Towards a Quaker View of Sex

Report on Hampstead Conference


The Friend published an account of the June 11 conference at Hampstead Meeting House in its June 24 issue.


Reproduced by permission of The Friend, June 24, 1960, pp. 892-3.


The Friend June 24, 1960

Towards a Quaker View of Sex--II

A Friend writes: "We have no music...we are not cheap...but..." Was this advertisement for a restaurant in a political weekly also applicable to the Society of Friends? This thought was one of many thrown up at a conference at Hampstead Meeting House on June 11 called by the group of Friends who signed the article in The Friend of May 20 on "Towards a Quaker View of Sex". Anna Bidder took the chair, and representatives were present from the Home Service and Marriage and Parenthood Committees, the Friends Guild of Social Workers, Hampstead Monthly Meeting Elders, a group of Friends at Tunbridge Wells and the Homosexual Law Reform Society, the Joint Secretary of which is a Friend.* Other concerned Friends were also present, including a number of psychiatrists.

Anna Bidder first described why the group responsible for calling the conference had begun to meet some three years ago, and how over the years it had been led to attempt a fundamental reassessment of Christian morality on sexual matters. Three other members of the group then spoke from their individual standpoints. Alfred Torrie, with thirty years' experience as a psychiatrist behind him, asked what the Quaker answer was to both the homosexual who views his conduct with disgust and loathing, and to those others, differently constituted, who are unwilling to seek help. He stressed the normality of the homosexual phase through which most of us pass, but also disclosed how much uncharted ignorance there was about the subject. Doctors seldom saw the homosexual in the early stages: when he sought medical help he usually was in deep trouble. Knowledge and compassion were both needed. In the homosexual, as in all men, below his self-disgust was the living Christ. That was the Quaker faith.

Duncan Fairn followed with some account of his experiences of the morbid side of the problem from seeing men in prison over the last twenty years or so. He described the impact of the law and its differentiation between the conduct of men and women, and referred to the interest arouse by the Report of the Wolfenden Committee. Although members of the group had begun by having a concern for those in acute need, they had been led to seek an understand of sex in life as a whole. It has been said, humorously, that "sex has come to say", and what the group was trying to do was to work out a valid philosophy of sex with the help of their Quaker insights.

The last group member to speak was Keith Wedmore, a barrister who spoke for the younger generation. Experience at a university and in the Army had disclosed for him the wide gap between conventional beliefs and practice. He had been forced to ask himself whether our morality was true, right and practicable. With Alfred Torrie he stressed the homosexual and heterosexual components of our nature. It seemed to him important to understand that it was not so much homosexuality itself which was a problem as the lack of heterosexuality. Was it possible that St. Paul was not the last word on sexual morals? In the group they had come to see that personal relationships were of prime importance. "Personal relationships matter for ever and ever."

The conference devoted the afternoon session to criticism of a draft outline for a pamphlet designed to help Friends to know the facts about sexual development in general, and to understand some of the special problems of homosexuality. The discussion was opened by Richard Fox, and the criticisms and suggestions were remitted to the convening group as a guide in the final preparation of the document, which it is hoped will be published.

Kenneth Barnes brought the conference to a close by emphasising that the work of the group on "Homosexuality and Other Problems of Sex" over the years had been a profound religious exercise, and that they had tried to make themselves available to the Spirit's leading. There had been a deep sharing of experience. Again and again they had found conventional judgments, when ruthlessly examined, to fall short of their understanding of truth. They believed that there was not sexual experience which could be condemned outright without knowledge of its inner quality. Christ's words to the woman in adultery abode for ever: "Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more."
*Venetia Newall