Monday, November 2, 2009

again with sexuality in the Bible Belt

Returning to this discussion.
The whole evening was....intriguing. I felt a wee bit like an anthropologist, not being an LGBTQ individual, or a minority, and given that my Christianity looks radically different from what's typical of the Bible Belt.

But the most gripping moment was at the end, when the final audience question was asked.
"What strategies can be used to empower young people to use safe sex practices and how can the Church contribute?" Every nerve in my body was at atention- one of my professors has hinted at rumors that occasionally church members can be convinced that condom distribution was actually their idea, and I thought Bishop Rawls was going to share the secret.

My mouth literally dropped open when Bishop Rawls started talking about building bridges/relationships and moving beyond dialogue. She continued with "I'm owning how important it is that my life speak more [than my words]." This led into a discourse on the lack of role models for LGBTQ people, and the need for healthy relationship modeling. She offered the example of counseling young ladies- when she receives "inappropriate energy" her response is "Baby, you can be in a relationship with an older woman who won't abuse you."
Wow. Having grown up in the church, and being a pastor's daughter, I've heard a gazillion things about the dangers of counseling leading to affairs. And an equal number of ways to keep the minister out of trouble- "keep your office door open" "never counsel or be alone with someone of the opposite gender." But to actually step away from the fear of sexual harassment charges and infidelity to turn "inappropriate energy" into a moment for teaching and comfort....that's a new one for me.

Dr. Simmons followed this up with the observation that the relationships most modeled on TV are typically those of white men. Valid point. However, I think we also need to address *how* relationships are modeled on TV and movies. Why the heck is it okay to depict unprotected sex with someone you met hours ago in a PG-13 movie, or on network television? I'm so angry with this season's premier of House. Or, breaking away from STIs and unplanned pregnancies for a minute- one of my colleagues pointed out in class that she believes part of the reason for the current high divorce rate is that people are looking for relationships that look like the movies, rather than relationships that have the potential to be both long-lasting and positive. My prof responded to the comment with the hopeful observation that this may begin to change, as we watch the Obamas model a strong marriage to the nation. Those thoughts alter my perspective things like the 10 page article in the NYT magazine this past week about the Obamas' marriage (note that I've only skimmed the first two pages and haven't actually read the beast). At first glance, this seems intrusive, disrespectful, prying, meddlesome....(can you tell I'm a pastor's kid? The thought of *anyone* living in a fishbowl is repulsive to me). But when considered as something we as a nation desperately need- the image that marriages can stay strong, can be a vibrant partnership as opposed to a convenient division of bills, chores and childcare, it's not so hideous.

Mr. Patterson concluded the discussion with the observation that "talking about safe sex doesn't reach someone's heart." And when someone in need of love is offered something that seems good, they will take it, regardless of whether that involves risky sexual practices. Men and women pick partners because of who they see around them, and the issue of safe sex must be addressed internally before externally.

Absolutely no discussion about the importance of knowledge of safe-sex practices and the availability of protection. Yet suddenly I was feeling a bit naive and reprimanded- for looking for an easy solution to a complex problem. I know better, really. But how do you design a reproductive health intervention program around healthy relationship modeling and mentorship? Patterson has been involved with several programs -Many Men, Many Voices for one- that take this approach. I need to spend some time looking at strategies and crunching numbers, but initially....it resonates. But before I sound like I've been converted to the "Let's try to connect with high schoolers and show them that there are cool people who don't have sex" approach of the Christian college I graduated from (can't use the term "alma mater"-I've always felt that we were at war) and the local crisis pregnancy center in that area- I think the Bible Belt taboos we have about discussing sexuality are dangerous and irresponsible. Teenagers need the knowledge to make informed, safe decisions, regardless of whether we agree with those decisions.

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