It appears that on matters related to the intersection of human sexuality and religion in North America, there is a strong tendency to form opposing, non-communicating groups. We refer to them as "solitudes" in this web site. They throw verbal rocks at each other. They duke it out in the media. They organize demonstrations. Unfortunately, as in every war, truth and accuracy are often the first fatalities. Only on very rare occasions will they debate each other. The obvious way of harmonizing opposing belief systems -- through the use of dialogue -- is either non existent or essentially so. This can be extremely unproductive because conflict naturally causes both or all solitudes to harden their position and make resolution of their differences increasingly difficult. In a dialogue process, both or all sides enter the discussion with a desire to seek the truth and with the goal of emerging with a joint program. This enhances the chances of resolving the conflict.
In the past, most high profile cultural debates have been related to:
Race, as in debates over the abolition of slavery, elimination of desegregation, creation of equal opportunity programs, etc., and
As of 2012, the most contentious religious/cultural debates in 2012 appear to be in the area of human sexuality: both human fertility and equal treatment of sexual minorities:
On religious grounds, the Catholic church actively opposes access to contraceptive medication, supplies, and medical procedures whenever it can. They teach that every sexual act must be open to conception and thus the creation of new human life. This is based in part on the command in Genesis 1:28 in which God commands Adam and Eve -- and by implication all of their humans descendents -- to:
"Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it." (NIV version)
"Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it." (King James version).
A large majority of American adults and Protestant faith groups view contraception as a morally and ethically acceptable practice. The vast majority of the Catholic laity agrees: 98% of Catholic women have used birth control methods forbidden by the Catholic hierarchy at some time during their life; 70% are now using them while most of the remaining 30% are either past childbearing years, infertile, or sexually inactive. 1 Although many of this majority might recognize God's instruction to Adam and Eve to populate the Earth, they might recognize that there are limits to how many people the Earth can handle without overpopulation and the creation of an ecological disaster. Some women and their spouses prefer to remain childless so that they can pursue careers. Others prefer to have one or two children only. Birth control is used by most couples in order to limit the number and obtain the optimum spacing of pregnancies.
There is little dialogue about who gets to control women's fertility. We see conflict and posturing by various solitudes, but no significant level of dialogue.
Equal treatment of sexual minorities:
In a parallel situation, conservative Protestant denominations and para-church organizations mostly define homosexuality in terms of sexual behavior. They view homosexuality as an abnormal, unnatural, chosen, intrinsically sinful, and changeable lifestyle. They typically oppose the right of loving, committed same-sex couples to marry, and heavily advocate that lesbians and gay attempt to become "ex-gays" through reparative therapy and/or prayer. There is currently a growing realization among Protestants that while some lesbians and gays can be persuaded to become celibate, and some bisexuals can be motivated to restrict their relationships to members of the opposite gender, that changing a person from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation rarely if ever happens.
The Roman Catholic church largely agrees with conservative Protestant denominations that a homosexual orientation is abnormal and unnatural. They often use the term intrinsically disordered. However, they view a homosexual orientation as unchosen, fixed in adulthood, and morally neutral if not acted upon. They advocate a life of celibacy in which the individual remains sexually inactive and without an intimate partner for life.
Liberal religious denominations; lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender individuals and transsexuals; secularists, the main psychiatric, psychological, social worker professional associations; etc. view homosexuality as one of three sexual orientations that is normal and natural for a minority of adults, is discovered not chosen, is morally neutral; and is fixed in adulthood.
Webmaster's opinions (bias alert): High levels of bullying, harassment, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and even completed suicides could be drastically reduced if religious conservatives and religious liberals could only join in dialogue with human sexuality researchers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists in an honest commitment to harmonize their beliefs with reality and thus with each other. Because of what the author of this essay would describe as depraved indifference by many of these groups, dialogue is rare. Mennonites and Presbyterians have attempted dialogue, as have three Southern Baptist congregation of which we are aware; all three were expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention.
The suicide rate among lesbian gay and bisexual youth continues at a high level. The line of coffins containing the bodies of LGBT youth who just couldn't hold out hope that some day "It gets better" continues to grow. The author is deeply troubled at such a needless loss of life.
Misinformation and disinformation about the HHS birth control medication mandate by conservative information sources:
The mandate requires that health plans for female employees include access to emergency contraception (EC), like Plan B. Researchers have established that this medication works by inhibiting ovulation or by preventing fertilization. That is, they are true contraceptives.
However, many conservative religious and pro-life web sites claim that it works by inhibiting implantation in the uterus. Since these web sites typically define pregnancy as beginning at fertilization, they conclude that EC is an abortifacient. Thus we see them posting statements like:
Bishop Wall of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup, NM wrote a letter to his parishioners that is typical of letters from many other Catholic bishops:
"... the mandate includes abortion causing drugs. As stated above, HHS created this mandate after Congress asked it to develop a list of services all health plans should provide without co-pay. Instead of keeping with the prevention of diseases, HHS took it upon itself to include sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. By requiring coverage for all drugs approved for contraception and "emergency contraception" by the FDA, the mandate includes drugs that can interfere with implantation in the womb and therefore destroy the early human embryo." 2
The Family Research Council is perhaps the best known group listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-gay hate group. Reacting to the HHS mandate they wrote the following in a fundraising Email:
"Our team will remind Congress and the public that Washington-run healthcare is a moral disaster. It is a devastating attack on our religious liberties, our families, and our nation's freedom.
We will remind them that current policies will force pro-life Americans to PAY FOR abortions and abortion-inducing drugs. This includes religious employers and individuals. They will have NO CHOICE." 3
They packed an amazing number of errors into a few sentences:
The Federal Government does not run healthcare. Healthcare is run by health insurance companies and by some companies who self-insure their employees. The government merely establishes minimum content for these plans.
The HHS mandate generates religious liberties for employees by allowing them to choose to use or not to use contraceptives without cost, in accordance with their religious/moral beliefs.
Forcing "pro-life Americans to PAY FOR abortions" is not valid. The HHS mandate does not cover abortions.
The medications covered under the HHS mandate to not induce abortions; they are true contraceptives.
Employers will pay the same amount to insurance companies whether one of their employees decides to take advantage of a preventative service or not.
In spite of what numerous religious information sources have stated, the root question is not whether the government has a right to limit the religious freedom of companies and agencies associated with a religious group. The root question is rather over who wins in a conflict over religious freedom:
Should the companies and agencies win the right to interfere with their employees' personal religious and moral decisions over contraceptives, or
Should the employees have the freedom to make their own religious and moral decisions independently of their employers' beliefs?