A vexing situation – Sexuality
When I arrived at the seminary in 1983, it didn’t take long to figure this out. The seminary had an unspoken policy when it came to sexual behavior. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
This left me in a quandary. I’ve just walked into a seminary with a still-fresh wound inflicted by the former president. It wasn’t about homosexuality. It was about another sexual preference, though no one in her or his right mind would have called it that back then.
He had an arrangement with a second ‘wife’ with whom he enjoyed getaways for at least a couple of years. It seems no one knew what was going on until one of the seminary’s capable staff members noticed a strange charge to his credit card.
The well-kept secret was out, and his time at the seminary came to an abrupt end. No one was happy about it. He was a highly respected man, well spoken, still in the prime of his life, and one of ‘ours.’ Which means he was a member of the church denomination that had birthed the seminary.
When I was interviewed to become a professor at the seminary, the still-fresh wound was never mentioned.
‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ already had a life of its own at the seminary. It seemed to work. The seminary seemed to have good standing with constituents in the area. And if the word got out (which, of course, it did), the seminary had done the right thing. And attention quickly moved on to the bright future ahead now that this sad and unfortunate anomaly had been dealt with.
How did the seminary community process this crisis? I don’t know. I don’t recall much conversation about what had happened or how it might have changed the seminary’s thinking about sexual ethics and the abuse of power.
Doing the right thing when it comes to matters of sexuality is dicey at best. I don’t find the usual assumptions and exhortations from pulpits or other platforms helpful, though I believe we must talk about sexuality openly and honestly.
And there’s the rub. Because sexuality is complex, attempts to be open and honest can quickly devolve. Though we say we want an open conversation, we prefer a controlled environment. Many of us also arrive with our own unexamined baggage or our belief that we’ve got our own sexuality under control.
Trust, already in short supply, can quickly become nonexistent. Sometimes followed by resort to tired stereotypes and untested assumptions about people. It takes great skill and commitment to keep an open conversation open.
It seems we’re allergic to conversations that make us uncomfortable. Not simply as speakers, but as listeners. We prefer boundaries, no matter which side we’re on. Sometimes we argue about boundaries instead of talking about ourselves and our own painfully isolating secrets.
From my perspective, the seminary wasn’t skilled as a community when it came to creating safe space for open and honest dialogue about sexuality. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was the unofficial, accepted way of dealing with things. This covered the seminary’s past history as well as the past and current histories of students, faculty and staff. Unopened, unexamined pieces of luggage full of confusion and heartache.
To be continued.
©Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 March 2018