Tag Archives: Human sexuality

Reflections on a ‘ministry in sex employment’

 I use this description of my Christian ministry advisedly, despite it arising from a parishioner’s mishearing (or misunderstanding?) of the term MSE (or Ministry in Secular Employment in the Church of England). It has, also, a provocative element – the suggestion that, as a priest, I might be employed in one of the world’s oldest professions. The reality is that I am a sex educator, a qualified social worker and experienced counsellor engaged in training and consultancy on sex and relationships education (SRE), specialising in the needs of people with disabilities, and creating and distributing resources to support this work. As a priest, this is, and always has been, the main focus of my ministry.

In a few months’ time I shall celebrate 25 years in this role – and all within the same benefice in the Diocese of Worcester. I thank God that each of the three bishops under whom I have served has been supportive, while being fully aware that my role might be seen as controversial.

Why is the juxtaposition of God and sexuality deemed controversial? Our sexuality lies at the very core of our identity and understanding of who we are – as does our faith in God who created us and affirmed out humanity in the Incarnation.

 Twenty-five years ago I had my doubts that the church would affirm my vocation – not because of my role as an ‘out-Christian’ in my place of work (Brook Advisory Centres, an organisation offering sex advice and services for young people) but because my husband was not a Christian. However, there was an acceptance that I was already being called upon to give a Christian interpretation of the work undertaken by that organisation when some other Christians were vocal in their denial of its compatibility with Christian belief. When I went to be interviewed by the Principal of the School for Ministry for my training for ordination, he was the first to raise the possibility that some might view my work as being incompatible with the Christian faith as, indeed, being a Roman soldier was viewed by the early churches because of the army’s veneration of the gods.

 There has been a huge element of trust involved throughout these 25 years, both on the part of the church in my diocese and on my part, too. At the time of my ordination there was no ministerial template for me to choose from or follow. However hard I looked, I could not find another MSE in this area of work. I had to trust that if this calling was authentic, then the way would become apparent. And, indeed, it did.

 The ‘vicar’ who spoke openly and professionally about sexual issues became widely known through the training work undertaken with teachers, youth workers and health professionals and through the authorship of numerous sex education resources. I became, with Martin Pendergast, one of the Faith Advisors to the Department of Health’s Teenage Pregnancy Advisory Panel. Within the Diocese I was part of a group looking at the theological and pastoral issues surrounding the establishment of a Child Protection policy for our churches and training those with contact with children and vulnerable adults. There were even occasions when I was called upon to support adult victims of clergy abuse where a woman, a priest and someone with sexual counselling skills was called for. I served for a term on General Synod when issues of sexuality and gender were on the agenda – the role of gay and lesbian clergy, and women bishops were to be debated, among other topics related to human sexuality.

 More recently, I have acted as convenor for an initiative of CSCS – the Theological Educators Group. This is an inter-denominational group of theologians in positions of responsibility for educating future church leaders and with a real concern that teaching and spiritual formation should prepare ordinands for the range of sexuality issues that they are likely to face in their ministry. After nearly three years of sharing experience and knowledge, this project is to come to fruition in July 2014 at the two day conference at Ripon College, Cuddesdon entitled ‘Embodied Ministry: Gender, Sexuality and Formation’.

I’m often reminded of the story of Elijah hiding in a cave when fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel (1 Kings:19) when he hears God asking him, “Why are you here?” Elijah’s answer, “Because of my great zeal for the Lord” would not go down too well with many of those with whom I work although it lies at the heart of what I do. For me, as with Elijah, God is often to be found, not in the earthquake or fire but in a “faint murmuring sound”. My presence is sometimes symbolic – affirming the church’s concern for issues of human sexuality. On other occasions I represent access to the ministry of the church to the vast numbers of believers who are not, or not yet, members of a church. This is of particular importance for those who feel themselves excluded from the church because of their sexuality or the nature of a close personal relationship. A colleague who is known and trusted and who speaks openly and with compassion about sexual matters can feel like a breath of fresh air to such troubled souls. This ‘go-between’ role has been evident, too, in my efforts to explain to the church the reality of the secular world I’m engaged in. Of course, it also works the other way when, inevitably, I’m challenged about church teaching and practice on sex and gender issues.

 I’ve seen many changes over this period, not least in the growing acceptance of women priests in the Church of England. Women were first ordained as deacons the year before my ordination and, five years later, we were ordained as priests. The validity of this (still not accepted by some) should be affirmed in the current legislation before General Synod on the consecration of women as bishops. We have still a way to go on the full acceptance of LGBT clergy but an increasing number are registering their relationships in civil partnerships. I hope and pray that another, future generation of ministers in sex employment will take forward the need for the church to engage in a more active and pragmatic way in the social and sexual education of young people – and not just those within our churches.

Jane Fraser

 The Revd Canon Jane Fraser is a Minister in Secular Employment and Dean of NSMs and MSEs in the Diocese of Worcester

Enhanced by Zemanta

“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.

Teenage Pregnancy and the Christian churches – some practical suggestions for action

Pat Dickin

This paper proposes possible practical lines of action that could address the most pressing needs that require initial and immediate attention from the Christian Churches in order to start formulating an active response to the extremely high rate of teenage pregnancy in the UK.

There is a need for further training for youth workers and children’s workers. A cursory glance through training manuals for youth workers and Youth Ministers yields a surprising result: sexuality and teenage parenthood are not addressed in any form, perhaps supporting the misleading perception that teenage pregnancies will not happen if they are not spoken about. It is imperative that churches and training institutions train their workers to be more aware and prepared for the reality of teenage pregnancy, by gaining more information of the government and social services available in their local area; enquiring as to the nature of the rights and entitlements teenage parents have, finding out about counselling services in their area, and on making a decision (through the Diocese or church leadership) as to the education that will be imparted to the youngsters from the church. This “education” will entail dialogue and at times challenging the ‘official education’ of the denomination and taking a stance that might be acceptable to everyone at the start of the programme.

Make use of existing information and courses offered by charities in schools. There are some – although not numerous – charities that have already taken steps to address these issues. These charities and organisations have already collected relevant information and are well versed in the practical options available. Christian organisations could invite speakers (from organizations such as Care, or Options) to come to their premises to give talks to the leaders and ministers in the church, to inform the church’s own education but also to open new channels for teenagers to be able to talk openly about the pressures they are experiencing and explore, together with the church leadership and their parents, possible ways to respond, react and educate non-Christian teenagers with an informed Christian message.

Offer a breadth of Christian responses to pre-marital sex. As the analysis of the historical development of attitudes towards sexual relationships has shown, it is difficult to identify one single attitude towards sex as being the only and righteous approach. Because all these methods have reached secular society through higher education and research, the church is now in a position to choose which approach can be consistently taught.

The churches are in a unique position to offer other alternatives especially those relying on pastoral care, such as in-house relationships (“buddy system”) that would allow teenagers who found themselves in this situation to be able to talk with several trustworthy people within their community and in a safe environment.

To facilitate spaces and opportunities for parents to talk openly with their children about relationships and sexuality. These could take the shape of open days attended by parents and their children in which conferences, work-shops and discussion boards could open a dialogue across generations on relationships, sex, precautions, appropriate self-awareness and self-confidence, etc. Some people who were interviewed find this approach difficult to endorse, however SEU identified the need for conversation to be opened up between parents and teenagers. Lloyd & Lyth (2003) in their report about a one-off drama production and accompanying work-shops in a school in North Yorkshire identify, among other interesting points, that “although a high proportion of children felt that sex was not openly talked about between parents and their children, over 70 percent would have liked to talk to their parents.”

Kiddy (2002), after addressing the difficulty in making Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in schools appealing and relevant to young boys and men, suggests that “community-based SRE can offer a viable alternative and should bring together parents, young people, faith groups and the wider community to address the issues of teenage pregnancy and sexual health”. This is one of the few mentions in secular writings of the possible involvement of faith communities in tackling the issue of unwanted teenage pregnancies, and it is done in the context of facilitating spaces for communication. The church and its community are in a unique position to offer a safe place for parents to come with their teenage children and learn together; this opportunity opens the door within the parent-child relationship to discuss a difficult topic from a common starting point. Taking up and building on these opportunities provides the church with an inimitable opportunity to extend its teaching and mission to families and teenagers; networking with other institutions in the secular world to provide the health education required, or simply providing parents with a moral and faith-full starting point to talk about the pressures their teenagers are facing from their peers.

A plan of action is necessary. Although the results will not be seen for many years, not taking any action at all (that is, continuing in the same train of action as at the moment: doing nothing) will have predictable results: a failure to reduce the scale of teenage pregnancies, with the consequential detrimental value laid on the family core; social, attitudinal and behavioural issues with the children of teenage parents, who according to the statistics are more likely to be involved in criminal activities and perform badly academically. It is not the church on its own that will bring the changes about. The government is already taking steps calling on the educational and health systems to take action and responsibility. The church needs to step in, use the power of influence over those it can still influence, and exert a positive teaching experience. The church has the opportunity to fill the faith and moral vacuum that is gripping British society that leads many people to search for ethical answers in other faith practices. This means that foremost, Christians must openly speak about Christian beliefs: the value of relationships and community links and support, and the belief in marriage as the future of the family and the community.

The church holds a great richness in her history, a history that remains alive in the present and that her leaders can draw on with ease. The church, and all Christians alike, therefore, have a great responsibility to address this issue and facilitate change. The timely reminder put forth by Grenz on the validity of celibacy as an option young people should be encouraged to consider, rather than feeling forced into sexual relationships by their peers and the media, should be taken up by the Christian organizations with the greatest urgency, and serve as a foundation to the message that not all sexuality needs to find its expression in genital sexual relationships (i.e. intercourse).

The paper from which this article is taken attempts to address and frame a theological scaffolding that could inform and shape a response – much overdue – by the Christian Churches to the social reality of teenage pregnancy. I aver that the need for a change in the way the church and her ministers talk, preach and teach about teenage pregnancy is born purely out of the pastoral and ethical responsibility the Christian Churches carry as embodying the greatest commandment: “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22.37-40). This love needs to find a practical expression to vulnerable and lost young people with the greatest urgency.

The church places the burden of sin on one third of British teenagers, those who by their own admission are involved in sex at very young ages and outside of marriage – the only acceptable place for sex to take place according to the official teaching of the majority of Christian Churches. For one of every three teenagers, the church is a place where they do not feel welcome, indeed where they have no inclination to go, as the perceived message they will receive is one of condemnation, exclusion and imposed guilt. The Christian Church has the opportunity to change this around: this necessarily requires the church to self-examine her teachings and re-assess where and why guilt is being placed. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbour as much as ourselves (Matthew 22.39; Mark 12.31) and without judging them (Matthew 7.1-3; Luke 6.37). It is therefore the church’s responsibility to teach, preach and proclaim, by word and example, a Christ-centred non-judgemental message that encourages positive relationships with others (our ‘neighbours’) within an equal society. This can only be translated in opening up dialogues where conversations have ceased, affirming relationships instead of domination, encouraging a self-examination of the individual where each person is re-affirmed rather than condemned, and gifts, talents and positive attributes are seen as assets and not as flaws.

This is the concluding section to ‘Teenage Pregnancy and the Christian Church’ by Patricia Margarita Lenton de Dickin submitted for the Degree of MA in Theology for Christian Mission and Ministry, May 2008

References

  • Biblical quotes are taken from The new Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version, (Metzger & Murphy, eds), New York: Oxford University Press
  • Grenz, S.J. (1997) Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective, UK: Westminster / John Knox Press
  • Kiddy, M. (2002) ‘Teenage Pregnancy: whose problem’ in Nursing Times, Vol 98, Issue 04, (24 January 2002), UK.
  • Lloyd, K. &Lyth, N. (2003) ‘Evaluation of the use of drama in sex and relationship education’ in Nursing Times, Vol 99, Issue 47 (25 November 2003)
Enhanced by Zemanta

Celebrating our Sexuality: Preparing future Church Leaders for Pastoral Care

Brendan Callaghan SJ

  1.  Jesuit, Catholic priest & (NHS clinical) psychologist by training

  2.  main mission has been teaching Psychology of Religion @ Heythrop (1980- 2010)

  3.  also involved with formation of Jesuits ordinands

  4.  at request of Jesuit Centre of Spirituality at Loyola Hall outside Liverpool, developed workshops in area of sexuality

    1. o originally for spiritual directors and retreat givers

    2. o then used extensively with ordinands

    3.  and with those already in ministry

  5.  more recently been involved with Safeguarding/Child Protection work on behalf of the British Jesuit Province

How to help people grow?

  1.  trying to steer course between

    1. o “French” approach (“…l’humanité, c’est quoi?”)

    2. o “USA” approach (“…and how was it for you, then?”)

  2.   some approach which doesn’t simply discuss abstract principles, but which doesn’t demand inappropriate self-disclosure

  3.  looking for a way of opening-up discussion around issues of sex and sexuality

    1. o mostly in a setting where celibate living is expected (and committed to by vow)

  4.  not an easy task

    1. o lots of vulnerabilities involved

    2. o no “track history” of such discussions

Actual practice in workshops is a mixture:

  1.  some didactic input

    1. o overall schemas of psychosexual development (c.f. extract)

    2.  drawing on different psychological perspectives

    3. o input on contemporary understandings of sexual orientation

    4. o and usually some input on abusive sexual behaviours and their consequences

  1.  work with imaginary-first-person-stories (c.f. sample)

    1. o not a “scenario” about which to talk

    2.  but an individual to whom to respond:

    3.  “what would I say to X if they told me their story?”

    4. o produces a slightly but usefully different dynamic

  2.  stories read individually, then discussed in small groups, then plenary

  3.  part of introduction is making explicit the possibility that some of a story might be my story

    1. o I have the possibility of exploring and discussing aspects of my story without going further in self-disclosure than I am ready for.

Some Reflections

  1.  my experience (with ordinands at least) is very specific

    1. o all RC ordinands are men, and committed to celibacy

    2. o women religious also have formal commitments to celibacy

  2.  cultural questions are to the point:

    1. o different national cultures

    2.  and different “subcultures” (churches/congregations/religious orders)

    3.  have very different assumptions about what can and cannot be spoken of.

  3.  crucial area of ministerial formation

    1. o lack of growth can produce individuals

    2.  who are dangerously repressed, out of touch with their own sexuality

    3.  and vulnerable to acting-out in inappropriate ways

    4.  who are too immature and anxious to be of service to others

    5.  either in areas concerning sexual issues or in any form of ministry which requires them to engage with another beyond the superficial

    6. o continuing growth can produce individuals

    7.  not only aware of “their own fallibility and limitations”

    8.  but reasonably comfortable with their own sexuality

    9. o and so able to help others be comfortable raising sexual issues

    10.  a valuable gift in ministry – and for “ministerial educators” 

PSYCHOSEXUAL MATURING: adapted from Ferder & Heagle, Your Sexual Self, Notre Dame, 1992

A) ADOLESCENCE:

Phase 1 – Sexual fantasising:

- Rehearsal for relationships

- Male-Female differences in sexual fantasising

- The ethical issue

Phase 2 – Psychosexual preoccupation:

- Physical Changes and Personal Appearance

- Peers and Social Pressure

- Subcultures

- Personal Identity

Phase 3 – Relational Exploration:

- Falling in Love

- Normal Narcissism

- Levels of Physical Expression

B) PSYCHOSEXUAL MUTUALITY:

- Accurate self-knowledge

- Empathy

- Interpersonal Sensitivity

- Trust

- Equality

- Capacity for Self-Disclosure

- Spontaneity

C) ONGOING INTEGRATION:

LEVEL ONE: Basic characteristics of psychosexual maturity

  1.  Deepening personal awareness and good self-knowledge

  2.  Body comfort and a sense of being at home in our skin

  3.  The capacity for intimacy, incarnated in sustained and consistent involvement in close personal relationships characterised by

    1. a. honesty and trust

    2. b. fidelity

    3. c. awareness and openness about one’s expectations

    4. d. self-disclosure that is appropriate to the level of the relationship

    5. e. open communication of feelings

    6. f. physical expressiveness that fits with the level of commitment and closeness in the relationship

    7. g. avoidance of control, manipulation, and abuse

  4.  Faithfulness to primary commitments

  5.  Adequate knowledge of sexual anatomy and physiology, as well as current information on sexual issues and concerns

  6.  Comfort using sexual words and talking about sexual realities in appropriate settings

  7.  Not ‘overspiritualizing’ sexual realities or engaging in emotional/psychic denial in relationship to them

  8.  Ability to make appropriate decisions and commitments involving sexuality

  9.  Taking responsibility for one’s sexual expressions and behaviour

  10.  Awareness of past hurts or traumas around sexuality and the willingness to take steps towards healing

LEVEL TWO: Signs of deepening psychosexual integration

  1.  A growing congruence between our personal behaviour and our public, social commitments; a sense of integrity about our lives

  2.  The ability to name and articulate our sexual story in an appropriate setting, and to understand how it has influenced our lives and relationships

  3.  A psychic and emotional balance between our sexual life and other aspects of living; neither being preoccupied with sexuality nor denying its place in our life

  4.  Growing integration between the human and the holy, between our sexual energy and our spirituality

  5.  An attitude of compassion rather than self-righteousness in relation to other peoples’ sexual behaviour

  6.  A deepening sense of generativity, i.e. the experiential knowledge that our presence to and with other people is life-giving and nurturing

  7.  Inclusivity in our relationships, without diminishing the depth of our primary commitments.

TOM’S STORY:

(Tom is a Roman Catholic priest, ordained after promising lifelong celibacy)

I’ve been a priest for twenty years now: I don’t suppose I am a very good one, but I know that I am a lot better priest as a result of my relationship with Sheila than I would be otherwise. We are not very unusual, Sheila and I, you know: we know of at least two other priests who have lovers in my own diocese alone. You wouldn’t know – you wouldn’t be able to guess, I mean. It’s all very discreet: none of this over-the-top american stuff here. But we are lovers: we weren’t for a long time, because we both took, and continue to take, the matter of priestly celibacy pretty seriously, but it slowly became obvious that we both wanted to sleep with each other, and that our relationship had reached a point of commitment where this made sense; well, more than ‘made sense’, more ‘was inevitable and natural’.

