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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sex and the Seminary

I just read a very interesting survey sponsored by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing and the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

The survey of 36 seminaries and rabbinical schools discovered that more than 80 percent do not require a full-semester course on sexuality for graduation and that two-thirds of them do not offer a course in sexuality issues for religious professionals.

The "Sex and the Seminary" study recommends that competency in sexual issues should be required for ordination.

You can find the survey here, complete with a PDF version which you can download and print.

Of the 36 seminaries surveyed, those that were Episcopal included General Theological School and the Episcopal Divinity School.

Others seminaries, just to name a random few, included: The Theological School at Drew University School (Methodist), Andover Newton School of Theology (United Church of Christ), Chicago Theological Seminary (UCC), Princeton Theological School (Presbyterian)and the interdenominational Schools of Theology at Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, Vanderbilt and Howard.

The section on the survey's criteria of "a sexually healthy and responsible seminary" was fascinating to me to read, and included this statement as summary:

"Sexually healthy religious professionals examine their own sexual attitudes and histories; are knowledgeable about sexuality, including sexual behaviors, sexual response, sexual orientation, gender identity, and personal relationships; have a commitment to gender and sexual justice; undertake periodic theological reflection on the integration of sexuality and spirituality; have the skills to provide pastoral care, worship, and referrals on sexuality issues; and are versed in their sacred texts, tradition's teachings and history, and denominational policies on sexuality issues."

The Executive Summary says this: "Religious leaders have the potential to change society's understanding of sexuality through the power of the pulpit, pastoral care of individuals and families, and their presence in the media, politics and civil society. At a time when many denominations and faith communities are embroiled in sexuality issues, there is an urgent need for leaders who understand the connections between religion and sexuality.

Seminaries are not providing future religious leaders with sufficient opportunities for study, self-assessment, and ministerial formation in sexuality. They are also not providing seminarians with the skills they will need to minister to their congregants and communities, or to become effective advocates where sexuality issues are concerned."

I don't know about you, but I am not at all surprised by these findings. This is especially so given the criteria for determining "a sexually healthy and responsible seminary."

Quite frankly, I've grown really weary of The Great Debate on Human Sexuality - because, well, it's not about Human Sexuality. It's always about Homosexuality and Reproductive Rights - especially abortion.

It has also long ago ceased being a 'debate' or even a discussion. It's more just a religious 'shouting match' which, at this point, the opposing view could write the response for the other perspective.

It seems to come down to two things:

1. What the Bible says - including the infamous Seven Clobber Verses and an interesting if not controversial definition of "life" and "murder".

2. The "ick factor": Those who can't get beyond their own personal revulsion of the graphic pictures of aborted fetuses so popularly promoted by Anti-Abortion folks (an admittedly difficult task, which is precisely why they do it), or of "sex acts" in general, but homosexual (especially male) sex acts in particular.

I am also convinced that we allow ourselves to be stuck here because it's a nifty way to avoid discussing other, more controversial subjects.

Like, say, MONEY - and all of the issues that flow from that one topic. Like, say: what is an effective response Christians can make to reversing the devastating effects of poverty, hunger, lack of education, limited access to quality health care.

You know. Like that. Nah, it's much more fun to have a shouting match over abortion and/or homosexuality. It's much more, you should excuse the expression, 'sexy.'

So, I've been considering this survey and wondering how it might be even more informative when compared with the results of a survey which asked folk in the pew what they might expect from their clergy person.

I mean, they are the 'consumers' of this pastoral care, education and advocacy for sexual justice - whatever that REALLY means - right?

The judicatory heads of the various denominations pretty much inform the deans of seminaries in terms of how they expect their seminarians to be educated, shaped and formed for ordain ministry.

The politics of that alone, as they vary from denomination to denomination, cause my head to spin.

I wonder what the person in the pew wants or expects from their pastoral leader.

So, those of you who are not ordained, enlighten me, would you? As you read the criteria above, or go to the web page and read the actual report, what do you think? Is your criteria different? If so, what would be on your list of criteria?

Do you think that 'sexual competency' should be required for ordination?

And, just what would that 'sexual competency' look like?


Doorman-Priest said...

My course doesn't offer it, but then we are mature part timers. I doubt the full time course does either.

Note to self to check!

Anonymous said...

I have often argued that our obsession with "sex" (name the issue) keeps us insulated against having any regard at all for everything else we are doing to and with each other.

JCF said...

[Disclaimer: I'm a person-in-the-pew, but I've also graduated from UTS.]

I think of "competency", Elizabeth, something in terms of your blog title (and the 12 Step aphorism, "You're only as sick as your secrets").

"Sexual Competency" in clergy would be someone who can non-judgmentally listen to anyone's secrets, in strictest confidence (and w/o judgment---did I mention that already? *g*). For the clergy to get the word out that they can do that, is trickier (one wouldn't necessarily take a self-proclamation of same at face value!)

The list provided in the study ("Sexually healthy religious professionals examine...") seems a good place to start (Like a "Good Housekeep Seal", on the pastor's door?)

I look forward to hearing from others.

Jim said...

If I come to confess my sense of guilt is what matters, not the fact that my particullar sense of guilt comes from a sexual or non-sexual issue is not the point.

I think a parish priest should have a sense of the resources available in her community. If being assured of God's ability to forgive is not all I need, then I probably need a referal to some of those resources.

Did that make sense?


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, it does make some sense, Jim. And, and, and . . . sometimes we don't know how what we don't know and when to make a referral. And, depending on where we live, there might not be many places to which to make a referral. I'm also interested in your assumption that, bottom line, it's about forgiveness. Interesting, Jim. It may be sometime, but not always. It's also about knowing and being able to traverse the intersection of religion and sexuality, a place that needs much healing.