There has been significant evidence of sexual chaos in the Church at large and the Church of England in particular and, then, in the World since the last Jesmond Conference this time last year. I will not detail the recent decision by the Scottish Episcopal Church to allow same same-sex marriage, the recent attempts by some to establish transgenderism in the Church of England, or the Episcopal Church of the US where some dioceses want to 'neuter' God, with one diocese saying:
"Our principal worship resource, the Book of Common Prayer, contains thousands of references to God, virtually all of which are male. As we increasingly understand the fluidity of gender, assigning a male gender to God reinforces patriarchy, androcentrism and clericalism."
But what about the world? Well, there is huge chaos in the world. In the last months of 2017 and continuing almost every day, we have been hearing ad nauseam through the media of the sexual abuse of women - from Harvey Weinstein, the film producer, to officials of aid organizations like Oxfam. But why has this abuse been, in Britain and the US, admitted as a crisis needing drastic action? For such behaviour has been, sadly, known about and common, as part of the sexual revolution going on since the 1960s. And the 60s revolution has been publicly endorsed by legal enactment, by sexually liberal indoctrination of children in schools that omit teaching the Christian sex ethic, and by liberal bishops and other sexually liberal clergy ignoring or denying the Bible.
So are we witnessing the beginning of the end of a period of increasing sexual licence and harm? Is the pendulum about to swing back towards a period of sexual restraint, as has happened in English history more than once? Let's pray that the answers are 'Yes!' and that our conference is a small contribution to getting rid of the moral garbage that has polluted the Western Church and the Western world in the second half of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st century. Of course, one simple reason for all of the chaos is "liberalism in religion" to quote John Henry Newman, who famously said:
"Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another."
However, more specifically regarding this abuse, we must go back to those 1960s. It was then being claimed, following centuries' old wisdom, that biologically on average males have aggressive and even violent tendencies while women have more nurturing and protective tendencies. But as Kushiner and Hitchcock have recently argued:
"This view was a direct challenge to an emergent feminist orthodoxy that insisted, in a way, that women can be just as aggressive as men and are not in need of protection…"
But they argue that any abuse at that time was tolerated, as many women…
"…shared in the exhilaration of throwing over all forms of social and cultural restraint, in a liberation that rapidly spread through the entire society, including the 'straight' people who were despised by the radicals. Limiting sex to marriage and expecting gentlemanly and ladylike behaviour became laughably quaint ideas. The liberal society gradually approved a 'playboy' view of sex, promoted by the late Hugh Hefner among others … Those who objected were considered prudes, with sexual hang-ups …
In the wake of the sexual revolution, which eliminated most sexual sins by redefining them and rejecting all previous taboos, liberal leaders can only condemn sexual acts they deem non-consensual, a determination that is not always simple. Those currently in positions of power with the loudest voices chastise those they judge to be wicked, absolve others they don't, and excommunicate the unforgiveable, but the standards are not fixed. Since the traditional standards of judgment have not been merely revised but entirely abandoned, there is no agreement on what is sinful, what is a proper penance for the guilty, or how one might receive absolution. Having abandoned the standard of self-control upheld by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the revolutionaries are now being consumed by the forces of abuse they have unleashed. The cultural rebellion of the 1960s was a denial of human sinfulness in the most radical way, and its fruits are everywhere. It has done incalculable damage to religion, to education, and to men, women, and children. Ultimately, sexual predation can be curbed only by the slow repeal of the sexual revolution."
But how can we help in "the slow repeal of the sexual revolution"? We want to be thinking about that in our topic discussions and particularly in our fourth session.
One of the most challenging cost factors about the sexual revolution has been the demographic deficit caused by global and, worst of all, European infertility. The changing sexual ethic means that women are not sufficiently producing and nurturing the very young. Most people cannot believe that, for they hear that global population figures continue to rise. But they do not take account of what is called 'demographic momentum.' The fact is declining birth rates for many years will generate a momentum. Populations will grow while in decline until you get to the last replacement generation: and that replacement level is 2.1 children as the average per child-bearing woman. However, the fertility figure for Europe is 1.6. That is so serious.
And that is why according to an official EU report, Europe, to keep its population at its present level until 2050, needs 1.6 million new immigrants every year. Listen to this fairly recent report from the National Marriage Project of the University of Virginia and its Social Trends Institute. It was entitled 'The Sustainable Demographic Dividend' and subtitled, 'what do marriage and fertility have to do with the economy'. I quote:
"a turning point has occurred in the life of the human race. The sustainability of humankind's oldest institution, the family – the fount of fertility, nurturance, and human capital – is now an open question. On current trends, we face a world of rapidly aging and declining populations, of few children – many of them without the benefit of siblings and a stable, two-parent home – of lonely seniors living on meagre public support, of cultural and economic stagnation."
But what has given rise to all this and the rejection of the Christian ethic with these negative consequences? One major factor that reshaped European values and sex ethics has been the 1789 anti-Christian French Revolution with its call for "liberty, equality and fraternity". Add to that Engels' extreme views on women, marriage and the family and also, more recently, the contraceptive pill, and you have a powerful mix. Certainly in Britain, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote in 1792 in the wake of the French Revolution, 'The Vindication of the Rights of Women'. However, in Britain things were not extreme. Her biographer summed up her views as follows:
"Women are human beings before they are sexual beings; mind has no sex; society is wasting its assets if it retains women in the role of convenient domestic slaves and 'alluring mistresses', denies them economic independence, and encourages them to be attentive to their looks to the exclusion of all else."
All that can be argued for and worked for, except the first sentence, which was hugely significant:
"Women are human beings before they are sexual beings".
