In October and November 1985, The Interim published two articles in secular feminism. The first covered the International leaders; the second Canadian connection. One feature stood out above all about this ideology – the clear connection between the contraceptive mentality, abortion, homosexuality and the entire “pro-choice” sexual permissiveness, which the leaders themselves believe to be at the very heart of their movement.
These articles have been reprinted on an attractive pamphlet by Real Woman of Canada, and are available at 60c per copy, $5.00 for ten, $40.00 for 100 plus postage, from Life Ethics Centre, 215 Victoria Street, Suite 506, or from The Interim.
Beginning with this issue, Father de Valk examines the influence of the sexual revolution and feminist on the United, the Anglican and the Catholic Church respectively. Readers may keep in mind other articles o the same subjects, as for example, the letters to the editor and documentation on the abortion issue among Anglicans in last month’s edition, or the articles on “Catholic” pro-abortion feminists and nuns in the February and May 1985 edition.
The Canadian population is divided roughly between those of Catholic and those of Protestant background. Catholics in union with Rome are one in doctrine but parted from one another by language and sometimes by rite. Protestant Christianity is characterized by divisions of authority and doctrine. Consequently it is organized in many independent faith communities.
What divisions make generalization hazardous. Canadian Protestants themselves speak of “mainline” churches as opposed to other smaller and more numerous communities. The former are often categorized as “liberal,” the latter as evangelical or fundamentalist.
“Liberal” Protestantism includes the Presbyterian, Anglican and the United Churches. Together they form the traditional English Canadian Protestant establishment. What inroads, we may ask, has so-called women’s liberation and the sexual revolution made into these faith communities.
As explained earlier (see The Interim, October and November 1985), post-second-world-war feminism moved into a new phase with the coming of the Pill and the demand for “reproductive choice.” Before the sixties, the emphasis was on acquiring new social and, especially, political rights – with some advances in the economic order as well. From the sixties onwards, the emphasis shifted radically to the liberation of the woman’s physical person, the so-called “reproductive freedom.”
It should be obvious that the “reproductive choice” interpretation must have intellectual antecedents. However, this cannot be treated here for lack of space (but see the article in the September 1985 Interim on the Margaret Sanger birth control movement in the first half of the century. Today, Sanger’s movement is called “Planned Parenthood”).
On the international scene the Anglicans were the first Christian church to approve contraception, namely at the August 1930 Lambeth Conference in England. The Conference seemed to respond directly to Roman Catholic teaching which earlier that year had reiterated its condemnation of contraception as “intrinsically immoral.” The United Church of Canada followed the Anglican example in 1937, as did various other Protestant communities through the 1940s and 50s. In 1958 a further step was taken when the Lambeth Synod of that year changed the Anglican position from mere acceptance of contraception to positive approval and welcome. Thus the ground was prepared for complete acceptance when the Pill appeared two years later.
In Canada, “reproductive choice” did not invade mainline Protestantism, rather it was embraced by it. This is clear from the 1966 House of Commons hearings on legalizing contraceptives. An examination of the presentations reveals that the bulk of testimony came from like-minded groups centered around the closely interlocked Family Planning and Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada. These, in turn, were closely linked to mainline Protestant churches.
For example, the United Church Brief, submitted on April 5, was drafted chiefly by the Rev. Dr. Frank Fidler, secretary of the Church’s Marriage Guidance Council. The same person had appeared already as the chief spokesman for the March 24 presentation of the Family Planning Federation of Canada, of which he was the President.
On April 21, one of the two spokesmen for the Unitarian Church was a Mr. John McNab, who had appeared earlier also as a witness for the Family Planning Federation of Canada. At the end of the Unitarian Church hearing he indicated that he was President of Planned Parenthood of Ottawa.
The Brief presented on March 24, 1966, by the Family Planning Federation of Canada was not only on behalf of half-a-dozen local Planned Parenthood groups from cities across Canada, but also on behalf on the Department of Christian Social Service of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church.
When Anglicans appeared before the Committee three of its four spokesman proved to be executive members of the above mentioned Christian Social Service Council, while the fourth one, the Rt. Rev Henry Hunt, Suffragan Bishop of Toronto, was chairman of the Clergy Advisory Committee of Planned Parenthood of Toronto.
