JEREMY EKELER (NCC): Attacking the Theology of the Body
March 18, 2021
St. Pope John Paul II is a hero to countless Catholics across the world. Many admire the young Karol Wojtyla’s courage in the face of a Nazi-occupied Poland, which became training for his tenacity to oppose totalitarian political regimes as pope. Others cherish the undivided attention the late pope gave to each person he encountered. And nearly everybody reveres the profound relationship he had with our Lord.
Pope John Paul II also made incredible contributions to theology. Chief among them is the Theology of the Body, expressed in a series of 129 lectures given during his Wednesday audiences in Rome over a five-year period. As Christopher West describes, these lectures are not only “an extended catechesis on marriage and sexual love,” but also a direct response to many false ideas about the human body and human sexuality offered by various philosophers and theologians over the last several hundred years.
The Theology of the Body contemplates the original experience of creation to discover what it means that God creates us “male and female” (Gen 1:27). For the late pope, our masculinity and femininity are fundamental to our existence and consciousness. It is “indispensable for knowing who man is and who he ought to be, and therefore how he should shape his own activity.”
This theological masterpiece brings us in closer contact with God’s design for marriage and human sexuality and, through that, into a deeper understanding of human and divine love.
Why is St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body so important for us now? Because the beauty of the human person and human sexuality is under attack in Nebraska.
The Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) recently released a first draft of its Health Standards. These standards are meant to guide curriculum for all Nebraska schools, including public and non-public schools. The Health Standards contain flawed, ideologically-driven content. They contain the very philosophical errors Pope John Paul II addressed in the Theology of the Body.
Should such standards be adopted by schools, children will be placed in peril, many educators will find their professional judgment and conscience under attack, and the culture will move toward a further normalization of child sexualization.
To provide some brief background, the NDE regularly writes standards for a variety of content areas (for example, math, science and reading). These standards are building blocks for curricula in schools and form the basis of what is taught in classrooms (for example, units, lessons and activities). While other content areas have established standards, the NDE’s draft Health Standards are the first-ever proposed for health education.
The draft Health Standards contain some good material. However, there are many problems with content regarding marriage, family and human sexuality. To list just some examples, in kindergarten, children will discuss genitalia. In first grade, they will “define gender, gender identity, and gender-role stereotypes.” In third grade, children will discuss sexual orientation and “identify trusted adults whom students can ask questions about gender identity and sexual orientation.” In seventh grade, students will “define vaginal, oral, and anal sex and their relationship to STD/HIV transmission.” In eighth grade, they will discuss ways to prevent pregnancy, pregnancy testing, and “sexual consent and agency.” High school students will discuss sexual consent, contraceptives, “local services that provide contraceptive methods including emergency contraception.”
What is missing is as concerning as what is included. For example, there are no descriptions of the role of parents as primary educators of their children, especially on matters of human sexuality. There is no discussion of the scourges of pornography and the objectification of sexuality. The standards also fail to address healthy internet and social media practices.
If you are like me, you are deeply concerned and left wondering: What can I do?
First, the NDE is asking for feedback on these draft standards. Visit www.education.ne.gov where you can view the standards and respond through a survey. Also, contact your elected State School Board member, whose contact information can be found at the NDE’s website.
Second, spread the message to family, friends, parishioners and others. It is important that more people know about these problematic standards. We hope this prompts a broader discussion about the beauty of God’s design for marriage and human sexuality.
Third, visit www.necatholic.org and sign up for our Catholic Advocacy Network of Nebraska to stay up-to-date on this issue and others.
Jeremy Ekeler is associate director of Education Policy for the Nebraska Catholic Conference.