WESTPORT — America’s religious leaders must do a better job of promoting sexual health, education and justice in congregations and communities, the Religious Institute asserts in a new report released this week. Sexuality & Religion 2020: Goals for the Next Decade argues that, despite notable progress over the last decade—including greater inclusion of women and LGBT people, and increased attention to sexuality education in faith communities—most religious leaders and institutions are not meeting their responsibility to address the sexuality needs of congregants.
“Sexuality & Religion 2020 articulates the vision that by the year 2020, all faith communities will be sexually healthy, just and prophetic,” said Rev. Debra W. Haffner, executive director of the Religious Institute. “Achieving this vision is the work of clergy and congregations, of denominations and seminaries, and of advocates and activists of all faiths who believe we must change the conversation around sexuality and religion in America.”
The report highlights a disconnect between sexuality and religion in American faith communities. An estimated 60 percent of Americans belong to a local congregation, but clergy are not addressing issues of sexual morality and justice from the pulpit. Last year, the largest-ever survey of mainline Protestant clergy revealed that more than 70 percent seldom or never discuss sexuality issues, and a Religious Institute study reported that seminaries and denominations do not require competencies in sexuality for future clergy.
Sexuality & Religion 2020 prescribes 10 goals for the coming decade. The goals urge clergy, denominations and seminaries to:
- break the silence around sexuality in congregations and faith communities;
- improve ministerial training in sexuality issues;
- provide better pastoral care on sexuality-related issues and sexuality education for youth and adults; and
- become more effective advocates of comprehensive sexuality education, sexual and reproductive health, and the full inclusion of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons.
A diverse panel of religious leaders echoed the themes of Sexuality & Religion 2020 in a conference call with reporters this afternoon.
“The religious have always paid the sexual dimension of human existence great compliments by being engrossed with it—whether to keep it at a distance or often by overreacting to it as a threat,” said Martin E. Marty, religious historian and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. “The goals of Sexuality & Religion 2020 will help to spread information among the religious, thus helping them disclose and appreciate the promise associated with this sexual dimension, whenever it is openly and creatively addressed.”
“Every congregation—whether liberal, conservative, evangelical, orthodox or progressive—has a responsibility to address the sexuality needs of its congregants in the context of its own beliefs and teachings,” said Rev. Ann Tiemeyer, director of women’s ministry, National Council of Churches USA.
In a statement coinciding with the release of Sexuality & Religion 2020, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) announced today that it will require all ministerial candidates to demonstrate competency in sexuality issues before ordination. The UUA, representing more than 1,000 congregations nationwide, is the first major denomination in the country to institute sexuality competencies for clergy candidates.
The Religious Institute also announced today the launch of the Faithful Voices Network, a grassroots movement of people of faith dedicated to sexual health, education and justice. “As Sexuality & Religion 2020 highlights, there is still much to be done to overcome the many challenges to achieving sexual and reproductive health and justice for all,” said Nancy Ratzan, president of the National Council of Jewish Women. “When religious leaders and faith communities work together, we can make important strides in improving the lives of women, children and families.”
Publication of Sexuality & Religion 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, a landmark challenge to the nation’s religious leaders to become better pastors for sexual health, to respond to the suffering caused by sexual abuse and exploitation, and to be bolder advocates of sexual justice. The Religious Declaration has been endorsed by more than 3,300 clergy and religious leaders from more than 50 faith traditions nationwide.
“Sexuality is too central to our lives, too connected to our spirituality, and too potentially harmful for the silence in our faith communities to continue,” Rev. Haffner said.
Sexuality & Religion 2020 is available at www.religiousinstitute.org.
The Religious Institute, based in Westport, is a nonprofit, multifaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education and justice in faith communities and society. More than 5,000 clergy and religious leaders, representing more than 50 faith traditions, are part of the Religious Institute’s national network.