Editorial (Autumn 2012)

Anthony Woollard

It may seem strange that, when equal marriage, women bishops, and a renewal of the abortion debate are all on the public agenda, this editorial begins with domestic issues such as the CSCS website.  But we do have a new website, with a new address, thanks to the labours of Terry Weldon.    Since Terry has this year been elected to the Committee, we have a duty to our membership under charity law to record that the Committee has decided to pay him for this work, out of a donation given by a member, specifically for the purpose of website update, before the last AGM.

This is the culmination of a long history during which our website suffered, first from the illness of our former webmaster Phil Gardner – though many of the results of his work have contributed greatly to what we now offer – and then from a malware attack.  Recovering the situation has taken a great deal of work, which continues.  The new address http://www.christianityandsexuality.org is not yet public, and we need members to access it in due course (work will be ongoing for some weeks yet) and tell us what they think, before it is opened up to web searchers in general.

The website is key to our work for at least three reasons.

  • First, we need it to attract new members.
  • Second, it should form a point of reference for existing members about all aspects of our work.
  • Third, and perhaps not least, it is an outreach tool – offering to many who may never become members a source of information, comfort and challenge, in their personal pilgrimages and also in pastoral and academic work.

It is really important for us to get feedback on how far these purposes are fulfilled.  The subject-matter of our interests is right at the heart of the life of the Churches and the spirituality of their members, yet it is not easy to communicate this when there are so many other voices, conservative and liberal, addressing similar issues.  So please take a little time to give us that feedback.  Particularly we would welcome any views on the sort of “resources” to which we should draw visitors’ attention; at present this mainly comprises a rather outdated booklist, without classification or commentary, and we would warmly welcome suggestions for additions, deletions and other improvements.

But there is more to be said about our current activities.  CSCS is a little like Shakespeare’s “old mole”.  We work in the earth (though not always very fast) and only occasionally do the fruits of this work pop up above the surface.  One such occasion is our annual conference, which often attracts speakers of the greatest interest on topics of enormous importance, but, alas, rarely an audience of a worthy size.  Our most successful conferences have been those where we have worked with partners, such as the joint conference with Modern Church some six years ago, and, more recently, the local conference in Birmingham jointly with LGCM, Changing Attitude and others.  We have agreed with the transgender Christian organisation The Sibyls to hold a joint conference probably on 16 February 2013, and have invited several contributors from the transgender and related communities including Tina Beardsley.  Issues around gender identity and variance are coming to be of increasing importance in church life, both pastorally and theologically (see the recent work by Susannah Cornwall on intersex, which is also reflected in the work of Adrian Thatcher whose latest book is reviewed below – and Susannah will be with us at our conference too).   Such a conference should therefore be timely, and of interest well beyond the membership of the two organisations.  Perhaps readers know of clergy or other pastoral workers who would benefit from a day on the topic?  Who knows, it might even be relevant to bishops – if only because the idea of a spectrum of gender identities blows out of the water many of the arguments advanced in the women bishops debate.  More details of our February conference will be available over the winter.

 Our work with theological educators is also continuing, and we hope it will in due course also bear fruit in one or more conferences of a wider nature, and certainly in making available via the website some of the growing volume of resources on theological education and formation in the area of sexuality and gender.  If the clergy are not properly equipped in these areas, it is unlikely that the Churches as a whole will be.  Too often, such equipping is ad hoc.  The Church of England in particular has spent the past half-century or more wrestling with issues around the nature of marriage, from contraception, through divorce and remarriage – a particularly long and painful saga – to facing up to the fact of widespread cohabitation amongst couples who seek to be married in church (and others).  This has forced clergy and those who train and form them to ask questions about the very nature of (hetero)sexual relationships, probably not very systematically and with varying degrees of success.  Is the result a coherent theology of sexuality, or an uneasy linkage of old shibboleths and new pastoral realities?  Can it yet be said that those who lead our churches – who are human beings with as many sexual hang-ups as the rest of us – address any of these questions with real theological integrity?  If not, then there is still work to be done.

Those of us who do not belong to the LGBT community owe that community a considerable debt in developing Christian thinking about sexuality and gender in general.  This newsletter includes the sermon given at this year’s Pride service, which as will be clear is of much wider application.  (It is reported that at least one anti-Pride protester has been converted as a result of this year’s attendance.)  Such contributions from other groups, irrespective of the sexual and gender identities represented in them, are always welcome in this newsletter.  One such group is Modern Church, who sponsored the latest book by Adrian Thatcher which is reviewed below (and simultaneously in Modern Church’s own newsletter – so apologies to any who read it twice!)  But there are many other smaller groups and events in which members are involved, and we need to have more news from those.

Any voluntary society – particularly a very small one like CSCS – is only as good and as useful as its members.  We know there have been times when continuing membership has not been an obvious option for everyone.  We apologise to anyone who was affected by the recent brief blip in our charitable status, due to a series of accidents leading to a late Annual Return to the Charity Commission; this may have affected one or two people’s subscription payments.  Please bear with us.  It should be obvious from the above that we continue to do valuable work; but we depend on you.  And we are still looking for new Committee members, and, not least, a new editor for this newsletter.

Ecumenical World Pride Service, Bloomsbury Baptist Church, London, 7 July 2012Sermon by The Revd. Dr. Ruth Gouldbourne, Co-Minister, Bloomsbury Baptist Church

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Making Sense of Sex’, Reviewed by Jane Fraser