On and around Saturday 15 February, four things happened, which may be related to one another. The Annual Conference of CSCS; the Valentine’s Day statement of the Church of England’s House of Bishops on the Pilling Report; several reviews of a new book about sexual “perversions”; and an article in the Guardian about how more egalitarian relationships might be killing off libido.
The relationship between these four lies in the question marks they all pose to our understanding of sexuality and sexual relationships within the context of how human beings (i) actually are and (ii) might ideally be held, or intended, to be.
I start with the Guardian article. If the intensity of sexual relationships is based on “otherness”, including (for heterosexuals) more or less traditional gender distinctions, and becomes weaker as those distinctions weaken, where does that leave us? Most of us would celebrate – as Adrian Thatcher did in his address to the Annual Conference (available in full at www.adrianthatcher.org) – the development of greater equality in relationships, as against the old ideology (in a hetero context) of the submission of woman to man. Yet, if we are conditioned, as much by biological as by social factors, for men to be “masculine” and women to be “feminine”, what price might we be paying for the evolution of this more companionate approach? Is this alleged loss of libido simply reminding us that the quality of a relationship is not determined by its physical sexual content, however precious that might be in terms of initial bonding? Or is it confirming the view of those who say that sex is all about making babies and that, once that has been done, we should simply get on with the rest of life? The latter would point to a depressingly conservative conclusion about the nature of sex and marriage, including gay marriage. Some of us want to celebrate this great gift of God rather more than that, even whilst recognizing that it is not the be-all and end-all of life or relationships.
The book Perv appears to be asking similar questions. Erotic attraction seems almost unlimited in its range, including “objectophilia” (an extreme form of fetishism) as well as BDSM, paedophilia and various permutations of love between adults. This is how human beings are. Why have they evolved like this? Are there any boundaries? Should acting on certain forms of attraction be forbidden in the interests of their objects? Should any be forbidden, or at least regarded as a pathology, in the interests of their subjects? Again, we may be tempted to a very conservative conclusion – that the only safe and truly rational sexual relationship is that which subsists within a faithful, lifelong heterosexual marriage oriented to the procreation and nurturing of children. The alternative can look like “anything goes”, and it certainly does look like that to many people, and not just inside conservative church circles either.
A belief that some sexual obsessions are pathological would not in itself give society a right to intervene. We should remember that, for certain Christians (and others), any same-sex relationship – even if based on full consent and entered into with an intention of faithfulness on the same basis as a traditional marriage – is very pathological indeed. Adrian Thatcher made clear in his address that the mutual consent implied in the idea of covenant was at the very heart of a Christian understanding of marriage, far more important than either any ceremony of solemnization or any act of physical consummation, and that this was as relevant to gays and lesbians as to straights. In this, he echoes Jo Ind whose Memories of Bliss has so often been name-checked in these pages. But a great deal of sexual activity, and even long-term relationships, may not be explicitly covenantal. Some may not even, on the face of it, be consensual. Returning to the Guardian article, and thinking of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon and the world of BDSM, is there such a thing as wanting/needing to be forced – implicit consent to non-consensual activity? Many feminists would be horrified at such an idea, because of the way it has been used to legitimize rape. And indeed, in such developments as the identification of date-rape, we have gone a long way beyond unreconstructed macho myths. Yet it seems that the issue will not go away entirely. Perhaps “consent” is not such a clear-cut concept as we thought?
Another of Adrian’s contributions – not new, but put in a most helpful context – was his linkage between the covenant relationship between two people and the covenant relationship with God, expressed and embodied (in various ways within different Christian traditions) in the Eucharist. The old Anglican approach to this was simple. A child enters the covenant through Baptism, without his or her consent. At Confirmation, explicit consent is given to undergoing the way of Christian discipleship. Then, and as a rule only then, the young person is admitted to the Eucharist, which only has meaning within such an explicit covenant. All this has been somewhat thrown up in the air by the admission of children to Communion before Confirmation. But it was under question before that. As I look round at my fellow-worshippers on a Sunday morning, I suspect that in many cases their “consent” to the relationship expressed in the Eucharist is rather different from mine, and equally different from the strictest “orthodox” model particularly of an evangelical kind. Compared with the “official” standards and expectations, the consent (the expression of faith) may be pretty vague, tentative or implicit. Does that devalue it totally? I think not. Even so, it seems to me, there may be sexual relationships which have never been expressed in terms of the traditional marriage vows but in some way reflect them. Nobody’s faith is perfect, and the “correct” versions are not necessarily better than the more tentative and less explicit. Equally, nobody’s most intimate human relationship is perfect, and those who are “properly” married are not necessarily any better at it than those who are not!
