Fundamental to our sexuality is the orgasmic experience: the petit mort, a kind of death, a loss of the Self in the Other or a fusion of Self and Other. Many would say that something a little like this is also at the heart of the religious experience. In both cases the concept can be and often is misused, as a means of exploitation or a flight from responsibility. But its place cannot be denied. “He (she) must increase, and I must decrease” is a challenge at the heart of both faith and sexuality.
For that reason, it might be expected that Christian organisations would be happy to accept diminution and demise when their work was done. Alas, it is not always so. But one of the topics at our Annual General Meeting was whether CSCS has now fulfilled its mission and should quietly leave the ground to others.
It will be clear from the discussion reported below in the Minutes of that meeting that we are by no means sure that our mission is yet redundant. And much in the Annual Conference that preceded the AGM appeared to confirm that CSCS, or something very like it, is still direly needed.
The theme this year was “The Sexuality Debate in Ecumenical Perspective”. It was presented in dialogue between one of our Patrons, John Gladwin, Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford; our Matron, Roberta Rominger of the United Reformed Church; and (in the unavoidable absence of our Methodist Patron David Gamble) John Simmonds, a Methodist minister from Leek in Staffordshire. All their presentations are summarised below. The Roman Catholic Church was noticeably absent from the platform though not from the floor.
John Gladwin has contributed to our thinking in the past, most recently indeed in the last issue of this newsletter. On this occasion, to my slight personal surprise, he decided to start from Anglican formularies rather than from the postmodern thinking which has characterised his previous inputs. He demonstrated that the Anglican tradition, whilst exalting the normativeness of marriage, has been by no means unaware of wider debates on sexuality or inflexible in its responses to them. It was good for us that he did start from tradition, for many of us perhaps find it too easy to start from experience. Yet I could not help feeling that, if and insofar as this was where my Church started from, it might be missing out on some contemporary perspectives. Where, apart from a few luminaries like Adrian Thatcher (and from a different perspective Jim Cotter), is the Anglican theology of sexuality which is truly for today?
The other two contributors, though more experiential in approach, also started from the positions in their own churches, and that was a salutary experience. Anglicans, and for that matter Roman Catholics, tend to be so obsessed with their internal debates – mainly on gay clergy – that they imagine such issues in other churches are all over bar the shouting. Rather, it seems, amongst both URC and Methodists, they have been largely swept under the carpet. Yes, there are some openly gay clergy, and there are congregations which affirm a generous approach to issues of sexuality generally; but there is also considerable reluctance to grapple openly with the issues, and some very substantial pockets of conservative resistance. The Methodist Church’s remarkable Resolution Six from their 1993 Conference, which John Simmonds quotes, is rather better, one might think, than some Lambeth Conference statements or those emanating from the Vatican (at least under the previous regime) – yet it is by no means universally honoured. Individual congregations can and do reject gay ministerial candidates, and those seeking higher office have been blocked. There is some evidence of a willingness, for example in the Methodist women’s organisation (particularly the Autumn 2005 edition of its journal Magnet), to debate the fundamental issues about the nature of sexuality and its relationship with faith, in a way which might not be possible in some other churches; but this is highly controversial. In both churches there is still a fear of “frightening the horses”, and probably a majority who oppose both the conservative and the liberal positions and wish the issues would go away. There has been real progress in both, perhaps especially within Methodism (due to its historic emphasis on experience?), but very little evidence that the debate has been fully embedded and that church members in generally would endorse the openness which is at the heart of CSCS’ mission statement. As John Simmonds put it, few local churches have yet come out of the closet.
So, are we still needed? As will be clear from the Minutes, the jury is out. Our effective survival will depend on our ability to hold existing members, and gain new ones, through the new subscription structure which allows for a fairly nominal subscription from those who do not wish to receive our learned journal. That in turn may depend on the impact of our joint summer conference with the Modern Churchpeople’s Union and the Student Christian Movement – there are still a few places left! – and of our updated website, which ALL members are asked to look at and comment on to the Chair.
In fact the future of CSCS now depends on YOUR response as never before.