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Girding loins

Agnostics anonymous


Christians are not obsessed with sex, the Christians in Parliament group insist several times in their recent Clearing the Ground report. But as Augustine's 'grant me chastity and continence - but not yet' reminds us, Christianity has sexual issues.

As the report makes clear, sexual freedom is still The Problem. It argues that UK law has enshrined a 'a 'de facto privilege of sexual orientation rights over religious belief': Christians are now legally barred from discriminating against homosexuals, and feel 'marginalised'.

'Sexuality is widely acknowledged in society to be intrinsic to identity, religion is not,' complains Clearing. It cites the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy's disciplining of a counsellor who used a Christian approach to 'convert' a patient to heterosexuality. The BACP deemed it 'absurd to attempt to alter such fundamental aspects of personal identity as sexual orientation by counselling'. Clearing deplores this statement as 'lacking scientific and legal rigor'. It asserts (unsourced) that 'sexuality is more fluid and religious commitment less fluid than the law assumes'.

But as far as scientific rigor can tell, religious commitment is quite fluid. The latest British Social Attitudes survey showed that more than half of Britons raised as Anglicans have left their childhood faith, while 94% of those raised with 'no religion'  have kept unfaith. Over the course of a life, religion appears relatively mutable. Perhaps sexual orientation, too, is malleable 'from a life course perspective'. A recent collection of essays, Sex for Life: From virginity to viagra, how sexuality changes throughout our lives suggested just that. The problem comes when you solidify these shifting matters of the human soul and loins, and inflate them into undecaying trophies of identity.

A chief complaint of Clearing the Ground is that religious identity in Britain is insufficiently respected because of 'the deep and widespread level of religious illiteracy'. Yet Augustine's autobiography dramatized a complex inner relationship between sex and faith. The report, however, insists that: 'Christians have historically received a clear biblical model for sexual relations', period.

Until Christians in Parliament and elsewhere realise sex and religion are in a mutual ongoing argument within the individual and society, the ground cannot be cleared. Insist on knowing the answers and you will inspire dogmatism. Christian groups deplore the intransigence of homosexual rights groups. But by insisting on their own privileged rights, they encourage a special homosexual identity with countervailing rights, too. And make themselves look bigoted as well as obsessed.