An open letter to the Body of Christ – written by Arnold Msibi Motsau
I write this letter in an attempt give a few of my reflections on how my body has experienced your body. This letter is a matter of body’s receiving pleasure and being denied pleasure. I write unashamedly as a Christian and situate this letter from within my experiences as a Christian body. You will find that I address you in your ecclesial sense as well as well as how I and others may understand you in a corporeal, nonphysical sense. Although these two characteristics ascribed to you may be considered distinct, they are undoubtedly intertwined. I have not been around as long as you have, I do however know that Paul the apostle is most quoted in conversations around you; I hereby also attempt to employ him as one of the many voices who have had something to say about you throughout the ages.
I would like to start off by claiming that you have regulated bodies and how they are to find sexual pleasure, all this I assume has been an attempt to ‘unify’ your body, to give it unitary sexual regulations through man made dogma. These doctrines decide which bodily experiences are allowed to exist and considered valid and which bodily experiences are not. I must admit that you have played a vital role in the moral formation of people within societies. You regulate when and how sexuality should be expressed. For many people who identify as Christian, there are set rules about when one is supposed to engage in sexual intercourse and when not. Here is an example of how I feel you regulate human sexual pleasure. For example: within the confines of a marriage covenant. Any sexual activity outside of marriage is considered to be ‘sinful’ and those who are believers, live lives of constant surveillance over their sexuality and how they desire to express it. The moment a young woman gets pregnant out of wedlock, she is highly stigmatized and made to feel that she is a sinner who is to be dammed. You supposedly reject the ‘sin’ but love the sinner, the backslider. Who is lost and in need of ‘correcting’ in order for her to be integrated again into the community of faith, your very own body.
Am I unjustified in making these claims? In most parts of your body it is a known fact that the only ‘real’ relationship is between a man and a woman. Since they were ‘ordained’ by God in the Garden of Eden and were given the mandate to procreate and multiply all over the earth. This is what the bible says right? This heterosexual couple is the ‘normal’ way of sexual expression. If one is attracted to someone of the same sex or even to both sexes, they seem to have transgressed the ‘norm’ and needs to be brought back into order. I would also like to highlight that the bible is also very clear about polygamous marriage, as in the case of Jacob, Leah and Rebecca or even David and Solomon with their many wives. It is also very ‘clear’ about a man marrying a woman that he raped and so forth. You have been at the forefront of many good bodily deeds. These have been deeds of triumph and victory, acting only in the nature of the one who is your head, Christ. You have also been at the forefront of many atrocities. Of women’s misogynistic oppression, particularly with an uncritical belief in a Pauline theology that was devastatingly oppressive to women throughout the decades, as well as too many lives that were lost at the expense of slavery.
I am convinced that you are a strong advocate for compulsory heterosexuality as the ‘norm’ for human sexual relations, I guess then it is not such a terrible thing that a lesbian is raped in order to ‘correct’ her sexuality. She is after all not supposed to be behaving like a ‘man’; her role is one where she needs to be dominated by the man. Not behaving like a man! That is not how she was ‘meant’ to be acting. The same could be argued for effeminate men who seem to be out of the ‘natural’ order. He is not supposed to ‘act like a woman’ when he is a ‘man’. If a little boy shows any tendency which is ‘girl’ like, he is strongly rebuked or teased by others. It is no surprise then, that we recently become aware of the brutal murder of a young gay man in Ceres in the Western Cape or the incident of a young man who was gang raped by 6 men in the Northern Cape, all in an attempt to ‘correct’ him. The young man who was beaten and burnt alive in Ceres should probably also be blamed for being ‘different’, for being a deviant from the norm, the heterosexual norm. This was his crime! He did not fit into the male loving female ‘norm’. And because of that he needs to be taken out of the way. Yes of course you may say: the bible is quite clear on issues of homosexuality and gender roles. Scriptures such as Genesis 19:12-19; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 put it very clearly. Are they really as clear as we would suppose? Are they as clear as the ones where Titus was told to “(T)ell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect,” (Tit2:9) or Paul’s bold statement that “(W)omen should be silent in the churches” (1 Cor 14:34)?
With the centuries of expertise in biblical interpretation, what is your initial response to these scriptures? Is it that they need to be read contextually? To be quite frank with you, I doubt that this is the initial response in many of your parts. They take a stance which is usually fundamentalist and as a result the above texts have not been read contextually for many decades now. This has resulted in women being excluded from ministerial duties in the church because ‘it was obvious’ that she must be silent. The horrific stories of slavery we hear about have been based on the very scripture just quoted. A literal reading of the bible in many parts of your body have been monopolised by one group and has easily been used to oppress another. Women were considered to be of less significance than men, so why would she be given access to reading and interpreting the bible from her own experiences as woman! The slave master would never have engaged in dialogue over the biblical texts with a slave because there was no need to read or interpret it any further. The Lord Jesus, your head, while on this earth lived out a ministry which turned the tables on systems of oppression. He is our best example in his compassion and in his guidance. Where is your voice amidst the violent hate crimes committed against lesbians who are raped so as to ‘correct’ their bodies in order for them to act in the ‘natural’ manner that they are supposed to? Why the silence, when boys’ bodies are being thrown off bridges and gang raped, all in an attempt to ‘correct’ these bodies, in order that they may behave in a manner appropriate to its sex. But I suppose you have more pressing issues to deal with.
