Towards a Quaker View of Sex

Meeting for Sufferings 5 July 1963


As reported in The Friend, dissension and unrest over TQVOS appeared to be heightened in the next Meeting for Sufferings. Still the body could not reach consensus to adopt either proposal from the previous meeting--to publish a statement or to hold a conference.


Reproduced by permission of The Friend, July 12, 1963, pp. 809-13


The Friend July 12, 1963

Meeting for Sufferings
No Statement--and No Conference
Full Discussion Ends Negatively

Meeting for Sufferings spent a full morning last Friday considering whether to issue a statement giving guidance on sexual conduct, and whether to hold a conference on the recent pamphlet, Towards a Quaker View of Sex, or at any rate on the subjects with which the pamphlet deals. In both cases it was decided not to.

At its last assembly (in May) the Meeting had been asked by Western Quarterly Meeting to issue "a short, simple statement in the name of the Society, presenting affirmatively what in our experience we have found to be good in socially responsible behaviour". In the interval Hugh Doncaster had been working on a draft, taking into consideration the comments of four other Friends appointed to confer with him.* The results, which had been circulated to members beforehand, was a document of some 2,000 words, for the actual form and working of which, Hugh Doncaster emphasised, he alone must be held responsible. although "much that is of value in it comes directly from" the other four. No instruction had been given in May as to whom this statement should be directed, but as it turned out it was directed "to young Friends in the later teens". The draft was headed: BOY FRIENDS AND GIRL FRIENDS CHASTITY OR INTERCOURSE?

Its preamble explained that here was an attempt to help people find what is right for them in the circumstances in which they are, for there is little value in trying to impose from outside a code which is unacceptable. At the same time, patterns of behaviour which have been found to be good over many generations are likely to be based on good foundations.

The preamble went on to suggest an outline of what was the Christian ideal. This general statement was then expanded into a submission of nine good reasons why sexual intercourse was best avoided by the unmarried--including sexual intercourse by those intending to marry. A final paragraph, before summing it up, emphasised that the question to ask is not," What do conventional standards require? "or even in abstract terms, "What is right?" but the far deeper and more exacting one, "What, in view of all the facts, does love require?"

A Beginning and not an End?

Hugh Doncaster recalled that the Meeting in May had wished that a statement, if to be made, should be a "complement" to Towards a Quaker View of Sex, and not a comment upon or answer to it; and this had been very much in mind. The draft was an attempt to take up the positive message of the pamphlet and develop it a little further. It proposed to say to young people that here was some factual information that should be available to them, "considering what love requires of them".

Jean Storrow, one of the Friends who had been consulted about t he draft, considered it "a beginning, and not an end", and, as a beginning, excellent. But a teenager to whom she had shown it had said: "Yes, it's very good, but it's somebody standing there giving us good advice." It would have been better in this statement to have put to young people some questions to which they, knowing their own situation as no one else could, could be trusted to find the right answers for themselves. She welcomed the emphasis in the statement on loving and caring for one another as the key to the problem; indeed it was the key to all human relationships. And it seemed a good time for some sort of statement. Towards a Quaker View of Sex had set the stage; now they did want to go further and address themselves to some specific task. Nevertheless they might do well to consider whether they were rushing it a bit.

"Healthy to Disagree"

Anna Bidder (one of the eleven members of the group which had produced Towards a Quaker View of Sex) said that her reaction to this draft was very much the same as that which (she could not but gather) had been the reaction of a number of Friends to the pamphlet. There was much valuable material here, and "some absolutely splendid phrases"--"but the thing as a whole fills me with horror". The first impact of this reaction in herself--to find that "I simply don't agree"--had terrified her. But "gradually it came to me that it is right and healthy to be able to disagree with each other in the Society, and to be led together into light and truth. It is our genius to reach unity through pretty fundamental disagreements". The unity which lay behind both the pamphlet and the draft was the solid conviction that monogamous, loyal and loving marriage was one of the great contributions of Christianity to the world, and anything they said about sexual relationships was always directed towards helping people to a marriage that was just that.

If, continued Anna Bidder, they were to offer advice to teenagers, it must be in the spirit of: "We in our experience and in our generation have found that this and this is so. You may agree or disagree, but you will remember that this is our honest personal statement." But she hoped that they would not say that
patterns of behavior which have been found to be food over many generations are likely to be based on good foundations.

