The newsletter of the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality
CSCS is a charity (no 1070448) registered by the Charity Commission
Since the excitements of the February conference on which the last edition focused, CSCS has been quietly going about its business. We have a representative from the transgender community, Rosie Martin, attending our committee meetings and giving us a valuable insight into that particular area of concern, reflected in her article below. We are working to improve our website. And we are continuing our work with theological educators, and beginning to think about our next Annual Conference on 12 February 2011 when some of the fruits of that will be presented. (Martin Pendergast’s book review below gives a little flavour of all that.)
This edition therefore can be more reflective. I thought I might share with readers some reflections on two totally contrasting works which I have been reading, and relate them to a current live issue.
The first item is a lecture by the theologian Sarah Coakley recently given in Australia. The text may be found at:http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/07/14/2953473.htm. In it, she attempts to wrestle with the relationship between clerical celibacy and the paedophile scandals which have rocked the Roman Catholic Church, with a glancing look also at the gay issue within both Rome and Anglicanism. She suggests that this must be seen against the backdrop of cultural confusions about acceptable sexual practices in the wider society, where celibacy is viewed with suspicion and Freud is often prayed in aid as suggesting that our sexual impulses demand an outlet – yet certain forms of those impulses are also condemned. With much justification, she re-reads Freud on “sublimation” and finds a surprising ally in the fourth-century divine Gregory of Nyssa, himself (probably) married and having a positive attitude to the human sexual drive yet believing that for some that drive can and should be sublimated within celibacy. She is by no means counselling celibacy for all priests (any more than she is for all gays), and indeed challenges the Churches for doing just that. But she is trying to put the debate within the context of mainstream Christian teaching.
The second is the Lisbeth Salander trilogy by Stieg Larsson1 – a massive bestseller which is best placed within the “thriller” genre. This contains, not only crimes and conspiracies galore and a fair measure of violence, but also a lot of sex. And that sex is a long way from traditional Christian teaching. It includes rape, pornography and trafficking, non-consensual sex which is utterly condemned; in fact this condemnation is at the moral heart of the trilogy, which is more than anything else an attack on the games that macho men play particularly towards women. But it also includes consensual sex of many kinds – gay and straight, adulterous and otherwise, “vanilla” and sado-masochistic, casual and (relatively) committed. And this it does not, for the most part, seem to condemn, but takes for granted as expressing the nature of the characters, and not least those who are held up as (albeit often ambiguous) heroes.
This is something close to the moral world of many of our contemporaries. It seems far removed from that of Gregory of Nyssa, or indeed anything in the Christian tradition. What do we make of it?
Jo Ind’s book Memories of Bliss has often been commended in these pages. She strongly repudiates what might be called sexual fundamentalism, and rejects the idea that the Bible, Freud or anyone else can provide all the answers directly. Her own vision, albeit placed in a much more unequivocally spiritual context, might be held to bear some relation to Larsson’s. The law of love demands simply that sex be consensual – and responsible. That means that a great deal of sexual activity, disallowed by Christian tradition, ought to be permissible if it is true to the natures of those who engage in it with their full consent and without risking the hurt of others (including the birth of unwanted children). But it is by no means an undemanding rule. What constitutes “full consent” in a situation where there is a power differential between the partners – as there has historically been in general between men and women? And how wide must we cast the net in identifying those “others” who must not be hurt? Presumably they include the “innocent party” in an adultery, but what about situations (such as the affair in the trilogy between Mikael Blomkvist and Erika Berger) where that party appears to consent for the sake of their partner’s fulfillment – and again what constitutes real consent in such a situation?
The Christian tradition commends “safe sex”, in which – theoretically – consent and responsibility are guaranteed, enforced even, by the bonds of a committed relationship which is normally open to the possibility of children. Jeffrey John, still one of the most prominent figures in the “gay debate” within the Churches, in his little manifesto Permanent, Faithful, Stable published over a decade ago, wholeheartedly endorsed this approach but asked that (apart from the childbearing aspect) it be extended to those who are gay as well as those who are straight. He, as much as Gregory of Nyssa, would surely see most of the sexual permutations in the Larsson trilogy as wholly incompatible with Christian teaching.
