11th May 1952 – 20th February 2009
“All theology is sexual theology. Indecent Theology is sexier than most. What can sexual stories from fetishism and sadomasochism tell us about our relationship with God, Jesus and Mary? Isn’t it time the Christian heterosexuals came out of their closets too?”
–Indecent Theology, Marcella Althaus-Reid
Marcella Althaus-Reid was an Argentinean Theologian specialising in Liberation, Queer and Feminist theology. She is most known for coining the term ‘Indecent theology’, which is a theology of sexuality that crosses boundaries by taking experiences from those considered “indecent” by patriarchal, heterosexual society and uses the experiences found in taboo sexual practices such as Fetishism and S&M as starting points for theological discourse. She worked as Professor of Theology at the University of Edinburgh and at the time of her appointment was the only woman professor of theology in the country.
Marcella was raised in Buenos Aires and graduated from the university there with a BA in theology before being invited to Scotland to study for a PhD and work with impoverished communities. She was appointed professor of contextual theology at New College as well as becoming director of the International Association for Queer Theology working to spread liberation and queer theology around the globe.
Whilst Marcella’s theology was rooted in Liberation she was highly critical of how liberation theologians had overlooked the struggles of women. She was heavily critical of the patriarchy and the way sexuality has been purfied and turned into a weapon for discrimination rather than liberation. Her attempts to make theology “indecent” stemmed from the experiences of people who are usually considered indecent, such as gay men, prostitutes and poor women. Her famous phrase about writing theology without underwear came from the poor women who went to work without their underwear on. Marcella argued that in sharing in the sexuality and womanhood of the poor women, the theologian could also share in their experiences of life and so use them as a basis to talk about God as well as her own.
Rather than view sexuality as a barrier to theology Marcella used it as a weapon against those who would discriminate on the grounds of indecency. When gay men felt they could take their Rosaries into the gay club, but not their homosexuality into the Church, Marcella took theology out of the Church and into the Gay clubs. By bringing the sadomasochist into dialogue with the Calvinist, the young AIDS sufferer with the Thomist and the prostitute with the Blessed Virgin, Marcella opened theological discussion to the indecent masses and created a whole new method of speaking about God for those who felt they were unworthy.
Marcella Althaus-Reid died on this day 2007, and is remembered lovingly in a collection of essays entitled Dancing Theology in Fetish boots.
A Prayer for Marcella Althaus-Reid:
Mother God, we thank you for the life, faith and work of your beloved servant Marcella Althaus-Reid. We ask that you fill us with the same daring and dancing spirit that filled her so that we too might challenge the oppressive patriarchal, cisgendered, heternormative systems in our world and that we might all start to write our theology in fetish boots without underwear. Through you most Holy, bisexual and indecent Son we pray. Amen
Suggested Bible verse: