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Decisions Announced on Civil Partnerships, Marriage

The UK government has announced its response and decisions, following the consultation on civil partnerships and same – sex marriage. The key points are:

Civil partnerships will remain an option for same – sex couples, as an alternative to marriage.

Couples in existing civil partnerships will have the opportunity to have these formally converted, on request, to marriage.  Such conversion will not be automatically applied to all couples.

(These two points are in accordance with the submissions of both Anglican and Catholic bishops, and of the our own CSCS submission to the consultation .They will be widely welcomed by same – sex couples who support the introduction of same – sex marriage as an option in law, but do not want their own relationships).

Conversion of civil partnerships to formal marriage can begin from December 10th.

Civil partnerships will not be extended to different – sex couples.

For further details and commentary, see:

Related articles

“Embodied Ministry” Conference on Sexuality and Ministry: Register Now

We are seeing strong interest in our Theological Educators’ Group “Embodied Ministry” conference on gender sexuality and formation, but there are still some places available. Time however is running out: registrations can only be accepted until the 30th June. (For a list of speakers, and summary descriptions of their papers / workshops, follow this link)

CSCS Theological Educators’ Project Conference

EmbodiedMinistry flier

Bookings can still be made (until 30th June 2014), by printing and completing the form below and sending it with a cheque made payable to CSCS to:

Sharon Ferguson, CSCS Theological Educators Conference, Oxford House, Derbyshire Street, London, E2 6HG                Cheques must be received by 30th June 2014.


Booking Form

Name ……………………………………………………………………………………………………



Post Code ………………………..         Telephone ……………………………………………….

e-mail ………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Denomination …………………………………………………..    Lay / Ordained / in Formation


Wednesday 9th July only

(non residential, inc. dinner)                                                        £40.00        £ ………..


Thursday 10th July only

(non residential, inc. lunch)                                                 £40.00       £ ………..


Wednesday and Thursday 9 -10 July

(non residential, inc. Wednesday dinner and Thursday lunch) £75.00       £ ………..


Wednesday and Thursday 9 -10 July

(Residential, inc. all meals and accommodation)                     £125.00     £ ………..


Donation for Bursary Scheme                                                       £ ………..


Total                                                                                               £ ………..



New Issue: “Theology & Sexuality”.

Just published is Volume 19, no 1.

Theology & Sexuality

8 Articles in this issue are:

You can view selected content online free of charge and also sign up for free table of contents alerts at

Members of CSCS (Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality) are able to include a reduced price subscription to the Theology and Sexuality journal, bundled with their society membership.

Women Bishops: Update

Thinking Anglicans has noted that earlier this month, two more Church of England synods (Blackburn and Southwell and Nottingham) voted in favour of the procedures approved at the general synod for the ordination of women bishops. That’s 27 synodal votes now completed, all in favour, with just 16 to come. That’s a clear majority already, and the measure will certainly return to the general synod in July.

The crucial question of course, is will it finally pass? The indications are, almost certainly yes.  At the last vote, the measure only just failed, because it narrowly missed the necessary two thirds majority in the house of laity.  The votes at the diocesan synods that have been completed, show that this time around, support in all dioceses, and across all three houses, is even stronger than it was in 2012.

A useful chart at Peter Owen summarises the votes for all dioceses – with the scheduled dates for those synods not yet held.  The total votes cumulative votes so far for each of the three houses are:

  • Bishops:  43  (96%)  in favour, 2 against.
  • Clergy: 1022 (90%) in favour, 91 against.
  • Laity: 1143 (92%)  in favour, 87 against.

Can there be any doubt that women bishops are finally on the way for English Anglicans?

For the record, women bishops have already been consecrated in:

  • Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Cuba
  • Ireland
  • Southern Africa
  • South India
  • United States

In addition, women bishops have been approved in principle, but none yet consecrated, in:

  • Bangladesh
  • Brazil
  • Central America
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • North India
  • Philippines
  • Scotland
  • Sudan
  • Uganda
  • Wales

Editorial, Spring 2014

Anthony Woollard

 On and around Saturday 15 February, four things happened, which may be related to one another.  The Annual Conference of CSCS; the Valentine’s Day statement of the Church of England’s House of Bishops on the Pilling Report; several reviews of a new book about sexual “perversions”; and an article in the Guardian about how more egalitarian relationships might be killing off libido.

The relationship between these four lies in the question marks they all pose to our understanding of sexuality and sexual relationships within the context of how human beings (i) actually are and (ii) might ideally be held, or intended, to be.

