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Religion & Sexuality

RELIGION & SEXUALITY

Love​ ​Is​ ​All:​ ​A​ ​Conversation​ ​with​ ​Religious​ ​Scholars​ ​on​ ​Sexuality​ ​

by​ ​Christopher Smith​ ​and​ ​Verdell​ ​Wright

Christopher​ ​Smith​ ​and​ ​Verdell​ ​Wright​ ​go​ ​way​ ​back.​ ​They’ve​ ​been​ ​involved​ ​in​ ​numerous Christian​ ​organizations​ ​that​ ​taught​ ​them​ ​conservative​ ​views​ ​on​ ​sexuality.​ ​As​ ​time​ ​went​ ​on,​ ​the two​ ​earned​ ​theological​ ​degrees​ ​from​ ​Howard​ ​University​ ​and​ ​Wesley​ ​Theological​ ​Seminary,​ ​both in​ ​DC.​ ​They​ ​also​ ​embarked​ ​on​ ​distinct​ ​yet​ ​similar​ ​journeys​ ​of​ ​exploring​ ​their​ ​sexuality.​ ​While the​ ​lessons​ ​they​ ​both​ ​learned​ ​warrant​ ​a​ ​documentary​ ​series​ ​(NETFLIX​ ​or​ ​BUST​ ​#2022),​ ​the​ ​two share​ ​their​ ​experiences​ ​on​ ​how​ ​they​ ​developed​ ​a​ ​healthier​ ​approach​ ​to​ ​sexuality​ ​than​ ​what​ ​they were​ ​taught.

 

Christopher​ ​Smith:

The​ ​two​ ​major​ ​influences​ ​in​ ​my​ ​youth​ ​were​ ​the​ ​southern​ ​Baptist​ ​church​ ​and​ ​my​ ​conservative household.​ ​In​ ​all​ ​fairness,​ ​both​ ​influences​ ​were​ ​possibly​ ​working​ ​to​ ​their​ ​best​ ​to​ ​provide guidance​ ​in​ ​how​ ​to​ ​navigate​ ​life.​ ​Unfortunately,​ ​both​ ​implanted​ ​an​ ​undeniable​ ​fear​ ​and ignorance​ ​towards​ ​sexual​ ​exploration.​ ​Even​ ​in​ ​college​ ​I​ ​was​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​religious​ ​organizations​ ​that advocated​ ​for​ ​openness​ ​and​ ​progression​ ​yet​ ​still​ ​maintained​ ​the​ ​same​ ​toxic​ ​views. Homosexual/same​ ​gender​ ​loving​ ​people​ ​were​ ​stereotyped​ ​as​ ​sick​ ​minded,​ ​demon​ ​filled,​ ​lust driven​ ​beings​ ​and​ ​bisexuality​ ​was​ ​not​ ​even​ ​considered​ ​as​ ​real.​ ​Even​ ​though​ ​sex​ ​was​ ​frequently discussed,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​never​ ​prepared​ ​to​ ​explore​ ​my​ ​attractions​ ​or​ ​figure​ ​out​ ​what​ ​they​ ​meant​ ​for​ ​me.

After​ ​I​ ​separated​ ​myself​ ​from​ ​the​ ​church​ ​and​ ​my​ ​conservative​ ​family,​ ​I​ ​fought​ ​to​ ​look​ ​at​ ​sexual and​ ​relationship​ ​expression​ ​differently.​ ​I​ ​studied​ ​multiple​ ​religions​ ​and​ ​societies​ ​to​ ​try​ ​to​ ​find alternative​ ​views​ ​on​ ​relationships​ ​and​ ​sexuality.​ ​I​ ​expanded​ ​my​ ​historical​ ​knowledge​ ​and​ ​came​ ​to find​ ​I​ ​was​ ​not​ ​alone​ ​in​ ​how​ ​I​ ​thought;​ ​history​ ​was​ ​LITERALLY​ ​BEHIND​ ​ME.​ ​I​ ​learned​ ​that homosexuality,​ ​pansexuality,​ ​bisexuality,​ ​polyamory,​ ​and​ ​polygamy​ ​are​ ​consistent​ ​human occurrences.​ ​My​ ​studies​ ​equipped​ ​me​ ​with​ ​the​ ​courage​ ​and​ ​information​ ​to​ ​advocate​ ​for​ ​all sexualities.

