Towards a Quaker View of Sex

Observer, 17 February 1963


The Observer ran this front-page review  on Sunday, February 17, and also reported on the responses of leaders from other Christian traditions.


clippings in Keith Wedmore Papers


The Observer February 17, 1963

Sympathy and sex, by eleven Quakers

by John Silverlight

In one of the frankest reports on sex ever produced as a religious undertaking, a group of Quakers calls for a radically new approach towards morality.

The report, Towards a Quaker View of Sex, to be published tomorrow by the Friends' Home Service Committee, reviews modern developments in people's attitude to sex, discusses normal sexual development, and urges reform of the homosexuality laws.

Then, in a chapter called "A New Morality Is Needed," it refers critically to the Church's attitude to sexuality throughout the centuries.

This historical survey, it says, "supports us in rejecting almost completely the traditional approach of the organised Christian Church to morality, with its suppositions that it knows precisely what is right and what is wrong, that this distinction can be made in terms of an external pattern of behaviour, and that the greatest good will come only through universal adherence to that pattern."

Love affairs

The tone of the pamphlet is set in the first few pages. While disclaiming authoritativeness--"our answers are tentative and incomplete"--it says forthrightly: "We shall have reason to say that sexuality, looked at dispassionately, is neither good nor evil--it is a fact of nature."

The modern developments discussed include:--
"An increase in transient premarital sexual intimacies generally. It is fairly common in both young men and women with high standards of general conduct and integrity to have one or two love affairs, involving intercourse, before they find the person they will ultimately marry.

"It is even more common for those who marry to have sexual intercourse before the ceremony. This is true, probably, of the majority of young people in all classes of society, including those who often have a deep sense of responsibility."

The report says some people already recognise that a morality which condemns homosexuals is not Christian since it lacks compassion. It goes on: Is it equally recognised

(continued on page 6. col. 4)

that heterosexual morality may be defensive and insensitive?

"Among the married, faithfulness may be achieved by 'working to rule,' but at the cost of depth and understanding: among the unmarried, chastity may be upheld at the cost of charity towards those in different circumstances."

In the chapter calling for reform of the homosexual laws in accordance with the 1957 Wolfenden Report (its chief recommendation was that acts between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence) a note of sheet indignation appears: "When people hear that a particular lavatory is a meeting place for homosexuals, they shudder, and wonder at the lack of taste. But who has sent them there? If homosexuals could meet more openly and with less persecution, they would no doubt choose more aesthetic surroundings."

'Absolute ballyhoo'

The group has 11 members, six of them Elders of the Society of Friends, and included teachers, psychiatrists, a barrister, and a housewife. All except one are married.

The exception--59-year-old Dr. Anna Bidder, research worker and teacher in Zoology at Cambridge University--is the person who initiated the group after meeting some young men who were practising homosexuals and who were distressed about it.
"I found that my fellow Quakers were less horrified than other Christians," she told me, but at the same time they found themselves ill-equipped to help.

Dr. Bidder (who will discuss the pamphlet on B.B.C. television tonight with Paul Ferrus of THE OBSERVER) said: "There are those who say that if young people have done to bed together they are spoiled for ever. That is absolute ballyhoo, in my opinion."

The report has provoked varied reactions among churchmen of other denominations. The Rev. John Hustable, Principal of New College, whose main object is to train ministers for the Congregational Church said yesterday that the thought it "too muddle-headed to do any real good."

For one thing, it expressly stated that it was not an official document of the Society of Friends, but its title would inevitably give this impression. "Most Quakers I know," he said, "are likely to be pretty scandalised by it."
He criticised the group for "making no real attempt to discover the scriptural teaching on the matter. When it does quote the Bible, it does so somewhat tendentiously."

Father Maurice O'Leary, Chairman of the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, said that the report was rightly critical of the negative expression of traditional morality. But in its search for a new morality the group had over-emphasised the importance of the personal relationships at the expense of the overall purpose of sex, which was procreation.

According to Catholic teaching, he said, the sexual appetite and instinct were good, but they must be controlled in a loving and permanent relationship, since in no other way could the overall procreative purpose of sex be achieved.

The report was welcomed by the Archdeacon of London, the Ven. George Appleton, a member of an increasingly vocal group of Anglican clergymen who take a liberal, non-legaliistic approach to morality. (He is the author of an article also calling for a new approach to "Charity, Faith and Chastity" in the spring issue of Frontier.

A possibility

He did, however, feel the one section in the Quaker report was ambiguous. This dealt with the "triangular situation," which, it said, "is too often thought of as a wholly destructive and irresponsible relationship."

Mr. Appleton thought that some readers might think the authors did not condemn the possibility of the relationship with the third party involving sexual intercourse.

Mr. Appleton wished this had been made clearer. He thought that, in general, intercourse with the third party would be wrong since it would not do what the friendship was set out to achieve, i.e., do good rather than harm to the people involved.