The newsletter of the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality
CSCS is a charity (no 1070448) registered by the Charity Commission of England and Wales
Editorial, Anthony Woollard
Gender Varying Faith: Our Genders – Our Stories (Presentation by Christina Beardsley, Conference 2013)
Poem, So? Ho (Heather Barfoot)
Prepared for Reality? The slow-moving world of theological education (Alison Webster)
It seems a long time since our Annual Conference in February, which was one of our most successful ever. We mustered 30+, our usual modest numbers being amplified by members of The Sibyls with whom the conference was jointly organised. Transgender issues formed the theme, and we were fortunate to have as our keynote speakers Tina Beardsley and Elaine Sommers. Below are the notes which Tina used for her PowerPoint presentation (not, alas, reproducible in illustrated and animated form here!) from which readers can gain a flavour of her input; we all sang along with “Getting to Know You” which set the tone for a warm and informative half-hour. Elaine was more discursive in her approach, not using notes; but much of the material for her contribution can be found in two articles by her on the Changing Attitude website, which I commend. The session was excellently chaired by one of our Patrons, Bishop John Gladwin.
There followed our AGM, and I reproduce below the Chair’s report and the accounts. Unfortunately, no new members came forward for the Committee, which was therefore re-elected en bloc – nor did a new newsletter editor appear, so my job is still open if anyone fancies it! But it was clear that interest in our activities was increased amongst those who attended, who included a number of non-members. After all these years, our membership and our finances remain just about viable – but too small for the work we have to do.
The day concluded with a panel discussion with a number of transgender people, ably chaired by Susannah Cornwall. This discussion illustrated the sheer diversity of understandings of gender, from those born male who come to believe “I am not a man, I am a woman” to those who cannot simply identify with either gender. As Tina pointed out, people who might identify as transgender form a tiny minority – yet we have probably all met some such people, whether we realise it or not. And they challenge a number of assumptions, not least about the binary male-female divide and “complementarity” which is to be found in conventional readings of Scripture. That, no doubt, is why they are widely misunderstood and even persecuted within the Churches, particularly those of an evangelical persuasion; we heard many sad stories, which strengthened our resolve to work for a far more generous understanding of gender issues within Christian faith and the interpretation of Scripture.
Since then, we have continued with our work with theological educators. A wide range of denominations continue to be involved in this, and it becomes ever more timely as the Roman Catholic Church in particular struggles so publicly and painfully with sexual issues. The dramatic resignation of Cardinal O’Brien, a week or so after our conference, highlights that struggle. It was most significant that he himself should have bowed out with some radical remarks on clerical celibacy – not that the removal of that burden, should it ever happen, would solve all the Church’s problems, but at least it would open the gates to a more humane understanding of sexuality as an irresistible force in all our lives with which theology must come to terms.
Meanwhile, in the wider Church and world, we have seen the production of a report on marriage, by the House of Bishops of the Church of England, which has received almost universal rubbishing because of its naivete about sex, gender and sexual orientation. Even the Church Times, hardly the most radical organ, considered that it was “best forgotten”. This widespread criticism of an apparently impeccably orthodox study of the theology of marriage is of great significance. It is as if the Church, at a point somewhere nearer the grass-roots than the Bishops are, is finally waking up to the inadequacy of the old theological formulae.
The controversy about gay marriage is clearly the occasion for this publication. But by purporting to go deeper into marriage and sexual theology generally, the Bishops have “shown their workings” in a way which lays them open to better-informed criticism. Not the least of its failings is its heavy dependence on the concept of complementarity between women and men. That concept is not analysed even in theological, let alone psychological, sociological or biological terms. The most egregious statement is that no human being is “asexual” – all are either men or women. This is not only a misuse of the term “asexual”, which usually refers to a lack of sexual desire/activity rather than to underlying identity of sex or gender. It is simply not true, as studies into intersex and transgender (and our own conference) have demonstrated.