She should have thought that the whole history of the Society had shown Friends again and again taking a stand against that attitude in the Christian Church. Friends took their stand on their own experience, on what God gave them to do and to say. She would not dare to say that any pattern of sexual behaviour which some or many had found right was to be claimed right for everybody. People were made in such different patterns and, as the statement had rightly said, God forbid that they should judge.

Nor should they allow young people to think that the only thing that really mattered was whether intercourse took place before or after marriage; nor, further, that a marriage could not be well founded if casual adventures had taken place beforehand. It was not only the careless or light-minded who entered into sexual relations without marriage. Many others than themselves--and she had known and honoured some of them--felt that adventures without marriage were permissible, who would be shocked at any other view but that in marriage one should be anything other than faithful. "We must be honest with our young people and admit that a very wide range of sexual behaviour is not incompatible with goodness."

She did not believe that for years to come the Society would be ready to issue an official statement on this matter. Meanwhile it was all to the good that documents of a tentative nature should be circulated. But it would not be right in so short a time to issue a statement in the name of the Society. No statement in that sense could be made without first having been though the channels of all the Monthly and Quarterly Meetings, and without having been the fruit of long study, search and prayer.

Reginald A. Smith could not be happy about the draft. He had begun thinking it very fine, both as to phrase and substance; and was disappointed that it just did not stand up to further consideration. "Essentially it is not a Christan appeal but an appeal to bourgeois prudence, and I have no more use for bourgeois prudence than have the authors of the pamphlet whose title I cannot bring myself to pronounce." It was perfectly true, the world being what it was, that they had to be extremely careful and responsible as to bringing a child into the world. But that was not the fundamental and eternal reason why completely monogamous marriage was the one sexual relationship really worthy of their calling in Christ. The reasons for that lay much deeper than most of what was said in the draft, and they must get down to them. Much as he admired the exercise and thought of the draft, it was not one which ought to be put out on behalf of the Society.


Gustav Fischer gravely doubted whether the statement was either necessary or advisable. "In Hamlet there is only one character I thoroughly dislike--Polonius. I cannot imagine the youth of 1963 listening to Polonius, If I were a girl and found a boy who could read through these nine reasons I would not marry him."

Elsie Wright thanked Hugh Doncaster and his co-workers, but the statement should not be published as a Quaker document. "It would be a mistake to issue anything that might tie us down." It was not final; it had defects of expression, perhaps; but it was helpful and reasonable, and young people should have the chance of reading it. She hoped it would be "published as a pamphlet and not issued as a fiat from the Society".

Helen Neatby found no objection in the sentence from the statement which Anna Bidder had criticised. The finest human values remain permanent from days of old to the present. "Although their expression may change it doesn't change as much as one would expect." The statement, rightly understood, was profoundly true.

Speaking as an Elder, and presenting, he believed a very large body of opinion among Friends, Wilfrid Allott thought they should approach with great care a proposal to issue a statement which purported to supplement or add to a pamphlet that had already given hurt and that had made some feel pushed outside the fellowship. By this move they would seem to be adopting the pamphlet. Both statements gave less weight to history than to psychology--a mere child among the departments of knowledge. The issue of the statement would cause more division in the Meetings for Worship. "We have a long way to go before we can get a view of sex which the Society can adopt without splitting it down the middle."

"Just What We Want"

Marie Best hoped that, whether or not published as a Quaker statement, it would be made available by some means to young people and to those whose responsibility it was to guide them. The draft had received a whole-hearted welcome from friends or hers, with responsibilities of this sort, to whom she had shown it. "This is just what we want", they said.

Robert Illing, one of those who has just those responsibilities, fully concurred with this. Walter Stone, too, felt that there was great need for a statement along these lines.

Carl Marcussen said that it was beside the point to criticise the statement as not necessarily being "for all time". A very large number of Friends considered it just the type of statement that was needed for this moment.

Wilfred Demain had not a great of use for the statement; he feared that it was in fact a "reaction" in a critical sense from Towards a Quaker View of Sex. The glossy magazines were full of advice as good as this. What had Friend parents been doing all these years if it was necessary to reinforce their responsibility with this statement?

Muriel Putz said they had to decide whether they wished it to be published, and, if so, by whom. She had been impressed by Anna Bidder's point that a statement issued by the Society as a whole should have been the fruit of long study, search and prayer and been considered in all the Meetings. But there were alternative methods of publication. They could ask Hugh Doncaster and the Home Service Committee to see whether a pamphlet could be issued under the aegis of the latter, without necessarily involving Meeting for Sufferings. The statement would then (as in the case of Towards a Quaker View of Sex) become a personal statement on behalf of those who had prepared it.

