Towards a Quaker View of Sex

Sermon at First Unitarian Los Angeles


Stephen Fritchman, minister at First Unitarian Church Los Angeles, presented this sermon review on September 29, 1963. Fritchman focused on the sexual practice and morality concerns and said little about homosexuality.


clipping in Keith Wedmore Papers


Sermon of the Month
First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles
Stephen H. Fritchman, Minister
The Quakers Break the Taboo on Sex
A Book Review Sermon
Edited by Alastair Heron
Delivered September 29, 1963 by Stephen H. Fritchman

Dr. Spock has an article in this month's REDBOOK Magazine on "How My Thinking Has Changed". Anyone hearing my first sermons in the year 1920 in Craryville, New York and now listening to what I shall say this morning might suggest that I too write an article on "How My Thinking Has Changed."

One footnote to this sermon is in order. There is nothing original in today's address, however startling some of the content may be. I have been reading and thinking about the Sexual Revolution of the Twentieth Century for many years, and have discussed various aspects of it in addresses on marriage, the family, and our inter-personal relations, although I did not always label the contents with the three letter word. I am told that a few years ago, when I used the word "sex" in a morning sermon, one woman rose up and departed, and has only now, many years later, started to resume attendance at services. I trust her thinking has changed along with Dr. Spock's, since I intend to use the word sex fairly often again this morning, and if this fact disturbs anyone, this might be a good time for him or her to go over to Channing Hall for a premature cup of coffee.

Let me also, at this moment, offer my thanks and give the proper credits to the Rev. John Morgan, our Minister in Toronto; to the editors of LOOK Magazine for their September 24th issue which is mentioned in today's Order of Service, and to the British Quakers for their recent booklets, Toward a Quaker View of Sex. Several copies of this hard-to-get book are now on our book table, but probably will not be by one o'clock today. This excellent publication is indeed the Quaker view of sex expressed by an esteemed group of British Quakers--anthropologists, social workers, psychiatrists, and teachers, but it is not the view of sex of the Quaker girls I dated in greater Philadelphia in the early nineteen-twenties, not of their fathers, nor of their grandfathers. All of which is to say that the Twentieth Century has seen many revolutions: political and economic in Russia, China and Cuba; racial, as in the United States and Africa today, and sexual as everyone I know about--Asia, Africa, Europe, South American, and most familiarly, the United States and Canada.

Since I have found sex to be far more controversial than politics in this church over the years, allow me to say to first-time visitors that in a Unitarian church the views of the pulpit are not necessarily those of the congregation, nor are all of the views quoted necessarily shared by the speaker as his own. This ought to be obvious, but I find it needs to be said fairly often, since I sometimes learn that I have been quoted as supporting a large number of things that I don't support, such as taking LSD for kicks, or simultaneous polygamy, or playing the slot machines at Las Vegas or believing that the Los Angeles Dodgers have a supernatural guarantee of winning the World Series.

There have been quite a number of Unitarian sermons around the continent in recent months on the subject of the Twentieth Century sexual revolution, some of them extremely well done. The reason is clear. The long, long silence about matters dealing with relations between the sexes has been broken, even in church. The price of silence during a revolutionary period has been found too high, in terms of human welfare. The Rev. John Mordan, one of the most unequivocating ministers in our denomination, said it well, "A careful silence about 'sex' is still maintained between many adults and teen-agers. Those adults who publicly break the silence with unconventional opinions, whether teachers or commentators, risk attracting the wrath of the especially fearful. But surely teen-agers deserve better from adults than private panic and censorship."

A brilliant writer for MacLean's Magazine in Canada, Pierre Breton, whose column I quoted to our College Center group of this church last June as expressing the moral issues of the changing sex ethic, was dropped from the magazine's staff because of reader protest. He had been neither flippant nor sensational, simply honest and outspoken. The pinched nerve of conscience created a loud explosion, and MacLean's let him go. Silence again took over.