Like-minded people emphasize similar views. At the Commons hearings these could be broken into three standard themes. One was that the existing law prohibiting the sale of contraceptives was being broken and, therefore, should be removed.
A second recurrent theme was overpopulation, almost an obsession with delegates. Dr. Earnest Howse, Moderator of the United Church went as far as to project a world population of 48 billion. I the eyes of the witnesses the population crisis made family planning not merely desirable but most urgent and absolutely necessary. Consequently, spokesmen were at pains to present contraceptives as the only “responsible’ way of parenting.
A third related theme, or rather a cluster of themes, was that every child must be a wanted child; the battered children were obviously unwanted children; that the existing law did not permit family planning; and that the poor were being discriminated against by not having legal access for contraceptives as a consequence of which they were forced to have children.
Those who know the history of the abortion controversy will recognize the similarity of these argument with those used in that campaign. They are practically identical and this is not by accident. The Planed Parenthood people have favoured abortion from the beginning as a birth control method but had suspended its promotion for tactical reasons. With victory in sight for the legalization of contraceptives, the Family Planning Federation began lobbying for abortions from 1966 on. Church papers or magazines such as the Anglican Canadian Churchman and The United Church Observer, made important contributions to this pro-abortion agitation. Within one year of the briefs demanding the legalization of contraceptives, all three “mainline” Churches had submitted briefs in favour of the legalization of abortion.
Evolution of abortion stand
The attitude of the United Church can be described briefly. This Canadian Church pursued a rapid evolution from rejection of abortion to its full acceptance and promotion within a dozen years.
In its 19th General Council of 1960, the United Church approved legalizing abortion for the first time, while still disapproving abortion either as a means of family planning or as relief for the unmarried mother. This major reversal passed with next to no discussion, slipped in almost as an afterthought. In subsequent years individual spokesmen took an increasingly active interest in opposing the existing legal prohibition, blaming the law itself for the cruelty of what were rumored to be tens of thousands of “illegal, back-alley” abortions. Each year the rumours aimed higher so that by 1968 the figure had mounted to 300,000.
A February 1966 resolution re-confirmed the 1960 declaration, but whereas in 1960 the General Council had started its statement on abortion with the clause that the “Christian conscience cannot approve abortion,” in February 1966 the Board of Evangelism’s report no longer mentioned this. Instead, it denounced the existing law prohibiting abortion as wicked and misleading. This report was accepted in September 1966 with a resolution justifying abortion “when the life of the foetus threatens the life of the mother.” As one spokesman, Rev. A. Huband of Toronto put it, favouring birth control and abortion indicated “a reverence for a quality of life rather than for life itself.”
When the United Church submitted its brief on abortion to the House of Commons early in 1968, the text still explained that, while approving legal abortion. “The United Church of Canada is not prepared at this time to consider socio-economic grounds for abortion.” The presenting delegation, however, which included the later moderator Rev. W. Clarke MacDonald, made it very clear that this position was overtaken already. The church was not prepared to accept socio-economic grounds such as inadequate housing. As explanation for the change of mind, members indicated that they had “become more liberal as the months have gone by.”
In April 1969 the then Moderation Church physician Robert McClure, let it be known that he had performed abortions all along. This news appeared in an interview in which he pleaded for more sterilization. He wanted compulsory sterilization for the retarded and for parents who proved themselves “irresponsible” in the care of their children. Furthermore, he recommended voluntary sterilization for the rest of the nation, as a means of birth control. As abortions, he had done them himself while a medical missionary in India, he declared, and approved of them fully. Indeed, he was to do them again when he returned as a missionary to Borneo after the conclusion of his term as Moderator.
The United Church’s evolution of formal Church declarations about both contraceptives and abortion reached its completion in January 1971. The Board of Evangelism presented a report to the General Council meeting in Niagara Falls, Ontario, which declared that, in view of world overpopulation, contraception (including sterilization) was “not only a legal right but a Christian duty).” It recommended that family planning and contraceptive “education” be introduced in all schools.
As for abortion, because bringing unwanted children into the world is irresponsible, the report stated, abortion should be looked upon “as necessary sacrifice” and “the lesser of two evils.” Any intermediary bodies which come between a doctor and a woman – such as the newly formed hospital abortion committees created by the 1969 legislation – were denounced as unjust and discriminatory. In short, by 1971, the United Church had come to support abortion on demand, even though it refused to employ these particular words.
