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Discussion Guide


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Sex and the Church was a United Methodist project to publish a variety of articles and editorials about issues of sexual ethics for Christians. This was a post-publication supplement created to invited local congregations to engage with these ethical questions through discussion.

Published in: Spiritual

Discussion Guide

  1. 1. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 1 A discussion guide on sexual ethics for the 21st Century Originally published and edited by Linda Butler, The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society Collected by Audrey Krumbach for distribution by the Reconciling Ministries Network
  2. 2. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 2 In this collection you will find nineteen articles about many complex questions surrounding human sexuality in the twenty-first century. Each article is followed by questions for discussion, and most include resources for further education or research. Inclusion in this collection indicates no endorsement by the collectors or distributors; views and opinions stated in articles are those only of the author. We hope you find this collection useful and interesting! Table of Contents: Introduction 3 February 23, 2009 – Pastors Not Trained 5 March 2, 2009 – Theology of Sexuality 7 April 6, 2009 – Talking to Young People 12 May 4, 2009 – Teaching Abstinence in a World Awash with Sex 17 June 1, 2009 – Gender Discrimination and Violence, HIV/AIDS 21 July 6, 2009 – Myths of Marital Infidelity 25 August 3, 2009 – Safe Haven for Strippers 28 August 31, 2009 – Adolescent Sexuality 31 October 5, 2009 – The Mass Media's Influence 34 November 3, 2009 – Black Women’s Sexuality and Spirituality 37 December 7, 2009 – Clergy Living with HIV 41 January 6, 2010 – You're Never Too Old 45 February 5, 2010 – Ending Heterosexism 47 March 5, 2010 ‘Bachelorette’ Alum Talks about True Love – 51 April 7, 2010 – Reproductive rights: A Matter of Social Justice 53 May 4, 2010 – Faith Matters: Young People, Sexuality and Religion 57 June 7, 2010 – An Ordained Single Woman and The Discipline 61 July 9, 2010 – Pornography and Sexual Addiction 65 August 6, 2010 – An ART-full Discussion on Childbirth 69
  3. 3. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 3 Introduction WASHINGTON,D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) will present a series of articles that address critical aspects of human sexuality. The series, “Sex and the Church,” will run in GBCS’s electronic newsletter, Faith in Action. It will begin March 2, 2009 with “The Theology of Sexuality.” Bishop Deborah Kiesey, GBCS board of directors president, and Jim Winkler, the social justice agency's chief executive, issued a joint statement announcing the monthly series. It is important for us and the Church to address this issue and its impact on all of us. “We see it almost every day in the news in one way or another: HIV & AIDS; rising divorce rates brought on by marital infidelity; teen pregnancy; homosexuality and homophobia. The topic is sexuality,” they say in their statement. “It is important for us and the Church to address this issue and its impact on all of us.” They said “Sex and the Church” will provide theological, educational, scientific and sociological sustenance along with specific questions for dialogue and discernment. Kiesey and Winkler point out that the United Methodist Social Principles describe human sexuality as “God’s good gift to all persons.” “Yet we also know that on this the Church has often remained silent or been too polarized,” they declare. “So GBCS has recruited some outstanding resource people to share their expertise on a number of key topics within the framework of human sexuality.” Dr. TraciWest, professor of Ethics and African American Studies at Drew University Theological School, Madison, N.J.,wrote the series lead-off article, “The Theology of Sexuality.” West leads sexual ethics seminars and participated in a sexuality study that found seminaries in the United States are not adequately preparing future clergy to deal with sexuality issues despite ongoing debates within their denominations about issues such as homosexuality. “Sexuality has to do with the way in which our bodies, our spirit and our mind respond to other people and to the way we understand our bodies as sensual,” West said. Some of the other scheduled articles in the series include “Teaching Abstinence in a World Awash with Sex,” “The Myths of Sex: Sex, HIV and Gender,” “Cheaters Think They Prosper:Myths about Marital Infidelity,” “Politics of Sex,” “What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know,” “Surviving Rape,” “A Black Woman's Guide to Sex and Spirituality,” “Clergy Living with AIDS and the Role of the Church,” and “Young People Speak out About Sex!” Mike Ratliff, director of the United Methodist Division on Ministries with Young People, and James Richie, author of United Methodist material on sexuality, are collaborating on the April article, “Sexuality in the Church — Best Practices.” Other contributors to the series include Dr. Pauline Muchina, UNAIDS; the Rev. Debra Haffner,director of Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing; and the Rev. Steven Baines of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Linda Bales, director of the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project at GBCS, is coordinating “Sex and the Church.” It is an intrinsic part of our personhood and should be treated as sacred. Kiesey and Winkler point out that sexuality plays a pivotal role in everyday lives. “It is an intrinsic part of our personhood and should be treated as sacred,” they say. “We are excited about this series because it will help provide needed education to our children and ourselves. We anticipate it may restore relationships, create new healthy ones and perhaps move people to act.” At the very least, they say “Sex and the Church” can generate dialogue for United Methodists as they try to honor the sacredness of this important part of living. “We invite you to read each article and encourage others to do the same,” their statement says. “And as always we welcome and appreciate your comments.”
  4. 4. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 4 Faith in Action appears on GBCS’s website, Information on how to obtain a free subscription to the newsletter, which provides a roundup of education, advocacy, analysis and commentary on social justice issues, is available on the website. Women’s Concerns Through the Louise & Hugh Moore Population Project, the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society addresses issues specifically having an impact on women. Key issues of the project are HIV/AIDS,domestic violence, family planning and reproductive health, and human trafficking. The Louise & Hugh Moore Population Project works collaboratively with other agencies and/or organizations on issues that affect women. Its partners include United Methodist Women, United Methodist General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, Women's Edge Coalition, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Religious Advocates Working Group, and International Family Planning Coalition. More information about the project and GBCS’s activities is available at http://www.umc- Women’s and Children’s Action Network Linda Bales, director of the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project, supervises an “Action Network” that provides legislative updates, educational resources and identifies opportunities to act on issues. She sends action alerts periodically through e-mail on such topics as domestic violence, population growth, women’s, health, human trafficking, child marriage and child labor. Joining the Women’s and Children’s Action Network is free:go to or click on My GBCS on the General Board of Church & Society Web site, You can also contact Donna Brandyberry, (202) 488-5641. Linda Bales can be reached at (202) 488-5649.
  5. 5. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 5 February 23, 2009 – Pastors Not Trained Linda Green (UMNS) — A new study concludes that seminaries in the United States are not adequately preparing future clergy to deal with sexuality issues, despite ongoing debates about sexuality within their denominations. The study, “Sex and the Seminary: Preparing Ministers for Sexual Health and Justice,” reports that sexuality courses are largely absent from most seminary curricula and degree requirements. Schools must do more to prepare their graduates so they can better minister to their congregants about sexual issues. At most institutions, students can graduate without studying sexual ethics or taking a single sexuality-based course, says the Jan. 8 composite released from the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing of Westport, Conn., and Union Theological Seminary in New York. The study says that U.S. theological education schools must do more to prepare their graduates so they can better minister to their congregants about sexual issues. “Sexuality has to do with the way in which our bodies, our spirit and our mind respond to other people and to the way we understand our bodies as sensual,” said the Rev. TraciWest, professor of Christian Ethics and African American Studies at United Methodist-related Drew Theological School, Madison, N.J. West leads sexual ethics seminars and participated in the sexuality study. Sexuality is about more than homosexuality, which has been debated within The United Methodist Church for decades,West said. “The range of issues is so broad in the ways in which sexuality touches our lives,” she explained. Such issues include but are not limited to sexual reproduction, sexual relations in marriage, breast cancer, abuse and violence, marital counseling, sexual dysfunction, teen sexual development, family planning issues and pornography. “The nature of sexuality is vulnerability and is a tremendous part of who we are,” West said. The United Methodist Church recognizes sexuality as “God’s gift to all persons” and calls everyone “to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.” The church affirms that all people are “individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God.” ‘Urgent need’ for training Church and community members rely on clergy for guidance and counseling when questions about sexuality arise and they perceive clergy, regardless of training, as capable of responding, the study says. It states,though, that the reality of seminary education does not square with people’s perceptions. Five United Methodist-related theological schools participated in the study. “Sex and the Seminary” is based on surveys from 36 seminaries and rabbinical schools representing a range of Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist traditions. Each institution was evaluated on criteria for a sexually healthy and responsible seminary. Five United Methodist-related theological schools participated in the study: Candler, Claremont, Drew, Garrett and United. Candler, Claremont and Drew are listed among the 10 leading institutions on sexuality issues. The study cites them as being sexually healthy and responsible. These seminaries have a free-standing center, program or institute that deals directly with sexuality-related issues. In general, seminaries are not providing future clergy and religious leaders with sufficient opportunities for study, self-assessment,and ministerial formation in sexuality, according to the report.
