Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

An Ecumenical Framework for a Liberative Human Sexuality: Toward a Culture of Justice and Peace

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

An Ecumenical Framework for a Liberative Human Sexuality: Toward a Culture of Justice and Peace

Article excerpt

Human sexuality is how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. It is an important part of who every person is. (1) It includes all the feelings, thoughts and behaviours of being female or male, being attracted and attractive to others and being in love, as well as being in relationships that include sexual intimacy and physical sexual activity. Sexuality is an essential facet of the human experience that helps define us as human beings, those around us and our community as a whole.

Sexuality has helped enrich the human experience and ensure the fulfilment, integrity and the survival of the human race. A holistic experience of sexuality implies the upholding of self-worth, responsible behaviour, physical and mental health, justice and inclusivity. In this context, reproductive and sexual health includes a person's capacity to reproduce, the freedom and ability to control that capacity and the behaviours and attitudes that make sexual relationships sane, healthy and enjoyable.

The central aim of this essay is to show that engaging sexuality is not foreign to the ecumenical movement, but is based on the foundational values of being ecumenical. The three foundational values that I will explore here using a gender perspective are:

* The call to be "one people"

* The call to holistic praxis

* The call to worship and formation

Under each of the above ecumenical values, I will explore how human sexuality has been engaged. I will also propose some possibilities for the ways in which the movement can continue to work toward justice and peace in the area of human sexuality so that the ecumenical vision for visible unity is conceived in terms of the one church as a mutual and just community of women and men.

The Call to Be One People

The ecumenical movement was founded on the prayer of Jesus that his followers would be one, so that the world may believe (John 17:21). Given the wide spectrum of churches from different regions, traditions and denominations in the ecumenical movement, there are no unified opinions on the different facets of human sexuality. But what is common is the recognition of the human dignity and respect that is accorded to one and all--the sacred space that provides for all to gather and share their experiences as women and men of diverse races, classes and different abilities, including all possible perspectives, especially the intergenerational one. The ecumenical space has the potential for each narrative of each child of God to be valued deeply and acknowledged respectfully. The diversity of opinions and realities of the fellowship and the provision of safe spaces for dialogue and respectful listening gives rise to fresh ideas and perspectives. This contributes to the responsive development of creative initiatives at different levels that have a positive impact on people's lives.

Unfortunately, this unity has not been fully and meaningfully realized and experienced in a number of areas, human sexuality being one of the most significant. In fact, the foundation of the unity of many churches has even been threatened. Human sexuality incorporates many issues, such as sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual relationships, reproductive and sexual health. The greatest threats to the principle of "one people" have been the issues of sexual orientation and of women's sexual and reproductive health, which often narrowly boils down to ethical issues about abortion. This is because while the known majority of people are heterosexual, inappropriate and often repressive and intolerant responses toward nonheterosexual persons consume too much of the limited space that is available for discussions on human sexuality in ecumenical faith communities. The extreme reactions associated with the response to homosexual relationships often act as a smoke screen to cover up and avoid addressing the many issues that the community needs to deal with--be it sexual violence and abuse, incest, rape and violence within the supposedly sacred spaces of family, marriage and church. …

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