The newsletter of the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality
No 29 Spring 2006
Fundamental to our sexuality is the orgasmic experience: the petit mort, a kind of death, a loss of the Self in the Other or a fusion of Self and Other. Many would say that something a little like this is also at the heart of the religious experience. In both cases the concept can be and often is misused, as a means of exploitation or a flight from responsibility. But its place cannot be denied. “He (she) must increase, and I must decrease” is a challenge at the heart of both faith and sexuality.
For that reason, it might be expected that Christian organisations would be happy to accept diminution and demise when their work was done. Alas, it is not always so. But one of the topics at our Annual General Meeting was whether CSCS has now fulfilled its mission and should quietly leave the ground to others.
It will be clear from the discussion reported below in the Minutes of that meeting that we are by no means sure that our mission is yet redundant. And much in the Annual Conference that preceded the AGM appeared to confirm that CSCS, or something very like it, is still direly needed.
The theme this year was “The Sexuality Debate in Ecumenical Perspective”. It was presented in dialogue between one of our Patrons, John Gladwin, Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford; our Matron, Roberta Rominger of the United Reformed Church; and (in the unavoidable absence of our Methodist Patron David Gamble) John Simmonds, a Methodist minister from Leek in Staffordshire. All their presentations are summarised below. The Roman Catholic Church was noticeably absent from the platform though not from the floor.
John Gladwin has contributed to our thinking in the past, most recently indeed in the last issue of this newsletter. On this occasion, to my slight personal surprise, he decided to start from Anglican formularies rather than from the postmodern thinking which has characterised his previous inputs. He demonstrated that the Anglican tradition, whilst exalting the normativeness of marriage, has been by no means unaware of wider debates on sexuality or inflexible in its responses to them. It was good for us that he did start from tradition, for many of us perhaps find it too easy to start from experience. Yet I could not help feeling that, if and insofar as this was where my Church started from, it might be missing out on some contemporary perspectives. Where, apart from a few luminaries like Adrian Thatcher (and from a different perspective Jim Cotter), is the Anglican theology of sexuality which is truly for today?
The other two contributors, though more experiential in approach, also started from the positions in their own churches, and that was a salutary experience. Anglicans, and for that matter Roman Catholics, tend to be so obsessed with their internal debates – mainly on gay clergy – that they imagine such issues in other churches are all over bar the shouting. Rather, it seems, amongst both URC and Methodists, they have been largely swept under the carpet. Yes, there are some openly gay clergy, and there are congregations which affirm a generous approach to issues of sexuality generally; but there is also considerable reluctance to grapple openly with the issues, and some very substantial pockets of conservative resistance. The Methodist Church’s remarkable Resolution Six from their 1993 Conference, which John Simmonds quotes, is rather better, one might think, than some Lambeth Conference statements or those emanating from the Vatican (at least under the previous regime) – yet it is by no means universally honoured. Individual congregations can and do reject gay ministerial candidates, and those seeking higher office have been blocked. There is some evidence of a willingness, for example in the Methodist women’s organisation (particularly the Autumn 2005 edition of its journal Magnet), to debate the fundamental issues about the nature of sexuality and its relationship with faith, in a way which might not be possible in some other churches; but this is highly controversial. In both churches there is still a fear of “frightening the horses”, and probably a majority who oppose both the conservative and the liberal positions and wish the issues would go away. There has been real progress in both, perhaps especially within Methodism (due to its historic emphasis on experience?), but very little evidence that the debate has been fully embedded and that church members in generally would endorse the openness which is at the heart of CSCS’ mission statement. As John Simmonds put it, few local churches have yet come out of the closet.
So, are we still needed? As will be clear from the Minutes, the jury is out. Our effective survival will depend on our ability to hold existing members, and gain new ones, through the new subscription structure which allows for a fairly nominal subscription from those who do not wish to receive our learned journal. That in turn may depend on the impact of our joint summer conference with the Modern Churchpeople’s Union and the Student Christian Movement – there are still a few places left! – and of our updated website, which ALL members are asked to look at and comment on to the Chair.
In fact the future of CSCS now depends on YOUR response as never before.