Jo Ind recognizes that sex is often “unsafe”. This is not necessarily about contraception – though she argues the case for restricting full penetrative heterosexual sex to a committed relationship because of the possible childbearing implications, since no contraception is 100% reliable. Rather, it is about the problems, the impossibility even, of assuring “responsible consent” beyond doubt – even within a marriage. When T S Eliot said “Old men should be explorers”, he was probably not thinking about sex (though who knows?), but Ind’s book suggests that sex is an inevitably risky exploration that goes on throughout life and is likely to involve experiments that go wrong in one direction or another.
In the world of Larsson, where neither contraception nor childbirth get much attention, “unsafe” sex is the norm. Pretty much every relationship could be questioned in terms of the responsible, consensual commitment of those involved. That does not mean that they are all equally approved. Lisbeth Salander is a very strange, isolated and in some ways disturbed young woman, who seems unlikely to be able to sustain a relationship. If she is at times portrayed as more or less bisexually promiscuous, this is not with any sense of approval, though there is some sympathy towards her evident emotional needs. Her main lesbian friendship, in which the power games are genuinely consensual, is seen as something good in her life. The decidedly (but consensually) non-monogamous relationship of Blomkvist and Berger seems to be viewed fairly positively for the most part – certainly as a source of mutually creative energy – but the burgeoning later romance between Blomkvist and the policewoman Figuerola hints at deeper possibilities, and it is only at this point that Blomkvist comes in for criticism for a commitment-phobia which (so far as we know) does not have any ground in childhood abuse, as Salander’s does, but perhaps as much as anything simply in his being a man.
Gregory of Nyssa, alas, is rather untypical. There are some elements in Christian tradition – not least the Song of Songs, despite all the attempts to allegorise away its erotic elements – which are affirmative of the sexual drive, but there is a great deal more which is not. Whether we categorise early theologians like St Jerome as misogynistic or as simply afraid of women and of sexuality, there is enough negativity in the tradition to make the contemporary revolt against it understandable. Stephen Fry’s recent comments about female sexuality, and the responses to them, illustrate a continued confusion in our society for which Christian tradition must take a fair share of the blame.
Larsson’s trilogy can be read as a feminist manifesto calling for the replacement of violence between men and women by friendships, based on equality, which may and often do lead to sexual expression. Not “safe”, but far preferable to misogynistic violence. And he gives more than a hint of the position taken by some feminists that commitment – marriage and family – is as likely to be a cover for such violence as it is to be a source of liberation. Christian tradition gives very little explicit recognition to that possibility, but human experience forces us to admit that sometimes it can be so; and the Christian understanding of sin, the flaws that infect the highest and deepest things in our lives, does reinforce that strand in the Gospels in which marriage and family are relativised.
So, I repeat, what are we to make of Larsson? Throughout the trilogy we see a mixture of morality and amorality, not just in sexual matters but in questions of property and communal loyalty. Is Salander simply someone who grabs both sex and money, and whatever else she needs, without thought for others – an archetypal sinner, totally “sundered” from society, nature and ultimately her deepest self and God? Or is she an almost Christ-like victim of the coincidental interests of State security and male exploitation of women, of whom it could be said that it is expedient that she should die for the people? Or is she both? The parable of the wheat and the tares comes to mind. The books may express a certain type of feminist idealism, but in the end of the day, like most other works of fiction, they are just a slice of life – a slice which might seem rather far-fetched to those of us in comfortable bourgeois situations, but is not wholly implausible. Christians cannot help noticing that the concept of forgiveness is scarcely present, and the concept of redemption limited at best; even altruism, except in Berger’s final giving up of Blomkvist to Figuerola, is hardly to be seen other than as a by-product of self-interest.. We may say, if we wish, that the often “amoral” approach to sexual relationships is a result of the absence of such a transcendent vision. But we would do well to recognise that in real life the transcendent vision can be and has been misused, and is no guarantee of “sexual healing”.
Sarah Coakley is right that Freud is often misread in contemporary society. He never claimed that anything goes, or that our apparent sexual needs trump everything else. But he certainly – anticipated perhaps by Gregory of Nyssa and the Song of Songs – recognised in the sexual drive a potentiality which religious people have often tried to suppress. We can now, no doubt, see the flaws in the work of people like Kinsey who built on his insights, but we have to admit that we know a bit more about the sheer complexities of sexuality than most of the Biblical writers, or most of the Fathers, appear to have done. Larsson’s portrayals of those complexities may not always be comfortable, but maybe, if we read them alongside Memories of Bliss, we can learn from them.
