Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Report from Canada

I was the closing plenary speaker yesterday at the 28th Guelph Sexuality Conference at the University of Guelph, Canada.

I had a number of concerns before going to the conference. Crossing the border into Canada is now much more of a hassle than it used to be, and doing it for a 36 hour trip gave me pause. I had read that Canadians were much less religious than people in the United States (only one in five go to church regularly as compared to one in two in the U.S.), and I was concerned that my message might not be relevant to the audience. And, I greatly prefer being the opening or luncheon speaker at conferences; people are generally very tired at the end of a conference and often more focused on leaving than on paying attention at the final plenary.

But, I enjoyed it immensely. Like audiences in the U.S., almost everyone in the room had grown up in a faith tradition. Only three people could remember receving positive messages about sexuality in their early religious home; most said they remembered the silence. The audience felt most receptive when I talked about the need for healing the brokenness that so many carry about their sexuality; although Canada is much more sane about sexual justice (I was told before the conference that abortion, sexuality education and same sex marriage are non-issues in public life in Canada), personal struggles with sexuality issues transcend geographic boundaries.

As often happens, I was most moved by my conversations after my talks. One woman told me that she wouldn't have left the church if she had had a minister like me. I assured her that there are many religious leaders who support sexual justice.

One woman waited until the end and came up to me with tears in her eyes. She told me that she missed her church, missed practicing her religion, and that I had given her hope that she might find a religious community to support her. The word religion comes from the word "religare" -- to bind fast, to connect. In those moments, we did.

1 comment:

AIDS Thunder Bay said...

Your blog was mentioned to me by a fellow member of Lakehead Unitarian Fellowship in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. It was great to hear that you spoke at the Guelph Sexuality Conference as it is regarded as an excellent every year by those who attend.

I do want to comment on the fact that you were "told before the conference that abortion, sexuality education and same sex marriage are non-issues in public life in Canada". While we wish that were the case, unfortunately the reality is somewhat different.

Our current Conservative government intends to revisit the issue of same-sex marriage with a view to repealing the legislation, some government members want to reopen the abortion issue with a view to recriminalization, and sexuality education is spotty at best across the country.

While things are somewhat more progressive here in canada, the advances are still fragile. Cnstant vigilance will be necessary to avoid the erosion of human rights.

At any rate, thank you fro the work you do on a continuing basis.

David Belrose