Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers, or rather, LOVVAHHHHHHHHS.
Today is a perfect day to talk about your sexuality, and whether or not you’re allowed to have any.
Ha ha, of course you’re allowed to be a sexual person, but we all know that the issue of clergy sexuality is quite fraught and for good reason. The history of the Church is one of misogyny, sexphobia and resultant horrifying abuse and repression and pathologies galore.
Even today, in the very liberal church, Yours Truly has noticed that we frame conversations and programming around sexuality almost exclusively in terms of justice: ie, LGBTQ rights and women’s moral agency within the context of reproductive rights.
The UUA and UCC have a fantastic sexuality education curriculum called OWL (Our Whole Lives) which explores the ethical and physical aspects of sexuality, but that doesn’t mean we’re comfortable in general with people as sexual beings. We’re so much better at advocating for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people and women in religious community within the context of partnered relationships. We tend to celebrate sexuality as a gift from God that will — or should — lead us all to the promised land of coupledom. Please examine your own liturgical materials, church programs and conversations about leadership, growth and health for that bias.
That said, I am ALL for boundaries in community. I know of congregations that are horrified decades later not by sexual misconduct but by the time their minister preached about his weekend at a nudist colony. TMI! TMI! I know of a group of Unitarian Universalists who will never think about a minister in the same way again after watching her and her husband climb all over each other during a retreat weekend.
DISCRETION IS YOUR FRIEND, as is privacy. Keep ya privates private, as my grandmother used to say (no, she didn’t. I just said it, but it sounds grandmotherly).
So what happens if someone from your congregation finds an online dating profile of you where you’re showing your pierced nipple? What if they report you to the board for being too sexy online? It could happen — and has happened!
It depends on your denomination and your location, of course, but you have every right to be a sexy person in an online dating site if you’re looking for a sexy arrangement or relationship! Don’t get mad; teach. Use your outing as a person who wears mesh Tshirts on the beach in Provincetown as an opportunity to talk about persona, boundaries, privacy, and freedom. Don’t be defensive or frightened. It is a new era and your spiritual and ethical guidance in this wise is no different than your calm explanation of why you chose to put solar panels on your house or homeschool your children or any other aspect of your life in which your values and your actions integrate.
Remember PeaceBang’s mantra,
NEVER BE AFRAID OF GETTING CAUGHT BEING YOURSELF.
Discretion is important and boundaries equally so. We observe them and go about our lives thoughtfully not because we are afraid but because we are considerate of our roles and our location in the imagination of those we serve. We understand the importance and health of living integrated lives, which is an interior process, not a public one. Therefore, we see the wisdom of not posting photographs of ourselves at the Fetish Fair on Instagram, but we do accept the possibility that despite our most careful efforts to be discreet, someone we know from ministry may run into us at a swinger’s party or leather bar. When that happens, if that happens, there are a few things you can do:
You can hightail it out of there and give that person the impression that you’re horrified and embarrassed — and that, by extension, you consider their presence in that space humiliating;
You can wave and smile and acknowledge that person’s presence and choose not to mention it;
You can greet that person, say, “How interesting to see you here! I guess we know something about each other now that no everyone knows about us!” and negotiate boundaries within that community (“I am not out as clergy in this community and I would appreciate it if you could help me maintain that boundary” or “I don’t want my presence here to inhibit you and vice versa, how do you think we should work that out?” or “I’m likely to get pretty wild tonight, and I want you to know in advance that I’m happy to meet with you one-on-one to talk about how religious faith and sexuality inform each other for me. Have fun!”).
Above all, do not freak. Do not obsess. Do not jeopardize your ability to be that person’s minister through your own fearful reaction. Remember that your insecurity about what that person now thinks of you is an impediment to your ability to pastor to them. And if you now think that they have some power over you by knowing what they know, let me ask you if you think your ministry will be strengthened or harmed by living in that belief. Take it to God in prayer. Take it to your therapist. Take it to your spiritual director. Under no circumstances should you burden that person with your fears. Let them live and assume they will support your life as well, until proven otherwise.
Never think that your sexy private life isn’t ever going to be discovered by those who know you as a minister.
Never think that your sex life isn’t being speculated upon by those whose minister you are.
Never be afraid of those realities. Simply remember how much fear, confusion and insecurity your people have around their own sex lives, and be as healthy about yours as you can be not just for yourself, but for them.
If you are at peace with your own sexuality, you will be a healthier person and therefore a better pastor.
Happy Valentine’s Day, LLLLOVAHS. See you at the Welshley Arms.