And that takes me to the Equal Love movement. At the time of writing, our dear friends Sharon Ferguson of LGCM and her partner Franka are amongst those exploring the legal barriers to full marriage as distinct from civil partnership, and meanwhile others are asking why only marriage, and not civil partnership, is available to heterosexuals who want to make a public commitment. To some of those with whom I have to deal in the Church, this “57 varieties” approach to sexual relationships must seem as bizarre as the sexual permutations in Larsson’s novels. Yet I suspect that Jeffrey John, to whom I referred earlier, would have a lot of sympathy for Sharon and Franka, given that they are doing much more than making a political point. Is there any way – any way at all – that the aspirations of gays and lesbians, and for that matter other sexual “deviants”, can be interpreted so as to make sense to the Christian mainstream?
The self-styled orthodox boldly state, sometimes in election manifestos for General Synod, that the only permissible sexual relationship for Christians is marriage between a man and a woman. Some add the word “lifelong” before “marriage”, but that, interestingly, is not quite as universal as it would once have been. Yet others, with some genuine logic, might want to add something about the intention to produce children or at least openness to that possibility.
I don’t think that we “deviants” can just dismiss this approach out of hand. It does have an uncomfortable amount of Scripture, tradition, and even reason on its side – “reason” in the sense of an anthropological and sociological understanding of marriage and biological family as a key building-block of society. We may well feel that it neglects other key evidences from reason and experience, not least the fact that it has simply proved not to make sense in the lives of many, many people. But if we simply rubbish such an approach, we will never find the slightest possibility of common ground with our opponents.
Adrian Thatcher is well known to many of our readers, and one of the most mature Christian writers today on marriage and family. He has said much about the distinction, in thinking about these matters, between rules and norms. The former he rejects in this context, seeing it I think in Pauline terms as a replacement of Grace by Law. The latter interest him more. A norm is something perhaps a little more than a purely empirical, statistical entity – though that is no bad starting point, because at least all parties can agree that the majority of human beings are heterosexual and enter into heterosexual relationships of a marriage-like nature. It is not quite an ideal either. Is it a moral measuring-stick, such that those who do not fulfil it are somehow morally inferior to those who do? I am not quite sure, but I think Adrian wants to avoid that implication, whilst recognizing that Scripture and mainstream tradition do indeed offer [lifelong] [child-oriented] heterosexual marriage as a norm. In which case, humanity’s innumerable other arrangements are (so to speak) standard, or not so standard, deviations around the norm – not necessarily invalid by any means, but not to be promoted as normative.
There are those who acknowledge that homosexuals as well as heterosexuals ought to have an opportunity for public commitment and a recognition of their relationship as a building-block of society, but are afraid that to call this “marriage” would somehow call into question the normativity of the Christian vision as set out above. Hence the civil partnership compromise – which perhaps appeals to some heterosexuals precisely because it is not quite marriage with all the massive weight that human history has laid upon the latter institution. Hence, further, the feeling of sadness and anger amongst gays that what is available to them to express their love and commitment is not the same as what is available to their straight friends.
Who is right? Is there, even, a right and a wrong? Does the recent movie The Kids are All Right go too far in normalising a relatively new kind of family set-up which the Biblical writers could not possibly have envisaged? For some, even amongst those who see themselves as gay-friendly, it may appear to do so; yet even in these days of the resurgence of the so-called Christian Right in the US, I have not heard that it has drawn many mass protests or bans. Surely only the hardest fundamentalist would deny that norms can evolve and have evolved, as Adrian himself has well shown in his analyses of the evolution of “Christian marriage”. Indeed, in post-modernity, norms may at first sight appear totally irrelevant. But I am not sure that we can go that far without some loss – including the loss of any ground for dialogue with our opponents.
For my part, as an older heterosexual Christian who for my own reasons happens to be cohabiting rather than married, I am happy to be a “deviant”, and to accept my own interpretation of Jeffrey John’s “permanent, faithful, stable” norm as good enough, as most of my friends do (and some practice) The idea of a norm with standard and non-standard deviations seems to me to give the best yardstick to make sense of Larsson’s (and most of our contemporary culture’s) permutations. Perhaps it is also relevant to the issues of gender variance which Rosie Martin raises in her article below.
