Our Present is Formed by Our Past

We asked members of our staff to share what moves them to do justice work. This month Ann Hanson, Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice, reflects on a turning point in her journey of faith as an educator.

Our Present is Formed by Our Past

It was twenty years ago, and I was finishing up a week-long experience at a UCC Senior High church camp. The theme of the week was human sexuality and we had spent about 20 hours together, talking honestly about issues of sexuality – issues that affected each teenager and adult in attendance. As the teens were writing their evaluations, a young woman came to me and tearfully said, “Why didn’t someone share this information with me four years ago? If they had, I may not have made some bad decisions about my sexuality.”

As I reflect on this experience, I realize that this was a turning point for me in my journey of faith. I knew I had been called to engage in the ministry of sexuality education. One of the most important steps for me along this journey is the understanding our feelings, values and experiences accompany us as we learn about sexuality. It is important we acknowledge this. Our present is informed by our past. 

Often, people equate sexuality with sex – particular, sexual acts.  However, sexuality includes so much more.  It includes issues related to sensuality, intimacy, identity, health and reproduction.  Because sexuality is often used to influence, manipulate and control others in ways that are harmful and destructive to the body and spirit, I have grown to understand that faith communities are called to be witnesses to an ethic of human sexuality that embraces healing and health, justice and mutuality. 

Most religions seek to celebrate wholeness for all people, including children and youth. Separating our sexuality from our spirituality has not been healthy. Many people, reflecting the diversity of culture, race and religion, believe that in order to provide an opportunity for wholeness, we must provide information that will enable people to be able to make decisions for themselves and others that affirm life – and this includes information about sexuality.

Many religious leaders lift up the child as a symbol of hope. Yet, many still profess that we must protect our children and youth from education about sexuality. What they don’t realize is that our children and youth (and adults) are constantly being educated about sexuality and often times the education is based upon unhealthy sexual images and messages.

In today’s political climate, issues of sexism, reproductive justice and homophobia have once again been pushed into the public sphere. It is more important than ever that we provide sexuality education that is age-appropriate and medically-accurate.

The United Church of Christ, along with the Unitarian Universalist Association, has published age-span sexuality resources – Our Whole Lives – Sexuality and Our Faith is widely considered the best sexuality education resource ever developed. We have trained over 6,000 facilitators and many churches have fully integrated this ministry into their church programs. 

After being in ministry in the national setting for over eleven years, I am grateful that so many churches are using Our Whole Lives. Providing this education is one of the best gifts a faith community could ever give their families. 

As I continue to train facilitators and as I listen to our youth, more and more I realize that this ministry of sexuality education has deeply affected my faith journey. Being surrounded by people who value listening to the stories of others and witnessing the transforming power of truth-telling at a deep level, has profoundly guided my journey.

And, the teenager that came to me twenty years ago is now a mother of three young children. We still stay in touch through Facebook.

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