Institutional Christianity has always been tied up over and repressive to issues of human sexuality. This stemmed from its move into a dualistic Greek thinking world in the second century that identified flesh and bodies with sinfulness while extolling souls and spirits so pure and holy. In time denying the flesh or the desires of the body came to be identified with Christianity. Later the Church declared that the holy life was the sexless life and so virginity was the pathway to holiness and celibacy was the mark of the holy or priestly life. A wide variety of negative things flowed out of this, including the negativity toward family planning, negativity toward a married priesthood, negativity toward women who were defined as “temptresses” if they were not virgins and the sense that sex was somehow dirty or unclean. For years, women had to go through a ceremonial cleansing after childbirth before they could return to the Church. During the Middle Ages, cathedral choirs were normally made up of men and boys because menstruating women in the choirs might pollute holy places with their unclean menses.
I think it is also fair to say that institutional Christianity’s negativity toward homosexual people and even the outbreak of priestly abuse of young boys that has drained the resources of many part of the Roman Catholic Church in paying off lawsuits is one more illustration that unhealthy and sometimes violent expressions of sexuality always
result from the repression of healthy sexuality.
Once these negative attitudes are present in institutional Christian life, any attempt to change the cultural attitude is defined as immoral. So nations and states have made it difficult to oppose laws that when they were enacted reflected that distortion of the dominant religious
Today, efforts to teach sex education in public school are opposed by an unholy alliance of traditional Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestant fundamentalists. The current administration in Washington, bowing to the pressure of its “religious right” supporters, had advocated the teaching of abstinence instead of sex education. It has been a colossal failure, as statistics reveal. It has been about as effective in curbing sexual activity as the “Just say No” campaign was in controlling drug use. This administration has also refused to fund international family planning clinics around the world for the same reason.
I do see a new day dawning in America on these and many other issues.
At one of the first Spirit of Life services I attended, Geoff shared some statistics that got me thinking about the influence of religion in my life as an American vs. an Australian. He said that in America, 48% of the population attends church regularly, as opposed to 17% of Australians and 25% of Britons.
I was raised Unitarian from the time I can remember and I became aware from a very young age that this made me a bit weird.
“What religion are you?” was not an uncommon question between children at the playground or in-between classes. I quickly learned that “Unitarian” was not an answer if I wanted an easy way out of the conversation. Unlike “Catholic” or “Lutheran” or “Baptist”, “Unitarian” actually required a lot more information.
My friend Patty’s answer was always “my parents are Catholic, but I don’t believe in that”. The kids would look at her in awe. But being raised in the suburbs with a white Irish mother and a black Nigerian father, Patty had learned early in life how to live with being different.
“Unitarian? What’s that?” All eyes would turn to me. I had no idea what to say. I didn’t know how to explain it, and, every time I tried, it just seemed to make things worse.
“What do you believe? Do you read the Bible? Do you believe in God? Jesus?”
At age 10, or whatever I was, these questions had absolutely no context. I was Unitarian. That was it. I didn’t know why, I didn’t know what it meant or how to explain it to others. It was just where I spent my Sunday mornings. It’s where my parents took me. And, it was where I felt at home.
“You can believe whatever you want. Not necessarily in God.” I might try to say.
“What kind of religion is that? That’s no religion at all.” They might respond.
“They’re just jealous, ignore them.” That was Mom’s advice. She always wore the symbol of the church, the chalice, around her neck. She sang the hymns the loudest, and she took charge of anything that was needed to keep the church growing and succeeding. Dad, ever the salesman, suggested that I invite them along to see for themselves.
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