Tag Archives: Christianity

Catholid Priest Timothy Radcliffe’s Submission to the Cof E Inquiry into Human Sexuality.

The Pilling Report on the commission of the same name, purports to be an inquiry into “human sexuality”, but in practice, it deals primarily with one part of that rich diversity of what is meant by sexuality – that is, gay and lesbian sexuality.

The inquiry heard extensive submissions from a wide range of groups and individuals, reflecting a full range of opinion. One of these came from a senior Catholic priest, Fr Timothy Radcliffe, who was once the worldwide Master of the Dominican order.  With his permission, we are able to publish here, the text of his submission.

The Anglican Commission on Sexual Ethics

I feel very honoured to have this chance to share some thoughts on sexual ethics from a Catholic perspective. I must confess that I also feel rather unqualified.  I can make no claim to being a moral theologian.

It is frequently asserted that Christians are obsessed with sex, and with what we are or are not forbidden to do. But for most of the last two thousand years, Christianity has neither been especially fixated on sex, nor has it thought about it in terms of rules. Jesus says little about sexual ethics, except on divorce. Nor was it a central concern in the Middle Ages. Think of the two great classics of Medieval Christendom, the Summa Theologica of Aquinas and Dante’s Divina Commedia. Thomas had a positive view of our passions, including sexual desire. They are basically sound and good. They can go a bit astray and need education and the purification of grace. But sexual passion is good, and belongs to our journey towards God, the one whom we most deeply desire. Aquinas hardly ever refers to the commandments. Sexual morality is about becoming virtuous, not about obeying rules.

In Dante’s Inferno the top circles of Hell, where the punishments are lightest, are reserved for people who got carried away by their passions. They desired the good, but desired it wrongly. The really grave sins, for which people get a serious roasting, are telling lies, being violent and, worst of all, the betrayal of friends.

And it is only with the Reformation that we see the Ten Commandments placed at the centre of the moral life. The medieval stress on holiness as sharing the life of God is replaced with a new stress on obedience to rules. We see the rise of what Charles Taylor calls ‘the culture of control.[1]’ There is the emergence of the centralised state, absolute monarchs, standing armies, a police force, and the exponential growth of law. Human behaviour must be regulated and controlled. Sex must be disciplined!

I suspect that it is only with the Enlightenment that one sees the rise of our modern obsession with the regulation of sex. For example, it was at the beginning of the 18th century, according to Thomas Laquer that people began to worry in a big way about masturbation. There is a new hysteria about solitary sex.[2] What are people up to behind closed doors? So my suspicion is that both this obsession with sex and a stress on rules both relatively late and alien to traditional Christianity. Continue reading Catholid Priest Timothy Radcliffe’s Submission to the Cof E Inquiry into Human Sexuality.

“Theology and Sexuality”: Volume 17, no 3

7 Articles in this issue:

Theology & SexualityEditorial Kent L. Brintnall
The Rainbow Connection Patrick S. Cheng
In God’s House Michael Sepidoza Campos
Balanced Genitals Joseph N. Goh
How Religious Communities Can Help LGBTIQQ Asian Americans to Come Home Gina Masequesmay
Coming Home/Coming Out Su Yon Pak

You can view selected content online free of charge and also sign up for free table of contents alerts at www.maneyonline.com/tas

Members of CSCS (Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality) are able to include a reduced price subscription to the Theology and Sexuality journal, bundled with their society membership.

“Theology and Sexuality”: Volume 17, no 1

5 Articles in this issue:

Theology & Sexuality

Reclaiming the Heritage of Saints Serge and Bacchus: Towards a Quixotic Gay-Affirmative, Pro-Animal, Vegetarian Christianity

Ronald E. Long

You can view selected content online free of charge and also sign up for free table of contents alerts at www.maneyonline.com/tas

Members of CSCS (Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality) are able to include a reduced price subscription to the Theology and Sexuality journal, bundled with their society membership.