A Dialogue between the Churches on Sexuality Issues – An Anglican Approach
The Rt. Revd. John Gladwin
A personal disclaimer – what I say should not be taken as necessarily representing Anglicanism! I am an Anglican and what I say I believe to be in that tradition – but many Anglicans may come at these matters very differently – a matter which I consider to be a strength in church life.
Anglican conversations about sex, its meaning and purpose in human life, spin round our traditions on marriage. In a variety of ways Anglicans enter this field from this entrance point. Since liturgy plays an important role in shaping our doctrine and attitudes, the changing shape of the liturgies of marriage play an important role in this. Anglicans would be heard saying the following sort of things:
- Marriage is a gift God gave to humanity in creation.
- Marriage is a covenant of love and commitment between a man and a woman.
- Marriage is a sacrament or is sacramental in type – a means through which God’s grace may be experienced in our lives.
The character of the gift.
- Universal – for all and to be a blessing for the world, including those who do not formally enter into marriage.
- It is an exclusive bond – joining of the couple in union is the bodily sign of the love that brings them together. Sex, commitment and love are to be held together.
- It is the context within which God wills the creation of new life in children.
Marriage is not a civil arrangement, nor a service in church.
In regard to the morality of sexual behaviour these understandings would resist two ways of creating a division between sexual behaviour and the relationship between the people. There is the obvious one that sex for self gratification irrespective of whether there is any relationship is sinful – fornication. There is the less obvious one of the suggestion that where there is love, anything goes. So Anglicans have, from a variety of frameworks of moral endeavour, always taken an interest in the morality of the act as well as the quality of the relationship.
The sexual bond and act is of itself a profound good – part of the gift of life God has given in our creation as human beings. So that long cultural history of experiencing sex as sinful in itself and dirty has no place in serious Anglican theology – from the Prayer Book onwards!
In attending to these questions of both relationship and praxis, Anglicans always hold to the essential authority of the church in the Bible, interpreted down the centuries in the teaching of the church and qualified by reason – which some would say includes experience.
We may not hold as true, things which are manifestly against the doctrine of Scripture.
When tackling the complex issues facing us today – not just the personal and pastoral needs of same sex couples, but cohabitation, the forms of marriage in society where many are reticent about making such commitments and the impact on behaviour of safe contraceptive protection, the HIV/Aids crisis and of the wider cultural mores which are manifestly changing – Anglicans can look back on a history of development and even change in their judgements.
The obvious ones
- Contraception and family planning
- Divorce and remarriage
- Contemporary techniques in human fertilisation, family reconstruction and so on.
So we are always having to reshape how we speak about these issues – finding new directions in Scripture and in the understanding of our traditions.
What I think is remarkable at present is the shift in thinking about the needs of same sex couples. From an age of deep ambivalence about marriage, we now have same sex couples seeking stability, recognition and human rights in parallel to marriage.
Is this compromising our doctrine of marriage or is it strengthening it?
That is unfinished business for us.
Sexuality and the United Reformed Church
With many others, I believe that Christianity requires a revolution in regards to sexuality. We must finally make peace with the fact of our physical existence and our physical relatedness to each other. It is not acceptable for us to face the world as people who are afraid and ignorant and condemning of what they do not understand.
The revolution I am talking about would have implications much wider than the issues we usually discuss under the heading of “sexuality”. With Rosemary Ruether, I believe that the way we regard our bodies has everything to do with the way we treat the planet and our fellow creatures. It has implications for racism and the relationship between the rich and the poor. It would even touch us in the United Reformed Church as we contemplate new structures, because much of the debate is focussed on how intimate we wish to be with fellow congregations and whom we will or won’t accept as bedfellows. We are seriously considering a new form of consensus decision making – again, an issue of relatedness. So it is an enormous project.
James B. Nelson puts it best for me:
Far more than genitality, our sexuality is our embodied ways of being in the world as female and male persons. With our varied gender understandings, our varied sexual orientations, our desires for deep sensuous touch with the world, our hungers for physical and emotional intimacy, we are all sexual beings from birth to death: celibate or genitally active, paired or single, living with disability or temporarily able-bodied, we are all sexual beings. And seen with the eyes of faith, human sexuality, I believe, is God’s way of calling us out of separation and loneliness into communication and communion. The bodily energy for all of our loves, the grounding of our passion for life, our possibility of mutuality and pleasure. Indeed, the sexuality of which we are speaking has such power in our lives, it is the source of such anxiety and fear, such joy, such shame, such yearning, such curiosity, it must be very close to the centre of things.
