After the excitements of the summer conference reported in our last edition, there is rather less to tell by way of developments over the past few months. We remain solvent; we are slowly growing in numbers; and we have updated our website (www.cscs.co.uk) which is well worth a visit if you have not looked at it recently. But can we point to any more impact on the debates within the Churches on sexuality?
We are now just one amongst many organizations making a contribution, but that, within that growing network, our input is respected. For example we are working with LGCM on their major conference on Faith and Homophobia planned for 17 February. And many of our members, often through their involvement with some of those other organizations are taking the message out to surprising places. We reproduce below the bulk of a recent article by Christina Rees for the journal of Forward in Faith – not perhaps the most obvious place where one might expect to read a CSCS contribution. Some of our efforts however are more direct, and have potential to be extended more widely. Our Chair, Jane Fraser, is well known as an expert on teenage sexuality and pregnancy, and was recently asked to lead a training day for youth workers in her own Diocese of Worcester. She has produced a booklet on the topic (downloadable from www.cofe-worcester.org) which could well be usable elsewhere. She reports on all this below. Young people, and those who lead them, want and need to talk about sexuality, but Christian resources for them are limited and all too often likely to be (or to be perceived as) negative. It may be that some of our readers, perhaps using the resource provided by Jane, could stimulate such discussion within their own churches? If so, we would very much like to hear from you about the outcomes.
Another place where we may be able to innovate is in interfaith dialogue. The public debate during the autumn about the wearing of veils has highlighted the difficult issues surrounding gender and sexuality within Islam in the context of contemporary Western society. Within Islam, as there have for some years been within Judaism, there are now a few other voices asking how a faith-based sexual ethic should respond to social change;but such voices are by no means in the majority. Religion in general is getting a pretty bad press at the moment, whether it is in the debate about faith schools or the impact of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and the seeming dominance of fundamentalism of all kinds adds to a sense of divisiveness and irrelevance of religion in the public mind.Issues of gender and sexuality are rarely explicit in this – always excepting the role of women in Islam – but they are certainly implicit. Perhaps we, who have begun to come to terms with those issues as Christians, owe it to those of other faiths to share something of our journey and what we have learnt. And perhaps we in turn have much to learn from the – often much more painful – journeys which others in those faith traditions have had to make.
That is the rationale behind our annual conference on Saturday 10 February at Carrs Lane Church in Birmingham. We are mailing all our members separately with fuller details.Please sign up AS SOON AS YOU RECEIVE THAT MAILING before you lose it! In deference to the Sabbath morning commitments of our Jewish brothers and sisters, we arethis year holding the conference in the afternoon and the AGM in the morning, rather than the reverse as in previous years. Do try to come in time for the AGM – it is important! And please think hard whether you would be able to make the very modest time commitment involved in serving on the Committee. We really do need some fresh blood; most members of the existing Committee have served for several years, and none of us is now in the first flush of youth! Feel free to get in touch with Jane (contact details on back page) if you would like to discuss this further before making up your mind. Meanwhile, the public thinking goes on, both in the Churches and in the academic and literary sphere. We include below, as promised in the last edition, some thoughts by both Gill Cooke and Alan Sheard about the increasing failure of the Church of England (at least) to take seriously the scientific facts which need to be one of the bases for any debate about sexuality. We also include a book review. We do our best to spot works which, whether academic or not, have something to say to the ordinary reader; but we would be glad of more recommendations and reviews submitted by members. For my part I have only just got round to reading Bruce Bagemihl’s Biological Exuberance (Profile Books, 1999). That has been widely reviewed elsewhere and will be well known to many of our readers. Interestingly, it has some resonances with the book reviewed below by John Cook. The questions which it raises remain provocative. If apparent same-sex, transgender, and other “unnatural” activity is so very widespread in the animal kingdom, does that make it “natural”? What implications does that have for humans? If biodiversity is a good in evolutionary terms (as environmentalists now widely recognize), does the same apply to sexual diversity, and, if so, does that application stop at the boundary of humanity? Is it in some way – as Bagemihl would seem to imply – positively healthy that not all human beings are monogamous heterosexuals committed to breeding? Might the human race actually benefit, not just from the existence of same-sex relationships, child-freeness and celibacy, but even from a judicious mix of polygamy and promiscuity? But, if so, what of any norms and moral boundaries? Is it really, after all, the case that “anything goes”, despite the witness of Christian and most other cultures? Or are there specific human characteristics which impose responsibilities not applicable to other animals? If any of our readers have thoughts on these questions, I should be delighted to publish them!