Religion, sexuality panel interests Mercyhurst students, professors

On Thursday, Jan. 12, the religious studies department hosted a thematic panel discussion in the Mercy Heritage room on sexuality in a religious context.

The panel, titled “The Sources of Religious Authority on the Morality of Human Sexuality,” drew a large crowd of students and faculty alike.

Moderated by Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Verna Ehret, Ph.D., she facilitated a discussion among her colleagues as to what it meant to be a sexual being in a religious context.

After opening comments were made by Professor of Religious Studies Thomas Forsthoefel, Ph.D., each panelist presented on religion and sexuality from the perspective of his or her academic specialty within the department, with Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Richard McCarty, Ph.D., acting as the respondent to provide the closing commentary.

Providing a biblical foundation for the presentations, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Robert von Thaden, Ph.D., discussed the validity of arguments based solely on the biblical text.

He cautioned against using the Bible as an answer to contemporary problems, as it strips the ancient text of its contextual meaning.

Specifically, von Thaden refuted the conservative argument condemning homosexuality on a solely biblical basis, saying that passages that address this must be examined in their original context, a context that is at odds with many moral issues of today, such as the support of slavery.

Throughout the hour presentation, students of many majors and disciplines were engaged in the discussions at hand.

Junior Danielle Vaccaro attended the panel discussion for extra credit for a religion class but found she was interested by the topic once the panel was under way.

Also in attendance was adult student Jason Sargent, who was interested in attending the religion and sexuality panel because it expanded upon his work in the classroom.

“In my psychology class this term, we have touched upon parts of this discussion, and it was cool to see it expand into differing opinions,” he said.

The audience was not limited to the student body, as many professors from other departments joined the Mercyhurst community for the well-attended event.

Among them was Assistant Professor of Physics Dyan McBride, Ph.D., who congratulated her colleagues for such a successful and thoughtful event.

“It made me realize how fortunate I am to work in a community where I get to interact with and learn from scholars of other disciplines,” said McBride.

“I was simply amazed by their ability to discuss a difficult subject with such thoughtfulness and depth and the ease with which they were able to communicate with the audience.”