  6. 6. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 6 “With so many congregations embroiled in controversy over sexual-orientation issues, or struggling to address teenage sexuality, or concerned about sexual abuse,there is an urgent need for ordained clergy who understand the connections between religion and sexuality," said the Rev. Debra Haffner,lead conductor of the study and director of the Religious Institute. “Seminaries must do more to prepare students to minister to their congregants and be effective advocates for sexual health and justice,” Haffner said. Debates prompted study The timing of the report is right because of the ongoing discussions in many Protestant denominations about homosexuality, which prompted the study, according to West. “A lot of those conversations have been extremely destructive, and there is a broader awareness that there are a lot of myths and misinformation about sexuality and sexual identity,” West said. “There are a lot of fears, insecurities, and there needs to be places where pastors who are expected to respond to questions from members of the congregation can have opportunity to think about ‘What is my theology as it relates to sexuality?’” The study describes sexuality as a sacred part of life. The study describes sexuality as a sacred part of life. The report says clergy and other religious professionals have a unique opportunity and responsibility to guide congregations and communities through any number of sexuality-related concerns. “Clergy need to know how to ground their responses in a way that responds to how God is calling us to be,” West said, emphasizing that pastors need to know how to respond to a woman who confides about breast cancer,a girl or boy who discloses his or her sexual identity, or someone who is a victim of domestic violence. There is a need for people to have a positive and healthy understanding that “sexuality is a gift from God,” West said. She pointed out that many seminaries fail to prepare clergy with the necessary training to address the issue because “there is so much fear about sexuality among Christians.” The fear that sexuality “is innately sinful” leads to the “failure to understand that sexuality is part of who we are as human persons and that God created sexuality as something good,” West declared. Seminary standards suggested Seminaries have a responsibility to equip ministers with the theological, biblical and ethical framework to respond to difficult issues that are part of the everyday life of people in the community, according to West. She said, “It is almost as if sexuality is being discussed everywhere but in the church.”  The survey found that:  More than 90% of the seminaries surveyed do not require full-semester, sexuality-based courses for graduation.  Two-thirds of the seminaries do not offer a course in sexuality issues for religious professionals.  Seminaries offer three times as many courses in women's and feminist studies as they do in same-sex studies or other sexuality-related issues.  Sexuality-based courses are taught by senior professors or adjunct faculty, not by upcoming faculty seeking tenured positions. Most U.S. denominations do not require ministerial candidates to demonstrate any academic knowledge or competency in sexual health and education issues beyond those pertaining to the prevention of sexual harassment, according to the study’s findings. The study recommends that the Assn. of Theological Schools, the accrediting body for U.S. seminaries, integrate sexuality education into its standards for ministerial formation. The study urges seminaries to strengthen their curricular offerings and inclusion policies, invest in faculty development and continuing education, and
  7. 7. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 7 pursue collaboration with other institutions and advocacy groups to expand educational opportunities for seminarians regarding sexuality issues. “This is a fantastic idea,” West said. “It would be such a gift to people who are so vulnerable and who rely upon religious resources,counselors and pastors in crises situations related to sexuality.” Editor’s note: This article was written by Linda Green, a Nashville-based United Methodist NewsService writer
  8. 8. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 8 March 2, 2009 – Theology of Sexuality Rev. Dr. Traci West Too often when Christians mention “theology” and “sexuality” in the same sentence someone is trying to assert moral superiority over someone else. Some of us run away at any mention of a discussion combining “theology” and “sexuality.” This is because we are accustomed to it becoming a self-serving slug-fest, usually with the Bible wielded as a weapon. But it should be a delightful, faith-filled experience when we talk about theology (reflecting on Christian faith in God) together with sexuality (a precious gift of God). Too often, though, it is not a delightful experience. Gay, lesbian or transgendered persons brace themselves for how their identities and families will be referred to as “an issue” up for debate. And then the issue will be reduced to only one thing: sex. Those whose bodies are differently abled prepare to be ignored or pitied. Those who have contracted HIV/AIDS get ready for the almost inevitable ignorant or cruel references to them. Depending on how we were brought up, a theology of sexuality can also be an embarrassing subject for some to discuss openly. Because human sexuality always involves vulnerability, a respectfulattitude and a right to privacy should be non-negotiable. Privacy vs. secrecy Privacy is important, but not secrecy. The all too common secret use of sexuality by Christians and others for harm makes it imperative to talk openly about how our theology connects to our understanding of sexuality. Secrecy enables child pornography sold via the Internet, sexual misconduct by pastors with members of their congregations, or husbands sexually coercing their wives within heterosexual marriages. Some Christians silently wish for a church context where they can ask personal questions. Moreover, some Christians silently wish for a church context where they can ask personal questions about a range of concerns:  infertility;  self-image and penile dysfunction or breast mastectomy;  sexual, sensual needs as a single, elderly adult;  how to talk to our children about masturbation or menstruation;  the difference between flirting and sexual harassment; and  how to talk theologically about the relationship between gender and sexuality and God without reinforcing social biases. It should not be too much to hope for a space in the church where such concerns could be openly addressed as part of a broader understanding of Christian theology and human spirituality. We need a common understanding of what sexuality is. In the gospel of Luke, for instance, when the “woman of the city who was a sinner” kisses Jesus’ feet,anoints them with oil, and wipes them with her hair (Luke 7:37-50), does that gesture have anything to do with sexuality? Or when Paul exhorts the Corinthians to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (1Corinthians 16:20), what is he saying about sexuality, about spirituality, or about how they can or cannot be combined? Yes,sexuality has to do with our genitals, hormones and chromosomes, but it should not be mistakenly understood as merely physiological. Sexuality incorporates both individual physical acts and self-expression. God’s gift of sexuality God’s wondrous creation of human sexuality should never be reduced simply to a sex act or a particular sexual practice. To suggest that you can practice sexuality or not like flipping a light switch on or off is a
  9. 9. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 9 blasphemous negation of God’s creativity, of how sexuality is woven into the fabric of the human mind, body and spirit. To suggest that you can practice sexuality or not like flipping a light switch on or off is a blasphemous negation of God’s creativity. God’s gift of sexuality is experienced through:  our sensory perceptions — taste,touch, smell, sight, hearing;  our emotional life — wants, needs, fears,shame,joys, wonder;  our spirituality — prayers of thanksgiving, mind/body/spirit meditation, acknowledgement of being God’s precious creation;  our affect — sensual/emotional presence impacts others when we enter the room;  our minds — ability to imagine, fantasize, delay and interrupt sensory responses; and  our physicality — our body's shape, texture, hairiness, stamina, flexibility, capacities, movement. Furthermore, sexuality should not be understood as merely an individualistic quality. It includes the inherent social dimensions of vulnerability and accountability to others. A person may be in an intimate, covenantal relationship with another person, or single and celibate. You may be taking a solitary, luxurious, sensual bath, or talking to your doctor about a sexual reproduction issue. In both our being and our doing, sexuality is a continuing part of our emotional, spiritual, social and bodily “practice.” It is an inherent part of our God-created, shared humanity. Ethical dimensions Exploring theology about the trinitarian nature of God can be a creative way to remind ourselves of the meaning of human sexuality and its ethical dimensions. As Christians we believe that God created the incredibly diverse beings we are. This, of course, includes human sexuality. It reminds us to humbly marvel at God’s handiwork in the diversity of human creation and to treat each other with respect and equal regard. The incarnation of Jesus … reminds us of the preciousness of our own bodies to God. The incarnation of Jesus,at once fully divine and fully human flesh and blood, reminds us of the preciousness of our own bodies to God. It should also remind us to always treat our own bodies and other people’s as equally endowed with precious, sacred worth. The Holy Spirit is God with us at all times. It reminds us that God’s loving presence never abandons us, always supports our wholeness, no matter whether in joyful sexual pleasure or cruel sexual victimization. This loving witness of the Holy Spirit models solidarity for us to emulate by supporting one another. Studying the Bible provides another way to engage in a wonderfully rich theological reflection on sexuality. I do not mean using the Bible as a sword to slay other Christians through singular interpretations of selected passages about sexuality. Let us remember that all our understandings of scripture are interpretations. They are based on many, many translations of the Bible over centuries of evolving scholarship. Studying and seeking Our theology of sexuality should be informed by studying the entire canon of scripture and seeking God’s revelation. To accomplish this, we need to examine the wide variety of passages that mention sexuality. Passages we study might include:  1 Kings 11:3 — the sexual/marital arrangements of King Solomon who had 700 wives and 300 concubines;  1 Corinthians 7 —Paul’s preference for Christians to remain virgins and unmarried in order to freely focus on pleasing God;  Song of Solomon 4:1-5 — its sensualpoetry that describes the beauty of a woman’s lips, neck, breasts;  Deuteronomy 22:23-24 — the law requiring that a betrothed urban dwelling virgin, who is raped, be stoned to death for failing to cry out for help, as well as stoning her rapist for violating what belonged to another man;
  10. 10. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 10  Romans 1:24-28 — Paul’s discussion of idolatry and the giving up of natural passions for unnatural ones;  Matthew19:11-12 — Jesus’ teaching about eunuchs;  Hosea 2:2-3 — sexual/marital metaphors for God’s relationship to Israelin the prophets, such as God’s violent punishment of stripping “her naked” and killing her because of her “whoring” ways;  Revelation 17:15 — the apocalypse imagery of the whore who is made naked, has her flesh devoured, and is then burned with fire;  Luke 1:7-18 — fertility problems of Elizabeth and Zechariah;  Leviticus 12:2,5 — uncleanness of women who have just given birth, of women who are menstruating, and of menstrual blood; and  John 8: 1-11 — Jesus stopping the stoning of a woman accused of adultery. Studying with a diverse group of Christians and using differing translations and commentaries about scripture passages such as these can add vitality to the development of a Christian theology of sexuality. Commonly mentioned theme Sin is among the most commonly mentioned themes in theological discussions of sexuality. Painful historical and current examples such as racist Christian opposition to interracial sex and marriage should certainly not be forgotten. We can learn from them. Only two years ago I met an interracial, heterosexual couple upset over the lack of support from the bride’s devoutly Christian family. Her white family declared it was “unnatural” for her to marry a black man. Sinfulness that involves sexuality can be a serious temptation. Sinfulness that involves sexuality can be a serious temptation. This is mainly because sexuality involves such a vulnerable, intimate aspect of our humanity. Unfortunately, some too often see vulnerability as an opportunity to exploit and abuse, to gain advantage or power over another. Fortunately, God’s grace is always available. It reconnects us to God, enabling us to recognize the precious, equal sacred worth of people we have sinfully cast aside, and to have the courage to make restitution. Theology is an ongoing, evolving project for Christians. It needs room to grow and develop. It requires nurturing with thoughtful engagement with others and lots of prayer. Questions for Discussion 1. What five ground rules would help a group of Christians with differing perspectives,including disagreements, respectfully work together on how to articulate a theology of sexuality? 2. In your opinion, is sexuality a good gift of God? Why or why not? What evidence for it do you find in scripture and theology? 3. How do the biblical passages mentioned in this article about sexuality fit with broader theological ideas consistently found in scripture that you think are essential to Christian faith? 4. What communities and groups do you think are usually left out or marginalized that should be included in a discussion of the church’s theology of sexuality? How could/should their voices be included? Resources  Steve Clapp, The Gift of Sexuality: Empowerment for Religious Teens  Miguel De La Torre, A Lily Among the Thorns: Imagining a New Christian Sexuality  Andrew Weaver,John D. Preston,and Charlene Hosenfeld, Counseling on Sexual Issues:A Handbook for Pastors and Other Helping Professionals  Mark D. Jordan, The Ethics of Sex
  11. 11. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 11  Karen P. Oliveto, Kelly D. Turney and Traci C. West,Holy Conversations: Talking About Homosexuality: A Congregational Resource  Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing:  Faith Trust Institute:  CLGS:  TransFaith On-line: Editor’s note: Dr. TraciWest is professor of Ethics and African American Studies at Drew University Theological School in Madison, N.J. She is an ordained United Methodist clergyperson in the New York Conference.