Is it a matter of right or wrong, is it a matter of bodies uniting or it is really about human lives that REmember with one another. Was it not a matter of sexual exploitation when the old man gave his daughter to the men of the city in the, oh so famous Genesis 19, that they may do with her body as they please? Do you see that this needs to be interpreted as an issue of hospitality towards bodies? The sin of Sodom was not so much about men who desired other men. It was indeed the sin of not being hospitable to these other bodies; it could also be about the sin of the father who gives his daughter away as a sexual object. As you perceive my words, it might come to you to ask though I am using the biblical text to justify my sexual desires for another man. If this is the case, you stand corrected; I am rather requesting a rereading of this body of knowledge which was utilized by many bodies that have gone on before. They had no idea that we would be reading these rich texts in such destructive ways.
It shocked you many years ago, when a man declared that the body of Christ has AIDS! It sent shock waves through your members. It indeed caused many of your members to declare such a statement to be, blasphemous! If the body has many parts and is yet one, as Paul the apostle proclaimed, then many of your parts were indeed infected and affected by AIDS. It is a denialism of bodies that were existent in your pews, bodies that preached and ministered on altars wherein you congregate. It rejected these bodies and those associated with them. These bodies were considered an abomination! These bodies were stigmatized bodies. It was only in the recognition of the stigmatized body of Christ on the cross that you remembered that you are also wounded, that you are also affected. You realized that any of your members that were infected or affected by HIV and AIDS was still indeed your member. Allow me to make a new declaration; the body of Christ is Gay!
To reject this claim then is indeed to deny bodies who find sexual pleasure differently. It is to dismember gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans, intersex and many other bodies that find pleasure outside of the heterosexual norm. If my body and its parts are only useful within an understanding ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ and I am only allowed to find pleasure in the confines of a heterosexual marriage? Then you have denied me sexual pleasure, I am a man who loves other men, but cannot seek such pleasures as long as I consider myself as such. If I understand the apostle Paul correctly, he claims that when one member suffers, all the members suffer with it (1Cor 12:26).
I want to be touched by my lover, who is a man. I want to be recognized fully, for loving him. I think the many attempts to ‘deliver’ people like myself from the spirit of homosexuality, highlights the fact that many of your members believe that sexuality and spirituality are two separate realities. This is a false dichotomy; Spiritual beings are also sexual beings. I have also frequently heard it said that “homosexuals have come to break up ‘happy marriages’”. I disagree, I know for a fact that heterosexual couples have done a pretty good job breaking up their own marriages, thank you very much! It was you yet again oh body, who was the last to repent for the many lives harmed because of hate speech spewed from pulpits. This denies our bodily experiences; it leaves our bodily pleasures null and void. It is to say that we are Gods mistakes, his defects! Can I be a part of the body of Christ and yet fully embraced as a lover of other men, with my inner most sexual pleasures directed towards another man? If I am, I am however not allowed to pursue such pleasures openly, for there is no space for my kind of pleasure amidst your homophobic discourses that resist my bodily experiences. I am therefore dismembered; I am not celebrated because of yet again the refusal to relent of an interpretation of the scriptures that creates an ideology that oppresses one group of people by another, all in the name of unifying your body. I am not membered with you, for you refuse to recognize me.
To refuse me the privilege to love another man is to DISmember me; this in turn then also DISmembers you. Am I not supposed to be a part of you? Am I not included in the mystery of Holy Communion? What is the communion? Is it not united fellowship? Denying my bodily experience is a denial of my humanity, of the beauty God created. Am I a mistake? You speak to me of sex before marriage, body of Christ; in most of the places of worship my marriage will not even be blessed. In the Words of our Lord at the last supper, you are to Remember. To remember does not only refer to a process of memory because we partake of the sacraments. But to REmember also means a gathering of those members who are left on the margins, those cast out, those who are DISmembered. To REmember is to celebrate with others, it is to delight. To lay down one’s life, it is to bring hope and joy to the life of another. You oh body of Christ have DISmembered and even refuse to REmember.
Since I am writing about the body and its pleasures, let us get naked for a moment (all pun intended). There are many within your body who find pleasure in the bosom of samesex lovers. Many are married, only to keep a front, a charade. It is to maintain an institutional holiness. It is in the dark, when the members of the body have dismembered, that these “best friends by day and lovers by night come out to play”. I have seen your ministers of the gospel, who in one moment condemns the homosexual and in the evening finds sexual pleasure in the very congregant he was damning earlier in the day.
The body of Christ is quicker to sanction divorce, which is a separation, a DISmembering than it is to blessing same sex unions, which REmembers more bodies. I look forward to the day where bodies will be united in Christ. The eschatological body of Christ, the end time body, which is genderless, which goes beyond binary human categories of Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, gay, lesbian or bisexual. It is a suprasexual body which embraces all gender identities and myriads of sexual orientations. It is when you grasp this kingdom reality that you will truly find pleasure in the communion of the saints in Christ. It is where you will become a community of true inclusion and unconditional embrace. That body is a body rejoicing in an erotic climax of ultimate union and complete abandonment to the ‘other’. This is a true REmembering where there is indeed a partaking not only of Christ’s flesh but also of each other’s. In this body, members become transformed into the image of the one who gave birth to it, Christ.
Yours in Dismemberment
Arnold Msibi Motsau