Let’s talk about sex…at church
April 1st, 2011
Omaha, NE – Historically, the black church has been instrumental in the success of the civil rights movement and in the improvement of family welfare for the community… by preaching, and even raising money. But, in Douglas County, for the past seven years, there’s been an epidemic in sexually transmitted diseases for people living in the area, specifically affecting blacks at disproportional rates. And with over a dozen black churches in the area, what’s being preached to the people?
At Salem Baptist Church in North Omaha, at a recent Commitment Academy session, Angel Sumter introduced her parents to the crowd: the guest speakers for the evening.
“Mr. Sumter is retired from the United States Air Force after 26 years of honorable service. Mrs. Sumter has been an educator throughout the country and is presently a teacher at the Bellevue School district… they have two daughters.”
Mr. Sumter takes the stage, and pointing to his wife, tells his audience of about 20 teens of his relationship with his wife.
“When me and her started dating, we were friends first,” he said, “then we made the commitment to be boyfriend and girlfriend, it was cool. You know, sooner or later a brother wanted a little kiss, that’s the expectation and the way it goes.”
“So, that’s what I’m trying to get you to understand,” he continued. “Expectations come along with it, ’cause that’s just the way society does it, but that’s not the way we do it as Christians.”
Organizers of the Commitment Academy said the goal is to teach youth the importance of purity for God and to abstain from sex until marriage. Lamarr Pringle is a youth pastor and the director of Young Life, another faith-based youth program at Salem Baptist Church.
“We’re real quick to point out what they did wrong,” he said. “Don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t cuss, don’t sag your pants, don’t flip your hair, don’t dress too sexy, don’t do this and that.”
“But let’s go to the why’s,” he said. “Why is this girl and this guy doing that? The “why’s”… create compassion and create a reason. And if I understand a reason, I can create compassion on it. I mean we’ve all been there and made mistakes.”
In 2004, as reported by the Douglas County Health Department (DCHD), sexually transmitted diseases, specifically Gonorrhea and Chlamydia, were at epidemic levels in Douglas County. Dr. Larry C. Menyweather-Woods is a retired Black Studies Professor from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the former senior pastor of Mount Moriah Baptist Church in North Omaha. Menyweather-Woods said the church must play a role in helping the community solve this problem.
“I think … if the church is not at the table, even though some people would like to say that we no longer need the church… that’s where you’re missing the boat,” he said. “They’re missing a critical part of it, because … the advocacy role of the church made the significant difference, as far as getting the word out … before.”
In 2009, in Douglas County, about 46 percent of the reported Chlamydia cases came from black people and 62 percent of the Gonorrhea cases came from the same group. Dr. Adi Pour is the health director for the DCHD.
“Churches have been extremely open minded about it,” she said, “especially the churches who have health ministries.”
For the past seven years, many efforts have been underway throughout the community to combat the STD epidemic, including upcoming events planned in April for STD Awareness Month. But, Pour said funding has been a problem.
“There probably could be more done more, with regards to testing,” she said. “But that does cost some resources…there’s always more that could be done.”
Da’Quisha Granderson is a 22-year-old volunteer worker and mentor for Young Life.
“Just think about how many churches are just in the Omaha area,” she said, “and how much money is donated, and how much money we get for scholarships… I think we have all the avenues. We have a big church body … finances are not the issue,” she said.
Granderson said it’s difficult for churches to take a bold step into a controversial topic like STDs, teen pregnancies and premarital sex. “It’s that plague that they don’t want to be the church… to say, did you see they did this? It’s like…gossip. But the gossip is what gets the action started and what helps to stop what’s going on right now. This is an epidemic.”
Granderson said she passes out condoms, for another organization, to young people in public areas, at social events, at malls, but never at church.
“If the churches are really speaking out about it, that’s even more support,” she said. “Because it’s like we’re not condoning it, but we know it’s out there.”
“I want you to practice abstinence, but I’m not about to act like it doesn’t exist. I’m not about to act like we (don’t) have Chlamydia and Gonorrhea rates that are sky rocketing for Omaha, because it does exist.”
“So, I’m going to face reality and I’m going to act on it,” she said, “You can say a lot of things, but what are you doing to help?”