British Friends Consider Sex Problems
A review of TOWARDS A QUAKER VIEW OF SEX, edited by Alastair Heron and published by a group of Friends by Friends Home Service Committee, London Yearly Meeting. 75 pages (Available from Friends Book Store, 302 Arch Street, Philadelphia 2, Pa. 75 cents.)
The pamphlet is not an official statement of the Society of Friends but merely express the opinions of the authors.
Readers of The Friends of London will not be surprised that the Home Service Committee of London Yearly Meeting has published a controversial pamphlet on sex and morality. This is a subject which has been discussed quite openly in the pages of the English Quaker weekly, with a variety of points of view being presented in articles and letters to the editor. The Home Service Committee itself published just last year "Christians and Sex--A Quaker Comment," by Harold Loukes, presenting the more traditional Christian view.
British Friends are to be commended for getting discussion of this subject out into the open. American Friends should do the same. As the writers of Towards a Quaker View of Sex point out, the traditional Christian code regarding sex is being challenged at all levels of our society and, even where adhered to, may be followed more in form than in spirit. Whether we like it or not, sex is greatly emphasized in our society and we cannot assume that Quaker men and women are immune to the influences around them. Christians in England are faced also with the fact that in their country only ten per cent of the population regularly attend church, thereby reducing the church's opportunity to interpret its beliefs and social codes.
It is important to know the origins of Towards a Quaker View of Sex and to understand its general orientation. The group of concerned and professionally distinguished Friends responsible for its preparation began meeting in 1957 to consider "through thought and prayer" what the Quaker faith could say to homosexuals. They soon found that the study of homosexuality and its moral problems could not be divorced from a survey of the whole field of sexual behavior and the rightness of the traditional Christian moral code. It is this willingness to look at the church's code--to try to understand its assets and liabilities--that is stirring controversy both in England and in the United States.
The excellent chapter on homosexuality calls for a truly Christian view toward the homosexual; it is closely related to the next chapter, "A New Morality Needed," which places this particular problem in the larger context of sex and morality as a whole. The authors have deep misgivings, based on actual professional experiences both within and outside the Society of Friends, about the traditional approach of the organized Christian church to morality, "with its supposition that it knows precisely what is right and wrong, that this distinction can be made in terms of an external pattern of behavior, and that the greatest good will come only through universal adherence to that pattern." They feel that the "still repressive and inhibited outlook towards sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual...has invested a normal function with guilt, mystery and ignorance...and has devalued the sexual currency to the levels of sensation and pornography."
In calling for a much deeper morality "that kind of conduct and inner discipline through which the sexual energy of men and women can bring health of mind and spirit" and "a release of love, warmth and generosity into the world," the group reminds Friends of their traditional approach to all questions of conduct. "The Society of Friends...places particular emphasis on our individual and personal responsibility. ...Man is intended to be a moral being. That is not to say that he should accept a formal morality, an observance of mores, but that his actions should come under searching scrutiny in the light that comes from the Gospels and the working of God within us."
The questioning of the group arises form an "awareness that the traditional code, in itself, does not come from the heart; for the great majority of men and women it has no roots in feeling or true conviction. We have been seeking a morality that will indeed have its roots in the depths of our being and in the awareness of the true needs of our fellows. ...What may outwardly fall in line with principle may not inwardly be good... The essentials of Christianity are simple but demanding. Christianity is concerned with relationship: the relationship of man with man and man with God... A personal relationship is a loving relationship in its most meaningful sense--the sense implied by 'Thou shalt love God...and love thy neighbor as thyself.'"
I have quoted at random and at some length because United Press International issued from London a misleading news release, quoting parts of the pamphlet out of context. The release said it was "normal for 'young men and women with high standards of general conduct and integrity to have one or two love affairs, involving intercourse' before they marry." The quote from the pamphlet was correct, but the authors used the word "common" rather than "normal" (which implies approval), and the sentence was part of a statement of facts regarding British society in general. Again, UPI quoted the following, "Sexuality, looked at dispassionately, is neither good nor evil--it is a fact of nature," but the press release failed to quote the next sentence: "But, looking at it as Christians we have felt impelled to state without reservation that it is a glorious gift of God." At no point in the pamphlet are young Friends being urged, as in the Daily Mail cartoon reprinted in Newsweek, to sow a "few Quaker oats."
In evaluating Towards a Quaker View of Sex it is useful to have on hand Harold Loukes' Christians and Sex--A Quaker Comment, because he deals in an understanding manner with some of the same questions raised by the authors of the present essay. For example, he acknowledges the negative and crippling aspects of the traditional moral code as often applied, and he would agree that at the point of counseling there must be the deepest love and understanding. Nevertheless, he flatly advocates adherence to the traditional Christian code as providing, in its full meaning, the soundest basis for the abundant life and for the following of God's will. He, like the group calling for a new morality, emphasizes the need to preserve marriage and family life. Harold Loukes believes that the traditional code need not be simply an external morality. In its finest dimensions it is an inner morality. "Sex...is the servant of the total personal relationships."
With a few exceptions the authors of Towards a Quaker View of Sex appear to be involved in one way or another in professional counseling. Valuable and valid as their conclusions and questions may be, the pamphlet has the bias of those who have studied primarily the problems of the relatively abnormal and unhappy person in contrast to the experiences of the relatively normal and happy one. This is a fault found in most psychological studies.
The presentation would be more readable as a whole if the group or the editor had reduced the material, placed basic assumptions together rather than in several chapters, and had omitted the appendices. As it is, in addition to being a call for a new and deeper morality, the pamphlet is almost a catalogue on sexual behavior and terminology. I think the principal message would have had greater impact if the pamphlet were less weighed down with professional jargon and descriptions.
The work's overriding merit is that it asks searching questions and draws courageous tentative conclusions. It does not pretend to provide all of the answers. If it simulates creative discussion on sex and morality in Quaker circles, it will have served its purpose. In the world of John Robinson's farewell to pilgrims setting off for the New World, quoted in the pamphlet: "The Lord has yet more light and truth to show forth."