  12. 12. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 12 April 6, 2009 – Talking to Young People Rev. Michael Ratliff and Rev. Dr. James H. Ritchie Jr., There is no way to effectively be in ministry with young people without addressing the topic of human sexuality. Accomplishing such an effective ministry, though, has become increasingly complicated as the church has engaged in ever-more contentious debates about human sexuality while the culture surrounding it extols the physical pleasures of sex. Further complicating matters is the mindset among far too many that sex is a taboo subject. The Rev. Mike Ratliff, associate generalsecretary of the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship’s Division on Ministries with Young People, and the Rev. Dr. James Ritchie Jr., who developed the denomination’s Created by God sexuality education resources for fifth and sixth graders and their parents, discussed the church’s predicament. Ratliff said his greatest challenge has been to get people, individually and corporately, to accept the fact that they must be prepared to openly engage every topic related to healthy and destructive expressions of sexuality. “We must be prepared to facilitate the exploration of a faith perspective on any topic, not just those with which we are comfortable,” said Ratliff, who has been in ministry with youths and young adults for more than 25 years. The silence within the church shrouding human sexuality issues tacitly teaches that the subject should not be broached. This silence even takes form that obfuscates candor. “We are good at talking about sexuality without really talking about it,” Ratliff declared. Lines of communication More than anything else, lines of communication need to be opened, according to Ritchie, a clergy member of The United Methodist Church’s Western Pennsylvania Conference who has led more than 1,800 preteens through the Created by God curriculum. “We need to provide vocabulary and experiences that will encourage dialogue, and allow space for persons to wrestle individually and in groups with their own understandings and applications of scripture, tradition, experience and reason,” he said. We need to provide vocabulary and experiences that will encourage dialogue. “Because there is not agreement within The United Methodist Church on issues such as sexual orientation and abortion, the denomination has elected not to attempt to produce the resources that are needed,” Ritchie said. Ratliff seemed to agree that the discord, particularly on sexual identity and abortion, has thwarted the ability to produce up-to-date materials. “Our most current sexuality curriculum for youths is a dozen years old,” he said. “I know because I helped write it.” Ratliff said he is passionate about young people experiencing a faith that is about their whole life. “We cannot help them discover who God created them to be without engaging them in relation to this precious gift of our creation,” he said. “If we believe that God created us, and we know that we were created as sexualbeings, then obviously God believes that our sexuality is an integral part of who we are as expressed in God’s good creation.” Theologicalconversation “If God is at the center of our sexuality,” pointed out Ritchie, “then our conversation will necessarily be a theological conversation. We cannot talk in a holistic way about spirituality if we have not come to terms with the bodies that house those spirits.” On a cultural level, Ratliff emphasized that the church cannot prove its adequacy if it is not exploring the topic of human sexuality with its constituents, and speaking out in the culture at large. He said the church must provide resources to help parents guide their children into an understanding of this powerful life-long gift from God.
  13. 13. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 13 “Whatever we do must create an openness and approachability for adults in the lives of young people for exploration of the topic,” Ratliff explained. “It must also provide support for living through challenges of this significant, sometimes overwhelming, force in young people’s lives.” Sexual expression has become a preferred avenue for living out a lack of intimacy, and for quenching a thirst for power, according to Ratliff. Intimacy not addressed Ritchie said the church has not talked about nor encouraged intimacy nearly enough. “As a result, our young persons are growing up believing that intercourse and intimacy are one and the same,” he said. “The culture’s voice is simply louder than ours as the church. The culture’s voice is simply louder than ours as the church. Ritchie warned that if the church does not teach about the blessings of intimacy, the profound need for human-to-human connection will continue to draw people into physically pleasant, but emotionally and spiritually shallow bondings. Not addressing the topic of human sexuality has created a significant gap in the ability to integrate full humanity with an understanding of who we are as spiritual beings, Ratliff contends. He sees an opportunity to shift from viewing sexuality as an adolescent’s problem to be fixed, to understanding it as it was intended: a powerful life-long gift from God to be experienced within meaningful, committed relationships. “We wring our hands, condemn the sexualizing of our entire culture, and do nothing to help children and families learn to contend with this evil,” declared Ritchie, who is under extension ministry appointment to Ritchie Faith Span Ministries, Monroeville, Pa. He bemoaned the number of congregations, annual conferences and denominational agencies that choose to ignore the United Methodist “Social Principles,” which state all children have a right to full sex education. The Social Principles also call parents and the church to provide that education, he added. Several conferences used to have “wonderfully comprehensive” programs for recruiting, training and deploying leaders for sexuality education events, according to Ritchie. “These programs have not just died down,” he said. “They have died out.” Ritchie said liability issues have come to the forefront, causing the denomination to become hesitant to certify leaders. He said funding has dried up, and conference education personnel have been reduced or eliminated. Also, persons involved as leaders became burned out because they were so few in numbers, according to him. At the same time, the culture at large has been battering the church with messages that portray sex as a pleasure to be pursued with abandon. Ratliff said he recently read the results of a research project that says first graders are being sexually exploited in the way they dress and think. “Instead of playing dress-up wearing mom and dad’s clothes,” he said, “they are dressing in clothes that emphasize our sexuality and exploit this good gift from God. Obviously those clothes are bought by parents.” Sexuality education needed Ratliff said this is just one example that illustrates the need for effective sexuality education ministry for all ages. “In a time when children are becoming involved in sexual activity at an increasingly early age, when 50% of the new cases of HIV are in young people under the age of 25, when sexually transmitted disease infections are rising in older adult living centers,” he stated,“there is undoubtedly a need for sexuality education with a faith foundation to be happening throughout the age spectrum.” There is undoubtedly a need for sexuality education with a faith foundation to be happening throughout the age spectrum. Awareness of the church’s predicament has been raised by young people themselves. At the first Global Young People’s Convocation in Johannesburg, South Africa,in 2006, participants from several different cultural backgrounds proposed legislation to produce sexuality materials for adults. Ratliff said the proposal was made so
  14. 14. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 14 young people could have access to “significant adults prepared to have serious conversation” about human sexuality issues. For more than a decade,Ritchie has been saving questions that both kids and parents have placed in the question box during Created by God events. He said he has gathered thousands of questions. Some of the most frequently asked: What is sex? Where do babies come from? Why is it so important to learn about people’s bodies? Why do girls have to know about boys’ bodies and boys need to know about girls’ bodies? What does having a period mean? What is puberty? Why does hair grow in private places? What is masturbation and is it okay? When can I have sex? Why should I wait until I’m married to have sex? What happens during sexual intercourse? Where do babies come from? Why can’t men have babies? What are condoms? When is the right time to start dating? What is oral sex? How do you know when you’re in love? What is a homosexual? Why are some people homosexual? Ritchie said his initial involvement in human sexuality education followed his being assigned to work as a children’s curriculum editor at The United Methodist Publishing House. “I have seen lives transformed,” he said. “Lines of communication have been opened or strengthened between parents and children.” He said boys and girls walk away with a new appreciation and respect for the other gender. “Safety level increases as these young persons better understand themselves,” Ritchie said, “and as a result, feel more confident, becoming the kind of kids who are less vulnerable to predators and the lies foisted upon them by media stereotypes. These events serve as an immunization where the health of a few has an impact on the many.” ’Posterchurch’ Due West, a large United Methodist Church in Marietta, Ga., has become one of Ritchie’s “poster churches.” He said Created by God has become as much a part of the rhythm of church life as is Advent, Lent and confirmation. Due West UMC offered the program for the eighth year in January. He does not know of a comprehensive, churchwide approach to the topic. “Kyle Moore, director of children’s ministries, is passionate about the program,” Ritchie said. Moore has cultivated a cadre of adults who serve as small group leaders year after year,taking time off only when they have their own children going through the program. Among her recruits as small group leaders are the church lay leader, chair of the trustees and chair of the finance committee. “Many of these people, as well as the parents of eligible children, don’t wait for an announcement as to when the event will be held,” Ritchie said. “They come to Kyle months in advance to make sure their calendars are clear. This is a church of true believers who are ready and willing to invest the time and effort required to ensure the success of the program.” Due West UMC may be the exception that proves the rule, though. Ratliff said most churches he could identify are doing a piecemeal approach. “Some have a yearly or every-other-year seminar, retreat or weekend for youths,” he explained. “Others integrate the topic into ongoing programming. The struggles continue to be with leadership, resources,and permission to address the topic.” Ratliff said he does not know of a comprehensive, churchwide approach to the topic. “It would be great to hear about those,” he added. Ritchie said he has taught in churches representative of a broad spectrum of theologies. “We convey what we know to be true,” he said, “and then use that knowledge to speak together of our interpretations, experiences and rationales. We do this in an intimate setting, one where openness, trust, respect and compassion prevail.” Parents come with great apprehension to the first session of the Created by God study, according to Ritchie. He said by the end of the event their anxieties have measurably decreased because they are equipped and willing to engage their children and each other in conversation. “That says to me that adults need arenas where they are safe to confess their lack of knowledge and understanding to deal with the cultural and religious constraints that have set them up for feeling lost,” he said. “They need to be able to struggle together with their own sexuality and that of their children.”
