Sex, it turns out, is a fascinating topic to discuss with a roomful of complete strangers. It was my first visit to the interfaith dialog group and I knew little about what to expect. The notice of the meeting simply said:
Proudly Celebrating 12 Years of Continued Respectful Interfaith Dialogue
FAITH, SPIRITUALITY, RELIGION & HUMAN SEXUALITY.
Is Human Sexuality a Precious Gift From God or is it……..???
How Does Your Faith Tradition View issues of Human Sexuality?
Be With Us For A Stimulating Multi-Faith, Multi-Cultural perspective.
The 20 people in the room represented forms of Islam, Judaism, Spiritualism, Mormonism, Liberal (non-Roman) Catholicism, Roman Catholicism, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist, several forms of independent Christian, and, with the addition of me, Unitarian Universalism.
There was, as you might expect, discussion of sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and the role a patriarchy in our culture norms. It was a big topic for the time allocated. Still, I come away with several impressions.
First, everyone in the room, regardless of their specific opinion on any one topic, had a deep concern for human health and happiness. They might have phrased it in different theological language than I would. They might have drawn different conclusions based on their different assumptions. Still, I come away with the feeling of having been with people of goodwill.
Second, I was very pleased to be able to tell the group about Our Whole Lives (OWL), our comprehensive sexuality education program with components for various ages from kindergarten through adults. This program, developed jointly by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, is based on values of self worth, sexual health, responsibility, justice and inclusivity. Several people asked for more information after we adjourned.
Lastly, I was intrigued by the possibility that issues of sexuality in our culture, are not so much the result of the decay of society, but rather are indicative of a period of transition. During this period, old models are no longer holding, though some cling to them. New healthy models have not yet fully emerged.
A lot of my reading and pondering lately has been about similar changes in our religious institutions. Things that worked in our congregations for generations have stopped being effective, and yet, we have not yet discovered the new ways to get things done. We are wandering in the wilderness. I think this is true of our society in many areas, but I had not really considered it with respect to sexuality.
Thought of this way, it is not really surprising that we see the negative reactions to change that we do. Complex systems of values and meaning are being taken apart and rebuilt. What do we do with theology put in place to control reproduction, now that we have technology to do that? The greater equality and agency of women threatens systems that had been in place for a very long time. There are issues of power and control involved. We forget how recent so many changes we take for granted are. And, we forget that we don’t yet have all the answers. Greater freedom requires us to take greater responsibility. Just because we can, should we? What are our responsibilities to ourselves, and our relationships, and future generations?
As we wander through this wilderness, I find myself grateful that our children have the chance to grow up with strong programs like OWL. And I find myself grateful for the opportunity to be in dialog with others because the challenges are great and we aren’t going to get to the other side of this alone.