Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Minister in the Bedroom

It started while attending the opening service at the Mass Bay District's annual meeting, listening to the sermom being given by a longtime UU minister. It was a rallying cry of sorts, and part of that was celebrating what he thought was right and good about Unitarian Universalism. And one of those things was that our ministers stay out of people's bedrooms.

Since then, I've heard other folks -- ministers especially -- use similar phrasing. And it's always led to my fiendish brain kicking in: What if I want my minister in the bedroom?

I'm not being literal here, as I'm sure that minister was not. But I can see how this exhortation to "stay out of the bedroom" might be misapplied -- how a minister who feels uncomfortable or unprepared on sexual matters could use it as a reason to refuse to counsel one of their parishioners on the subject. I don't think that's what this fellow intended, and it sure doesn't sound like good pastoral care.

I'd rather we say that ministers -- whether UU or any other tradition -- do not intrude into people's sex lives. May seem like a picky semantic thing, but there's a huge difference. Saying you won't intrude leaves open being able to provide guidance and support to someone facing an ethical or existential crisis around sex, just as pastors do so for many other events in our lives. It calls for a healthy respect for boundaries, both for the minister and the person being counseled. And it calls for ministers to be prepared, not only by being informed, but also in dealing with their own questions and comfort levels.

Right now, Unitarian Universalists across the continent have been engaging in conversations about the ethics of food production and consumption. That includes ministers preaching on the topic, and giving counsel to their parishioners. I've not heard anyone saying that our ministers should "stay out of" our kitchens and shopping carts -- but we also don't want them to cross the line and impose a list of rules on the rest of us. We turn to them for guidance when needed and invited, and expect that guidance to be suitably informed.

I'd like to see more of the same about sex. I'd like to see more real conversations about the value of consent, mutuality, and healthy boundaries. I'd like to hear more thoughtful sermons on sex and sexuality. I'd like more folks to come out to their ministers -- not just LGBTQ folks, but kinky, polyamorous, asexual and intersexual -- and more ministers giving people permission to do so. I'd like us to be more proactive in welcoming, engaging and supporting one another in this vital aspect of our lives.

Yes, I want my minister in the bedroom -- when needed and invited, to help with healing and discernment.


  1. There was a time in my first marriage when I desperately needed my pastor's counsel on sexual matters. I was fortunate enough to feel comfortable to talk with him about it, and to get helpful and sensitive support from him that influenced certain subsequent decisions -- decisions that might not have been popular but were right for me at the time. But I'm sure not all ministers are as sensitive and skillful as he was. And I'm equally sure that not all congregants would be as comfortable with seeking the sort of counsel I sought. Which adds up to: Agree w/ what you said, and I have seen it happen positively...

  2. another worthwhile read
    thanks again

  3. Hey, Desmond. I'm sure I'm not the only pastor who does quite a bit of counseling around sexuality issues with her parishioners. It's just not something we talk about publicly.

  4. PB: I'm well aware that many ministers offer such counseling. But how many parishioners know they can go to their minister for that? And what about those ministers who may not be as competent or comfortable? That's why the work of the Religious Institute and other groups is so important.