Letters to the Editor February 22, 1963
One of the difficult tasks of the individual at our business meetings is to abide by "the sense of the Meeting". How can he who sees a vision do so? I could have wished that the writers of "Towards a Quaker View of Sex" had been as patient as forward-looking Friends have to be at business meeting and in Meetings for Worship. Had they been so their thoughtful work might have had to wait for publication but might then have borne the imprint of the whole Society.
Henry L. Wilson.
Letters to the Editor March 1, 1963
Towards a Quaker View of Sex is like The Cloud of Unknowing; it should be read from beginning to end--or not at all.
Silverdale, Carnforth, Lancs
Within a week of publication, Towards a Quaker View of Sex was the subject of criticism in the correspondence columns of The Friend. This may or may not have been valid. The group of Friends who produced this document based on their considerations on study and experience of various kinds, and they accepted the discipline of group discussion over a long period before publishing their conclusions. I wonder how much understanding of these problems, and how much prayerful consideration, has provided a basis for the criticisms we are offered. To what extent has the document itself been studied first? I may be wrong in wishing that the prayerful submission to divine guidance which precedes ministry in our Meetings for Worship should also precede publication in The Friend. But I cannot help fearing that the facile expression of opinion in public may sooner or later extend to ministry.
Brian F. Bone
52 Harcourt Drive,
I hope that no one in the Society of Friends would do anything but thank the group who produced Towards a Quaker View of Sex for bringing before us the sexual situation as it exists. Personally, I would like to thank, even more, John Ounsted for his commentary, which puts forward so admirably the attitude of those of us who believe that there is a Christian rule about chastity.
Taking the matter out of its Christian context, which presumably the majority of this nation does, is this country really able to cope with further "permissiveness" just at present? Since we are told that one in five or six children born in this country today is born out of wedlock and that many, as a result, begin life deprived of the security of home and parents; that this, in turn, leads them to become the problem children with whom an ever increasing number of social scientists are needed to deal, ought we not to be concentrating our every effort on encouraging recognition of the fact that heterosexual intercourse still tends to produce children and that the place for children is in a secure home with parents who will often have to make considerable sacrifices to keep it a secure home?
I find myself increasingly depressed by the tendency in this country nowadays to regard the acceptance that a state of affairs exists as a reason for making that state of affairs the standard above which one does not aim. Is this not, perhaps, the cause of our "malaise".
Isabel B. Taylor
29 Falstaff Road,
Earley, Reading, Berkshire
I am deeply disturbed by the publicity which has already been given to the report Towards a Quaker View of Sex, both in the Press and on television: despite the fact that at this stage it does not represent the views of anyone outside the group itself, this publicity is of such a nature that the man in the street will undoubtedly accept it as at least approximating the views of the Society as a whole, and subsequent disavowals will tend to pass unnoticed. I trust that consideration may be given at some suitable time to ways of ensuring that such a situation does not arise again.
I am sure I am not alone in desiring to thank John Ounsted for his able review, and particularly for the words with which he closes it. Why is it that, attaching as we do particular value and importance to most of the Sermon on the Mount, we yet shy away from Christ's forthright words in such passages as that beginning at Matthew v. 27, feeling instead that a new code of morality, bringing with it wider "permissiveness", is what is required today, the argument apparently being, as I understand it, that moral standards around us have changed, and that we must conform to them if we are to speak acceptably to people of the second half of the twentieth century.
Let us remember that the "civilised" world of Christ's day accepted many practices which we do not tolerate even today, yet this did not deter him from condemning adultery both in thought and in deed. The pages of history are full enough already of examples where a relaxation of moral standards has brought ruin to individuals, groups and even to whole nations. If our standards are deteriorating, let is never have to be said that the Society of Friends has contributed to, or condoned, the process.
George Burnham Braithwaite,
1 Pittville Crescent, Cheltenham.
I wish to express my disquiet at the way in which Towards a Quaker View of Sex has been publicised. The first intimation of publication appeared in t he form of a review of its contents in THE FRIEND of February 15 and a second in the BBC television programme of the following Sunday. At that time the essay was not available to our members.
it would seem prudent to publicise essays of this type (which the formulators must have realised would be most controversial) only after approval by the Society as a whole. After all, it took five years to produce the report; it could have waited a little longer.
15 Warwick Road, Redcar, Yorkshire
Although I have not at the time of writing been able to read Towards a Quaker View of Sex, I consider the reviews in The Observer and The Guardian, and even the Daily Express with its forthright recognition of "concern and experience", will be far more effective in rousing interest in the Quaker message than any advertisement.
All people, truly concerned with "a revolution in the mind of man" (to use Ibsen's phrase), whatever their personal faith be based on, will say to the compilers, "Well done, good and faithful servants". All to whom "mercy, pity, love and peace" mean something will acknowledge, whatever their religious views, that the Quakers have opened out vistas, that they have used concern, experience, compassion and insight into actuality, to break down preconceived ideas, dogmas and inhumanity. All honour to that large body of Quaker thought, honest, humane and informed, that is behind the report; all honour to the newspapers which have given it such thoughtful and just consideration.
129 Foley Road West, Streetly, Sutton Coldfield.
I believe that I am expressing the opinion of many Canadian Friends when I say that Quakerism has suffered a damaging blow by the unfavourable publicity given to the essay Towards a Quaker View of Sex.
