated, once its subversive nature becomes acceptable and is claimed by the structures of power, it ceases to be subversive. It must intentionally be reexamined for its undiscovered or unexposed oppressive elements.
In Indecent Theology, Althaus-Reid points out the oppressive sexual hegemony of heterosexualism – a term she uses to name oppression – still present and left unchallenged in liberation theology and Christianity at large. She affirms that all theology is sexual theology and that freedom from oppressive sexual hegemonies must be a goal of liberation theologies. The first task required for “indecenting” theology is to “uncover not just the gender codes but the sexual (ideological) assumptions of Christian theology, ecclesiology and the methods of theological inquiry which have pervaded our understanding of Christianity” (2).
Marcella Althaus-Reid begins theology with sexual stories because she believes that consciously or unconsciously every theology implies a political and sexual praxis (4). She presupposes that all theology is sexual theology with “divine implications” – there is no such thing as a sexually neutral theology. She affirms that instead of denying the sexuality of theology, theologians need to “come out of their homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, transvestite or (ideal) heterosexual closets” (88).
Althaus-Reid introduces Indecent Theology as “a theology which problematises and undresses the mythical layers of multiple oppression in Latin America, a theology which, finding its point of departure at the crossroads of Liberation Theology and Queer Thinking, will reflect on economic and theological oppression with passion and imprudence” (2). She challenges that liberation theology as it has been typically done only gives a preferential option to the “deserving and asexual poor” (30). She recognizes that liberation theologians were strong leaders in resisting the “brutal dictatorial regimes” of the time, but criticizes their use of ‘the poor’ as a category that subsumed women, and lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people. In a sense, she takes off where liberation theology left off and begins by questioning the notions of decency and order that liberationists left intact (2). Specifically, she brings in the voices and stories of the urban poor who she states have been previously excluded, and sets as her starting point the ‘everyday lives of people,’ which include their sexual stories (4-5).
Ultimately, Althaus-Reid proposes Indecent Theology as “a call for a deviant Sexual Theology, which would challenge the normalcy of women’s oppression in its ultimate consequences” (179). She affirms that one must think of politics and theology together, and of how constructions of sexuality and gender are theological frameworks used to support systemic oppression that have devastating economic consequences, not only of women, but gay, bi and trans people as well (176). Thus, Althaus-Reid encourages us to explore real people’s sexual stories, stories from the “bottom,” from people whose sexuality has been ignored, stories that are not told because they are not decent.
In Indecent Theology, Althaus-Reid provides a method; it is a method that gets people’s attention, makes them uncomfortable, and likely engages them in questioning what has traditionally been accepted as normative. Intentionally, Althaus-Reid does not give a systematic theology – she wants to allow incoherence. She states that the desire to maintain “a false sense of coherence” has been used to exclude, to universalize and codify sexuality (171). She does not advocate incoherence per se, in fact she says we must ‘queer clearly’ (95) – what she wants is to include what has been excluded in theology. She wants to liberate sexuality from the narrow confines of the heterosexual norming narrative and liberate theology to tell the sexual stories of a Queer God and Indecent Mary.
I continue to build on this on the next post here…
*Marcella Althaus-Reid, Indecent Theology: Theological Perversions in Sex, Gender, and Politics. New York: Routledge, 2000
Xochitl Alvizo is a Ph.D. candidate in Practical Theology at Boston University School of Theology. She loves all things feminist. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill.