Religion, Faith & Spirituality on Sex, Gender & Sexuality

The intersection with sex, gender and sexuality, of religion, faith, and spirituality is an issue for many people, both those feeling oppressed or repressed by them, or also trying to celebrate or adhere to a faith whilst still expressing their sexual and/or gender identity, or being female in a world that generally accepts equal rights for women, yet their religion may not agree.

In the 19th century some parts of Christianity were at the forefront of equality and ending slavery, for instance, advocating the rights of women, but now that state and society seem to be ahead of spiritual faiths on equality it is now religions that are behind the times on diversity issues such as sex, gender and sexuality.

Some interpretations of Islam (e.g., tribal Sharia law) still stone female adulterers on paltry evidence yet let off male rapists unless there are multiple witnesses to the victim’s abuse. Gay men are thrown off rooftops by Islamic State yet trans Muslims can end up accepted in other, even conservative, Islamic countries.

Mosques, commonly, like some Jewish synagogues and extreme Brethren churches, still segregate men from women, don’t allow women to speak or go about uncovered. Aren’t most religions male-founded and dominated and thus part of the patriarchy? Should women be free to choose separation and/or subjugation as a religious freedom of choice? How do we regard it, if it is imposed not chosen, and breaches of it are punished?

As the UEA debates religion in May, we ask some similar questions as to whether religion, faith and/or spirituality can be a force for change and good on questions of sex, gender and sexuality, or whether they are the ones needing reforming.

Discussion event in Norwich, Tuesday 5th April, 6.30pm, Millennium Library

UEA Debate on Religion

Is Religion a force for good? Should ISIS be considered Muslim?


Woman’s Hour interviews two Christians on their attitudes to abortion. Recently, a Northern Ireland woman was prosecuted for having an abortion, which would not have happened in the rest of the UK.


LSE Islamic Society has recently held a segregated Muslim dinner by sex, keeping men and women apart.


Even non-Muslim Air France stewardesses are now required to wear headscarves and cover upon arrival from any flights to Iran. Two Iranian women were recently fined a month’s wages each for having “bad hijabs“.

“Not that 7th-century scripture can justify the practice, but wearing a hijab isn’t mandated anywhere in the Koran. Forcing women to wear a curtain — curtain being the literal meaning of hijab in Arabic — is a political act cooked up by nasty, regressive old men, not some time-honoured religious imperative.” – Robert Crampton, The Times

The difference should be whether, wearing anything from headscarf to hijab or burka, the covering-up is by free choice rather than male/divine mandate.

Waria Muslims in Indonesia

Indonesia is profoundly traditional and conservative in terms of Islamic observance yet pockets of diversity exist such as the freedom some waria (assigned male at birth transwomen and/or crossdressed gay men) have to express their Muslim faith without harassment or condemnation.

“Everyone has the right to observe their religion in their own way (…) According to the Qur’an, we are not allowed to classify people based on economic, social, political, gender or theological values”


“It is because they are women and they are Yazidis that they are sold and murdered [by Isis]. What they are experiencing is femicide.”

Foot washing

A Roman Catholic edict suggests that women are not worthy or equal to men or representative of humanity to have their feet washed by a male priest during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

Queer Bible

Is the answer a queer rewriting of the Bible?

“I want to make an inclusive, celebratory space within the text that undoes the implicit sexism, misogyny, heterosexism, hierarchical oppression, slut-shaming, etc. and reconstitutes the feminine, the queer, the outcast, the strange.”

Evangelicals on Transgender

A documentary called “Did God give me the Wrong Body?” seeks to give an evangelical Christian response to transgender people.

“Biblical Christians hold that ‘sex change’ surgery desecrates a body made in the image of God…A painful operation cannot solve the mental dysfunction…left with a mutilated body, but the internal conflicts remain.” – Christian Institute

Non-Binary & Trans Youth

The Free Church of Scotland has condemned SNP moves to accept non-binary gender and extend trans self-identification to 16 & 17 year olds:

“It is a policy that will bring untold disaster and harm upon Scotland’s children,” – Free Kirk moderator, Rev David Robertson

New Year’s Eve – A discussion of the sexual assault events in Germany

This is an awkward topic to raise, given the Islam-blaming from some sides, and the intersectional Islamophobia-fearing apologising from another side. In between, victims are being blamed and perpetrators being excused or demonised. Is there a middle path of understanding? Feminists have been eerily quiet and anti-immigrationists decidedly vocal, even leveraging typically feminist women-protecting arguments in their arsenal of arguments to shut borders to Muslim migrants. So, these are some of the sources we are discussing, in a free speech, non-filtered way, which means referencing them does not mean endorsement.

Europe’s Betrayal of Women

Pat Condell gives his suitably angry analysis of events:
Mr Condell has also provided lots of further reading in the video’s description box.