This essay may represent the view of some Quaker in England. But to release such a publication with a title which implies that this is a Quaker view of sex seems to me to have been a serious blunder and a great disservice to our Religious Society. The disclaimed that the essay does not represent the official view of the Society of Friends is largely nullified by the fact that an official committee of the Society was responsible for its publication.
As might have been expected, newspapers and TV commentators immediately seized upon it, giving the impression that the views expressed in the essay represented a considered Quaker approach toward unconventional sexual behaviour. Especially to be deplored is the effect that such a pronouncement will have upon our Quaker education and particularly upon young people, by the implication that Quakerism condones homosexuality and pre-adult experiments in sex, with the further implication that Christian morality is out-dated in our present era.
It may flatter the vanity of Friends to believe themselves the prophets of a new morality. But to me this is only further evidence of the state of moral anarchy into which two world wars have brought out Western civilisation.
Arthur G. Dorland
2755 Yonge Street, Apt. 325
Now that a concerned group of Friends, moved by charity, hope, faith mixed with much current commonsense, have brought the Society to speak on sex, is there another such group that could bring it to speak honestly on the social order?
26 Stevenage Road, London, SW6.
Letters to the Editor March 8, 1963
"Towards a Quaker View of Sex"
The Executive Committee of the Friends Temperance and Moral Welfare Union, at its meeting on February 28, desired us to seek the hospitality of THE FRIEND to explain the relationship of the Union to the essay by a group of Friends Towards a Quaker View of Sex.
The Editor's note on Page 3* of the document accurately records the part which the Union took as the channel through which the financial assistance of the Joseph Rowntree Trust was made available. The reasons for our acting as intermediaries in this way are somewhat technical, and we need not go into them but we were also, of course, sympathetic all along to any serious study by trusted Friends of the subjects of the essay.
The point it is message to make is that, while we have broad reports on progress from time to time when we passed on t he Rowntree Trust's contributions, no one on behalf of the Union had at any time any knowledge of the direction of the group's thinking or the contents of the essay until it was already in the hands of the printers, and the appearance of the name of the Union must not be taken as any identification of itself with the tentative conclusions or lines of approach. On the other hand, this must not be read as a repudiation. We have as yet not corporate view of the essay in one direction or another.
H. Cecil Heath, Chairman.
Reginald A. Smith, Secretary
Friends House, London
* This states: "Grateful acknowledgement is made of the generous financial assistance from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (made available through the Friends Temperance and Moral Welfare Union)..."
No doubt our eleven Friends expected the mixed reception which their report is receiving and I trust they are undismayed by it. I only wish that some of those who are glibly discussing it had taken more time and care in their reading and consideration of it. I think we should realise that this is a report of responsible Friends hammered out over six years; as such, I am delighted the the Home Service Committee saw fit to publish it, even if they or we may have reservations on many aspects of it. For this is just the sort of rethinking that we as a Society can do especially well unencumbered as we are--or should be--by tradition or precedent for their own sakes.
For me, this report has thrown a new light on homosexualism--it treats the matter in a way which is both intellectually and scientifically acceptable and which is in no way contrary to our conception of the mind Of Jesus; and it has opened up some very basic questions about human relationships and the way sex enters them. There is deep thinking here, and the superficial questions brought up in the popular Press and elsewhere should be answered--as Jesus did in similar circumstances--by asking the more profound and underlying questions.
2 Knighton Grange Road, Leiscester.
We must be grateful to the Home Service Committee for its reminder nine years ago that "oddity, whimsy, anarchy beset the path of the Christian who tried to push his insight too far alone; and from the earliest days the Society has rightly sought to maintain unity among Friends by providing for the sharing and pooling of individual judgements" (Christian Faith and Practice, Extract 327). The same dangers beset the path of small groups who try to push their insights too far without checking them against the judgment of a larger and more representative body. We may be glad of the opportunity of trying to enter sympathetically into the concern which has occupied eleven of our members or the past five years, but they must not expect us rapidly to adopt conclusions which they have wrestled over for so long a period. They must realise, too, that the fact that they have chosen to publicise their views widely to others even before they have shared their concern with the Society has caused many of us acute embarrassment when we are asked by neighbours or the local Press for snap judgments on a document we have barely had time to study.
The true concern shared "in the life" does not hurt Friends in the way they have been hurt in the last fortnight. But perhaps out of our painful exercise to heal this fracture in our body we may look more deeply into our historic experience of the way in which the concerns of individuals or of small groups are shared, modified and enriched by wider judgment, so that they are ultimately accepted loyally, if that judgment has been reached through faithful dependence upon God. We are so infected by materialistic assumptions that we get worried at the thought that this process "takes time", and we murmur that we are "busy people". So we may be, but phrases like these can be temptations of the devil, diverting us from a recognition that time belongs to God. It is only as we place time in his hands that we do not either outrun or lag behind our guide, and it is only as we walk obediently in the light that we do not stumble.