But I cannot ultimately enter into the experience of lesbians who want to be married in a full sense as their straight friends are, and thus, arguably, conform to (their interpretation of) the norm more fully. I am sure that all our readers will want to join me in wishing Sharon and Franka, and all those like them, every blessing whatever their future holds
As a transgender person, I have been invited to join the CSCS Committee to try to ensure that the ‘T’ in ‘LGBT’ is not ignored and I will do my best to represent transgender people. My intention here is to share something of my story in the hope that it will help to increase understanding of gender variance and the consequences of being a transgender person.
The LGBT acronym has become well used over the past few years but although many people reading this will know a great deal about L, G and B, I suspect that few will know very much about T.
I will start by trying to define some words and phrases such as transgender, gender dysphoria, gender identity disorder and transsexuality. However, since there are no universally agreed definitions, all I can really do is give my understanding of what they mean.
The word dysphoria has Greek roots which means ‘difficult to bear’ and as such I find the term gender dysphoria very meaningful because my birth gender has been something I have found difficult to bear throughout my life.
But gender identity disorder is also very meaningful because most of my self-discovery and self-acceptance has been firmly rooted in establishing my own identity within the gender in which I feel most comfortable. And it is with identity that I have had the greatest struggles all my life. Who am I? What am I? And does it matter?
Transsexuality is perhaps the worst term since it implies that all this has a lot to do with sex or sexuality, which it does not. Yes, sexuality is a part of gender identity but it is not the overarching factor.
All this gives rise to the many adjectives associated with the world of transgender people. The term I now prefer is ‘gender variant’ simply because my externally defined gender was at variance with how I perceived my internal gender.
So if I have to apply a defining term to myself it would be a gender variant person. However, I would prefer to be just Rosie, and to be perceived and accepted by others as the woman I honestly believe I have always been despite the first diagnosis I received from the doctor when I was born – “it’s a boy!”.
What it means to be a gender variant person
Human beings have an amazing ability to recognise one another. Whether it’s a celebrity or a favourite aunt or even someone who suddenly crops up from our past; we almost instantly recognise people simply because everyone is different.
However, the problem that many people seem to have with difference is that they somehow expect it to be little more than skin deep – thereafter we are all to be the same. We are all expected to conform and be what many would define as normal, whatever normal may mean.
But a person is much more than simply their outward appearance and although beauty may only be skin deep, a person is the whole package from their outer skin right down to their very mind and soul.
For some time now L, G, B and T people have been grouped together in this apparently all-embracing term LGBT. I am sure that there are good reasons for this but despite several similarities, it seems to me that there are some significant differences between Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people and Trans people.
So let me start with the similarities.
First I would suggest that every L, G, B and T person has experienced that feeling of not fitting in with the world in which we live. We seem to continually bump up against social constructs that we find at the very least difficult, and at worst, distressing.
Secondly I suspect that most if not all LGBT people have felt an intense loneliness as they have struggled to come to terms with not fitting in, and the feeling of being the only one in the world who feels the way we do.
Thirdly we have experienced that moment when we have to make a life changing decision to speak with someone about how we feel. Feelings that have, up to that moment, been very personal and totally secret are suddenly put in the spotlight as our secret becomes a secret no more, and our lives are irrevocably changed forever.
Many things we do in life can be undone, but what is said cannot be unsaid and that moment of ‘coming-out’ to someone else is a moment of immense vulnerability when we have no idea how the person we tell will react. One thing is sure – we, and those whom we tell, will never be the same people again.
The final similarity is somewhat less clear as it is rather dependent upon our personal circumstances, but it seems to me that all LGBT people have to make some decision about how they are going to face the future.
And it is at this point that T differs significantly from L, G and B simply because trans-people need to seek some degree of medical intervention to enable them to become the people they believe they truly are.
Once again this means becoming very vulnerable. We have to approach our GP before undergoing several years of analysis by mental health professionals, medication guidance by endocrinologists, and finally, surgical intervention to rectify what many of us would regard as an anatomical birth defect.
What is Gender Dysphoria?
Whether we realise it or not gender is immensely significant to all of us. When told that someone we know has given birth, one of the first questions we ask is “is it a boy or a girl?” When my Mum gave birth to me at home just after the Second World War, her GP was in attendance and he simply made a declaration that was intended to firmly place me in one of two groups of people for the rest of my life.
I find it interesting that such a simple declaration encompasses one of the first difficulties that gender variant people face, namely how should we be referred to. ‘It’s a boy’ or ‘it’s a girl’ signifies that moment when a newborn baby moves on from being nothing more than an ‘it’ to being a ‘something’.
