Religion

U.S. Religions Quietly Launch a Sexual Revolution

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A religious think tank has issued a manifesto about breaking the silence in religious communities about a host of sexuality issues. It hasn't stirred much media attention, but Frederick Clarkson thinks it could be revolutionary.

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Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.

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Now female clergy are taking leadership roles in major denominations. A woman is presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. Lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual people are gaining acceptance. Marriage equality is recognized by the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The Unitarian Universalist Association also recently announced that clergy will now be required to be "competent" to address matters of sexuality in the lives of their parishioners. Haffner says that several other denominations are likely to do the same in the next few years.

But the manifesto also addresses the silence surrounding sexuality.

It cites survey data that show that 75 percent of even progressive clergy had not addressed sex education and 40 percent had not preached about sexual orientation over a two year period.

Seventy percent had never preached on reproductive justice.

Desire to Turn to Clergy

"People want to be able to turn to their clergy," Haffner said in a phone interview. "One in 4 has a history of sexual abuse. Half of marriages are going to break up. Infertility is an issue."

The list goes on, she said. "But people are looking for an ethic that does not currently exist."

The consequences of avoiding matters of sexuality, she said, show up in clergy sex-abuse scandals. "Countless millions of dollars are paid out playing clean up because of this lack of training and attention. And it's not just the Catholics," she said.

"If these are issues that cannot be spoken in your churches," she asks, "where can you bring them? Silence contributes to people's alienation and aloneness. People don't know what to say and how to say it."

Haffner says that mainstream religious institutions have a head start. She says she is working with five denominations on mandatory sexual competence for clergy and 15 denominations on matters that affect everyone "across the board."

Rev. Ann Tiemeyer, who heads the Women's Ministry at the National Council of Churches, said in a press teleconference call earlier this month that not all of the council's 36 member Protestant and Orthodox denominations, representing 45 million Christians in 100,000 congregations, would support everything in the document.

But she said that all would benefit from clergy training and open discussion of matters of sexuality, including the teaching of young people and strategies for keeping children safe from sexual predators.

She pointed to a number of efforts already underway that fit the Religious Institute's recommendations. For example, a number of denominations, as well as her office, have focused on issues of domestic violence. And the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association co-produced in 2000 a sexuality education program for children and young people, "Our Whole Lives." She called it "an incredibly great model. Indeed, a dozen denominations have since developed various programs of their own.

Dr. Martin Marty, the eminent historian of religion at the University of Chicago, joined the Religious Institute's press teleconference and compared sexuality to religion. "If you get it right, it's beautiful. But if you get it wrong, it really messes you up," he said.

The encouraging trend is that some of our major religious institutions, with the help of the Religious Institute, are working hard to get both sexuality and religion right.

Frederick Clarkson is the editor of the anthology, "Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America" (Ig Publishing, 2008).

For more information:

Religious Institute:
http://www.religiousinstitute.org/

Women's Ministry/Justice for Women Working Group:
http://www.ncccusa.org/womensministry/

Unitarian Universalist Association:
http://www.uua.org/

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