Mary S. Milligan
182 Shinfield Road, Reading, Berks.
We might have guessed that this publication would bring down censure on the authors and on the Home Service Committee. But what other course was open to those concerned? I would like to share Henry Wilson's optimism (THE FRIEND, February 22) that had they waited their work "might then have born the imprint of the whole Society". Alas, experience has taught me that Friends have no conception of the passing of time; too often the horse can be miles away while they deliberate whether or not to shut, leave open, padlock, remove, replace, etc., the stable door. Too often these tedious deliberations take place on issues--and this is one--about which the majority have no specialised knowledge at all. I suggest that had this courageous group waited for the Society's sanction this pamphlet never would have been published. Perhaps rightly so in that case--but it has been made quite clear to those who read the document who is to be held responsible for its contents.
28 Rodway Road, Bromley, Kent.
As a social worker I welcome this essay because it states truthfully aspects of sex and morality constantly encountered in the course of our work, and about which there is often confusion of thought.
People who have little contact with what they regard as the "seamy side of life" tend to be puzzled because Christian social workers "condone immorality" and fail to bring pressure to bear where sexual expression is other than that normally associated with marriage. I think myself that they confuse the mature person, who is deliberately behaving in am immature manner, with the immature person who is still too immature to behave in a mature manner. They recognise easily the mentally dull or the physically handicapped, but without contact and experience it is harder to recognise the emotionally damaged, the spiritually underdeveloped, or those with mental or glandular abnormality. Thus while no one would ever dream of punishing an educationally subnormal child for failing to pass GCE, we may inadvertently be making just such a foolish demand when we try to insist on conformity in sexual expression.
Human beings have been created with great diversity of capacity, and they grow up with an equally great diversity of environmental influences, so that how they are able to use sex is inevitably determined to some extent by both factors. Christians have always been aware of this problem, but too often their approach to its understanding has been limited by inexperience, moral teaching and concepts about society's needs. From a distance it is possible to say that such and such conduct is bad and ought not to be allowed, and even to support deterrent measures in the hope that people will pull themselves together, exercise self-control and behave. But for anyone like myself, who has had almost daily contact with "immorality" over some thirty years, it is impossible because it is absolutely unrealistic. Over and over again one sees that in a situation free from exploitation the practice of mutual love--however unorthodox--can be thoroughly wholesome.
I begin to see that mutual love will occur at the level necessary to the parties concerned. That is to say, well-developed personalities will need what is called "moral" expression, and less well-developed what is called "immoral". The stage of development will determine the pattern of love, and as people grow spiritually, mentally and emotionally so the pattern will indicate the degree of their maturity.
If we deny or interfere with the expression of love, I think there is danger that we may distort or retard development of the personality. I would regard marriage as an expression of maturity, and I am doubtful if it is a suitable pattern for immature or emotionally damaged personalities. In order that they may ultimately succeed in marriage it is probably necessary for them to experience less lasting relationships. Some women appear only to mature sufficiently for marriage after they have born a child. Many inadequate personalities can never reach full maturity, but socially they need to be accepted and encouraged to develop as far as possible.
But what about "corruption"? Many people agree in principle that there is a case for tolerance, but fear in practice that the expression of sexual immaturity is like a virulent infection. In the absence of tolerance in this country it is impossible to refute this empirically, but in theory it seems improbable. Children pass through many forms of behaviour as they grow up, and we do know that the less notice taken of forms we do not like, the quicker the child grows out of them. Prolonged bed-wetting, thumb sucking or even stammering are often linked with too much attention and disapproval in the first place. It is therefore probably that damage is caused not by a casual experience but by the notice taken of it. Speaking generally, experience helps rather than hinders development.
I think that greater tolerance would enable more people to express love at their own level instead of trying to force themselves into socially approved patters for which they are still too immature. This might lead to a temporary increase in immature sexual expression, but in the long run to more genuine and therefore happier marriages. It is significant that so many married people speak as though they believed that given a free choice anyone would go in for some other sexual pattern! If only more people could enter marriage knowing by experience that it is what they need, then they would surely be much happier, and also able to regard immature sexual expression with tolerance rather than with fear and envy.
We can all at times be so concerned with what other people ought to do sexually that we fail to make friends with them. However incomprehensible someone's sexual life may be to us, it is well to remember that God loves people as they are--and who are we to differ? Towards a Quaker View of Sex recognises the wonderfully healing quality of love, and pleased with those who are richly endowed to give generously to the poor. I find the essay both inspiring and humbling.
Ann B. Jackson.
91 London Road, Sevenoaks, Kent.
The immediate reaction of some Friends to publicity about this essay saddens me, and appears to be based on unthinking and uncreative criteria.
Thus, first, horror that the subject has been mentioned in public at all. This is surely unworthy of a Society that claims to welcome new light "from whatever source".
Secondly, the narrow assumption that any attraction felt between a man and a woman not married to each other implies an immediate and irresistible urge on their part to leap into bed together. Surely with civilised people this is often a quite unjustifiable presumption? This preoccupation with the physical reflects the gross materialism of our age and its neglect of those adventures of mind and spirit that are out true business here on earth.
Among these is the rewarding spiritual communion that can occasionally blossom between a man and a women, even of widely differing backgrounds or ages. This level of oneness, whose exquisite quality cannot be more than hinted at in print, can be sustained in untarnished splendour for decades, with injury to none upon obedience to a condition that is both simple and demanding--that carnal contact is confined to the conventional handshake.