  15. 15. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 15 Congregationsneedresources Because this must be an ongoing conversation, congregations need resources that will enable that dialogue. Ritchie said that resources are needed to help parents and younger children initiate conversation, for when the changes of puberty approach, for parents and their teen-aged children when hormones seem to be taking over their lives, for young persons who reach the age when all too many of their peers are having sexual relationships, for young adults who remain sexual even if not married, and for those who need guidance in building a sexual relationship that is founded first and foremost on intimacy. The church is not ready/willing to take this topic on. “Because we are sexualfrom conception to committal, we need resources that will assist adults of all ages and stages to connect their sexuality and their spirituality,” Ritchie said. To do this most effectively, Ritchie suggested cooperation is needed among the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry, General Board of Church & Society, General Commission on Health & Welfare Ministries, Council of Bishops and the United Methodist Publishing House,as well as that of academics, researchers and professionals in the area of human sexuality education. Ratliff said he has severalconcerns about being able to accomplish an effective ministry. He said he is concerned that:  the church is not ready/willing to take this topic on in a comprehensive way that fosters openness in the midst of disagreement about what is biblical, what is Christian and what is reasonable;  we are communicating to congregations this is not a topic we are willing to struggle with on a deeper- than-surface level. that those who are attempting to address the topic are doing so without the benefit of comprehensive training and resources;  our reluctance has already relegated the church to a place of insignificance in this arena; and  we move forward with a comprehensive, theologically sound, age-inclusive approach to this topic in the church. In order to reinvigorate interest, Ritchie said we need to start with intimacy, “not as a euphemism for sexual intercourse as distorted by our culture, but as deep relationship,” an intimate relationship with God and with one another. He said that intimate relationship with God and neighbor is, according to Jesus,what it means to have eternal life. All persons can say “Yes!” to this, Ritchie asserts:persons of all ages,all theological/biblical perspectives, all marital statuses,and all sexual orientations. Ratliff finds hope in the hearts of those leaders of young people who are committed to doing something meaningful in this area as a part of their ministry. “They are looking for resources and training that will prepare them to address the topic from a biblical perspective,” he said, “that relates issues of faith and sexuality to the real world where their young people live every day.” Persons with the gifts, graces,training and experience to serve as leaders grow weary in doing battle with those who believe that silence is the only acceptable approach to human sexuality, according to Ritchie. “Those of us who remain in this ministry are simply stretched too thin and worry about who will pick up the banner when we are no longer able to carry it,” he said. “At a time when we need to provide thorough training for leading human sexuality events, there is no one in a position of authority within the denomination to champion this cause.” Editor’s note: Information about resources,including the updating of “Created by God,” is contained in the article, “'Created by God' to be revised.” The article also includes severalactivities and questions that may be helpful in stimulating discussions on human sexuality issues. http://www.umc-
  16. 16. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 16 The Rev.Michael Ratliff is the Associate GeneralSecretary of the Division on Ministries with Young People at the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship. He has more than 25 years experience in youth and young adult ministry at the local church level. He has taught courses at Iliff School of Theology and the Perkins School of Youth Ministry. An author and workshop leader, Ratliff’s writings include Sacred Challenge, Sacred Bridges, and articles in severalChristian periodicals. He has also developed curriculum for “Faith and Sexuality,” “Let’s Be Real,” “Confirmation Times” and “Combo’s.” The Rev.Dr. James H. Ritchie Jr.,a clergy member of the Western Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church, is under extension ministry appointment to Ritchie Faith Span Ministries, which provides leadership, resources,consultation and training in the area of multigenerational ministries. He has served as a minister of Christian education and pastor in local churches. From 1987-1994 he was an editor of children’s curriculum at The United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, editing vacation Bible school, music and human sexuality resources for children, and resources for parents and pastors. He developed the “Created by God” sexuality education resources for fifth and sixth graders and their parents (Abingdon). He regularly teaches this study and trains leaders across the country. Ritchie is the author of Always in Rehearsal: The Practice of Worship and the Presence of Children (Discipleship Resources). His music has appeared in curriculum, choral and worship resources,including The United Methodist Book of Worship, The United Methodist Hymnal Music Supplement,The Faith We Sing, and Sing the Faith. He composed much of the music found in vacation Bible schools such as “Peter Rock: A Drama of Faith,” “Beneath the Storytelling Tree,” “Turnabout Paul,” and “Club Can-Do: Kids Called to Care.
  17. 17. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 17 May 4, 2009 – Teaching Abstinence in a World Awash with Sex Rev. Steven Baines It seems everyone wants to talk about abstinence. Inevitably, though, there is rarely agreement on what it means. Whenever I conduct teen sexuality education, I distribute to parents a list of human sexual behaviors. I ask the parents how they would describe it if their child were to remain abstinent. I ask them to put a check mark by behaviors that fit that description and an X by those that do not. The results are astonishing. Rarely is there more than 50% to 60% agreement on what truly defines abstinence. If sexually mature adults can’t define the term, how on earth do we expect our teens to do so? As a Christian clergyman, I wholly embrace that God created us as sexual beings with the sacred intent of mutual love and intimacy. I also agree that the only sure way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unintended pregnancies is abstinence from intercourse. I don’t doubt that most parents would like their children to remain abstinent. But I also know that it is our moral imperative to provide for the spiritual, emotional and physical well being of our young people. HIV/AIDS,teenage pregnancy, STDs,high suicide rates among gay and lesbian teens, and date rape are disturbing realities. As people of faith charged with caring for the least in society, we cannot allow pop culture, the media and our children’s peers to be the major sources of information about sexuality. Nor can we rely on silence, unrealistic rules and pat answers. If sexually mature adults can’t define the term, how on earth do we expect our teens to do so? For over ten years, the U.S. federalgovernment has poured more than $1.5 billion into abstinence-only programs. These programs have been medically and scientifically studied and repeatedly shown to be ineffective. The programs neither delay teen sexual activity nor reduce pregnancy rates or STDs. Program guidelines explicitly prohibit any discussion of contraceptives, except for failure rates. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported in its 2005 U.S. Teen Sexual Activity study that, despite the federal government’s abstinence-only programs:  Each year, there are 750,000 teen pregnancies, 82% of which are unintended;  31% of young women become pregnant at least once before the age of 20; and  Each year, 9 million teens and young adults acquire an STD. A world awashwith sex When was the last time you heard a rip-roaring sermon by your pastor from the “Song of Solomon” on a Sunday morning, much less heard anyone utter the word “sex” in a Christian education class? Growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, I can sum up my sexuality education in one sentence,“Sex is dirty, save it for someone you love.” Sex is dirty, save it for someone you love. The church might be suffering from a severe case of sexphobia, but our society certainly is not! According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the television is on nearly seven hours each day in an average U.S. home. If you couple this with the Kaiser Family Foundation finding that 70% of all television shows include sexual content, we have a lot of young children being exposed to sex before they enter kindergarten. Not so long ago, television shows had married couples in separate beds. Now,shows like Gossip Girls have teens “hooking up.” Only loser kids are not “getting any.” I could fill this entire essay on the sexual perils our young people face on the Internet. Advertisers and media mavens know sex sells.