James B. Nelson,
Earl Lectures, Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, California)
25 Jan 1994
Such a revolution cannot be legislated into existence. It cannot be imposed from outside. It comes from showing people a better way, which is where the work of CSCS has been so valuable.
In the United Reformed Church, mention of “human sexuality” immediately evokes the work we did on homosexuality in the 1990s. This began with a task group report urging the churches to take an open view of homosexuality as possibly within God’s plan for creation. The report was largely ignored. The issue came to the fore with two gay men who candidated for ministry. Both were approved for training, and one went off to college and completed his course. The other was barred from training by a college that said that they could not receive him in the absence of a URC policy about the ordination of gay and lesbian people.
Another task group was established, and we led a consultation process throughout the church, ultimately recommending various areas for further work and successfully arguing that, in the absence of a policy, the URC position should be to consider each candidate on his/her merits according to the usual discernment processes. The further work was done and General Assembly received a proposal for a policy statement which said that the URC welcomed and affirmed homosexual people within the life of church and society but could not affirm the acceptability of homosexual practice. This statement did not satisfy anybody and thus was rejected.
The position now is that the URC has no policy and has agreed to defer further consideration of the matter until 2007, a seven year moratorium. During this time discussion is meant to continue but no decision that would establish policy is to be taken. The moratorium has enabled the church to heal after the very divisive debates of the 1990s, but many people are conscious that 2007 is now just around the corner. This is one of the reasons the “consensus style” of decision making is being explored, to enable us to engage with each other more creatively in our councils when we find controversial matters on the agenda again.
In the meantime, we have been much involved in discussions about sexual abuse in the church, following the publication of CTBI’s Time for Action. The 2005 General Assembly adopted a “Charter for a Safe Church”, and work has begun in all the synods to raise awareness of issues around power, boundaries and appropriate behaviour. The United Church of Christ U.S.A. has an interesting story to tell at the moment. They hired a new communications director, and in December 2004 he launched a television advertising campaign that has transformed the church’s image for thousands of people. You can see the advert on www.stillspeaking.org. There was an initial boost of publicity from an unexpected source, as two of the three major TV networks refused to broadcast the commercial, rejecting its message of radical inclusiveness as too controversial in George Bush’s America. Thus local ministers found themselves on the radio all across the country, boldly proclaiming a gospel of acceptance and healing. To date over seven million people have visited the website, and of these, 661,000 have entered their postcode into the box that says, “Where is my nearest UCC?”
Last summer’s General Synod passed a marriage equality declaration, proclaiming that everyone should have the right to marry. Forty-nine churches (less than 1%) left the denomination in protest, but 25 new ones have joined, with another 40 enquiries underway and new enthusiasm for church planting. See www.ucc.org.
A Dialogue between the Churches on Sexuality Issues – A Methodist Perspective
The Revd. John Simmonds
I am a Minister in Leek in a joint URC/Methodist Church that confesses itself to be inclusive, having, down the years given positive votes in support of all people whatever their sexuality. But it is now struggling within itself as it tries to discern how to respond to same-sex couples who come seeking a place where they can ask for God’s blessing on their civil partnerships.
Within Trinity Church, there are two vocal minorities.
- One minority is clear that only heterosexual relationships are according to the will of God and these must be conducted faithfully within marriage. Extramarital sexual contacts are specifically prohibited. This group could not entertain the thought of civil partnerships being blessed in church or by a minister outside church.
- And one minority is equally clear that a variety of sexual relationships can be enjoyed so long as they are conducted with mutual respect and faithfulness. This group would be delighted to welcome civil partnerships for a blessing.
Surrounding these two minorities is a majority of folk, some who are reasonably happy that people of a variety of sexualities are now free from ostracism and public exclusion and can now take their place in pretty well every part of life, police, the forces, politics, etc However, they can’t bear the thought that the ‘fellowship’ of the church might be upset by any kind of precipitate action. They would not like to see people leaving the church as a result of a civil partnership blessing, for example. So, on the whole, people prefer not to raise the issue. ‘Head in the sand’ seems best and the minister who raises this issue is a nuisance! In any case, Leek doesn’t have homosexuals; certainly not the kind who would want a blessing in church!
