WASHINGTON – As the world speaks out about sex and sexuality,the black church is recognizing its role and speaking out – although the message is not always clear.
Whether the topic was HIV/AIDS,reproductive health,teen pregnancy prevention or domestic violence,the ninth annual sexuality summit “Breaking the Silence: Restoring Sacred Relationships” had a workshop to discuss it. The summit was sponsored by the Black Church Initiative of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and was held at the Howard University School of Divinity.
“Sexuality was a taboo subject in African-American churches. There were high rates of teen pregnancy and denial about HIV in the black community,” said Marjorie Signer,the coalition's director of communications. “We wanted to talk about it within the community.”
The summit discussed ways to approach the topic of sexuality among teenagers. Religious leaders,church members and youth groups traveled here for the summit.
“The black church was a leader in civil rights,and now it's time to take a role in discussing sexual issues,” Signer said.
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice includes representatives of several religious denominations. It formed in 1973 to preserve abortion rights and to work in related areas,including family planning,adoption,health care and child care.
During the workshops,people sometimes found it difficult to agree on how to approach the issue. Some said churches should only promote abstinence,while others said they should promote abstinence while encouraging safe sexual behavior.
“This program stresses abstaining,but we recognize that kids are sexually active and we help them think through it,” Signer said.
“I learned that it's OK to talk about being sexual because God created it,” said Carol Burt,38,a public health educator from Raleigh,N.C.
Burt attended a workshop called “To be or not to be – sexual that is.” The workshop discussed creating a safe environment for people to talk about sexuality
“I learned that it starts with adults,” Burt said. “Teens see what we do and they do it.”
“The speaker presented information in a way that you could really learn. She made it simple,” Burt said. “She said that you have to deal with your sexuality and spirituality before you can teach someone else.”
Several workshops discussed self perception,value and self worth while another discussed where parents,teachers and religious leaders received their first information about sex – often from their friends. Parents said they hoped to provide a better source for their children.
As the adults tried reaching a conclusion on addressing sexuality,teenagers were encouraged by their peers to remain abstinent or at least to practice safe sex. The teen leadership institute,“Keeping It Real,” is a faith based sexual education curriculum for teenagers created by the coalition.
“In ‘Keeping it Real' we discuss sexual choices and the effects,” said Jaren Fincher,18,from Harlem,N.Y. “Teens need to know the consequences before doing anything sexual.”
Fincher chose to participate in the summit along with 19 other teenagers from the St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church in Harlem.
“In the workshops teenagers shared their experiences about friends,sexuality and peer pressure,” said Grace Delgado,16 from Bronx,N.Y. “The speakers were young,and they reached out to us.”
“The speakers told us we need to be abstinent,but they also told us about the diseases we would get if we have sex right now,” said Bria Pitts,12,from Macedonia Baptist Church in Slidell,La.