I do not think it necessary here to go into more detail about this document now (but note what I say below about the probable theme of our next issue). I commend the analyses by Susannah Cornwall in her blog, by Jonathan Clatworthy on the Modern Church website, and by Jane Shaw in the Church Times of 26 April. One of the members of the commission which produced the report, Charlotte Methuen, has written what amounts to a minority report (though her dissent is nowhere acknowledged publicly by the Bishops), and this also is well worth reading.
It is tempting to suggest that CSCS itself should produce an alternative version! But the seeds of our thinking are well documented – not only in Jo Ind’s Memories of Bliss to which this newsletter constantly refers, but now also in Susannah Cornwall’s excellent SCM Core Text on Theology and Sexuality which we hope to review in a future edition. What is clear from these books, and the critiques of the report mentioned above, is that “sex”, “gender” and “sexuality/sexual orientation” are three quite different things, all of them immensely complex, and none of them susceptible (beyond the level of the stereotype) of analysis simply by reference to selected Biblical texts and traditional Church teachings.
The widespread negative response to the Bishops’ document gives one hope that our message is at last getting through in at least some places within the Churches. But that is a slow process. It must be pursued in the formation of church leaders, which is why CSCS’ work with theological educators is so important – and we hope it could lead to a major conference in 2014. It must be pursued in the world of academic theology, which is why our journal Theology and Sexuality and the work of our members such as Gerard Loughlin, Adrian Thatcher and Susannah Cornwall need continued support. And it must be pursued at grass-roots level – so I would welcome many more accounts of local initiatives for discussion such as those which I related from my own parish in the last edition. Members of the Committee, whether sex educators like Jane Fraser, activists like Martin Pendergast and Rosie Martin, or communicators like Terry Weldon, all have their parts to play. But so do you, our readers, and we would love to hear from you much more.
As a next step in this process, the Committee propose that both the next edition of this newsletter in the autumn and our Annual Conference next February might be devoted to the theme of “Redefining Marriage?” Who knows, perhaps this actually will lead to an alternative statement! In any event, I would particularly invite contributions on that theme. This is partly about same-sex marriage, but maybe the real point is whether what is on offer, to same-sex or opposite-sex couples alike, should simply be this institution/sacrament/status “as it stands”. For it has changed, is changing and must continue to change if it is to be “fit for purpose” for society as a whole.
CSCS Annual Conference 2013 & Sibyls
Gender Varying Faith: Our Genders – Our Stories
Presentation by Christina Beardsley
Preparing an earlier version of this presentation a song came to mind:
Getting to know you
Getting to know all about you
Getting to like you
Getting to hope you like me
Putting it my way but nicely
You are precisely
My cup of tea
T for trans! This conference has been planned to provide information about transgender people by trans people. If Trans hasn’t been your cup of tea we hope that today will change that.
Many of us have been brought up with very rigid stereotypes of gender. Trans people appear to undermine that. But few of us are 100% masculine or 100% feminine.
How many people here have knowingly met a trans person (in the course of work/socially)? You may have done so unknowingly.
Some people ‘pass’ in their ‘acquired’/ ‘confirmed’ gender: men and women with no signs of their trans history. Some retain tell -tale signs – they should not be stigmatised for that. Maybe they are in the early stages of transition. Maybe they are happy to combine aspects of the masculine & feminine.
In this presentation you’ll hear some of my story. Born male but, as a child, given to girly play. I grew up in chilly West Yorkshire, so appreciated my liberty bodice – a gender neutral foundation garment. Cowboys & Indians? I identified with the Indians because they wore their hair in plaits. I didn’t know then that North American Native culture, like many traditional societies, in the past & today, recognised and honoured ‘two spirit’ people – people recognised a link between gender variance and spirituality: in those cultures gender variance denotes transcendence rather than transgression, e.g. the Hijras of the Indian subcontinent.
Western history too has many examples of gender variant people – when taking round the collection plat at Mass the Abbe de Choisey reckoned people gave more when he was cross-dressed; also shown fencing – he spent the first half of his life as a man and the second as a woman – diplomat and spy the Chevalier d’Eon de Beaumont: – hence the older term Eonism for cross-dressing & the Beaumont Society the pioneering UK support group for transvestite and transsexual people.