Having said that, and thereby legitimized a lot of relationships “without benefit of clergy” (or registrars), I would add that discussions at Conference also addressed the communal dimension of relationships, which is so easily forgotten in our individualistic society. That dimension, of course, is also important in the context of the faith-covenant, and something which, in Anglicanism and elsewhere, has been rediscovered within the past half-century. But the current secular orthodoxy is that what people get up to in bed – just like what (if anything) they get up to spiritually – concerns only themselves. It was very moving, when listening to gay and lesbian testimonies about the power of civil partnerships and their hopes for marriage, to realise that they may in many cases have grasped the communal/family dimension better than we straights have done. Perhaps that is not surprising when one considers that a committed, public same-sex relationship involves, as a minimum, coming out to the family, and can have a major impact on the family dynamic. Same-sex couples and their pastors have wrestled with appropriate rituals to express what is genuinely valid about “giving away” – not one man handing a piece of property over to another, but a letting-go and sharing so that a new unit can be created. That does not mean that any of us – least of all Adrian – were unaware of the dangers of communitarian or even fascist aspects of traditional doctrine; “one flesh” does not mean the husband’s flesh, nor does a union of families preclude the freedom of the individuals concerned. Yet it was right to have the balance corrected a little, and not least that it was our LGBT brothers and sisters who had so much to contribute to this.
But more on the conference and the AGM below. What of the House of Bishops?
For those not afflicted by the politics of Anglicanism, the main story so far is that the Pilling Report on the issues surrounding same-sex marriage, recently published, fell rather short of opening the doors to a new understanding but at least urged yet more “listening” as well as clarifying the underlying theological tensions on the issue. The Bishops responded to this in haste, and their response included some welcome acknowledgment of the risks of rejecting gay and lesbian people and their families (for example at Baptism) but essentially reaffirmed traditional doctrine and discipline. There are signs that Archbishop Justin, at least, does not want this to be the end of the story, but he is caught in complex national and international politics. A number of organisations, including CSCS, responded to the statement, and our response is below.
But I must turn, finally, to the AGM itself. The minutes of this are also included below, along with the reports of both Chair and Treasurer. It will be apparent that, with a small and ageing membership and little money, we are none too sure about our future. Much – perhaps everything – will hinge on the theological educators’ conference in July. It may be nearly time to pass on Elijah’s mantle to others whose have engaged, more and more creatively, with our agenda in recent years. Or, of course, it may not. Yet again we find ourselves, at a time when two key committee members have had to move on, with a new committee member, Matthew Prevett. CSCS seems to have a strange power of renewal.
In this issue:
- Minutes of the AGM, 15th February 2014 Rev Jane Fraser
- Annual Report, 2013 Martin Pendergast
- Financial Accounts, 2013 Colin Hart
- Panel Discussion on Adrian Thatcher’s Keynote Address, “Redefining Marriage?”
- “Anything But Pastoral!” CSCS Response to C ofE Bishops Valentine’s Day Statement
- The Sexual Revolution Reaches the Catholic Church Terry Weldon
Minutes of the Annual General Meeting
held on Saturday 15th February 2014 at Carrs Lane Church, Birmingham B4 7SX
- Martin Pendergast (Chair) welcomed everyone to the meeting which was attended by 16 members.
- Apologies were received from Chris Dowd, Mike Egan, Carla Grosch-Miller, Rosie Martin and Michael Moran.
- The minutes of the previous AGM, held on 16th February 2013 at St Anne’s Church, Soho, London, were circulated and approved. Proposed by Hazel Barkham, seconded by Jane Fraser.
- Matters Arising. There were no matters in the previous minutes that were not covered in the annual report for this meeting.
- Annual Report. Martin Pendergast gave a comprehensive report of the work of CSCS over the past year, covering the work of the CSCS committee, the Theological Educators Group, the CSCS Newsletter and the journal, Theology & Sexuality. Tribute was paid to the work of the committee members and our regret at the resignation of Rosie Martin and Colin Hart. CSCS’ response to issues relating to Christianity and sexuality were also summarised. (A full copy of this report is appended.)
