The Spirit of a living, loving and life-affirming God could be felt throughout the rooms welcoming the inaugural Alliance JUSTSEX Conference that kicked off Thursday, Oct. 18 in Nashville, Tenn.
Everything from specially written worship songs to the initial plenary talk focused on the ways in which a triune God embraces and loves the wholeness of human beings, especially in their sex and sexuality. It was all experienced by some 70 participants who gathered at the Scarritt Bennett Center to have an honest, faithful conversation designed to give Christians the tools, language and courage to talk openly about sexuality in homes and churches.
“We are here to equip you,” said Mike Castle, the conference committee chair and immediate past president of the Alliance board of directors. The gathering is sponsored, in part, by grants from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the Richard D. Huff Foundation Trust.
On Thursday night that equipping came in the forms of opening worship, a plenary session guided by Sexologist Bill Stayton and facilitated small group discussions. Even more will be added – breakout groups, Bible studies and a podcast taping – as the justice-focused conference continues today through Saturday.
“The narrative that gets hung on people who we’ve put in the shadows tends to make us skeptical about what and who created them,” preached Teresa L. Smallwood, public theology and racial justice collaborative associate director at Vanderbilt Divinity School. “Where did they come from? How do they exist?”
“But really, when we think about that Colossians passage that tells us that God is the God who is all you are, it’s hard to deny the God in me,” said Smallwood, who preached in lieu of Vanderbilt Divinity School Dean Emilie Townes after Townes was unable to attend due to a family emergency. “Know that I’m not a ghost. I am not an aberration. I’m here, and I am God’s creation.”
Minister and renowned sex educator Bill Stayton continued that theme as he spoke to the group on the topic "From Ethics to Action: New Phenomena Challenges to both the Church and Sexuality Education."
He stressed a theological position of sex that is relationship centered and looks at the motives and consequences of sex, rather than the acts themselves. “The holy scriptures, the great religious leaders like the prophets and Jesus teach about the nature of our relationships, not the acts about sex,” he said.
“That’s really what we need to follow because that’s what gives us a sense of what is moral and immoral.”
Learn more about the JUSTSEX Conference at JUSTSEX and look for videos and printed materials in the coming months.
Toya Richards is communications specialist for the Alliance of Baptists.