But the gender binary has always been strong. My favourite Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, whose teaching is all about controlling one’s passions, went uncharacteristically ballistic when approached by a young student of rhetoric whose hair was somewhat too elaborately dressed and attire highly embellished!
Sunday newspapers at this time told exotic tales of cabaret performers, like April Ashley, who went to Casablanca for ‘the operation’, performed by Dr Georges Burou.
Aged 16 I read I Want What I Want by Geoff Brown about someone who wanted to ‘change sex’. Early on in the book, the hero is sectioned in a mental hospital just for saying he is female. That scared me.
Trans is about gender identity not sexual orientation. Trans people can be straight, lesbian, gay, asexual. Sometimes sexual orientation changes post transition. (Masculine and feminine varies in everyone). If you feel at home in your gender identity you are a cis gendered person and unlikely to have experienced the discomfort. Trans people feel with their birth gender and how imperative it can become for us to align our appearance/bodies/lives with our gender identity.
Intersex conditions are physical. So of course is brain sex. Trans diagnosis presupposes one is a normal female with male gender identity but sometimes atypical sex characteristics are present as well.
The shift from trans (implying crossing), and sexual, to gender identity was appropriate. The additional term ‘disorder’ was not.
December 2012: DSM-V: Gender Identity Disorder is replaced by Gender Dysphoria (the opposite of euphoria) in response to consultation: emotional distress rather than mental disorder.
The term “gender variance” which you’ve used today is good. Trans/transgender includes everyone, not just those who transition permanently. Re-assignment could suggest you have changed gender. Realignment & confirmation implies everything else has been brought into line with your innate sense of gender identity. Sex change is a no-no. F2M, M2F etc.
In the UK gender variant children receive specialist care at the Tavistock & Portman NHS Trust.
Medical intervention began a century ago. Clinicians like Hirschfield recognised that they were dealing with a distinct and real phenomenon. Gillies had pioneered plastic surgery on the casualties of war. Dillon, born a girl had 13 operations between 1946 and 1949. He served as a ship’s physician but was outed. Later he lived in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
Kinsey referred Benjamin his first trans patient. An endocrinologist he pioneered the use of cross-gender hormones which has been highly therapeutic.
The emphasis today is not so much on the causes (or aetiology) of being trans but on people’s wellbeing so that they can get on with their lives like everyone else. The success rate for treatment is incredibly high: 90s%.
Government is so concerned about trans inequality it has recently produced its first Transgender Action Plan.
Health & employment are the two main areas where trans people encounter problems. Delay in accessing treatment and health professionals’ lack of understanding being key issues.
Being Trans is not a life-style choice. Research shows that it probably begins in the womb. It can’t be ‘cured’ by psychotherapy. There is probably no single ‘cause’
I may identify as a boy but look like a girl. I may identify as a girl but look like a boy.
About 1 in every 11,500 people are transsexual. The number of [presenting] trans people in the UK was estimated at 6000 (2009). March 2008 – 2,366 had applied for Gender Recognition Certificates (& 3% only were refused). The numbers of people likely to present is rising & likely to increase. Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic, West London receives 500 new referrals each year & has 2000 people on its books
Gender balance – more MtFs than FtMs but the gap is closing
Many Trans people chose not to take these steps or to postpone doing so, but some do.
The standards of care are being updated all the time in response to reflection on clinical practice. Some clinicians put people on hormones as a diagnostic. So-called ‘cross-gender living’ without hormones can be very trying as it means you might be read easily and abused.
Testosterone has a powerful effect on trans men and they often pass unread.
Testosterone often has powerful effects on males who have undergone puberty – it is harder to undo them and hence the need, in some cases, for FFS.
Some trans women have bulked-up or taken on highly masculine roles in an attempt to deny their female gender identity, only to find they can no longer postpone transition
I felt real regret when I read this aged 31 and wished I’d transitioned at 17. I would be in my 40s before I began to transition – but that’s average for trans women.