  18. 18. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 18 To quote new, single, teenage-mother Bristol Palin: “But I think abstinence is, like, like, the – I don't know how to put it – like, the main – everyone should be abstinent or whatever – but it's not realistic at all … Because [sex’s] more and more accepted now." How did you learn about sex? Last year, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) put out a request : "Tell us your story: How did you learn about sex?"We received well over 400 responses from individuals, ages 17 through 94, around the United States. Their replies offer thoughtful reflections and often intimate, sometimes painful, glimpses into personal lives. Quite a few said they learned about sex "the hard way" from being abused as a child.  If I had known what sex was,I would have understood what was happening to me when I was molested by a male relative beginning at age 8. – Stephanie,45  My uncle molested me at 12. If someone had shared the facts with me sooner, it may not have happened the way it did. – Tom, 50  My father molested me. The earliest I remember was at age 6 or 7. – Helen, 76+  Raped at 17 and found out the hard way! – Thelma, 79  Tragically, we also found that what you learn or don't learn as a young person can have life-long repercussions. Abstinence-only programs intentionally leave out important health information.  I wish I'd learned what intercourse was and how easy it is to get pregnant. – Joyce, 79  I wish I'd learned about STDs and the way in which they can be transmitted. I was under the impression that oral sex was safe,since you couldn't get pregnant from it. – Abigail, 26  The good girl/bad girl images prevalent when I was young only served to instill a great deal of fear in me, which negatively impacted on my marriage for years. – Jean, 57 Sex and poverty Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders addressed RCRC’s annualNational Black Religious Summit on Sexuality. She succinctly described the linkage between sex and poverty. "Our problem with sexuality has contributed more to the poverty in the black community than anything else in our society,” said Dr. Elders. “A pregnant teenager who does not finish high school or marry has an 80% likelihood of being poor.” In 2006 the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies reported more details about the generational impact of teen pregnancy:  Teen mothers are less likely to complete high school;  Sons of teen mothers are 13% more likely to end up in prison; and  Teen daughters are 22% more likely to become teen mothers themselves. It is the poor and communities of color that suffer from illogical, ineffective public policy. A low-income woman is four times as likely to have an unintended pregnancy and five times as likely to have an unintended birth as her higher-income counterpart. Sacred texts across many faith traditions, including Hebrew and Christian, tell the faithful they will be judged on how they treat the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. The prophet Ezekiel, for example, proclaims in Chapter 16, verse 49: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom; she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease,but did not aid the poor and needy.” Neither clergy nor laity can continue to simply bury our heads in the sand and hope these tragic lives will disappear. People of faith engagedin the world Recently, the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress. The REAL Act would establish the first dedicated federalfunding stream for comprehensive sex education. It is important to note that comprehensive sex education not only stresses the value of abstinence, but also provides medically accurate information on forms of birth control crucial to health and safety.
  19. 19. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 19 Major faith traditions representing millions of Americans support comprehensive sexuality education. In keeping with the U.S.’s Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, they oppose civil laws that would impose specific religious views about sexuality education. These faith communities take seriously their duty to instill a set of religious, moral values that will help guide young people to responsible, ethical life choices. They believe it is the role of government to ensure that the nation's youths receive facts,unblemished by ideology, that will protect them from disease and unintended pregnancy. The United Methodist Church in its Social Principles declares: The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youths and adults. (¶161F “Human Sexuality,” 2008 Book of Discipline) All children have the right to quality education, including full sex education appropriate to their stage of development that utilizes the best educational techniques and insights. Christian parents and guardians and the Church have the responsibility to ensure that children receive sex education consistent with Christian morality, including faithfulness in marriage and abstinence in singleness. (¶162C “Rights of Children,” 2008 Book of Discipline) The answer to the nation's high rate of unintended pregnancies and pandemic of sexually transmitted diseases cannot rest with houses of worship and non-profit organizations alone. While communities of faith must play a vital role in teaching values and ethical decision-making, public schools must be part of the solution. Vows of abstinence break more easily than latex condoms. We are morally compelled to empower our young people so they are equipped with the tools necessary to face the environment in which we live. As Dr. Elders so succinctly stated, "Vows of abstinence break more easily than latex condoms." It is the role of government to ensure that the nation's youths receive the facts,unblemished by parochial beliefs, that will protect them from disease and unintended pregnancy. I am sure we can agree that we want all our young people to be safe. When I hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:13-14 chiding the disciples for forbidding the little children to come to him, I see the faces of so many youths from my congregations past and present. My faith and love of Christ compel me to do all humanly possible to promote their spiritual, emotional and physical growth and safety. I hope all young people would remain abstinent, but my years in the ministry have seen this hope thwarted repeatedly. I therefore implore you to join me and millions of faithful believers across this country and: Oppose any funding for abstinence-only programs; and Support the Responsible Education about Life (REAL) Act. Questions for Discussion 1. If there is not 100% universal agreement on the definition of abstinence, what foundational principles and values can religious leaders instill in today's teens? 2. Opponents of comprehensive sex education say that talking about proper birth control methods is tantamount to providing a license for promiscuity. Critics contend that line of reasoning is like saying "because I carry an umbrella it is going to rain." Given the complexities of sex education in our communities, what theological and spiritual issues arise in the context of this discussion? 3. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control found that 1 in 20 people in Washington, D.C., is living with HIV/AIDS,a rate that far exceeds the pandemic in some African countries. Do religious leaders and people of faith have a moral obligation to not only stress abstinence, but also provide all the medically accurate information necessary to curb this pandemic? 4. How can faith communities create sacred spacesto have open, honest discussion of human sexuality and the responsibilities of sexual behavior?
  20. 20. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 20 Editor’s note: The Rev. Steven Baines is Director of Interfaith Outreach at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Steven Baines RCRC brings the power of religious communities to ensure reproductive choice through education and advocacy. Its member organizations are religiously and theologically diverse, but are unified in a commitment to preserve reproductive choice as a basic part of religious liberty. The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society and the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries are founding members of RCRC. Before coming to RCRC, Baines served eight years in the same capacity at People for the American Way. He has also served as executive directors for Equal Partners in Faith, a national interfaith organization committed to fighting racism, sexism and homophobia, and AFFIRM Youth, a social service organization in Upstate South Carolina. Baines has served as both senior pastor and associate in Southern Baptist churches in North and South Carolina. He graduated from Furman University in Greenville, S.C.,with a degree in religious studies and later attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Now affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he serves as the Chair of Elders at the denomination’s national cathedral, National City Christian Church. Baines is a national spokesperson on issues of faith and politics and has been featured on CNN,CSPAN,Court TV and numerous syndicated radio programs.
  21. 21. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 21 June 1, 2009 – Gender Discrimination and Violence, HIV/AIDS PaulineMuchina Talking about human sexuality is taboo in many places of worship. Although sex is a significant part of the human experience,many pastors are ill-equipped to speak about it with understanding, with accurate information and without shame. For the most part, they speak about sex as if even mentioning it is a sin. Regrettably, this often leads to misguided counseling on issues related to sex. It makes a difficult situation more challenging and, in some cases,places people at risk. Many faith-based traditions teach that sex is for procreation only. Rarely, if ever,do they preach about human sexuality as a gift from God, as part of our nature, and meant to be treasured and enjoyed (Genesis 1:27- 2:25). Discussions about human sexuality remain taboo in far too many schools, homes and religious institutions despite the fact that unprotected sex is the main mode of transmission of HIV virus, which is still killing millions. There has been some movement among faith communities to support condom use among married couples, but this is as far as it goes. Although sex is a major source of conflict in marriage, few pastors know how to counsel couples about it. In addition, many faith-based traditions condemn sex outside marriage. They shun conversation about sex among unmarried people out of a proclaimed fear that discussing sex will only promote it. Recently, I read about a congregation in Florida that openly discusses sex in church. This gives me hope that the situation can change. Gender inequality and violence Many faith groups similarly are silent about gender inequality and gender-based violence. These human rights issues are too closely related to sex apparently. And, if these religions do speak about gender issues, they tend to perpetuate inequality, promote male authority and rigid roles that exacerbate subjugation of women and gender-based violence. Many faith groups similarly are silent about gender inequality and gender-based violence. Gender discrimination and violence have placed women and girls at the center of the global AIDS epidemic. Studies show that violence heightens the risk of women and girls to HIV. And conversely, HIV-positive females are at higher risk of violence. In the nine most heavily HIV-affected countries in Africa,females comprise 61% of infected adults and nearly 75% of infected young people. In some countries, young females can be four to six times more likely to be HIV-infected than young men. Failure to teach and speak openly about human sexuality and to condemn gender inequality and violence undermines an institution’s ability to respond adequately to the HIV epidemic. Where does your faith tradition stand on the issue of the vulnerability of women and girls? What is being done to free women and girls from the shackles of inequality, sexual violence and trafficking? What is being said and taught about human sexuality? During the past 27 years of the HIV epidemic, many religious groups have done significant work in supporting people living with HIV and their families. In developing countries lacking adequate health-care infrastructure, faith groups have become the primary health-care providers. Institutions of faith Worldwide, institutions of faith occupy a unique place in the lives of billions of people. Religious institutions have an extraordinary ability to reach individuals and communities with information and provide access to essential services. Many faith-based institutions are already active in these efforts,but as is true for us all, so much more can and must be done. Institutions of faith occupy a unique place in the lives of billions.
