Sarah Coakley's theology of desire

Source : Rupert Shortt. God's Advocates: Christian Thinkers in Conversation. London: Dartman, Longman and Todd, 2005, pp. 77 ff. (interview).

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It’s not for nothing that Anglican theologians worldwide are suddenly seeing that this is a moment of opportunity for the right kind of systematic thinking to occur, and any number of us are starting to engage in the undertaking….John Milbank has described his book Being Reconciled as the beginning of a systematic theology, and Rowan Williams is working on a book on the Trinity which – whether he’ll call it part of a systematics – I think will be seen as that; and, interestingly, Mark MacIntosh is gathering together a group of us across worldwide Anglicanism who are going to produce a volume of Anglican systematics as a joint endeavour. So systematics is now a marked new feature of contemporary Anglican theology….

I do acknowledge the continuing importance of the original feminist impetus to transform Christian tradition out of its distorted, ‘patriarchal’ manifestations. I also feel a certain attraction to both the wings of gender theology [French feminist – Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva; and Butlerian – Judith Butler et al]….But I find neither of these two approaches completely adequate in confronting what we learn about gender in the light of the divine: there is a spiritual transformation that has to occur for both men and women in the light of a re-examination of the nature of desire (both divine and human) within Christianity. That is the central problem….

I see ‘desire’ as the category that fundamentally explains our connection with the divine. I see God as a desiring God who implants in our created nature a sexual desire that is the clue knit into our nature to remind us of our deep dependence on God….

So ‘gender’ is always in renegotiation, in my view, and it’s desire – but not, note, in the Freudian sense – that fuels the whole engagement….A distinctively theological view of gender should not merely borrow from secular gender theory and then use that theory to beat the tradition. Rather, we should examine the deep heart of the central doctrines of Christianity – incarnation and Trinity – and see what they tell us about desire and gender.

The argument about incarnation and gender has only recently started to dawn on me as a result of my priestly ordination in 2001. But one of the most fascinating things about being in some sense in persona Christi at the altar is that one finds oneself at some points in the service [...] Next

God hath deified our nature, though not by turning it into himself, yet by making it his own inseparable habitation…

Richard Hooker