A Christian Social Worker’s View of Sexuality

SedlacekD0814As a social work educator, I teach a courses on Human Sexuality and Marriage and Family at Andrews University.  In my years of teaching this course, I have found that only about 10% of the students received solid instruction about the topic of sexuality from their parents. The rest have learned about sex and sexuality from a class in school, from their peers or friends, from reading books, or by trial and error.  If we assume that these students represent a cross-section of the Christian community, we are failing our children miserably when it comes to this extremely important topic.

If parents are not comfortable embracing their own sexuality, it will be difficult for them to comfortably speak about it with their children.  Many Christians labor under the misconception that sex is dirty, something to done in the dark, and certainly not talked about openly.  When many parents finally get up the courage to give “the talk” to their children, they do so with great discomfort because they are burdened with their own sexual shame or embarrassment. While many in our society have swung to the opposite extreme of endorsing sexual permissiveness where “anything goes,” our enemy, Satan, is happy to lead us to either extreme as long as we do not see God’s beautiful plan for human sexuality.

As Christian social workers, we are in a unique position to present God’s perspective on human sexuality. First of all, God created humans as sexual beings.  That makes sex good in God’s eyes.  Sex is intimately connected with both marriage and the Sabbath, the twin institutions established at creation.  The marriage aspect of sexuality addresses first God’s command to “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28 NKJV).  The use of sex to join God as co-creators in His work of reproduction is one of the highest honors that God bestows on His children.  God also places sexual intimacy within the context of human relationships.  That implies that sexuality is essential to the maintenance of the relationship itself. Sexual expression is a potential source of intimate connection between two human beings, male and female, who long to know and be known by another.  This longing mirrors that of God Himself as expressed in Jesus’ final prayer before His passion and death “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3 NKJV).

The Sabbath aspect of human sexuality recognizes that it was intended by God to be a form of worship.  While we in our fallen humanity tend to look at sex primarily from a pleasure perspective – and this was certainly one of God’s intentions – sexual expression recognizes the headship of God in the marital relationship.  This perspective challenges us to see sexual expression as a holy act where we can not only connect with one another as humans, but also connect with God.  Recognizing that God is with us during times of intimacy, and that He is rejoicing with us when we reach orgasmic pleasure, can be a great antidote to sexual shame.  Why should we be sexually intimate only with the lights out and with clothes on when our Creator delights in our pleasure?  When God created Adam and Eve, “they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25 NKJV).

As God invites us to rest on the Sabbath and to commune with Him in worship on the day He set apart as holy, God invites us to worship Him while having intercourse.  Have you thought about praying in worship before, during, and after sexual intimacy?  If God is truly head of your marriage, and this is an essential aspect of your marriage, giving Him praise during times of intimacy is not only appropriate but essential.  It is appropriate not only to praise God, but to ask Him to bless your sexual expression and to make it as enjoyable as possible.  And when you are done and enjoying a time of deep rest, it is appropriate to thank God for what He has blessed you to both give and receive.

While sex is an encounter between two bodies, God intends it to be a deep encounter between two persons.  It is easy to focus only on the physical pleasure of intercourse, but being totally open and vulnerable to another human being requires a going out of oneself and also focusing on the other.  True intimacy takes time.  One of the greatest arguments for faithful monogamy is that it takes years of encounter with another human being to really “know” them.  The glory of connecting with them and losing yourself in the encounter cannot be truly adequately described.

David Sedlacek has been a social worker for 40 years.  He has worked largely in the areas of addiction, abuse and relationships. He has been a member of NACSW for 8 years. For additional information on this topic, David recommends that you check out the Marriage & Family Health Center website.

A Fresh Start!

Isaiah 43: 19: See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (NIV)


Rhonda-HudsonI have the distinct honor and privilege to serve on the board of directors of a faith-based agency in my community. One of the agency’s programs is called Fresh Start.

The men who are clients at Fresh Start have the opportunity to  become part of a transitional landscaping work crew that maintains commercial and residential properties in the community. Working for Fresh Start allows the clients to earn a salary and gain valuable work experience, which often leads to further employment – and in some cases, to begin all over again!

What is most phenomenal about Fresh Start is that the clients it employs are part of “Open ARM,” which is the Day Center for homeless men in our community! Many of the clients have no job, no substantive job history, and often, few developed work skills. Yet, they have the God-given ability to hope and dream of a new beginning, and through this amazing program they are given the opportunity to pursue the dream of a meaningful job which provides a regular paycheck, as well as the “integrity found in a week’s work” (http://www.areareliefministries.org/services/homeless-and-housing/fresh-start/, 2014).