A Poem: Calling (or how to internalize oppression)

Heather Janet Barfoot 
With your orientation, you have to be celibate.

Who says?


In the Bible? Where?

I’m not quite sure.

My parents are still hoping for grandchildren

and Michael (to my parents ‘Lizzi’)

wouldn’t understand.

What to do?

Celibacy makes me think

of RC priests.

Well, I could wear skirts.

and Michael wouldn’t be so hurt

and the parents would think it an honourable calling.

(“Sad about the grandchildren though”).

I suppose I’d better start studying.

Well, I won’t be alone,

they say there’s quite a lot of us –

don’t tell the Pope…

                               December 2012

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exploring gender variance, identity and religious belief 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

10.30 – 16.00

St. Anne’s Church,55 Dean Street,Soho,LondonW1D 6AF

Buses: 14, 19, 38 toShaftesbury Avenue/Dean Street.

Tube Stations: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly/ Bakerloo lines) & Leicester Square (Piccadilly/ Northern lines)




The charitable object of CSCS is:

“to advance the Christian religion by promoting objective debate within the Christian churches upon matters concerning human sexuality, with a view to developing the spiritual teaching and doctrines of such Christian churches.”

Registered charity no: 1070440


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“Theology and Sexuality”: Volume 16, no 2

9 Articles in this issue:

Theology & Sexuality
Editorial Gerard Loughlin and Elizabeth Stuart
Judaic Perspectives on Pornography Jonathan Kadane Crane
Bodies Bound for Circumcision and Baptism: An Intersex Critique and the Interpretation of Galatians Joseph A. Marchal
An Interpretation of Evangelical Gender Ideology: Implications for a Theology of Gender Thomas V. Frederick

Acting Out Abstinence, Acting Out Gender: Adolescent Moral Agency and Abstinence Education Melissa D. Browning
Isherwood, Lisa, and Mark D. Jordan (eds). Dancing Theology in Fetish Boots: Essays in Honour of Marcella Althaus-Reid (Book Review) Kent Brintnall
Blyth, Caroline. The Narrative of Rape in Genesis 34: Interpreting Dinah’s Silence (Book Review) Deryn Guest
Scholz, Susanne. Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible (Book Review) Timothy J. Sandoval
Books Received

You can view selected content online free of charge and also sign up for free table of contents alerts at www.maneyonline.com/tas

Members of CSCS (Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality) are able to include a reduced price subscription to the Theology and Sexuality journal, bundled with their society membership.

“Theology and Sexuality”: Volume 16, no 1

8 Articles this issue:

Theology & Sexuality

You can view selected content online free of charge and also sign up for free table of contents alerts at www.maneyonline.com/tas

Members of CSCS (Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality) are able to include a reduced price subscription to the Theology and Sexuality journal, bundled with their society membership.

James Alison, Broken Hearts, New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal (Book Review)

(Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 2011, ISBN 978-0-232-52796-4)

Martin Pendergast

The Dominican itinerant preacher spirit still imbues James Alison as he wanders the globe doing theology, reflecting on fundamental issues of faith from a gay perspective. Ever at pains to point out that he does not aim to be a ‘gay theologian’, Alison’s theological vision is therefore attractive to gay and straight Christians alike bringing fresh interpretations of scripture and doctrine to many of those on the edge of fully embracing faith.

James Alison’s way with words is richly creative, sometimes to the point of idiosyncrasy. While readers might often be seduced by such word-craft, in whatever translated language they read his books or website content - www.jamesalison.co.uk - most are agreed that it takes about three readings to begin to understand his points. This is far from an accusation that he is ‘too clever by half ’, but rather that here is a theologian whose prophetic message is to challenge those ‘who have ears, but cannot hear, or eyes but cannot see’.

