Author Topic: What do we have to say to teens about sex?  (Read 2341 times)

Richard Johnson

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What do we have to say to teens about sex?
« on: January 18, 2007, 04:26:14 PM »
What do we have to say to teens about sex?
by Pastor Tim Schmidt

Editor's note: Pastor Schmidt sent us this reflection, as he says, "having just returned from the ELCA National Youth Gathering" last summer. Somehow it got buried in the flood of unsolicited manuscripts we receive at Forum Letter. It reemerged this week, and even though he's been home a few months now, we think his remarks are still timely, since neither teenagers nor sex seem likely to pass out of existence any time soon. Indeed, we rather wish he might have been invited to write some of the vignettes in the latest ELCA sexuality study.
Having just returned from the E.L.C.A. National Youth Gathering in San Antonio, I can report that on the whole it was a well-organized and inspiring event for our youth. The speakers this year (as in most years I suppose) challenged our young people to use the gifts and talents God has given them to help those suffering in poverty and oppression. From Tony Campolo to Jim Wallis, fiery pleas were made to these young people to be the difference making generation in the battle against poverty. Being that our host city was so close to the Mexican border much attention was also brought to the question of immigration, and the hardships faced by those crossing borders in search of a better life. This message of bringing Christ’s love to those in greatest need seemed to hit home with our youth and inspire them toward some kind of action and advocacy in their own lives. 

But there were some topics noticeably absent from the agenda this year, things like teenage sexuality, peer pressure and drug and alcohol abuse. And it is especially the absence of the first item on this list that I found most troubling. For all of the “let’s talk about sex” mantra that the national church has been giving us for the last several years, it seems like when it finally becomes difficult and risky for them to do so they demurred like so many of our congregations did. Oh, there were a few things mentioned in passing, like a young Christian rock artist who sang a couple of songs about kids preserving the treasure of their sexual purity, and a few words about the international AIDS crisis given during an afterthought time slot (one of the last days right before lunch when everybody just wanted to go). But on the whole, the church really missed a golden opportunity to say something meaningful to our young people about sexuality. 

Or do we really have anything meaningful to say? What are our thoughts on such matters? Is there any middle ground between Focus on the Family and MTV? And why can’t we seem to claim it or even more powerfully yet, actually talk about it? 

Being no expert myself on resources to use with youth on this difficult subject, I went looking around the Augsburg Fortress display. The book I found was called Real Sex: the Naked Truth about Chastity, by Lauren F. Winner, which after some helpful insights from Scripture and the tradition of the church seemed to come down to “don’t do anything with your boy or girlfriend that you wouldn’t do sitting on the steps outside of a public building.” Well, I am pretty sure that more than that was going on at the nightly dances of the gathering itself.

So where is our youth left in all of this? They seem to know the party line of the evangelicals: “preserve virginity until marriage at all costs, and just to make sure you don’t even start down the dark path of losing it, you better not do anything else along the way.” And they know what the rest of the culture is telling them:  “hook up as much as you want, with safe sex there are no hurts or consequences.” So can we in the more mainline churches find some middle ground here somewhere between them? 

I believe that we can. We could have much to say about mutual respect and love being the building block of all relationships, emotional, spiritual and even physical. We can talk about being created in God’s image and respecting the gift of our bodies, and can even talk about them as temples of the Holy Spirit, not to be treated recklessly or carelessly. We can find that middle ground between the backlash Puritanism of our more conservative churches and the “hook up all you want” ideology of popular culture. 

But in our silence we offer no direction whatsoever to our young people. And I think this guidance is what they need – and probably even want – as they seek to chart their own course through the choppy waters of adolescence and young adulthood. My notion is that they probably think all Christian adults take the stance of our evangelical brethren and just want them to say “no” to anything and everything in regards to physical intimacy. And once having crossed that boundary into some of these aspects of relationships (usually pretty early in their youth) they think that the church no longer has anything to offer other than condemnation. After all, they have already transgressed that line, so they might as well just keep going?  I fear that is what many think. 

I realize this is a very sensitive subject, and I think that the national church is right to be wary about it. If something other than absolute chastity would have been dealt with honestly at the youth gathering, there would have been a backlash, and an already struggling national church would have felt the hit in its pocketbooks. But I believe that we owe it to our youth to take that risk.  Not that the national gathering is the only place these things can come up, but it would have been a great time to do so, with 40,000 of our young people gathered together in a sweltering San Antonio dressed in Hooters T-shirts and low-cut tops. 

What does our church have to say to our young people about sex? Anything at all? Or are we just going to let those around us continue to speak for us?   

Pr. Timothy Schmidt <> is pastor of First Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Cumberland, WI. He is a previous contributor to the print edition of Forum Letter. 
« Last Edit: January 18, 2007, 04:31:17 PM by Richard Johnson »
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS


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Re: What do we have to say to teens about sex?
« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2007, 06:04:37 PM »
What is wrong with absolute chastity, or I should say, what would be a Christian alternative? Partial chastity? I don't understand the reaction against the conservative view of sex being reserved for marriage. Is Luther's explanation of the sixth commandment an example of promoting absolute chastity? I have gone to LCMS youth gatherings, and though there is a lot about them that I find unfortunate, there is a lot about them that is great, and one of those great things is a clear, consistent message that you are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.


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Re: What do we have to say to teens about sex?
« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2007, 04:13:54 PM »
This originated in another topic, concerning an LCMS publication on Ministering to Homosexuals and their Families. But I also see applicability to this article.

I tend to prefer the RC idea of disordered desires to the rather simplistic distinction between orientation and behavior. But the six point outline/approach to dealing with the situation makes sense to me (though two of them seem a little redundant).

A quick reading of the document leads me to agree that it highlights a number of appropriate themes, as you suggest. From about page 12 on (beginning with an explication of the 6th commandment) it might be as helpful in other situations, such as the parents (or in one instance I'm dealing with here, the grandparent) of an adult "living with" (and procreating with) someone outside marriage. Parts could also have been helpful with an astute and committed teen girl who asked for counsel in how to relate to a guy friend who's starting to identify himself as gay. (She didn't remember covering this in confirmation class.) As a congregation, we are open to membership and participation by gay people -- and have a few we can identify -- but not RIC. I found the LCMS piece a good enough job that I saved a copy (thanks to Mel Harris' navigation skills) for some possible future use in some form.

Thinking about this makes me wonder about how other ELCA pastors (among those who uphold the historic interpretation of Scripture) nonetheless navigate the social dynamics of the present culture in a pastoral way.

Subsequent modification: I just noticed the online article about talking to teens about sex. That might be a more appropriate forum for the discussion I'm proposing. I'm also going to post this there.
« Last Edit: January 30, 2007, 04:16:15 PM by Michael_Rothaar »
Mike Rothaar
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