Religion, Youth and Sexuality, a multi-faith exploration, is a report by sociologists from Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities led by Dr Andrew Yip. He talked about how the team “wanted to explore how they [young people] understand their sexuality and their faith, and the significant factors that inform such understandings … “also the strategies they have developed to manage their sexual, religious, youth and gender identities.” Their research found that, although most of the young people felt their religion was a positive force in their lives, there was a strong feeling that religious leaders are out of touch with issues of sexuality. Here’s part of the article from The Guardian:
What they found was that, although most of the young people felt their religion was a positive force in their lives, there was a strong feeling that religious leaders are out of touch with issues of sexuality.
Nearly 700 people were interviewed, aged between 18 and 25. More than 72% were students, from further and vhigher education, and they came from six different traditions: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism as well as those of mixed faith. “There were, for instance, a few Christians that we interviewed who are now exploring Buddhism,” Yip says before confirming that, yes, Buddhists are more liberal on issues of homosexuality and sexual diversity. “Broadly speaking, our Muslim and Christian respondents tended to hold more conservative views.”
Those who took part initially filled in an online questionnaire. Later, there were face-to-face interviews and, in some cases, week-long video diaries were recorded. Extracts from the diaries are printed in the report, revealing considerable inner torment in some cases. “There are young people finding it enormously difficult to combine their religion with their sexuality, especially if they are lesbian or gay,” says Dr Sarah-Jane Page, a colleague of Yip’s at Nottingham’s school of sociology and social policy.
A bisexual woman who is an Orthodox Jew says: “I can’t see myself living in a long-term relationship with another woman because of my community and my religion. I had a relationship with a girl,” she goes on, “and, at some point, I realised that I was gay. But I didn’t feel comfortable being Orthodox Jewish and gay, in that I don’t want to live in a fringe community … I couldn’t leave Orthodox Judaism. That’s my home, my people, where I feel comfortable.”
A bisexual Muslim man is quoted as saying: “Telling my parents … maybe I will feel very relieved, but if it did get out into the community, it will just hurt my parents, and I know it will be hard for me to face the community again. Maybe I’ll be thrown from the mosque … It’s quite scary.”
Despite these painful dilemmas, Dr Michael Keenan from Nottingham Trent University says: “The majority of religious young adults felt their religion was a positive force in their lives, and many felt that their faith was the most important influence on their sexual values and practices.”
However, there is strong feedback from the survey suggesting that religious leaders don’t know enough about sexuality. According to Yip, “Other respondents consider institutional religion a social control mechanism that excessively regulates gender and sexual behaviour, without sufficient engagement with young people themselves.”
He goes on: “We’d like to see the creation of more safe places in religious communities for young people to engage with religious professionals so they can talk with honesty in the full recognition that they are not being judged. What we’re trying to encourage is more dialogue with young people as equal partners rather than a top-down approach. Young people need to be listened to. They have experiences and opinions that are sometimes in contrast with what religious professionals have in mind.”
Nearly a third of the 693 young people interviewed believe that celibacy is fulfilling, and more than 83% support the idea of monogamous relationships. Surprisingly, perhaps, more men than women felt that celibacy would be fulfilling, though whether they had themselves or their sisters in mind is not clear.
Do you have any thoughts on this, how could we create more safe places in church for young people to speak and discuss honestly without feeling like they’re being judged?