Terry Weldon reported on the development of the new website. Phase one has been completed with all the material taken from the old (corrupted) site and made more user-friendly and accessible. Phase two is still in production, with a dedicated page for articles relating to the Theological Educators project. He is planning a news feed, with more pictures and presentations on video. He is open to suggestions for content. The destruction of the old website caused some confusion in the short run but the numbers of hits on the new site are increasing.
Discussion of the annual report followed. Hugh Bain said he thought it was unhelpful to only have 15 minutes allocated to the AGM and suggested that if the annual report had been circulated in advance, it would have allowed for more detailed discussion. Jane Fraser raised the question of the future of CSCS given the small number of members and their age profile. Sharon Ferguson pointed out the charity implications of closing CSCS in the future and the need for compliance with Charity Commission regulations. In response to a question about membership numbers, Colin Hart said there were 50 paid up members but Jane Fraser added that there were about 20 others in association with CSCS. A tiny trickle of members is lost each year but this is balanced by a similar number of new members.
- Financial Report. Colin Hart presented a written report on the financial position of CSCS, noting in particular that a major outlay continues to be made on the Theological Educators Group but this project will be coming to a climax in July in the residential conference, ‘Embodied Ministry: gender, sexuality and formation’. (A full copy of this report is appended). The financial report was agreed. Proposed by Daphne Cook and seconded by Hugh Bain.
- Election of CSCS Committee for 2014 – 2015. The following members of the committee indicated that they were willing to stand for re-election: Heather Barfoot, Jane Fraser, Michael Moran, Martin Pendergast, Terence Weldon and Anthony Woollard. John Gladwin proposed that the committee be re-elected. Matthew Prevett also indicated his willingness to stand for a two year period. Proposed by Roberta Rominger and seconded by John Gladwin.
- A.O.B. There was none.
Annual Report 2013
In case you were beginning to think that CSCS Annual Conferences were deliberately planned to coincide with Government Consultations, I need to state very clearly that there is absolutely no collusion between CSCS and the Government Equalities Office, nor its partner Departments concerned with marriage and civil partnerships. It just proves that, small as we are, we always have our finger on the pulse! Two years ago our AGM was held only 2 days after the launch of the Government’s Consultation on Equal Civil Marriage. Last year we found ourselves in the middle of the Committee Stage of the ensuing Same-Sex Marriage Bill. This year, our AGM Conference takes place in the midst of the Consultation on the future of Civil Partnerships and the early stages of implementing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. I urge you to respond to this latest Consultation, as well as to look at the recent Government response on Shared Building Regulations in the context of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. There are clearly practical issues in both these documents for those us on the ground to consider. I for one am unhappy at the strongly hinted attempt in the Civil Partnerships Consultation to force the civilly-partnered into the status of marriage, doing away with civil partnerships. For me, this is a conscience issue, since my view of marriage is informed theologically by the traditional Catholic view that the sacrament of marriage symbolises the union of Christ (masculine) with his Church (feminine). This essentially heterosexual paradigm is not something as a gay man I can relate to and so, in conscience, decline and conscientiously dissent.
The sacramentality of my civil partnership where we have ministered this sacrament to each other – again, traditional Catholic sacramental theology – is a civil and religious expression of the biblical vision that ‘it is not good for people to be alone’ and reflects the oft-buried, historical witness of same-sex unions, equally sacramental but distinct from the marital state. The document repeatedly refers to `ideological objections’ to marriage, not least in its comments on those opposite-sex couples who seek civil partnerships. I feel there is a certain tone of denigration in the document’s references to this. I would say that in my personal desire NOT to enter into marriage, I am exercising my right to freedom of thought, conscience, and belief in maintaining my civil partner status, not taking an ideological stance.
Once again this year’s Conference theme is as pertinent as ever – who shall speak, if we don’t?
This not only highlights 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. Across denominations, we see shifts in theological understanding and pastoral practice, from the Church of England Pilling Report to the Vatican’s ground-breaking survey of Roman Catholics on marriage and family issues, including LGB if not yet T issues, via URC & Methodist debates and decisions. Meanwhile, our friends in the Quakers, UnitarianChristianFreeChurches, Liberal and Reformed Judaism are ready to celebrate same-sex marriages.
We are, however, a dwindling and ageing band of disciples. I have come to the belief that organisations such as those which many of us support, including CSCS, are acquiring antique value. New technologies and their social communications instruments enable people gathered around particular interests, not least younger generations, to interact, far quicker, more directly, and with less administrative and bureaucratic burdens and costs. Membership in all sorts of groups and organisations, including many church congregations, tends to adopt an increasingly passive role, of being ‘done to’, rather than taking responsive, proactive action.