I start with the Guardian article.  If the intensity of sexual relationships is based on “otherness”, including (for heterosexuals) more or less traditional gender distinctions, and becomes weaker as those distinctions weaken, where does that leave us?   Most of us would celebrate – as Adrian Thatcher did in his address to the Annual Conference (available in full at – the development of greater equality in relationships, as against the old ideology (in a hetero context) of the submission of woman to man.  Yet, if we are conditioned, as much by biological as by social factors, for men to be “masculine” and women to be “feminine”, what price might we be paying for the evolution of this more companionate approach?  Is this alleged loss of libido simply reminding us that the quality of a relationship is not determined by its physical sexual content, however precious that might be in terms of initial bonding?  Or is it confirming the view of those who say that sex is all about making babies and that, once that has been done, we should simply get on with the rest of life?  The latter would point to a depressingly conservative conclusion about the nature of sex and marriage, including gay marriage.  Some of us want to celebrate this great gift of God rather more than that, even whilst recognizing that it is not the be-all and end-all of life or relationships.

The book Perv [1] appears to be asking similar questions.  Erotic attraction seems almost unlimited in its range, including “objectophilia” (an extreme form of fetishism) as well as BDSM, paedophilia and various permutations of love between adults.  This is how human beings are.  Why have they evolved like this?  Are there any boundaries?  Should acting on certain forms of attraction be forbidden in the interests of their objects?  Should any be forbidden, or at least regarded as a pathology, in the interests of their subjects?  Again, we may be tempted to a very conservative conclusion – that the only safe and truly rational sexual relationship is that which subsists within a faithful, lifelong heterosexual marriage oriented to the procreation and nurturing of children.  The alternative can look like “anything goes”, and it certainly does look like that to many people, and not just inside conservative church circles either.

A belief that some sexual obsessions are pathological would not in itself give society a right to intervene.  We should remember that, for certain Christians (and others), any same-sex relationship – even if based on full consent and entered into with an intention of faithfulness on the same basis as a traditional marriage – is very pathological indeed.  Adrian Thatcher made clear in his address that the mutual consent implied in the idea of covenant was at the very heart of a Christian understanding of marriage, far more important than either any ceremony of solemnization or any act of physical consummation, and that this was as relevant to gays and lesbians as to straights.  In this, he echoes Jo Ind whose Memories of Bliss has so often been name-checked in these pages.  But a great deal of sexual activity, and even long-term relationships, may not be explicitly covenantal.  Some may not even, on the face of it, be consensual.  Returning to the Guardian article, and thinking of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon and the world of BDSM, is there such a thing as wanting/needing to be forced – implicit consent to non-consensual activity?  Many feminists would be horrified at such an idea, because of the way it has been used to legitimize rape.  And indeed, in such developments as the identification of date-rape, we have gone a long way beyond unreconstructed macho myths.  Yet it seems that the issue will not go away entirely.  Perhaps “consent” is not such a clear-cut concept as we thought?

Another of Adrian’s contributions – not new, but put in a most helpful context – was his linkage between the covenant relationship between two people and the covenant relationship with God, expressed and embodied (in various ways within different Christian traditions) in the Eucharist.  The old Anglican approach to this was simple.  A child enters the covenant through Baptism, without his or her consent.  At Confirmation, explicit consent is given to undergoing the way of Christian discipleship.  Then, and as a rule only then, the young person is admitted to the Eucharist, which only has meaning within such an explicit covenant.  All this has been somewhat thrown up in the air by the admission of children to Communion before Confirmation.  But it was under question before that.  As I look round at my fellow-worshippers on a Sunday morning, I suspect that in many cases their “consent” to the relationship expressed in the Eucharist is rather different from mine, and equally different from the strictest “orthodox” model particularly of an evangelical kind.  Compared with the “official” standards and expectations, the consent (the expression of faith) may be pretty vague, tentative or implicit.  Does that devalue it totally?  I think not.  Even so, it seems to me, there may be sexual relationships which have never been expressed in terms of the traditional marriage vows but in some way reflect them.  Nobody’s faith is perfect, and the “correct” versions are not necessarily better than the more tentative and less explicit.  Equally, nobody’s most intimate human relationship is perfect, and those who are “properly” married are not necessarily any better at it than those who are not!