​Sexuality​ ​is​ ​not​ ​something​ ​YOU​ ​ARE,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​something​ ​YOU​ ​DO.​ ​Nothing​ ​defines​ ​your​ ​sexuality absolutely​ ​but​ ​what​ ​you​ ​allow,​ ​so​ ​I​ ​choose​ ​to​ ​be​ ​the​ ​author​ ​and​ ​finisher​ ​for​ ​mine.​ ​Most importantly.​ ​I​ ​challenged​ ​myself​ ​to​ ​accept​ ​even​ ​the​ ​most​ ​uncomfortable​ ​aspects​ ​of​ ​my​ ​own attractions.​ ​Healthiness​ ​arrived​ ​when​ ​I valued​ ​my​ ​authenticity​ ​and​ ​transparency​ ​more​ ​than opinions.

 

Verdell​ ​Wright:

Sexuality​ ​wasn’t​ ​discussed​ ​in​ ​my​ ​house.​ ​I​ ​grew​ ​up​ ​in​ ​a​ ​situation​ ​that​ ​I’d​ ​call​ ​“church-adjacent.”​ ​I had​ ​the​ ​stereotypical​ ​praying​ ​grandmother.​ ​I​ ​went​ ​to​ ​church​ ​here​ ​and​ ​there.​ ​I​ ​knew​ ​the​ ​basic ideas.​ ​But​ ​church​ ​and​ ​formal​ ​Christian​ ​practice​ ​wasn’t​ ​a​ ​large​ ​part​ ​of​ ​my​ ​upbringing.

That​ ​doesn’t​ ​mean​ ​that​ ​I​ ​was​ ​able​ ​to​ ​avoid​ ​conservative​ ​ideas​ ​around​ ​sex.​ ​Like​ ​in​ ​many​ ​Black households,​ ​it​ ​was​ ​“don’t​ ​ask​ ​don’t​ ​tell.”​ ​I’m​ ​sure​ ​my​ ​parents​ ​were​ ​aware​ ​of​ ​my​ ​curiosities.​ ​I​ ​had girlfriends.​ ​My​ ​mom​ ​noticed​ ​that​ ​I​ ​grieved​ ​the​ ​ending​ ​of​ ​a​ ​male​ ​friendship​ ​in​ ​a​ ​way​ ​that​ ​would suggest​ ​deeper​ ​feelings.​ ​Still,​ ​the​ ​extent​ ​of​ ​my​ ​sexual​ ​education​ ​from​ ​my​ ​parents​ ​was​ ​small.​ ​I didn’t​ ​get​ ​anything​ ​from​ ​my​ ​father.​ ​My​ ​mom​ ​told​ ​me​ ​that​ ​I’d​ ​have​ ​to​ ​get​ ​a​ ​job​ ​if​ ​I​ ​got​ ​someone pregnant.​ ​Everything​ ​else​ ​I​ ​learned​ ​was​ ​from​ ​hearsay,​ ​music,​ ​magazines,​ ​or​ ​pornography.

My​ ​Christian​ ​formation​ ​ramped​ ​up​ ​in​ ​college.​ ​I​ ​joined​ ​a​ ​non-denominational​ ​church​ ​up​ ​the​ ​street from​ ​Rutgers​ ​University.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​a​ ​charismatic,​ ​vibrant,​ ​and​ ​conservative​ ​church.​ ​We​ ​had testimonies​ ​of​ ​men​ ​being​ ​“delivered”​ ​from​ ​homosexuality.​ ​Descriptions​ ​of​ ​soul​ ​ties​ ​and​ ​other negative​ ​effects​ ​of​ ​premarital​ ​sex​ ​were​ ​a​ ​regular​ ​discussion.​ ​There​ ​was​ ​an​ ​emphasis​ ​on​ ​the relationships​ ​of​ ​King​ ​David​ ​and​ ​the​ ​teaching​ ​that​ ​every​ ​David​ ​needs​ ​a​ ​Jonathan​ ​to​ ​be​ ​vulnerable with​ ​them.​ ​It’s​ ​hilarious​ ​to​ ​reflect​ ​on​ ​that​ ​teaching​ ​now.​ ​I’m​ ​sure​ ​they​ ​weren’t​ ​aware​ ​that​ ​most scholars​ ​think​ ​that​ ​David​ ​and​ ​Jonathan​ ​were​ ​in​ ​a​ ​sexual​ ​relationship.

