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Life, Sex, and Other Daily Queries

Posted by Carey McDonald // September 28th 2012 // soundings, Stories and Voices // no comments

At this year’s General Assembly in Phoenix, we Unitarian Universalists voted to consider the profound issue of reproductive justice over the next three years. Chosen as our Congregational Study Action Issue, reproductive justice incorporates reproductive choice, parenting, sexual health and other issues into a single framework.  The idea of “reproductive choice” is, and has been, an important battle over the privacy of women’s bodies, but the “reproductive justice” movement expands the framework to four goals: 1) help people (not just women) have the children they want to have; 2) help people to not have the children they don’t want to have; 3) allow people to raise their children in save and healthy environments; and 4) live fully into their sacred gift of sexuality, without judgment and penalization (click here to read more about reproductive justice).

Our work for reproductive justice, as I see it, will bring us face to face with queries that drill into the most holy of our principles for an answer, bind us in tense conversations and more intimate community in the answering, and spotlight us in the public sphere with those answers. To question, truly, can be an answer, yes, but I also think that some answers are essential. For all the questions that UUs love to ask about the afterlife and God and good and evil, I want to push us a moment here to imagine venturing an answer to those questions, as a denomination. In my opinion, I think we need to do this for ourselves and for the world.  Here’s a quick story for illustration. The query is:

“When does life begin?”

In preparing a study guide on reproductive justice, I researched various religions and what they say about the beginning of human life.  Of the eight religions I chose, only two have an unequivocal understanding of when human life begins – at conception – and those are our opponents. Their position on this particular issue is the keystone of their whole approach.

For us, the argument isn’t about personhood or even abortion – it’s about respecting individual decision-makers – I know. But what if we didn’t shy away from this question? What if we could put our heads together over the next four years and decide when we UUs think personhood begins. But think what that could mean… imagine the conversations we could have about the sacredness of life, about creation and prayer and science.

I first learned the word “query” from Quakers – I went to a Quaker college that was run on the five testimonies – simplicity, integrity, equality, peace, and consensus government.  They use queries to start the conversation: open-ended questions, asked honestly, that require some introspection and thought. Quakers are good at sitting with uncertainty, which is one of the things I admire most about them. They sit, and wait, knowing that that of God is there inside their bodies, and they try to quiet out the rest of it so they can hear.

So though I can’t tell you when UUs would answer “When does life begin?”, I can tell you that our answer will matter, and that it’s not “mission impossible.”

Here another such query, that drives to the heart of who we are as a faith movement and one that comes up all the time in my work:

“Where does this ‘inherent worth and dignity’ come from? Why do we care, spiritually, about the reproductive and sexual wholeness of people we’ve possibly never met?” 

Can you imagine the impact of our answer, for ourselves and our society?

Or how about this one, which I’m coming into an answer to,

So what if human sexuality is sacred?”

Or maybe this one,

“How do we know what makes a difference?”

Well, actually that one I think we know. We know that our beliefs can save lives, and that our ministry out in the world matters to us and to lots and lots of other people who would hear it.

We can go ahead and write letters to Congress about this and that, we can even partner with great groups like SisterSong or the National Latina Institute, and I think what the world needs is us; the most authentic and complex and impactful ‘us’ that we can be. The queries that rumble around just under the surface of the reproductive justice movement are questions we need to let get under our skin, where Quakers say God is. I’m so excited by this opportunity for our faith to engage with these questions. I hope you are too.


Jessica Halperin is a young adult and serves as the UUA Women’s Issues Program Associate.

About the Author

Carey is the Director of Outreach for the UUA.
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