For many years I have conducted surveys to discover what curricula were being used in churches with children, youth, and adults. Part of the survey always asked for each age level, “What types of resources or curricula would you like to see developed?” One of the major responses (especially for youth) has been in the area of human sexuality; ways to engage with all ages about the connection between one’s faith and one’s responsibility as a sexual being.
Finally, I am excited to share a new program that has been specifically designed and written for Episcopalians by Episcopalians. These Are Our Bodies: Talking Faith & Sexuality at Church & Home (by Leslie Choplin and Jenny Beaumont) will be available in August 2016, beginning with a foundation book and a program module for Middle School students (which includes a Leader Guide, Parent Book, and Participant Book). A High School program module will be available in Spring 2017. In an upcoming post I will share what the program materials for the Middle School module involve. For now, here is a taste of the foundation book for the program, which I believe will be a helpful resource for all adults in our churches – parents, clergy, youth leaders, Christian educators, and all who seek to connect our faith with our whole being, including our sexuality as children of God.
From the Introduction of the foundation book:
Sexuality plays an important part of our lives and our society, and as Christians we recognize it as a gift from God. As a gift, it requires care and stewardship. It requires partnership, conversation, and support in our congregations––between children, youth, and adults of all ages. These Are Our Bodies: Talking Faith & Sex at Church & Home is a response to how we, as faithful communities and individuals, can address the connection between faith and our sexuality in a holistic and holy way.
These Are Our Bodies serves as a theological and practical guide to conversation about the complexities of sexuality in today’s world grounded in the Episcopal tradition. The book includes the role of sexuality in our lives in all its dimensions as well as a practical guide to help inform church educators, clergy, parents, youth leaders, or anyone who seeks to broaden their knowledge on this subject. Divided into five parts, it explores the complexity of sexuality from the different perspectives of our human experience: theological, ethical, biological, and practical. An extensive annotated resource section and glossary round out the book to give readers the information they need for further exploration in areas around sexuality.
Part I: The Theological has chapters that explore the dynamic of sexuality and its connection to our faith. Richard Rohr reminds us, “the Christian religion was the only one that believed God became a human body, and yet we have had such deficient and frankly negative attitudes toward embodiment.”[i] Humans are embodied people seeking to live a life that is worthy of our deep calling. How then do we understand the mystery of sexuality in the content of a biblical framework? Through the lens of the Baptismal Covenant, we will look at the creative nature of sexuality, the goodness of desire, and the concept of honoring the body. This section concludes with a discussion of the role of the church in the area of sexuality.
Part II: The Ethical gives us a new language necessary to expand our view of sexuality. The binary concepts of sexuality as male or female, married or single, heterosexual or homosexual are expanding. Readers will receive a new way to understand sexuality, including new language that seeks to honor all people and respect the dignity of all people. Our hope is to provide the catalyst for conversations that will challenge and expand our thinking about the ethical demands that call us to love our neighbor as ourselves. In light of the changing and evolving view of sexuality, we reflect on the role of responsible behavior and models of decision-making, including consent and shaming. We finish the section with chapters that engage the role of the changing culture and our call to examine stereotypes and bullying and the inherent pain that they cause.
In Part III: The Biological we expand on the role of parenting through childhood and adolescence, providing a review of developmental theories across the lifespan. The research and theories of leading psychologists underpins our understanding of the needs of children including the healthy growth of their bodies and their moral development. We conclude this section with a discussion of faith development and its implications around understanding the complexity of human sexuality.
Part IV: The Practical offers adults the tools needed to understand the stages of child development that inform our ministry with children and teens. This section also gives parents the background knowledge they need to be the primary sexuality educators for their children. The review of development (physical, emotional and social, spiritual, and moral) will benefit anyone working with or raising children and teens.
The annotated resource section and glossary (Part V: Resources) are rich with valuable insights and materials. The resources are a collection from the authors’ reading and experience as well as others from around the Episcopal Church community. Our hope is that readers will see this section as a jumping off place for further learning.