Not everyone who transitions seeks hormones or surgery. Many Trans men have not, until recently, chosen phalloplasty – the surgery is more successful now. Some androgynous/gender non-conforming folk are assumed to be trans (but would be covered by current equality legislation – and targets for the same abuse!)
More children seem to be articulating their gender variance than ever (or perhaps we just hear about it now) and at an earlier age. Many will grow up to be gay. Some, though, will be trans. And some, like me, will identify as gay until they’re ready to accept themselves as trans. This is, or was, often true of Trans men. Most trans women, however, are heterosexual, and many will have married.
Trans Media Watch has developed a good practice charter for broadcasters and journalists: it also monitors programmes and portrayals and advises documentary makers. As a result of its submission the Leveson Inquiry called for better standards of reporting about trans people, most of whose stories are not in the public interest. . On Twitter and other social media trans women in particular are fighting back when radical feminist journalists seem to imply that we are not real women. Images: Suzanne Moore & Paris Lees.
Many trans people around the world are murdered – Transgender Day of Remembrance
But I’m finding that younger trans people really question the gender binary and what transition might mean for them. Get over it!
Sadly, trans people are still susceptible to problems of depression, and very frequently attempt suicide. And at the same time they are dealing with all this many trans people are trying to maintain relationships with spouse/partner/children, strained by their transition.
I had a not so good experience – from the born again Christian CEO (wish I’d had Barbie!) – in the NHS Trust where I was working when I said I was intending to transition; but an excellent one in the Trust where I transitioned. My line manager was incredibly supportive. But even with legal protections in place employers can find excuses to dismiss Trans people.
When I transitioned I was able to change all my documents but not, at that stage, my birth certificate. This option was still a few years away.
Prior to Corbett v Corbett (1970) – the April Ashley case – birth certificates were not changed. Mr Justice Ormrod, also a medic, insisted sex/gender was essentially chromosomal and Ashley was still male. People in transition could legally change their name and amend passports, bank accounts etc. but not the sex/gender on their birth certificate
Marriage equality would remove the painful demand that married people must divorce in order to obtain full gender recognition. Remaining married means the birth certificate remains as before. It’s a legal matter; the person has ‘fully transitioned’ even without that.
Some religious people admit that trans is not their cup of tea – whether the churches should be seeking such exemptions is debatable
In Changing Attitude, England we have 3 Trans Trustees to ensure that our needs are not overlooked: a trans woman, a trans man and a transgender woman. The Sibyls was once a refuge for Trans people who were rejected by their churches. Nowadays congregations are better informed and more welcoming.
The Bible celebrates human equality. Elaine will talk about why Deuteronomy 22:5 might not apply to trans people! The first Gentile convert was a eunuch – some Trans people identify with eunuchs of the ancient world.
Like many trans people I found the transition journey to be a roller coaster – outed to the press; employment issues – subsequently, I’ve found meaning in the Joseph narrative in Genesis with its dramatic highs and lows. Later, I learned from performance activist Peterson Toscano that it is a Trans narrative – that Joseph’s splendid coat was actually ‘the robe of a virgin daughter of the king of Israel’ in other words, a princess dress, and that it was his femininity that explains his brothers’ hostility. In Egypt he is just the same, dressed to the nines in his robes, he forgives them all.
Theologian Virginia Ramay Mollenkott, has written ‘Seven lessons Religious Congregations Can Learn from Transpeople’. Here are three of them:
2. Help overcome gender stereotypes that alienate men from women & from their own bodies & oppress women & girls the world over.
3. Trans people are constant reminders of human diversity and that our language about diversity needs to be diverse
4. As we noted at the start, traditionally the shamans/priests
You learn most about transgender people from those trans people who are your colleagues, clients, family members or friends.
Minutes of the Annual General Meeting of CSCS
Saturday 16th February 2013
St Annes’ Church, 55 Dean Street,Soho, London W1D 6AF
- 1. Welcome
Members were welcomed by Martin Pendergast (Chair).
