Friday, February 16, 2007

Practicing What I Preach

On Monday, we released our new "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Adolescent Sexuality."

Last night, I got to practice what I preach. (A strange expression for a minister, huh?)

I was invited to meet with a youth group at a local UCC church. More than 50 9th - 12th graders attended. Sprawled across the floor and cozy couches, they reacted first with skepticism that a minister was there to talk to them about sexuality but increasingly opened up when they saw that I was sincere that I would answer any question they had about sexuality, except about my personal sexual decisions.

I began my talking about sexuality in Scripture but moved quickly to sexuality in adolescents' lives. I told them, as we say in the Open Letter, that I didn't believe that most adolescents were ready for mature sexual relationships, but that they also had the right to full information and if they were going to engage in any type of sexual intercourse that they needed to use contraception and condoms. I talked about the five characteristics of ethical sexual relationships and how to know if you have them in a relationship.

And then I turned to the questions that they had placed on cards in a box. Some of them were clearly designed to shock me -- I answered them anyway. The first one I read said, "my girlfriend doesn't move in my bed. What's wrong with her?" I am pretty sure it was not a sincere question, but the boys in the room got the message when I answered that if this was true, it was probably HIS problem not her's. There were questions about masturbation, homosexuality, condoms and contraception, and how much sex is too much.

Frankly, it was hard work. The balance between reinforcing that I didn't think they were physically, emotionally, or spiritually ready for sexual intercourse of any kind and giving them the information they needed IF they are having mature sexual relationships was constantly in my mind. So was acknowledging and showing respect for the diversity of experiences and behaviors in the group. I realized again how important training is for religious leaders who will undertake this work.

It was also fun -- and reminded me how grateful I am for the ministry I am called to do in the world. Read the Open Letter -- talk to a teenager who needs you this weekend.


glendenb said...

Debra - I've taught Our Whole Lives twice - once to grades 10-12, once to adults and currently I'm halfway through grades 7-9 - this is almost exactly my experience.

Thanks for sharing!

The Dee said...

Bravo! When my almost 14-year-old son recently brought home a letter asking permission for him to attend Abstinence class I started looking into this issue, and also wrote a long letter on the back of the permission slip stating that I noted that their description of its content was glaringly missing a discussion on birth control and that I thought it was needed. No response from the school, thus far, but when I discovered that many schools are preaching Abstinence only, and that it's now federal policy, I got concerned. Thanks for acknowledging that our kids need much, much more information than that, and doing something about it.