Category Archives: Sexual health

Sexual Issues – understanding and advising in a Christian context, ed. Joanne Marie Greer & Brendan Geary (Book Review)

Martin Pendergast

 Sexual Issues – understanding and advising in a Christian context, ed. Joanne Marie Greer & Brendan Geary, Kevin Mayhew Ltd, 2010, £34.99 – ISBN 978 1 84867 252 9

 It was a few years ago, at a CSCS AGM, that some members released their frustration at the inability of so many clergy and pastoral workers to discuss human sexuality matters comfortably and honestly. As a result, CSCS launched its project to explore with key practitioners and theologians, across the denominational spectrum, how sexuality and gender identity was being addressed in centres for ordination training, lay ministerial formation, and theological education. The aim was not simply to look narrowly at curriculum issues, but to try to see what support was available for those embarking on ministerial formation, whether lay or ordained. Various Christian communities recognise the value of different forms of accompaniment in personal spirituality growth, be it a confessor, spiritual director, or spiritual guide, but nothing similar seems to be acknowledged in journeys towards sexual maturity.

The editors of Sexual Issues might well have been flies on the wall during that CSCS conversation. Brendan Geary and Joanne Marie Greer intend this blockbuster of a book “to provide information and advice to priests, ministers, preachers, managers, pastoral workers, counsellors, people in training for ministry and others in positions of leadership.” They also recognise that it may be useful to lay Christians experiencing sexual conflicts themselves, or who are perplexed by the sexual behaviour of friends, family members, or others in their faith community. With contributions by leading specialists from around the world, but the majority UK-based, the book covers huge areas of human sexuality issues, so hence the fact that 464 pages does not come cheap these days.

The contributors explore four themes: sexual development in childhood and adolescence, sexuality in adulthood, contemporary issues in human sexuality, and theoretical perspectives. The various authors represent a wide range of Christian traditions and attempt deal honestly and courageously with some questions which many within and beyond faith communities are still wary of asking. For example, the Liverpool-based Catholic theologian, Kevin Kelly offers some incisive reflection on cohabitation; Ed Hone and Brendan Geary look at Sex and the Internet; Joselyn Bryan explores Sexuality and Ageing, as well as offering her perspectives on gender and sexual identity. The realities of sexual and emotional abuse, not least in how a community “struggles to accept terrible truths”, are identified by a number of authors. Sexuality in ministerial relationships is also looked as well as some perspectives on Sexuality and Spirituality and Theology and Sexuality.

With such a diverse range of topics and variety of authors’ backgrounds and experience, the book has its weaknesses as well as strengths. In trying to give wide denominational overviews on some of the subjects, it is inevitable that some contributors struggle to escape from either their particular denominational roots, or indeed a heterosexist or gender-biased perspective. The result is that on some topics, there’s an element of a ‘goldfish bowl’ dynamic so, for example, it is a pity that there is no overt contribution from someone who has lived through the experiences of gender reassignment. Likewise, no openly lesbian, gay or bisexual person, believer or not, contributes to this venture.

In many ways, Sexual Issues ’ essays coincidentally reflect the rich conversations we have pursued over the past eighteen months in the CSCS Theological Educators project. We are fortunate that a number of the contributors have provided input into our various sessions, and continue to do so. It is proof, once again, that there is growing convergence across different faith traditions on matters of human sexuality and gender identity, which seems a long way from where much denominational leadership finds itself. As the editors note, “this volume is purposefully ecumenical in its vision, and we hope it will contribute to discussion of these sensitive topics in a spirit of ecumenical listening and sharing.” They echo the thought of Margaret O’Gara, Professor of Theology at St. Michael’s University in Toronto, about the ‘ecumenical gift exchange’, suggesting that in a spirit of openness, all of the Churches can learn from each other and find common ground. This is at the heart of CSCS’s unique commitment as the only ecumenical network in the UK, dealing with a full range of sexual issues.

Martin Pendergast

CSCS Chairperson

“Wrestling the Name”

Andrea Knowles

Rape is a violation of relationship. When we are made to participate unconsciously in archetypal patterns of behaviour we loose touch with ourselves and our needs. -fhe body, the spirit –the incarnate spirit of God is within us is harmed; we enter into a betrayal to our world view and our moral, relational and physical and religious standards are desecrated.

When a woman is not following her own heart’s desires and instead acts only to fulfil others’ needs she may be under the influence of the rape archetype, the prostitute archetype or the Virgin Mary/mother archetype, depending on the circumstances. The rape and prostitute archetypes are closely related. Women learn that sexual activity is an area of their lives in which they have little control. The romantic love ideal in heterosexual relations requires a dominant male sexuality-subordinate female sexual relationship between two people. Growing up, many girls (and some boys) find themselves the object of sexual advances from sexually aggressive adult males. When a woman engages in sexual activity that she does not want but feels unable to do anything to prevent this, she is under the influence of the rape archetype. From an early age many women experience themselves as powerless sex objects, coercion and manipulation become accepted means of interaction.