In the following years it became clear that not all United Church leaders favoured abortion on demand. For example, there was opposition from the editor of the United Church Observer who, in 1972, urged that the Church’s 1971 description of abortion “as a private matter between a woman and her doctor” be withdrawn. This was contradicted immediately by such persons as Mrs. Ruth Evans, chairman of the committee which had prepared the report. (Revealingly enough, Mrs. Evans was also executive secretary of the Association for the Repeal of the Abortion laws (ARAL), the forerunner of CARAL, the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League of which she is still an honorary director). Others who refuted the Observer editor were Dr. Harriet Christie, another CARAL director, and W. Clarke MacDonald. Both were deputy secretaries of the United Church Division of Mission department.
In August 1972, the 25th General Council, meeting in Saskatoon, issued a booklet entitled Birth Control and Abortion, prepared by the Division of Mission. This called for a “massive contraceptive program” in sex education – detailed by Rev. Robin Smith. The booklet re-emphasized the words used earlier in the introduction to another United Church study entitled Abortion, namely that “limited access to abortion an ineffective, immoral and socially disastrous way of maintaining standards of sexual morality.” Recommended counseling services were directly tied in to feminist groups and to the Planned Parenthood and Family Planning Federations.
The 1972 Moderator, Dr. Bruce McLeod, acknowledged the existence of some unease among Church members about the abortion stand. However, he fully supported the Council’s position. Once again, though everyone avoided the term, or even denied it, the position was that of abortion on demand.
Still, even Moderators had to soften the truth. Consequently, in the fall of 1973, McLeod actually referred to the United Church position on abortion as “middle of the road.” He added: “I get pretty tired of middle aged men like me moralizing about young women.” This seems to sum up well enough the kind of “theological” thinking that has gone into the Church’s abortion resolutions.
In 9185, another former Moderator, the Rev. Lois Wilson, presently president of the World Council of Churches, was asked the official United Church position on abortion. She responded as follows:
It’s really a pro-choice belief that human life is sacred, that the taking of human life is almost always evil, but that there are times when it is the positive thing to do. Therefore, it is really a contextual understanding of ethics, not a static one. We are past the time, surely, when the church was in a control situation or even wants to be, telling everybody to shape up. I think we need to bring our best insights on all issues to the public arena, but always recognize that we live in a pluralistic society.
In other words, another “everyone-does-his/her-own thing” declaration, with the attendant implication that opponents are “out of it.”
The United Church’s position has remained till this day, despite occasional headlines such as that of the Globe and Mail in 1974: “United Church to take a second look at its liberal stand on abortion.” There never was a second look, except to reaffirm the first one; as was done, for example, in 1980. One can see why this is so. “Moral Theology” will indeed be nothing but useless “moralizing” – as Dr. McLeod put it – as long as it remains divorced from natural moral law and the good of the human being. Unfortunately, this separation of moral reflection from reason and natural law is not uncommon in certain traditions.
Permissiveness in general
The United Church has applied liberal, permissive standards to just about every issue of sexual or family morality over the last 20 years. The pattern has been the same throughout. Traditional Christian morality is declared outmoded because of the need for adaptation to “modern sexual research.” First, small tentative changes are suggested. Then, within a short while, the opposite is asserted of what had been held firmly only a few years earlier. After a few more years, the new view is solemnly enshrined in resolutions which themselves appear inadequate shortly after.
In 1977, the Church tried to tackle the question of death, dying and genetic engineering. With mind-deadening regularity, one resolution after another was approved, challenging traditional teaching on the dignity and sacredness of human life.
As space prohibits investigating every issue, let us examine just a few, remembering that all of them relate to one another. For the radical secularist, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, living common-law, divorce and euthanasia, for example, are part of the “pro-choice” commitment.
The 28th General Council in Halifax in 1980 elected the Church’s first woman Moderator, Rev. Lois Wilson. She immediately promised to promote feminism and to further the “liberation” of the Church. Her views on abortion have been noted above. The issues under discussion at this time were pre-marital and extra-marital sex (“Ease sex taboos, United Church urged” a Globe headline read). There was also the question of homosexuality.
