Please welcome today’s guest writer, Jack Kamps (’16). Jack has been paid to do many things, such as teach preschoolers, pastor youths, schlep things in warehouses, bake pastries, design curriculum, serve coffee, maintain gardens, and fix computers. Jack is currently a student at Princeton Theological Seminary—though they tend to spend more time working on PTS’s small farm, plotting a future cheesecake business with their spouse, and listening to/talking about the latest Witch, Please episode than doing their homework.
People say that the church is dying. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t—what’s most compelling to me is that the discourse around the alleged death of the church reveals two related assumptions: that the death of the church is the worst outcome possible, and that such an outcome can and must be avoided at all costs.
This past January, I took a course in queer theologies, in which students were asked to consider (among other questions) how non-reproductive sex might be a resource for thinking about how we do church. That is, what if there is something more important than the church’s survival?
Qoheleth writes, “Feasts are made for laughter.” If we think of church as a feast, how is it made for laughter? I’ve attended Sunday Eucharist after skipping breakfast enough times to know that communion is not a productive meal. I don’t care what anyone has to say about being “spiritually nourished”—the wafer and the wine are not going to soothe my hunger pangs or fuel my labor in the manner of my neglected oatmeal and coffee. But that’s not the point. The Eucharist is itself grace, not promise of some future grace. There can be no failure here; our presence at the feast is itself already enough.
What could be more important than the church’s reproductivity? Another contributor wrote earlier this month that “ordinary people’s sex lives must…be a starting point for theology.” What, then, does non-reproductive sex have to offer the church? If non-reproductive sex is any sexual activity whose telos isn’t reproducing, nearly all sex is actually non-reproductive. And if the many reasons and ways that people have sex other than to reproduce remain unacknowledged and devalued in the constructing of theologies, huge swaths of human experience will be rendered inarticulable and illegible by these theologies.
Why doesn’t the church see value in the small group of parishioners who get together regularly regardless of programming to care for and enjoy each other? The church exists “where two or more are gathered”—yet low numbers are taken as a sign of a dead or dying community. As long as Sunday service is well-attended, it doesn’t matter whether the same few people are continually “voluntold” to run Sunday school or that the congregation views the priest as labor to be exploited. Numbers are the primary pulse point of the church—specifically, numbers that will reproduce the same rituals and ideologies, pure and unaltered. Systems of relationships that are responsive to needs as they arise within the parish are not taken into the accounting of the community’s viability.
The church as it currently exists cannot imagine itself as anything other than Christ’s abundantly fertile bride, producing as many identical children as possible. It cannot imagine a non-reproductive world or non-reproductive people as valid and good—it can’t even begin to believe in them. Those who don’t fit into the reproductive ideal become illegible, and this illegibility denies and destroys their creaturely nature.
Non-reproductivity has often been identified with a sort of “death drive” of society generally and the church specifically, and those who are sexually or ideologically non-reproductive accused of being responsible for bringing about the church’s demise—even as those of us with traits deemed unfit for reproduction are buried to lay the foundations of the church’s next generation and sacrificed to set up its gates.
Death-drive language aside, non-reproductivity and non-reproductive sex are ways of living eucharistically, ways of inhabiting grace by letting sex and the church be what they are rather than forcing them into service towards some other goal—and then discarding or deriding them as failures when that goal isn’t met. “Those who love abundance have no harvest,” Qoheleth says, urging readers to give up the belief that quantity is the measure of success. Instead, we are to “enjoy life with the one whom you love all the days of the vaporous life God has given you under the sun, for this is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.”
Who is erased from existence by the boundaries drawn around what counts as sex and what counts as church? And how can the church move beyond its restless desire to mass-produce itself and instead find rest in the pleasure of being and being with.
Sam Titus (’17) contributed to editing this piece.
Jack Kamps (’16) has been paid to do many things, such as teach preschoolers, pastor youths, schlep things in warehouses, bake pastries, design curriculum, serve coffee, maintain gardens, and fix computers. Jack is currently a student at Princeton Theological Seminary—though they tend to spend more time working on PTS’ small farm, plotting a future cheesecake business with their spouse, and listening to/talking about the latest Witch, Please episode than doing their homework.
Another Witch, Please fan! Hannah and Marcelle rock <3
Hannah and Marcelle are the best! I recently ended up doing a *deep* dive into HP fanfiction because of the Fan Studies episode with Dr. Amanda Allen.
Thanks for this, Jack. Rowan Williams is really good on these very issues. Here’s a piece I wrote on RW from 2016. I’m surprised how everything in this piece is still relevant vis a vis CRC/RCA conflicts.
Wow, thanks! I read “The Body’s Grace” for a course on Queer Theologies and also found it impressively timely.