The subject of sexual mores simply cannot be discussed in a vacuum, separate from other human problems. Let me, therefore, call your attention for a moment to the special issue of LOOK magazine for September 24, on "Morality USA" by Robert Moskin, LOOK's senior editor. Allow me to quote several sentences of this essay by Mr. Moskin:

"Each of us must make difficult moral decisions. We are witnessing the end of the old morality. In our world of jet travel, nuclear power and fragmented families, conditions are changing so fast that the established moral guide-lines have been yanked from our hands. No single authority rules our conduct. No church lays down the moral law for all. No tribal customs or taboos define the limits of our immoralities. We are free to be prejudiced or promiscuous, to cheat or to chisel. We are left floundering in a money-motivated, sex-obsessed, big-city dominated society. We must figure out for ourselves how to apply the traditional moral principles to the problems of our time."

"Out of today's moral confusion will come either a society of license and brutality, or, if we are wise and lucky, a new moral code based on the realities of a new world."

Two examples amongst many in Mr. Moskin's articles illustrates for me the reality of the new moral challenge. He quotes Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer's phrasing of the dilemma "Thou shalt not kill, but a general says we can kill 400 million people."

His second illustration refers to the space marathon to the moon. He asks, "Should we race the Russians to the moon, or spend the same talent and money fighting cancer and mental illness? The space race compares less to Columbus' voyages than to the vainglorious building of the pyramids. To race the Russians to the moon and to let our old people live on almost nothing is immoral. The astronauts become the new gladiators." (I might way that President Kennedy's proposal at the United Nations to have the Russians and Americans pool their efforts in this lunar space venture does not necessarily alter the immorality of the enterprise, as sick and hungry Americans and sick and hungry Russians would probably agree."

It is, however, on the subject of the sexual revolution that I found Mr. Moskin especially cogent. Listen to his opening words on this subject," American society no longer is accepting the Christian morality of sexual life--that sex should not be outside of marriage. Divorce is completely accepted; freedom of sexual intercourse between young men and women is fully accepted."

Professor Lester Kirkendall of Oregon State College is quoted by Mr. Moskin, "There is much more youthful discussion of sex because the young people are trying to work out for themselves a new sexual code. There is much more pre-marital sexual experience, but our young people are not sex-obsessed. Our culture is." I certainly would agreed with Dr. Kirkendall from my talks with students at Grinnell College, at Reed College, and from our own Los Angeles schools and colleges. Many of them come from liberal homes where, they tell me, silence on sex ethics is monumental, and they do not exempt the churches from this blackout of helpful guidance and discussion. They are more serious than many of their elders about sexual matters, far more honest about their practices, and very eager to create a self-imposed discipline of ethos of sex that will produce a durable as well as a happy marriage. One divorce out of every four marriages does not assure these young people that all wisdom lies with the older generation.

"The greatest change in sexual morality," Dr. Kirkendall points out, "is with young women. Many parents who do not always seem to know it are pushing their daughters into earlier sexual activity. Then they are appalled when those daughters get into difficulties. It is a distorted society morally that gives sixteen-year-olds automobiles to drive, provides them with opportunities to go out with the opposite sex, but does not teach them anything about sex or contraception. By the time they are in their teens they move very close to a full physical relationship. Many a girl feels extremely pressured to demonstrate that she has the kind of attractiveness that is going to satisfy a boy.

Mrs. Katherine Oettinger, Chief of the U.S. Children's Bureau, says, "We are often too lax about situations where experimentation goes on--the business of early dating, allowing youngsters so much freedom, sometimes promoting a boyfriend at all costs. The youngsters who are unsophisticated have babies and are punished. The number of illegitimate births has tripled since 1940."

