Quaker Witness in Poland
Quakers and Sexuality
With the publication of the small book Towards a Quaker View of Sex in 1963 Quakers entered the forefront of religious denominations to have fully assimilated modern thinking about human sexuality and to have merged it with traditional ethical concerns.
Quakers fully acknowledge that sexuality is an integral part of human nature, that it is - if not misused - something essentially love affirming and life enhancing, that homosexuality is not in itself a moral issue, and that contraception and abortion are very often prudent and proper. Despite its liberalism, howver, the Society of Friends has very strong concerns associated with the sanctity of marriage, the responsible use of sex, and the equality of the sexes and avoidance of any form of sexual exploitation.
There are three basic forms of responsibility connected with sexuality. These are:
1. Avoidance of unwanted pregnancy or childbirth.
Children have a right to parents who want them and are ready to care for them in a stable family unit. Women furthermore have a right to modern means of contraception and, if necessary, of pregnancy termination in order to control their own bodies and their reproduction, which is a major part of their lives and the lives of their families. No children who are unwanted should be brought into the world and no woman should be forced to bear a child she does not want.
2. Avoidance of transmitting diseases.
Sexually-transmitted diseases can be mostly eliminated by the consistent use of condoms, male or female, by all sexual partners not in an an exclusive and long-term relationship. Fidelity in marriage protects already healthy couples from infection with almost one hundred percent effectiveness.
3. Avoidance of causing emotional or spiritual harm.
Superficial attraction can bring sexual partners together, but that is no guarantee of long-term mutual compatibility. There is also a constant chance of misunderstanding the degree of commitment which each partner feels, something which can lead to great disappointments. Extreme sensitivity and honesty are necessary to avoid these forms of harm.
Friends consider marriage to be a religious covenant, not a mere civil contract. It is expected to involve complete fidelity and to last for life.
Friends are not married by an officiating minister, but marry each other in the sight of God and meeting participants in the course of a special meeting for worship. Before this is approved by a monthly meeting for business there are often one or more sessions of the couple with a "Committee for Clearness" appointed to discuss the true readiness of a couple to get married to one another. Full mutual willingness, understanding of the realities and responsibilities of marriage, congruence of values and life plans, and attitudes towards children are all looked into to reach clearness. After a meeting has hosted a marriage, it then feels a permanent duty to offer pastoral assistance if the marriage experiences difficulties.
Quakers permit divorce, but with great reluctance and regret, and with insistence that the children's interests, if any, are carefully protected.
Children should be conceived only after considering the serious problem of overpopulation in the world (which is at the root of all ecological problems) and the actual resources, human and material, available in the family to raise and educate a child. Genetic testing and prenatal examinations should be used as possible and prudent to reduce the chances giving birth to physically or mentally handicapped offspring. Thought should also be given to passing on deleterious genes to the future human gene pool.
Quakers’children come under the care not only of their families but also of the meeting, which has a concern for the spiritual and moral welfare of its members' children.
Quakers recognise that a centain proportion of the human population (as of many animals of very divers kinds) is born with or develops a homosexual orientation. Without considering this necessarily desirable in any way, Friends do not consider it a moral issue, since it would be a form of prejudice to condemn people for personal characteristics not under their control, and it does no evident harm in and of itself except for preventing the begetting or bearing of children in the normal way.
Because homosexual love is as emotionally and spiritually real as heterosexual love, many Quaker meetings are willing to conduct marriages for homosexuals, even in political jurusdictions where it might not have legal force. Quakers strongly condemn the inequality inherent in not permitting homosexuals to marry on the same basis as heterosexuals.
EQUALITY AND NON-EXPLOITATION
From their beginning in the mid-seventeenth century Friends have emphasised the essential equality of women with men and given them a degree of freedom and responsibility, spiritual and practical, which was rare in the remainder of Western society until quite recently.
Three of the four feminist leaders at the seminal Seneca Falls (New York) meeting which established the women’s movement as we know it today were Quakers.
Today Quakers are concerned with the transportation of women for exploitation in the sex industry, and any form of degradation of huuman dignity based on sex or sexuality.