To me, Extract 493 in our Book of Discipline hints at just this, and no more as some seem to fear.
We can be profoundly thankful for the way Hugh Doncaster has elucidated this topic in this Personal Relations Between Men and Women. His treatment of it cannot fail to exalt the reader, and is the finest thing in print on this subject that I have ever come across anywhere.
If personality takes precedence over possessiveness, as it surely should for a Christian community, then we cannot afford to judge merely by taboos inherited from pre-Christian concepts mainly based on possessiveness over property.
W. Harry Butler.
6 Youngs Rise, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire.
Letters to the Editor March 15, 1963
Reading the letters in THE FRIEND on Towards a Quaker View of Sex, I am puzzled to find that the chief controversy rages, not around whether or not the essay holds something of truth, but around whether or not it should have been published before it had been shared and accepted "in the life" of the Society.
I cam to Quakers only by one road--the search for truth. Now I find myself asking: how can truth be served except by the publication of such essays, which are the fruit of the travail of concerned minds? It is the force of its challenge--not only to the Quaker way of thought as well--that is so revealing. Its instant sparking off of dissentient or approving voices shows that in some measure it touches all. Therefore, should not all, not only Quakers, have the opportunity of responding to it? Are we going to say to the seekers among us: "Go, search for truth, but don't do it in our name, nor speak it in the hearing of others, until we've vetted your findings and pronounced them safe and respectable"?
The truth is that such findings are not always safe or respectable. To allow the intrusion of a third party into the relationship of a married pair, for example, is highly dangerous. Those who have tried to accept it, and failed, will not underestimate the immensity of the problems involved. Nevertheless, it is with the so-called "injured parties" that the initiative at the moments rests.
Love was never meant to bind the married pair ingrowingly and to force it into this mold is to destroy it. Marriage at its best can be a way to a greater outgoing of the spirit, which alone makes possible the forgiveness of injury in the welling up of universal love. This could redeem not only many a marriage but the suffering world we live in. But first must come a change in society itself--the whole society of man and not only the Society of Friends. A changed outlook from that of a possessive and acquisitive society into a forgiving and responsive one would uphold all its members in all their difficulties.
Midway, Lenten Street, Alton, Hampshire.
The discussion on sex has not, I think, touched on the question of celibacy. Christianity owes something to the early celibates, and after all, its Founder was one. As for women, the nineteenth century produced few finer than Florence Nightingale. In the twentieth century I rejoice that the statue of Edit Cavell occupies a prominent position in London.
Indeed, there is much to recommend celibacy, not the least being that one has greater freedom from the dictates of our decadent civilisation--if civilisation is the mot juste. Admittedly, marriage and parenthood are normal procedures. Whether or not the infants should be grateful for the inestimable boon of being introduced to our beautiful civilisation is a matter of opinion.
31 Knockbreda Park, Belfast 6.
In the correspondence about Towards a Quaker View of Sex the most urgent advice comes from Peter Reenan (March 1): "It should be read from beginning to end--or not at all." I should add: "and not only once". John Ounsted gave similar advice and the fact that he took it himself makes his report, both in its praise and its criticism, a valid and valuable document.
I should not wish to add to the correspondence had there not been one aspect of the pamphlet which has not been sufficiently emphasised but which I find of great importance. This is the spirit of "seeking", which is well within the historical and spiritual tradition of Quakerism. It is for this reason that I cannot fully agree with John Ounsted when he says that a better title for the pamphlet would have been "Away from a Traditional Christian View of Sex". The writers do seem to be looking "towards" something, but make no claim to have arrived.
I believe that the writers have a right to use in their title "Towards" and "Quaker". We cannot find the answer in their deliberations (how we wish we could; that is where the disappointment lies), but we can find a plea for continued seeking; seeking in the Quaker way. And I do find a sense of direction. Joseph Brayshaw (THE FRIEND, February 22), quotes the "two contrasted schools" of Lord Samuel and asks: "Towards which choice would our eleven Friends lead us?" My answer to this question is unhesitatingly: "Towards 'lasting affection, stability, home, children, the family system' and away from 'will treat sexual relationships lightly'." A careful reading of page 40 must lead to an answer in this direction.
29 Ashburton Road, Birkenhead.
Adam Faith is reported as having said recently: "I have had no sex." May he not have done more good than Towards a Quaker View of Sex, bearing in mind the thousands of adolescents who have read his statement?
Norman and Rosemary Ferguson.
The Grove, Denholm, near Hawick.
Letters to the Editor March 22, 1963
As one-time social workers who have had some contact with the "seamy side of life" we have great sympathy with the attitude of mind conveyed by the letter from Ann B. Jackson (THE FRIEND, March 8) although not in complete agreement with all the views expressed. However strong our sense of distaste or disapproval may be, it is essential, if we are to be of help to others, that we should maintain an attitude of tolerance best expressed by the words "Neither do I condemn you". We thank the group of Friends who contributed to much time, thought and expert knowledge to the preparation of the pamphlet and hope that it may lead to careful and sympathetic examination of the problems involved.
We earnestly hope that the Home Service Committee's promise to re-examine its policy in regard to publications does not imply any intention to suggest or accept any form of censorship. While feeling that a tactical error was made in the timing of the general release of the pamphlet and in the choice of title, we should deeply regret a decision which required that future publications should bear the imprimatur and obstat nihil of the Society as a whole. Had that been necessary in February, 1963, we share Kathleen Arman's feeling that the pamphlet should never have been published.