That said, each of you can still promote CSCS’s vision through all the other means you have available: Is our up-dated the CSCS membership leaflet in your local church leaflet-rack or information-table? If not, why not? Do you think of asking CSCS for Newsletter copies and leaflets when you attend other conferences or meetings. Does your website – personal, church or other organisation – link to CSCS?
Given the difficulties we have in CSCS in coaxing members to engage with the organisation more actively, whether through attendance at meetings, comments in the Newsletter, subscribing to Theology & Sexuality, engagement with the website, or offering their experience and skills at Committee level, we must face serious decisions regarding our future. For how long can we remain a viable independent network? Should we embark on a search to find new forms of partnership, or, who knows, even an ‘equal marriage’ of like-with-like groups.
I wish to apologies that family illness as well as a family bereavement, not least dealing with the aftermaths, has meant that since August, I have not been my usual ‘hands-on’ self in CSCS matters. I 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 three times over the past year, having to cancel a proposed end-of-year-meeting due to my bereavement and being abroad.
I know I speak for all Committee members, as well as those involved in our Theological Educators project, when I express our regret at the resignation of Rosie Martin. As transgender and intersex issues come more and more to the fore, it is vital that we embody this experience in the CSWCS Committee. I really do wish to urge CSCS members to consider if they could offer their experience as Committee members. I indicated last year that I would not stand as Chair beyond 2014-15. The challenge is there!
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 has made sense to combine these roles, not least to avoid unnecessary duplication and confusion in coordinating membership subscriptions and subsequent renewals. We all deeply regret Colin’s resignation from the Committee, but recognise the pastoral burdens he has had to take on in very difficult local circumstances. We are therefore in urgent need of a new Treasurer. Future arrangements for combining the Treasurer’s role with that of Membership is something which can be left to the Committee to decide, depending on our ability to recruit a new Treasurer.
Due to my own personal circumstances since the Summer, I must also apologise for not being able to adequately pursue the Charity Commission over its administrative blunders and its website difficulties, with the disappearance into the ether of our recent submitted reports, which led to us not being able to receive Gift Aid. Anyone who has followed media coverage of Charity Commission doings over the last year will be aware of the structural mess in which it seems to find itself. As well as the introduction of a range of new regulations, this clearly has knock-on effects for small charities such as CSCS and those seeking new charitable status. As Colin notes in his Treasurer’s Report, this is urgent to pursue, and I ask, once again for your forbearance as I aim to complete this task shortly.
Anthony Woollard seemingly conjures regular editions of CSCS News almost out of nothing. We have discussed how we might manage an editor’s succession process since Anthony would dearly love to hand over the reins. 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. It may well be that, as with a number of other groups, we shall have to focus our future attention on internet communications, rather than mailing paper copies, hence the need to ensure we have e-mail addresses of all those in our membership who have them.
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. We congratulate Jane on the up-coming 25thAnniversary of her ecclesiastical sex-worker ministry as Deacon and Priest in Uptonon-Severn, and nationally. Beyond the CSCS 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 proofreading. Terry Weldon has managed to turn round our previous moribund CSCS website, and he will update us on that briefly.
Sadly, our Soho venue for CSCS Committee became unavailable after last year’s January meeting, as the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, whom we thought would not be sympathetic to our aims, took over both Church and Rectory. We have however been able to use other Catholic premises for our 2013 Committee meetings in May and July. We are also grateful to the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, Campion Hall, Oxford, and Ripon College Cuddesdon for hosting meetings of the Theological Educators’ Project. 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. Last but not least, I thank our faithful members for their continuing support and generosity.
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, MetropolitanCommunityChurch, 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 has taken on new energy as we gear up for what we hope will be an exciting, major conference in July 2014, at Cuddesdon. We hope to gather key people across the denominations, responsible for all forms of ministerial training and development. We have received an initial positive response from a grant-making Trust to support this venture and I await final confirmation of the grant. Thanks to Terry Weldon, we now have a Theological Educators’ Resources page on the new website. Although commenting on the Church of England’s Common Awards theological education process, we have heard nothing further from Church House.
We continue to be frustrated by both the unheralded arrivals of new publishers as well as the infrequent appearance of the journal, Theology & Sexuality, and continue to badger both the editors and publishers about this. Indeed, this year we found the Editor contacting us for information he couldn’t lay hands on elsewhere! Jane Fraser will speak to this shortly.