- 2. Apologies
Apologies were received from John & Daphne Cook, Mike Egan, Roberta Rominger, Carla Grosch-Miller, and Heather Barfoot.
- 3. Minutes of the previous AGM – 17.3.2012
These were circulated to all present and then signed as a correct record of the meeting. Proposed by Hazel Barkham. .Seconded by Rosie Martin.
- 4. Matters arising
There were no matters not already on the agenda.
- 5. Annual Report
Martin Pendergast gave a summary of the developments over the past year and this was available for all present and is attached to these minutes.
Proposed by Anthony Woollard. Seconded by Jane Fraser
- 6. Financial Report
A report of the financial position of CSCS was given by Colin Hart (Treasurer) and a copy is attached to these minutes. He noted that subscriptions were down slightly this year due perhaps to some new members joining at the end of the year and not being asked to renew again in January. Those who pay via Charity Aid have been prevented from doing so due to problems with the Charity Commission who have withdrawn our charity status due to problems posting our Annual Return. Most members now pay by standing order which is helpful. An anonymous donation last year has enabled us to set up a new website. There was a considerable loss on the conference last year and we aim for this year’s conference to break even thanks to support from Sybils who have funded the speakers. The Theological Educators Project is a cost to CSCS without bringing in any income but as it is nearing completion the committee are not concerned about this and hope members agree. Martin Pendergast is exploring a charitable grant to support the final stage of the Project which will be a conference of theological educators.
Assets of £4,533.36 were confirmed. Hugh Bain asked how much is being set aside to pay for the Theology & Sexuality journal. Colin Hart replied that he had paid for 2010 but 2011 had yet to be invoiced. £800+ was being held for this. The report was accepted. Proposed by Tony Crowe and seconded by Anthony Woollard. There was a vote of thanks to Mike Egan for auditing the accounts and he was unanimously proposed to continue in this role.
- 7. Election of CSCS Committee 2013/2014
Heather Barfoot, Jane Fraser, Colin Hart, Rosie Martin, Michael Moran, Martin Pendergast,
Terence Weldon and Anthony Woollard were willing to stand for re-election.
Proposed by Bernard Lynch and seconded by John Gladwin
- 8. Any Other Business
A question was raised about the official reasons for the delays in publishing the Journal. These were given as the increased number of such journals, open access to papers through libraries, and a reduced number of papers being submitted due to the subject matter not being so topical.
Chair’s Annual Report 2012-13
I presented last year’s Annual Report on the work of CSCS only two days after the launch of the Government’s Consultation on Equal Civil Marriage. This Annual Report for 2012-2013 comes in the middle of the Committee Stage of the ensuing Same-Sex Marriage Bill. In recent weeks we have also seen the European Court of Human Rights judgement’s on cases involving conflicts around religion, diversity, and human rights. Very many of us were pleased that the Court rejected the appeals of those who were found to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people in the course of their employment.
Once again, we see not only the need for an ecumenical network such as CSCS to be able to contribute to these debates, but also to situate the issues within a wider context which reflects a broader discussion of concerns around human sexuality and gender identity.
But there is still a long road to travel. In the context of today’s Conference theme on transgender and faith, I was appalled by the ignorance displayed by representatives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales when they appeared before the House of Commons Committee earlier on 12 February. If I may quote from the Hansard Report:
Q 83 Kate Green: May I ask you the same question I asked the representatives of the Church of England? If an opposite-sex couple marry in a Catholic church and subsequently one member of that couple undergoes gender reassignment, do they remain married in the eyes of the Catholic Church? Under this law, they will in the eyes of the law.
Archbishop Peter Smith : They would in the Catholic Church as well.
Q 84 Kate Green: They would be a same-sex couple at that point.
Archbishop Peter Smith : Well, perhaps legally.
Q 85 Kate Green: So you do not accept the reassignment of gender?
Archbishop Peter Smith : I do not accept that we can change someone’s gender. There is a real difficulty when it comes to what is called gender dysphoria: somebody who is very inclined to think someone is opposite to what they are.