And it’s really at this point that the problems with gender identity begin, for at birth we are all assigned to one of two possible genders on the basis of nothing more than the size of a protuberance between our legs.
(Note: not all are ‘assigned’ in this way. The Intersex Society of North America estimate that something like 1% of new-born babies present with some form of ambiguous genitalia, and between 0.1% and 0.2% are ambiguous enough to require specialist medical attention. See Intersex Society of North America: How common is Intersex? http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency).
However, gender variance differs significantly from intersex in that there are often no outward signs that the person is anything other than male or female as defined by their genitalia. For a gender variant person, it is a deep-rooted feeling of being female with a male anatomy or being male with a female anatomy. Another major difference is that intersex people may have difficulty in procreating whereas gender variant people may be parents in their birth assigned gender.
So I started life with the whole world, and especially my parents, expecting me to develop into a boy who would grow into a young man, marry, father children and have a successful masculine career. As a result there was no way my father was going to allow me to become the professional dancer I wanted to be, rather engineering was the career path I had to follow.
The problem was that despite what the doctor had said and the undoubted anatomical truth of his diagnosis at my birth, this was not how I felt. As a result, from about the age of 4, I had great difficulty in understanding why I could not dress as my younger sister did or why boys had to come to my birthday parties rather than girls.
Therapy and Treatment
Gender dysphoria is a recognised medical condition that is currently treated as a mental health condition. There is considerable debate over whether such a classification is justified but that is too complex to go into here.
The usual therapy and treatment under the NHS is for a GP referral to a local Primary Care Trust psychologist whose role is to establish whether or not there are other underlying conditions that may give rise to these feelings of gender dysphoria.
The next assessment is by a local PCT psychiatrist who may then refer to a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) such as the one at Charing Cross Hospital. (Some 1,500 new referrals were made last year and referrals are increasing by about 20% per annum.)
Transitioning to live in the opposite gender is undertaken with the support of the clinicians at the GIC. Patients have to live in their chosen gender role 24/7 for a minimum of 2 years and provide evidence of their ability to function fully in their chosen gender. This is called the real life test or RLT (which for some has become known as a really long time!), and will also require a legal change of name.
Once transitioned, hormones can be prescribed; oestrogen and anti-androgens for a male-to-female (MTF) and testosterone for a female-to-male (FTM). The effect on FTM is almost instantaneous with a deeper voice, facial hair growth and male pattern baldness but for MTF there is only slow breast development and while there is a reduction of body hair facial hair does not reduce and has to be removed by electrolysis or laser treatment.
In addition, the male to female trans-person may need some voice therapy and those with male pattern baldness will probably also have to permanently wear a wig or hairpiece. All of these factors add to the distress and the immense feeling of vulnerability.
Finally, after several sessions of psychological and psychiatric analysis by at least two mental health professionals, the patient may be referred for genital surgery. Unfortunately this has become commonly known as a “sex change” but is more properly known as gender reassignment surgery or, as I prefer, gender confirmation surgery.
The Gender Recognition Act of 2004 enables gender variant people who can prove they have been living in their acquired gender for at least two years to apply for a gender recognition certificate. This is an official document that legally recognises the holder in their acquired gender with all the advantages and disadvantages that brings with it. For example, a male-to-female person may then legally marry a man and the state pension is payable at the same age as natal born women.
A new birth certificate may also then be obtained which will state the new name of the individual and their acquired gender.
However, married gender variant people have to be divorced or have their marriage annulled before a Gender Recognition Certificate can be granted. This is to protect the concept of marriage as only existing between a male and a female. The couple may simultaneously have a Civil Partnership which grants the same protection as marriage but is clearly different.
Gender confirmation surgery is not a pre-requisite of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate because some gender variant people are unable to undergo surgery due to other underlying health conditions.
Treatment of Gender Variant People in the workplace and the World
The English language is very rich indeed with some 1 million words which would appear to offer plenty of scope for describing all situations, and yet there is an amazing dearth of gender-neutral terms.
For example Mr, Sir or Lord are uniformly taken to refer to men and Ms, Miss, Mrs, Madam, or Lady are uniformly taken to refer to women. It’s only titles such as Dr, Rev or Professor that are gender-neutral and few of us aspire to such dizzy heights!