I hope that CSCS members will play a part in the Cutting Edge Consortium’s 4th National Conference in April 2014, information on which is available today. We continue to enjoy 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 are also a member of the National Children’s Bureau Sex Education Forum. Your Chair has co-signed a number of letters to the national press and government departments on the need for sex and relationships education to be a mandatory part of the National Curriculum.
So, like the current inundations, sex and gender, marriage and family issues show little sign of abating. No doubt there will still be storms ahead, but it is CSCS’s role to be part of this particular cutting edge, offering informed, reasoned reflection and evidence-based responses whether in the civil or religious arena. In any storm, the temptation is always to batten down the hatches, stay quietly calm, and hope that someone, somewhere, will take the prophetic role. Who will speak, if we don’t? As such, I commend to you the work of CSCS during 2013-2014.
Martin Pendergast, Chairperson – CSCS, 15 February 2014
CSCS Accounts 2013
Receipts 2013 2012
Subscriptions 1325.00 1190.00
Donation (website) 1000.00
Conference 565.00 365.00
Bank interest 3.71 6.68
Tax refund 302.93
Total 1893.71 2864.61
Newsletter 425.20 533.30
Website 77.46 1222.81
Conference 778.30 839.98
Theological Educators Project 1806.55 743.71
Committee/secretarial 506.72 406.46
Total 3594.23 4178.26
Deficit (1700.52) (1313.65)
Balance sheet as at 31.12.13
Community Directplus Account 2827.84 2475.40
Business Select Instant Access Account 0 2150.96
Plus uncleared credits 80.00
Less uncleared cheques (75.00) (93.00)
Total 2832.84 4533.36
Deficit 2013 (1700.52)
Independent examiner’s report
I have audited the Accounts of The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality (“CSCS”) for the year ended 31 December 2013.
In my opinion the Accounts fairly present the financial position of CSCS as at 31 December 2013 and its income and expenditure for the year then ended, and are in accordance with the underlying accounting records.
Michael P. W Egan MA FCA MCISI
Honorary Auditor 10 February 2014
Discussion of the talk given by Adrian Thatcher, led by a panel comprising John Gladwin (chair), Terry Weldon, Daphne & John Cook and Anthony Woollard.
Summary by Jane Fraser of key points made in discussion
If we are re-defining marriage, we need to re-define weddings. The modern Christian wedding has little to do with the theology of marriage. The person in charge is akin to a wedding planner. What do we make of the symbolism of the bride in virginal white and the groom in black, and that of the bride being given away by one man to another? It is commonplace for the bride to be pregnant or have children present and a baptism incorporated. Half of all children are born outside of marriage. The purpose of marriage is not therefore the procreation of children but to create a sound foundation to raise them.
Marriage is traditionally patriarchal – but we are becoming more egalitarian, going back to an earlier period when it was usual to have co-habitation before marriage. We need to spend more time thinking about preparation – as we do for confirmation. More time is now spent on a stag week for example!
A number of other relationships raise ethical issues. For example, polyamory, which is deeply rooted in biblical practice. In the polygamous form found in the Old Testament, it is inherently patriarchal and unequal in nature. But in a genuinely egalitarian relationship, what is the ethical objection? It may well be difficult to make such relationships work – but does that make them wrong? When considering ‘open’ relationships, which some gay men promote, there are some serious thinkers who argue that some flexibility at the edges helps the core relationship to endure more successfully. BDSM relationships are based either on giving and receiving pain, or on domination and submission in the relationship. It is axiomatic that there must be full mutual consent, but what are we to make of a situation where someone freely consents to submit, and finds satisfaction simply in giving pleasure to a partner?
An example was given of a different approach to the wedding by a young couple active in youth work for the church. Their focus was on the sharing and giving of vows and this was embodied in the Eucharist within the service. This was simply followed by some drinks and nibbles rather than the usual wedding reception and their parents had difficulty understanding this.
There are alternative approaches possible to the ritual of “giving away” the bride, though they are not widely taken up in church marriages. Clearly, this is particularly problematic in same-sex unions. An example was given of a lesbian couple who sought a church blessing of their relationship. They wanted their fathers to walk each of them down the aisle and hand each to her partner. Their families were very traditional and they wanted to demonstrate this to symbolise both fathers being happy with the union and the uniting of the two families.
