by Jane Fraser
from Signs of the Times No. 47 - Oct 2012

Anyone who has ever felt they needed to leave behind their intellectual understanding and experience of sex on entering the Church's portals will welcome this book, which enables the Christian to do what the title says it does.

As one would expect from Adrian Thatcher, he manages to present this thesis in a form that is both intellectually and theologically rigorous but which is so clearly written and presented that the intelligent lay person (or in my case, a not so academically minded cleric) can find it accessible and a pleasure to read. It also has the distinct advantage of being short (89 pages in all) and thus a boon to the busy.

This is one of a series of 'Making Sense of' books produced by Modern Church in order to make available to Christians a liberal perspective on their faith. Thatcher very helpfully, therefore, starts by giving a brief discussion of theological sources and the character of Liberal Theology, outlining both what it is not as well as what it is and relating this to the theme of the book. This section is just one of what could almost be seen as stand-alone chapters for those with a specific, rather than a general, reason for picking up this book. For example, those engaged in marriage preparation - both the presenter and the participant - will find a feast of understanding of this sacrament in the chapter 'Making Sense of Marriage'.

Thatcher has managed to address the problem that many of us are struggling with when he says:

The problem for Christian sexual ethics is that for many people on the fringe of  or outside the Church, we have become besotted with sex, and the rows about homosexuality appear to be the final desperate attempts of a Church that has almost completely lost its influence to control what people choose to do with their lives.

He goes on to say that:

'Sexual desire can lead us away from God... But (it) can lead us to God. It can drive us out of ourselves to seek connection with a beloved other, and in seeking and making this connection we may also connect with another beloved Other who infinitely desires us.'

In this, he echoes much of what Jo Ind had to say in her lively discourse on sex in Memories of Bliss: God, Sex, and Us (SCM Press, 2003). She, too, asserts that the core doctrine for Christians is one of love - of God, neighbour and self - and should lie at the heart of a Christian sexual ethic.

Thatcher is also clear that 'God has equipped us for joyful sex, not just reproductive sex.'

This statement then becomes the key to his rejection of Christianity's past repudiation of the body as sinful and thus needing to be controlled. On the contrary, he makes much of the act of sexual intercourse giving us an insight into the love of God. In particular, he examines the concept that the surrendering of the one to the other mirrors the communion of the three persons of the Trinity. Even more tellingly, when discussing the embodiment of love, he points us to Jesus' establishment of the new covenant between God and humanity in the Eucharist where

'Jesus holds nothing back. He gives us his body.'

There is also a feast of clear and unambiguous explanation of the origins of a great deal of the confused and erroneous statements made on the subject of sexual difference and homosexuality. He explains how the ancient world understood biological, gender and orientation difference and then leads us on to examine each of these in the light of modern understanding and thus to 'good theology' rather than 'bad ideology', concluding:

'In the mystery of the Trinity, difference is not allowed  to become distorted by allowing silly patterns of dominance and submission  to ruin the Communion that God is.'

In making sense of homosexuality, he is likewise scathing of the traditionalist case that 'is found to be theologically wanting, and a pastoral disaster.' He gives us a useful summary of the dialogue between two groups of theologians (traditionalists and liberal) on the topic of same-sex relations presented in the December 2011 edition of the journal Anglican Theological Review. Having found the liberal case a disappointment (and the traditionalists' case a disgrace!), he then enlightens us with an additional and illuminating critique from a liberal perspective.

For me, the real 'icing on the cake' of this little gem of a book lies in Thatcher's final section on the fruits of the Spirit, taking each - joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to show how 'Life in the Spirit elevates the bonding of shared love into a sacrament of mutual self-giving. It releases love (agape).'

The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality (CSCS)would echo his conclusion: 

'I long for the day when a robust faith in Christ and a joyful sex life are integrated together for all of God's children who seek them, irrespective of their status, sex or orientation.'

Book information/buy online

The Revd Canon Jane Fraser is a is qualified social worker and experienced counsellor engaged in training and consultancy on sex and relationships education (SRE) with the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality (CSCS).  She is a Minister in Secular Employment and Dean of NSMs and MSEs in the Diocese of Worcester