So far as Methodism is concerned, what pertains in the local also pertains in the connexional. There are two similar minorities (though one is probably more numerous and organised than the other, (viz. Headway), whilst the majority continues to make great claims about the church’s inclusivity, whilst hoping against hope that we are not embarrassed by sexual minorities. Certainly, that is true of the church’s hierarchy (Connexion, District Chairs, Superintendent Ministers). The surprising thing is that the current leadership of the church would largely describe itself as liberal and yet it is singularly unwilling to initiate practical policies, which give flesh to its 1993 Methodist Conference commitment in Resolution 6. Can I remind you of the 1993 Resolutions on
- The Conference, affirming the joy of human sexuality as God’s gift and the place of every human being within the grace of God, recognises the responsibility that flows from this for us all. It therefore welcomes the serious, prayerful and sometimes costly consideration given to this issue by The Methodist Church.
- All practices of sexuality, which are promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning in any way are unacceptable forms of behaviour and contradict God’s purpose for us all.
- A person shall not be debarred from church on the grounds of sexual orientation in itself
- The Conference reaffirms the traditional teaching of the Church on human sexuality; namely chastity for all outside marriage and fidelity within it. The Conference directs that this affirmation is made clear to all candidates for ministry, office and membership, and having established this, affirms that the existing procedures of our church are adequate to deal with all such cases.
- The Conference resolves that its decision in this debate shall not be used to form the basis of a disciplinary charge against any person in relation to conduct alleged to have taken place before such decisions were made.
- Conference recognises, affirms and celebrates the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men in the church (and) calls on the Methodist people to begin a pilgrimage of faith to combat repression and discrimination, to work for justice and human rights and to give dignity and worth to people whatever their sexuality.
The vocal minorities know what they think! The majority talks of ‘living with the tension’, whilst leaving excluded people to pay the price. Now, 13 years on, there are very few churches in Methodism which have an unambiguous practice in respect of sexual minorities. Hardly anyone is prepared to come out of the closet; neither reformers nor traditionalists. In just a few churches, there is a willingness publicly to celebrate same-sex relationships. In only a few, is there a stated same-sex policy. Most prefer to remain silent. The rights of sexual minorities are denied by silence; silenced by silence.
In the USA, there is much more open debate; indeed, conflict, with churches and ministers declaring pro or con. [Here, John referred to recent events]
So where are we now?
- In a few places same-sex partnerships are enjoyed and celebrated.
- In a few places there are cases of direct action being taken against lesbian or gay ministers.
- Most Methodists like to think they are tolerant and committed to human rights. After all, Resolution 6 got massive support. It is simply not likely that it will be rescinded.
- But most Methodists will not take steps which risk the fellowship of the church.
(Sweetly may we all agree.) So let’s not do anything that disturbs the peace, such as
- Invite a gay minister
- Host a celebration of a civil partnership
- Openly acknowledge and enjoy same-sex friendships in our
When an argument erupts, it’s as if the majority screams (with a beatific smile) a plague of both your houses!
So what is afoot?
- What will happen when ministers enter civil partnerships and claim equal treatment on housing, pensions, etc?
- What will happen in June when the Methodist Conference ‘gives advice’ on whether civil partnerships may be conducted in Methodist churches and/or by Methodist Ministers?
- Will anyone challenge the church’s persistence in discriminating on the grounds of a person’s sexuality in spite of the 1993 resolution?
Thank God that the world, where God dwells, is getting on with compassion. Maybe the church, which God also loves, will catch up!
MINUTES OF ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING HELD AT ST JOHN’S
CHURCH, WATERLOO, LONDON, ON 11 FEBRUARY 2006
Present: Jane Fraser (Chair), Anthony Woollard, Martin Pendergast, Daphne Cook, John Cook, Tony Crowe, Jenny Clark, John Blowers, Mike Dark, Hazel Barkham, Catherine van Ruhland, Derek Reeve
Apologies were received from Colin Coward, Jean Mayland, Mike Egan and Roy Parr.