How do I fit this in with being a priest? Well, I’m certainly a better priest than I was, if you measure this in terms of compassion and openness to others. And you don’t have to take my word for it: a number of people who have known me in the various parishes where I have worked say just that, quite without knowing what has made the difference. I took on celibacy as part of a package: I knew God wanted me to be a priest, and I knew in seminary that I was not going to find it easy to live celibate, but I was sure that if God wanted me as a priest, then he would help me live as a priest: and he has! Sheila and I meet up regularly: my housekeeper at the presbytery is very amused by the devotion I show to the weekly clergy golf match, but she has never worked out how long I spend on the course and how long with Sheila at my own house outside the town. It’s one day of domesticity, really: apart from our holidays, which we take together most times, it’s the only time we get with each other. But it’s enough, though we are looking forward to eventually retiring and moving in together.

I know our relationship isn’t within the rules of celibacy, but they’ve long been honoured as much in the breach as in the observance, and I know what I am capable of, and what I am not capable of: I cannot live without an active intimate relationship, and nor can Sheila. No-one gets hurt by our relationship, because it only involves the two of us. In fact, lots of people gain, because of the beneficial effect it has on my priesthood and ministry. I look around at some of the old bachelors in the diocese, and I find myself thinking that they would be much the better off – as priests as well as human beings – if they had a lover. And I look at the men whose live-in housekeepers are more than just that – and there are certainly a few such arrangements in every diocese -and I think, “what’s so different about Sheila’s and my arrangement?”

What of my prayer-life? That, too, has been helped by Sheila. We pray the office together when we meet, and when we are on holiday it is a regular feature of our day. But more than that, loving Sheila has taught me how to get outside my own preoccupations and self-concerns, and that really has changed me. I’m not a romantic – I never have been – but I know what moves me and how I grow, and my relationship with Sheila has brought me closer to the Lord.

Carla Grosch-Miller:

It was the beginning of the second day of a course titled Sex and ministry: ‘living with the urgent power of the erotic’1I hadn’t slept well. The first day had ended with a strong statement offered by a participant that sex only belonged in marriage and marriage was God-ordained between one man and one woman. No one had risen to articulate a different view.

I had laboured to make the space safe and open. The participants in this course held diverse theological viewpoints; I had hoped that we could teach each other as we explored the topic. One of the three ‘S’s’ that shapes my teaching is space that respects the sanctity of the individual. In the first session, after I introduce myself and my assumptions (which include that all four sources of theology are of value and that each of us will weight those sources differently), I ask the group to create Rules of the Road: guidelines to enable respectful and searching conversation among people with diverse viewpoints. This group had included in those Rules:

  • Be open to where others come from; open mind – open heart

  • Disagreement is with ideas; respect the idea-holder

I view my educator role as providing information and making the space for participants to engage it and each other. When a viewpoint is expressed particularly strongly, I expect (or may ask for) opposing viewpoints to emerge from other participants. At the end of the first day in this course, in response to the strong statement articulating the traditional view, that had not happened. As I tossed and turned that night, I wondered if, in my striving to make the space safe for all, I had leaned too far in one direction.

At breakfast the next day, another participant approached and asked if he could talk to me. He said I’m really angry about how the class ended yesterday. I’ve been angry all night. I felt like I was being told that I was not a Christian. ‘Can you say more?’ I asked. He then told me his story: a story of a young man active in church struggling with his sexuality who, when he had his first sexual experience with another man, was full of self-loathing. He became strident in his opposition to homosexuality, as insistent as others had been the day before that sex was for married heterosexual couples….until he couldn’t bear the dissonance between what his heart knew and what he wished he could live up to. He told his vicar about his struggle – who promptly removed him from all church responsibilities and let him know that there was no room in the church for him. He continued to wrestle issues of sex and faith until he came to accept who he was and discovered a renewed and deepened faith that in time blossomed into a vocation for ministry. I asked him if he would be willing simply to tell his story at the start of the day’s class, and he said yes.

I began day two recalling that there are four sources of theology – scripture, tradition, reason and experience – and that they each had value and they each had problems. Three quarters of the first day had been spent mining the Bible and tradition for sexual attitudes and assumptions, and the class had come to understand that biblical sexual ethics are quite different from what we call Christian family values today. We had looked at ancient Hebrew culture, where women were considered domestic and sexual property, fertile women needed to bear five live children to replace their generation, and most births ended in death before the child reached its first birthday. Concern for procreation, property rights, and purity laws that kept the Hebrew people distinct from their Promised Land neighbours had created a sexual ethic that included polygamy, concubinage, levirate marriage, rules allowing rape in war with distant enemies, and the requirement that a rapist marry his Hebrew victim. We noticed the New Testament’s relative lack of concern about sexual matters and how a central message of the gospels was that people’s relationship was no longer determined by following physical purity laws, but by purity of heart: loving God and neighbour as self. We traced the development of Christian sexual ethics, shaped by the revulsion of the body present in late antiquity and dualistic and misogynist thinking, hearing Tertullian describe women as ‘the devil’s gateway’ and Jerome say ‘Blessed is the man who dashes his genitals against a rock’We noted how the development of Christian sexual ethics was a journey that attempted to modulate a basically negative view of sex by first finding it acceptable for procreative purposes and later a good for the sake of the communion of husband and wife. We then took a detour into contemporary times and heard what Freud, Jung, Kinsey, Fisher and others had to say about sex and love, its psychological importance and its neurological components. After all of this, we began to write and post on the wall theological principles that would enable us to think theologically and pastorally about sex. It was then that the strong statement was made, just minutes before the end of the day.

