Sex is a subject that demands specificity of conviction in youth ministry. My experience of treating it during youth group meetings and even retreats has shown that informality and nuance are the opposite of helpful if what we want is to provide our students with reliable information and sound counsel about sexuality. A parent once reported to me that her son boiled down my youth retreat message to, “Premarital sex is okay as long as it’s fun.”
This subject, perhaps more than any other, puts progressives’ in a bind. Many of us come from churches that treated sex with such importance and that surrounded it with so many rules and rituals that we and our peers could be forgiven for equating Christian discipleship with sexual “purity.” Abstinence pledges, courtship rituals, rules about never being alone together with someone of the opposite gender (these rituals always assumed heterosexuality): practices fit for traditional societies enjoyed wide adoption by my peers in late adolescence. One joker walked around campus with rubber bands around his wrists, which we would painfully snap every time he had sexual thoughts.
We know we don’t want that. We don’t want our discussion of sexuality and relationships with our students to carry more importance than it did for Jesus in the life of a disciple. Not that Jesus never talked about sex, just not a ton.
He did talk about it, though, and what he said was both conventional and demanding. Conventional in that Jesus was not turning over the tables of marriage-based sexual ethics, and yet demanding in that neither was he content to let the subject rest on conventions and traditions. Equating lustful looks with adultery gets right down to business, doesn’t it?
So progressives don’t want to ignore sex as a youth ministry topic either, which is the mistake I’m most guilty of making over the past decade.
What do we want then?
We want to host safe, honest, clear conversations with teenagers about sexuality that are developmentally informed while not feeling clinical and spiritually grounded without drowning the subject in individualistic, pious rigor. How hard could that be?
I’ve got high hopes for the Our Whole Lives training we’re hosting later this month, because everything I’ve heard about it says that it’s exactly what I want. My colleagues and I wanted this training, so we went out and got it. There are spaces still available, so if you can spare a few late May days in Chicago, I think it will be worth your while.
It might even be fun.