2. Minutes of last meeting
The minutes of the meeting held on 12 February 2005 were agreed as a correct record.
3. Matters arising: Theology and Sexuality
It was reported that the journal had been sold by Continuum to Sage Publications, without the knowledge of CSCS, but that Sage had confirmed the policy of the previous publishers to increase to 3 issues per year, with a continuing substantial discount to CSCS for at least one year. It was suggested that the publishers ought to be encouraged to widen the range of outlets at which the journal was available, though it was recognised that it was mainly aimed at an academic market.
4. Report from the Chair
The Chair circulated her report, a copy of which is attached to these minutes. In discussion the following points were made:
• It appeared that membership remained around the 100 mark, though some members in arrears had been “weeded out” and a number appeared to prefer the option of a basic subscription without the journal.
• It could be argued that CSCS had fulfilled its mission in raising the debate about sexuality in the Churches, and that its separate existence was now in question. Many CSCS members already belonged to other cognate organisations, and some were evidently cutting down on their overlapping memberships and did not appear to prioritise CSCS. Against that, it was argued that discussion in the Churches at present was confined largely to specific issues, notably homosexuality, and that there were much more basic questions about sexuality and the Gospel, and other specific issues such as singleness, gender dysphoria and teenage pregnancy, on which debate needed still to be encouraged. CSCS remained the only ecumenical organisation devoted specifically to the sexuality debate in all its aspects, and, because of that fact, the Chair and others continued to be approached from time to time to contribute to aspects of that debate in various groups. Moreover, despite the very modest attendance at most Annual Conferences and AGMs in recent years, the fact that at least 10% of the membership normally turned out should be
taken as a respectable expression of continuing interest. It was agreed that the future of CSCS should be reviewed further in the light of current approaches to theological training institutions and the outcome of the summer residential conference.
5. Treasurer’s Report
The Treasurer circulated her report, a copy of which is available on request. She noted that in cash terms CSCS had ended the year with a deficit of £70, but that a further bill for the journal, of about £1,100, remained to be paid at the year’s end. Some 2006 subscriptions had been paid in advance. Part of the deficit resulted from the cost of circulating the newsletter to theological colleges. In addition, Gift Aid tax rebate for 2005, expected to be over £400, had not yet been claimed and would be added to the 2006 accounts. The true deficit was therefore of the order of £700-800, and it was hoped to reduce this in 2006 by the reduction in the number of journals taken and by a review of the theological college contacts and of newsletter circulation generally. In discussion the following points were made:
- It would be helpful to publicise that CSCS used an “ethical” banker namely the Co–operative Bank.
- The website had been reviewed and updated; in the past this had been a vital source of new recruits but it was essential that it be kept up to date. All present were invited to view the website and send comments to the Chair as soon as possible.
Acceptance of the Report was proposed by Tony Crowe, seconded by Jenny Clark, and agreed unanimously.
The Chair explained that David Brown, elected last year as Secretary, had felt unable to continue due to other commitments and that Colin Coward had similarly felt obliged to resign. A Secretary was urgently needed and, in the absence of nominations at the meeting, the Committee would hope to co-opt someone.
In the absence of further nominations, the following were proposed by Derek Reeve, seconded by Tony Crowe, and elected unanimously:
Jane Fraser (Chair)
Daphne Cook (Treasurer)
7. Appointment of examiner of accounts
It was proposed from the Chair and unanimously agreed that Mike Egan should once again be appointed.
The Chair drew attention to the emergency motion passed by the Committee in the Autumn, namely that, in the light of the new journal price, subscriptions for 2006 should be set at £40 for those taking the journal and £15 for others, with a subscription of £55 for two members at one address taking the journal, and overseas subscriptions and other special cases to be adjusted pro rata.
The endorsement of this decision was proposed by Jenny Clark, seconded by Tony Crowe, and agreed unanimously.
The feeling of the meeting was that £40 should be viewed as a maximum, and that, in the event of the publishers putting up the price of the journal to members for 2007, CSCS should cease its link with the journal.
9. Any other business
- The Chair drew attention to the joint residential conference with MCU and SCM in the second week in July, and to the 30th anniversary celebrations of LGCM in Cardiff in April.
- The newsletter editor appealed for contributions, particularly reactions to the Annual Conference, and for book reviewers.
