Christian students want a more open and positive discussion about gender and sexuality within the churches, faith communities and college groups to which they belong.
The call came at an event entitled ‘Liberating Gender’, which formed the annual conference of Britain's Student Christian Movement (SCM), meeting near Kidderminster.
Speakers included the well-known Catholic feminist theologian Tina Beattie, who challenged Christians to find more truthful and liberating ways of reading biblical texts such as the creation narratives.
She suggested that when considering sin, churches needed to shift their focus from what could be a rather obsessive concern with sex to the challenge of violence, not least religious violence.
The second keynote speaker was Sarah Jones, the first transgender person to be ordained in the Church of England. She spoke of her experience of God's guidance as she grappled with difficult personal and ethical issues and dealt with reactions to her decisions.
Talking to Ekklesia, SCM's Rosie Venner insisted that gender issues should be important to Christians. “Understanding and exploring gender helps us to explore our relationships with God and with the communities we find ourselves in” she said.
She added that the event had considered “things that people often don't have the opportunity to talk about, to do so in a place that is affirming but where people are taken beyond the questions they came with, to find ways of taking that home and acting on gender injustice”.
A range of views and perceptions were heard at the event, which included regular prayer and worship alongside workshops and discussions on masculinity, sex trafficking, queer theology and the links between sexuality and violence.
The event brought together students from across Britain and beyond, of varied age, background and views. There were roughly equal numbers of male and female participants.
“It's the first time that some of these issues have gone into my head” said Matt Sanderson, aged 19, as he prepared to return to York University yesterday.
He expressed his hope that students would speak up on these issues at a time when Christian leaders are keen to retain the involvement of young people. “We've got a good opportunity for the Church to listen to us” he said.
“I feel really positive,” added Allie Tait, aged 21, who had not attended an SCM event before, “There's been a really good vibe and a few things that opened my eyes”.
SCM is Britain's oldest national organisation for Christian students and will hold its 120th anniversary service at Manchester Cathedral on 28 March 2009. It seeks to promote “Christianity that is inclusive, aware, radical and challenging.”