Alison’s freshness of approach, often ‘deploying tradition against itself – or rather against traditionalism’, as Rowan Williams commented, calls to mind that great Jesuit theologian, Bernard Lonergan’s book, Insight. Here too were traditional categories of language being used to bring faith understanding. It is easy to see why Williams, another great craftsman with theological words, can praise Alison’s ‘very rare gift in making the New Testament really new to the reader’. Reviewing James’ Faith Beyond Resentment, Williams wrote, ‘the very best theological books leave you with a feeling that perhaps it’s time you became a Christian; this is emphatically such a book.’ The same can be said of this latest collection of Alison’s lectures and writings.

Alison remarks in the Introduction to Broken Hearts & New Creations, that its chapters are culled from four years working out ‘ever more fully the fecundity of what Rene Girard describes as his two ideas: the mimetic nature of desire, and the discovery of the implications form hominisation and cultural foundations of the scapegoat mechanism’.

Girard’s mimetic theory has huge implications for psychology and anthropology, but also for theology, and it is Alison’s application of this to the latter which has prompted Girard to describe James as ‘the best exponent of my thought in the English language’. James notes that in this theory ‘the other, the social other, always precedes us, moves us, and gives us to be. In other words, while I may think I have made an independent rational choice to act on my own impulse … there is in fact a huge social powerhouse, a weight of gravity moving one from within to develop that desire, follow that impulse and “find” myself within the experience’.

Theology is not concerned primarily with the social other, but with the ‘Other other’, not part of the social order, but who has brought it into being and maintains it. The self-disclosure of the ‘Other other’ is not simply passing information about itself, but rather communicating a desire which neither rivals nor oppresses us, and which imparts an awareness that not only are we loved, but, as in the title of another of Alison’s books, we are actually ‘liked’.

The ‘Other other,’ named as the Creator God, is at the heart of what James describes as ‘a great reversal’ in the process of creation. His contention is that if we own the true insights of the Council of Trent in expounding creation theology, many of the arguments around human sexuality which paralyse global Christianity, might be avoided. If concupiscence is a condition we all share as a disordered desire, doesn’t this challenge the way in which some speak of disordered desires only in the context of variant sexual orientations or gender identity? Whatever happened to the foundational belief in creation theology that ‘God saw that it was good’ and that all is grace, conditional on human subjectivity embracing the gift?

Creation, sin, redemption, grace, sacrament and sacrifice, discipleship, eucharist, priesthood, violence, reconciliation, forgiveness, are themes which form a theological litany in Broken Hearts & New Creations. Some chapters speak for themselves: Is it ethical to be Catholic? Queer perspectives, Discipleship & Belonging, Is secularity really the enemy?, Living the Magnificat, Letter to a Young Gay Catholic. Intriguing as are titles such as Befriending the Vacuum - not a theology of household chores, but receiving responsibility for an ecclesial spirituality - or Brokeheart Mountain, not a film review, but reflections on monotheism, idolatry and the Kingdom - Alison points to further reflection in some challenging subtitles: On being afraid and its ecclesial shape, Reflections on a whimper, The changes in tone of the voice of God.

Some chapters draw from the participatory reflections which James has developed in a 12-part programme, The Forgiving Victim, an introduction to Christian faith for critical adults. Using audio visual tools for reflection, he hopes to make this available in 2012. Other elements will be found in On Being Liked and Undergoing God. Those who have taken part in ‘trial runs’ of this course testify to the radical way in which James Alison enables individuals and communities to ‘inhabit the text’ of scripture, and likewise ‘inhabit the text’ of faith, moving us on beyond our prized but maybe too cosily secure possessions of religious belief.

If Broken Hearts & New Creations wets your appetite for James Alison’s theology, don’t delay in getting the simpler Knowing Jesus, his reflections on creation and original sin through Easter eyes in The Joy of Being Wrong, or the challenges of eschatology, Living in the End Times – the last things re-imagined (also published as Raising Abel). Don’t be put off by hints of hard graft, understanding Alison’s quick turn of phrase. Rejoice at his wild, occasionally camp, injection of humour in doing theology, but above all take the risk of growing up in faith.

