The Irvine BadgeFr. Jim Irvine


the penultimate WORD

Series 2004 - September
Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith...


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican



“I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

 – Elie Weisel


A popular docudrama in prime time this summer has been the study of young men at a wharf.  Like most docudramas of it genre it has inherent ambiguities.  While one is attempting to focus his Bushnell’s, the others are clamoring for a Molson’s brewski.  As the camera follows the focus it becomes clear that libidinal preoccupations are ubiquitous.  Adolescence continues into adulthood as a friend, perhaps a sibling, possibly a date arrives and asks the guys what are they watching.  Silence.

Sex sells.

And in this case I was conflicted.  Did I have an irresistible urge to go and buy a beer or purchase a pair of performance optics?  Bushnell optics is renowned for their clarity after all.

The commercial is slicker than the program being sponsored.  The drama, plot development, dialogue, photo editing and humour exceed that of the program since forgotten.  As it turned out, a real Canadian male cracks open a Molson’s and by implication, is seldom without his binoculars.

After all, sex sells.

We might be offended by the tableau with its reliance on sex.  But the exploitation of girls across the lake appears acceptable in the remaining domain of the sale of hops.  Did I mention that the girls are nude?  That males are exhibiting a natural curiosity and embarrassment while avoiding a relationship is acceptable.  That females frolic unaware of voyeurs a Bushnell away (and the power of lenses allows for various distances to be covered) is expected.

Nothing appears to be out of sync.

And, after all, sex sells.

* * *

The resolution of General Synod held in St. Catherine’s in June has set a course for Anglicans to examine and discuss the issue of same sex blessings.  As a subject that refuses to go away, Anglicans aren’t without their opinions and I have found people that are sympathetic and others that are opposed to any change in the status quo.

All sorts of scripture are quoted, and various studies cited in support of strongly held positions.  I have discovered, though, that as arguments are presented – it is seldom a conversation – the positions held have their origins in personal anecdote and often are founded in threat and fear.

The other discovery I have made is this: almost everything you and I learned about sex we did not learn in church.  There are some mysterious words used in church, like “concupiscence” and “fornication” and even “virgin” and “womb” but I have never once heard any of these terms explained in church.  Not once.  We are left on our own.

Boy Scout camp and Girl Guide camp helped to address the void.  But I can’t print any of the terms I learned there on this page!  Suffice it be said that the primitive mechanics of sex were inadequately presented and no maturing discussion ever ensued.  What we have missed out on is not so much sex as sexuality. 

The word leaves most mute.

* * *

The church is not prepared to discuss the blessing of same-sex unions.  We are hardly prepared to talk about sexuality as it impacts our communities of belief.  To focus on gays, armed with Leviticus, is to remain in a summer camp tent in flashlight whispers.  As adults that is a good example of hubris.

Our neglect of sexuality is not something recent.

Nearly a decade ago I sat on a committee struck by our Diocesan Synod to examine Human Sexuality.  The committee, appointed by the bishop, met monthly and twenty-four months later the chair of the committee told the Synod that there was nothing to report.  The business moved on, relieved, certainly more comfortable.  The committee was definitely not chastened!

During that two-year process I urged that copies of “Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith – Episcopal Edition” be supplied to parishes across the diocese.  The Reverend Brenda McKnight, then the Head of the Pastoral Care Department of the Saint John Regional Hospital, seconded my motion.  We were the only two who voted that this be done.  The document did not see the light of day in this diocese.

“Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith – Episcopal Edition” is now out of print.

But it is available.  I have scanned my copy (I throw nothing away) and have made it available on the “The Highland Shepherd” web site –  You can find the link there and either copy the material from the HTML pages posted or access the PDF files I have placed on-line using the Adobe Acrobat Reader – available as a free download on-line.

The material allows us to address gay issues.  But more importantly, it allows voices to be heard that have endured exploitation, abuse, rape, incest, pornography, infidelity, divorce and other aspects that impact on many of us as sexual beings.

I am concerned that we address the larger picture of sexuality in terms of scripture, ethics and morality that are inclusive so that informed discussion and dialogue may benefit the counsels of the church.  The church deserves nothing less. And by implication, neither do we.

Copyright © 2004 James T. Irvine

Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith Study Resource

Series 2004