Dr. Milten Senn at Yale's Child Study Center reports that gifts of twelve and thirteen, from all kinds of families, are dropping out of school because of pregnancies. Premarital pregnancy is now involved in 85% of all marriages in which the partners are high school students. As Dr. Kirkendall has noted, "Parents go along with Twentieth Century attitudes until the girl gets pregnant, then Nineteenth Century morality comes into play," and he then states, regarding college students, "A college should not make a rule that chastity should be the rule, because then you have to think if an act has or has not been performed, in order to determine whether a student is virtuous or not. Rather than being concerned whether an act has been performed, I should like to be concerned that we use all our powers and capacities with responsible concern for others." It is this last phrase of Dr. Kirkendall which I should like to stress. "This," he emphasizes, "is not permissiveness, because relationships have rules." He then states, "I'm more fearful about our inability to handle our aggressive and hostile impulses that our sexual impulses. You can use sex i n a hostile way just as you use a bludgeon." He adds, with telling force, "Our moral confusion over sex is not limited to the young. As long as the adults focus on the youth they don't have to look at themselves. Sex is essentially an adult problem. When a person uses sex in marriage to punish, control or manipulate, this becomes immorality too."

I agree fully with the marriage experts who find that the crux of the sex problems in marriage is one of communication, or its absence. Sex all to often is used in exploitation of the partner. Partly as a result of this adult failure in sexual communication our last census reports almost two million divorced women in this country and thirteen million children who belong to broken homes. We certainly shall not achieve a satisfying sexual morality in our new age of science and the growing equality of men and women until we face directly the need for true communication between men and women, and face the costliness of sexual exploitation. We certainly will not find a mature sexual morality through silence between partners, or between parents and the children. Meeting the sadness, frustration and anger of many children of miserable inadequate marriages is about the hardest experience I have to accept in my ministry. Little wonder these children grow up resolved to find another pattern than the one they have seen or heard at firsthand.

There is a prevailing ignorance about sex needs, habits and practices in our present-day world, in spite of a multi-million-dollar exploitation of sex by commercial advertising, and an enormous amount of conversation on the subject, with knowing references to Ovid, Rabelais, and Dr. Kinsey.

My colleagues, Rev. A. Phillip Hewett of Vancouver, British Columbia, recently preached a sermon, Sexual Conduct: A Quaker Assessment in which he declared:

"A member of this congregation made headlines a few days ago by pointing out that in spite of our obsession with sex there is an appalling degree of ignorance on this subject. That too is part of our inheritance in this particular culture. So also are the veiled allusions and misunderstanding which deny any attempt to cope intelligently with these matters. You will have read in the newspapers a report, no doubt grossly distorted as newspaper reports usually area, of what Dean McCrae is alleged to have said about the preoccupation of the girl students at the University of British Columbia. From the comments on this statement it is quite obvious that in the minds of some people a preoccupation with sex means a continuous orgy of sexual promiscuity. Such confusions have their comic side, like that of the man who was filling our a form with name, address, age, etc., and when he came to 'sex' he wrote 'occasionally.'"

One of the most unexpected sources of insight, in my studies, was a little book issued recently by the British Quakers, entitled "Toward a Quaker View of Sex. I wish to say only enough today to read it in its entirety. The Unitarians and Universalists would do well to prepare as frank and as realistic a publication themselves.

The origins of the Quaker study were the problems raised by young Quaker students faced with homosexual difficulties, who came to older Quakers for help and guidance. It was soon apparent that the Society of Friends, the actual name of the religious movement, had very little to say to people in sexual difficulties--homosexual or heterosexual. A group of Quakers from their own schools, some in social work, some in psychiatry, some in marriage and parent organizations, decided to make study in order to know what could effectively say, especially to homosexuals, who found society condemned their feelings and who also found themselves victimized, blackmailed, and sometimes imprisoned. But the advising group soon found that the study of homosexuality and its moral problems could not be divorced from a survey of the whole field of sexual activity. Hence the final character of the book.

As the introduction states, "We realized there was much needless suffering and human failure which we would like to relieve, and that in subscribing to a moral code, some of which we no longer accept, society merits the charge of hypocrisy, and its authority is thereby weakened. The insincerity of the sexual moral code may well be a cause of the widespread contempt of the younger generation for society's rules and prohibitions generally."

The editors then tell us, in this same British understatement and unimpassioned prose (which has great merit in discussing often-avoided problems) that these appear to be the developments we are faced with today, "1. A great increase in adolescent sexual intimacy. 2. An increase in transient pre-marital 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 he person they will ultimately marry." (I would insert here that there is not a Unitarian minister in this country who does not know this to be true.)