George W. Reddick.
Mabel N. Reddick.
7 Pembroke Avenue, West Worthing.
In spite of criticism and disagreement within the Society and misunderstanding outside, it is to be fervently hope that the present facilities will continue to any such future concerned group of Friends to publish their considered opinions of any matters of fundamental important to society at large.
Stephen H. Stoner.
Dimbola, Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight.
The use of the word "Quaker" in "Towards a Quaker View of Sex" is bad because the group is really speaking as psychiatrists and doctors. That is why they use "Towards", quite properly, to avoid a dogmatic note. If they had said "A View of Sex, by Eleven Friends" they should not have compromised those of us who have other experiences and loyalties, but "Quaker" has an advertisement value.
In the discussion other words are badly used, for example, "Mutual 'love' will occur at the level necessary to the parties concerned", followed by the assurance on "the wonderfully healing quality of love". This is erotic love, of our age: Jesus says nothing of it, but condemns inordinate desire in the heart. His teaching requires a man to say "No" to himself, and his love, like Paul's in I Corinthians 13, is compounded of esteem and self-control.
Surely no settled Meeting even would issue what might be taken for an authoritative Quaker pronouncement on these "difficult questions". And even less, we trust, any ad hoc committee, or annual gathering. On this we take issue with the Home Service Committee minute which thinks that on these "difficult questions...the Society ought to have something to say". Who are "the Society"?
7 Rawcliffe Grove, York.
I have just read the pamphlet, Towards a Quaker View of Sex, and although I can understand that it may surprise some non-Friends, especially those whose knowledge of the Society of Friends is not very clear, I am at a loss why it should create any furor among Friends. I find nothing in it to take exception to or disagree with. It is not only an informative and thoughtful approach, by professionally qualified Friend, to a difficult problem, but it is also obviously inspired by a deep desire to seek the will of God in this matter.
The references to relations between men and women outside marriage no not for a moment, in my view, suggest an invitation to general license, but an attempt to avoids accepting a traditional principle without being sure that it is right, and to approach the difficulties and temptations of others in a very tender and understanding spirit, which cannot simply say, "Thou shalt not". Those of us who are social workers know that to say to our patients and clients, "This is wrong. Fullstop", is of no help to them, and effectively prevents us from being able to give them any further help with their problems.
In many Meetings Young Friends must feel to be up against a blank wall where difficulties regarding sex are concerned. This pamphlet may help them to feel that after all Quakerism has an understanding of their problems, and that they may find help from an older Friend. Non-Friends, on the other hand, who do not go to church because of the condemnation they have found there or expect to find there, may feel that here at least is a religious Society where they will find sympathy and help.
Barbara M.R. Northrop.
10 Tredgold Close, Bramhope, near Leeds.
Much as we may regret the premature publicity which surrounded the publication of this essay, we must be grateful to its authors for the sincere and thoughtful attempt which they have made to bring reason to bear on such an emotional subject.
After careful study of the booklet I find myself profoundly disturbed by several aspects, in particular:
1. The emphasis throughout seems to be too much towards what can only be regarded as abnormalities. Perhaps the opening words give the clue to this, in stating that its origins lie in problems brought by those experiencing homosexual difficulties.
2. Throughout the work it is very much easier to find apparent condonation of irregularities than positive precepts for guidance, and the latter, when found, are often vague. I am afraid that the booklet may be used as an excuse for misbehaviour, by those who have not troubled, or have not wished, to make sure of its real meaning.
3. An altogether disproportionate part of the work is devoted to homosexuality. Granted that these problems exist, let them be viewed in proportion. It may be that homosexual feelings are common to a greater or less degree, and are "natural". But surely this is not to condone homosexual acts, which are essentially unnatural.
4. The general statement on sexual morality to be found on page 40 can be accepted as sound, but does not seem to go far enough. It does not sufficiently emphasise that, besides the two people most directly concerned, the effects of their behaviour on others must be fully taken into account. This must include not only any child which might be born as a result of their action, but any child which either party may have at any time in the future. Our society depends essentially on the family as a stable unit within which the development of our children may proceed, and if we depart from this principle, the only logical conclusion is a society such as that depicted in all its horror in Huxley's Brave New World. I believe that the sexual act, potentially resulting in the birth of a child, should only occur between a couple in the state of stability and mutual responsibility represented by a permanent marriage.
5. Throughout the essay, it seems to be accepted that no friendship between two people can exist without a sexual element, but I profoundly disagree. Man has an intellect and powers of communication denied to the lower animals, and I am convinced that many friendships, based on intellectual communion, contain no element of sex whatever.
6. While not presuming to condemn those indulging in extramarital sexual relationships, surely one can say that, in every case, it would have been better for the temptation to be resisted?
J. Bowman Brockbank
35 Spring Hill Park, Lower Penn, Wolverhampton.
I would like to express by gratitude to the group of Friends who have written Towards a Quaker View of Sex for their wisdom, compassion and, to me, Christian approach. This deep appreciation I have found especially among younger members of my Meeting and among friends of my own outside the Society. It has also, to my knowledge, aroused real interest among professional people, particularly those connected with the administration of education and health.
