Tapestry

Sexual Healing: finding holiness in sexuality

Can sex and religion co-exist peacefully? Elyse Ambrose thinks so. She’s working to bring healing to those who have been alienated by their faith’s views on LGBTQ issues.

“I have only this life, that I know of, to honour my heritage, my ancestors. I have to bring my fullness.”

Elyse Ambrose is a sexual ethicist and educator. Her work lies at the intersections of race, sexuality, gender, and spirituality. (Submitted by Elyse Ambrose)

There is a joke online suggesting that reading the bible and coming away with an emphasis on gay marriage and abortion is like watching The Godfather and concluding, "It's a movie about cannoli."

The human body certainly gets a lot of attention in the world's spiritual traditions. If you look at sex through the lens of spirituality, it's  seen as everything from an evil temptation to a gift from the gods. 

What we need are people who are fully alive.- Elyse Ambrose

Elyse Ambrose, a scholar who explores the idea of holiness in sexuality, doesn't like the notion that sexuality and spirituality are two things that are destined to clash. In fact, she doesn't believe they are two separate things at all. 

"What we need are people who are fully alive," says Ambrose, adding that her thinking has been shaped by the mystic and theologian Howard Thurman. "And if I'm constantly hiding a piece of myself or unwilling to engage a part of who I am as a sexual being, and when I say sexual, I don't mean just sex acts. I mean our part of our humanity that wants to be intimately connected with another in a variety of ways, including bodily, including sexual, including romantic…. It's a part of who we are as human beings."

Ambrose is a graduate of Howard University. She has a master's degree in divinity, and a PhD in Christian Social Ethics. Her work sits at the place where race, sexuality, gender, and the spirit connect. As the founder and director of 'phoeniXspark', Ambrose offers workshops and retreats that respect the experiences of queer and trans people of color. She often reminds people that they are whole human beings and that attempts to separate the body from the spirit don't make a lot of sense. 

"I'm in this body. I am in this experience:  being born in 1985, living in Louisiana … And as far as I'm concerned, in this body, this is the only life that I am living. And I feel to honour God, to honour myself, to honour my ancestors, to honour my community, to honour the connections that I have both here in the present and to the past…  to honour all of that, I have to bring my fullness." 

Elyse Ambrose is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethical Leadership and Society at Meadville Lombard Theological Seminary in Chicago. She also counsels people whose spirituality feels at odds with their sexuality. (Ute Reckhorn)

Ambrose was in training to become a Christian pastor when she realized her own sexuality didn't fit into any of the boxes her church would condone. She began asking existential questions about her identity and her beliefs until, one day, she had a kind of epiphany. 

  "A turning point for me was when I sat down with my experience of God and I said, 'You know what? For a moment, God, I'm just going to believe that you're not going to punish me for trying to come to a greater understanding of myself and subsequently of you and of my neighbour. 

"I just believe - for a moment - that there's not going to be a penalty that awaits my questioning, my vacillations, my lack of faith, my whatever might-come-of-this-process.'  I just had to distance myself from the idea that there was going to be some negative repercussion from the Divine for this exploration. And when I removed that, that fear  of God's punishment, it just expanded the world for me in an entirely new way."

Elyse Ambrose is a visiting assistant professor of Ethical Leadership and Society at Meadville Lombard Theological Seminary, in Chicago.

 

Written by Mary Hynes. Produced by Rosie Fernandez

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