On Feb. 6, we were honoured to be able to present the next speaker in our consent series during the University of Calgary’s Sex Week. Psychologist Jill Thompson brought her facilitation skills to the Women’s Resource Centre for a workshop we entitled, “Sex, Shame, & Christianity.” This topic is something Thompson is passionate about and is working to bring more conversations about Christianity and sex to communities throughout the city.
From a Campus Ministry perspective, we knew we needed to begin addressing some of the problems that Christianity has contributed to. This topic, while difficult, is a very important one for young adults on campuses today. There is so much shame associated with certain types of sexuality and even the act of sex itself, and a lot of that shame has come from our church. We wanted to offer young adults the chance to address it in a space conducive to a positive discussion. And the response to the discussion was overwhelmingly positive. The 28 participants were able to tell their stories, and discuss their frustrations in a braver space; and in the end, were thrilled with Thompson and her workshop.
In Thompson’s view, this discussion is about sexuality as much as it is consent and power. And she knows that bringing problems to light is one of the best ways of dealing with something.
“One of the things I believe is naming something takes away its power,” said Thompson during the workshop.
To begin, Thompson asked participants to create two separate word association lists; one for faith and one for sexuality. Check out the wordclouds to see what words the group came up with.
While listing the words was important, Thompson wanted participants to see something else. That quite often you can switch words between faith and sexuality and they would fit in either category. Too often words, categories, aspects of our lives are put in the binary when really they fit in a spectrum or all over the place in our lives. Seeing this connection between faith and sexuality was a light bulb moment for some of the participants and opened the floor to very interesting discussions.
Following this, we discussed difficult jargon created by Christianity and the impacts this jargon had on the way participants view themselves, sex, and their sexuality. This is where participants were able to get very honest with the group and with themselves, leading to powerful and world-opening views being shared. With the diverse backgrounds of participants - from conservative Christians to liberal Christians, to Muslims, to atheists, to agnostics, and everything in between - we were able to see a broad spectrum of just how much Christianity's views on sexuality have reverberated throughout not just the religion but culture itself.
Despite the heavy topic, and heavy emotions being felt, participants were happy to have participated in this conversation. This was only the start, this was but a minor place for us to start discussing shame and Christianity. We need to start somewhere, and we couldn’t have asked for a better start than this. This workshop followed up two-panel discussions held last year on consent, and the Campus Ministry plans to keep offering up more topics like this in the future. Consent is a major topic on campuses right now and is something everyone should be discussing and understanding better and we will keep ourselves in this conversation to help us understand where the church’s role is in this matter and where our role is as a Campus Ministry.