This edition focuses on the Annual Conference and AGM held in Birmingham on 10 February. Although numbers (particularly at the AGM) were small, there was much of interest – and many who expressed regret that other commitments and/or appalling weather prevented their attendance.
The formal report and accounts for the AGM are below. It will be clear that there is only one serious threat to our independent future. It is not money; we are now very solvent and able to look at new initiatives. It is not membership; we are much smaller than we should like to be, but are perfectly viable. It is not even the increasing number of other organizations, such as Inclusive Church, whose agenda overlaps ours; we can find ways of collaboration and unique contributions to make. No, the only threat to our viability is the shortage of people coming forward as committee members and officers. The Chair and Treasurer have both given notice that they will serve a maximum of two more years, and we have no Secretary, strictly speaking, at all.
I have myself served on the Committee for rather more years than I care to remember. It is very convivial, often extremely rewarding, and – with just three or four meetings a year in the Midlands – no more demanding than any individual wants to make it. The Committee has powers to co-opt to make up its numbers. If you care about CSCS (and you would not be reading this if you did not), how about you?
The value of CSCS was well affirmed in the afternoon Annual Conference. Rabbi Margaret Jacobi and Shaykh Michael Mumisa both demonstrated how it is quite possible, in both the Jewish and Islamic traditions, to interpret sacred texts in a way which gives an unequivocally positive image to sexuality. (Following the AGM papers, I include some in this issue some notes from Rabbi Margaret’s talk.) Even the apparent condemnations of same-sex relationships can be interpreted as referring only to particular situations which might be inherently exploitative or idolatrous, and not to those relationships whose positive values we all affirm. To be sure, as was pointed out in the discussion, both of these faith communities (like Christianity) have their share of texts and traditions which suggest a more negative or ambiguous image of sexuality, such as emphases on ritual purification and on “modest” dress for women. But to some extent these are simply a recognition of the fact that sex, though a great gift from God, is also dangerous. How religions deal with this, and how our culture deals with it, are questions which continue to face us all.
And there are few if any places, other than in CSCS, where such huge questions could be explicitly faced. Most other organizations whose remits overlap with ours are focused on rather specific issues, often matters of Church politics, or else on very much broader theological questions. Some of them may have an interest in burgeoning areas of concern
such as teenage sexuality and sex education, which are ignored in the current preoccupations with the gender and sexual orientation of bishops and so on, but their interests are within much wider contexts. CSCS remains the only place where focused dialogue across the territory of faith and sexuality – now including interfaith dialogue – can be promoted.
Our impact is not easy to measure. We do not know how many people find on our website resources either for academic study or for personal pilgrimage. We do not know how many people, apart from our members, read either this newsletter or Theology and Sexuality, and what impact that reading has. We do not know, unless they tell us, how far our members themselves find from us the resources they need, either to work out issues in their own lives or to promote dialogues in their churches or elsewhere. One thing we do know is that some of our core members find in us an inspiration and support in their various spheres of work and witness. We shall be looking, in the coming year, at ways to disseminate this effect more widely. Most of that may well need to be done in collaboration with other organizations, such as the Modern Churchpeople’s Union and the Student Christian Movement with whom we held such a successful joint conference last summer. But we remain of the belief that our witness is distinctive, and distinctively needed. We hope that you will agree – and will share in it accordingly.
In the meantime, I have included in this edition a number of notes of encouragement. The first is the Statement from the conference on Faith and Homophobia, which CSCS promoted along with many others under the auspices of LGCM, and which took place just a week after our own Annual Conference. Second, there are some deeply theological and profoundly moving words from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the USA following the Dar es Salaam Primates’ Meeting. (Alas, there is no space for reflections on events since that meeting – but perhaps another time.) Last, there are reviews of books by two inspirational figures in liberal theology and practice.