More Seminaries Include Training on Sexuality Issues, Says Liberal Religious Group

A liberal religious organization that is supportive of both the pro-choice and LGBT equality movement within faith communities says that the number of seminaries that meet its standards of sexual health and responsibility have doubled since 2009.

The Religious Institute, a Westport, Conn.-based organization, stated Wednesday that there are now 20 seminaries that the organization considers sexually healthy and responsible as a result of the Religious Institute Seminary Project. That number is up from the ten seminaries that met the institute's standards in 2009.

Schools like the Brite Divinity School, The Jewish Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary and Yale Divinity school have all made changes in the last few years regarding sexuality education. These changes include things like an increase in sexuality-related coursework, sexual misconduct training and making schools more inclusive to a variety of sexual orientations.

Debra W. Haffner, executive director and co-founder of the Religious Institute, told The Christian Post on Friday that seminaries are now rapidly realizing the need to address issues of sexuality so that they can prepare students for their future ministries.

"I think that there is a 2000-year history that silos sexuality as separate from our spirituality so that there is a silence that has been perpetrated in our religious communities," said Haffner.

She says that seminaries often teach future church leaders how to minister to families that are dealing with the death or chronic illness of a loved one, but they fail to address how they should tackle issues like sexual abuse, sexual dysfunction, issues of sexuality presented by children, unintended pregnancies or pregnancies and so on.

Haffner says every clergy person should be able to respond to the needs of their congregants, but many aren't prepared to deal with issues of sexuality. She referred to studies which she says indicate that congregants want to talk to their pastors and faith leaders about sexual issues, yet those leaders are the same people they are least likely to go to for help.

"I think what that says is that people accurately perceive that their clergy person isn't going to have the skills to deal with it," she said.

Haffner spent 25 years as a sexuality educator before entering the ministry, she says, and was once the president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). She was "shocked" to learn during her seminary education that her colleagues weren't being prepared to deal with issues of sexuality.

The sexual health and responsibility standards set forth by the Religious Institute for seminaries include: having a policy of non-discrimination against women and LGBT people, covering sexuality issues in core courses, establishing strong sexual harassment policies and offering support groups for students. Also, at least 40 percent of the faculty, students and staff at the seminary are expected to be women.

Haffner, who is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, disagrees with denominations like the Roman Catholics and the Southern Baptists, who do not allow women or homosexuals to be ordained. Still, she believes that the seminaries belonging to those denominations should at least have good sexual misconduct prevention policies in place and should instruct students about sexuality based on their own belief systems.

"In their courses, one would assume that they should be covering sexuality issues and explaining why their theology doesn't allow these things. So their clergy, I think, need to have the training in their own faith context," she said.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., wrote a column in 2010 which addressed some of the issues that the Religious Institute had discussed in a report titled, "Spirituality and Religion 2020."

In the article, which is called "Are Preachers Too Silent About Sex?", Mohler combats the idea that homosexuality is biblically acceptable, saying that liberal theologians have been "inventing new arguments that circumvent scriptural injunctions against homosexual acts and other prohibited forms of sexuality." They do so by focusing on "scientific insights and sociological realities" rather than what the Bible actually says, he argues.

Yet at the same time, he also wrote that "many evangelical pastors teach virtually nothing about a biblical understanding of human sexuality."

"Our pews are filled with people worried about their sexuality, wondering how to understand these things, struggling with same-sex attractions, tempted to stray from their marriages, enticed by internet pornography, and wondering how to bring their sexuality under submission to Christ," he said.

He later added, "Evangelical Christians will rightly reject just about everything found in this new report from the Religious Institute, but they should not avoid its urgency in calling pastors and Christian leaders to teach and preach about sex and sexuality. It is not enough to know the truth and believe the truth, we are called to preach and teach the whole counsel of God – and that includes all that God has to say about sex."

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