The speaker agreed that ‘giving away’ of the bride presents a liturgical problem. Fathers say this is significant for them and feel immense relief that they are no longer responsible for bills, student loans etc. He stressed that the Church is suffering from amnesia since the Hardwick Act changed the process of entry to marriage. It was not just history that changed, but the whole nature of growth into marriage. At present engagement is an empty ritual and has nothing to compare with the richness of betrothal and the promises made at that time.
It was noted that change was happening in some Roman Catholic churches. Under the new Papacy the ‘words’ of the doctrine haven’t changed but the ‘music’ has because of what is coming out from Rome. There are many good pastors who are proactive in this process, and pastoral practice is influencing the thinking of the ‘words’. A priest at the baptism of the 3rd child asked if the couple had thought about getting married. They had assumed that as they already had children, they wouldn’t be able to marry in church.
It was suggested that the Church’s provisions need stripping down to the bare bones, leaving space to relate better to people’s experience. The liturgy on marriage is too set, whereas funerals have more liberty allowed. There is scope for negotiation over the details of the marriage service to take place, but this is not widely appreciated.
It was also noted that traditional rites give no clear role for the mother of the bride (and groom) and, for all that the ‘giving away’ is felt to be so meaningful to many fathers, it would be just as poignant for the mothers who are ‘losing’ their daughters.
Discussion then focused on a wider issue which was highlighted by problems such as “giving away”. Traditionally, marriage has been seen as a communal act; “it takes a village” (not even simply two families) to help build the new unit in society which a sexual commitment represents. This is problematic in our increasingly individualised society, and Christians as well as others could struggle with it. There could be a case for witnessing against the way in which social practice had suppressed individuality. The paraphernalia of marriage – the ideal of the “big wedding” in particular – are in danger of substituting the form for the reality. And patriarchal assumptions remain deep-rooted. As one participant asked: “Why do brides wear white? Not (these days) to symbolise virginity, but so that they will match the rest of the household chattels!” Alternative approaches to sexual relationships need to challenge such assumptions.
And finally, it was noted that the C of E Bishops’ rejection of same-sex marriage was very much at odds with the ideal of communal support of sexual commitment. Hence the decision of the conference to protest against the Valentine’s Day Statement.
ANYTHING BUT PASTORAL!
CSCS calls on pro same-sex marriage Bishops to speak out
The Centre for the Study of Christianity (CSCS) supports, unequivocally, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 which enables same-sex couples to celebrate equal civil marriage with effect, in England and Wales, from 29 March 2014. CSCS rejoices with sisters and brothers in Liberal and Reformed Judaism, the Society of Friends, and Unitarian Free Christian Churches who have opted-in, to enable such marriages to be celebrated on their premises. CSCS also recognises that amongst people of faith and none, diverse theological and ideological positions might be held regarding same-sex marriage.
Following its Annual Conference, Redefining Marriage?, held in Birmingham on 15 February 2014, CSCS expresses serious concern at the possible impact of Church of England House of Bishops so-called ‘Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage’. This, and the letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, appear to pre-empt the process of facilitated conversation, listening and reflection, called for by the Pilling Report and referred to in the 27 January 2014 Statement from the College of Bishops. The House of Bishops latest statement sets down answers, even before many of the questions have been asked.
Any true pastoral process in the LGBT context should begin with a listening to, and analysis of, the lived experience of people of faith, particularly its LGBT members, their parents, spouses, and families. It should then proceed to reflect on this in the light of developing, and not fixed, understandings of scripture, tradition, and reason. The latter should not rely on un-reformed views of natural law but, discerning the signs of the times, encompass the insights of contemporary thinkers in the fields of gender, sexuality, anthropology and other human sciences. The House of Bishops’ Statement, and indeed the Pilling Report, show little evidence of such engagement.
The Bishops’ Statement, if taken as authoritative even for the time being, could lead to pastoral chaos, as well as unwarranted intrusion into the lives and consciences of Church of England laity and clergy. We call upon those Bishops of the Church of England who have hitherto expressed support for same-sex marriage to come out and clearly state whether the House of Bishops Statement of the 15 February 2014 is issued in their name and with their support. If it is not we urge them to disassociate themselves from the Statement, declining to implement its proposed policies and procedures in their Dioceses.