So the first rule for addressing a gender variant person is to address them either by their first name, or by a title, or some other form of address that is appropriate for their presentation. Of course even this is not always easy as some people purposely dress androgynously.
I have mentioned the term transsexual but this should only ever be used as an adjective as in ‘a transsexual person’ or ‘transsexual people’. However I hope that even this term will fall into disuse as ‘gender variant person’ becomes more favoured.
The Gender Recognition Act offers considerable protection to gender variant people so, for example, it would be illegal for anyone to identify me as having a transgender history unless I give specific permission to do so, which I would rather not. It is also illegal to ask to see a gender recognition certificate.
This is not an easy road and I personally cannot conceive of anyone following such a route simply to fulfil some sort of lifestyle choice. However, I would not have missed one moment of what has been a momentous journey of self-acceptance and self-discovery. At last, after a lifetime of wondering who I am, I now know.
Some Further Information
GIRES http://gires.org.uk/ – Gender Identity Research and Education Society – offers wide-ranging help and support and has many useful documents which may be freely downloaded
GT http://www.gendertrust.org.uk/ – Gender Trust – supporting people affected by gender identity issues
PFC http://www.pfc.org.uk/ – Press for Change – campaigning for respect and equality for all trans people
GRP http://www.grp.gov.uk/ – Gender Recognition Panel website
LGTBAC http://www.lgbtac.org.uk/ – A network of groups working for the full and equal inclusion of LGBT Christians within and beyond the Church of England.
SIBYLS http://www.sibyls.co.uk/ – Christian spirituality group for transgender people
Sexual Issues – understanding and advising in a Christian context, ed. Joanne Marie Greer & Brendan Geary, Kevin Mayhew Ltd, 2010, £34.99 – ISBN 978 1 84867 252 9
It was a few years ago, at a CSCS AGM, that some members released their frustration at the inability of so many clergy and pastoral workers to discuss human sexuality matters comfortably and honestly. As a result, CSCS launched its project to explore with key practitioners and theologians, across the denominational spectrum, how sexuality and gender identity was being addressed in centres for ordination training, lay ministerial formation, and theological education. The aim was not simply to look narrowly at curriculum issues, but to try to see what support was available for those embarking on ministerial formation, whether lay or ordained. Various Christian communities recognise the value of different forms of accompaniment in personal spirituality growth, be it a confessor, spiritual director, or spiritual guide, but nothing similar seems to be acknowledged in journeys towards sexual maturity.
The editors of Sexual Issues might well have been flies on the wall during that CSCS conversation. Brendan Geary and Joanne Marie Greer intend this blockbuster of a book “to provide information and advice to priests, ministers, preachers, managers, pastoral workers, counsellors, people in training for ministry and others in positions of leadership.” They also recognise that it may be useful to lay Christians experiencing sexual conflicts themselves, or who are perplexed by the sexual behaviour of friends, family members, or others in their faith community. With contributions by leading specialists from around the world, but the majority UK-based, the book covers huge areas of human sexuality issues, so hence the fact that 464 pages does not come cheap these days.
The contributors explore four themes: sexual development in childhood and adolescence, sexuality in adulthood, contemporary issues in human sexuality, and theoretical perspectives. The various authors represent a wide range of Christian traditions and attempt deal honestly and courageously with some questions which many within and beyond faith communities are still wary of asking. For example, the Liverpool-based Catholic theologian, Kevin Kelly offers some incisive reflection on cohabitation; Ed Hone and Brendan Geary look at Sex and the Internet; Joselyn Bryan explores Sexuality and Ageing, as well as offering her perspectives on gender and sexual identity. The realities of sexual and emotional abuse, not least in how a community “struggles to accept terrible truths”, are identified by a number of authors. Sexuality in ministerial relationships is also looked as well as some perspectives on Sexuality and Spirituality and Theology and Sexuality.
With such a diverse range of topics and variety of authors’ backgrounds and experience, the book has its weaknesses as well as strengths. In trying to give wide denominational overviews on some of the subjects, it is inevitable that some contributors struggle to escape from either their particular denominational roots, or indeed a heterosexist or gender-biased perspective. The result is that on some topics, there’s an element of a ‘goldfish bowl’ dynamic so, for example, it is a pity that there is no overt contribution from someone who has lived through the experiences of gender reassignment. Likewise, no openly lesbian, gay or bisexual person, believer or not, contributes to this venture.
