Talking to Our Children by David Harrison

Talking to Our Children by David Harrison

Do you remember the bumper sticker craze of the late 1980s that had those of us who are a little prudish walking around like we had sour lemons in our mouths? Let me remind you: ‘Surfers do it on the waves’; ‘pilots do it the air’; ‘joggers do it on the run’, etc. Well, not to be outdone, a clergyman from Cape Town – whose name escapes me now – posted his version on the billboard outside the church. ‘Christians’, it read, ‘do it on their knees’! It was hurriedly removed by the mortified minister when a few worldly wise parishioners gently explained its meaning after the morning service. I’m sorry he took it down. It could have swelled the ranks of his congregation, at least for one Sunday.

Although the story may be apocryphal, it illustrates the Church’s general discomfort with all things sexual. Yet how many people sit in the pews troubled by their own sexuality, guilt-ridden about what they’ve done, or desperate to ‘do it’ again but fearing that expressing their desire is somehow at odds with the will of God.

‘Sex’, said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ‘ is a gift from God’. That’s a rather different take on things than the view of St Augustine, who concluded that original sin was sexually transmitted and thus handed down through the ages. And, as John de Gruchy points out in his book on Calvin, his more puritanical followers made sin a very personal matter between you and God – to the extent (and I’ll let John go before I move on) that generations of teenagers have been wracked by guilt because God watches them masturbate.

I raise this issue deliberately because it is a good example of how the Church has taken something that is healthy and an important part of normal sexual development, and twisted it into something that is seen as harmful – or, at the very least, to be discouraged. As a result, many young people – and older people too – feel guilty and ugly. Yet, learning to explore one’s sexuality, to feel the excitement, to know the boundaries and points of no return, makes for a healthy personality who is able to share his or her love with someone else in the most natural and fulfilling way. If God is the God of all of our lives, and Her desire is that we all experience life to the fullest, then sex must be included in the Church’s agenda.

The HIV epidemic has made this an even more compelling imperative. The best protection against HIV and teen pregnancy is parents who talk to their children openly and frankly about sex and relationships – long before their children even consider having sex. We should be assisting parents, many of whom find the topic incredibly embarrassing and difficult – even though it could save their children’s lives. In our Sunday School, we should be helping children understand and feel comfortable with their own bodies, in ways that are age-appropriate and have the full support of their parents. We should be creating spaces for our young people to talk about it, to each other and to those in the congregation who are skilled in sexuality counselling. The sexual boundaries young people are most likely to keep are those they set for themselves.

We should be affirming the vibrant sexuality of young couples, ensuring that they feel able to talk about issues that arise in their relationships. We should stick up a banner outside the church, trumpeting that ‘older people do it too!’ OK, scrap the banner, but the point is that older people – particularly those who are single – need to know that we know that they are sexual people too. They should know that we want them to find true love and fulfilment, and not eke out a life of frustration.

Most of you reading this won’t be offended – and actually will agree that there’s not much new in what I’ve said. Yet I think you would also agree that we don’t create enough opportunities in the life of the church to talk about these issues. As one young person said at the discussion on sex at Sundays@Belmont, often it’s not what’s said about sex that make people feel judged, but what’s not said.