The Sexual Revolution Reaches the Catholic Church
When Pope Francis released his papal document “Evangellii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)” in November 2013, it was enthusiastically received for its sound, humane and profoundly Christian take on so many issues facing the modern world. One notable feature was the complete absence of any reference to gay marriage or homosexuality, and little comment on the broader topic of human sexuality in all its forms. This seems surprising: one of the first challenges facing the Church to be identified by the Pope’s advisory group of eight cardinals, was the challenges facing marriage and family in the modern world – and Catholic bishops in many countries have been closely identified with fierce opposition to gay marriage, and its supposed threat to the family.
However, the reason for this omission is clear. Right in the opening paragraphs of the document. Francis explains up front that he has not attempted to cover everything of importance, because some things “require further study”. It has become clear in the months since, how seriously the Pope and his advisors are taking this imperative for further study into matters of marriage, family, and human sexuality. The study now under way is seen in several forms, most notably a global consultation on marriage and the family; a re-examination of the theology and history (especially of divorce, and communion for those who have remarried); and the experience in some countries, of gay marriage and civil unions.
A month before the publication of “Evangelii Gaudium”, the Vatican announced the summoning of an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, on the specific theme of marriage and the family. Almost immediately, there followed the announcement of a preparatory global consultation on the subject, specifically including laity as well as bishops and clergy. Similar preparatory consultations with the bishops before a synod are common, but this was the first time ever that this was designed to be done involving the Church as a whole.
Exploring the Views of the Faithful
With the bishops’ total lack of experience in genuine consultation or of any kind of opinion survey research, the actual implementation of this consultation was shambolic, but nevertheless valuable.
In spite of the difficulties in implementation, Catholics responded in large numbers and with enthusiasm to the invitation to respond. Results have now been collated by national bishops’ conferences, and reports submitted to the Vatican – where in turn, a global report is being prepared, for circulation to the bishops to study in preparation for the Synod. For the most part, we do not yet know what these results are, but there are exceptions. Summary results have been made public for some countries of Europe and for Japan, and for some individual dioceses elsewhere. The results, indicating a wide gulf between formal Vatican teaching on sex and marriage, and actual belief and practice of ordinary Catholics, will make sobering reading for those attempting to hold the traditional line. Just like other people, it turns out, Catholics in Europe and Japan are having sex without waiting for marriage, practice contraception, do not agree with the absolute ban on communion for those who have remarried after divorce, and are disturbed by the Church’s intransigent hostility to people in same-sex relationships.
We do not have results of the consultation from other continents, where attitudes can be assumed to be more conservative, but we do have complementary information from a professional opinion survey done at about the same time, in twelve of the world’s largest Catholic countries. Even in Congo and Uganda, the most conservative of all, only about half of respondents agree with Church teaching on contraception. Across Latin America, fewer than a third of Catholics `agree with Catholic Church policy that says: “An individual who has divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church, is living in sin which prevents them from receiving Communion”?`
Studying History and Theology
In addition to consulting Catholic opinion, preparations for the Synod have included other forms of study, notably on the question pastoral responses to those who have remarried after divorce. Among the bishops themselves, this is already a contentious issue. German bishops have already announced proposals for easier access to communion for those who have remarried, and have been heavily criticized by some colleagues for this decision. This will be one of the primary topics for deliberation at the Synod. An important introduction to this subject was the theme of a major address by Cardinal Walter Kasper to the February consistory of cardinals.
Kasper will be one of the co-presidents of the Synod, and on that account alone this should be taken seriously. In addition, Pope Francis expressed his warm support for its content, adding weight to its importance. In a two hour address Cardinal Kasper reflected widely on the value and importance of family and its problems, concluding with some thoughts on divorce and remarriage. In this final passage, he presented information from the thinking and practice of the early Church, to suggest that while the Church is compelled by Jesus’ own words to hold that marriage vows cannot be dissolved, there are paths to a more compassionate, pastorally sensitive response than the absolute ban on communion. This is because, alongside Jesus’ clear teaching that divorce is unacceptable, the early Church (before Augustine), also accepted Jesus’ equally clear teaching that all sins may be forgiven.
What will be relevant for the bishops considering the entire range of sexual doctrines at the Synod, should be Kasper’s example in looking back at history, as well as his emphasis on pastoral sensitivity alongside doctrinal rules. Such an investigation of the history of sexual doctrines, should prompt a reappraisal of the current horror of cohabitation before marriage, and also a new look at the value of committed same – sex relationships. Greater pastoral sensitivity to those remarried after divorce should similarly offer guidelines for greater sensitivity to same – sex couples, and the steadily increasing number who have formalized their relationships in marriage.