Having said that, and thereby legitimized a lot of relationships “without benefit of clergy” (or registrars), I would add that discussions at Conference also addressed the communal dimension of relationships, which is so easily forgotten in our individualistic society.  That dimension, of course, is also important in the context of the faith-covenant, and something which, in Anglicanism and elsewhere, has been rediscovered within the past half-century.  But the current secular orthodoxy is that what people get up to in bed – just like what (if anything) they get up to spiritually – concerns only themselves.  It was very moving, when listening to gay and lesbian testimonies about the power of civil partnerships and their hopes for marriage, to realise that they may in many cases have grasped the communal/family dimension better than those of us who identify as straight have done.  Perhaps that is not surprising when one considers that a committed, public same-sex relationship involves, as a minimum, coming out to the family, and can have a major impact on the family dynamic.  Same-sex couples and their pastors have wrestled with appropriate rituals to express what is genuinely valid about “giving away” – not one man handing a piece of property over to another, but a letting-go and sharing so that a new unit can be created.  That does not mean that any of us – least of all Adrian – were unaware of the dangers of communitarian or even fascist aspects of traditional doctrine; “one flesh” does not mean the husband’s flesh, nor does a union of families preclude the freedom of the individuals concerned.   Yet it was right to have the balance corrected a little, and not least that it was our LGBT brothers and sisters who had so much to contribute to this.

But more on the conference and the AGM below.  What of the House of Bishops?

For those not afflicted by the politics of Anglicanism, the main story so far is that the Pilling Report on the issues surrounding same-sex marriage, recently published, fell rather short of opening the doors to a new understanding but at least urged yet more “listening” as well as clarifying the underlying theological tensions on the issue.  The Bishops responded to this in haste, and their response included some welcome acknowledgment of the risks of rejecting gay and lesbian people and their families (for example at Baptism) but essentially reaffirmed traditional doctrine and discipline.  There are signs that Archbishop Justin, at least, does not want this to be the end of the story, but he is caught in complex national and international politics.  A number of organisations, including CSCS, responded to the statement, and our response is below.

But I must turn, finally, to the AGM itself.  The minutes of this are also included below, along with the reports of both Chair and Treasurer.  It will be apparent that, with a small and ageing membership and little money, we are none too sure about our future.  Much – perhaps everything – will hinge on the theological educators’ conference in July.    It may be nearly time to pass on Elijah’s mantle to others whose have engaged, more and more creatively, with our agenda in recent years.  Or, of course, it may not.  Yet again we find ourselves, at a time when two key committee members have had to move on, with a new committee member, Matthew Prevett.  CSCS seems to have a strange power of renewal.

[1] Jesse Bering, Perv: the sexual deviant in all of us, Doubleday 2014.

“Embodied Ministry”: Conference on Sexual Education for Theologians.

In “What is the Point of Being a Christian?”, Timothy Radcliffe OP notes that

We  need a pedagogy, ways of gradually opening people’s eyes to the beauty and dignity of the human body and its grace.  Learning to live our chastity well is not primarily a question of the will, but a way of life that sustains us in the truth of what and who we are.

It is this desire for a pedagogy of this kind, opening the eyes of theological educators, pastors, and ministers in training, to “the beauty and dignity of the human body and its grace”,  that is the motivation and purpose of the CSCS Theological Educators Project.

In July 2014, this project will host a conference on the theme “Embodied Ministry” at Ripon College, Oxford.

EmbodiedMinistry flierFor the full details, including program and speakers, see the conference page under “Theological Educators Project”

2014 Conference: “Redefining Marriage?”

Annual Conference 2014


A look at the wider issues

bible with wedding rings with

Adrian Thatcher


 Saturday 15th February 2014


 Carrs Lane Church Centre

Birmingham City Centre, B4 7SX

Introducing our speaker

Adrian Thatcher is Visiting Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter, UK. 

From 2004-2009 he was Professorial Research Fellow in Applied Theology at Exeter. He is also Honorary Fellow in Medical Humanities at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth (2007 on).

For 27 years (1977-2004) he taught at the College of St. Mark and St. John, Plymouth. For most of that time he was Head of Theology, and for 10 years the Professor of Applied Theology there.

His current academic interests are in the theologies of sex and gender, biblical interpretation, and marriage and family. His most recent books are: God, Sex and Gender – An Introduction, an attempt to make the latest theological scholarship on sexuality and gender available to an undergraduate or equivalent audience; and Making Sense of Sex, was published by SPCK in June 2012, which is part of the Making Sense series providing a liberal perspective on major Christian beliefs and practices.

His current project is to edit the Oxford Handbook of Theology, Sexuality and Gender.


10.45 Arrivals, registration & refreshments

11.30  Redefining Marriage?  Adrian Thatcher

12.45  AGM of CSCS

13.00  Lunch

14.00  Panel discussion

15.00  Tea/coffee

15.30 Depart

 All are welcome to our Annual Conference and although the AGM incorporated in it is for CSCS members, we welcome new members and any who are interested in our work.


