Let's talk about sex—in church

Local congregation gets some ˜Courage for the Conversation

By Jessica Connor

LUGOFF—Talking about sex can be uncomfortable for many teens. So many questions swirl: Should I wait? Is this safe? What does the Bible say? Am I a bad person for thinking this?

But getting those answers can come at a price.

It can be awkward for some teenagers to talk about it with their parents, and in health class we only learn about (sexually transmitted diseases) or abstinence “ they don t go deep, said 11th grader Danielle Moore. You don t learn what s right or what s wrong, what the Bible says.

Thanks to a new discussion series at St. John s United Methodist Church in Lugoff, Moore and her peers are getting something far better.

At church you get understanding, Moore said.

Moore and dozens of other high school and middle schoolers are participating in a four-week Courage for the Conversation discussion on human sexuality that is being offered by St. John s, and the S.C. Conference of the UMC is encouraging every congregation in the state to do something similar.

In 2010, the conference adopted legislation urging all UMCs to pursue discussion on human sexuality from a Christian perspective with their youth groups.

We decided at St. John s to answer the challenge, said Annah Hiers, St. John s director of youth ministries.

Hiers and Robert Price, a father of one of her students, attended a conference-sponsored training session in September to learn how to talk with youth about sex from a Christian perspective. Then, in March, the duo began the sessions. Using the curriculum Good Sex 2.0, first they meet with middle schoolers, then there is a break where all youth eat and play, then they meet with the high schoolers.

It s going really, really well, Hiers said. The curriculum is designed to facilitate informed discussion rather than lecture, and that s more effective. It does a very good job of creating a safe space for discussion and honesty within the bounds of respectfulness and appropriateness.

Not only does the curriculum answer from a biblical perspective the tough questions that kids may have, but the sessions also involve leaders explaining the position of the UMC on varying aspects of sex and sexuality.

Sometimes those questions “ and answers “ aren t easy, Hiers said.

As is sometimes the case in the UMC, as the Book of Discipline states, sometimes we have to in Christian love agree to disagree, Hiers said. As long as we re all seeking God s will and God s grace and making choices we hope are pleasing to God, I think those respectful disagreements are OK.

Several of the teens say they really appreciate getting answers from a trusted adult they feel comfortable talking to, as well as answers steeped in Scripture.

I know we re getting it from a reliable source and can talk from a religious perspective about how it s sacred, instead of your friends who just say ˜it s cool, said Gunnar Catoe, a ninth grader. Plus I feel comfortable talking about (sex) around kids I already know in my youth group, with everybody opening up and having an open mind.

Emily Block, a 12th grader, said she didn t get much out of sex ed class at school, and talking with parents can be uncomfortable for some. But at church, she gets more truthful answers than she can get from her friends or elsewhere.

While abstinence education is good, Block said, Most people say, ˜Don t do it, but they don t go into detail about why it s sacred, why we should wait.

But in Courage for the Conversation, she and her friends get the information they want and need.

Price, a volunteer parent who co-leads the discussions with Hiers, said the kids are very curious. While they want to talk a great deal about homosexuality and abstinence, they also have questions that surprised him.

You ve got to try to really listen and think your answers out, Price said. I think it s really brave for the UMC to do these classes. I think they re very good for the youth and necessary.

Hiers, too, had some surprises. The controversial hot topics for youth today are not the same hot topics for her generation, which she said has been eye opening.

The biggest issue, for them, is obedience, she said: For them, whether it s homosexuality or premarital sex, it s, ˜Am I a bad person if I displease God? or wondering the appropriate context for sexual expression.

One happy revelation was that youth truly want boundaries more than anything.

They want someone who they know and respect, who cares for them, to tell them what the Bible says is appropriate and what the UMC says is appropriate, and that s refreshing to me, Hiers said. I kind of forget young people want to know what people they respect feel is appropriate and inappropriate. Sometimes we are afraid to provide those boundaries for fear of not being cool. But it
s our responsibility.

Congregational specialist the Rev. Cathy Joens, who coordinates the conference initiative, said St. John s is doing exactly what the Courage team hopes for.

Our children need to know that their bodies are created by God and their sexuality is part of the creation, and they need to have that conversation in a healthy way, Joens said. If we don t create a healthy place in the church for our children to have this conversation, we ll never be able to put it in a context for them that is good and healthy and helpful as they grow. They re experimenting without any biblical conversation because they re afraid the church is going to say sex is bad, sexuality is bad, we don t use ˜that word.

After all, with the numerous mixed messages youth receive from society, they often get confused about what is right and wrong. While they understand morals portrayed on certain reality TV shows are wrong, they then see respectable, good couples on mainstream, primetime sitcoms living together before marriage and doing other things the Bible does not condone.

Having a safe place like their church address those mixed messages is a very good thing, Hiers said.

And at the heart of all of it is love and grace and mercy, Hiers said about the curriculum. Whatever choices you may or may not have made, God loves you.

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