Being honest about sexual ethics

It's easy to get the impression that, when it comes to questions of sexuality, Christians are split into two embittered factions who fight each other with no hope of dialogue or progress.

There are of course elements of truth in this image. In Christian circles, the issue of sexuality has become associated with passionate controversy in recent years, both in itself and for the symbolic significance it has taken on. But sexuality is an issue that involves a range of hugely complex, challenging and crucial questions on which Christians have a diversity of views. It is far too simplistic to divide us simply into two camps of “liberals” and “traditionalists”.

I have given media interviews in which I have been cast as the “liberal”, set to argue with a “traditionalist”, but this rarely does justice to the views of anybody present. I am frustrated when I find myself fitting in with this simplistic image, as we will not move forward on these issues without new approaches.

There are more than two views on the acceptance or otherwise of homosexuality. There are differing views on bisexuality, asexuality, intersex and transgender issues. There are questions to be grappled with about responses to sexual abuse, the relationship between sex and marriage, the significance of divorce, the nature of fantasy and the sexual attitudes of Jesus.

Those who present sexuality as a straightforward issue – whatever view they take on it – are doing the church and the world a disservice. For most people, including most Christians, sexuality is a huge challenge – as well as something that offers the prospect of fulfilment and excitement. We need to be honest about the complexity of sexual ethics.

This is one reason why I was so delighted to teach on the Body & Soul course in Leeds last weekend. Body & Soul is one weekend amongst several that make up the Workshop course, pioneered by Noel Moules and now run around the country with a teaching team drawn from a range of backgrounds and helped by an impressive number of volunteers. Workshop explores Christian discipleship in a way that is original and radical yet firmly centred on Jesus.

This is the fourth time I have taught on Body & Soul – as part of a team of four – and once again, I have learnt a great deal. The weekend explores ethics, with a focus on sexuality as a topical case-study. Ever since I was a student on Workshop myself, I have been pleased that disagreement and respectful sharing of views are welcomed. I have come to value the fact that there are different opinions even amongst the four of us who teach on the Body & Soul weekend.

Christians may appear to be stuck in a bitter stalemate on questions of sexuality. But behind the scenes and at the grassroots, the signs are far more encouraging.

For information on Workshop, visit http://www.workshop.org.uk.

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