I​ ​also​ ​joined​ ​a​ ​Christian​ ​fraternity​ ​during​ ​this​ ​time.​ ​I​ ​met​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​devoted,​ ​creative people​ ​I’ve​ ​even​ ​known.​ ​I​ ​also​ ​saw​ ​first​-hand​ ​how​ ​Christian​ ​sexual​ ​politics​ ​can​ ​ruin​ ​whole communities.​ ​We​ ​didn’t​ ​want​ ​visibly​ ​feminine​ ​brothers​ ​because​ ​many​ ​brothers​ ​thought​ ​that​ ​it made​ ​us​ ​look​ ​weak.​ ​Men​ ​led​ ​the​ ​women​ ​because​ ​we​ ​had​ ​to​ ​cover​ ​them.​ ​Homosexuality​ ​was​ ​a spirit​ ​or​ ​a​ ​struggle.​ ​Getting​ ​pregnant​ ​before​ ​marriage​ ​all​ ​but​ ​rendered​ ​you​ ​as​ ​a​ ​malfunctioned believer,​ ​incapable​ ​of​ ​making​ ​quality​ ​contributions​ ​in​ ​ministry.​ ​Same​ ​if​ ​you​ ​were​ ​openly​ ​gay.​ ​In a​ ​conversation​ ​about​ ​how​ ​young​ ​a​ ​woman​ ​they​ ​would​ ​date,​ ​a​ ​brother​ ​lauded​ ​for​ ​his​ ​character remarked,​ ​“If​ ​there’s​ ​grass​ ​on​ ​the​ ​field,​ ​play​ ​ball.”​ ​That​ ​should​ ​tell​ ​you​ ​just​ ​how​ ​much​ ​of​ ​a​ ​mess our​ ​collective​ ​ideas​ ​around​ ​sex​ ​were.

Though​ ​the​ ​journey​ ​of​ ​sexuality​ ​is​ ​never​ ​ending​ ​there​ ​are​ ​a​ ​couple​ ​of​ ​tips​ ​we​ ​have​ ​discovered​ ​on our​ ​paths​ ​that​ ​may​ ​assist​ ​in​ ​navigating​ ​to​ ​and​ ​maintaining​ ​a​ ​healthier​ ​view​ ​of​ ​sexuality:

 

 Tips​ ​from​ ​Christopher​ ​Smith:

Accept Your Desires and Emotions as Authentic

Your​ ​attractions,​ ​what​ ​you​ ​feel​ ​and​ ​what​ ​you​ ​need​ ​sexually​ ​are​ ​OKAY.​ ​Those​ ​desires​ ​are​ ​not​ ​a result​ ​of​ ​deviance,​ ​they​ ​are​ ​not​ ​a​ ​result​ ​of​ ​sin.​ ​The​ ​love​ ​that​ ​you​ ​share​ ​with​ ​someone,​ ​regardless of​ ​gender/sex,​ ​identity​ ​is​ ​real.

Prepare for Loss and Mourning 

In​ ​life​ ​you​ ​will​ ​lose​ ​or​ ​experience​ ​loss;​ ​particularly​ ​in​ ​the​ ​journey​ ​toward​ ​healthier​ ​sexuality. Take​ ​the​ ​time​ ​to​ ​mourn​ ​the​ ​things​ ​that​ ​you​ ​lose​ ​and​ ​allow​ ​yourself​ ​to​ ​feel​ ​the​ ​full​ ​range​ ​of emotion.​ ​If​ ​there​ ​is​ ​one​ ​thing​ ​Jesus​ ​Christ​ ​displays​ ​through​ ​religious​ ​text​ ​is​ ​his​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​express a​ ​full​ ​range​ ​of​ ​emotion​ ​while​ ​working​ ​through​ ​life.

