Third Annual Harkness Lecture: Asking About What Is Better: Intersex, Disability, and Inaugurated Eschatology
Susannah Cornwall is a Postdoctoral Research Associate with the Lincoln Theological Institute, Department of Religions and Theology, University of Manchester, UK. Her current research focuses on interactions between intersex and faith identity via empirical research with intersex Christians in Britain, and the implications for theological policy, pastoral care and healthcare chaplaincy. Dr Cornwall received her PhD in Theology from the University of Exeter, UK, in 2007, and is the author of Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ: Intersex Conditions and Christian Theology (Equinox, 2010) and Controversies in Queer Theology (SCM Press, 2011). She has also written journal articles and book chapters in the areas of intersex and transgender, sexual theologies, disability, queer theologies, contextual Bible study, relational theologies, and the use of the Bible in RE (religious education) teaching in British schools. She lives in Manchester, UK with her husband, Jonathan Morgan, a theologian and theological educator.
Intersex conditions, wherein people cannot be categorized as clearly male or female according to current definitions, are often discussed in relation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identities, but might also be figured as a non-pathological physical difference akin to a disability. In this paper I suggest that the overlaps between theological conceptions of disability and those of intersex are particularly evident in relation to two areas, the erosion of agency (especially sexual agency), and the issues raised by prenatal testing for certain conditions. These are exacerbated by narrow social and theological understandings of morally-significant sexual intercourse and healthily embodied personhood along specifically gendered lines. I suggest that just theologies for intersex people must be grounded in an eschatology which figures their variant bodies non-pathologically. However, it must also acknowledge that these bodies may still be perceived as problematic by individual intersex people and the parents of intersex children. Drawing on the eschatological theology of Jürgen Moltmann, and excerpts from interviews with intersex Christians in Britain, I suggest that there is a Christian theological imperative to live out the eschatological promise in this present world, not accepting that social norms are inevitable or unchanging, but always “asking about what is better”. Intersex raises questions about some bodily sexes in particular, but all bodily sexes are already less certain than we credit. It is because sex is already disrupted and disturbed in Christ that future realized eschatology can reach back to a present in which it is only inaugurated.