Friday, August 18, 2000

Churches turn to sex education for teens




By Kim Kozlowski
Detroit News

        GROSSE POINTE, Mich. — At school Stephanie Ritok is surrounded by fellow classmates talking about sex, thinking about sex and who are sometimes sexually active.

        But at age 16, she has decided she is just not ready for it.

        “I know that I am not at all ready to have sex,” says Miss Ritok, who made that decision after a course at the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church near Detroit. “I don't think I could take the emotional aspect of it. You're giving yourself to someone completely.”

        Faith-based sex education is popping up at churches and synagogues across the nation as spiritual leaders recognize the need to expand their moral guidance to young people. After all, says the Rev. John Corrado of Grosse Pointe Unitarian, the first act in the Bible is the creation of life.

        What more appropriate place to talk about life and creation than in church, the Rev. Corrado asks.

        “We're not trying to shock or be hip,” he says. “We're trying to be solid. We want to put values into the education. This is a supportive and loving thing to do for our kids.”

        From liberal Unitarians to conservative Christians, religious leaders acknowledge that teens are living in a world that bombards them with messages about sex. And they worry that parents and schools might sometimes leave gaps in their lessons about the birds and the bees, especially in an era that includes AIDS, open discussions of homosexuality and more pressures on young people to have sex at younger ages.

        A recent United Nations report that evaluated HIV/AIDS and sex education programs in several countries concluded that good education programs delay the start of sexual activity, decrease the number of partners, reduce unplanned pregnancies and lower sexually transmitted disease rates.

        Just as denominations differ in their beliefs, sex-ed programs also vary widely.

        The Unitarian Universalist Association is very comprehensive — some might even call it liberal — and goes beyond the basics to address issues such as sexual identity, abortion and how to use birth control.

        As a youth pastor near Flint, Mich., the Rev. Jon Dorsey of the Berkley Assembly of God used to discuss what Scripture says about sex. But his teachings were more conservative. He taught from a biblical perspective of what is right (sex only within marriage) and what is wrong (homosexuality).

        “There are standards and principles that we want to teach our young people,” Rev. Dorsey says. “It is our desire they have lives pleasing to the Lord.”

        Black churches are studying statistics specific to their communities and trying to tap a remedy to teen pregnancy, says the Rev. Carlton Veazey, president of the Washington-based Religious Coalition For Reproductive Choice and founder of the sex education program, Black Church Initiative.

        Teen pregnancy rates among blacks is twice the rate of the rest of the nation, he says, and pregnancy can jeopardize a young person's future by limiting options on housing, education and career.

        Many spiritual leaders agree that sexual education, though taught differently everywhere, is a vital part of religious teaching.

       



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