The Rape of Europe

Paul Joseph Watson provides a short, yet comprehensive, introduction to events and the wider political reaction:

The 2015 New Years Eve Attacks in Cologne

Sargon of Akkad provides an in-depth analysis of events and the aftermath:

Aftermath of the Cologne New Years Eve Attacks

One contributor to the discussion asks: “With the authorities, politicians, and regressive “Progressives” playing hide the ball with the facts, blaming the victims and doing/saying anything to minimise the situation – and with the Feminist reactions ranging from Political Correctness Paralysis, all the way through to repulsive attempts to label ALL men and boys as dangerous rapists that need a curfew… What hope is there for a serious public conversation about what happened in Germany on New Year’s Eve?

What impact will the importing of a real “Rape Culture” into Europe have? Is it possible for this breakdown of society to be avoided? Or, is it just inevitable that Europe will deteriorate and become more and more like Sweden?”

An online commenter writes in response to an article:
German Police Investigate Dozens of New Years Eve Sexual Assaults By Pack of 1,000 Men

Feminist Kittenjoy
“This isn’t an immigration issue; this is a male issue. See also: rape culture; patriarchy; misogyny; domestic violence; crime statistics; sexual assault statistics; gun violence statistics…
Yes, I know, not all men are offenders. But an overwhelming fuckton of offenders are men.”
Reply from Potatoe666 to Feminist Kittenjoy
“It IS an immigration issue. When I get hit on in a really disrespectful way here in western europe, it is almost always from men from the middle east or nothern africa. Their culture IS more patriarchal – denying that is just positive racism. I am sorry, I grew up in a middle eastern family, I know the culture at least of my home country very well, and although there are exceptions everywhere our culture is WAY more macho. BUT!! The idiots who are only criticising sexism when it comes from foreigners and else pretend that sexism does not exist are stupid racist bigots. So, I guess, let’s be balanced, it’s not entirely black and white…”

Initial reports suggested 1000 men, 500 crimes: More Than 500 Crimes Committed On New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany:

“with 40 percent involving sexual assault… BBC News reports that “the crime spree led to criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door immigration policy.” Most suspects, police note, are “asylum-seekers and illegal migrants from North Africa.”
Thus far, the police have been met with harsh critique for the way they have handled these investigations. The attacks seemed to yield little immediate response from authorities, and the chief of police for North Rhine-Westphalia, Wolfgang Albers, has been suspended for allegedly concealing information, including the suspects’ origins. On New Year’s Eve, Germany saw attacks of a similar kind in both Hamburg and Stuttgart.”

However, later reports on the Cologne Sex Attacks: Only Three Out Of 58 Men Arrested Are Refugees, Prosecutor Reveals that:

“Just three of the 58 suspects arrested in connection with January’s mass sex attack were refugees, local public prosecutor Ulrich Bremer has confirmed. Those of migrant descent did make up large numbers of the arrested; a full list of nationalities of those accused stands at 25 Algerians, 21 Moroccans, three Tunisians, three Germans, two Syrians and an Iraqi.”

“This is about violence against women and should be addressed as such, regardless of the status and background of those suspected of having committed such acts.”

It was pointed out in the group discussion that Sweden’s sexual violence/rape rate had soared during the period of Muslim migrant influx – figures and contexts that need further examination, particularly with the scare-stats producing vigilante anti-migrant violence. In response it was made clear that only a “tiny fraction” of sex crimes in Germany are related to refugees and migrants according to a leaked police report:

“Anti-immigration campaigners and far-right groups have used the assaults in Cologne and other cities on New Year’s Eve to claim that the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers in Germany is putting women at risk. But figures from the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police Office) showed under 1 per cent of crimes committed by migrants in 2015 were sexual offences.”

Feminist views have ranged across the spectrum just as male responses have. One in Breitbart Says Migrant Rape Is ‘Islamic Terrorism’, Claims Cologne Police Covered Up Problem For 20 Years:

“a leading German feminist has … argued that the “grotesque” contradictions in modern feminist discourse, namely the tendency to excuse Muslim violence against women, was in fact a form of racism. She insisted that feminists should not “patronise” Muslims by apologising for their intolerance and crimes.
“Political correctness should not prevent us from free thinking,” she said, “Because it’s not about people, but about ideology.”
“You should tell [migrants]: ‘You have the same rights – but also the same obligations!’”

Other feminists seem to be avoiding the subject thinks Lara Prendergast who asks in the SpectatorWhy are feminists refusing to discuss the Cologne sex attacks?

“if the actual attacks aren’t enough to merit a reaction, then how about the suggestion by Cologne’s female mayor that women should adopt a ‘code of conduct‘ to prevent future assault. Is that not the very definition of ‘victim blaming’?”

Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian writes that we should not shy away from asking hard questions about the Cologne attacks, but what are the hard questions?

“Just because xenophobes are fanning the flames doesn’t mean we should censor the discussion about the assaults in German cities on New Year’s Eve”

“So no wonder liberals would do anything to avoid fanning these flames, since we see in all this righteous indignation a blatantly racist old trope about barbarians at the gates. We bend over backwards to report it responsibly, to moderate the frothing rage bubbling up below the line. Quite rightly, we argue that punishing millions of refugees for the actions of a few criminals of unknown origin makes no more sense than branding all white men paedophiles because of Jimmy Savile. Or we say there have always been muggers and gropers, they’re only global news when they’re not white.

But by trying not to give succour to racists, the risk is that we end up miserably self-censoring, giving the “why can’t we talk about immigration?” brigade ammunition for their conspiracy theories. Journalism isn’t really journalism when it avoids stories for fear of how some might react. The parallels between German politicians’ discomfort over Cologne and Britain’s response to predominantly Asian gangs grooming girls in Rotherham for sexual exploitation aren’t exact, but there are lessons to be learned.

The first is that pushing victims under the carpet for the sake of cohesion is dangerous.

But the second important lesson is that, perhaps surprisingly, confronting the links between ethnicity or culture and crime doesn’t necessarily change the response all that much.

“Liberals shouldn’t be afraid to ask hard questions.”

My own personal response (as the organiser of the group but not the convener of this discussion) would be that those questions need to be asked without demonising any group in a stereotypical way, whether migrants, Muslims or men.

I agree with Condell that parts of Islam, like Islamic State/ISIL and Saudi/Iranian repression appear to be, if not are, stuck in the middle ages with their beheadings, stonings, and territorial rape in geographic and human terms. However, importing migrants into Europe could lead to liberal enlightenment rather than radicalisation or taking Europe back to the 1500s! There will always be the few, though, but that shouldn’t lead to stereotyping of all men or all muslims as rapists (nor all trans for that matter, Greer, Jeffries, Bindel etc, one of the daftest, least provable arguments ever). Inevitably most men coming from many North African and Middle Eastern countries will be Muslim, meaning that most of the rapists among them will also be Muslim. It does not make all Muslims rapists – but even Paul Joseph Watson was clear to point out he was not saying that, though he goes on to outline that Islamic texts could lead to rape culture or sexual entitlement.

I also agree, though, that intersectional feminists need to be cautious about unilateral activism against Islamophobia without distinction between versions of Islam – Sufi, Sunni, Shia, Wahabbi, Sharia (law) etc; also the distinction between Islam as faith, ideology or ruling system (Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Limits of Postmodern Analysis, Hiadeh Moghissi, preface).

Is the essential question here whether Islam includes a culture of rape? Rape as spoils of war/women as property, as part of that, goes back to biblical times, not exclusively Islam.

Equally, go back 150 years or less and men could legally rape their wives as women were property in marriage. Marriage gave conjugal rights to a spouse without question until very recent protections in law.

Only in 1993, did the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights publish the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women which established marital rape as a human rights violation.

The countries which chose to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the first legally binding instrument in Europe in the field of violence against women, are bound by its provisions to ensure that non-consensual sexual acts committed against a spouse or partner are illegal. The convention only came into force in August 2014!

In the UK, the Criminal Law Revision Committee in their 1984 Report on Sexual Offences rejected the idea that the offense of rape should be extended to marital relations. Five years later, in Scotland, the High Court of Justiciary took a different view, abolishing the marital immunity, in S. v. H.M. Advocate, 1989. The same would happen in England and Wales in 1991.

Germany outlawed spousal rape only in 1997, which is later than other developed countries. Female ministers and women’s rights activists lobbied for this law for over 25 years. Before 1997, the definition of rape was: “Whoever compels a woman to have extramarital intercourse with him, or with a third person, by force or the threat of present danger to life or limb, shall be punished by not less than two years’ imprisonment”. In 1997 there were changes to the rape law, broadening the definition, making it gender-neutral, and removing the marital exemption.

Countries which were early to criminalize marital rape include the Soviet Union (1922/1960), Poland (1932), Czechoslovakia (1950), some other members of the Communist Bloc, Sweden(1965), and Norway (1971). Slovenia, then a republic within federal Yugoslavia, criminalized marital rape in 1977. The Israeli Supreme Court affirmed that marital rape is a crime in a 1980 decision, citing law based on the Talmud (at least 6th century). Criminalization in Australia began with the state of New South Wales in 1981, followed by all other states from 1985 to 1992. Several formerly British-ruled countries followed suit: Canada (1983), New Zealand (1985), and Ireland (1990).

The point of mentioning the above is to realise that the cultural and chronolgical gap between fundamentalist misogynistic Islam and Western marriage-culture is not 500 years but less than 50!