  22. 22. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 22 As the severity of the AIDS pandemic has become clear, though, it has become more urgent to address its main drivers: gender inequality, gender-based violence, and the frank discussion and teaching of human sexuality. Current ethical and theological approaches in many faith traditions are inadequate and misguided in their ability to address these fundamental drivers. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region that is my home, millions of women and girls are becoming infected with HIV because gender inequality prevents them from accessing adequate information. Gender inequality also denies them equal access to commodities and necessary services. Most important, girls and women are denied the right to choose when, with whom, and under what circumstances they will engage in sex. Gender discrimination in education denies females the opportunity to make choices that help prevent HIV infection. And in many countries, girls who do make it to school find the environment fraught with sexual violence and rape. This includes some church-run schools. Common cross-generational sexual relationships render young women especially vulnerable to HIV infection. These relationships include early marriage and transactional sex. Some involve rape and sexual coercion. In all these situations, girls have little or no ability to avoid sex or negotiate safe sex. The church is silent These topics are not discussed in church. And many religious traditions do not seem to be outraged by child marriage or sexual violence. Even when some of this sexual violence has in fact been perpetrated by clergy. These topics are not discussed in church. Few youths in our churches have even a functional knowledge of human sexuality. All they hear, and thus know, is that sex outside marriage is sinful. Meanwhile, their bodily desires push them to satisfy sexual urges. Unfortunately, many religious traditions consider it inappropriate and even sinful to educate youths about sex, masturbation and condoms. Some contend that the only appropriate approach for youths is to abstain or delay sexual activity until marriage. Trends associated with new HIV infections revealthat marriage is not a safe haven. In sub-Saharan Africa, the rate of HIV infection among married couples is alarming. Many stories of married women in Africa do not fit the stereotypes of high HIV risk: sex workers,people with multiple partners, men who have sex with men, or users of intravenous drugs. Religious, cultural traditions Many cultures and religious teachings strongly give the message that a woman has no control over her body. Thus, male family members can sell a woman into marriage through dowry, bride price and widow inheritance. Men can demand sex from their wives any time. Some even impose female genital mutilation. This lack of power renders a woman vulnerable not only to unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases but also to HIV infection. Many cultures and religious teachings strongly give the message that a woman has no control over her body. Many of the beliefs behind gender discrimination and violence originate from religious and cultural traditions, teachings and practices founded on misinterpretation of scriptures. For example, man is the head of the house and women should obey their husbands (Ephesians 5:23-24). Many men feel justified in demanding respect and exerting domination. Many women feelcompelled to obey and accept such domination. Sexist values or patriarchal teachings and practices make gender-based violence inevitable, which exacerbates the spread of HIV. Some religions teach that Eve was the first to sin, and that she tempted Adam. They teach that women are inferior and therefore cannot be decision makers or ordained. These negative images of women are pervasive in many faith traditions. Cultural traditions enable discrimination against women as well and render them vulnerable to violence and HIV infection.
  23. 23. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 23 What needs to happen? Religious institutions are morally obligated to keep people alive. Saving lives from preventable deaths caused by violence and HIV should supersede preaching against use of condoms, sex education and gender equality.[1] In our global society, it is time that faith communities refute the traditional fear and shame associated with talking about sex. They should strive to educate their members honestly and truthfully about sex and about how to protect themselves. Faith-based communities need to reexamine their priorities. Religious institutions are morally obligated to keep people alive. Reducing the spread of HIV will require a fundamental, radical shift from the patriarchal mindset inherent in many religious traditions to an egalitarian, gender-sensitive society. Communities need to change the cultural and religious beliefs that support the subjugation of women. Thus, churches need to discard any theologies that expose women and girls to discrimination, violence and HIV. The need is urgent to promote HIV-prevention programs that empower women to be decision makers in their own lives. Identifying risk factors and emphasizing safe sex practices cannot halt the spread of HIV if women's ability to make decisions is compromised through religious and cultural socialization and political powerlessness. Furthermore, it is time that faith groups acknowledge sexuality as an elemental part of natural, healthy human development. The silence and taboos associated with sex compel many people, young and old, to explore their sexuality secretly and engage in unprotected sex. Ignoring God’s wisdom Ignoring these God-given bodily functions seems to question God's wisdom in creation. As history has proved, shunning the discussion about human sexuality does not save people from HIV; instead, it simply exacerbates the pandemic. Ignoring these God-given bodily functions seems to question God's wisdom in creation. The reality that many people are sexually active only underscores the importance of preventing the spread of HIV through responsible behavior. Providing people with the ability to protect themselves and others is a Godlier and more life-saving endeavor than condemning them for sin and adding to their harm. Extensive research demonstrates that severalcountries have reduced the rate of HIV infection through education programs. These programs focus on prevention, appropriate sex education, use of condoms, delayed intercourse and a reduction in the number of sexual partners. Religious communities have been at the forefront of teaching faithfulness in marriage and abstinence to prevent HIV. These strategies have worked in some cases,but they do not provide a comprehensive HIV- prevention methodology. From a theological standpoint, faith-based institutions would do better to develop and commit to a paradigm shift in their understanding of human sexuality. They should revisit teachings that have served as barriers in the AIDS response. These include condemnation of masturbation, use of condoms, and promotion of gender inequality. In the African context, perhaps it would be useful to revisit a custom that enabled youths to practice a form of love that allowed fondling and masturbation (ngwiko) without sexual penetration before marriage. Former president of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta states in his book Facing Mount Kenya that this practice taught young men and women how to be responsible adults while at the same time allowed them to satisfy their sexual feelings. Sensual dances, such as muoboko, also permitted innocent expressions of human sexuality within the confines of social gatherings. By undergoing this teaching, many Gikuyu youths were able to postpone sex until after marriage. Full panoply of initiatives Churches have a rich and full panoply of initiatives from which to choose the values they teach their members: values that place respect and equality at the center of the human experience. They can promote age-
  24. 24. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 24 appropriate sex education and discussions in our houses of worship; promote a human rights approach to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support; seek to engage men and boys from the pulpit, men’s meetings, Sunday schools, couples counseling, confirmation and baptism classes,and one-on-one spiritual direction. Churches have a rich and full panoply of initiatives. They can also promote peer education: men talking to other men about sex, attitudes and behavior towards women. Male religious leaders could serve as role models to affect these positive changes. How many of them are truly disgusted about the suffering of women and girls that stems from gender-based violence? In my denomination, bishops are more appalled by homosexuality — which has yet to kill any African women — than the gender-based violence sending African women to mass graves both prematurely and unnecessarily. Religious organizations can also financially support ministries that are trying to put a stop to HIV/AIDS in our world. One such example is the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, which represents the commitment of every member of the denomination to put a stop to HIV/AIDS in our world. Religious groups have a wide reach in communities around the world. Their leaders are supposed to be role models that influence people. This gives churches a unique and great opportunity to help people achieve abundant life in Christ. They could become agents of change in a world burdened by AIDS, gender discrimination and sexual violence. This could happen through helping people live a holistic life that pays attention to the physical, psychological and spiritual realms of their lives. Human sexuality and gender equality are part and parcelof that holistic life. Jesus came so that we may have abundant life (John 10:10). Questions for discussion 1. In view of the rapid spread of HIV throughout sub-Saharan Africa, would it be sacrilegious to suggest that we support other forms of sexual exploration, such as sex toys to satisfy one's sexual urges rather than participating in casualor unprotected sex? 2. Given the role of gender-based discrimination and violence in the spread of HIV,should churches seek to reinterpret scriptural texts that seem to perpetuate the subjugation of women? 3. What are the positive teachings of Christ and the scriptures that could overturn the negative, oppressive role of the church? 4. How can the church use its power to save life rather than assert authority? 5. How can the church reconcile its commitment to sustaining life with its teachings that may not be life-giving, for example, women submit yourselves to men? Editor’s note: Pauline Muchina comes from the Rift Valley Province in Kenya, where her family still resides. She has a broad range of experience with advocacy groups promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and women’s issues. She has worked with UNAIDS,the Global Health Council, Population Services International, the AIDS Resource Center and World Council of Churches. Muchina is a member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, and has served on severalboards, including the Global AIDS Alliance. She holds a Masters in Divinity from Yale University Divinity School and a Ph.D. from the Union Theological Seminary in New York.
