Religion and Sexuality
Religion, Morality, and Sexuality
By Meg A. Riley
My eleven-year old daughter's vulnerability as an emerging sexual being is alternately exciting, scary, and mysterious to both her and to me. What does it mean to be an active, self-respecting girl in a culture that tells her girls ought to be passive and unsure? How can she keep in right relationship with other girls, and ohmygosh boys, through this time of growing up? Where is God in all of this? I am deeply grateful for the gifts of Unitarian Universalist theology to help me navigate these deep, choppy waters with her, as I have navigated and continue to navigate them myself.
I've spoken with friends and colleagues of many faiths who tell me that confusion and discomfort are what they feel when the words "sexuality" and "religion" are put together. Often, silence is the primary response of many faith communities to questions about human sexuality.
Unitarian Universalists approach sexuality differently. We actively talk about this crucial element of life. We have produced developmentally appropriate religious education curricula (Our Whole Lives) that people from kindergarten through adulthood can learn how to speak about sexuality. Sexuality is not about "having sex." It is not about what we do. In the case of my eleven-year-old daughter, I hope she doesn't "do" anything for another decade or so! Rather, sexuality is about who we are, how we live, how we understand ourselves as embodied, sensual, engendered, relational beings in the world.
It is in this broader sense of sexuality that Unitarian Universalists make comprehensive sexuality education part of our children's religious education as well as our own. We believe that God, or the sacred, permeates all aspects of life on this earth, and that sexuality is a very strong force in human life. We can't know God as separate, pure, ethereal -- we only know God as interwoven into our beings, our relationships, our total lives, imperfect as these may be!
Human sexuality is an aspect of life that can allow us to experience God's love for our bodies and our souls. The sacred is known in radical mutuality, interdependence, the sheer knowing that our own joy and fulfillment are inseparable from that of others. We experience something akin to God's universal love when we experience the drenching recognition of love for other as being inseparable from love of self. Such recognition may take place in a lover's arms or at the homeless shelter, walking in the woods or giving a presentation at work.
At its most profane, of course, sexuality can induce shame, a sense of brokenness, and disregard for ourselves, for others, and for God. We know God through our relationships with one another. But we lose track of right relationship with the holy when we objectify another, when we irresponsibly use power to betray someone else's vulnerability, when we lack self-respect or comfortable boundaries to protect our or their health and safety. Sexuality is not simple, and this culture offers far too many messages that say it is a commodity to be bought or sold rather than a mighty cosmic force to be aligned with.