- It was suggested that the newsletter should include a strapline giving the full nameof the organisation.
10. Date of next meeting:
10 February 2007.
Report from the Chair for the AGM of CSCS, 11 February 2006
CSCS has continued to meet its aims of providing opportunities for sexuality to be discussed honestly and openly and to help others in the churches to provide similar opportunities. This process has been steered along the way by the commitment and energy of its committee members who have continued to meet quarterly to discuss policy, topics of relevance to our aims and the interests of our membership, items for the Newsletter and finance. In addition to these meetings there has been regular contact and discussion through the medium of email. Following a request made at the last AGM, we recruited Martin Pendergast to serve with us and to contribute from his extensive experience of the Roman Catholic perspective on sexuality issues. We are grateful for the generous hospitality of John and Daphne Cook for these meetings and Daphne’s diligent oversight of membership fees and CSCS finances. Jean Mayland and Colin Coward demonstrate their commitment to CSCS in travelling long distances to our meetings and we have benefited greatly from their fund of experience of church matters and their wide range of contacts. Anthony Woollard has acted as our minutes secretary so efficiently that there have been times that they have arrived on our computers before we returned to our homes!
Over the last year we have faced a number of challenges, both financial and structural and this may well be the case for the year to come. Following advice from the membership through a survey, backed up by discussion at last year’s AGM, we have introduced a two-tier membership subscription and had a thorough review of our membership list. Members who had not paid a subscription over the previous year were dropped from out mailing list as we could no longer afford to subsidise their membership. Current members have chosen to receive the newsletter three times a year and the journal Theology and Sexuality or to receive the newsletter only. This move was brought about by the need to increase membership fees to reflect the cost of three publications of the journal (now published by Sage Publications) instead of two. It was also designed to reflect the wishes of about a quarter of our members who did not wish to receive the journal.
Anthony Woollard continues to play an active role in the production of the CSCS Newsletter, both as commissioning editor and as a stimulating contributor. We are grateful for his oversight of current issues of concern to the membership and his ability to stimulate lively debate among the membership. We were delighted to have a contribution from one of our Patrons, The Rt. Revd. John Gladwin, Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford, and look forward to similar contributions from The Revd. David Gamble, Co-ordinating Secretary, Legal & Constitutional Practice in the Methodist Church and The Revd. Roberta Rominger, Moderator of the Thames North Synod of the United Reformed Church. Their commitment to the aims of CSCS is reflected in the willingness of John Gladwin and Roberta Rominger to contribute to our Annual Conference today. David Gamble was extremely disappointed not to be able to attend and has sent us a letter extending his good wishes for the event.
We continue to develop our links with other Christian organisations with agendas that overlap with our aims. Colin Coward is our main link with Changing Attitude. Three of our committee members serve on the Council of the Modern Churchpeople’s Union, Anthony Woollard and Jean Mayland as elected members and your Chair as a CSCS observer, together with two other CSCS members. In addition, Colin Coward, Anthony Woollard and I have attended regular planning meetings with Professor Elaine Graham from Manchester University and John Plant from MCU in order to plan this summer’s MCU conference at the High Leigh Conference Centre, entitled Passion for Justice:Global and Faithful Perspectives’. This is the result of a partnership of MCU, CSCS and SCM and will run from Tuesday 11 to Friday 14 July. Members have received flyers giving details of the conference and it is hoped that it will not only be supported by the CSCS membership but will be an opportunity to raise our profile there. We also maintain links with LGCM to our mutual benefit. We have circulated the CSCS Newsletter to Theological colleges and seminaries as an experiment to stimulate interest in CSCS and its aims. We have yet to evaluate this move.
We are grateful to Philip Gardner for his continued work on updating the CSCS website
despite other pressures on his time and expertise.
In the meantime, our thanks are due to Daphne Cook, in her capacity as our Treasurer,
for drawing up the end of year accounts for us and for keeping us within our budget.
Thanks are also due to Michael Egan for auditing the accounts.
Finally, I would like to thank all of the membership who contribute to the aims of CSCS
by encouraging education and informed debate on the issues around Christianity and sexuality within your church communities and congregation.
This newsletter is produced for CSCS
(The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality)
Phone: 01684 594715
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