From Tiger Woods’ marital infidelity to same-sex marriage to the ‘Octomom,’ when sexuality issues dominate the headlines, there never seems to be a shortage of religious commentary—most of it from the right.
While conservative pastors preach against homosexuality, pre-marital sex, and abortion, in the nation’s more progressive pulpits, church leaders offer little or no guidance regarding human sexuality, leaving their flock without spiritual guidance as they grapple with these often wrenching issues in their private lives.
A new report by the progressive Religious Institute on Sexual Justice, Morality and Healing raises the alarm about this “disconnect between sexuality and religion in America.” Citing the largest ever survey of mainline Protestant clergy, “Sexuality and Religion 2020” reveals that 70 percent have seldom or never discussed sexuality with their congregants.
The silence has its roots in seminaries. Clergy are mum from behind the pulpit because the country’s priests, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders come to their posts having received next to zero sex education at the seminary or anywhere else. Over 90 percent of seminaries don’t require a full semester of sexuality study.
Martin E. Marty, historian of religion and author of the National Book Award-winning Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America, said at a press conference releasing the report, “it usually takes the Christian Church about 200 years to settle things.” That was the time frame for resolution or consensus on questions about the Trinity, the nature of Christ, human nature and the Protestant Reformation. “Now they are all fighting about sexuality—the biological cycle from in vitro fertilization to abortion, birth control, teen sex, premarital sex.”
According to the Rev. Debra Haffner, the Institute’s president and a sexologist and Unitarian Universalist minister, the fact that clergy “are choosing silence over action where sexual justice and health is concerned” has contributed to a growing crisis.