Do Your Own Research

No​ ​matter​ ​what​ ​the​ ​“experts”​ ​may​ ​say​ ​always​ ​search​ ​for​ ​information​ ​yourself.​ ​To​ ​live​ ​your​ ​life​ ​by somebody​ ​else’s​ ​understandings​ ​is​ ​to​ ​continually​ ​put​ ​yourself​ ​in​ ​danger​ ​to​ ​be​ ​controlled​ ​by ignorant​ ​sources.​ ​Listen​ ​to​ ​people,​ ​get​ ​multiple​ ​sources,​ ​and​ ​search​ ​your​ ​ass​ ​off​ ​on​ ​Google.​ ​The key​ ​to​ ​creating​ ​something​ ​new​ ​for​ ​yourself​ ​is​ ​having​ ​the​ ​tools​ ​to​ ​do​ ​so,​ ​information​ ​is​ ​one​ ​of them.

Engrain Yourself Into Welcoming Spaces

Support​ ​goes​ ​a​ ​long​ ​way.​ ​You​ ​may​ ​have​ ​to​ ​go​ ​outside​ ​your​ ​comfort​ ​zone​ ​to​ ​get​ ​it.​ ​Try​ ​to​ ​stay away​ ​from​ ​places​ ​where​ ​you​ ​have​ ​to​ ​constantly​ ​defend​ ​yourself,​ ​even​ ​if​ ​they​ ​are​ ​familiar.​ ​​ ​You deserve​ ​peace.​ ​Unfortunately,​ ​family​ ​is​ ​not​ ​always​ ​what​ ​we​ ​are​ ​conditioned​ ​to​ ​think​ ​family should​ ​be,​ ​and​ ​neither​ ​is​ ​friendship.​ ​Be​ ​willing​ ​to​ ​step​ ​into​ ​new​ ​spaces​ ​where​ ​your​ ​ideas, explorations,​ ​and​ ​curiosity​ ​are​ ​accepted. Your​ ​social​ ​circle​ ​can​ ​always​ ​be​ ​replaced​ ​by​ ​another.

Yeah, But Did You Die?

Buddhist​ ​philosophy​ ​teaches​ ​that​ ​the​ ​nature​ ​of​ ​existence​ ​is​ ​impermanent,​ ​interdependent,​ ​and non-​ ​substantial.​ ​As​ ​the​ ​leaves​ ​grow​ ​so​ ​do​ ​they​ ​fall,​ ​as​ ​the​ ​baby​ ​is​ ​awakened​ ​to​ ​life​ ​the​ ​old​ ​returns to​ ​sleep.​ ​The​ ​movement​ ​of​ ​life​ ​will​ ​take​ ​you​ ​many​ ​different​ ​ways​ ​and​ ​confront​ ​you​ ​with experiences​ ​that​ ​draw​ ​on​ ​your​ ​full​ ​emotional​ ​range.​ ​Understand​ ​that​ ​everything​ ​is​ ​just​ ​one​ ​point in​ ​time​ ​in​ ​life.​ ​Take​ ​the​ ​lessons​ ​and​ ​they​ ​will​ ​help​ ​you​ ​in​ ​the​ ​future.

 

Tips​ ​from​ ​Verdell​ ​Wright:

Learn to Love Your Body

Many​ ​religious​ ​backgrounds​ ​treat​ ​the​ ​body​ ​as​ ​a​ ​burden​ ​and​ ​vehicle​ ​for​ ​sin.​ ​Your​ ​body​ ​is​ ​a​ ​sacred creation.​ ​The​ ​feelings​ ​and​ ​desires​ ​that​ ​you​ ​have​ ​are​ ​not​ ​evil.​ ​Your​ ​body​ ​is​ ​a​ ​vehicle​ ​to​ ​interact with​ ​the​ ​world​ ​around​ ​you,​ ​and​ ​that​ ​is​ ​a​ ​gift​ ​to​ ​be​ ​enjoyed.​ ​Any​ ​religion​ ​that​ ​teaches​ ​you otherwise​ ​is​ ​one​ ​that​ ​you​ ​need​ ​to​ ​adjust​ ​or​ ​walk​ ​away​ ​from.

