by Anthony Woollard
from Signs of the Times No. 41 - Apr 2011
CSCS had had a more or less formal link with Modern Church for the past decade. Far less well known than SCM, it may be right that MC members should be more aware of it.
It was originally set up (as the Institute for the Study...) by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) around the beginning of the 1990s. It was intended as a 'respectable' academic offshoot of LGCM, and initially focused on the sponsorship of a highly academic journal, Theology and Sexuality, and the production of study materials on sexuality in the Churches. For a short while it had the benefit of charitable funding to enable the payment of a full-time co-ordinator, Alison Webster, and during this period mounted a number of conferences which attracted a far wider constituency than the LGCM membership.
All these arrangements unraveled somewhat in the latter half of the 1990s, when funding for a co-ordinator dried up, the academic journal took on something of a life of its own, and many of the original promoters of ISCS either departed the scene or took a much lower profile, leaving others with slightly different (mostly less narrowly academic) priorities in the lead. The organisation was now spun off from LGCM and re-established as the Centre, a separate charity with its own membership - albeit very much a "virtual" centre with no staff, no buildings, limited academic contacts and the weakest of institutional frameworks...
The 'unique selling proposition' of CSCS was, and remains, the fact that it is the only ecumenical body promoting discussion and study of the full range of issues about faith and sexuality - not just 'the gay question', but issues of gender (and transgender) in the Churches, monogamy (serial and otherwise), and so on. Its strengths, as is the case with Modern Church, are also its weaknesses. Because it is not a single-issue body, still less a single-denomination one or otherwise clearly boundaried, its focus may seem rather blurry to some of the many in the Churches who feel strongly about such issues. Moreover, its links with Theology and Sexuality and with the academic world generally have been steadily weakened over recent years, not least as the journal has been sold on from one publisher to another. Consequently it can make (even?) less claim than MC to be a truly learned society, and its membership, though very diverse, is extremely small, some 60-70.
However, after a period of great soul-searching, CSCS has concluded that - even if its name is slightly misleading and it sometimes looks more like a Club for Christians Bothered about Sex - its USP still gives it a role, maybe an increasing one, as some in the Churches move beyond the gay debate and ask more fundamental theological questions about human sexuality. Core members of CSCS have made significant inputs to ecumenical consultations and to other organisations' study material and programmes such as the Mothers' Union's We Are Created By God. The joint conference on sexuality issues with Modern Church and SCM some five years ago was a considerable success, as was a more recent and more existentially focused joint local conference in Birmingham involving Inclusive Church, LGCM and Changing Attitude. Most recently a programme has been launched bringing together theological educators and trainers from a range of denominations to look at how sexuality issues are tackled in ministerial formation. This has proved exciting and challenging - and a source of considerable encouragement to the, often isolated, educators themselves.