Q 104 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Mrs Helen Grant): Archbishop Smith, in relation to the transgender provisions in the Bill and to pick up a point made earlier by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, you indicated that the person changing gender would be legally married but questioned whether it would be possible to do that. Can you tell me whether that person and that couple would still be treated as part of the Catholic community and welcomed with dignity and respect?
Archbishop Peter Smith: They would certainly be part of the Catholic community, but we would not approve—the Church teaches clearly that you cannot change gender. I know that that is not the current mores out in secular society. As a priest or bishop, if somebody came along and said that they had changed their gender, I would have to say to them from the Church’s point of view, “You cannot get married.”
The Chair: But your point earlier was that you would none the less welcome them with respect and dignity.
Archbishop Peter Smith: Absolutely. Always.
This shows once again how pertinent today’s Conference is, and I particularly want to thank the Sibyls Group for being partners with us in planning today’s event.
I also wish to thank, on your behalf, all my colleagues on the CSCS Committee for their support, as well as for their willingness to engage so selflessly in the tasks before us. We have met as a Committee four times over the past year. I particularly wish to thank Colin Hart, our Treasurer, for keeping not only our finances in good order, but also taking on the role of Membership Secretary. It continues to make sense that these roles are combined, not least to avoid unnecessary duplication and confusion in coordinating membership subscriptions and subsequent renewals. You will notice that we have up-dated the CSCS membership leaflet – please take an extra copy, or copies, today to pass on to friends, or place in your church leaflet rack.
Here I must beg your forbearance for administrative blunders at the Charity Commission and its website, and the disappearance into the ether of our submitted report last year, which led to us not being able to receive Gift Aid. I am still engaged with officials trying to extricate ourselves from these difficulties, and I hope this matter will be resolved shortly.
I also want to thank Anthony Woollard for his steadfast editing of CSCS News. At our latest Committee Meeting we discussed how we might manage an editor’s succession process since Anthony would dearly love to hand over the reins of this particular horse, before he or it gets turned into a Burger or Bolognese. If there are members with the skills required for Newsletter editing, we would like to hear from you. Again, please feel free to take extra copies of the CSCS Newsletter, present and past issues, where there is much useful material.
There are others who act behind the scenes: Jane Fraser serves us as Minutes Secretary as well as continuing to be a driving force in the Theological Educators’ Project. Beyond the Committee, Andrew Yip has continued to be responsible for Newsletter mailings to members, backed up by Jane Fraser, and not least our printers for their efficient turn-around of Newsletter production, after Heather Barfoot has carried out her proof-reading. We were delighted that Terry Weldon agreed to join the Committee and take charge of a rather moribund CSCS website, so that we now have a site which is very much fit for purpose.
We are also grateful to the Rector of the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption & St. Gregory, Soho, in affording us hospitality for our Committee meetings, to the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, and Campion Hall, Oxford, for hosting meetings of the Theological Educators’ Project. Sadly, our Soho venue will become unavailable as the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham will be taking over both Church and Rectory. Somehow, I don’t think our concerns would be shared in that arrangement. As always we are grateful for the support of our Matron and Patrons, and glad that Bishop John Gladwin agreed to chair part of today’s programme.
Beyond our Newsletter publication, our main activity has been the Theological Educators’ Project, exploring how issues of human sexuality are being dealt with in the recruitment of people for ordained and lay ministry across a range of denominations, their academic training and the support offered during such formation, as well as the level of on-going support in the growth of sexually healthy and mature pastoral ministers. We have met approximately twice of three times a year. The wider group includes Anglican, Methodist, Metropolitan Community Church, Roman Catholic, and United Reformed Church members, many of whom hold particular responsibility for training and academic input in both denominational and ecumenical schemes. This exciting work proceeds, inevitably, at a slow and steady pace, as we seek to discern what appropriately useful outcomes might emerge from our conversations.
