Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)



... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)

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Following Jesus to Sexual Freedom
by Paul Walker

Christians are obsessed with sex. Well, people in general are obsessed with sex. Chances are that some of you are reading this simply because the word sex is in the title. The churches are certainly obsessed by sex at the moment. And yet the remarriage of divorcees still hasn't been settled in most churches. Child sex abuse scandals continue to dog many denominations. Most churches still condemn those who have sex before marriage. The Vatican is considered a laughing stock even by its own people because it condemns contraception. And of course the gay issue might soon split the Anglican Communion.

For some people the rules about sex are contained in the Bible. Yet consider this. The Bible is negative towards homosexuality - but it doesn't condemn paedophilia outright. How come? Worse still, for example, the Bible tells how Moses approved of rape, probably including that of children (Numbers 31.18).

Do we really want to base our sexual morality on this sort of guide?

The gospels tell us little about Jesus' attitude to sex. We don't even know if he married. Paul on the other hand was convinced that the world was likely to end soon. So he thought sex unnecessary except for those so weak they had perforce to marry.

We won't get very far therefore if we fixate on who does what to whom, when and how. Today's sexual ethics differ radically from those of the past. Certain factors will not go away - contraception, feminism, and new perspectives on human psychology including sexual orientation. 

So if we think first about what the young man from Nazareth proclaimed about human freedom and only then consider our sexual ethics we might reach a genuinely Christian perspective.

Jesus encouraged people to be free. In sexual terms this must surely mean that the overriding issue is consent. If we make mutual consent the paramount measure of sexual ethics many things follow. Paedophilia is wrong because one partner is not capable of making a consensual decision. That's why sexual acts committed by priests on children must not be hushed up. 

Consent as a principle applies also to adultery. Few will consent to continuing a sexual relationship knowing that their partner is deceiving them. Consenting freedom means also that we can't condemn Jeffery John for once having chosen a same-sex relationship. This is no reason to ban him or anyone from consecration as a bishop.

Perhaps Christians should consider why people ignore their teachings on sex. Not many of us are fools. The fact is that we flourish best in life-long partnerships to which sex is integral. Sex is part of being human. 

And yet the power of the sexual urge, so essential to our humanity, has been ruthlessly used for centuries by the Churches to create guilt for the sake of power. Some of us will recognise the humbug once we are no longer influenced by negative Christian attitudes. For then our guilt about sex disappears.

Recent in-house controversy about homosexual bishops adds to the sense that the Church has little of value about sex to contribute to wider society. For while its members quarrel bitterly, people freely follow Jesus in forming partnerships with those of the same sex anyway.

Relevance and value will come to Christian ethics only when Jesus&#'; teaching about human freedom takes the place of holier-than-thou bickering about unchanging realities.

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