Marjorie E. South.
5 St. Andrew's Avenue, Windsor.
Letters to the Editor March 29, 1963
Towards a Quaker View of Sex
In the editorial note which prefaces the pamphlet Towards a Quaker View of Sex a concern, as understood by the Society of Friends, is defined in Roger Wilson's words as: "A gift from God, a leading of his Spirit which may not be denied." Throughout its history the Society has realised the profound importance of such a call and that this must lie at the root of creative action. But is has also realised, through bitter experience, that the individual or the small group may easily mistake their own desires and hasty impulses for the divine gift, and has therefore devised the equally important means of checking a concern against the judgment and spiritual experience of a wider body of Friends, gathered in a Monthly, Quarterly, or Yearly Meeting. The importance and necessity of this check is the point in the discussions on the publication of the pamphlet, save in the letter of Mary Milligan, published in THE FRIEND of March 8.
Whatever views individual Friends may hold on the contents of the pamphlet, no one can doubt that the group has been working for five years under a most deep sense of concern as defined above. That is not in question. Again, however much individuals may disagree with their findings, all must be grateful to our Friends for facing so courageously and frankly some of the most difficult problems of personal life. The fact remains that a great deal of unnecessary pain and trouble has been caused, because they were not prepared to share their concern with Friends for the testing and enrichment of a wider judgment, before issuing it to the public at large.
Two courses were open to the authors of the pamphlet. First, as individuals they could have published it privately under some such title as Wilfrid Allott suggests (The Friend, March 22) and without the imprint of a Quaker committee. If they wished their work to go out over such an imprint and bearing the word "Quaker" in the title, then the only right course would have been for one or more of the group to have brought the concern to the Quarterly Meeting of their membership, asking if the Meeting felt it right that it should go forward to Meeting for Sufferings. Or, alternatively, they could have sought the means of approaching Meetings for Sufferings direct. They would then have given Friends the opportunity for entering into their concern with understanding, and might have gone forward to the public strengthened by the conviction and prayer of their fellow-members. If this meant a delay in publication, we would ask Friends to consider carefully where the modern sense of haste may lead us. Our Friends had spent five years in their deliberations; a few more months would have meant little one way or the other. As Mary Milligan suggests, in our modern impatience our perspectives of time are all awry.
Once the importance of the group check is overlooked and the sharing of a concern with a wider body of Friends is set aside as time-wasting and unnecessary, we are indeed in the quicksands. If the claim of an individual or an ad hoc group to speak or act in the name of the Society on the strength of their personal conviction alone is accepted, the door is set wide open to that anarchy and "Ranterism" whose dangers are always liable to beset the Quaker movement, as George Fox was the first to realise.
The understanding of concern, together with the necessary check, is unique to our Society. It is by faithful adherence to and following of this way that the Society has been enabled on more than one occasion to strike out in a new direction which in the eyes of the world, and even to some of its own members, has seemed revolutionary.
Tree Anna, Dwyran, Anglesey.
Many Friends, especially probably older Friends, will have read your correspondence columns recently with some dismay. One of the great surprises concerning the publication of Towards a Quaker View of Sex is the number of Friends who are quite happy about substituting for the traditional "Thou shalt not commit adultery" the theme of the essay, "You should not commit adultery, unless you think you have sufficient reason to do so."
It was regrettable enough that we, as Friends, were to some extent implicated by the publicity given to the views of a tiny, unrepresentative group, who had every reason to know that their views would be quite unacceptable to many Friends, but the resultant developments have been much more serious. The Home Service Committee has appeared to be very content about the essay and unduly pleased at the enormous secular publicity and comment upon it, even in the least desirable section of the Press. Moreover, Meeting for Sufferings quite obviously did not wish to discuss the content of this matter, which as drawn more public controversial comment and attention to the Society than any matter for a hundred years.
Quite obviously, Friends who are not prepared to agree, in these days, to the relaxing of the Christian moral code, which we have always regarded as an elementary principle, will have to reappraise their views of the value of membership of our Society, of whose standards we have, in the past, felt some pride.
8 Barclay Oval, Woodford Wells, Essex.
The writer of "Why a New Morality?" in THE FRIEND (March 22) asks whether the authors of Towards a Quaker View of Sex have "been too concerned with abnormal behaviour" and "over-influenced by psychological and sociological considerations at the expense of religious ones". This view seems to me to raise important issues.
Much of what is called "abnormal" behaviour is merely exaggerated "normal" behaviour. In studying it we come to know more about ourselves, about "the shadow side of each one of us". To say of this study that "a better way is not to blur the distinction between good and evil in society but to confess the active presence of sin in our own natures" is to confuse two types of human activity, religion and psychology. What is meant is: "My moral code, derived from my religious faith, tells me that what the psychologists call 'behaviour difficulties' is another and evasive name for sin."
Further evidence of this interpretation of the writer's attitude comes later in the article. He argues that "crucial periods" of decision are not "appropriate occasions for reassessing moral values". True; but if by the time the moment of decision has been reached a "new morality" has already been accepted, the decision, influenced by this morality, should not be judged by the "old" morality. To speak then of being "held back from an act of adultery" and "saved from one blunder" is irrelevant and misleading.