Cost:              £25 (bursuries available on application).

Price includes lunch, tea and coffee

 Venue:          Carrs Lane Church Centre, Birmingham

Directions:   A very short walk from either Moor Street or New Street Stations.  From Moor Street, turn right out of the station and the church centre is almost opposite across the road.  From New Street, follow signs to Moor Street, then as above. Alternatively, ask for directions to Marks & Spencer (which is the other side of Carrs Lane). The Church Centre is on the corner at the lower end of Carrs Lane.

Booking:       Please complete the booking form overleaf and send it with your deposit of £10,  before 8th  February 2014 to:

                        Colin Hart, CSCS Conference Secretary,
                        47 Deveraux Drive, Wallasey, Wirral CH44 4DG
Late bookings:       Phone:  0151 6300749  or  01905 840266

NB        The balance of payment should be paid on arrival.

Editorial, Winter 2013

Anthony Woollard

 In many of the areas with which CSCS is concerned, there has been a positive ferment in recent months; but they have taken a little time to digest, hence the rather late appearance of this newsletter.

Perhaps the most notable event was the interview given by Pope Francis a couple of months ago, in which, whilst carefully not contradicting traditional teaching on Christian sexual ethics, he deplored his Church’s obsession with rules and regulations in this area of life – and moreover argued for a far greater voice for women in the Church.  There is no indication at all that this heralds a change in any of the teaching, whether it be on contraception or abortion, same-sex relationships, or for that matter the ordination of women   In fact he went out of his way quickly to affirm the traditional position on abortion.  But the logic of his position is that more attention must be given to the spiritual meaning and quality of human lives and relationships than to the question of what genitals a person has and where he or she puts them.  If this is translated into the practice of the confessional (where it is probably increasingly applied anyway) it will be a genuine move towards recognizing the sensus fidelium.  If it begins to affect policy, then all the more so; and in the first of his articles below Terry Weldon demonstrates the possibility of women cardinals without changing the essential rules.  .

In Anglicanism, meanwhile, we have seen the Church in Wales agreeing to women bishops; the first woman bishop in the Church of Ireland; and the first woman from an ordained Church of England background – Helen-Ann Hartley, formerly on the staff of Cuddesdon theological college – to be consecrated as a bishop elsewhere in the Anglican Communion (New Zealand).  These “facts on the ground” are sure to affect the Church of England in its own tortuous progress towards the episcopacy of women.  Any movement on the recognition of gay relationships is, so far, rather less obvious; but here, too, the “facts on the ground” must surely compel in the end.

 Terry’s second article reminds us that the institution of marriage has been far from fixed or final in its form during Christian history.  The present state of marriage, in England at least, is a complex one.  Conservative critics speak as if society is a morass of promiscuity, with cohabitation as (at best) one stage up from that, and assume that Christian ideals have been comprehensively abandoned.  Yet weddings – even church weddings – appear if anything to be on the increase.  The “facts on the ground” speak of people, including Christians, navigating their way through a world of bewildering freedom, and making mistakes which in past ages would have condemned them to ostracism or worse; and yet in most cases groping towards an integrity in relationships – straight or gay – which at its best is surely an improvement on the old rigid patterns.

 As Terry points out, the wedding ceremony itself has historically not always been central by any means to ideals of Christian marriage.  Yet a remarkable number of people still seek it.  Sometimes, no doubt, the move from a more informal relationship to a formal and publicly celebrated marriage is the triumph of hope over experience (but perhaps we ought not to knock that).  Sometimes it may seem little more than an excuse for a rather lavish party (but perhaps we also ought to avoid knocking the human need for celebration, especially in an age of austerity).  But if that public commitment is still a milestone in so many relationships,  then surely it deserves support, and not a simplistic application of those narrow rules which worry the Pope.

So what is marriage today, and how if at all should it be made available to those who do not fulfil the traditional one-man-one-woman requirement?  Our next Annual Conference in February 2014, on “Redefining Marriage”, has not proved to be as easy to put together as we would like – another reason for the delay of this newsletter (but see the enclosed flyer).   That reflects the complexity of the issues.  The general impression is that there is a thing called “marriage”, and we know exactly what it is, and the only issue is about extending it to non-heterosexuals.  Terry and I would both ask whether it is quite as simple as that.  Is marriage primarily about procreation and the creation of a new family unit (and are those two things the same anyway, with increases in adoption, surrogacy and the like)?  Or is it about containing dangerous and unbridled lusts within what is thought (perhaps mistakenly) to be safe parameters?  Or is it about intimacy and faithfulness – and do or should those concepts mean exactly the same to every single couple?  (If they do not, any differentiation is rather unlikely to run along neat lines such as gay versus straight.)   And what about the symbolic value of “till death do us part” – which, as a recent article in Theology and Sexuality pointed out, was not enough in some quarters of the early Church where marriage was seen as indissoluble to all eternity, but which itself has now been relativised by widespread acceptance of divorce (or at least devices such as annulment) implying a recognition that not all marriages are made in heaven?