That is just not true. For to be genetically and in every other way a human is to share humanity with the opposite sex. You just are conceived and born dimorphic from the simple matter of your chromosomes. The Bible is clear that God created human kind as male and female before the Fall (Gen 1.27). That is so fundamental as we shall see. For men and women are different and with different abilities, certainly in helping the human race to continue. Men do not have wombs!
However, that truth is counter to much that is assumed and often taught in the West today. This biblical view is not part of the Spirit of the Age that has sought to iron out any sexual difference and virtually have humans as unisexual, with any differences seen as minimal. So, I quote …
"to challenge the ongoing certainties of one's own day – to challenge, that is, the proclamation of the Spirit of the Age or Zeitgeist – is to level one's lance at a fire-breathing dragon. A perilous hazard … [For] whatever the proclamation of the Spirit of whatever Age, it is in its own age the voice of absolute, unquestionable truth ... It is a female dragon today, loosely named 'Women's Liberation'. Her proclamation, as first the plaintive cry for fairness of a damsel in distress, calling forth (for perhaps the last time) men's chivalry, has now become very shrill indeed, even strident."
That is at the beginning of a long paper by Sheldon Vanauken from which I will give you some paragraphs. Vanauken was an American Professor, educated in the US and at Oxford, a friend of C.S. Lewis, and author of the best-selling 'A Severe Mercy'. The paper was entitled 'Unisexism – second thoughts on Women's Liberation'. The paper went on:
"But what if the challenger has been to the brave new world – been a citizen, in fact – and is now coming back?"
In the 60s Vanauken was a leader in the Women's Movement and wrote one of the early tracts entitled 'Freedom for Movement Girls – Now'. He claims that…
"… to replace the cumbersome and imprecise 'male chauvinist', on the model of 'racist', I invented and defined two new words, 'sexist' and 'sexism'."
And in the early 70s, he tells us, he was writing to newspapers and writing articles, often under a pseudonym, demanding instant "ordination of women" and "instant appointment of women to everything." At some point he became a Christian believer but was still full-on in the movement.
But many little things gradually gave him pause for thought. First, there was the Spirit of the Age which means you interpret the Bible in terms of secular values and then interpret God's love in terms of his allowing anything that will make you happy. Then there was this neutering of God and the Feminist Bible, where the "only begotten Son" becomes "beloved Child" and "Abba, Father!" becomes "My loving parent! Source of my being!" And then there was published about this time a book about the sinking in 1912 of the Titanic which had an effect on many people. Here is Vanauken's comment:
"Everyone knows the story of the gallant gentlemen who stepped back from the lifeboats so that the weaker women and children could be saved. Of course the protection of the female is rooted in our nature: the stags and stallions and other mammals do the same. But this particular writer, mainly concerned with the impact of the sinking on America, had unearthed a new fact. When American women, imagining themselves aboard the doomed liner, read the accounts of her final hours and those chivalrous gentlemen, a good many of the ones who were early feminists abruptly left the movement. They had seen a small floating world in survival conditions. That," said Vanauken, "made me thoughtful."
Vanauken details many of these, as he calls them, "straws in the wind".
"But then, later," he writes, "I reread my pseudonymous article urging the "ordination" of women; and I saw that my arguments on this totally Christian matter, though couched in Christian terms, were, in fact, secular and feminist – and wrong. Very wrong. I saw that I hadn't even genuinely considered what God's will might be but had assumed (that fatal assumption) that anything that seemed so right to me must be God's will."
And so he wrote a new article against women's ordination in 1978. He had come to see at last that men and women are different. He then talks about his relationship with his wife in a marriage totally committed to unisexism. So his wife decided not to have children, because that would make them unequal! But many years later, when both were now fully committed Christians and she was ill, Vanauken tells us (years after her death), she now…
"found it liberation to be a traditional (Christian) wife. Not a comrade, not a partner, but a wife. In her mind, of course, were St Paul's words on the hierarchical order: that the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church. During the grief following her death, I had realized that (although we both should have fiercely denied it) 'I had exercised a sort of headship – in the sense of the initiatory or leadership role – that was accepted, even desired, by her without either of us being aware of it.' Such headship is of course not being a boss (which is the debasing of headship, as 'clinging-vine-ism' is the debasing of wifely response); but it is initiating and leading … In the years since, I have come to a decision on the plain authority of the New Testament as well as my own careful observation and deep thought, that male initiation (headship) and female response is the natural order and is inbuilt in the structure of Creation. … The case against Women's 'Liberation' is not a case against all that feminists, including me, have ever said. Of course a woman should get equal pay for equal work (with equal commitment). Of course a woman should be a doctor or chemist if she wants to – and is willing to pay the price. Feminists, including Christian ones, who stand for little more than this sort of fair play are not the hard-core feminists I am writing about: namely, the unisexists. The neuterists."
He argues that women needed to work for freedoms. He agrees there was repression in Victorian times. But he argues that history shows that periods of repression can lead to periods of excess. So, his basic conclusion is this:
"I do not for a moment believe that men are superior to women – only different … Man and woman are equal, yes, but equal in importance and value; and not, thank God, identical. Equal in importance as a nut and bolt are entirely equal in importance without being identical – and doing a job together that neither two bolts nor two nuts could do, holding something together. A man and a woman do what two men or two women cannot do: they hold humanity together. A man and a little pseudo-man won't do it either."
However, the knowledge that repression is followed by excess, in fact rather like a pendulum, gave him a thought:
"if the pendulum swings from extreme to extreme, does it pass the point of balance (or sanity?) somewhere in between? Could that point of balance, assuming that 1880 and 1980 represent the extremes, have been in the 1920s when women obtained the vote in both England and America and were admitted to women's colleges at Oxford as degree candidates?"
This made me think, too. Was 2014, when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) 2013 Act came into force, the high point of a pendulum for us in terms of excess? And is 'transgenderism' the proverbial bridge too far? I believe it might be.