Thanks to Terry Weldon, we now have a Theological Educators’ Resources page on the new website. We are pursuing the idea of a residential conference event, probably later in 2014 to gather key people across the denominations, responsible for all forms of ministerial training and development. We have also commented on the Church of England’s Common Awards theological education process, but rather like certain other ‘listening exercises’, this seems a long drawn out affair with not much sign of any concrete outcome in the immediate future.
We continue to be frustrated by the infrequent appearance of the journal, Theology & Sexuality, and continue to badger both the editors and publishers about this.
CSCS members have continued to play a part in the Cutting Edge Consortium and not least its 3rd National Conference in April 2012. We continue to enjoy close contact with groups such as Changing Attitude, Inclusive Church, LGCM, Modern Church, and always look for opportunities to work together on matters of common interest. We have also agreed to become a member of the National Children’s Bureau Sex Education Forum.
The debates around all aspects of human sexuality, gender identity and variation, show no sign of abating in all our churches. As long as this is so, there is a need for a network such as CSCS to play its part in responding critically, challenging constructively, and celebrating the rich diversity of all women, children and men, as the rich tapestry of human sexuality and gender created as part of God’s design, God’s work of art. As such, I commend to you the work of CSCS during 2012-2013.
Subscriptions 1190.00 1495.00
Donations (website) 1000.00 0
Conference 365.00 595.00
Bank interest 6.68 6.38
Tax refund 302.93 556.84
Total 2864.61 2653.22
Affiliation 25.00 0
Journal (2010) 407.00 0
Newsletter 533.30 525.87
Website 1222.81 158.00
Conference 839.98 297.90
Theological Educators Project 743.71 508.80
Committee/secretarial 406.46 498.23
Lost deposit written off 0 85.00
Total 4178.26 2073.80
Surplus/(deficit) (1313.65) 579.42
Balance sheet as at 31 December 2012
Community Directplus Account 2475.40 3697.39
Business Select Instant Access A/c 2150.96 2149.62
Less uncleared cheques 93.00
Total 4533.36 5847.01
Deficit 2012 (1313.65)
I had a rather startling conversation the other day with a friend of mine – an academic theologian who teaches ordinands as well as ‘ordinary students’. He said to me that the curriculum they teach has altered hardly at all in the last twenty years.
As a social justice adviser in the Church of England, I guess at some level I knew this. If I had a tenner for every conversation I’ve had about how to address important social issues in theological education that went as follows, I’d be a rich woman:
Me (to anyone in charge of any kind of theological education – ordination training, CMD/CME, IME): “It seems really important that those in training for ministry should have some grounding in (insert any social issue: domestic abuse, mental health, community development, gender, sexuality, physical disability, learning disability, rural contexts, urban contexts and poverty, social care, ageing, etc), so that they are equipped to deal with practical and pastoral issues that are likely to arise in the parishes in which they serve/will be serving.”
Theological educator: “Yes, I agree with you, but what you have to realise is that the curriculum is already very intense and overcrowded with essential things like Biblical studies, church history and homiletics. We simply don’t have the space for other things. And even if we did, we can’t simply open up the curriculum to a shopping list of enthusiasms that various individuals lobby us about”.
Me: “So how will your students learn about these issues that will certainly be real for them in ministry?”
Theological educator: “Well, the best we can do is to put on specialist and optional theme weeks that students can opt into. Or they learn ‘on the job’ once in active ministry.”
This is how it was when I worked for the Institute for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality (forerunner of CSCS) in the early to mid 1990s, and apparently it is the same now. Anglican colleagues of mine organise, or help to deliver, theme weeks on issues such as rural ministry, the spiritual care of older people; pastoral studies (which can include sessions on, for instance, domestic abuse and disability) and gender/sexuality. But as far as I know, there is as yet no curriculum which takes the simple yet revolutionary step of organising the curriculum around human reality, bringing the resources of scripture and church history into play to inform and stimulate appropriate responses to the challenges that face real people, with real needs and gifts, in real communities.