Go At Your Own Pace

Contrary​ ​to​ ​popular​ ​belief,​ ​you​ ​are​ ​free​ ​to​ ​explore​ ​your​ ​sexuality​ ​when​ ​it’s​ ​comfortable​ ​to​ ​you. There​ ​is​ ​no​ ​time​ ​table​ ​that​ ​applies​ ​to​ ​everyone.​ ​I’m​ ​actually​ ​glad​ ​that​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​become​ ​sexually active​ ​well​ ​into​ ​my​ ​adulthood​ ​because​ ​that​ ​gave​ ​me​ ​the​ ​time​ ​to​ ​figure​ ​myself​ ​out.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​able​ ​to make​ ​decisions​ ​that​ ​made​ ​sense​ ​for​ ​me​ ​with​ ​the​ ​wisdom​ ​capacity​ ​of​ ​an​ ​adult.​ ​This​ ​allowed​ ​me​ ​to avoid​ ​many​ ​of​ ​the​ ​pitfalls​ ​that​ ​come​ ​with​ ​early​ ​sexual​ ​exploration,​ ​which​ ​often​ ​takes​ ​place before​ ​many​ ​are​ ​emotionally​ ​and​ ​mentally​ ​prepared​ ​to​ ​handle​ ​the​ ​consequences​ ​and responsibilities​ ​of​ ​sex.

Your Sexuality Is Not Your Character

Gay​ ​people​ ​were​ ​always​ ​discussed​ ​as​ ​deviant​ ​or​ ​somehow​ ​immoral.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​work​ ​through​ ​all​ ​of that​ ​as​ ​I​ ​learned​ ​to​ ​accept​ ​my​ ​sexuality.​ ​I​ ​also​ ​had​ ​to​ ​work​ ​through​ ​many​ ​stereotypes​ ​of​ ​what​ ​a gay​ ​man​ ​could​ ​be.​ ​Unfortunately,​ ​some​ ​of​ ​those​ ​stereotypes​ ​are​ ​even​ ​upheld​ ​by​ ​other​ ​gay​ ​men. Your​ ​character,​ ​your​ ​personality,​ ​your​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​how​ ​you​ ​want​ ​to​ ​move​ ​through​ ​the​ ​world​ ​is yours​ ​to​ ​decide.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​not​ ​one​ ​way​ ​to​ ​be​ ​gay,​ ​Black,​ ​or​ ​anything​ ​else.​ ​No​ ​expression​ ​is​ ​better than​ ​another,​ ​so​ ​long​ ​as​ ​it​ ​doesn’t​ ​denigrate​ ​anyone​ ​else’s.

Learn Consent

A​ ​rigorous​ ​understanding​ ​of​ ​consent​ ​is​ ​vital​ ​to​ ​healthy​ ​sexuality.​ ​Given​ ​how​ ​prevalent​ ​sexual assault​ ​is​ ​in​ ​all​ ​communities,​ ​it’s​ ​important​ ​to​ ​know​ ​what​ ​consent​ ​is​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to​ ​protect​ ​yourself. It’s​ ​also​ ​important​ ​to​ ​know​ ​to avoid​ ​offend​ing ​someone ​else’s​ ​boundaries.​ ​Most​ ​conservative religious​ ​spaces​ ​don’t​ ​teach​ ​consent.​ ​Their​ ​only​ ​word​ ​is​ ​“don’t​ ​do​ ​it.”​ ​That’s​ ​not​ ​helpful​ ​or instructive.​ ​There​ ​are​ ​lots​ ​of​ ​excellent​ ​resources​ ​online​ ​discussing​ ​consent.​ ​For​ ​now,​ ​grasp​ ​the understanding​ ​that​ ​a​ ​“yes”​ ​to​ ​any​ ​sexual​ ​activity​ ​should​ ​be​ ​an​ ​​enthusiastic​ ​yes​ ​(why​ ​would you​ ​want​ ​to​ ​have​ ​sex​ ​with​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​isn’t​ ​excited​ ​about​ ​it?)​ ​and​ ​a​ ​“no”​ ​means​ ​stop​ ​without​ ​any qualification.

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Christopher​ ​N.​ ​Smith​ ​is​ an educator,​ ​community​ ​builder,​ ​father,​ ​relationship​ ​advocate​ ​and​ ​passionate​ ​about​ ​increasing awareness​ ​and​ ​support​ ​for​ ​non-monogamous​ ​relationships​ ​structures.​

Instagram​ ​&​ ​Twitter:​ ​@MrTenability

Verdell​ ​Wright is​ ​a​ ​preacher,​ ​speaker,​ ​and​ ​teacher​ ​who​ ​loves​ ​to​ ​highlight​ ​alternative​ ​routes​ ​for spiritual​ ​practice.​ ​@Verdell.org​.