There are six young people in Shepherd King's confirmation class, ages 12-14, three girls and three boys. Last year we studied the Bible; this year we are studying Luther's Small Catechism. Yesterday was our second day with the 10 Commandments and we were looking at the second set, the ones that pertain to us and other people, numbers 4 through 10 (as Lutherans number them). "Honor your father and mother," "Do not murder" - we had some pretty good discussions about those. Then we got to number 6 "do not commit adultery" and, of course, we talked about sex.
Several years ago in North Carolina I attended an evening program at the local high school on the topic of young people and sexual activity. I'm not easily shocked, but what I learned that night was troubling. More and more kids are becoming sexually active in middle school. Presenters urged parents to begin talking about sex when their children are 10 years old. These days, many young people don't consider oral sex to be "sex" so it occurs frequently and casually. At some youth parties boys will have a contest to see how many girls they can find to give them oral sex - the boy with the highest number wins. As I said, I'm not easily shocked, but I was that night. What does this sort of behavior do to a young person's sense of self, to their view of themselves as both a bodily and a spiritual person, to their ability to give themselves in a meaningful way to a lifelong partner? And who is talking to young people about these things, about the connection between our physical self and our mental, emotional, and spiritual self, about health issues and sexual contact?
Somebody needs to be talking with young people about sexual activity and how to handle sex responsibly, about the risks and dangers of being sexually active especially at a young age. And youth need a place where they can ask questions, where they can openly express their thoughts and perspectives on sex. The Church should be this sort of place, a safe place where young people can be fully human and can learn about being a whole person - body, mind and spirit.
So yesterday we talked about sex - about the likelihood that people today will wait to have sex until they are married, about the benefits of waiting, and about the desires we all have. We talked about sexuality as a good gift from God, a wonderful thing to be both celebrated and respected. A few kids had questions, there was lots of giggling and some blushing, but through it all we had an honest conversation. I hope, more than anything, that the students realized they can bring their questions and their true feelings to our class.
These days with all the controversy about sex and the church - the scandals involving priests/pastors and young people, the issue of homosexuality - we might be inclined to avoid the whole topic. I hope we don't because young people need guidance for living well and that includes talking about sex. The 6th commandment is a place to start, but I'm hoping the conversation has just begun. I hope Shepherd King will be a place where young people can learn about being human, where they can grapple with real issues as we seek, together, to be like Jesus.