The same archetype is present if she is being denied sexual pleasure because she feels that is what her partner wants/demands and again feels unable to alter her situation. The archetype may participate in her own violation, when she participates in such things as abortion that he wants but she doesn’t. Where there is this unequal or coercive power there is here no consent.

In church teaching Saint Maria Goretti was brutally attacked by a rapist at the age twelve. In an unprecedented move a homily was delivered by Pope Pius XII at her canonization. A ‘real rape’ survivor takes on a Virgin Mary quality, pure and holy.

The belief that rape is sexually pleasurable and that good girls never say ‘yes’ and disregards the fact that few boys want to listen to ‘No’, confuses here the difference between sexual violence and sexual activity and what wider society confusion over what constitutes ‘real rape’ is as there is no other rape archetype in Christian theology exists. other than the Virgin Mary archetype. Christians themselves are called to fix their sights on moral perfection, however difficult the course may prove.

In the Pope’s homily, although she successfully prevented herself from being raped, her attacker stabbed her to death. As she died, she forgave her murder. Unlike most rape victims she here is vindicated for her conduct as she surrendered her life for God. The attempted rape is seen as a sexual approach rather than a violent attack, that it is preferable that a girl dies rather than commit the sin of losing ‘her virginity’, because of the rape. This breeds classic rape myths of the Virgin Mary survivor and real rapes in the public imagination are non existent and harmful archetypes, which set unrealistic standards and keep women from naming their experiences as rape. Law enforcement, medical personnel, family, friends, and church look at a situation of rape, compare its veracity to the Virgin Mary scenario and judge it accordingly.

Recommended books:

Christina NorthopWomen’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing
Kristen J LeslieWhen Violence is no Stranger
Marie FortuneSexual Violence: The Sin Revisited

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TEENAGE PREGNANCY: ARE THE CHURCHES TO BLAME?

Jane Fraser

This was the rather controversial title of a paper I wrote for inclusion in ‘Opening Up: Speaking Out in the Church’ [edited by Julian Filochowski and Peter Stanford, published by Darton, Longman & Todd last year and reviewed in the Winter 2005 edition of CSCS News]. It was pointed out to me by the Press and Communications Officer in our Diocese of Worcester, that I couldn’t write about the lack of engagement by the churches in this social problem without doing something about it myself. Duly chastised, I met with the Bishop, the Social Responsibility Officer, the Director of Education and the Youth Officer for the Diocese. Out of that meeting came a proposal for me to write a ‘popular’, shortened version of the original paper to be published as one of a series of diocesan booklets containing stories and critical comment on social justice themes. They are meant to be read and studied by a wide range of people, both within the faith communities and in wider society. They are circulated to churches and other faith groups, voluntary and community agencies, statutory organisations and local authority departments. A brief press release from the Diocesan Offices at the time of publication of the booklet stimulated a flurry of interest in the media – radio interviews locally and in London, and press reports in both Worcester papers and the Birmingham Post. For a little discussion booklet it was unprecedented and one can only surmise that the juxtaposition of God and sex was the trigger! However, it was a golden opportunity for me to highlight a Christian perspective on the wider issue of teenage sexual behaviour that didn’t encompass the popular view that the Church is entirely condemnatory but, on the contrary, presented a compassionate analysis.

The other outcome of my discussion with Diocesan officers was to take up one of the recommendations in the booklet, to offer training to church and voluntary organisation youth workers on talking to young people about sexual matters. The Diocesan Youth Officer, working in collaboration with the Worcestershire Council for Voluntary Youth Services, arranged an evening workshop that was appreciated by those who came. It was
of particular value for those who were fully aware of the need to discuss sexual matters with the young people with whom they had contact but were nervous about broaching the subject, or those who were uncertain about strategies that were known to be effective.

We are now exploring the possibility of joining forces with the local Teenage Pregnancy Unit to organise a local conference on the subject for any health, social services, voluntary or church personnel who share our concerns and are motivated to engage in a constructive way with the issues.

If any of our members are interested in this topic or the project in general, you may download the booklet entitled, ‘Teenage Pregnancy: A Church Problem?’ from the Worcester Diocesan website www.cofe-worcester.org.uk You will need to click on ‘Social and Economic Engagement’ and then on ‘Publications and Resources’, where you will find it listed under the ‘Just So’ series of booklets. I am also happy to offer a workshop on ‘Talking to Young People about Relationships and Sex’ for a small fee and travel expenses.

You can contact me on training@revjane.demon.co.uk or by phone on 01684 594715.

 

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CSCS and Sexual Healing

David Brown

Just over four years ago, a young man came to see me in my professional capacity as a sexual therapist. He was suffering from depression, sexual dysfunction and social isolation. Recognising that his primary needs were deeper rooted than purely the sexual and social level, I counselled him to discover God’s Love and to open himself to the potential that his life held for him if he made the shift to finding his Real Self; the immortal, indestructible soul within which is not separate and isolated from the Source of Love and Life. He took my words to heart and, over the next few months, and with the help of books, tapes, “God TV” and well-meaning Christian people he “became a Christian”. Recently, almost five years later, he telephoned me in confusion. In effect, he has been told by his pastor and the other members of his church, that any sexual thought, word or deed (other than sex within traditional marriage) is sinful and must be avoided at all cost.

