Sexuality -- Sightings

Well, the title says it all. It's the issue that in one way or another seems to dominate the conversation, except in the church. Martin Marty speaks today to the recently released report on sexuality and the churches, issued by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing.  I have already commented on the release here.  

Marty, who is always a wise observer, notes that Al Mohler took notice of the report, and while apparently attacking the paper, ultimately admitted that conservatives also struggle with the issue.  What Marty suggests is that if we agree that there is a problem in the house, maybe it's time for conversation rather than debate.

Take a look, offer your thoughts:


Sightings 2/22/10

-- Martin E. Marty

Thirteen months ago Sightings commented on a report by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, and its unsurprising finding that most theological seminaries do nothing to prepare future ministers to deal with sexual issues.  They do almost as little on economic issues.  Can we all agree that sex and mammon are the dominating issues in culture, politics, society, and thus in religion?  Leaders cannot get a quorum in churches, synods, assemblies, conventions, retreats, and programs to discuss classic theological themes – in the Christian case, about God, Jesus Christ, salvation, and more.  Yes, Scripture comes up a good deal, but mainly from partisans on all sides who scour those scriptures to find “proof passages” for their preset positions.  “Sex” and “economics,” along with “war,” are “it” in our epoch.
The Institute is back with a new report, “Sexuality and Religion 2020.”  Its authors speak well of progress toward enlightenment during the past decade, but also discuss deficiencies.  I’ve been involved with a couple of phoned press conferences and media appearances on this issue and, to prepare, I’ve studied the report thoroughly.  This time seminaries get treated briefly, and then it’s on to critiques of clergy, congregations, religious leaders, adult educators, people in the pews, and everyone else in range who close their eyes to the need for better approaches to the subject.  The Institute, to its credit, does not narrow its attention to the usual trinity of homosexuality, contraception, and abortion, but focuses more on justice issues and “pastoral needs” that often get overlooked in the debates and proposals.

Signers of those two Institute statements tend to come – well, they do come – from the religiously liberal end of the spectrum.  But they do not have the field to themselves:  One of the creative results of the issuing of these papers is the fact that they have evoked responses from the religiously conservative end.  Widely circulated was a blog from Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who asks “Are Preachers Too Silent About Sex?”  Yes, he agrees with the Institute, but from there on he disagrees with all the Institute’s positions and proposals.  His is both an attack on liberal failures and an agreement that no one handles sexuality-and-religion well.
Wouldn’t it be nice if these polar positioners were not “preaching to their congregations” and “firming up their bases” but were somehow able to carry on honest, open, text-based dialogues toward de-polarizing ends and human good, beginning with “churchly” good?  Ask me how to get the two sets of believers into interaction with each other, and I’d run for cover, so tempted toward defeatism and fatalism on this subject one is conditioned to be.  But, based on the thousand clips and releases and blogs which Sightings has surveyed over these years, I will ask one question that has to do with tonality, style, and approach:  “What if” the matter were approached more through conversation and less through argument?  Argument, as we often note, is set by the answers, but conversation by the questions.  In argument we attack and defend on the basis of positions we know and hold.  Conversations are determined by questions in which we inquire also about what we don’t, and can entertain the new.  


The Institute paper, “Faithful Voices on Sexuality and Religion” is available from; the blog of Executive Director Debra W. Haffner is

President Mohler’s blog column is
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at
In this month’s edition of the Religion and Culture Web Forum, Sarah Imhoff introduces us to the Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu, who weds reggae music with strong pronouncements of Jewish faith and identity.  Imhoff notes that a common concern for music critics and Matisyahu's coreligionists alike resides in issues of authenticity.  Music critics ask if he's "reggae" enough; Orthodox Jews debate whether he's "Jewish" enough. By troubling categories of identity and their relationships with artistic form, Imhoff explores the limits of "authenticity" in aesthetic and religious performance.  With invited responses forthcoming from Melvin L. Butler (University of Chicago), Judah Cohen (Indiana University), Annalise E. Glauz-Todrank (University of California, Santa Barbara), Elliot A. Ratzman (Swarthmore College),and Nora Rubel (University of Rochester). 
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


John said…
I agree that within our congregation we need to have conversationS about sexual issues and I agree with Marty's suggestion that the conversations need to come from a pastoral perspective, that is, from the perspective of how we care for each other's spiritual needs and for the spiritual needs of the wider community, overcoming a wide variety of culturally imbued biases.

I believe it is a mistake for a congregation to come at this with a political (social justice) agenda. It is narrow and shortsighted and, frankly, patronizing.

Let's consider this example: we should publicly proclaim that with respect to homosexuals we should become an open and affirming congregation.

To begin with, there is no doubt in my mind that God made homosexuals to be and to live as homosexuals. And there is no doubt that God embraces homosexuals as God's children every bit as tightly as he embraces everyone else.

That being said, should we become open and affirming as a point of social justice? I don't think so. I DO think we should become open and affirming, but for different reasons and as part of a much larger effort.

I think we need to learn to reach past our personal baggage, and the baggage of others, and learn how to love each other as Jesus loves each of us. When Jesus reaches out to embrace me I do not feel that he begins by doing an accounting of my politics, my desires, or even my conduct. He embraces me where I am at, and just as I am. He is fully aware of the choices I have made and the reasons those choices were made. He knows why I could not have chosen otherwise, and if I could have chosen otherwise he forgives my poor judgment, accepting my desire to do better in the future.

As a congregation, should we require an accounting from our members, or of anyone who would worship with us? We share in worship and we do so with the love of Christ in our hearts. This is how we, as self-proclaimed "Disciples of Christ" understand our calling: Everyone is invited to the Lord's table.

The barriers with which many Christian denominations and congregations surround the Lord’s Table are not just limited to challenges directed against an individual's sexuality, and include making people feel unwanted, discounting the value of older people, discounting the value of younger people, and ignoring people with special needs, hostility to foreigners, etc.

To become OPEN AND AFFIRMING means to embrace each and every wounded individual who seeks to worship with us. And it means that we do not presume that their differentness is a manifestation of their woundedness. The woundedness that we can anticipate is more often the emotional and spiritual trauma which they have suffered as a result of social and religious rejection arising from their differentness.

And no one wants to be singled out as a posterchild for their differentness - we all just want to feel like we belong - warts and all, and that we are accepted, warts and all, without condition as members of the congregational family. And, while we want to worship without hiding who we are, we do not want to obsess over those parts of our personhood which we take for granted.

Before moving in this direction however, we need to have a conversation within the congregation, a conversation about what it mans to be a Christian and how Christians care for one another and how we can learn to grow our faith and love for one another so that as Christians we can transcends a whole range of personal biases, not just sexuality, not just gender, not just politics, not just any single issue, no matter how important. We should learn to put those issues behind us and just join in an atmosphere of worship and mutual caring.

Hopefully our elders will be open to ways to begin these conversations.

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