Chaplains Discuss Love, Sex, and Faith

Sex, Love, and Faith
Christine E Mansour

Chris Stedman speaks about his memoir, Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, at PBHA on Tueday evening.

Two chaplains discussed the intersection between faith and relationships with audience members during a panel entitled “Love, Sex, and Faith” on Tuesday night.

The panel, which was sponsored by the Harvard Chaplains, was one event of many being held during Harvard’s annual Sex Week, a seven-day period during which various organizations host panels, lectures, events, and discussions pertaining to questions of sex and sexuality.

As the evening progressed, the event became more of an open conversation between audience members and the panel, which included Christopher D. Stedman, an assistant Humanist chaplain at Memorial Church, and Emily J. Garcia, a Kellogg Fellow at the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard.

The conversation centered around the ways in which faith and relationships relate to each other in everyday life.

Meghan E. Magee ’15, an organizer of Harvard’s Sex Week, said that the discussion played into Sex Week’s larger goal of bringing topics of sex and sexuality to the forefront of college life.

“I think it is important to have safe spaces for conversations about sex, sexuality, and relationships whether they relate to faith or something else,” said Magee.

“I love that there is a week dedicated to education and dialogue about sexuality,” Stedman said. “I think this dialogue is very important because too often we avoid conversations about religion/non-religion, about sexuality, and about their intersections....There is a lot to gain by normalizing these conversations rather than allowing them to remain taboo.”

He added that part of his goal as a chaplain was to “help facilitate a space where students can ask questions, particularly difficult ones.”

Garcia said that she hoped to bring her unique experience as someone who has transitioned between faiths to the conversation.

“Belief in God has always been the first place from which I made my decisions,” she said. “The biggest change came when I converted from the Evangelical to the Episcopal Church, because my views of physical intimacy changed.”

Stedman echoed the importance of bringing a personal experience to the discussion of the issues of faith and relationships.

“As a humanist I try to approach all relationships with an understanding that every human being contains both amazing potential and real shortcomings, and I try to employ reason and compassion in equal measure in all of my relationships,” he said.

Both panelists said that they hoped that audience members could gain a new level of understanding from engaging in difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversations.

“I hope people learn that this discussion of faith and relationships is a useful and interesting conversation to have with religious communities and friends,” Garcia said.

In general, panelists said that the importance of Sex Week and its role in campus life cannot be overlooked.

“Sex week is so valuable because it is essential that people are able to have open conversations about sexuality at all points of life, but perhaps especially in a college environment,” Stedman said.

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