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Seminaries Failing To Prepare Clergy To Address Sexuality Issues

This was sent over by a friend and I’m curious how we train our ministers to address sexuality issues.
CHICAGO, January 8, 2009 – United States seminaries and rabbinical schools are failing to prepare the next generation of clergy with the training they need to address sexuality issues in ministry, according to a study released today by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing and Union Theological Seminary.
The study, titled Sex and the Seminary: Preparing Ministers for Sexual Health and Justice, reports that sexuality courses are largely absent from most seminary curricula and degree requirements. At most institutions, students can graduate without studying sexual ethics or taking a single sexuality-based course.
“With so many congregations embroiled in controversy over sexual orientation issues, or struggling to address teenage sexuality, or concerned about sexual abuse, there is an urgent need for ordained clergy who understand the connections between religion and sexuality,” said the Rev. Debra W. Haffner, director of the Religious Institute. “Seminaries must do more to prepare students to minister to their congregants and be effective advocates for sexual health and justice.”
Sex and the Seminary is based on a survey of 36 leading seminaries and rabbinical schools of diverse size and geographic location, representing a range of Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist traditions. Each institution was evaluated on criteria for a sexually healthy and responsible seminary. These criteria measure sexuality content in the curriculum; institutional commitment to sexuality and gender equity (e.g., the existence of anti-discrimination, sexual harassment and full inclusion policies); and advocacy and support for sexuality-related issues. The criteria were developed by an advisory group of seminary deans, faculty and clergy with expertise in sexuality. The survey and final report were authored by Dr. Kate Ott, associate director of the Religious Institute.
The survey revealed that:

  • More than 90% of the seminaries surveyed do not require full-semester, sexuality-based courses for graduation.
  • Two-thirds of the seminaries do not offer a course in sexuality issues for religious professionals. Three-quarters do not offer a course in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) studies.
  • Seminaries offer three times as many courses in women’s and feminist studies as they do in LGBT studies or other sexuality-related issues.
  • The next generation of scholars is not addressing sexuality issues. Sexuality-based courses are taught by senior professors or adjunct faculty, not by upcoming faculty seeking tenured positions.

The study also noted a “stained glass ceiling” in seminaries and a lack of policies on full inclusion of women and gay, lesbian and transgender persons. Two-thirds of the seminaries surveyed have fewer than 40% women serving in faculty, senior administrative and trustee positions, in contrast to student populations that are frequently more than 50% women.
“Religious leaders have a unique opportunity, and moral obligation, to help congregations and communities wrestle with the complexities of sexual health and justice,” said Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York. “Is there any subject more important and more on-the-ground crucial than sexual health and human flourishing? This study challenges all of us who are charged with ministerial formation to look closely at the institutional environment we create to prepare our students to be active and informed – and hence to effect people from the pulpit and in the public square.”
Sex and the Seminary recommends that seminaries and religious denominations develop and require competencies in sexuality for ordination to ministry. Most denominations currently do not require ministerial candidates to be competent in sexual health and education beyond sexual harassment prevention, the study noted.
The study also recommends that the Association of Theological Schools, the accrediting body for U.S. seminaries, integrate sexuality education into its standards for ministerial formation. It calls on seminaries to strengthen their curricular offerings and inclusion policies, invest in faculty development and continuing education, and pursue collaboration with other institutions and advocacy groups to expand educational opportunities for seminarians regarding sexuality issues.
The Religious Institute will send copies of the Sex and the Seminary report to every seminary and rabbinical school in the U.S. The report is available online at
The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, based in Westport, CT, is a nonprofit, multifaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education and justice in faith communities and society. More than 4,400 clergy, seminary presidents and deans, religious scholars and other religious leaders representing more than 50 faith traditions are part of the Religious Institute’s national network.
Union Theological Seminary, founded in 1836, is an independent, ecumenical graduate school of theology with the mission to educate men and women for ministries in the Christian faith, service in contemporary society and study of the great issues of our time. Located in New York City–where the local and the global intersect daily–the Seminary believes that the city remains a critical training ground for facing such issues.

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