In the mid 1980s Universal Building Supplies, Inc., was contracted to create a scaffolding for work that was to be done on the Statue of Liberty. At their web site, the company offers some unique perspective on how they responded to several of the challenges they faced in taking on such a daunting task.
This past week I spoke at a local church that had just completed a series on sexuality. They asked if I would do a training with their staff on how to respond to issues that arise within the local Body of Christ. The image I drew upon was that of scaffolding, an intentional framework that is set in place around a structure so that work can be done to restore that structure to its original design. When the scaffolding is removed, the structure stands on its own. One limitation in this metaphor is that the Body of Christ need not be absent in the life and struggle of the individual congregant. Rather, a scaffold can always be in place. But there are times when people benefit form more structure, more support, as they work through an issue in their life.
We first discussed the kinds of issues that are being seen in the local church. These include issues with pornography, affairs, sexual addiction, sexual identity concerns, gender identity concerns, and other issues. A similar list could be generated at nearly every large church in the U.S., I imagine.Whenever a church does a series on sexuality, there is inevitably a “flare up” of issues. Not that these are new, but rather that they come to the surface as the topic has been discussed. People may seek help for the first time. People may see this as a time to finally make some headway in an area where they have previously felt stuck.
We then discussed the common fears congregants have around even talking with a staff member about sexual issues. The include fear that no one can help them (which is fundamentally a question about competence – can YOU help ME?), fear of exposing secrets (an affair, for example), fears related to sharing one’s values (and the subsequent fear of being judged), and fear that they are talking about a topic that “no one will understand” (for example, an issue that they believe is rare, such as perhaps a fetish or other concern).
I then did a little teaching on a biopsychosocial/spiritual perspective on sexual concerns, identifying ways in which each of these can be “weighted” differently for different people and different concerns. Unfortunately, mental health fields often emphasize biopsychosocial considerations to the neglect of spiritual considerations. The opposite can also be true: churches emphasize spirituality to the neglect of biological, psychological, and/or sociocultural considerations. Good science in this area complements a Christian worldview. So not only is there complexity here in presentation that should be understood and discerned, but how a staff person thinks about an issue and the language that the staff person uses may be important.
We then discussed local community resources, including those within this specific church. We discussed local clinicians who provide individual, couple, family, and group therapy options. We discussed local ministry options.
We also talked about practical ways in which you meet someone where they are, recognize the nature of the struggle, use “parts” language to identify their ambivalence (as most people have mixed feelings about “giving up” something that has met their felt needs), and then help to “grow” the part of them that is wanting to make meaningful changes in this part of their life.
Scaffolding around sexuality means providing structured support. The local church community is in a unique position to do this and to work with others in the community to offer a framework for recovery, healing, and restoration in many areas related to sexuality.