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Sexuality training now required for UU seminarians

New requirement will help clergy deal with a broad range of sex-related issues.
By Jane Greer
4.5.10

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Unitarian Universalist seminarians will be asked to demonstrate competency in issues related to human sexuality as part of their preparation for the ministry. The new requirement, which deals with sexual health, sexual boundaries, and sexual justice, will become effective December 2010.

The requirement, or “competency” will familiarize seminarians with issues related to reproductive health, gender identity, sexual orientation, domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual ethics and safety within congregations. Ministerial candidates will have to demonstrate knowledge in these areas when they go before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, the body charged with the formation and credentialing of UU ministers.

All ministerial candidates are expected to show a basic knowledge in 16 subject areas before they appear before the MFC. These 16 competencies include church history, worship, pastoral care, antiracism, antioppression and multiculturalism, and religious education. The human sexuality competency was added at the MFC’s December 2009 meeting.

Seminarians can fulfill the requirement through readings, workshops, and course work. All will be required to have had at least one sexual harassment prevention learning experience.


The UUA has had a longstanding commitment to sexual justice, passing a resolution in 1970 calling for an end to discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals. Since then it has passed 89 resolutions on a broad range of sexual justice issues, including abortion rights, gender equity, repeal of the “Don’t ask don’t tell” policy in the military, and equal employment opportunities for transgender people.

The UUA has also been a leader in sexuality education, developing the “About Your Sexuality” curriculum in 1970, and then later, the “Our Whole Lives” sexuality education curricula together with the United Church of Christ. Our Whole Lives includes curricula for a broad age range, from kindergarten-age children up through adulthood.

The human sexuality competency was long overdue, according to the Rev. Wayne Arnason, MFC chair and cominister of the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Cleveland, Ohio. “With the evolution of our religious education curriculum, we’ve been in the spotlight about sex education,” he said. “We’ve also been a leader in education and advocacy around GLBT and queer people’s rights, and advocates of marriage equality.”

It’s also overdue in terms of establishing and monitoring professional ethics, Arnason said. “Both Catholic and Protestant churches have had staggeringly difficult and complicated issues over ministers’ lack of understanding of the proper bounds that must be observed in terms of their own sexual behavior, especially with regard to parishioners. That concerns the Ministerial Fellowship Committee because we need to be adjudicators and disciplinarians for complaints that might arise around these issues.”

The Rev. Debra W. Haffner, who founded and directs the Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization advocating for sexual health and justice in faith communities, spearheaded the drive for the new competency. Haffner, who specializes in sexuality and religion, joined the MFC 18 months ago. Coincidently, the Religious Institute was awarded a $29,000 Veatch grant in 2009 to create a program for assessing the sexual health of religious denominations, using the UUA as a model.

Haffner is the endorsed community minister at the Unitarian Church in Westport, Conn.

“One of the things our study found,” she said, “was that we are one of the only denominations not requiring our candidates to be trained in sexual harassment prevention and misconduct prevention. Almost all of the other mainline Protestant denominations either require it of their candidates or of their people in the first few years of ministry.”

She added that ministers typically face a wide range of sexuality-related issues in their ministries. “Every clergy person is dealing with people who have histories of sexual abuse, domestic violence, issues related to intimacy and their marriages, and issues related to their adolescent children and their aging parents. We need to have clergy who have the skills to competently address them. . . . This is catching up to doing what’s right.”


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