Quakers naturally condemn paedophilia because it is almost always explotative and harmful to children, who deserve protection. At the same time, many Friends are active in programmes to help paedophiles to control their socially undesirable desires and to live as normal and happy a life as possible, remembering that "That of God" is present in them also, and they are not to be demonised.
Quakers are divided over precisely when abortion might be appropriate. Perhaps most Friends in our liberal tradition, however, are particularly concerned that governments should let women follow their own consciences with respect to abortion.
People sincerely desiring to be moral are divided on the propriety of pregnancy termination and the situations in which it is appropriate. Since governments are no more enlightened than other people on this matter, they owe every woman the right to freedom of choice, since they are the closest moral agents to the concrete situation. Legal freedom of choice is not a mandate to have abortions, but a mandate to follow one's conscience, and that is something highly treasured by Quakers. To be "pro-choice" as a matter of public policy is not necessarily to be "pro-abortion".
Many liberal Friends would , beyond this, be actively pro-aortion in cases where the good of the woman involved, the good of the hypothetical life of the human baby which otherwise might result if the embryo and foetus were allowed to develop (in cases of serious abnormality), or the good of the family involved seemed to make this advisable. With modern pregnancy termination techniques a few pills can end the pregnancy while the conceptus is only a barely visible agglomeration of a few cells, and any normal abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy occurs while the nervous system is still not developed to the point which would allow any sort of thought or sense of self-identity to exist. Some religions claim things about when the soul enters the body - none can prove their claims. Some worry about the "potential human being", not remembering that "potential" means precisely "not actual". An embryo is not human in any normal sense. And if it were, it would if unwanted be a parasite trespassing in another human being's body - and where could it get the right to do that? If someone trespasses in our homes, we call the police, who will use all necessary force to remove the trespasser, including lethal force. Is not a woma's body far more intimately and absolutely hers than even her home? How could we fail to help her?
Certainly the situation of a woman pregnant against her intent is a matter for concern, and forcing a woman to bear a foetus to term against her will is barbarously cruel if she considers abortion a morally acceptable alternative.
Almost all liberal Quakers would agree that sex education is a very important part of preparing children for adulthood, and that it should be thorough, honest, timely, and not ideologically opposed to sex itself. From puberty nature prompts the growing adolescent towards sexual expression. Sex education must provide the knowledge to embark upon the normal sexual exploration of adolescence with confidence, understanding, and a knowledge of the specific technologies and techniques to make it responsible sex from the very beginning.
Experts approaching this educational task without anti-sexual prejudice often recommend that it might be best for the mechanical, biological details of sex and human repreoduction to be introduced before puberty and in a very matter-of-fact way, connected with general education in human and animal reproduction.
For young adolescents the pscychological exploration under competent adult guidance of the interpersonal relationships which form as a result of sexual attraction and interaction should form an important aspect of sex education. Honesty in such relationships should be stressed as an ethical value, and the importance of love vis-à-vis simple pleasure.
Modern young people will in general not tolerate humbug and negativity about things that their bodies and emotions are telling them are good and pleasant. Their confidence can only be won by acceptance of the fact that they are in adolescence already sexual beings, and by unrelenting honesty and helpfulness in assisting them to come to terms with it. The confidence won by this approach must then be invested in making sure that all sex is responsible sex, and that sex serves, insofar as possible, the goals of love, innocent enjoyment, positive self-expression, and life enhancement.
SEX IS GOOD
Quakers do not believe that asceticism for the sake of asceticism or for the sake of self-punishment is desirable or necessary, nor do they believe that there is any special virtue in celibacy. Human beings are made to live in families, and their sexuality is a part of their nature, a means of self-expression and fulfilment, and a concommitant of love. It is in no sense a fundamental obstacle to spirituality, and it is not the business of religion to concern itself overmuch with the control or suppression of sexuality - there are many serious sins on the individual level and problems in human society to be addressed, and it is they which should receive our time and attention, not sexuality, which is essentially natural, wholesome and harmless.
However, Quakers do recognise that it is a powerful force capable of hurting people and ruining lives if misused, and they try to give guidelines to using it in a loving and life-enhancing way for all concerned.
Bradius V. Maurus III