The Quaker study continues, "3. It is even more common for those who intend to 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. 4. The incidence of extra-marital intercourse is great, but it is not possible to estimate whether there is an increase. There are many instances which do not lead to divorce or obvious harm, and which are kept secret."

The editors then add, "The central concept of sexual morality in Christian countries in the integrity of the family. Most people, religious or otherwise, in our own or other countries, would agree that the family as a social unit should be safeguarded, and sexual practices that threaten its stability be vigorously discouraged."

Immediately after setting this Christian Quaker goal the writers of the pamphlet state what I have seen in no church publication during my entire ministry, and the honest and humility of the Quakers once again impress me. They say, "Over long periods of history, illegitimate children in Christian countries have been shockingly treated compared with their counterparts in a polygamous African community. A Christian pattern has evolved which is most cruel to those outside its pattern. Christian parents have subjected their children to barbarous punishments and created conditions which were defensive, restricted and inhibited, and not in any way a source for 'the abundant life.' Sexual problems are infinitely more common than is realized, and the isolation of the individual, arising from society's repressive outlook toward the sexually troubled, is more apparent than real. This still repressive and inhibited outlook towards sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual, has brought serious difficulties to students of human behavior."

The editors then points out what you and I in this country also know to be true, that "a repressive outlook has invested a normal function of men with guilt, mystery and ignorance. It has devalued the sexual currency to the level of sensationalism and pornography. When one considers the universality of the sexual drive, it is appalling how little understand there is of its origins, manifestations and possibilities for human happiness. Sexual behavior and moral outlook have much more to do with upbringing and prevailing cultural beliefs than most people realize. Only now are adults, as well as students in our schools, learning about other human communities of the past and present."

The sacrosanct character of our professed sexual mores is now being weighed by thoughtful people who have studies some anthropology and literature previously hidden or unknown. Western man in the Twentieth Century has a great deal to learn from other cultures about challenging and employing the sexual drives of human nature. It took me at least thirty years to identify the astigmatisms of St. Paul and St. Augustine on the sex e3thic, to say nothing of the rigidity and intolerance of the ancient Hebrews. The fact that the Jews were often advanced in their ethical insights does not mean that they always were.

Our Quaker friends then say what some Unitarians are now saying, "Marriage is to be taken seriously, but not always in grim earnest; its problems take perspective from fun, adventure and fulfillment, and joy and sorrow are mingled together. For some there is a monogamy so entire that no other love ever touches it; but others fall in love time and again, and most learn to make rickes of their affections without destroying their marriages or their friends. Let us thank God for what we share, which enables us to understand, and for the infinite variety in which each marriage stands alone."

The above statement has disturbed some Quakers, and others, but it has the virtue of candor and of facing the facts that exist, and it is an effort to stress communication between the sexes without harsh moral judgements which end all understanding. The Quakers, in this book of theirs and in much general practice, show little enthusiasm for the ancient Christian habit of laying down strict rules of moral conduct and then being unhumanly intolerant of all who break those rules. Those who wrote this book go further. They say that sexuality looked at dispassionately is neither good not edit; it is a fact of nature. They emphasize that we need to avoid the judgemental attitude so common this area of sex, and to do a little more understanding.

The Quakers seek to explore the true meaning of having a loving relationship, in or out of wedlock. They stress the need for warmth and intimacy, for open-heartedness and overwhelming generosity of hand and spirit. Loving involves a commitment to the other person, involving that person's life. We must go beyond the sociability of modern life to commitment and concern. We need to understand human energy, creative powers, and the need for sharing. Such attitudes will project young and old from crass exploitation and what I would call "Profumism", or the marketing impulse in sexual relations--whether or not money changes hands.

If some would say that the Quakers are simply blessing "free love" and promiscuity, they know the human psyche very little. I might say here what my colleague, Rev. John Morgan of Toronto, said in his recent sermon, "I have long since concluded that in our society there is probably very little free love. It is a very hard thing for people to love freely in this culture--there is always a price, psychological and social."

