Written by David Lee Smith
A Laura Schlessinger column printed recently in many newspapers makes unfounded accusations that a sex education declaration endorsed by more than 1,500 religious leaders is part of a "push to legitimize adult-child sex" and "elevate pornography," among other things. She made similar comments on her syndicated radio show, charging a "conspiracy" and specifically naming the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and two movements in Judaism. Her charges cannot go unchallenged.
I agree we have a highly sexually charged media and culture, and that children are exposed to massive amounts of sexual messages and images that are very influential. This makes healthy, accurate and early sexuality education all the more important. The scary thing for most people, including me, is concern over the content, methods, timing and source of that education. Schlessinger tries to push the hot buttons on those issues by charging a "conspiracy" to harm children in the name of sex education. She is wrong. I believe that every caring adult wants—for children and young adults especially—age appropriate, accurate and comprehensive sexuality education that is sensitive to religious and social diversity and individual needs.
Schlessinger particularly attacks SIECUS, a 36-year-old organization that promoted the "Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing." This declaration and its list of endorsers can be viewed online at www.religionproject.org. The leaders who have endorsed it represent 25 religious denominations and several universities and seminaries. A three-page introduction to the "Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten-12th Grade" (first published 1991) can be found at www.siecus.org. The complete guidelines are in a 60-page manual that is available from SIECUS.
I suggest interested persons go to the SIECUS website to view its statement of belief (see "SIECUS believes" under the "About SIECUS" page). In it, you will find statements that condemn irresponsible and abusive sexual activity, support laws that punish coerced, exploitive and adult-child sexual activity, and affirm that "parents are, and ought to be, their children's primary sexuality educators." SIECUS supports abstinence as one important element of sexuality education. The SIECUS guidelines are a framework for a curricula. Any teaching organization—home, school, church, clinic—is invited to use the guidelines in creating its sexuality education programs.
I am very proud to be associated with the United Church of Christ. We dare to stand boldly for human dignity, responsibility and justice. The Declaration and guidelines promote responsible sexual education in a values context. I applaud those who are seriously concerned and working in good faith on this issue vital to our children and our nation, and encourage each one of us to be vigilant to guard the truth and defend it whenever and wherever it is besieged.
The Rev. David Lee Smith is pastor of Burlingame Congregational UCC in Wyoming, Mich. This article is abridged from an op-ed piece that first appeared in the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press.