December 17, 2011
For the Indiana Yearly Meeting Facebook Page:
We should talk about sex. That is, if we are going to talk about sex and sexuality at all, if we are going to provide Christian guidance about these matters, we should really talk about it.
None of us could or would deny the importance of sexuality in human affairs. But is it a good thing? Positive or negative? Loving or sinful? I hope we can all agree, quickly, that the answers to those questions depend on the ways, circumstances and intentions in which our sexuality is expressed. So what is our understanding of the ways, circumstances and intentions that make the expression of our sexuality positive and loving? When is it for the greater glory of God? And when is it a dirty practice the temptations of which should be avoided as much as possible?
Nothing, really, is said about sex in the Richmond Declaration (1887), not in the section on The Creation and Fall, nor in the section on Marriage that simply begins “Marriage is an institution graciously ordained by the Creator Himself, for the help and continuance of the human family.” That isn’t really about sex. Nor are the sentences that follow: “It is a solemn engagement for the term of life, (Matthew 19:5-6) designed for the mutual assistance and comfort of both sexes, that they may be helpmeets to each other in things temporal and spiritual. To this end it should imply concurrence in spiritual as well as temporal concerns, and should be entered upon discretely, soberly, and in the fear of the Lord. “ Come to think of it, that text doesn’t really speak against homosexual marriage, does it?
Nothing else in IYM’s Faith and Practice speaks to questions of sex. Our 4th query asks whether you “provide instruction to your children for their spiritual lives; in educational, moral, and social issues of the day?” But what should be the content of that instruction? Our 6th Query asks “Do you celebrate life as a gift of God?” But does such a life include sex?
The one time we talk about sex is in the 1982 Minute on Homosexuality, which says “Indiana Yearly Meeting believes homosexual practices to be contrary to the intent and will of God for humankind. We believe the Holy Spirit and Scriptures witness to this (Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:l3, Romans 1:21-32, I Corinthians 6:9-10, I Timothy 1:9-10).”
It is striking to me that we say the Holy Spirit AND Scriptures witness to this, and then provide nothing more than a reference to the five texts commonly offered (mistakenly, I believe) to demonstrate that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin. We don’t say anything further about what the Holy Spirit teaches us. Why include those words at all? Why not simply say that the Scriptures witness to this?
Or do we think the Holy Spirit is mute beyond the Scriptures? I certainly don’t. I take comfort in Jesus saying “16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will bein you” (John 14:16-17). This assurance that God speaks to us today – is always ready to be speak to us if we will listen – was the basis of George Fox’s epiphany that gave rise to Quakerism.
So I believe we should talk, really try to discern (and talk about) God’s will with regard to matters of sexuality. Any teaching about homosexuality (or heterosexuality for that matter) should be grounded in a wider and deeper understanding of this powerful and common human urge and capability.
Indiana Yearly Meeting is hardly alone among Quakers in being reticent about matters of sexuality. I don’t know of a Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice or Book of Discipline that has much of anything to say about sexuality.
The one time I am aware that Friends addressed sexuality was in a remarkable 1963 pamphlet called “Toward a Quaker View of Sex: An Essay By a Group of Friends.” The eleven British Friends who wrote it all had professional standing as educators, scientists and counselors and psychiatrists. Published by Friends Home Service, it was both praised and reviled when released. The authors took in the criticisms, made modest revisions, but largely stood by their teaching when a second edition appeared in 1964.
It labels its two basic assumptions “The Integrity of the Family,” and “Sex: A Gift of God.” I agree these are fundamentally right starting points, ones grounded both in the deep teaching of the Bible and in the leadings of the Holy Spirit.
What especially struck me in reading the essay recently was this passage from the introduction: “Primarily the task of the group was to consider what Quakers could say to homosexuals and to others who found that society strongly condemned their sexual feelings and who found, too, that the expression of these feelings could lead to victimization, blackmail and imprisonment, whereas ‘normal’ heterosexual conduct, however irresponsible, went virtually unchallenged.” It was the predicament we still are not talking about today that led them to write their courageous essay.
That was 55 years ago. It is no longer in print, and somewhat dated, but it is still worth reading — a wise, loving and substantive statement. Or do we have something fresh to say today – something informed by the Holy Spirit?