With regard to the former, a report by Rev. Robin Smith proposed that sex before marriage was none of the Church’s business. The biblical commands against fornication and adultery, the Rev. Smith argued, should not be taken lightly. However, “it does mean that you recognize it’s not as simple as that.” Having struck the opening blow for more permissiveness in this area, he left the details for some future meeting.
With regard to homosexuality, the report declared that homosexuals are so by nature and that they should be ordained even if they are living with a person of the same sex, unless their stability was in question. This report was accepted and referred to committees for more discussion.
The Councils following Halifax were taken up with more studies, reports and discussions on human sexuality with ever-mounting confusion. In 1982, the General Council decided that, “fidelity does require sexual exclusiveness and marriage should not include secondary relationships of emotional intimacy and potential genital expression.” The view, however, was contradicted by another document (108 pages) published by the Church’s Division of Mission in February 1984, for submission to the General Council meeting in August.
With regard to homosexuality, this last document appeared to reject the 1980 resolution supporting the ordination of active homosexuals. But it also demanded an end to “discrimination.” In general, it was difficult to know what the document meant with statements such as that there are many couples “in committed relationships other than marriage to whom the church is called to minister.”
Two years later, in 1984, the homosexuality issue dominated the Council completely. To understand how radically the United Church had shifted ground on this issue as time passed, it is necessary to retrace a few steps.
The United Church Observer had introduced a novel view as early as 1965. An article in the November edition of that year, for example, had the author headlined as saying: “The church’s thinking must change – radically.”
The article presented the official position of the United Church of Canada at that time (continued in a General Council report on Christian Marriage and Divorce) as follows:
- Homosexuality is an “unnatural” deviation;
- Homosexual conduct is a moral offence which violates God’s will;
- Though homosexuality is to be understood and dealt with charitably, “it cannot be considered an excuse for immoral acts.”
This position, said the author of the article, Mervyn Dickinson, a United Church minister and director of its Counselling Service in Toronto, “must be both modified and expanded.”
Listing a number of points, Dr. Dickinson began the process of convincing United Church members that homosexuality should be regarded as normal and not in the least bit upsetting or dangerous. For Anglicans this quest had been started, among others, by Pierre Berton in his book, The Comfortable Pew, written on commission from the Anglican Church. Dickinson approvingly quoted Berton who described the homosexual as “the modern equivalent of the leper.”
The process of rejecting orthodox Christian teaching based on natural law and revelation, in favour of statistics, Gallup polls and sociological observations, accelerated after the 1969 legalization of homosexual acts (i.e. those done in private by adults of 21 years of age or over). In 1972, United Church minister and Globe columnist Kenneth Bagnell headlined his column on the ordination of a declared homosexual candidate in the American United Church of Christ: “A matter of pride.” “The homosexual is no more a sinner,” he stated, “than the blind man or the cripple. But he may be handicapped…”
Outside Canada a minister by the name of Troy Perry, the founder, in 1968, of a Los Angeles organization called “Metropolitan Community Church,” published his book The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay (1972). Within a few years his organization had mushroomed to 200, with seven of his “churches” in Canada.
Back in Canada, in February 1974, the Winnipeg local of the Unitarian Church (whose officials are recognized by the State as “ministers”) announced they had “married” two homosexuals. And in the U.S.A., in 1977, the American Episcopal (Anglican) Church ordained as minister a known lesbian, Ellen Barrett.
These events reflected the success of a major public relations campaign underway from the mid 1970s. This so-called “Gay Drive for Acceptance” – as Time magazine dubbed it – demanded that the homosexual way of life be recognized as normal. Its key concepts were the notions that homosexual orientation was not acquired but congenital (like the colour of one’s skin); that the homosexual way of life as appropriate a form of love as that of normal people; and that the opposition to homosexual activity was discrimination.
It was in this light that the United Church 1984 Council returned to the issue of homosexuality. As noted, the February 1984 report from the Church’s Division of Mission spoke against the ordination of homosexuals but accepted everything else about them. Two months later a special task force of the Church’s Division of Ministry, Personnel and Education recommended ordination – in the process denying, of course, that homosexual activity is a sin. This report fuelled discussion pro and con among United Church members throughout the country.
