April is both National Minority Health and STD Awareness Month. This month we will feature blogs that focus on what we are faithfully calling, “Sexually Transmitted Silence.” The contributors will explore various aspects of silence deeply rooted in the black church and community as they relate to our sexual health and specifically STDs. Topics will include theology of silence, examining the role of shame and self-worth, the sin of silence, exploring silence as a perpetrator for the spread of STDs, and the silence of ignorance. The first blog in the series was “Deathly Silence” written by Reverend Toni Kemp. Below is the second, The Sin of Silence, written by Reverend Penny Willis.
The Sin of Silence
This post is more than simply my blog for the series; it is a glimpse into a conversation between God and I, a result of the Holy Spirit working within me.
As I sat in church on Communion Sunday a few weeks ago, thoughts of writing this week’s blog interrupted my concentration on worship. I was expecting God to give me some ideas of what to say. I was hoping God would meet me in the sanctuary of my mind as I sat in the sanctuary of the church house trying to focus on worshipping God with the other saints gathered in that place. I wanted God to give me a way to frame the thoughts that have been on my mind for the last month and that have led to this series, Sexually Transmitted Silence. I was looking for confirmation that my thoughts were Spirit-inspired and indeed God-breathed. I invite you to read this post with that understanding.
First Sunday at Trinity United Church of Christ is the day we take Communion. Before we engage in the ritual of acknowledging Jesus and his atoning sacrifice, we are asked to stand together as a congregation and corporately recite our church’s Confessions of Sins. It was during the reading, the metaphoric space between paragraphs, that God showed me what questions to pose in this blog:
Almighty and Most Merciful Father, we come before You, acknowledging our sins, our shortcomings and our breaking of our Covenant with You.
“Is it a sin to knowingly infect, transmit or put someone at risk for contraction of a sexually transmitted disease? Is it a sin to take away their choice; their agency to decide whether they are willing to risk or to definitely contract a sexually transmitted disease in this moment? Is it a sin to not be aware of the status of your sexual health, when you have access to healthcare? Is it a sin to not be a good steward of your reproductive health? ”
Not only have we done things we ought not to have done, said things we ought not to have said, left undone so many things we ought to have done and been silent when we should have been a witness for You.
“Is the thing that ought not to have been said, the lie that was told when someone asks about someone’s sexual history? Is the thing that ought not to have been done, the omission of the truth-telling before having sex with someone? Truth-telling that sounds like, ‘I need to share with you that I have…’ Is the thing that ought not to have been done, the shifting/distracting/becoming defensive/blaming and/or denying rather than admitting when confronted? Is the thing that ought not to have been done infecting someone with herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, etc.?”
Is what was left undone, the sin of being silent, not knowing our status, not responding to the cries from our bodies, that something is wrong? Is the sin of silence, the not being a witness for You, the not behaving as we ought, that our witness is not prophetic, that our witness is not gospel, that our witness is not living with integrity, that our witness is partial at best as it is left out of the bedroom?
After we recite the confession, we are asked to sit down, go into prayer and personally confess to God in silence. As part of the transition, this passage from Luke 18 is read, “He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. Two men went up the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner.’”
So, as I sat in my seat, I spoke back to God, “thank you for your Breath that gives me the ability to breathe. Thank you for the blood that takes away the sins of the world, including mine. Amen.”
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Reverend Penny Willis, M.Div. is the director of multicultural programs for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She is an ordained United Church of Christ Clergy and member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL. Reverend Penny is a certified sexual health educator. She is co-author of Faith and Healthy Sexuality and the recently revised Keeping It Real! faith-based youth sexuality curriculum for African-American youth. You can follow Reverend Penny on twitter @reverendpwillis.