The Second John Keble Conference
The second in the series of John Keble Conference, organized by Cost of Conscience which took place in Pusey House, Oxford on 30 October addressed the theme of “The Gospel and Sexuality”. It was a model of what such a day should be – a good attendance with four excellent speakers covering an immense amount of ground in a limited time.
Dr Patrick Dixon has made a name for himself as a specialist in the care of people dying of Aids, founding one of the leading international charities in this field, ACET. He came to this work from his work in terminal care, inspired by a deep and practical faith. Patrick gave a sparkling presentation of his theme. The Cost of the Sexual Revolution, with startling facts about the price that has been paid since the 1960s. These costs were measured in emotional, physical, spiritual and – not least – financial terms. He also gave practical suggestions of action that could be taken by governments, churches and individuals to help the pendulum swing back to a more Christ-orientated position. Anyone wanting to follow his argument in greater detail should read his latest book The Rising Price of Love (Hodder and Stoughton, 1995, £6.99). This book is a must for anyone wanting to face up to the issues confronting today’s world and wanting to speak people in terms they understand.
No conference on The Gospel and Sexuality could be complete without looking at the issue of homosexuality. This task fell to The Revd Simon Vibert, Minister of Holy Trinity, Buxton, whose talk on Romans 1 followed Patrick Dixon. This was a fascinating presentation, taking Paul’s injunctions against unnatural practices as the norm for all who follow Jesus as Lord, and concentrating on verses 16 and 17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith…. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith”. This set the whole issue of homosexuality – and indeed all sexual morality – in its proper setting. That is, faithfulness to the revealed truth of scripture. The essence is that we need to be faithful to the gospel and in no way ashamed to confess our belief at whatever the cost to ourselves.
Wider areas of morality relating to human sexuality were taken up by Miss Madeleine Beard, a representative of Family and Youth Concern. This Young Roman Catholic researcher and writer spoke with passion and conviction about the family, echoing much of what had been said by Patrick and Simon. She also gave a powerful testimony to the sanctity of all human life, rejecting abortion as contrary to Christian teaching and human rights. Madeleine presentation of her communion’s teaching on contraception was also lucid and clear and above all underlined the consequences of a contraceptive culture.
A break from listening followed with the opportunity to discuss motions, a number of which were passed, reflecting the issues presented by the speakers.
The last speaker was the Vicar of Edenham, Fr Andy Hawes (whose name might be familiar from last months 30 Days). He gave us all a profound meditation on the fifth chapter of the letter to the Ephesians. We were led to think about the very nature of Christian marriage and the gifts and complementarity of men and women. He emphasised above all that God’s call was to holiness.
And if there were a theme that ran through the whole day it was this; that God actually has got firm ideas of what he expects of the men and women he has created in his image. And, of course, this call to holiness is not just about sexual morals but extends to the whole of human life.
This was a remarkable day. It took up the work of Keble, Pusey and Newman whose revival, along with the 19th century Evangelical revival transformed England and was not least remarkable for bringing together Catholics and Evangelicals in today’s English church. Similar crises face today’s nation and nothing less than a crusade against a “national apostasy” can transform the land. To those who have the same confidences in the Gospel as our forefathers it was great encouragement. In the power of that Gospel we can go on to bring the healing touch of Christ to the appalling and self-inflicted crises now destroying our society.
We look forward to the next conference on The Authority of Scripture on 29 April, confident of further encouragement and strengthening of our faith.
Alan Rabjohns is Vicar of Splott, in the diocese of Llandaff