Young People Know

Nancy Richardson's work takes her into many groups of young people and into discussions there on this very subject. "Although I am very grateful for this statement", she said, "I am afraid it is nothing like enough." The young people she was thinking of would already know everything that was said in it; and the same could be said of young Friends. Young people had in fact a great deal of information, some correct, some incorrect, but they were wandering in a sea of theory. She agreed with Jean Storrow that if they were going to appeal to young people they must appeal on the basis of loving and caring for each other. "The only attack we can make to modern young people is: 'If you love, if you care, you do not want to hurt.'" This caring side of the Christian message was the one side of it which did get under the skin of young people. In the statement there was not quite enough on the caring side.

She was surprised how many older Friends had welcomed the statement as if it was something new. Excellent material of this kind was issued by the moral welcome organisations, the National Marriage Guidance Council and other bodies. There was no lack of information; but there were far too few people willing and qualified to talk to young people; far too many parents who said: "I can't help them; can I give them something to read?" Here were cues for further steps they could take; not the issue of a statement. She hoped they would say to the compilers: "Thank you very much; you have made us think. But may we put it back and think again?"

The clerk (Doris I. Eddington)* said that it was clear that the document was not one which Friends wished to be issued by the Society. But the drawing of a minute was deferred until the second item (below) had been dealt with.


This second question was whether to hold a conference of Friends on the pamphlet, Towards a Quaker View of Sex, or on the whole subject, or both. In May three members of the group which had prepared the pamphlet, three members of the Marriage and Parenthood Committee, and three members of the Friends' Temperance and Moral Welfare Union, were asked to look into this. They now reported that an open conference would not be helpful at this time, but that later a representative conference might be useful. Meanwhile Elders and Overseers and others with a special interest might be called together locally to discuss problems of sexual morality, and for this they should be offered what central help was available.

Reginald A. Smith (who was one of the nine Friend) said that the minute might be viewed in the light of three possible verdicts on Towards a Quaker View of Sex. These were, in Reginald Smith's words: (1) "that the pamphlet is a great revelation to the Society and the world;" (2) "its authors' view that, after five years' gestation, it must be good"; or (3) "that the pamphlet has got in it poisons so virulent that it is essential that we should do our utmost to render them nugatory." He made it very clear that the last was his own view.

Anna Bidder said the committee had felt that an open conference would be more useful after small group discussions had taken place.

Eric Baker said it was clear that Friends up and down the country wished to discuss the subject thoroughly. He suggested that (1) Arrangement for local discussion should be made through Quarterly Meetings. They should be asked to arrange for a group of Friends, in a Quarterly Meeting or larger local region, to discuss this topic, and he hoped that the discussion would not be restricted to Elders and Overseers. (2) Preparatory material, including the pamphlet, Hugh Doncaster's draft and other material raising wider questions should be provided to help in the discussion. (3) A small committee should be set up to provide material and keep in touch with the gathering.

Sidney Arnold did not feel that Meeting for Sufferings should take on itself to start throughout the Quarterly Meetings a discussion on one aspect of life--sexual relations. He was aware of the importance of the subject and agreed most thoroughly with Hugh Doncaster's draft. But he thought that, partly because of diffidence and fear of hurting people, there were overlooking the one simple question that was deeply troubling many Friends because the Society, through one of its Committees, had issued a pamphlet "that contains poison". Many of the things that had arisen, for example the initiative of his own (Western) Quarterly Meeting towards the issue of a statement, had been occasioned by deep concern as to the effect of the pamphlet upon young people. That simple question was "How are we to lessen the harm and danger that this pamphlet has brought upon our young people?"

Hugh Mellor, John Dennisthonre, Horace Bamford, and Doris Gourlay were among those expressing growing doubt about a general, or any, directive for local discussion. The last-name suggested instead a small, centrally nominated, group.

Wyn Sweatman, with considerable emphasis, cried: "I hope we drop the whole question of sex in our meetings. Please let us do nothing at all. Let us go out and breathe some clean air over the holidays. Just leave the whole thing alone. We have really been rather foolish. A shocking waste of time. All this sickening discussion about sex."

The Meeting decided to take no further action at present; either about the statement; the conference; local discussions; or a centrally nominated group.

John Harvey felt that they could not separate without expressing warmest thanks to Hugh Doncaster for his able efforts, and their commiseration with him in the disappointment at so slender an outcome of all his work.

(Our report of this lengthy Meeting's attention to other subjects must be left until next week)
*Doris Eddington has now fully resumed her duties as Clerk after her illness.