What is in question is the extent that we allow "religious" standards to govern our lives. And it is here that the new pamphlet is creatively modern. It seems to me to be written in what the Bishop of Woolwich has called a spirit of "glad acceptance of secularisation as a God-given fact". It may be that "Christian understanding has been both enriched and confused by psychology and sociology", but whole spheres of human activity which a century ago were governed by religious taboos are now open to rational consideration by means of those two disciplines. To say that in Quaker thinking and Quaker teaching "the religious attitude" should be pre-eminent over "the analytical attitude" and "the social attitude" is to set in opposition activities which need not conflict. Christ's life was lived love. His teaching is falsified when it is hardened into a moral code. The increasing secularisation of life means that we have less and less need to live our lives according to precepts derived from this false code. Christ's life can once again be active and spiritual, the ground of our being. This is what should be meant by being religious; its standard is nothing less than "Be ye perfect!" It is also the answer to the question "Why a new morality?"
Penhaven, Winscombe, Somerset.
My copy of Towards a Quaker View of Sex is now in the hands of a Roman Catholic student at this University. This is after it has been used in a discussion group of the Presbyterian and Congregational Society and in a discussion group on Christianity and Sex. It has been recommended in a psychology tutorial group and many students I know have bought copies of their own.
Much interest has been aroused by it within the student population and praise that something new and relevant should come out of the Christian Church. Certainly its publication has stimulated much lively discussion and, if for this reason alone, has been worth while.
Union Room, Nottingham University.
Letters to the Editor April 5, 1963
Towards a Quaker View of Sex
Wallace Hancock (THE FRIEND, March 29) invokes "The Christian moral code, which we have always regarded as an elementary principle", and writes of "our Society, of whose standards we have, in the past, felt some pride".
This seems to pinpoint the crux of the controversy. Would not George Fox have dismissed "elementary principles" as "notions", and is not a "moral code" a creed if it is to be the basis of membership of a religious society? Have these things (or pride) anything to do with what is really the Quaker interpretation of Christianity?
45 Wealden Way, Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex.
If Christ were to speak the truths of his Sermon on the Mount today, some Friends would protest in your columns because he had not submitted his concern to the "judgment and spiritual experience of...Monthly, Quarterly or Yearly Meeting". And others would claim he spoke for a "tiny, unrepresentative group".
How can Richenda and Peter Scott imply that the concern of a group of the most responsible and intelligent members of the Society, published after five years' deliberation, under the auspices of the Home Service Committee (with suitable and prominent warnings, and with a suitably qualified title), have anything to do with "Ranters"? Monthly, Quarterly, Yearly Meetings are not infallible. We hear the clear and lovely voice of reason, truth, God. Instead of crying, "Thank God!" a minority of our Friends would muffle the voice because it conflicts with old rules and established forms. If they so believe in the value of "group check", one wonders why they do not submit their own views to that check, before rushing to print.
44 High Street, BIllingborough, Sleaford, Lincs.
I wish to support wholeheartedly the letters that you have received from Mary Milligan and Peter and Richenda Scott.
One of the matters that is so disturbing regarding the publication of this pamphlet is the lack of judgment of the Home Service Committee in not seeing that here was a controversial issue about which Meeting for Sufferings had to be consulted. While it is right that the Home Service Committee should reconsider its procedure on publication of literature, this will do no good unless there is a change of heart on the part of the Committee. It is essential for all central committees and their principal officers to recognise that they have a responsibility to consult Meeting for Sufferings or Yearly Meeting before making any major departures on matters of policy. There is a danger which is already evident that the authority of Meeting for Sufferings and Yearly Meeting will be formal only, and that the standing committees will be masters in their own houses and responsible in practice to nobody. I am personal concerned at the increasing tendency of the Home Service Committee to act as it publicity of any kind is good for its own safe, and I think this gives often a false picture of the Society to those interested in learning about it. I hope that it will not be long before this question is seriously considered by Yearly Meeting.
I agree that the Friends who produced the pamphlet should have brought their concerns before their Monthly or Quarterly Meetings to test the views of a wider group of Friends. On the other hand, many Monthly and Quarterly Meetings have not been imaginative in encouraging Friends to raise concerns on wider issues and have concentrated too much on routine business. It has also been clear in recent years how very few matters have come to Yearly Meeting via the traditional method of Monthly and Quarterly Meetings, and as a result many topics of real concern have not been discussed, partly because they are or a controversial nature. This is illustrated by the experience of the recent Revision Committee, which wished to include in Christian Faith and Practice extracts on a number of important questions from corporate Quaker decisions but completely failed to find such extracts. This particular discussion may well be useful if it emphasises the duty of all of us to encourage greater discussion of matters of general interest at meetings for church affairs. It may well help to stimulate greater interest in our business meetings and encourage Friends to bring their concerns through the front door and not the back stairs.
Richard E. Stagg
12 St. Peters Close, St. Albans, Herts.
Although the pamphlet on sex has been greeted with some appreciation by many who welcome this statement of the basic principles of sexual behaviour (which are available in textbooks and popular works), this offering should surely be weighed on the merits of what it purports to be. It is not entitled Some Elementary Considerations on Sex, as one would perhaps expect, but Towards a Quaker View of Sex.
