Ministry and Human Sexuality

IST2072 Ministry and Human Sexuality: Pastoral Care and Theological Approaches Online Winter 2021

Faculty: Carrie Doehring , PhD

This course helps students experience and practice spiritually integrative, interreligious, and socially just care of whole sexual selves[1]. Interreligious spiritual care builds trust by listening for and respecting what is unique in the ways persons and communities search for meaning and experience transcendence and mystery. Socially just spiritual care pays attention to interacting social advantages and disadvantages that may harm others and reinforce prejudice, contributing to systemic social injustice. 

Throughout the course, we will explore and experience the role of breath and body-centered spiritual practices that ground people in the goodness of their bodies so that they can trust the process of exploring and sharing experiences of suffering related to aspects of sexuality. Drawing upon personal and professional experiences and case studies, we will differentiate between life-giving and life-limiting beliefs and values related to sex education, gender identity, sexual orientation, consensual and coercive sexual intimacy, sexual violence, reproductive issues, and other relevant topics. We will explore how all aspects of sexuality are shaped by racist and colonialist webs of violence. We will learn how to practice evidence-based spiritual care by drawing upon research on how aspects of religion and spirituality may help and/or harm people who have experienced sexual prejudice/violence and are searching for life-giving sexuality. Research will also help us understand the distinctive ways spiritual care helps people experiencing religious, spiritual, and moral struggles arising from aspects of their sexuality. This course forms students to be pastoral and spiritual caregivers within a spiritually, socially complex world in ways that deeply engage religious and cultural traditions.


Tino, M. J., Millspaugh, S. G., & Stuart, L. A. (2008). Our whole lives: Sexuality education for young adults, ages 18–35. Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

[1]  Our Whole Lives [OWL], the comprehensive and medically accurate sexual education curriculum jointly created by the United Church of Christ (UCC) and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) for a range of ages (Tino, Millspaugh, & Stuart, 2008) uses a “whole” concept of sexuality that includes sensuality, intimacy, sexual identity, sexual health and reproduction, and sexualization. See OWL definition of sexuality

Readings will be posted in weekly forums.

The course is organized into 10 modules. Go to the left-hand column and click on 'modules'. Each module has a page with the week's instructions on what to read and watch, and a page describing your discussion forum and/or assignment. Some of the weeks include a page for an optional zoom conversation.

Mandatory Zoom Class Sessions: Students are required to attend our zoom class sessions on these Thursdays from 10:30-11:45 am MDT: Week 2 January 14, Week 5 February 4, and Week 8 February 25. Email Carrie Doehring ( ) for how to fulfill this requirement if you are unable to attend any of these synchronous sessions.


These learning goals describe “a spiritually integrative, collaborative learning process that integrates knowledge about socially just, interreligious, and evidence-based spiritual care with interpersonal capacities specific to spiritual care: spiritual and social empathy and self-reflexivity. The relational foundation for learning and practicing spiritual care is spiritual trust that begins with calming spiritual practices mediating a deep sense of mystery, awe, beauty, goodness, holiness, and/or the sacred. Spiritual trust opens up relational [and communal] spaces for lamenting suffering and collaboratively searching for values and meanings that support accountability and foster justice.” (Doehring & Kestenbaum, In press, p. 1).

Religious and nonprofit leaders and chaplains fulfill a foundational ethic to do no harm spiritually by practicing interpersonal competencies that are socially just, interreligious, and evidence-based.  

Learning Goal: Using a spiritually integrative learning process

Spiritual integration is a collaborative and relational process of using spiritual practices for holding stress compassionately, finding purpose through values, and understanding and being appropriately accountable for suffering in a variety of ways, unique to persons, families, and communities.  Life-giving practices become a tether to the inherent goodness of one’s body, trustworthy others, lament for social injustice, and transcendent interconnections. The process of integration is what grounds [us] in [ou]r own religious and/or spiritual heritage, identity, and communities" (Doehring & Kestenbaum, 2021, p. 6). Others are more likely to experience us as spiritually trustworthy when our body language and emotional presence aligns with our intentional values and beliefs. 