This book review first appeared in The Way – the Jesuit review of Christian spirituality.

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Timothy Radcliffe, OP

The Church’s teaching on sexuality is based on natural law, but the former Master of the Dominicans argues that a Christian vision of sexuality can also embrace another kind of sexual ethic derived from Jesus’ gift of himself at the Last Supper In Ireland 50 years ago, it was notorious that the clergy used to try to regulate kisses. People were told how long they could kiss, maybe 10 seconds if they were under 18. And there were rules about what sorts of kisses were allowed. (The most dangerous kiss of all was known as the French kiss.) But it is better to reflect upon what a kiss says. The body is made to be communicative, and the face is the apex of the body’s communication. The face shows what it means to be bodily, and the mouth, speaking and kissing, expresses the culmination of communication.

When we think of Christianity and sexuality, then people usually ask what is permitted or forbidden. What sexual activity is permitted between people who are not married? Can people of the same sex have a sexual relationship? This is to start at the wrong place. The first question in all ethics is: “What does my behaviour say?” Ethics is learning to behave to each other so that we relate ever more deeply. An action is not bad because it is forbidden but because it undermines human communion, though if it obviously does do that, then it may be good to forbid it. It is natural that when Jesus wishes to express the utter communion of God and humanity, then he does so by giving his body. He is not giving us a lump of matter. He is making a sign that speaks and creates communion. And Jesus says that this body is given for you. It is gift. This may be incomprehensible because for the last 400 years we have tended to think of bodies as possessions. If one thinks that one’s body is fundamentally an important possession, then of course one can do what one likes with it, as long as it harms no one else. The result has been a sexual ethic that has often been founded on rights regarding possessions. Usually a man was seen as owning not only his own body but also the body of his wife. He could do what he liked with her, though she did not possess his body in the same way. Adultery by the woman was seen as a form of robbery since in sleeping with another man she would be unlawfully disposing of her husband’s property.

When Jesus gave us his body, he was expressing the deepest meaning of what it is to be a body. To be a body is to receive all that this body is from one’s parents and their parents before them. It is ultimately to receive one’s being from God. Our existence is a gift in every moment. God gives me being now. So our sexual relations should be expressive of the gift of oneself to another, and the acceptance of the gift which is the being of the other person.

Jesus’ words at the Last Supper take us to the heart of a sexual ethic. Sexuality is about communion; it speaks. And what it should express is mutual generosity, the giving and the receiving of gifts. But the Last Supper was also the moment at which Jesus faced and embraced the contradiction of communion. On that night he shared himself with Judas who had sold him, with Peter who would shortly deny him, and with the other disciples who would mostly run away. It was the dark night, when there was betrayal, lies, fear, violence and death. On that night Jesus faces all that subverts and destroys human communion. He faced and transcended it.

The Eucharist is the sacrament of hope, because on that night, when there was apparently nothing to hope for, Jesus performed this astonishing gift of himself. And Christian sexual ethics should help us to live with hope, in the face of our own failures and denials and betrayals of each other. Christian sexual ethics teaches us to speak truthfully with our bodies, and to overcome the lies that we may sometimes tell. When you have sexual intercourse with someone, you say with your body, “I give myself to you, without reserve, now and for ever, and I receive all of you as a gift.” But if we  get up the next morning and leave a note by the bed saying, “Thanks for the pleasurable sex, but I never wish to see you again”, then we have, in a sense, lied with our bodies. It is as if we were to say “I love you eternally” and then walk away for ever. We need to touch each other truthfully, to mean what we say when we kiss. We need to live out the deep meaning of what we do with each other’s bodies.

But if a Christian sexual ethics is to be hopeful, then it must teach us how to say the words that heal the wounds when we lie. We need to find the words that break the silence and which restore communion. It is not enough just to go to confession and get absolution. We need to give and receive absolution from each other. To live one’s sexuality truthfully means also that we find ways to overcome the lies and heal the hurts.

