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Sexuality: Inclusive Church Resource by Susannah Cornwall

August 3, 2015

sexualityThis book comes from Inclusive Church, which was set up in the wake of Jeffrey John’s rejection as Bishop of Reading. It includes personal reflections by Jo Ind, whose 2003 book Memories of Bliss: God, Sex and Us was one of the most accessible texts on theology and sexuality; bisexual Christian called Sarah; a trans Christian called Claire; and Martin Hazell, a URC minister.

The Inclusive Church Resources aim to educate, to reflect theologically and to provide practical advice and guidance. Each book contains first-hand personal experiences of people from the marginalised group, a theological reflection by a leading thinker and a resource section containing addresses, websites and practical advice on improving your church’s inclusivity.

Ind argues that the reductionist attitude towards sex, as evolutionary, as procreative, doesn’t do justice to the wide-ranging nature of eroticism and that the marriage service which sees Christ witnessing the wedding at Cana fails to see that marriage is, first and foremost, as commitment to God – albeit through the spouse.

Instead of getting endless bible texts ping pong, we are treated to essays that show that ‘tradition’ is far from monolithic – we have accepted contraception, divorce, remarriage and relaxed the degrees of kindred and affinity.

Like liberation theology’s imperative to ground theology in lived experience, this book contains first-hand personal experiences and then ‘reflects at sundown.’

At the end, there is a resources section compiled by Sharon Ferguson, the former CEO of LGCM. And a glossary which included words I didn’t know – like Cisgender – which is apparently what I have always been but never knew!

What must we do?:

First, we might expand the bounds of the private community of sexual relationship to include God as well as the human individuals involved. For people of faith who understand sexuality as having a spiritual dimension as well as emotional and physical ones, reflection on the impact of one’s sexuality and sexual relationships on one’s spirituality will be significant. Where sexuality cannot be successfully integrated into one’s psyche, this may lead to spiritual alienation and a sense that one is ‘hiding’ from oneself and from the divine. Inclusive sexuality therefore means not holding that one’s sex life may be separated from one’s spiritual and emotional life — and that dividing self from self generally does not have good psychological consequences.

Second, for many couples, their sexual community will include their broader community of families and friends. This does not usually mean that the broader community is directly involved in genital sexual acts with them, but, rather, that the significance of sexual and covenanted relationships reaches out beyond couples as isolated units. Many people will have had the sad experience of witnessing a messy divorce or other break-up of an established relationship, with its ripples felt far and wide. Where a relationship has represented stability and faithfulness, its gradual or sudden evaporation can be unnerving and disruptive for the families and friends of the partners, who may begin to question their own relational commitments. Such break-ups may leave friends and family feeling forced to take sides; in situations where the partners hold that the whole relationship was built on a lie, more people than just the partners may be forced is likely to be insular, and may not promote the broader flourishing of the participants, since there will be no accountability or gauge against which to measure whether the relationship tends to be free, life-living and supportive, or coercive, stultifying and co-dependent.

Third, inclusive sexuality acknowledges that sexually active couples are often at an age and time of life when they have caring responsibilities for younger people. These may be direct, indirect, economic, emotional, practical, permanent or temporary, and might include their own biological children and grandchildren; children they have adopted or fostered; nieces, nephews and other young relations; children of friends or members of church congregations or other groups; and other young `mentees’. Established relationships may represent emotional, domestic and financial security to young people who cannot find these elsewhere; they may model caring, respectful, non-abusive and non-coercive relationships for children who have not experienced these in their own families or care settings; they may provide alternative safe adults to whom young people may appeal when their relationships are strained or untenable. Of course, not all sexual activity takes place in the context of an established relationship, and not every single sexually active person will have or want responsibility for younger people. Nonetheless, the Christian tradition has valued constancy and commitment as goods which provide stability for the whole community and not just for individuals or couples.

Inclusive sexuality will also take account of other invested communities, acknowledging that not even private sexual relationships take place in isolation from the ecological community, local and worldwide, or the global economy. Any individual couple’s decisions about questions such as what (if any) contraceptive and safer-sex methods they should use, who (if anyone) should stay at home to care for children, who (if anyone) should change their surname upon marriage, and which sexual practices are and are. not considered acceptable within their relationship are private, on the one hand, but always already political, social and economic at the same time. Inclusive sexuality also acknowledges that ‘sex lives’ are not easily separable from the rest of life, and that over-compartmentalisation may lead to an inability to integrate sexuality into one’s broader energy and creativity.

Inclusive sexuality will also work hard to integrate a wide range of bodily experiences and sexual lives. This may mean an overt commitment to welcome and embrace a wide range of sexed and gendered body-stories (and a commitment to seeking out and developing generous theologies and ecclesiologies such that variant-sexed and variantly gendered people are not left feeling out in the cold, or either explicitly or implicitly told that their sex or gender falls short of a divine ideal). Inclusion may mean building in space for uncomfortable conversations, and acknowledging that not everyone’s experience of sexuality is positive, but may include histories of violence, abuse or deep hurt. More trickily, inclusion will mean doing hard work and asking hard questions about what love and acceptance might look like when, for example, someone’s sexuality is paedophilic Inclusion does not mean inviting a known sex offender to become a children’s club leader. Rather, it means ensuring that someone in this situation is enabled to find welcome and safety in the congregation in a way that does not compromise the welcome and safety of others. This may mean drawing up a contract which states that the sex offender may only attend specific services, or must attend with a chaperone, and must decline invitations to homes where there are children….. Being inclusive is not a one-off achievement, it is a journey which needs constant review. Our congregations are also not static and therefore conversations need to be repeated regularly to allow everyone the opportunity to participate.

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