Posts Tagged ‘People are Not Objects’

Leaders: Are You Too Sexy for Your Church? So Sexy it Hurts?

Too Sexy for Church

One of my pet peeves among ministry colleagues is when they say, “I know it’s not the most sexy aspect of ministry,” about some unsung part of church-work. It has become a popular turn of phrase–almost a cliche–to talk about something in terms of how “sexy” it is.

Colleagues I know and deeply respect have said it. I won’t name names and I’ve lost track of who and how many. Just if you happen to be one, I’d like to suggest that you stop using the term “sexy” to refer to anything related to church or ministry. What follows are my reasons.

 

Four Reasons Faith Leaders Shouldn’t Use the Term “Sexy”

 

1. Stop the Obsession

Our culture is bombarded enough already with sex in advertising, sexual innuendo, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse. Too much. We as church-workers can do ministry just fine without making it look “sexy.”

It’s true that some aspects of ministry may seem a little ho-hum, but even the great moments don’t have to be “sexy” to be worthwhile.

There are so many other ways to describe ministry highlights: mountaintop experience, a holy moment, a God thing, serendipitous, great teamwork, etc. Please try saying what you want to say a different way.

 

2. Keep it Safe

Associating ministry with sex at all is just disturbing. People need church to be a safe environment not a sexualized one.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse by faith leaders happens.

Oftentimes predatory faith leaders will “groom” others beginning with small, seemingly innocent words or touch to desensitize them to the wrongness of their advances. Other times faith leaders will promise that sexualized talk or touch will have a spiritual benefit for the parishioner.

These behaviors are way out of bounds and just plain wrong. Faith leaders should never attempt to sexualize their relationship with parishioners in any way.

 

3. Words Mean Something

So you’re not a predator, you’re not “grooming” anyone. To you it’s just an analogy. But what you think of as a harmless analogy may trigger unwanted sexual thoughts for others.

I get that people use this term without intending to sexualize the church environment, but words matter and you can’t just throw around the term “sexy” without somebody thinking about sex.

And by “somebody,” I admit I am one; I’m very visual and yes, I’m going to go there in my mind…and I won’t hear another word you say.

 

4. Stop the Objectification

I don’t even like the term “sexy” when it would be more fitting because it represents a highly objectified view of sex.

I teach my son not to refer to others as “hotties” or as “sexy” because those terms treat people like objects.

Saying someone is “sexy” is saying, “I want to have sex with that person.” Such an announcement is often made with no appreciation for the personhood of the one desired or a relational context for the fantasized consummation.

Sure, most people want to be seen as attractive, even desirable, but we’re whole beings, not just play things.

 

I’m not opposed to sex. And I’m not saying that the subject should be off limits in church; in fact I think there are good and helpful ways to talk about healthy sexuality in our parishes. I just don’t think the term “sexy” accomplishes what it is intended to accomplish when used to refer to church or ministry happenings. The term itself is just a little too sexy for church–so sexy it hurts.

Teaching Kids that People Are Not Objects

Teaching kids that people are not objects can open a lot of conversations.

[Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse]

When I was in training to become a Lutheran Deaconess, one of the requirements was to learn about recognizing, responding to and preventing sexual abuse. It was my first real understanding of the dynamics of power and abuse. Now as a parent, I teach my child about abuse in age-appropriate ways so he develops healthy ideas about giving and receiving respect.

People Are Not Objects

It seems to me that a lot of abuse happens when people stop seeing others as people. In this distorted and sinful perception of others as objects, real people are beaten, bullied, and discarded at will.

But people are not objects! They are living beings with rights, needs, and feelings. All people are worthy of dignity and respect, no matter what!

Object Lessons

I often use the phrase, “people are not objects” when I talk with my son about abuse in all forms. It is simple to grasp, yet opens many conversations.

We discussed “people are not objects” in a simple form when my son was in preschool. “We do not hit other kids because they have feelings; it is okay to hit your punching bag because it does not have feelings.”

When he was in public school, together we attended a presentation about bully-prevention. Since then we continue to talk about how bullies treat other people like objects and that is wrong. We talk about ways to avoid being bullies as well as the importance of standing up for ourselves and others.

When my son told me that his peers referred to girls as “hotties,” I told him girls are not just things to be judged by their appearance. When we discussed this year’s Super Bowl ads, he said, “You probably don’t like that ad because it treats people like objects.”

Framework for the Future

These are just a few vignettes of the types of conversations we have. While we have never had to face the horror of serious abuse, we have been talking about milder forms for years now.

I have deliberately given him words to identify the problem with treating others as objects. The framework we’ve built can support our future conversations. As the threats and temptations get more serious, we can relate new concerns to established ideals.

I recognize that I can’t protect my child from every possible threat. And as time goes on, he will be responsible for the decisions he makes in how he treats others. Still, talking with him about it throughout his life is the best way I know to help him recognize, respond to and prevent abuse in all forms. These conversations are imporant because people are not objects.