I had never been to a MCU conference before and only one conference of CSCS, so I was not sure what to expect despite my deep interest in the conference theme of Human Sexuality. As a gay evangelical, I wondered how different the emphasis may be from my own. I needn’t have been concerned. A slogan in a nearby pub summed up my experience of the conference. ‘There are no strangers here, just friends we haven’t yet met’. I met many new friends at the conference and was very glad that I attended.
The conference was opened and chaired very capably by Prof. Elaine Graham. She spoke of the absence of absolutes concerning Human Sexuality which set the right tone at the start of the conference. She chaired the conference admirably throughout and even dealt with a few critical remarks in a very firm yet gracious manner.
The first main speaker was Canon Trevor Dennis, vice-dean of Chester Cathedral. He opened his address by stating that he was not gay but he knew several people who were, including gay Christians, who had been refused communion because of their sexuality, and of a minister who was sacked because he was found out and thrown out. Trevor spoke about intimate same – sex friendships in the Bible, concentrating on David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi. He emphasised the importance of befriending the Bible and seeing affirmation within it. As an Evangelical, albeit a liberal one, this was music to my ears.
The other sessions dealt with subjects related to human sexuality: Marilyn McCord-Adams on the defence of the liberal church; Adrian Thatcher on the importance of children; and Martin Pendergast on HIV/AIDS. These addresses reminded me of how broad the subject of human sexuality is and about much more than the ‘gay debate’, vitally important as that is. This was brought home to me again by the wide range of questions put to the panel in the final session.
For me some of the most beneficial times were in the group sessions. During these sessions many personal stories were told of how different people had come to their convictions on human sexuality (especially homosexuality). For some it was because they were gay; for others they had close friends or relations that are gay. This strengthened my conviction that people’s perceptions are changed by knowing gay people rather than discussing theoretical concepts in isolation. As a gay man, I felt affirmed by the sharing of stories, both by listening to others as well as having the opportunity to share mine.
What was my overall impression of the conference? Extremely positive as I received much to dwell on both from speakers and from private conversations with people I had never met before. I was affirmed both as a gay man and an evangelical in a ‘liberal’ conference. I was treated with much more respect by liberal Christians at the conference, than by many evangelicals that I know. It made me realise that the labels we use about ourselves and others are of a limited use. Would I go to another conference held by MCU or CSCS? Without any doubt – yes!