If our Friends are to point the way towards a new Quaker view of sex, their suggestions will proceed in the direction which has been followed by Quakerism from the beginning. "A new morality" of itself does not frighten Friends. But what morality? We must consider these suggestions to make sure that their polarisation is true, that they point in the direction in which Friends have found the Light shines.
One of the characteristic testimonies of Friends has been a testimony for truth and faithfulness to commitments undertaken. Are we to exempt loyalties between men and women, which involve the very springs of our being, from the standard of truth?
Most Friends today live out their lives in the midst of the temptations of social groups in which the "enrichment" of personal experience is overvalued. Week by week Friends are finding in the Meeting the faith and the strength they need for living in a complex world. These can testify that those who seek the will of God are indeed protected in the very midst of temptation. "Love seeketh not her own." Those who minds are filled with active love are little troubled by temptation to "enrich" their own emotional experience at the cost of another's confidence. The Meeting, we still believe, offers support and encouragement to men and women who wish to shepherd their thoughts and guard their conducts. Friends can still invite the perplexed and the troubled to share our fellowship, assuring them that they do not stand alone in seeking of way of life which is peace.
George Fox's saying that he was living in a life and power which took away the occasion for war may provide us with an analogy in this regard. Friends have always found in the life of the Spirit that life and power which takes away the occasion for unlovely behaviour in a great many respects.
"A new morality" was proposed for Friends by George Fox, and early Quaker marriages were not legitimated for many years. But his changes were always in the direction of the "new morality" taught by Jesus. A "new morality" was offered to us by Jesus, and if Friends are to afford leadership in our contemporary society, we shall do well to examine the direction of his innovations and make sure that we are going in the same direction, advancing and not regressing. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus proposed a revision of the law of Moses in four respects (Matthew v). To prohibit killing, he pointed out, left untouched its roots in resentment and contempt. Adultery he traced back to the wayward thought. Oaths, he pointed out, were superfluous when men can be relied on for simple honesty. The old revenge principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, he said, should be superseded by a new morality of non-resistance.
We must ask ourselves why Friends have been so passionately committed to Christ's "new morality" of peace and non-resistance; and have suffered death rather than swear an oath; but have overlooked this other principle of Jesus' "new morality".
Probably it is because Friends have taken personal rectitude in these matters for granted. Chastity, it was thought, was surely a sine qua non. Chastity, like the other commandments, was raised by Jesus to become a thing of the heart and spirit. If it is no longer taken for granted, perhaps the time has come for our Society to raise a standard to which the good and simple-hearted may repair, to say clearly that we believe that sexual integrity is a part of the Quaker way of life, and that a part of our service is to encourage and aid those who find the going hard in this day of blurred values and shifting social patterns.
93 Thames Drive, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.
Letters to the Editor April 19, 1963
"Towards a Quaker View of Sex"
Peter and Richenda Scott (March 29) and Richard E. Staff (April 5) appear to have introduced to the correspondence on Towards a Quaker View of Sex a quite separate issue--that of whether the Society's Committee should be allowed to publish unofficial books or essays.
The suggestion that Towards a Quaker View of Sex should have been submitted to Meeting for Sufferings or to Monthly or Quarterly Meetings strikes me as meaningless. It is essentially a thought-provoking essay; as such it is open to valid criticism both in terms of content and balance and possibly choice of title. It is inconceivable that such an essay could be accepted officially by the Society; and if it has been submitted before publication to Meeting for Sufferings it would have been hypocritical to publish it subsequently as an unofficial document.
Yet surely the publication of responsible unofficial books or essays is vital to our Society's corporate growth in terms of stimulating and developing thought? Like many others I don't personally agree with the entire essay in question, and I am sure its authors don't expect or desire such complete endorsement from their readers. But in terms of caring, study and knowledge it is clearly an important and authoritative document by a well-qualified group of Friends. In my judgment the Home Service Committee would have been acting irresponsibly if it has refused publication.
Surely our three Friends are not seriously wishing to suggest that the Society's Committees should publish only official documents approved by the whole Society? To take a more fundamental, though perhaps less emotionally charged example, would they have deprecated the publication by the Home Service Committee of a book, such as Honest to God, as an unofficial contribution to essential thought of a kind that couldn't possibly be endorsed officially by the whole Society?
Richard S. Rowntree
Brooke House, Thornton-le-dale, Pickering, Yorkshire.
On the method of publication of Towards a Quaker View of Sex, surely this may be said. Had the orthodox procedure been followed on such a controversial subject, the inevitable result would have been a compromise statement, soothing to Friends, but void of meaning to outsiders unversed in Friends' methods.
As matters stand, it was made clear in the publication, and on the BBC, that this was not an official publication and the Press were very thoughtful in generally emphasising this point.
If the result is considered in terms of "outreach" towards agnostics, to whom it may be though that Friends have something to offer, surely what may happen is this. Whether they agree with the theme or not, many will be inclined to think that, even in their differences, Friends are confirmed seekers after truth--and not only in such matters as their Peace Testimony.
This may induce some of them to explore that Society. They may then find that not all Friends are agreed on the terms of the pamphlet, or indeed on other matters, but may be impressed by our attempts to live up to the motto which appears every week in THE FRIEND: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity."
117 Moorside North, Newcastle upon Tyne 4.