Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sex in the Church

Sexuality has never been an easy topic within Christianity. It's hard to balance spirit and body.

The Feminist Agenda Network (F.A.N.) in the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii tackled this subject Oct. 14-15 at Claremont Presbyterian Church an hour east of Los Angeles.

"Building for the Future: Institutions, Sexuality, and Justice" in the Presbyterian Church USA was the title of F.A.N.'s working retreat.

Around thirty women got together for a retreat led by Kate Ott, associate professor of Christian Social Ethics at Drew Theological University in New Jersey.

The approval last May of a vote in Minneapolis in 2010 set in motion big changes in the PCUSA: persons who have life partners of the same gender can now be ordained pastors. And persons who are pastors can now be open about having a same-sex committed relationship.

It's not going to be easy to understand and implement this new policy. Actually, it asks every church member to rethink her/his views on sexuality.

Kate started us out with the question, "What is 'Christian' sexuality?"

We looked at a sheet defining "holistic sexuality" as including sensuality, intimacy, sexual identity, sexual health & reproduction, and sexualization. From birth to death, sexuality is present in all our interactions, Kate said.

That reminded me of Carolyn Heilbrun writing that there is a sexual energy "between any friends who share a passion for their work and for a body of political ideas" (Writing a Woman's Life, p. 108).

Ott asked us what a sexually health church would be like in terms of its staff and volunteers, its care and healing ministry, its Christian education, and its policies.

She told us to go back to our churches and ask, "Do we have a safe church policy?"

The June isue of Colloquy will include an article on sexually healthy seminaries.

Kate chose the encounter between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman begging for help for her sick daughter (Mark 5 1-20 and Matthew 15) as important for our attention.

Jesus rebuffs her twice, but she persists. He has interacted with women, with Gentiles, and with foreigners before, but in this case the woman is three times removed from him--by gender, by ethnicity, and by religious differences. His limited time is for the House of Israel, not for everyone who crowds around him.

Nevertheless, she persists and in doing so teaches Jesus that the limits raised by his ministry caused injustice.

"God changed--he grew a little bit," Kate said, asking us to think how we sometimes behave the way Jesus did on this occasion.

"We parcel out our resources," she said. "Monetary resources, our time and our energy..."

Like him, we need to change. "Our preferencing of whom we represent" is not good.

Women's goals or sexual identity can't be our only justice-seeking goal. We need to work holistically--not be closed to environmental issues and racial issues, for example.

Jerri Rodewald explained that the synod used to have a Women's Advocacy group; that was followed by the White Glove Mafea, a forerunner of F.A.N. The goal of all three organizations was to address women's concerns within the Presbyterian Church.

I was delighted to meet these women from Ventura County, Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and as far north as San Rafael. Good music, good food, and lots of laughter.

Many are retired, but Kate quoted theologian Letty Russell as saying, "No one really retires; they rewire."

See photos:

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