For once, the Moderator, now W. Clarke MacDonald, decided he wouldn’t take a position. Rank and file members were so divided that there was even talk of schism. Still, the United Church hierarchy kept adding fuel to the fire. In June the Division of Mission published another report, accusing the Church of sexism.
The group behind this report claimed to have been led to a “growing understanding of the connections between the way sexism, racism, class exploitation and heterosexism function and oppress.” Heterosexism was defined as a “systemic form of oppression,” which reinforces “the assumed inherent superiority of the heterosexual pattern of loving” and imposes rigid rules on men and women. Not surprisingly, the report also attacked “patriarchy,” i.e., the tradition of ordaining only men as priests or ministers.
Eventually, the efforts of the Church bureaucrats were rewarded. Church members at large resisted going all the way. The delegates at the Morden, Manitoba, 1984 General Council voted for the status quo, that is to say, by a show of hands they overwhelmingly rejected the task force report which would have applied to the whole church the rule that homosexuality should not be a factor in ordination. But by the same token the Council passed another resolution reaffirming the individual responsibilities for ordination of the Church’s 12 regional conferences. This meant that conferences which had ordained homosexuals already could continue to do so, while others could continue their opposition, or change, if they wished.
Newspapers reported that the Church had rejected “gay ordination.” Hence, it required a special clarification from newly elected Moderator Robert Smith to make clear that the Church was leaving the matter to the individual regions, as it had done for a number of years.
The frequent reports in the Canadian press on both Council and pre-Council debates could only benefit the homosexual community. United Church spokesmen kept identifying opposition with discrimination, and kept implying that homosexuality was the result of God’s creation. Meanwhile, as had been customary in the press for many years, there was complete silence about the nature of homosexual acts. Homosexual activity involves, of course, such acts as oral sex, anal intercourse, masturbation by manual stimulation, hugging, frotting, man-boy-man relationships, sado-masochism, bestiality, and other perversion. Because of the nation-wide habit of mentally separating and blocking out homosexual activity from “sexual orientation,” people were gradually prepared to accept the latter as a legitimate “right.”
One year later, in the summer of 1985, the United Church, represented by Clarke MacDonald and staff officer Bonnie Green, joined homosexual and lesbian groups across the country and women’s groups such as NAC, the National Action Committee, and the National Association of Women and the Law, to demand protection for “sexual orientation” under the Canadian Human Rights Act. MacDonald, an advisor of Planned Parenthood Toronto, requested that the federal government press the provinces to do the same in their human rights codes, hoping that ultimately the Supreme Court would come to interpret it as part and parcel of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Former Moderator, Bruce McLeod, columnist in the mass circulation Toronto Star, used his space to minimize and ridicule opposition to homosexuality in the now usual fashion of unacceptable “discrimination” and describing it as the consequence of a reactionary and unchristian attitude. His colleague, Clifford Elliott, offered similar opinions.
Efforts such as these were rewarded when on March 4, 1986, the federal Minister of Justice, John Crosbie, announced he would pursue protection for “sexual orientation.”
One final observation. The years following the close of the Catholic second Vatican Council (1962-1965) emphasized – in an entirely new fashion – the commitment to ecumenism among Christian communities. Various bridges were built between Protestants and Catholics to facilitate communications, to get to know one another, to learn to work together, to pray together. In practice ecumenical cooperation among the churches was most noticeable in human rights and socio-economic political issues. However, its lack was most flaring in the moral-legal field. There is no evidence during the 1965-1985 years that United Church leaders – in moving their community to dissent from immemorial Christian moral norms – felt the slightest need or inclination to consult any group other than the Anglicans with whom they were contemplating union during the sixties.
Indeed, not only was there no attempt at consultation, but one is left with the impression from the reports and debates that secular thought and the secular model had advanced so rapidly among the United Church hierarchy that there was only the dimmest awareness of any tradition or teaching other than what occupied themselves. Consequently, the theological gap between the United Church on the one hand and Catholics and Evangelical Protestants on the other, is wider today than it was in 1965. Meanwhile, this public display of religious disunity among Christians has left the secularists laughing and the politicians confused. The latter, already under pressure from a permissive society, now had to ground cut form underneath them.