Now it was day two. I said that at the conclusion of the previous day, we had heard a strong articulation of a scriptural and traditional view of the place of sex in human life, and asked if there were any other viewpoints, perhaps drawing on other sources of theology. The man who had approached me at breakfast raised his hand and gently and simply told his story.

The impact of the story was to transform the space, opening and warming it. Others thanked him for his courage in sharing; there was acknowledgement by voices who held the “heterosexual marriage only” viewpoint that, while their opinions on the topic of homosexuality were strong, there was a need for pastoral sensitivity when dealing with this subject. That sensitivity was embodied by many and diverse people on diverse topics as the course progressed.

Whenever I teach in this area, I move from exploring scripture and tradition and identifying theological principles to the link between sexuality and spirituality. I said at the beginning that there are three ‘S’s’ that shape my teaching. The first is the setting up of a space that respects the sanctity of the individualThe second ‘S’ is structure: the course can be envisioned as a drama with three acts. Act One locates us as Christian people in the 21 century, reviewing biblical, traditional and contemporary views of sex and gender and teasing out theological themes that may help in thinking theologically and pastorally about sex. I begin with the Bible and tradition because whenever we deal with sexual issues in a church context, we bring our understandings of them, as well as our personal experience. We need to reflect critically on what the Bible and tradition actually say and what assumptions lie beneath those sources.st We then need to identify theological principles that help us to think about and respond to sexual issues.

The second Act of the drama introduces a new thought landscape, drawing on the link between sexuality and spirituality, and enables a new framework for Christian sexual ethics that affirms the goodness of the gift of sexuality. After a mini lecture about how both sex and spirit are operant in identity, development, relationship, creativity and transcendent experience, I ask the group to formulate a new framework for Christian sexual ethics: one premised not on procreation, property and ancient purity concerns, but rather on the aspiration to live out one’s sexuality sacramentally. Informed by the theological thinking in the first third of the course, the group articulates a holistic view of sex as gift and self-giving, using ‘thou shalt’ as a template. The lists generated come to include such things as: Thou shalt know, love, accept and become/be oneself; treasure the other and seek their flourishing; be faithful in relationship; be willing to learn to give and receive pleasure; nourish the fruits of the Spirit; be open to healing, transformation, grace and creativity.

Act Two also includes the opportunity to do autoethnographic work. One of the convictions I bring to this work is that that training for ministry must engage personal experience.2 Self-knowledge and self-awareness are key tools in enabling good ministry, which includes preventing sexual misconduct. Our personal knowledge of our own sexual experience and attitudes is subjugated, tacit knowledge.3Whenever I teach in this area, I invite participants to do reflective writing throughout the course– using oblique and not so oblique methods to enable them to uncover the experiences and attitudes that shape where they are in their sexual formation. Methods include: word-association; icon/image identification; reflective writing of prose and/or poetry; autobiographical ‘life lines’ for sexual and spiritual events; boundaried conversation. No one is required to share anything personal. Some do share personal information with the larger group, and some do not. In individual interviews conducted after the event, I have been struck by the identification of vulnerability and working through of early sexual experience those methods had facilitated.

In class, after giving time to work autoethnographically, I invite participants into pairs for a reflective listening exercise on the topic of ‘sexuality and spirituality’. In the plenary after the exercise, as the group reflects on what it is like to speak of such holy things and what it is like to listen, it is common for the room to be hushed and reverent as people acknowledge the privilege and the challenge of ‘hearing one another into speech’4.

Act Three takes us to the streets, addressing the nitty gritty of sex in ministry and enabling work with sexual issues, our own and those of others. The third ‘S’ guiding this work is most explicit here – Safety. Not just safety in the space opened up for honest exploration, but safety in the practice of ministry. One of the primary goals of this course is to enable people in the church to inhabit their vocations in a way that is healthy and safe for themselves and for their ministry settings. I became a church sex worker because of the shocking prevalence and potentially devastating impact of ministerial sexual misconduct: a Canadian study suggests that ministers transgress sexual boundaries with someone in their care at a rate of twice that of secular counsellors.5 I wanted to understand how better to prevent the suffering caused when ministers transgress sexual boundaries.

Thus the last third of the course works on safety in ministry: looking at boundaries, power, vulnerability and intimacy in ministry; considering the prevalence and impact of ministerial sexual abuse; and working with scenarios in pastoral ministry. Space is made to enable people to raise sexual issues in pastoral ministry. Issues that arise include pornography, sex addiction, marriage preparation, bereavement as a time of heightened sexual desire, youth work. The discussions I’ve witnessed have been frank, self-revealing and compassionate.

The final scene in Act Three is called taking good care, the focus of which is that self-knowledge, self-esteem, self-awareness and self–care are some of our most important tools in ministry. We look at the expectations of others in the ministry settings and our own, and labour to articulate how we may manage those expectations for the good of all.

At the end, I do a quick what worked and what could work better evaluation. Invariably people remark that the course should be required (if it is not already), that learning what the Bible and tradition really say is important, and that having a place in the church to struggle honestly and holistically with sexual issues is essential for these times.

The title of today’s exploration is Celebrating our Sexuality: Preparing Future Church Leaders for Pastoral Care. Good pastoral care is informed, sensitive and safe pastoral care. Good pastoral care is about the pastoral carer communicating in her body and by her words a sense of welcome and hospitality, and having at her disposal tools to enable light and space for sexual issues to be expressed and wrestled. The pastoral carer brings with her attitudes about Biblical and traditional sexual ethics and her own life experience, attitudes and experiences she has hopefully had an opportunity to work through. She also carries the imprimatur of church authority; she’s been given a role, a certification of approval, to hold these sensitive areas. She needs to be adequately prepared to wrestle scripture and tradition and know where she stands and why; to respond to contemporary understandings of sex and sexuality; to listen sensitively as others wrestle these questions themselves; and to articulate a holy and holistic ethic that enables the living out of sexuality sacramentally.