A concept which has had to carry more weight than it can bear, though its Scriptural roots must be fully acknowledged, is the idea that marriage  – whatever, exactly, it is – is intended to model God’s unconditional love (with the implication that other kinds of sexual relationships fall short, at best, in that respect).  Surely Christians should be seeking to model that in all their relationships, not just sexual ones.    So what’s so special about the sexual dimension?  Many would argue, with some validity, that a sexual relationship is one of unique intimacy and therefore vulnerability; and that applies, in principle, to gays and straights alike.  But, as I have already hinted, “intimacy” and “vulnerability” may mean very different things to different people and in different contexts.  A significant part of that vulnerability – though only in straight relationships, and not by any means in all of those – is, of course, the possibility of bringing new life into the world; and whatever we think of traditional Catholic teaching on abortion, for example, it is right that the Churches should uphold the utter seriousness of creating new life.  But I would guess that the overwhelming majority of sexual encounters intend to avoid that, and most of these actually do so.  None of these facts should be allowed to trivialize sex; it is not trivial.  But they may help to put discussions about marriage and the family unity as the only proper context for sex into a wider perspective.

What sort of an institution is marriage anyway, assuming we could define it?  Is it best seen as a sacrament – a concept to which Catholic Christianity attaches ideas of permanence, both in the form and matter of the institution and in its individual instances?  Or is it, as Luther would have it, an order of creation, with all that that might imply in terms of something fundamental but also open to changes and flaws (sin), again at both an institutional and an individual level?  Or is it best seen as a socio-cultural convenience, allowing for an infinity of different ways of giving shape to the family unit?  Or might it contain elements of all three?

Any definition of marriage and its prime purposes, therefore, tends to slip through the fingers.  And yet the Churches are not wrong to seek to uphold some sort of ideal or normative approach to the crucial sexual dimension of our lives.  Where they are wrong is where they seek to enforce a particular interpretation, time-bound and culture-bound, of those ideas, whether through social pressure, through pastoral discipline, or through influencing secular law.

Which brings us back to Pope Francis, who knows that the fundamental thing about being human is not being obedient to rules and regulations but recognizing oneself as a sinner, and then recognizing that in others in all their variety.

 We need more Christian leaders, at all levels, with these fundamental insights.  That is why CSCS’ work with theological educators is so important.  A conference is now in process of planning for next summer, which we hope will gather the widest possible range of those who lead in formation for ministry to find improved ways of preparing church leaders to minister in this confusing scene in Church and world.

One issue which has arisen rather clearly in this work is as follows.  How far should the matter of sexuality be tackled in a “curriculum” context (alongside Christian ethics generally) and how far in the context of “formation”, the personal spiritual development of those in training?  If both, how are the two related?  It may be a partial answer to my question above (what is so unique about sexual relationships?) to note that issues of a sexual nature – whether they are tackled as some kind of theoretical exercise, or pastorally in the confessional or equivalent – do impact uniquely on the personhood of those who minister in our churches.  They are never “out there” in the way that, say, the morality of banking and finance is for most of us “out there”.  Many of the dilemmas which ministers will encounter may indeed make little apparent contact with their self-understanding.  As a straight man, who has never encountered the wilder shores of BDSM, for example, or had any doubts about my true gender, I could easily see as “out there” some of the pastoral stuff which I might have to deal with if I were a parish minister.  But even then, would I be right?  One elephant in the room of discussions about ministry and sexuality is the problem of abuse, which arguably has turned more people away from faith than almost any other.  Are we all sure that we are quite incapable of sexually abusing a trust that might be placed in us?  Have we all faced up to the power dimension in sex, not as an intriguing item in a confessor’s manual but as something very existential indeed?

The third article in this edition illustrates particularly well the relationship between “out there” and “in here”.  Jane Fraser’s account of her life as a “minister in sex employment” will be in part familiar to those of us who know her well – but at a time when “pioneering ministries” are all the rage, in the Church of England at any rate, it is particularly welcome to have this full account of some genuine (and sometimes costly) pioneering.

It is matters such as these which will be at the heart of our continuing work.  Their importance is out of all proportion to the tiny size, and humble public impact, of CSCS.  We ask for your continued support.