During three eventful days in March, four significant things happened. The Government announced its consultation on gay marriage in England and Wales. The Archbishop of Canterbury announced his resignation. Three more Anglican Dioceses voted against the proposed Covenant (the instrument designed primarily to bring to heel the sexually liberal churches of North America), thus giving it the kiss of death. And, finally, CSCS held its Annual Conference and AGM.
The first three of these events, although not causally linked, are obviously associated. For some, they will represent the final failure in the Church of England, and in English society, to hold back the tide of an anything-goes attitude to sexuality. For most readers of this newsletter, however, they represent the hope of a greater openness to the realities of sexuality in our land, and perhaps more broadly a sense of promise that the social and theological conservatives are no longer in the ascendant. We may expect resistance, especially in our very polarized Churches, and at the time of writing there is (alas) no reason to hope that a new Archbishop will be appointed who is any more able to bring the Church of England to terms with new realities than our once and future friend Rowan has been. But I am reminded of the Prince in Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard who felt himself isolated as the tide of history flowed around him – and who finally came to the conclusion that, if everything is to remain the same, everything has to change.
The issues surrounding gay marriage are not straightforward. Our own Chair is on record as being a passionate supporter of civil partnerships, being himself in one, but not of gay marriage. He explains his position further below, and I hope that this will be the beginning of a dialogue with the membership on the deeper issues raised. For the retired Roman Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is surely right in saying that this development really opens up the fundamental questions “What is marriage for?” and indeed “What is sex for?”, which his own Church and most other Churches have as yet failed to address in terms relevant to our time. These are the very questions which CSCS exists to address. Thus, those three eventful days may herald a new springtime, not only for society, the Churches and the gay (and straight) people who populate both, but also for our own little group of labourers in the vineyard.
So here is a little flavour of our Annual Conference. Small in numbers as so often, it nevertheless again attracted a handful of new enquirers – and, by no means least, a new Committee member in the shape of Terry Weldon, who we hope will bring some order to the sorry state of our website, following the retirement through illness of Phil Gardner as our faithful webmaster who has done his best for us over the years but was unable to prevent or cure the recent malware attack. Terry is also an experienced blogger for The Tablet, and one of his recent contributions, reproduced with acknowledgment to that publication, appears below.
The conference was outstanding for the contributions from Gerard Loughlin and Mark Dowd on God, sex and cinema. We hope in a future edition to have a written contribution from Gerard, but mere reproduction of the spoken word cannot do justice to the many film clips which he used (even given that, unfortunately, the room in which we met had no blackout facilities). Both he and Mark illustrated how, from the earliest days of cinema, sex has been portrayed in a life-affirming light (though without neglecting the dark side), often in opposition to the assumptions of the Churches, yet also often with a spiritual reference.
The AGM that followed was even smaller in numbers but upbeat. The Chair’s report, and the accounts, are reproduced below. The latter, as our Treasurer Colin Hart explained, are perhaps slightly misleading because of the continuing need to sort out payments due on Theology and Sexuality in the light of the delays to recent issues; there could be a sizeable bill for that in 2012. The presence of Gerard Loughlin as co-editor of the journal was helpful in discussing the problems which have arisen regarding the regularity of publications. It seems that the flow of high-quality material is not what it once was, particularly now that other academic journals take an interest in our subject-matter. This saga will no doubt continue!
Marriage Equals? Martin Pendergast
Gay Masses – unique outreach and support Terry Weldon