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Church should promote safe sex message

Churches should develop more sophisticated ways to talk with young people about sex says an experienced youth minister.

Anglican Youth Network Facilitator Tikanga Pakeha John Hebenton argues churches should discuss sexuality with young people more openly and avoid simple distinctions between celibacy and casual sex.

“The abstinence argument is generally posed in black and white: no sex outside of marriage. But this buys into the predominant views about sexuality, that it’s about getting your rocks off.

“It doesn’t let us present the alternative view that sex happens within deeply committed relationships and is an expression of love and concern for another person. It can also set up the situation where young people get married so they can have sex, and some of those marriages don’t last.”

John agrees the Church should emphasise celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage. It should also be more open about the fact that sex occurs outside these limits.

“I have worked with Christian young people, some of them youth ministers, who have become pregnant. They had to retreat from scene though they were good Christians because they had no way to deal with it.

“It is an issue for Pakeha and Polynesians congregations. If sex is a taboo subject, no one knows how to deal with it and the consequence is unwanted pregnancies and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). New Zealand has some of the world’s highest rates of teen pregnancies and STDs in the world. How does the church address this?”

The bible can help us explore the nature of sex, rather than just where you can or can’t have sex, John says.

“Sex shouldn’t just be about my physical need. It is about how I offer myself to the person I am committed to. To just talk about where you can and can’t have sex leaves it at the physical need level.

“The biblical view is more counter-cultural than that. It says sex isn’t about me at all! But we don’t often talk to young people in those kinds of terms.”

On one hand, John says, sex among teenagers is lower than it is generally portrayed. Statistics from New Zealand health surveys show this to be the case. He has heard of parents who won’t let their children go on church camps because they fear what could happen. On most occasions, however, nothing improper happens.

On the other hand, young people do sometimes “slip up”, John says. On those occasions, they should know about safe sex so they are protected.

“The role of Christians should be to present their case about why they believe sex shouldn’t happen until marriage but this message should come with a touch of reality. We should let young people know what we hope and expect but they you choose to have sex safety is paramount.”