Finding documents relating to the sexual revolution within UUism, 1965-1985

The sexual revolution has both direct and indirect effects on Unitarian Universalism. Persons who were part of Unitarian Universalism experienced the sexual revolution in their personal lives, the work place, etc., and these experiences indirectly affected Unitarian Universalism; since experiences are not peculiar to Unitarian Universalists, strictly speaking they do not relate to the history of the sexual revolution within Unitarian Universalism.

When I think about those aspects of the sexual revolution that most directly affected Unitarian Universalism, I think of the following, in no particular order: sexuality education, sexual experimentation, LGBTQ rights, theological stances, feminism and the Women and Religion movement, marriage and divorce. Each of these aspects of the sexual revolution had a direct impact on local congregations and the denomination as a whole, as well as on individual Unitarian Universalists.

For each of these aspects of the sexual revolution, I have tried to brainstorm a list of where we might find relevant documents dating from the era 1965-1985.

For all these topic areas, Unitarian Universalist periodicals from that era that should be reviewed for relevant materials, and the two official denominational periodicals, UU Register-Leader (to 1970) and UU World (1970 on), are of primary importance. Independent publications which may contain relevant material include First Day’s Record, published by and for clergy, and Unitarian Universalist Voice. Congregational newsletters may also have relevant information; since there are probably tens of thousands of such documents, a researcher can only sift through a small portion of them.

Here, then, are some preliminary ideas of where we might find documentation dating from 1965 to 1985 on the general topic of the sexual revolution:

Sexuality education

About Your Sexuality (AYS) was a pioneering comprehensive sexuality education program, developed beginning in 1968, then field-tested and published in 1970. AYS faced legal challenges (it was supposedly pornography) in the early 1970s.

The Andover Harvard Theological library has a collection of materials relating to AYS, a comprehensive sexuality education program published by the UUA in 1970.

Sarah Gibb Millspaugh wrote her 2003 M.Div. thesis on AYS; a version of her thesis is available online. The bibliography of her online paper lists a number of contemporary documents relating to AYS, e.g., a New York Times article titled “Unitarian Church Wins Court Round For Course on Sex,” from 13 February 1972.

It should be relatively easy for a researcher to turn up legal documents relating to the legal challenges faced by AYS in its early days. It should also be possible to turn up documents relating to the implementation of AYS in individual congregations.

AYS did not arise out of a vacuum; I know of a couple of pre-1968 sexuality education programs. Paul Harmon Chapman pioneered sexuality education while minister at the Winchester Unitarian Society in 1950s. While a college student in Boston in the 1940s, my aunt Martha attended sexuality education classes at First Church in Boston. Presumably there were other such programs, including in our period, i.e., beginning in 1965.

Sexual experimentation within UUism

While I have heard many anecdotes relating to sexual experimentation within Unitarian Universalism, finding documentary evidence will doubtless be more challenging. I have found mentions of workshops on “open marriage” in a couple of congregational newsletters from the 1970s. The February, 1977 issue of “People Soup,” the publication of Liberal Religious Youth, contains some material on sexual experimentation.

Based on hearing personal recollections of various people, I believe the following took place within UU circles: “wife [sic] swapping,” group sex, sex games, etc. The anecdotes that I have heard about mostly relate to activities at summer camps and conferences. I have not been able to turn up any documents from that period on these topics.

One feature of this era was that some Unitarian Universalist ministers apparently felt it was acceptable to have sex with members of their congregations. It is difficult to document which ministers had sex with which members of their congregation. It may be impossible to document why these ministers had sex with congregants, e.g., were they following the example of the prominent psychotherapist Fritz Perls, who had sex with his patients? did they have some theological justification? It may turn out that it is only possible to document this aspect of UU sexual experimentation through personal interviews.

LGBTQ rights and UUism

The UUA Web site has a “Unitarian Universalist LGBT History Timeline” with links to relevant General Assembly resolutions.

The first chapter of the book Knocking on Heaven’s Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture by Mark Oppenheimer (New Haven: Yale University, 2003) is “Unitarians [sic] and Gay Rights” (pp. 29-60). While this is a secondary source, the notes to this chapter point to many primary sources on this topic.

The February, 1977 issue of “People Soup” contains a couple of first-person essays about being a gay youth within UUism.

Theological stances on sexuality

It should be fairly easy to track down theological essays (including sermons) from this era on the specific topics of equal rights for women, marriage and divorce, sex and sexuality. The researcher could start by reviewing published sermons from the era by prominent ministers.

Feminism; the Women and religion movement

For the Women and Religion movement, the most obvious place to begin would be the present UU Women and Religion organization. Additionally, contacting participants in the Women and Religion movement should turn up correspondence from that era.

The topic of feminism is much broader, and there is a daunting amount of material on the topic. A couple of places to start: sermons on feminism and women’s issues by some of the few women ministers serving in this time period; the archives of the UU Women’s Federation; etc.

The researcher could also look for statistical information, such as: the change in the number of women serving as called parish ministers from 1965 to 1985; numbers of women on governing boards in representative congregations during the same time period; etc.

Marriage and divorce

The liturgical form of weddings changed during this era. The book The New Wedding by Unitarian Universalist minister Khoren Arisian (New York: Knopf, 1973) is an excellent document with which to begin. Wedding liturgies used by individual ministers can be found in congregational archives, or they can be obtained by ministers who worked in this era; ideally one would trace how the wedding formats of one or more individual ministers changed from 1965 to 1985.

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