Sex & Relationships

Sex and the Seminary: Training Religious Leaders To Be Sex Educators

Religious leaders, who are often the primary source of sexual guidance for many people, avoid discussions of sexuality.

The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing released a new study today called: Sex and the Seminary: Preparing Ministers for Sexual Health and Justice. This comprehensive survey data provides even further and compelling proof that we are living in a national state of emergency when it comes to the lack of connection being made between sexuality and religion. The bad news is that even the most progressive of the seminaries surveyed are not adequately providing sexuality education and training. The good news is that despite this unholy disconnect, there are many organizations and religious denominations nation-wide working to turn this deadly trend around.

NSRC began training clergy in 2001 at our first annual Summer Institute on Sexuality, Society and Health. In 2003, we held our first Religion, Spirituality and Sexuality Interfaith Roundtable Discussion -- much to the dismay of many of our colleagues in sexual health who frown on religion (many if not most of whom have endured religious persecution based on sexuality in one way or another).  Over the years, in our conferences, trainings and publications we have noted a serious, 2 pronged public sexual and spiritual health threat which the study released today absolutely speaks to: 1) sexuality educators, researchers and policy advocates have spent many decades specifically avoiding religion and faith and this avoidance has weakened our collective ability to ensure public sexual and spiritual health and literacy is at its best and 2) religious leaders of many faiths, who are often the primary source of sexual guidance and knowledge for people have downplayed and avoided discussions of sexuality and intimacy -- often because they never receive any instruction on how to do so. Just imagine for a moment how scary that must be for them -- knowing they are dispensing information and affecting people’s behaviors and lives with no real training.

In 2006, NSRC hosted with the support of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Pacific School of Religion, "Fitness for Priesthood: Shifting Vatican Teachings on Homosexuality"a national press conference and panel which brought together faith leaders, sexuality researchers and sexuality educators to examine the Vatican’s decision not to allow gays into seminaries. It was a challenging, fruitful and important conversation and taught us that we all have a long way to go in working together.

In 2007, NSRC assisted the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing on its San Francisco based meeting, which convened sexual health professionals and faith leaders from all over California. The meeting produced action statements from all in attendance and should be considered a very strong model to follow moving forward.

In January 2008, NSRC partnered with the Center for Sexuality and Religion to create one of the first sexual literacy trainings ever for seminarian faculty, administrators, staff and students in the U.S. called "21stCentury Challenges to Religion and Sexuality". This event was the culminating dream of long time sexuality educator, therapist and ordained American Baptist preacher Bill Stayton, Director of the Center for Sexuality and Religion, now based at Morehouse School of Medicine. The Center for Sexuality and Religion is currently focused on training seminarians nation wide around sexuality and they are doing an impeccable job of it -- even as they literally just started to in 2008. They also trained this sexuality educator about the importance of including faith in her work.

NSRC is also currently partnering with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and its Institute for Welcoming Resources, which connects religious leaders devoted to promoting LGBT equality. This extremely important work allows openings for LGBT people to reclaim their religions and spiritualities -- it is revolutionary in providing hope and greater spiritual literacy.

At NSRC, we have also started allying with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in attending and promoting their annual Black Church Summit on Sexuality in addition to working with their student focused group, Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom in order to expand their nation wide university presence. The Religious Coalition has been producing a highly effective webinar series this year on how to include lifelong sexual health and literacy education within congregations.

This year, NSRC is launching a national sexual literacy and faith advisory group led by National Centers on Sexuality board member Bishop Yvette Flunder of Ark of Refuge -- which has long been providing sexuality and HIV/AIDS education to high-risk communities. One of the primary functions of the new sexual literacy and faith advisory group will be to build capacity among all of the amazing work being done nation-wide on sexuality and religion -- from faith leaders to sexuality educators, we intend to promote sexual literacy as positive, healthy, pleasurable, socio-cultural lifelong learning so that we can begin to grow an effective national dialogue and strategy for collective action. (Please contact me at [email protected] if your organization is interested in participation).

To be very blunt about it, we need each other. No one organization can stop a national emergency but together we will make it happen. We already are.

Sexuality educators and religious leaders have a great deal to learn from one another about creating a more sexually and spiritually healthy nation.

NSRC and many other organizations are already connecting the dots to ensure this national sexual and spiritual health emergency does not continue. Too much is at stake. Many people are dying physical and spiritual deaths every minute of every day.

The Religious Institute’s new study is an important contribution to ending both religio-phobia (a term first coined by Religious Institute Director Rev. Debra Haffner herself) and sex-phobia.

Please read the study and all collateral data and take action in every possible way you can.

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