I well remember being asked to help resource a theme week at an ecumenical theological college back in the 90s. The briefing I had in advance was rather farcical – along the lines of, “If you tackle the issue of marriage, and sex outside marriage, please bear in mind the fact that our former Principal was dismissed because he left his wife for another woman…Oh, and if you really must address homosexuality, then please be aware that we had an infamous case here 10 years ago where two women declared they were in love with one another, and both of them left without being able to get a job with their respective denominations. Oh, and I nearly forgot, your co-presenter is a closet gay priest, so be sensitive to the fact that he will be studiously trying to avoid being asked difficult questions, or discussion of any issues that get too close to the bone”. And so it went on. Apparently any discussion of relationships and sexuality had to pussy-foot around any and every difficult internal issue, when each of these issues was only ‘difficult’ because the institution itself and the denominations it served, were totally unable to talk sensibly and openly and the vagaries of human sexuality. It was a bit like being asked to coach a sports team to perform well in a sport where the rules were secret, and changeable only by those in charge.
Needless to say, I ignored all the restrictions suggested to me. I took care to establish ground rules at the beginning that, as far as possible, made the learning environment a ‘safe space’ in which the students could really explore issues, and challenge one another, knowing that whatever they said in that environment would not be used against them in the future. I recall having some excellent and enlightening discussions with the students, who found it refreshing to discuss together their thoughts, feelings, anxieties, concerns and (surprise surprise) joys, about human relationships. And reflecting on themselves as sexual beings in ministry was a new departure for them. It was a pity that this learning environment was, for them, for a few days only, and exceptional. How much better would it have been if their whole curriculum had been founded on such honest and open exchanges?
When it comes to theological education about gender and sexuality, there are important theo-political issues at stake. Official church responses to the Equal Marriage Bill remind us, yet again, of how ‘complementarity’ is set forth as a veritable doctrine of the faith: men and women are created to be ‘different’, and it is in the formation of heterosexual couples that human beings become ‘whole’. This, in its entirety, IS the basis of official church responses to all issues pertaining to gender and sexuality. How can good education take place with such paucity of thought at the church’s theological heart?
The tragedy of the CoE’s approach to equal marriage is that it exposes how that institution has insulated itself from developments in other intellectual disciplines over the last thirty years or so. It’s getting on for 25 years since I wrote my book Found Wanting, in which, when reflecting on the lives of women who came into conflict with the church’s teachings on sexuality (either because they were single, divorced, sexually abused by men, or lesbian or bisexual), I coined the phrase, ‘the curse of complementarity’, as this idea seemed to be the foundation of all forms of oppression experienced by women.
The idea that women are ‘equal but different’ is given the lie in most strands of Christian thought, in that it is part of men’s role (conveniently for them) to be those who define the roles of men and women. Women’s role is to be submissive, and do what we’re told – an idea so deep rooted that it came back to the fore in some of the arguments about the role of women as Bishops.
If the church, or the theologians that are supposed to inform it, had not actively put their hands of their ears for the last three decades, and remained resistant to developments in gender studies, post-colonial studies, queer theory, etc, they may have developed tools to engage with the new philosophical world that now informs our social context. Apart from inventing ‘radical orthodoxy’ as a way of dealing with truth claims from different disciplines (the theological response which just says, ‘we have the primal form of revealed truth; all other forms of truth are subservient to it and derivative of it, therefore we don’t really need to listen to them), how different might the church’s response have been to the Equal Marriage Bill? How different might our theological education be, and how much better prepared for reality might generations of minsters in training have been?
Alison currently works as the Social Responsibility Adviser for the Diocese of Oxford. She ran the Institute for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality from 1990 to 1994, and co-founded the international journal, Theology and Sexuality
“The Soho Masses cancelled”?
Last time we had 200 people
And the Archbishop,
Walking round, greeting people,
And saying he’s available
To give any help he can.
To take care of Anglicans
Who want to be Catholics?
Much posher than Soho!
Like the new Pope!
You’ll invite him to come too
If he comes to London?
Was a choice!
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Next issue in autumn 2013 – contributions invited by end-September
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