SEXUALITY AND THE DISAPPEARANCE OF SCIENCE

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

My first MCU Conference

Mike Dark

I had never been to a MCU conference before and only one conference of CSCS, so I was not sure what to expect despite my deep interest in the conference theme of Human Sexuality. As a gay evangelical, I wondered how different the emphasis may be from my own. I needn’t have been concerned. A slogan in a nearby pub summed up my experience of the conference. ‘There are no strangers here, just friends we haven’t yet met’. I met many new friends at the conference and was very glad that I attended.

The conference was opened and chaired very capably by Prof. Elaine Graham. She spoke of the absence of absolutes concerning Human Sexuality which set the right tone at the start of the conference. She chaired the conference admirably throughout and even dealt with a few critical remarks in a very firm yet gracious manner.

The first main speaker was Canon Trevor Dennis, vice-dean of Chester Cathedral. He opened his address by stating that he was not gay but he knew several people who were, including gay Christians, who had been refused communion because of their sexuality, and of a minister who was sacked because he was found out and thrown out. Trevor spoke about intimate same – sex friendships in the Bible, concentrating on David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi. He emphasised the importance of befriending the Bible and seeing affirmation within it. As an Evangelical, albeit a liberal one, this was music to my ears.

The other sessions dealt with subjects related to human sexuality: Marilyn McCord-Adams on the defence of the liberal church; Adrian Thatcher on the importance of children; and Martin Pendergast on HIV/AIDS. These addresses reminded me of how broad the subject of human sexuality is and about much more than the ‘gay debate’, vitally important as that is. This was brought home to me again by the wide range of questions put to the panel in the final session.

For me some of the most beneficial times were in the group sessions. During these sessions many personal stories were told of how different people had come to their convictions on human sexuality (especially homosexuality). For some it was because they were gay; for others they had close friends or relations that are gay. This strengthened my conviction that people’s perceptions are changed by knowing gay people rather than discussing theoretical concepts in isolation. As a gay man, I felt affirmed by the sharing of stories, both by listening to others as well as having the opportunity to share mine.

What was my overall impression of the conference? Extremely positive as I received much to dwell on both from speakers and from private conversations with people I had never met before. I was affirmed both as a gay man and an evangelical in a ‘liberal’ conference. I was treated with much more respect by liberal Christians at the conference, than by many evangelicals that I know. It made me realise that the labels we use about ourselves and others are of a limited use. Would I go to another conference held by MCU or CSCS? Without any doubt – yes!

Enhanced by Zemanta

A Dialogue between the Churches on Sexuality Issues – A Methodist Perspective

The Revd. John Simmonds

I am a Minister in Leek in a joint URC/Methodist Church that confesses itself to be inclusive, having, down the years given positive votes in support of all people whatever their sexuality. But it is now struggling within itself as it tries to discern how to respond to same-sex couples who come seeking a place where they can ask for God’s blessing on their civil partnerships.

Within Trinity Church, there are two vocal minorities.

  • One minority is clear that only heterosexual relationships are according to the will of God and these must be conducted faithfully within marriage. Extramarital sexual contacts are specifically prohibited. This group could not entertain the thought of civil partnerships being blessed in church or by a minister outside church.
  • And one minority is equally clear that a variety of sexual relationships can be enjoyed so long as they are conducted with mutual respect and faithfulness. This group would be delighted to welcome civil partnerships for a blessing.

Surrounding these two minorities is a majority of folk, some who are reasonably happy that people of a variety of sexualities are now free from ostracism and public exclusion and can now take their place in pretty well every part of life, police, the forces, politics, etc However, they can’t bear the thought that the ‘fellowship’ of the church might be upset by any kind of precipitate action. They would not like to see people leaving the church as a result of a civil partnership blessing, for example. So, on the whole, people prefer not to raise the issue. ‘Head in the sand’ seems best and the minister who raises this issue is a nuisance! In any case, Leek doesn’t have homosexuals; certainly not the kind who would want a blessing in church!

So far as Methodism is concerned, what pertains in the local also pertains in the connexional. There are two similar minorities (though one is probably more numerous and organised than the other, (viz. Headway), whilst the majority continues to make great claims about the church’s inclusivity, whilst hoping against hope that we are not embarrassed by sexual minorities. Certainly, that is true of the church’s hierarchy (Connexion, District Chairs, Superintendent Ministers). The surprising thing is that the current leadership of the church would largely describe itself as liberal and yet it is singularly unwilling to initiate practical policies, which give flesh to its 1993 Methodist Conference commitment in Resolution 6. Can I remind you of the 1993 Resolutions on
Human Sexuality?

  1. The Conference, affirming the joy of human sexuality as God’s gift and the place of every human being within the grace of God, recognises the  responsibility that flows from this for us all. It therefore welcomes the serious, prayerful and sometimes costly consideration given to this issue by The Methodist Church.
  2. All practices of sexuality, which are promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning in any way are unacceptable forms of behaviour and contradict God’s purpose for us all.
  3. A person shall not be debarred from church on the grounds of sexual orientation in itself
  4. The Conference reaffirms the traditional teaching of the Church on human sexuality; namely chastity for all outside marriage and fidelity within it. The Conference directs that this affirmation is made clear to all candidates for ministry, office and membership, and having established this, affirms that the existing procedures of our church are adequate to deal with all such cases.
  5. The Conference resolves that its decision in this debate shall not be used to form the basis of a disciplinary charge against any person in relation to conduct alleged to have taken place before such decisions were made.
  6. Conference recognises, affirms and celebrates the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men in the church (and) calls on the Methodist people to begin a pilgrimage of faith to combat repression and discrimination, to work for justice and human rights and to give dignity and worth to people whatever their sexuality.