Bad sexual behaviour is usually linked with domination and violence. All over the world today, one can see the violence that often accompanies sex. War is always associated with the rape of women, but women are daily forced to submit to the domination of men, who force them to have sex. As John Paul II said, a man may rape even his own wife. Millions of children are forced into sex with foreign tourists in Thailand and the Philippines. Whenever dominance is introduced into a sexual relationship, then the heart of our sexuality is denied. The Last Supper teaches us that the heart of a Christian sexual ethics is the renunciation of violence. We seek mutuality and equality. When someone desires the body of another person, then that desire should not be rapacious, seeking to take possession of the body, as if it were a piece of meat to be devoured. We must learn to desire in a way that delights in the other, that treasures their vulnerability, that takes pleasure in their very existence. We must delight in another as God delights in us, tenderly and without dominion. If a good sexual relationship overcomes the distortions of power, reaching for equality and mutuality, then it is a preaching of the Gospel to the society in which we live. It challenges the unjust power structures of every society.

So often relationships merely echo the patterns of dominance of the society. If society is ruled by men, then men will probably rule in the home and in the bed. So a good sexual ethics offers a challenge that is implicitly political. If we are formed in our homes for reciprocity, then we will not beat home in political structures that oppress.

At the heart of a Christian sexual ethics is fidelity. The typical form that this has taken throughout Christian history has been through the marriage vows, when a husband and a wife pledge mutual fidelity until death. This has become much more difficult in our society, in which people live much longer, and are more mobile. Marriage is a fragile institution. In fact in our society no bonds are as secure as they used to be. We live in a society of short- term contracts, whether at work or at home. And this creates immense problems for couples whose marriages have broken down and who find themselves in “irregular situations”. Fidelity is much deeper than simply not getting divorced. It is offering a context in which people take the time to belong to another, to see the other and be seen. One needs courage to remain with another when they begin to see one’s weakness. The Eucharist invites us to endure infidelity, when we are exposed in all our fragility.

There is a deep link between sex and death. In the Old Testament, the begetting of children was the principal hope of immortality. One would be immortal in the memory of one’s offspring. So sexuality was our defiance of death. That is why one had a duty to raise children for one’s brother if he were to die without issue.  Sex and death are still linked today. For most of Christian history, the bearing of children was a time of extreme danger for women. And now there is the link with Aids, especially for women in poor countries, where they may have no control over when and with whom they have sex.

So what can a Christian sexuality offer us in the face of death? It is not just the delegated immortality of children, though that does indeed reveal the profound creativity of human sexuality in the face of mortality. Also we give our bodies to each other as an act of love which is stronger than death. The Song of Songs says, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is as strong as death” (8: 6). But in Christ, love is stronger than death. Sexual relations should express that love of the Father for the Son which defeats our old enemy. Our society is both obsessed with sex yet lacks a deep exploration of its meaning. When the Church does articulate a vision of sexuality it is usually in terms of the natural law. This has its own usefulness and beauty, and I do not wish to dismiss it at all, but it carries the danger that the sex may then be seen reductively, in terms of the production of children. Sexuality must be placed again in the complex context of human communication, with its defeats and victories.

On the night before he died, Jesus gave us his body and this invites us to a deeper understanding of what it might mean to offer our body to another person. Sexuality speaks of a relationship that is founded in the giving and receiving of gifts. At the heart of sexuality is gratitude and generosity. Sexual intercourse is the transmission of the gift of our being, and so a profound expression of what it means to be human.

Timothy Radcliffe OP is the former Master of the Dominicans. This is an edited version of an essay included in Christianity and Sexuality in the Time of Aids, a collection of essays just published by Continuum(ed Lytta Basset & Timothy Radcliffe, ISBN 9780826499110, £10.99.) It was first published in The Tablet (www.thetablet.co.uk) and is reproduced by kind permission.

