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steve tomkins
crows nest
By Stephen Tomkins
More Crow's Nests here
Sex in the pews
November 2002

The British newspapers have recently been the scene of an apocalyptic clash between the forces of darkness and light, over the thorny issue of which sex other people should have sex with.

Two evangelical groups have called on Rowan Williams to resign as Archbishop of Canterbury – before he has started the job – for admitting that he has ordained one practising homosexual in his career. Then another evangelical squad gained the limelight by issuing organ-donor-style cards for people to carry saying they don't want their children to be adopted by homosexuals if they die.

This idea has proved an inspiration for many, and I for one am now carrying a card that reads, "In the event of my death, I do not want my children to be adopted by religious extremists".

Clearly it is time for Crow's Nest to assess the sexual health of the church across the world – including latest news of that old friend of Ship of Fools, Fred Phelps, the most diseased mind in Christendom.

First to continental Europe, where the German church obviously heard we were coming, and set out to prove just how relaxed it is about the whole thing.

The Protestant Academy in Munich has started a course called "Words of Joy", teaching candidates how to talk during sex. Church-funded classes train them to read stories to each other from porn magazines – presumably to overcome embarrassment and extend vocabulary, rather than as a romantic technique in itself. ("Oh baby, you have such massive... hang on, I've lost my place.")

Meanwhile, in Italy, Father Oreste Benzi is doing his bit by trying to persuade wives to give more exciting sex. His charitable work with prostitues has convinced him that the way to combat the trade is to remove the demand and give Italian men a reason to stay at home. "Men turn to prostitues for a good go," he says, and I'm sure he's not wrong.

South American Catholicism has showed itself a little more uptight in its response to the 2002 film, "The Sin of Father Amaro", the story of a priest who gets his girlfriend pregnant. The Archbishop of Mexico City denounced it as "lies of the worst and vilest sort", declaring that all who saw it were in a state of sin.

Naturally, it has already become the biggest grossing Mexican film ever. Who knows, maybe one day they'll learn.

African bishops take an equally hard line. The Anglican Bishop of Lagos has introduced a scheme where priests have to vet the dresses of every woman marrying in church, as he and colleagues are disgusted at the skimpiness of present fashions. Grooms are generally well dressed, he says, but many brides come half-naked. I suppose if you don't approve of sex before marriage, you certainly won't approve of it during.

How about the Orthodox? News from Romania, where 90 per cent of the population is Orthodox, is quite eye-opening. For a start, there are the prostitutes in the town of Deva who went to church in May and were so convicted of sin that they have agreed en masse to stop offering oral sex as part of their portfolio. "Perversity is such a big sin," explained Mirela E.

Sharing her sentiments, the state recently impounded a Turkish shipment of panties bearing the image of the Virgin. Whatever the sacrilegious and aesthetic dimensions to the issue, the traders were actually fined for breaking the church's monopoly on icons.

Add to this the 74-year-old wife who died this year mid-coitally while her 26-year-old lover covered her mouth to stop her ecstasies waking her husband... and the 62-year-old man jailed for refusing to pay the equivalent of a year's wages owed to the phone company after he fell asleep listening to a sex line... and Romanian orthodoxy presents an interesting picture.

And so finally to the US. Kansas pastor Fred Phelps will be familiar to Ship of Fools veterans. His unbelievable "God Hates Fags" website has long been a source of fascination, revulsion and unintentional humour.

Now he has excelled himself by coming out against those perfidious liberals Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham. He and the flock have started picketing both of them as "fag-enablers", for claiming that God loves homosexuals. Falwell fell by having a live debate with a gay Christian; Graham by being 84, which means that he will "soon be in hell."

Those who have wondered whether Phelps's graphic obsession with the physical act of gay sex ("Fag Rectal Blood Stains the Flag") could conceivably indicate an element of confusion in his own sexuality, may want to have a look at Fred: The Movie. "You gotta worship at the shrine of the Almighty Anal Copulation God," he declares. "The Great God Rectum, that's what we call it."

Ah, Fred Phelps, where would we be without you to show us the way?
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Andrew Rumsey's regular column about the religious life
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