The vocal minorities know what they think! The majority talks of ‘living with the tension’, whilst leaving excluded people to pay the price. Now, 13 years on, there are very few churches in Methodism which have an unambiguous practice in respect of sexual minorities. Hardly anyone is prepared to come out of the closet; neither reformers nor traditionalists. In just a few churches, there is a willingness publicly to celebrate same-sex relationships. In only a few, is there a stated same-sex policy. Most prefer to remain silent. The rights of sexual minorities are denied by silence; silenced by silence.

In the USA, there is much more open debate; indeed, conflict, with churches and ministers declaring pro or con. [Here, John referred to recent events]

So where are we now?

  • In a few places same-sex partnerships are enjoyed and celebrated.
  • In a few places there are cases of direct action being taken against lesbian or gay ministers.
  • Most Methodists like to think they are tolerant and committed to human rights. After all, Resolution 6 got massive support. It is simply not likely that it will be rescinded.
  • But most Methodists will not take steps which risk the fellowship of the church.

(Sweetly may we all agree.) So let’s not do anything that disturbs the peace, such as
- Invite a gay minister
- Host a celebration of a civil partnership
- Openly acknowledge and enjoy same-sex friendships in our
communities

When an argument erupts, it’s as if the majority screams (with a beatific smile) a plague of both your houses!

So what is afoot?

  • What will happen when ministers enter civil partnerships and claim equal treatment on housing, pensions, etc?
  • What will happen in June when the Methodist Conference ‘gives advice’ on whether civil partnerships may be conducted in Methodist churches and/or by Methodist Ministers?
  • Will anyone challenge the church’s persistence in discriminating on the grounds of a person’s sexuality in spite of the 1993 resolution?

Thank God that the world, where God dwells, is getting on with compassion. Maybe the church, which God also loves, will catch up!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sexuality and the United Reformed Church

Roberta Rominger

With many others, I believe that Christianity requires a revolution in regards to sexuality. We must finally make peace with the fact of our physical existence and our physical relatedness to each other. It is not acceptable for us to face the world as people who are afraid and ignorant and condemning of what they do not understand.

The revolution I am talking about would have implications much wider than the issues we usually discuss under the heading of “sexuality”. With Rosemary Ruether, I believe that the way we regard our bodies has everything to do with the way we treat the planet and our fellow creatures. It has implications for racism and the relationship between the rich and the poor. It would even touch us in the United Reformed Church as we contemplate new structures, because much of the debate is focussed on how intimate we wish to be with fellow congregations and whom we will or won’t accept as bedfellows. We are seriously considering a new form of consensus decision making – again, an issue of relatedness. So it is an enormous project.

James B. Nelson puts it best for me:

Far more than genitality, our sexuality is our embodied ways of being in the world as female and male persons. With our varied gender understandings, our varied sexual orientations, our desires for deep sensuous touch with the world, our hungers for physical and emotional intimacy, we are all sexual beings from birth to death: celibate or genitally active, paired or single, living with disability or temporarily able-bodied, we are all sexual beings. And seen with the eyes of faith, human sexuality, I believe, is God’s way of calling us out of separation and loneliness into communication and communion. The bodily energy for all of our loves, the grounding of our passion for life, our possibility of mutuality and pleasure. Indeed, the sexuality of which we are speaking has such power in our lives, it is the source of such anxiety and fear, such joy, such shame, such yearning, such curiosity, it must be very close to the centre of things.

James B. Nelson,
Earl Lectures, Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, California)
25 Jan 1994

Such a revolution cannot be legislated into existence. It cannot be imposed from outside. It comes from showing people a better way, which is where the work of CSCS has been so valuable.

In the United Reformed Church, mention of “human sexuality” immediately evokes the work we did on homosexuality in the 1990s. This began with a task group report urging the churches to take an open view of homosexuality as possibly within God’s plan for creation. The report was largely ignored. The issue came to the fore with two gay men who candidated for ministry. Both were approved for training, and one went off to college and completed his course. The other was barred from training by a college that said that they could not receive him in the absence of a URC policy about the ordination of gay and lesbian people.

Another task group was established, and we led a consultation process throughout the church, ultimately recommending various areas for further work and successfully arguing that, in the absence of a policy, the URC position should be to consider each candidate on his/her merits according to the usual discernment processes. The further work was done and General Assembly received a proposal for a policy statement which said that the URC welcomed and affirmed homosexual people within the life of church and society but could not affirm the acceptability of homosexual practice. This statement did not satisfy anybody and thus was rejected.

The position now is that the URC has no policy and has agreed to defer further consideration of the matter until 2007, a seven year moratorium. During this time discussion is meant to continue but no decision that would establish policy is to be taken. The moratorium has enabled the church to heal after the very divisive debates of the 1990s, but many people are conscious that 2007 is now just around the corner. This is one of the reasons the “consensus style” of decision making is being explored, to enable us to engage with each other more creatively in our councils when we find controversial matters on the agenda again.

In the meantime, we have been much involved in discussions about sexual abuse in the church, following the publication of CTBI’s Time for Action. The 2005 General Assembly adopted a “Charter for a Safe Church”, and work has begun in all the synods to raise awareness of issues around power, boundaries and appropriate behaviour. The United Church of Christ U.S.A. has an interesting story to tell at the moment. They hired a new communications director, and in December 2004 he launched a television advertising campaign that has transformed the church’s image for thousands of people.  You can see the advert on www.stillspeaking.org. There was an initial boost of publicity from an unexpected source, as two of the three major TV networks refused to broadcast the commercial, rejecting its message of radical inclusiveness as too controversial in George Bush’s America. Thus local ministers found themselves on the radio all across the country, boldly proclaiming a gospel of acceptance and healing. To date over seven million people have visited the website, and of these, 661,000 have entered their postcode into the box that says, “Where is my nearest UCC?”

