By Peter Blood
This is an effort to reflect on how God hopes for us to approach and live out our sexuality. It springs from my own experience and views of how God reveal's God's self to humans in the context of spiritual community -- particularly in the life of the Religious Society of Friends.
I have written down here a number of sexual "principles" because I sense, in my heart, that these are right -- not because they "make rational sense" in terms of other Quaker beliefs, social "testimonies," or fundamental principles we encounter in the Bible. It does seem to me, however, to be of value to reflect on the implications for sexuality of other things we know to be true, and to draw strength or undergirding from these other spiritual principles for what our hearts are saying is right.
Here are the assumptions that I bring to this reflection:
- God leads spiritual communities and guides them into a way of life patterned after God's dream for humanity. Friends have developed uniquely powerful tools for discovering God's voice with others.
- God also has intentions for individuals -- something they can discover through prayer and discernment.
- The Quaker testimonies of Integrity, Simplicity, Equality, Community, Peace, and Earthcare provide powerful guides for those seeking to let God shape their lives.
- The Bible also offers an incredible powerful record of God's work with humanity in the Hebrew people and the early Church. This great spiritual work also provides us important guidance in discovering God's hopes for us as individual people of faith and as spiritual communities.
I have written down fourteen propositions as statements of what God believes or wants about various aspects of sexual ethics. I have put down these principles in this way not because I am certain that this is how God feels, but rather to encourage us as spiritual fellowships to work harder to discover what God does, in fact, hope for us in these things. I want to emphasize also that I am speaking only for myself and not for anyone else. The sad fact is that we do not, among unprogrammed Friends, have a strong common voice as to what we believe about sexuality. It is one of my deepest hopes that this will change in the future.
I am no expert or personal paragon of virtue on these issues! I offer you these ideas in the spirit of humility, openness, and listening. I hope to hear back from you what you feel God has been saying to you about these very important questions.
#1 Hearing God's Voice as a Faith Community
First and foremost, I believe God cares what we do with our bodies and minds sexually. God wants us to struggle with each other toward unity of vision as to what is right and wrong sexually.
Quakerism, to me, is rooted in the idea that God speaks directly to us through our hearts in the present. That God (Holy Spirit, Living Inward Christ) teaches and leads us continually, today, just as God did with the Hebrew prophets, in the life of Jesus, and the early Church, and in the extraordinary religious movement that broke forth in England in the mid-17th century. This leadership of the Spirit is not primarily an individual process but rather a shared one. The core of Quakerism is our effort to hear and obey God's voice as a community.
This is what our unique practice of meeting for worship with a concern for business is built upon. Our books of discipline contain active guidance for members in many areas (lifestyle, social justice, participation in war, stewardship of the earth). In the past we recognized and supported as a community those called to various forms of public religious leadership and provided ongoing group spiritual guidance or "eldering" to those exercising such public religious gifts. Many meetings are taking small baby steps toward rediscovering such communal involvement in the lives of their members.
Friends continue to wrestle with each other around how we should be responding to such issues as discrimination against gays, payment of taxes for war, and personal responses to the challenges of global warming. The assumption underlying all of these Quakerly activities, I believe, is that God has ideas or a vision for us as a community on a wide variety of subjects public and private.
Does God care less about what we practice sexually? Evangelical Friends believe firmly that God has a clearly articulated vision of what is right and wrong about sex. I disagree in important areas with those Friends' conclusions about what God is saying to us today about sex. Reacting to someone else's sexual vision without making a concerted effort to come up with one of one's own is a negative and highly incomplete sexual ethic -- unlikely to provide direction or guidance for many critical issues around rightly-guided sexual practice.