  25. 25. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 25 July 6, 2009 – Myths of Marital Infidelity Anonymous Of all the ways humans make a mess out of sexuality, marital infidelity is probably the most pervasive. Church members and even pastors can be counted among those who cheat. I speak with knowledge on this because I was one of them. Having experienced the agony that accompanies cheating as well as hope-filled recovery,I speak from my own experience as a former pastor with an urgent sense of concern. Dissatisfaction Most marriages and civil unions begin with commitment and high hopes. Many of these end up being difficult to maintain. The honeymoon ends, ordinariness sets in, often accompanied by disillusionment and dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, many couples do not practice enough relationship maintenance to keep their partnership out of trouble. When dissatisfaction takes hold and no effort is made to address issues or repair damage, the relationship moves into crisis. Dissatisfaction inevitably leads to neediness in the unfulfilled partner. Dissatisfaction can be due to financial, work or health stresses,or simply from not spending enough time together. The neediness can be exacerbated by a diminishment of sexual relations or feelings of intimacy. If the neediness is not addressed,the needful partner can become extremely vulnerable to marital infidelity. Divorce may result, but sometimes it is not even considered because of children or religious conviction, stigma or pride. Point of no return Years ago I found myself in this very situation. I was a pastor whose family appeared to model the epitome of health. I had fallen out of love, though, and was unfulfilled in my marriage. Even so, I did not express my dissatisfaction out of fear that I would wound my wife and risk destroying our “happy family.” Years ago I found myself in this very situation. I was not miserable. I had much joy in my life. But I was dissatisfied, needy and vulnerable. Pastors are especially at risk of getting involved in an affair if they are vulnerable because they often counsel with people about spiritual, interpersonal, and even sexual needs and problems. Pastors find themselves in intimate situations at work when there may be little or no intimacy at home. Perhaps,then, it is not surprising to see an alarming incidence of clergy acting out sexually with parishioners who turn to them for strength, comfort and assistance. This is not a new phenomenon. Twelve years ago, in a Newsweek magazine article, “Sex Morality and the Protestant Minister,” Kenneth Woodward estimated that as high as 30% of Protestant clergy are unfaithful in their marriages. Many who cheat are not sexual predators or womanizers. Rather,they are those who put aside their moral compass and commitment to live ethical, wholesome lives. In many cases it is not because they set out to find someone else. It just happens. Many who cheat are not sexual predators or womanizers. Whether through an energizing chance encounter or with someone familiar, the vulnerable person discovers joy in the presence of another. Often it begins innocently. Even when no sexual attraction exists initially, the enjoyment of time with someone other than one’s partner is often a formula for disaster.
  26. 26. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 26 A point of no return inevitably arrives in any such relationship. The emotional connection with someone besides your partner moves seemingly beyond your ability to rein it in. I hope that anyone nearing this point of no return will refrain from taking that final step from what might have seemed like a harmless relationship or flirtation into a full-blown affair. The consequences of failing to stop before it gets out of hand can be devastating. Rationalization Virtually all cheating occurs as a result of people’s amazing capacity to rationalize. Those on the verge of infidelity and those actively cheating give themselves messages to justify behaviors that work contrary to their long-standing value systems: Virtually all cheating occurs as a result of people’s amazing capacity to rationalize.  “I’m not being satisfied at home, so I have a right to seek what I need elsewhere.”  “This won’t get out of control if I just give her a warm hug.”  “While I obviously need to stay married, this new person is the one I truly love.”  “If we’re carefuland discreet, we won’t get caught. No one but us will ever know.” I rehearsed those hundreds of times, and many others like them. Being a pastor, I even found myself including God in my rationalizations: “Surely God intends me to have some genuine intimacy in my life. God’s love can be shown to me through this relationship.” I did my best to convince myself that what I was doing was okay. I deserved it. I needed it. But these were all myths. I tried to convince myself that cheaters do prosper in the sense that life is better because of this other relationship. Recklessness People caught up in marital infidelity and rationalizing become delusional, addictive and reckless. Like with any addictive behavior, cheaters follow a feeling, going after something they perceive is desperately missing in their life. Cheating produces its own kind of high. Cheating produces its own kind of high. The illicit nature of the affair intensifies the high. If a person has been starved for sexual intimacy, finding a way to meet that need is highly intoxicating. It distorts all sense of reality about the behavior’s consequences. Having convinced themselves they won’t get caught, cheaters allow the affair to become the center of their existence. Even if an affair ends, the person often remains dissatisfied, needy and vulnerable. Multiple affairs happen because people fail to address the issues that caused the behavior. Thus, subsequent affairs are more readily justified. The cheater’s life is out of control. The cost The primary delusion of most cheaters is if they don’t get caught, no harm’s done. Setting aside their moral compasses severely wounds them internally, though. They are in need of therapy, prayer and restraint. I seriously considered at one point that because I had ruined my life anyway by my poor choices, I might as well just forget about redeeming it and go with what felt good. Such thoughts led me to consider throwing away any remaining self-respect and integrity I had. Those who enter extramarital affairs step onto a battleground. Whether consciously or subconsciously, those who enter extramarital affairs step onto a battleground. They must spend enormous amounts of emotional energy battling their internally triggered guilt and shame. Rationalizing begins because of this. The mind races frequently between scenarios that range from fantasizing an idyllic life with your new beloved, to imagining how the fallout would play out were you to get caught. Pastors or church officials who cheat must also defend against their own internal charges of hypocrisy. I continued to serve others as a pastor, and played the roles of good father and husband. I felt tainted and ugly at
  27. 27. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 27 some level all the time, though. A time came where I could no longer look at my reflection in the mirror. Life as I had always assumed it would play out seemed forever changed. My situation seemed hopeless. Thank God, it was not. Recovery Just as it is a myth that cheating does no harm, it is also inaccurate to assume all hope is lost if you are caught up in infidelity. The unhealthy behaviors can be stopped. The problems contributing to the infidelity can be addressed therapeutically, even if it means accepting that your marriage has failed and must be ended. The unhealthy behaviors can be stopped. Rather than shying away from this subject matter, faith-based communities need to address it. How refreshing it would be if congregations provided resources to help couples look at relationship issues and improve communication skills. Congregations who candidly face the subject of marital infidelity without fear,shame or prudishness could provide resources for those ensnared by the internal ravages of illicit affairs. Facing this particular demon takes courage. Just starting to honestly deal with the shame was gut-wrenching for me. Watching those whom I’d hurt suffer was painful beyond measure. Yet beginning to tell the truth after so many lies was prescriptive beyond measure. Work with my therapist was essential. My times of spiritual focusing were invaluable. Reclaiming my integrity became the source of my hope. If you are trapped in the morass of infidelity, my story is testament that recovery is possible. One’s moral compass can be restored. In the end I, as well as all those I love, grew stronger by my refusal to continue living a lie. The truth is: Cheaters never prosper, especially if they’re not caught. But those who face their demons and reclaim their principles will find growth, renewal and reward. Questions for discussion 1. Because no relationship or partner is ever perfect,how can someone distinguish between normal irritations in a relationship from something(s) that signal the possibility of serious dissatisfaction? 2. Why do you think partners who recognize they have become needy in a relationship sometimes drift toward infidelity rather than address the need within the relationship? 3. Can you identify similarities between those who are drawn into substance abuse and those who are drawn into infidelity? What are some common factors that could be identified as danger or early warning signals? 4. Why do you think rationalizing works so easily when someone is considering or participating in infidelity? 5. What if any responsibility do you think you might have to get involved with a family member or friend who is having or considering an affair? Is there any justification or hope for moving that person in a healthier direction or is it none of your business? 6. What if any role do you think the church should have in discouraging infidelity and supporting all those affected by it? What could a local congregation do to minister in this area? Editor’s note: This article is written anonymously to protect the persons involved. The writer served as an ordained pastor in a mainline denomination for 28 years. He has left the pastorate and now works in the secular arena. He has chosen to share his story and insights as an act of love and compassion. We appreciate his willingness to do so
  28. 28. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 28 August 3, 2009 – Safe Haven for Strippers Rev. Sharon Amos Ever driven past a strip club and turned your head so you won’t have to think about the people who work there? Or felt disgust for the workers and patrons? For years I drove down North Dixie Drive in Dayton, Ohio, and pretended the strip clubs there didn’t matter to me. Then one Sunday, a strip-club dancer walked into our church. That was a miracle in itself because,as you can no doubt imagine, sex workers do not usually come to church. They feelso ashamed and out of place that they refuse to even try. When I approached the woman and introduced myself, “Angie” turned out to be quite open about her lifestyle. Angie shared that she had been in jail at one time, and that she attended her first church service in jail. She said it felt so good to hear someone read the Bible and pray. The morning she visited our congregation, Angie said she had driven up and down our street praying for God to show her where to go to church. I met with Angie for several months. As she told me about her life, I realized she harbored similar hopes to my own. She wanted to know that God loved her and heard her prayers. She wanted to marry, have a family, have friends, and have a fulfilling job. But for the grace of God go I. Angie told me that sex-industry women need a mother. The women, usually estranged from their families, have lost the respect and support most of us take for granted. Sitting in cars and praying For severalmonths two other women and I sat in our cars and prayed in the strip-club parking lots. We wanted to be sure God was leading us to begin a ministry there. Quite honestly, such a ministry was a “risk-taking outreach” that frightened me. I didn’t know if people would support us or think we were out of our minds. Oasis House, Dayton, Ohio, ministers to women involved in sexually oriented businesses, such as the strip clubs that surround it. After those months of praying, we had to start this ministry or I would never be at peace with God otherwise. We opened the doors of Oasis House in May 2006. I now believe God sent Angie to our church so we could see the potential of loving and serving these women on the fringes of society. The first thing we did as a new ministry, even before opening Oasis House, was to take Christmas gift bags to the women in the clubs. We continue to do so, preparing gift bags of toiletries, journals, pens, candles, nail polish and girlie things. We deliver gifts four or five times a year. We go all out with large, beautiful bags of gifts at Christmas. We host an annual children’s Christmas party, too. While the children are partying with Santa, each mother chooses Christmas morning gifts for her children. The gift bags and children’s gifts are supplied by Dayton-area church women’s groups. 100 people weekly Most contact with the women occurs during our Wednesday evening outreach. Two teams go into five clubs with homemade food prepared by local churches. The teams also carry in lots of love. We spend one to one-and- a-half hours in each club developing relationships with dancers and staff. We describe how the services Oasis House offers can benefit them. It serves as an oasis where women can talk, receive Christian counseling. We minister to approximately 100 people weekly. We take “Get to Know You” forms and prayer cards, which we ask the women to fill out. Then we follow through with phone calls and schedule appointments.
