Excerpts from my sermon about Our Whole Lives
Unitarian Universalists have been on the forefront of sexuality education advocacy for many years. Former UUA President William Sinkford stated, “the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has been a long-time advocate of age- appropriate, medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education.” Rather than continue to shroud sexuality in secrecy and shame, our members, friends and congregations have opted to take an approach that would affirm our beliefs and values.
I would like to share with you two stories about the lives of two very different individuals. Two individuals who, as the fates aligned, would end up in the same place. Two people whose lives would become intertwined. Whose mission and ministry would influence each other.
One was raised in a liberal religions community, the other in a conservative religious community. One was raised in a northern state, the other in a southern state. One identified as primarily heterosexual, the other as primarily homosexual.
One felt that issues of sexuality were discussed in their home; the other felt that the topic of sexuality was taboo in their home. One has vivid memories at the age of 13 sitting in the sanctuary in a UU congregation talking very openly and affirmingly about sexuality and sexual orientation. Their congregation offered a comprehensive sexuality education program to its junior high youth. The other had vivid memories of the secrecy and shame with which sexuality and sexual orientation was addressed in the church community. Their congregation offered no sexuality education to its youth.
Both were raised with education as a family value. And both became sexuality educators, one for a family planning organization, and the other more informally, at a LGBT bookstore.
Both, around the same time, became religious educators at Unitarian Universalist congregations, something they felt strongly about. And both, again at about the same time, entered seminary to begin their path to ordained ministry.
These two could not have had more different religious upbringings. Upbringings that set their lives in motion and forged their life paths. Upbringings that they were challenged to deconstruct and reconstruct over and over in their lives.
In fact, you could say that their upbringing influenced their WHOLE LIVES.
As you may have figured out, one of the stories I began with is mine. I was that 13 year old sitting in the sanctuary at the Duluth Unitarian Universalist Church talking about sexuality. I knew at the time that what we were doing was, as Minnesotans like to say, “different." But it was not until I was in my early 20’s that I came to understand what a profound impact that experience had on me.
The other story was my dear friend Kevin's. Kevin and I met when we were both selected as trainers for the Our Whole Lives Elementary levels. We were drawn to each other and quickly forged a friendship.
Kevin and I began co-facilitating OWL trainings, flying back and forth to do trainings in our respective districts, mine Metro NY and Kevin’s Pacific South West. We did so many trainings together that by the end, we could almost finish each other’s sentences. We attended other RE workshops and meetings, called each other, emailed, Facebooked, and most importantly shared. We shared our experiences, our passions, and our dreams.
During one section of the Our Whole Lives training we ask participants to reflect on what is religious, spiritual or faithful about sexuality education. At the end Kevin and I took to doing little “sermonettes” that we called Saving Lives and Saving Souls.
Kevin would talk about the challenges he faced as a young gay man. About how he believed that if he had been raised in a church community that supported comprehensive sexuality education and offered a program like the Our Whole Lives things would have been dramatically different for him.
I would talk about how I believe that the Our Whole Lives program saves souls. About how we need to remember that sexuality is more than just sex. That sexuality, from a religious point of view, needs to be celebrated with joy, holiness, and integrity, but it also demands understanding, respect, and self-discipline. Our traditions affirm the goodness of creation, our bodies, and our sexuality; we are called to stewardship of these gifts. Through OWL, we save souls by reaching out to our children and youth at critical points in their lives, when they are curious, when they are scared, when they have questions they do not even know they have.
As Rev. Sinkford says, “this truly is a religious calling. We all come into this world as expressions of the great creative force that shapes the universe, the force that many call God. Theologically, UUs see sexuality as one of God’s greatest gifts. We express our sexuality best when we’re ethically and morally grounded, so responsible sexuality education is about much more than just biology and rules: It is about values, including self-worth, sexual health, responsibility, justice and inclusivity, and communication”
Our Whole Lives promotes compassion, justice, and truth-seeking. It honors and celebrates sexuality as a natural and healthy part of being human. Our Whole Lives teaches self-respect and respect for others whose sexuality may be different. It promotes equitable and healthy relationships and counters the injustices of heterosexism, sexual stereotyping, and sexism. It welcomes participants with differing levels of knowledge and differing viewpoints. And Our Whole Lives engages participants of all ages in critical thinking, values-building, and role-playing exercises.
The impact of Our Whole Lives goes beyond the RE classroom. Many people who are not raised UU may not have had the opportunity to experience a comprehensive sexuality education program in their faith communities growing up. By offering Our Whole Lives, congregations nurture a trusting, respectful community in which questions are taken seriously and many voices can be heard.
Our Whole Lives saves souls by putting our faith into action. We know that the rates of suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender youth are 2 to 3 times higher than heterosexual youth. And that 9 out of 10 LGBT youth are the victim of bullying and harassment. What I have seen over and over is that our youth become strong allies. They are the ones that stand up for others who may be experiencing injustice. They and we challenge the status quo in the service of affirming everyone’s worth and dignity.
The core principle of this ministry is that it reaches out. It says we value you, we care about you, we care about who you are and who you are becoming at all ages and phases of your life. In fact, we care so much for you that we are going to devote our time, our energy, our resources and most importantly our love, to meeting your needs. We believe in you and we want you to have accurate information.
Those the things that could have influenced the decisions Kevin made. He felt strongly that if he had been able to attend a program like Our Whole Lives, it could have saved both his life and his soul. At the age of 19 Kevin contracted HIV. And he lived longer HIV positive, 24 years, than he did without HIV. In August 2009, at the age of 43, Kevin left this earthly world. His transition from HIV positive to full-blown AIDS to death was fast, less than one year. Those of us who knew Kevin rallied in those final months to ensure that he would not lose his dignity, and wanted to make sure that he knew that people cared for and about him.
The work of About Your Sexuality and Our Whole Lives has been groundbreaking and substantial, but more must be done. As Sinkford states, “As individuals, as congregations, and through this Association we have long brought our liberal religious voice to the struggle to end the injustices that flow from this fear and shame. While we, and our allies, have gained ground in some areas, we have lost ground in others. Tragically, the assault is relentless. Now it is time to put our energy into a sustained and effective fight for comprehensive sexuality education.”
So ask me why I love this ministry. And I will tell you that it is part of our historical legacy. I will tell you that this ministry saves lives, and it saves souls. I will tell you it is our duty to our children, to our congregations and to the world to continue this important work.
 Washington advocacy issue brief http://www.uua.org/socialjustice/issues/reproductive/comprehensivesex/27224.shtml
 William Sinkford. Sexuality education, standing on the side of love. UU World (Fall 2006) 2
 Rotheram–Borus, M., Hunter, J., & Rosario, M. (1994). Suicidal behavior and gay-related stress among gay and bisexual male adolescents. Journal of adolescent research, 9 (4), pp. 498 – 508.) http://www.youthprideri.org/Resources/Statistics/tabid/227/Default.aspx
 William Sinkford. Sexuality education, standing on the side of love. UU World (Fall 2006) 1