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Gill Cooke

‘The Working Party attempted to discover and assess the medical evidence as objectively as it could and to set down what seemed to be the facts of the matter whether the facts were to the liking of all its members or not.’ These words express how the Chair of the 1979 C of E’s working party report on Homosexual Relationships treated the scientific material in its deliberations, a working party which included medical experts. The material, drawn from major scientific books and journals, covers 14 pages of a 94 page report. (The reports of the 1950s concerned with the decriminalisation of homosexuality had similar scientific sections and were produced by multidisciplinary working parties.) The importance of science was also recognised in the Lambeth Conference Reports of 1978 and 88 which acknowledged ‘the need for deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and medical research’. The 1988 subsection report on Sexual Orientation goes even further: ‘We believe that the Church should therefore give active encouragement to biological, genetic and psychological research, and consider these studies as they contribute to our understanding of the subject in the light of Scripture’. It also advocated further study ‘of the sociocultural factors which contribute to the differing attitudes toward homosexuality …. in the different provinces of our Church.’ The Church is here acknowledging the need for rigorous, objective scientific information in its discussion of homosexuality.

Until recently this would have been undisputed in the Church debates about homosexuality, but now there seem to be worrying signs that at a time when scientific research has been developing rapidly and affirming gay people’s views, the more reluctant the Church is to include this dimension in the debate.

Gone are the multidisciplinary Working Parties, which included scientists and medical practitioners. The issue is now solely in the hands of the Bishops. The 1991 report, Issues in Human Sexuality, which is still quoted, has three brief paragraphs of general comment.

It gets worse! The 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution on Sexuality has no mention of scientific and medical research. Only in the subsection report on Sexuality do we have a mention of ‘scientific questions’. It states that after prayer, study and discussion they (bishops of course, no scientific advisers) ‘were unable to agree on the scriptural,  theological, historical and scientific questions’. Let’s give our worldwide bishops the benefit of the doubt and assume they are competent on Scripture, theology and history – but have they also really now become scientific experts?

Then we have the lengthy 2003 report Some Issues in Human Sexuality produced by four Bishops with two theological consultants, one of whom wrote the report. The only material on science and medicine occurs in the Chapter Homosexuality and Biblical Teaching. For the current state of research we are referred to a book by two conservative Christian writers. They are both psychologists, but their book Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Ethical Debate claims that the Bible must decide what is acceptable as evidence in the debate. One of the lengthy quotes by one of the same authors says (to paraphrase) that homosexuality may have a biological or genetic cause but this may be true of other antisocial things like drunkenness and violence.

When we examine the context of the quote in the original book, things become even more disturbing. The chapter referred to begins with a lurid story from Penthouse involving a story of a sex ring involving predatory American clergy and abuse taking place on Church property. Same sex relationships are being clearly linked by the authors to sexual abuse, although this link is not made in the Bishops’ report. Did the Bishops actually examine the context of the original reference?

Gone is the objectivity of the earlier reports. Science is no longer a respected partner in the debate. The Bible has become the supreme authority for judging science. Surely Church history since the age of Galileo must have taught the Church the dangers of doing this. With the Archbishop of Canterbury only too aware of the ignorance of so many about sexuality, it might have been hoped that the necessity of informing the worldwide bishops about the increasing developments of scientific research in the field of sexuality would be considered essential. Indeed this would accord with the 1978 and 1988 Lambeth Resolutions, but this does not appear to be happening if, as the Church Times of 10th November 2006 reports, he has ruled out reopening of Resolution 1.10 on human sexuality from Lambeth 1998 where there is no mention of scientific and medical research. Listening ‘to diverse views and experiences’ is necessary if they are to be well informed, but sadly this is often not the case since many opinions reflect views which contemporary science has shown to be wrong.

Science cannot decide ethical norms, but we cannot have an informed ethical debate without an understanding of present scientific knowledge.

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