was presenting my M.Div. thesis on Christian sex-ed curricula, one professor
asked, "Why should the churches be talking to kids about stuff like this?
Shouldn't we leave it to their parents and let the churches tackle things like
money and justice?"
the one question that really threw me for a loop. I'm a pastor's kid now in
ministry--it has always seemed completely natural that the community of faith
should address every aspect of my life. Yet whether out of fear, uncertainty or
an unwillingness to be vulnerable, we clergy often avoid talking with our
congregations about sexuality. Then we find ourselves in damage-control
mode--we wind up counseling adulterers because we could never figure out how to
talk about temptation and infidelity.
February issue, Marie Claire includes
an article called "Confessions of a Single, Female Pastor," an interview with a
pastor in her 20s whose calling impacts her sex life--in her denomination,
ordained people vow to uphold the highest ideals of Christian life, including
celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage. She's single, so she's
pastor speaks openly about her struggles as a healthy sexual person without any
sanctioned outlet for sexual relationship. She (or the writer who wrote up her
comments) uses words like "masturbation" and "orgasm," words that are frank and
explicit but not unknown to graduates of a high school health class (one hopes).
to the article has been quick and loud and negative--and much of it has come
from other clergy. These are the people who should be supporting this
pastor--who should be thanking God for the opportunity to talk about sex with a
secular audience, to demonstrate that clergy are not out-of-touch weirdos. Yet some of the pastors engage in
accusation and outright shaming. Others are nicer but still suggest that
there's something wrong with having these conversations in public--and that
prayers for the young lady are in order.
showed the article to an unchurched friend, he was decidedly unscandalized. He
thought it might be a real boon for the pastor's congregation and conference. I
think articles like this could be considered evangelistic: a pastor shares that
the road of discipleship is difficult but rewarding, complex and deeply
embodied. She's giving a testimony here--it's just not in a forum that we in
the church are particularly used to. It's a perhaps unintentionally vivid
testimony, but the details make it that much more compelling.
culture sexualizes all sorts of the wrong things, but those of us in the church
could glean some wisdom from secular culture about how to talk about living as
faithful, sexual beings. ELCA pastor Ben Dueholm writes
about why pastors should be reading sex advice columnist Dan Savage, laying out
a useful framework for thinking through sexual ethics. The Young Clergy Women
Project is dedicating its next month's online
considering various aspects of love and sex in ministry and how the church is
called to speak to and with the broader culture.
should be talking with people about how God is present in all facets of our
lives. If we're not talking frankly and authentically about sex, we're failing
those in our care.
Bromleigh McCleneghan is the associate for congregational life at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago. She is coauthor, with Lee Hull Moses, of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People (Alban Institute).