At this time of year, many of us also may need a “fresh start,” which may mean beginning a new day and/or life season, or finding balance in a very busy life. Just as God has provided a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland for our “Fresh Start” employees, He does the same for us as we pour our hearts into our clients and students. Although our “fresh starts” may not be as life changing as those for the “Fresh Start” employees, our beginnings, new seasons, and balance-finding can be as challenging – and sometimes, as scary. That is because in seeking our own fresh starts, we sometimes extend a great amount of energy, and often become over-extended, which further complicates our ability to be renewed!

The good news is that when we take the time to find times of rest and reflection, we realize that our energies, creativity, inspiration and dedication return! God gives new mercies every morning, for great is His faithfulness to us (Lamentations 3:23, NIV). In return, we become renewed, and our clients and students benefit, as well as our families and friends!

As we begin again in new days, seasons, and/or balance-finding, may we find strength, wisdom courage, and renewed dedication in the overflow to serve our clients and students well!

Rhonda is a professor and acting BSW Director in the School of Social Work at Union University, in Jackson, TN. She teaches several courses in the curriculum, including HBSE I & II, and Research & Statistical Methods. She formerly worked with HIV+ clients in Miami, FL before earning her PhD, and serving in academia. She is mom of three young men, Percy, Ronald and Ryan.

Do You See the Crowds?

SaundersE0814I have this ideal that social work, particularly Christian social work, should be about helping people, making a difference, and changing lives.  I found this profession after living through my own tough life experiences.  I’m the kind of person for whom being a Christian and going to church brings meaning to my life, but my faith is more real when it is lived out through action.  When I was doing direct practice, I found the experience of working with hurting people very rewarding and a direct extension of my faith.

I believe that being a Christian is, at its heart, being an imitator and follower of Christ.  How many times do we read in scripture that Jesus saw someone—or a crowd—and had compassion for them?  It’s what he did every day of his ministry.  He met them at their point of need, treated them with love, spoke truth, and went on to address their underlying needs.  He loved them for who they were, but called them to become more.  And he loves us and calls us to become more.  That’s what I call Christian social work!

But what do I spend much of my time doing?  I’m busy with fundraising, measuring outcomes, budgets, accreditation, personnel issues, board and committee meetings, and so on.  So what if my work at times seems mundane?  Does what I do still matter if I’m not meeting with clients every day?  There’s no question that it does.  When I am skillful and effective, I bring greater resources and new approaches to dealing with my community’s challenges.  Because the problems of hunger, poverty, and homelessness are much bigger than any agency or program, it takes even harder work, more prayer, and more partners to make a difference.

I’m finding a new calling in Matthew 9:36-38, which says:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”


My eyes may be more focused on crowds than individuals these days, and my work may be more focused on calling and equipping laborers, but at heart, it’s still about serving that scared, hungry, desperate person that Jesus looked at and loved, and realizing that’s how God still loves me.

Eric Saunders received his MSW from Indiana University, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a sometimes adjunct instructor of social work at Messiah College, and serves as executive director for New Hope Ministries in south-central Pennsylvania.  In 2014, Eric was honored to receive the Frank Grady Outstanding Professional Award for human service.

Do They Know I’m a Christian By My Love?

Helen

Thirty years ago this month, I stood at an altar and pledged my love and life to my incredible spouse.  We chose a song with this closing line:  “They will know we are Christians by our love,” to testify that day of our love for Christ, for each other, and for a hurting world.  We believed that our marriage would multiply our ministries, our lives of service.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that concept this summer so many years later and the scripture it is based on: “By this shall all know that you are my disciples, by your love for one another” (John 13:35).  I pray others have seen Christ’s love in us.  I am concerned that, as part of the church, the body of Christ, it sometimes seems that the church is not really known for love these days as much as for judgment, for elitism, for condemnation, for rejection, as though it is ours to do the sorting of wheat from chaff, or goats from sheep.  I am also guilty of judging more than loving.

