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Sexuality education for religious leaders

In addition to teaching in the psychology department at Eastern, I serve on the faculty of the Center for Sexuality and Religion, providing seminars to seminary leaders with a program called “21st Century Challenges To Sexuality and Religion.”

These seminars aim to address the practical sexuality problems and issues seminary leaders face in their own ecclesiastical and theological contexts, to focus on the importance of sexuality education for future religious leaders and to provide assistance to religious leaders in developing curricula toward the goal of sexuality education.

I was in a unique position to join this group as someone who holds a BS in Religion and a doctorate in Human Sexuality, who has a teaching focus on counseling psychology and works in an evangelical university. My research in the arena of Internet sexuality is also a necessary component for the work we do.

There is a generalized yearning among the clergy for ways to talk with their congregations about the gift of sexuality; to incorporate sexual concerns and issues into the life, study and worship of their congregations. Most know they are totally unprepared to do that. Many recognize they have not really explored those connections for themselves.

Many people in their congregations come to them with questions, concerns or dilemmas, and clergy realize they don’t have enough information, understanding or training to be good counselors or address the underlying or interwoven spiritual nature of the congregants’ concerns.

In response, the “21st Century Challenges To Sexuality and Religion” hosts a series of regional three-day seminars for seminaries from across the theological spectrum (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) with the purpose of discussing the vital challenges that they face regarding human sexuality, both within the field of human sexuality and within their religious institutions.

Our aim is to intentionally involve religious leaders from multiple faith communities ranging from conservative to progressive perspectives, thereby contributing to ecumenical communication among leaders facing similar sexuality issues. Each seminary is represented at the seminar by a team that includes a trustee, administrator, faculty person and second-year student.

During the seminar, we present the best in human sexuality education information, research and practices, working to integrate the material into each institution’s framework. This initiative is not meant to change anyone’s theological stance, but rather  to find a relevant way to make each institution’s theological position meet today’s sexual challenges.

Each seminar covers some of the most sensitive topics – not for argument or debate, but for clarification, understanding and appreciation of what each institution’s curriculum can offer to its students. These topics include biological anomalies, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, lifestyle issues, sex and the internet, as well as love, intimacy and relationships.

Upon completion, participants leave with practical tools to help them assess their institution’s current curricula and evaluate its need to implement positive change.

It is exciting and challenging work that unites my identities of professor, psychotherapist and sexologist. For just as psychology has helped to reveal the complexity of the self and its functioning, the science of sexuality enhances our understanding of ourselves as embodied beings, and thus leads us to glimpse more fully the God in whose image we are made.

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