The Spiritual Landscape
Sex Ed in New York
Note the language, wrapped around no small amount of racial profiling, "the soft bigotry of low expectations," white upper class condescension, and some good old sexist assumptions:
- The problem is one faced primarily by blacks and Latinos.
- Their lives need to be "improved."
- The way to improve them is to focus on "early sexual behavior and unprotected sex," in particular, the use of condoms. (I should note that according to the report that I heard, students will be referred to Columbia University's goaskalice.com, which provides advice about a number of other topics, including descriptions of "male hotspots," purchasing vibrators, and "erotic movies with women in mind"—all of which seems to go well beyond the subject of safe sex.)
- The best way to accomplish this improvement may involve all of New York's children but the real targets, according to the mayor, are minority males—whose lives presumably really, really need to be improved (or wreak havoc with the lives of others).
- And, by the way, they should lay off of salty snacks and sugary drinks too.
So much for the prevailing cultural narrative. Plainly, there are no small number of people who aren't motivated by religion at all, but who have views of the world, social harmony, and human happiness. It is equally clear that many of the same people advocate for their views and make an effort to impose them on others. In fact, when the mayor of New York can tell you what to do in bed, how much sugar you should have, and what your sodium levels should be, it isn't even clear that conservative Christians have managed to corner the market on social control.
What does the program in New York say about the American spiritual landscape?
- First: Religious perspectives are not the only perspectives that function religiously. Just because a person does not appeal to notions about God does not mean that they don't have convictions about the purpose of life, the nature of happiness, or personal morality.
- Second: That is why the separation of church and state does not end the debate over life-shaping values, nor the policies that arise out of them. To believe otherwise is to find the world around you changed forever in a fog of hidden value judgments cloaked in other categories.
- Third: There is no such thing as a morally or philosophically neutral body of knowledge. The moment you begin to decide what to teach, when to teach it, and why you are teaching it, you have made countless value judgments.
So how do people of faith navigate this issue?
Don't be embarrassed to believe what you believe. You should only be embarrassed if you don't have good, thoughtful reasons for believing it.
Be prepared for conflict. This debate and others like it are not going away. They have been a part of our spiritual and political landscape from the beginning an inescapable feature of life.
Be careful what you insist others believe. The best test for deciding what should be made law is to ask yourself, would you be happy to be on the receiving end of the same directive. Choose something in kind, which would not naturally or easily a part of your own lifestyle and convictions. If you haven't put yourself in that position, you will not fully grasp the gravity of what you are arguing others should be made to do. The one gift we have that has to be jealously protected for others if it is to continue to be ours, is freedom.
Finally, to reprise last week's column, remember, the cost of discipleship does not consist of making others do what our faith obligates us to do.
P.S. Please don't write to complain that I don't believe in sex education. I didn't say what I think about it and it's not the point of this column. Thanks.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/