Masturbation is sinful because, they have told him, he would need to be thinking sexual thoughts in order to get an erection suitable for masturbation and that the sexual thoughts were contravening Jesus’ warning regarding “adultery in the mind”. The young man, desperate to alleviate his depression and isolation through practicing Christianity, is still depressed and sexually and socially isolated but is now also confused, sexually repressed and frustrated.

I find myself wondering why the Christian Church seems to be so preoccupied by issues such as sex outside marriage, homosexuality, etc. when they cannot even come to terms with the concept of self pleasuring when one is alone with one’s Self. Where do they get this repressive doctrine of abstention from masturbation? Is it from the Bible? What scriptural reference would be quoted; a misinterpretation of Onan spilling his seed, perhaps? Masturbation in itself is not sinful, nor harmful. What is harmful is the mistaken belief about what sexuality is and our relationship to our own human sexuality that society has projected, and the Christian religion has bought into. It is this incomplete and erroneous perception of where the source of sexuality, sexual arousal and sexual control comes from that lowers our consciousness of the place of the Divine in intimacy. The Church would do better to stop debating the ethics of who we are having sex with, or where or when, and start re-discovering that it is the kind of sex that is being engaged in that is the important spiritual issue that differentiates between the sacred and the profane.

There are primarily two distinct approaches to intimacy and sexuality; one is the “Outside-In”approach and the other is the “Inside-Out” approach. The “Outside-In” is fundamentally masculine in model and therefore the resultant sexuality is measured by performance and goals. This style of sexuality depends upon mental fantasy or stimulation to achieve an end result. The hope is that, in some cases, the fulfilment will reach the “Inside” of the participants but, in reality, it rarely does The other approach to the sexual relationship is the “Inside-Out” approach, which is usually stereotyped as the feminine way, but is actually the naturally created, God-designed approach. “Inside-Out” sexuality starts on the inside, with the Real Self, and involves rather than being validated by the physical body. The “Inside-Out” approach is built upon spirituality and authenticity; the power is connection. This is the intimacy which God created all human beings to be capable of expressing. Fulfilment in the “Inside-Out” approach to sexuality leads the partners closer to a consciousness and an experience of God, rather than into conflict with Him / Her

Why does Christianity produce such sexually repressed children? One reason is that it may be afraid to re-evaluate a history of patriarchal abuse and denial of the Feminine aspect of the Divine and of women and female sexuality in general. The experiential affect of Christians allowing God to become The Source of All, both masculine and feminine in energy, would be massive and would pave the way for unity of fellowship with all religions and faiths as well as restoring sexuality to its rightful place as a true gift of God to all mankind. In that process of re-evaluation of gender theology, however, Christian leaders would also have to admit that they, themselves, might not know how to make love without it being performance centred. Others may have to open themselves to the concept of teaching their congregations the positive aspects of sexuality, and would realise their insufficiency. Some ministers may feel totally inadequate with the prospect of needing being more like a real father to their flock rather than hiding behind the role of teacher, priest and guru.

Spiritual sexuality requires openness, self appraisal and self awareness; to recognise vulnerability as being a character strength, which is attractive, rather than as a weakness. Others may have to open themselves to the need to counselling individuals and couples within their congregations in matters about which they have little personal knowledge. It is distinctly possible that some church ministers and leaders may have to face the personal difficulties within their own marriage or relationship that they can otherwise pretend does not exist.

It seems to be asking rather a lot of a religion which has built a dogma of sexual control and prohibition in the name of righteousness for fifteen hundred years; this change may take the next fifteen hundred years to effect. In the short term, the answer may be for some specialised Christian Ministries, rather than the whole Christian Church, to provide a lead and to offer help to the churches or to their members in the area of spiritual sexuality. Such help could be offered by way of seminars, workshops and individual counselling and teaching. Could this be an area where CSCS could become something other than another voice that sometimes appears to be trying to persuade or argue the same theological chestnuts with the same theologians as have already been polarised for as long as any of us can remember?

I attended the last annual CSCS Conference and, while being delighted to meet others there and to listen to an admirable talk in the morning session, I left feeling a little empty. Who are we as CSCS trying to reach? What is our aim? Are we simply here to represent a balancing view on the repressive views of the Church in respect to same sex relationships; a voice calling in the wilderness? If so, what of the countless ordinary people in church pews, and those who are not in the pews but are nevertheless searching for Reality in a Christian country; many who are sexually dysfunctional or repressed or even suicidal for lack of positive help and guidance.

If the scriptures are intended to reflect the context of our contemporary culture, it is possible that Jesus may actually wish to add to the list of omissions of which the “goats” were guilty: “Lord, when was it that I saw you isolated and in despair or divorced or broken, and did not help or accept you in your need?’ Then the ruler will answer them, “Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me”.

 

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