Experience of Gay Marriage and Civil Unions
For years, many bishops have been conspicuous in their political struggles to oppose legal provisions or gay marriage and gay adoption, but as marriage and family equality have spread inexorably across three continents (with more to come), it’s been obvious that this has influenced some notable changes in thinking. Early in the movement for legal recognition of same – sex relationships, opposition was to civil unions as well as to full marriage, but we now have an expanding list of senior cardinals and bishops who have acknowledged the value of civil unions. In some cases, this has been purely tactical, accepting these as a lesser evil than giving the name “marriage”, but in others, there has been explicit recognition of their intrinsic value.
Part of the impulse to this re-evaluation has been the actual experience of those countries and states which have introduced either marriage or civil unions. Civil unions have now been available in Denmark and later elsewhere since 1989, and full gay marriage in the Netherlands since 2002. Experience has contradicted the bishops’ dire warnings of great harm to marriage and society that (they believed) would ensue. Instead, the evidence has been in the other direction, of some clear benefits to same – sex couples and their children, to respect for the institution of marriage, and to other social benefits.
The political struggles have also forced both sides to clearly examine and articulate their arguments, in public debates, in legislative hearings, and in courts of law. Over and over, the arguments presented by the opponents of gay marriage / civil unions have been found to be based on poor foundations.
That this is prompting serious study in the Catholic Church has been spelled out by Pope Francis himself, who was recently reported in a newspaper interview as having implied indirectly, the possibility of church support for civil unions – and in private conversation with Cardinal Dolan, said that the Church needed to study the matter further.
How will the bishops respond?
Right from the start, neither the Synod nor the consultation have been presented as an occasion to change in any way the doctrines on marriage, family, or sexual practice, but simply as one to reconsider more appropriate pastoral responses. Responses by some bishops to the consultation results have already shown that they see the problem purely in the simplistic terms of more effective teaching of the existing doctrine and rules, with no recognition at all that perhaps it is the rules themselves that are flawed. Others, and most particularly the national bishops’ conferences of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan, have acknowledged that the problem is profound, and must be addressed at a much more fundamental level.
The response to Cardinal Kasper’s thoughts on divorce also show a clear divide. Pope Francis and others have praised it, but some more conservative cardinals are digging in the heels in resistance. One source claims that a majority of cardinals are in disagreement, and Cardinal Mueller, head of the CDF, has been engaged for months in a very public dispute with the German bishops on the subject of Communion for the divorced and remarried. Cardinal Burke has gone public with his opinion that Kasper’s addressed contained many “egregious errors” – but Cardinal Kasper very obviously has the ear and support of the Pope, and Burke equally obviously does not.
It’s far too early to speculate on what the bishops of the Synod will conclude, but one thing should now be beyond dispute: a process of careful study of these issues has only just begun. The two previous Popes had a predisposition to deal with those who even appeared to be dissenting from the traditional line by silencing them, but Francis is encouraging free and frank debate. The process began with the announcement of the Synod and the consultation, but will continue. The bishops now have the results of their own national surveys to consider and digest, those who are to attend the Synod will be given a report on the global findings, as well as other material, to ponder. The Synod itself has a full two weeks of deliberations – and that will still not end it. Initial conclusions will then be taken back, for further consideration and consultation during 2015, in preparation for a second Synod which will include not only bishops, but also a selection of lay people, who will have a very different perspective on marriage and family based on real world experience.
In the background of the discussions on marriage, family and sexuality, will be Pope Francis repeated reminders of the importance of the sensus fidelium: the principle that in matters of doctrine, the validity of any teaching rests on its reception by the Church as a whole. As they confront the overwhelming evidence that large parts of the Church’s sexual doctrines simply do not have the support of the Church as a whole, the bishops will be forced to find a way to reconcile this with that principle.
The Synod was emphatically not called to alter in any way any part of Catholic doctrine on marriage or sex, but actions often have unintended consequences. It must be at least possible that this two year process of further study and consultation will result in the admission that perhaps some elements of teaching do after all, need to be changed. The poet Philip Larkin wrote that “sex began in nineteen sixty three”. Fifty years later, in 2013, the Catholic Church may have finally caught up, and begun to engage responsibly with the sexual revolution.
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 Jesse Bering, Perv: the sexual deviant in all of us, Doubleday 2014.