  29. 29. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 29 Oasis House occupies a rented building among the sexually oriented businesses. It serves as an oasis where women can talk, receive Christian counseling, participate in GED (General Educational Development) tutoring, computer training and self-empowerment classes. They can also get help with personal issues such as substance abuse. Our services are virtually unlimited in their scope. When the need arises we locate furniture and food from our local churches. We also direct the women to agencies that provide free medical and dental care. We have even helped some women obtain formal documentation such as birth certificates. Foodimportant to ministry Food is an important part of our ministry. At Thanksgiving we have a caterer prepare a dinner with all the trimmings. Everyone in the clubs is served. It is a time when the music stops, the lights come up, people sit together eating. There is a hush that speaks of family, friends and peace. For a few minutes, each person experiences God’s goodness. We have helped women set up businesses. Oasis House is an Ohio Benefit Bank Network Representative. As such, we assist the women in establishing eligibility of state benefits, such as food stamps, home energy assistance,tax assistance and child-care subsidies. We have helped women set up businesses by providing them with cards,flyers and resumes. Two women have graduated from our local college earning Associate Degrees. Not surprisingly, most women in the sex industry need a GED, a high-school equivalency diploma. They also need to know that someone loves them and believes that they can fulfill their dreams. We are “Women Helping Women.” That means unconditional love and support. These women have been used and abused long enough. We know from statistics that 80% of sex workers have been abused as children. They don’t need to hear that they should change their lives or that they are sinning. They have had negative input their whole life: They have been beaten up and beaten down. They need encouragement and hope. Body of Christ ministry Nine different denominations support Oasis House. We are a body of Christ ministry, and I am sure that pleases the Lord. We are inspired constantly at the compassion shown by women in our churches for these sex- industry women, who typically are disenfranchised and forgotten. We are inspired constantly at the compassion shown by women in our churches for these sex-industry women. Oasis House volunteers also minister at the Montgomery County Jail. As trained chaplains, we visit women arrested for solicitation. We want to build long-term relationships through continuance of care with the expectation that this will reduce recidivism. We arrange for Crisis Care for problem assessment. As is often necessary,we initiate a plan of recovery by connecting a woman to drug rehabilitation. Our dream is to have a residential facility for women after drug rehabilitation. In that facility, they can continue their recovery,receive services and job training. We are now partners with the city of Dayton, which has organized a Prostitution Intervention Collaboration (PIC). The collaboration includes the police department, judicial system and various city social service agencies. PIC’s purpose is to provide services for prostitutes who have been arrested and released, then a short time later arrested again: the revolving-door syndrome. Oasis House has been invited to participate as PIC’s faith-based representative. We have been designated as the lead agency to proceed with establishing that residential facility, I mentioned earlier.
  30. 30. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 30 A learning experience It has been amazing to watch God open doors for Oasis House. We just followed God’s leading and blindly took our first steps. It has been quite a learning experience. We had to learn about a whole new culture. That culture involves generational dancing and prostitution, drug use,lack of education and living day-to-day. Some women have been raised in the sex-industry culture. Some women have been raised in the sex-industry culture. They think they have no other options. I have met young girls who told me their mothers brought them into a club to audition. Angie told me her mother was a dancer and met her father in a club. Angie remembers as a child falling asleep late at night in the corner of the club. Now, after Oasis House’s three years on the strip, club managers send women with drug issues to us. We have presented our ministry as an employee-benefit program. By presenting our services as such, some club managers have become willing to let us take problems off their hands. The church must go to the people that need Jesus. We can’t stay behind closed doors and hope they will come to us. Jesus commanded us to “Go.” That is exactly what will build the Kingdom of God, providing an oasis for the least and lost among us. Questions for Discussion 1. When you read this article what biblical story comes to mind? 2. When you drive by a strip club or porno shop, what are your reactions? Do you think these are Christ-like? 3. I invited a dancer to church who replied: “I can’t come to church. I am living in sin.” How would you respond to that? 4. Is the “sex industry” a victimless industry? Some people say: “Well it is the oldest profession, and it will never be stamped out. The women agree to it and the men like it, so who is it hurting?” What do you think? 5. Do you know someone or a population group shunned by society? How do we as Christians address that? 6. One dancer said: “Why are you, church women, coming in here? Church women hate us.” What does that say about the church? How would you respond? 7. Listen to “Does Anybody Hear Her” by Casting Crowns. Discuss your reaction to it. Editor’s note: The Rev. Sharon Amos is Executive Director of the Oasis House Ministry and pastor of Higher Ground United Methodist Church, both in Dayton, Ohio. Amos received her Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from Wright State University and her Masters of Divinity Degree from United Theological Seminary. For four years,she developed and conducted programs at Parkside Homes, an inner-city housing project that ministered to women and children. More information is available by contacting Sharon Amos at
  31. 31. SEX AND THE CHU RCH (FROM HTTP://WWW.U MC-GBCS.ORG, NOV 17, 2010) 31 August 31, 2009 – Adolescent Sexuality Rev. Debra Haffner Parents and religious leaders have a responsibility to help adolescents and young adults achieve moral, spiritual and sexual health. Many religious traditions, including United Methodist, have promoted a sexual ethic that is summarized as “chastity in singleness, fidelity in marriage.” Few, however, have created comprehensive sexuality education programs for children and teenagers,or programs designed to help parents educate their children according to their values. I believe that adults have a responsibility to help adolescents understand their evolving sexuality and to help them make responsible and healthy sexual choices, now and in their future. Churches can play a vital role in helping parents influence their adolescents’ behaviors and decisions. Premarital chastity is an ethic based in ancient biology and social mores. At the time the Bible was written, people were married shortly after they reached puberty. They died soon after their own children reached adulthood. The average life expectancy for women was only 25; many died in childbirth. Even at the turn of the 20th century, the goal of premarital chastity was reasonable: The average age of puberty was 17; the average age of marriage followed closely at 18. A year of “sexual unemployment” was not difficult to achieve. Today, in stark contrast, young people reach puberty at an average age of 12 to 14; the average age of marriage is 25 to 27. Religious objections and a billion dollar federalabstinence-only-until-marriage program notwithstanding, biology today has trumped convention. For at least the past 40 years,nearly 90% of people have first intercourse before their wedding night. Alarm about teen sexnot new But it’s important to remember that concern, even alarm over teens’ sexual behavior is not new. In the 1950s, parents worried about the influence of Elvis Presley and Little Richard shaking their hips on national television. Our parents worried about rock music and the influence of the sexual revolution. In fact,the greatest increase in the proportion of teens having sex was between 1971 and 1979, when many of today’s parents were teenagers. It may surprise readers that there has been a steady decline in the percentage of teens having sexual intercourse for the past 15 years. Parenting style can make a big difference in teenagers’ sexualdecisions. Parenting style can make a big difference in teenagers’ sexualdecisions. In homes where parents talk to their teens about their sexuality values and have regular discussions about sexuality, their children are more likely to delay having sexual intercourse. Here are some tips for parents: 1. Start educating about sexuality early. It’s critical for parents to talk to their children and teens about sexuality, including contraception and the use of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases before they’re confronted with these situations—which may be sooner than you think. My first book, From Diapers to Dating:A Parent’sGuide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children,advises parents on sexual development at each stage of childhood and how to communicate age- appropriate information and values. It could provide the framework for a parenting education program. 2. Communicate values. Not surprisingly, how parents address sexuality issues and how they communicate their values about sexuality to their children make a difference. A study of more than 12,000 teenagers from around the United States found that in homes where parents give their preteen and teenage children clear messages that indicate they