Thursday 20 January 2011

Towards an understanding of human sexuality at Windsor

I’ve been invited to take part in what is described as a major Consultation at St George’s House, Windsor with the title ‘Nurturing the Nature? Towards an Understanding of Human Sexuality’. It begins today at 4pm and ends tomorrow at 3pm which doesn’t allow much time for genuine engagement and discussion.

The invitation says:

…the intention is to work towards a greater understanding of issues pertinent to human sexuality. In order to reach such understanding, and therefore for society to make appropriate judgements on sexual morality, important questions about religious and cultural principles, biology and lifestyle need to be tackled.

It is the aim of the Consultation to explore some of the different perspectives in current thinking about human sexuality. Among the questions the Consultation will seek to address are:

How appropriate are traditional religious and physiological attitudes towards sexual practice and sexuality in the contemporary world?
Is there any evidence to suggest that sexual identity is conditioned by genetics rather than by conscience? How do we respond to this evidence?
Is freedom of lifestyle choice a helpful way to approach sexual ethics? How serious are the risks to sexual health?
To what extent are individuals and institutions still governed by prejudice or social conditioning in their views of sexual ethics?

At the last minute, the person invited to deliver the second of two papers was unable to attend. I have been invited to present a paper on the theme ‘Sexuality and Equality – Attitudes to Sexuality in Contemporary Society’. I’ve done my best to prepare a paper, consulting the Changing Attitude trustees and my Facebook friends. Robert Key, member of Salisbury Diocesan Synod was among those who responded.

The protocol of St George’s House says that the identity of speakers or participants may not be divulged but information received while at a Consultation can be used freely. I may publish my paper here following the Consultation but I can’t reveal who the other contributors are. Reports of Consultations are published only if that is the collective decision of the participants. Participants are encouraged to speak openly, listen carefully and be open to the possibility of changing your mind.

It is an environment receptive to new ideas, to taking risks, to living at the intellectual edge, a focus that encourages creative thinking, informed debate and imaginative engagement. Not much like the environment of the Church of England, then. I’ve participated in previous Consultations at St George’s, the previous one in 2006.

I am less patient with church attitudes to LGBT people now than I was in 2006. If St George’s is genuine about taking risks and encouraging creative thinking, then the Consultation has the potential to excite me. But if I’m expected to talk about being gay as a lifestyle choice and even worse, spend time debating whether my orientation is the result of nature or nurture or a gay gene, then I’m not going to be engaged. Changing Attitude has moved beyond the expectation of the Church that LGBT people have to change and conform to norms, teachings and laws which have no relevance to us and are used to inflict terrible damage and pain.

Colin Coward

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  1. I HOPE it proves to be a worthwhile event and a good use of your time, Colin. I FEAR that it may be just another talking-shop. I've taken part in consultations at Windsor on HIV related issues, and there has been some good stuff there, and some good work done within the various networking opportunities; but the emphasis on "consultation" (which is alarmingly like the so-called "listening" process in which the Anglican Communion is supposedly engaged) and the Chatham House Rule do tend to restrict the usefulness, and any resulting "reports" have tended to be fairly anodyne. Here's hoping this one's different!

  2. I think you're right, Trevor, and my experience of previous Consultations was that I had to 'play the game'. I don't feel like playing that particular game any more!

  3. Colin,
    then you must go and speak clearly to why you are no longer willing to play the game. The only way we can change the parameters of these conversations is by refusing the fit into them and to make it very clear that we're refusing and why.

    I have found it quite interesting to see people's reactions to being told that their anti-gay attitudes are THEIR problem, not mine, and that while I will guide them to proper research, theology and other information, I now see it as their duty to educate themselves.

    We’re shifting from a parent-child approach to this whole conversation to one between equal adults and our new challenges is to stress over and over again that the parameters have changed and that we have grown up and no longer accept the position of the meek defendant.

  4. I'm here, and some of the usual suspects are present (including me - am I mandatory at these Consultations, one cheeky patron of Changing Attitude asked). Yes Erika, I am here as an adult who is not a problem for the Church but who is part of a Church with problems, many relating to the way heterosexuals behave. The introductory sessions was a bit academic and in the head - several Oxbridge academics here, but journalists and a politician as well.