Last summer’s General Synod passed a marriage equality declaration, proclaiming that everyone should have the right to marry. Forty-nine churches (less than 1%) left the denomination in protest, but 25 new ones have joined, with another 40 enquiries underway and new enthusiasm for church planting. See www.ucc.org.

Enhanced by Zemanta

A Dialogue between the Churches on Sexuality Issues – An Anglican Approach

The Rt. Revd. John Gladwin

A personal disclaimer – what I say should not be taken as necessarily representing Anglicanism! I am an Anglican and what I say I believe to be in that tradition – but many Anglicans may come at these matters very differently – a matter which I consider to be a strength in church life.

Anglican conversations about sex, its meaning and purpose in human life, spin round our traditions on marriage. In a variety of ways Anglicans enter this field from this entrance point. Since liturgy plays an important role in shaping our doctrine and attitudes, the changing shape of the liturgies of marriage play an important role in this.  Anglicans would be heard saying the following sort of things:

  • Marriage is a gift God gave to humanity in creation.
  • Marriage is a covenant of love and commitment between a man and a woman.
  • Marriage is a sacrament or is sacramental in type – a means through which God’s grace may be experienced in our lives.

The character of the gift.

  • Universal – for all and to be a blessing for the world, including those who do not formally enter into marriage.
  • It is an exclusive bond – joining of the couple in union is the bodily sign of the love that brings them together. Sex, commitment and love are to be held together.
  • It is the context within which God wills the creation of new life in children.

Marriage is not a civil arrangement, nor a service in church.

In regard to the morality of sexual behaviour these understandings would resist two ways of creating a division between sexual behaviour and the relationship between the people. There is the obvious one that sex for self gratification irrespective of whether there is any relationship is sinful – fornication. There is the less obvious one of the suggestion that where there is love, anything goes. So Anglicans have, from a variety of frameworks of moral endeavour, always taken an interest in the morality of the act as well as the quality of the relationship.

The sexual bond and act is of itself a profound good – part of the gift of life God has given in our creation as human beings. So that long cultural history of experiencing sex as sinful in itself and dirty has no place in serious Anglican theology – from the Prayer Book onwards!

In attending to these questions of both relationship and praxis, Anglicans always hold to the essential authority of the church in the Bible, interpreted down the centuries in the teaching of the church and qualified by reason – which some would say includes experience.

We may not hold as true, things which are manifestly against the doctrine of Scripture.

When tackling the complex issues facing us today – not just the personal and pastoral needs of same sex couples, but cohabitation, the forms of marriage in society where many are reticent about making such commitments and the impact on behaviour of safe contraceptive protection, the HIV/Aids crisis and of the wider cultural mores which are manifestly changing – Anglicans can look back on a history of development and even change in their judgements.

The obvious ones

  • Contraception and family planning
  • Divorce and remarriage
  • Contemporary techniques in human fertilisation, family reconstruction and so on.

So we are always having to reshape how we speak about these issues – finding new directions in Scripture and in the understanding of our traditions.

What I think is remarkable at present is the shift in thinking about the needs of same sex couples. From an age of deep ambivalence about marriage, we now have same sex couples seeking stability, recognition and human rights in parallel to marriage.

Is this compromising our doctrine of marriage or is it strengthening it?

That is unfinished business for us.

Enhanced by Zemanta

From a Patron – John Gladwin

John Gladwin

The church, in our western culture, is once again passing through a time of cultural challenge and change which is facing all of us with difficult questions about how we do moral theology. The troubled waters in the Anglican Communion on issues about sex is the public face of our struggle in mission in this cultural context.

One of the problems of a ‘post modern’ culture is its lack of historical focus. The journey that brought us to this place and how the reactions of the church shaped our thinking give way to an exploration of the mobile fields of culture. Yet the history of serious moral theology tells the story of the persistent work of scholars and pastoral leaders to hold to a living and developing relationship between the given-ness of the truth of God in Jesus Christ and the changing shape of human experience. The moral sense concerning sexuality and sexual praxis has been one of the most demanding fields for this tension between the given and the living experience.

The one thing post modern thought does offer to us is a capacity to encounter crucial dynamics for change as cultural shift. Michael Foucault’s History of Sexuality is testimony to that. He paints a picture of cultural mores which contain some deep challenges for the church which he sees as a major contributor to the shaping of our cultural experience.

We can all describe the profound changes in human experience and understanding in the 20th century. The expectations and values concerning the relationship of women and men would be a central example of the change. Similarly, the development and widespread use of contraceptive protection has altered the way people experience family and see sexual activity. Christian moral thinking has had to respond. The work done by Anglicans in the heart of the 20th century on the Family and on family planning is evidence of the richness of the Christian tradition in developing its moral thought and pastoral practice.

The present conflicts around same sex relationships and practice have taken centre stage in our contemporary concerns. It is a serious mistake, however, to see our difficulties solely in these terms. That would be to burden the Gay and Lesbian community with responsibility for the moral confusions of our age surrounding sex. It might be argued that our culture presents us with rather deeper and more important theological and pastoral challenges. The Christian stress on the fundamental importance of relationships between persons as the foundation for thinking about what is appropriate for sexual practice needs reasserting. There is far too much emphasis on what people do and far too little on the stability and disciplines of relationships. When we untie the obligations and duties we have to each other from discussion about what is permitted in practice we collude with a functionalist approach to behaviour.

Serious Christian moral thought is about people in relationships. There is an urgent need for the church to refocus its thinking in that direction. That might begin to help us tackle the alarming rise in sexual disease, in the persistent reality of unwanted pregnancy, of the abuses within families and between partners – all evidence of a lack of understanding and support for strong, stable and loving relationships. This moves us towards the heart of the church’s contribution to its pastoral care of all of us in our most personal relationships. It is in the joining of the mystery of the love of God seen in the face of Jesus Christ and the mystery of what it means to be human beings open to love that we will begin to fathom the depths of the wisdom and truth of God for the challenges of these days.

The Rt Revd John Gladwin is Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford

Enhanced by Zemanta