I was in our nation’s capital this last week and attended a workshop presented by two pediatricians whose specialty area is adolescence.  They taught about assessment and intervention with suicidal teens and substance using teens and GLBT teens.  And the physicians taught the strengths perspective model, not the traditional medical model of identifying pathology.  They included alarming statistics about suicide rates, particularly in GLBT youth.  One said that he had been an ER physician and an ICU physician and that he had saved more lives by being a gay affirming doctor than all of the patient lives he had saved in the ER and ICU.  He defined gay affirming by saying that he loves each patient, just as they are. He listens to them without judgment. He identifies their strengths, what is right with them, their resilience, their care for others, the things about each one that is special and admirable and he tells them that. So they trust him to tell him their pain and health risks and concerns.  His instruction to the  interns and residents who train with him is that every medical work up and consultation they bring to him starts with an identifying sentence, i.e. “Michael is a 17 year old white male with pneumonia and”…..then the second sentence….”and I love him because…” Years go Dallas Holm sang a song with the line:  “I saw the Lord…and He saw me.”  These teens are seen by their doctors; really seen, not judged.  Loved,  just as they are.

As I prepare for the NACSW conference in November and presenting with my colleague, Jon Singletary, a workshop on best practices with GLBT persons, I have been nervous about the controversy this conversation may generate. NACSW is interested in generating more light than heat. I have worried that I might be judged for not being “Christian enough” or not representing my University with integrity.  My husband has worried about incivility at the workshop….i.e. harsh responses from my peers and colleagues.

One participant in the DC conference I just attended, a conference for persons concerned with military connected children, noted that the doctors I mentioned earlier presented the first such workshop at this conference and thanked them for their courage.  There was applause.  At military child education conference included a presentation by doctors in the armed services where love was the theme and where there was courage speak about their care for persons who have been judged and marginalized by….me….and perhaps by you.

Jesus is my model of courage. He ate with sinners and saints, tax collectors and poor fishermen, prostitutes and priests, lepers and leaders.  His courage cost him.  His courage gave us….everything…including courage.  Let the conversation of love begin.

Helen is a social worker with experience in child care, foster care and adoptions, and hospice and grief.  She is celebrating 44 years as a Christ follower and believes her relationship with Jesus Christ to be the most important information about her.  Helen is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at Baylor University where she teaches advanced practice in the Physical and Mental Health Concentration.  She has been a member of NACSW since 1999. 

To Every Thing There is a Season: Christian Social Workers’ Secret Weapon for Renewal

DrummRWeb

Have you ever gotten to the place in your work life that you wondered to yourself, “Why am I doing this? This is just not worth it!” Maybe it was after a bad day, a tough week, a difficult month, or an overwhelming year. I’ve just gone through a season of “WHY?” and as many of you know, that can be a painful place to be. But the experience is part of being human and in the field of social work, it is somewhat predictable. We expect tough times and seemingly insurmountable challenges. We anticipate seasons of difficulty.

In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon discusses the various “seasons” of life and having a season for everything. Paraphrasing Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a season to do social work with your whole heart, soul, and strength, and a season to step back, reflect, and renew.”

Last fall, during a particularly foggy period in my work life, I listened to a podcast by Christian writer and speaker, Bill Hybels, on this passage in Ecclesiastes. Hybels suggests that Solomon’s message for us is that to grow as Christians we should: (1) recognize the season we are in; (2) determine what the Lord wants us to learn from the season; and then (3) “move on” to the next season of our lives (Are You Satisfied Part 2, 2013).

I think this is particularly true for Christian social workers. Truth be told, I had been engaged in a season of “How much can one person possibly do (all good things, of course) and still survive?” for several years. The season of crazy over-commitment had gone on long enough and the Lord was leading in a new direction and to a new season. It was time to move on, to engage in self-care, and regain a genuine interest in the welfare of others. I realized with all that I was taking on, deep in my heart, I really didn’t care like I used to. Of course I continued to pretend to care. I had the “right” empathetic responses, but I had stopped having that passion for loving people that is so vital in providing service to others.

Understanding the “seasons” of life and how to navigate them has helped me take a step back this year from feeling overwhelmed, burdened, and at times wondering if I am making any difference at all in the world. Solomon’s reflections on the seasons of life reminded me why I ultimately do what I do and to whom I am accountable as I use my time and talents on this earth.

The Ecclesiastes passage reassures me that there is a reason for the season, I can learn something from every season I find myself in, and when I have learned the lessons I need to, I can confidently move on. Taking this quiet time of reflection provided me with a new perspective on that painful season and allowed me to come to my work life renewed and ready to serve once again.

Dr. Rene Drumm writes from Collegedale, Tennessee. She has served in higher education for over 20 years and has published research on small social work programs, substance abuse, social capital, sexual orientation, and domestic violence. Rene is a member of NACSW’s Board of Directors, and has been a member of NACSW since 2001.