Church leaders will be able to use this book as a general resource in linking faith and sexuality. The concepts around sexuality can inform the conversation in churches around how to implement ministries that are inclusive all of persons. Youth leaders and Christian educators can use the book as a way to inform their personal ministry, as well as when questions of concern arise. Parents will find useful information in The Biological and The Practical sections specifically.
At the end of each chapter are discussion questions for starting conversations. With each chapter’s ability to stand on its own, it can be used as adult education material or with parenting groups, with participants reading a chapter prior to discussion.
These Are Our Bodies embraces core beliefs for all ages as it addresses the needs of our children, youth, and adults navigating a world that would want them to forget who they are and whose they are. In addition to its use as a resource for parents and leaders, it is also designed to be an integral part of the These Are Our Bodies human sexuality program, which is described in Part V.
Why This Book
As a people made in the image of God, our bodies and sexuality are sacred gifts that we seek to understand and use as faithful people. Our inherent value and worth comes from God’s love for us, yet our modern world is filled with sexual expression that too often leads us away from life in Christ. God loves each of God’s children perfectly and works to redeem what is broken. Our faith tells us that “nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus,”[ii] and our trust in God’s loving redemption gives us hope in the fulfillment of God’s dream for each of us. The Church, as the family of God, can support and empower each other, including those who are parents, to engage our children (and ourselves) in deep conversations about who we are as followers of Christ—in mind, spirit, and yes, physical body.
Our responsibility as Christians to seek Christ in all persons, showing dignity and mercy to all, is rooted in our Baptismal Covenant. Our churches and communities can assist us to hear and follow our call. Families and church communities are ideal places to practice intentionally living into these promises we made at baptism and to examine our human tendencies to ignore that call. Life always reaches out beyond ourselves as we are shaped in communities. Our faith is an expression of our life formed in our communities: home, school, work, service, social, and church. The baptismal promises recognize that we do not grow up in life or faith in a vacuum; instead, we grow up influenced and shaped by those around us, while influencing and shaping them.
Christian virtues, such as respect for others, mutual sharing, patient listening, and trust in God’s desire to make us whole and holy are worthy to address along with our sexuality. By seeking Christ in all persons and loving our neighbor as ourselves, our relationship with God continues and deepens. We wish to model this behavior in all aspects of our lives, including our sexuality.
Our hope is to provide church leaders and parents with proper information and current language to create a safe space for talking about human sexuality from a faith perspective and a progressive, inclusive point of view. The foundation in writing this book is rooted in the work of The Episcopal Church’s Task Force on Human Sexuality and Family Life Education (1982) that prepared a program titled Sexuality: A Divine Gift: A Sacramental Approach to Human Sexuality and Family Life (1987). The following is taken from its Foreword, as we believe it continues to be relevant today and represents the intentions of These Are Our Bodies as well:
Underlying the materials presented is a point of view intended to be thought provoking, not intimidating, sensitive but not bland. Our goal is to be open to, but not enslaved by an examination of the fast paced changes and bewildering alternatives of contemporary life. We intend to be disciplined by, but not blindly submissive to, the viewpoints of our Christian forebears.[iii]
With that statement in mind, we reaffirm the core beliefs as stated in Sexuality: A Divine Gift as being the foundation for These Are Our Bodies:
- You are holy.
- Sexuality is good.
- Sexuality is powerful.
- You are not alone.
- You must take responsibility. [iv]
Just as there are seasons to our faith (such as birth, baptism, and reaffirmation), there are seasons to our sexuality (birth, awareness, growth, change, and transformation). May the following pages help you go beyond a basic sharing of information about sex to a lifelong journey of discovery. We hope it demonstrates that a faith community, working in partnership with parents and all its members, is a trustworthy place to grow, mature, and learn about the faith connection between their developing sexuality and God.
[ii] Romans 8:38.
[iii] Education for Mission & Ministry Unit. Sexuality: A Divine Gift (New York: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, 1987), vii.
[iv] Lisa Kimball. “Human Sexuality: Teenagers and the Church” Resource Book for Ministries with Youth & Young Adults ed. Sheryl A. Kujawa and Lois Sibley (New York: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, 1995), 102.