In many ways, Sexual Issues ’ essays coincidentally reflect the rich conversations we have pursued over the past eighteen months in the CSCS Theological Educators project. We are fortunate that a number of the contributors have provided input into our various sessions, and continue to do so. It is proof, once again, that there is growing convergence across different faith traditions on matters of human sexuality and gender identity, which seems a long way from where much denominational leadership finds itself. As the editors note, “this volume is purposefully ecumenical in its vision, and we hope it will contribute to discussion of these sensitive topics in a spirit of ecumenical listening and sharing.” They echo the thought of Margaret O’Gara, Professor of Theology at St. Michael’s University in Toronto, about the ‘ecumenical gift exchange’, suggesting that in a spirit of openness, all of the Churches can learn from each other and find common ground. This is at the heart of CSCS’s unique commitment as the only ecumenical network in the UK, dealing with a full range of sexual issues.
Living it outby Rachel Hagger-Holt and Sarah Hagger-Holt, Canterbury Press 2009. ISBN 978-1-85311-999-6.
This book was shared with Daphne by the mother of a friend of Rachel and Sarah’s who is referred to in their writing. A friend who is an evangelical heterosexual Christian. It was therefore a great delight and privilege to meet them both when they addressed a group in St. Martins-in-the-Fields in June.
Their book is filled with stories offering plenty of practical, positive help on managing relationships with God, the Church and other people. The authors state that the book bears witness to the many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual people that they have met during the last ten years who hold an active faith, lived out in their daily lives. This journey alongside them and with thanks to them, has enabled the authors to build a renewed relationship with God and with the Bible, and negotiated their paths through church to a place where they continue to learn and grow in their Christian faith through good times and bad.
Each chapter offers a challenge to the reader’s faith journey under the title, ‘Action” and then it offers a prayer that may be spoken. So the suggestion to the reader at the end of the first chapter is to draw a map of their faith journey on a piece of paper. To then mark the times when God’s love has been especially known, and the people or experiences that have helped them. In addition to note the wrong turns taken and time spent in the wilderness. Then to reflect on what this shows about the past and what hope it gives for the future.
When growing up Rachel and Sarah had to come to terms with the fact that they were not heterosexual, they found girls attractive, and were not drawn to love boys. They also had to face the fact that many Christians condemned them for being lesbian. Many Churches did not welcome them.
After they met, they found themselves drawn to one another, and they wanted to enter into a life-long, faithful, loving, partnership. They were led to believe that God loved them as they were, and that God would bless them in their permanent faithful relationship.
Eventually a Christian Minister was found who would conduct a wedding ceremony for them. That was five years ago. A daughter was born to them two years ago.
In their book they quote (with permission) freely from the 54 contributors. Many are gay or lesbian or bisexual (LGB). Some are heterosexual (“straight”). Some are parents of LGB people. Some are Christian leaders who condemned LGB people but were led to change their minds. The Christian contributors are from a variety of denominations and traditions. They include practising Roman Catholics
The book offers help to LGB people and to their relatives and friends. It has a good list of books, organisations and websites including a website for Eastern Orthodox Gay and Lesbian Christians. It is a challenge to Churches and to all who call themselves Christians. Is our ignorance, our prejudice, causing us to condemn those whom God loves and accepts?
This is a book to be read and re-read. Colin Coward of Changing Attitude writes, “It is full of wisdom, a resource not only for survival in a confused church, but an inspiration to those longing to be true to themselves and to God who calls us unconditionally to love and transformation”.
Daphne and John Cook
A Note from the Treasurer
Thank you to all who regularly subscribe to CSCS. Subscriptions for 2011 will shortly fall due – and some members have not yet paid for 2010! We will not be sending a reminder to those who pay by Standing Order, so could these please check that their Standing Orders are up to date (minimum £40 if you receive Theology and Sexuality, £15 if you don’t). For others, a switch to Standing Order would obviously help to reduce our administration costs.
47 Deveraux Drive
Tel: 0151 630 0749
This Newsletter is produced for CSCS
The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality
Chair and principal point of contact:
PO Box 24632
LONDON E9 6XF.
Phone: 020 8986 0807.
The next issue is expected in Spring 2011 – contributions invited by 1 March
Please send any enquiries about/contributions to the Newsletter to:
1 Chestnut Walk
Phone/fax: 01789 204923