The Rev. Morgan's development of his ideas proved enlightening to me and I hope you will find them so. "We are not in the Garden of Eden. We are a complex race of people with the imprint of a long history in our spirits. Sexual actions stir us far below the level of consciousness, and may do more than we know to shape our future. There is an almost overwhelming urge throughout society towards the trivializing of sexual actions and the separating of them from the rest of life. A young doctor whose whole working life is given to a preparation for the most responsible of careers may think it all right to propose 'going to bed' to a nurse he has only just met and whose surname is unknown to him. We think it probable that to use one's capacity for loving in a relationship that is personally so tenuous is to reduce ultimately one's capacity for any depth of feeling or commitment, for in many such liaisons there is a deliberate intention to steer clear of being involved, to have fun without commitment.

"We have been unable to avoid the continued challenge of this question: 'When is it right to have sexual intercourse, if it is not to be wholly confined to marriage?' Every counsellor will have to face it. He may himself believe that it should be confined to marriage; if so, he must say so quietly and humbly while entering with understanding into the problem of his questioner who is less sure that one rule meets all cases. Counsellors--and parents--do well to hesitate before passing judgement...

"When as a group we face the question as to when it is right for intercourse to take place, we find it easier to feel sure when it should not take place. First we feel impelled to say something like this: that it should not happen until the partners have come to know each other so well that the sexual contact becomes a consummation, a deeply meaningful total expression of a friendship in which each has accepted the other's reality and shared the other's interests. Could we may also that at least in spirit each should be committed to the other--should be open to the other in heart and mind? This would mean that each cared deeply about what might happen to the other and would do everything possible to meet the other's needs and lessen any suffering that had to be faced. It would mean a willingness to accept responsibility and some fore-knowledge of what responsibility implied."

The Quaker develop the limitations of any religion or church that casts people out for their failure to meet the requirements of the moral code, or who are deviants from norms in things sexual. It is the lack of love in early years in the family and beyond it that mutilates and destroys so many lives. We know that this lack if mentally destructive as well. Many of the aberrations we deplore in other people's sexual behavior are of our making, and we never know it!

The Quaker booklet goes on to discuss at some length the meaning of normal sexual development, the realities of adolescence, the phenomenon of masturbation, the very problems of the single man and woman, the sexual difficulties and opportunities of married life in later years, and the particular issues confronting the homosexual. The information about homosexuality in other cultures, past and present, learned from the anthopologist, is present without special pleading but with genuine sympathy. The sexual needs of children are discussed with a simplicity I have not encountered outside of technical studies and textbooks. The Oedipus and the Electra situations are defined in a way that the average reader can understand without a course in Greek literature or through advanced psychoanalysis.

Let this suffice for a brief sermon review. What are we to conclude? Permit me to say, as we come to the end of our discussion, that there is need for far more discussion of these problems in our own churches than has been realized. Parents, teachers, ministers, doctors, young people as well as older members and friends, have contributed to the atmosphere of silence, and to the false assumption that we already possess an agreed-upon sexual morality in our country, or even in the liberal church. It is not so! And by our failure to discuss these matters we have failed to help parents and their children. We have failed to help young men and women who are having real problems in their marriages. One reason why our trustees set up our Counseling Service last year was a recognition of this fact. And the Service is being used.

I strongly suspect that none of us has a perfect score in our handling of sexual ethics. If this is so, we should not expect a perfect score from our teen-agers or our college youth. We are fallibly human beings trying, I hope, to do our best in a revolutionary situation; trying to retain the best of the past, and to shape a morality that does justice to human nature and to our capacities to achieve the good life. It surely not come by silence, or by ignoring difficult issues. We need courage, not hospitality. We need wisdom which comes through listening to shoe we respect, and above all we must learn that there is never just one right answer.

From that knowledge we can hope for some progress--in our own lives and those of our children.

(Copies of Towards a Quaker View of Sex are available from the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, 2936 West Eighth Street, Los Angeles 5, California @ $.85.)