"Our spiritual integrative pedagogy begins with helping students explore and use their own body-aware spiritual practices to foster compassion for self and other. Like Ott and Stephens, we challenge “pervasive misperception that sexuality may be discussed apart from the embodiedness of those participating in the dialogue or debate” (2017, 107). Given the religious diversity of our learning communities, these practices include mindfulness meditation, yoga, listening to music that is deeply meaningful, playing music, time in nature, exercise, as well as prayer and devotional reading of sacred texts. We ask students to describe how these practices calm and self-regulate them, specifically by easing physiologically experienced stress (such as hunching their shoulders, tightening their facial muscle, or taking shallow breaths). We encourage students to use these body-aware spiritual practices before they begin their weekly course readings and to use momentary spiritual practices whenever the readings, their writing, or their online forum interactions cause stress. Online accountability for exploring and using body-aware spiritual practices that foster self and other compassion brings bodies—with their stress reactions, emotions, and moral intuitions—into the heart of learning and integration. Beginning with such practices grounds our spiritually integrative pedagogy in an experiential sense of our bodies and, indeed, our sensuality as good, fostering self and other compassion as well as trust." (Doehring & Arjona, 2020, pp. 130-131)

 "...Sexual self-knowledge [us] crucial to understanding how sexual integrity contributes to spiritual wholeness" (Ott, 2013, p. 14).

"Sexual integrity calls us to honesty with and care for ourselves before God and in relationship with others" (Ott, 2013, p. 19).

Learning Goal: Developing spiritual and social empathy

Momentary spiritual practices ground students in their spiritual or religious relationality and communities, enabling them to become more spiritually and socially empathic by

  1. respectfully stepping into another’s religious/spiritual worlds, with their values, beliefs, particular ways of coping with moral stress, relational networks, and ways of connecting with a sense of sacred/transcendence.
  2. imagining how these ways of coping, values, beliefs, relational networks, and spiritual practices function contextually in life-giving and life-limiting ways personally, relationally, and socially.
  3. using their social empathy and critical thinking skills to understand the personal and cultural contexts of the other’s beliefs and values, especially about suffering exacerbated by injustice.

Learning Goal: Spiritual and social self-reflexivity

Breath and body-centered practices are especially helpful for developing spiritual self-reflexivity by increasing awareness of how one’s stress reactions evoke emotions and moral intuitions about aspects of sexuality. Emotions like shame, guilt, and disgust may generate moral intuitions about aspects of sexuality—values, beliefs, and ways of coping—reinforced by intersecting oppressions, such as religious sexism and religious heterosexism. Experiencing self-compassion and the compassion of a learning community help us understand and share life-limiting coping practices, values, and beliefs so that we will be able to use critical thinking skills in theological and religious studies to search for values and beliefs complex enough to bear the weight of suffering and offer realistic hope for healing and social justice. Spiritual and social self-reflexivity helps us spiritually differentiate from others, such that we do not impose our own practices, values, and beliefs about aspects of sexuality onto others. Others are more likely to trust us as religious and nonprofit leaders and/or chaplains when they sense our capacity to be spiritually self-differentiated.

Learning Goal: Practicing socially just spiritual care

Intersectionality is a theory and strategic practice of identifying which systems of social oppression interact contextually to benefit or discriminate against persons in distress. In order to understand interrelationships among systems of oppression such as racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism, religious and nonprofit leaders and chaplains use post/decolonialism[1] to name the overarching, pervasive, and ever-present ways that colonialism exercises power over all aspects of ecological, transnational, political, and economic life. Bringing post and decolonial perspectives to understanding makes students realize the impossibility of ‘doing no harm’ in a world organized by colonialism. This enormously challenging and always unfinished work can only be done through a collaborative learning process grounded in spiritual integration. The profound shame, guilt, grief, fear, and moral distress of such learning can only be supported through personal and communal practices of lament.

Learning Goal: Practicing interreligious spiritual care

Learning interreligious spiritual care integrates

Learning Goal: Evidence-based spiritual care

Students in this course begin to develop research literacy by


[1] Lizardy-Hajbi uses the term “’post/decolonial’ in order to acknowledge both the separate contextual and theoretical streams from which challenges to coloniality have arisen in the literature, as well as to highlight their common foundational aims as critiques to colonial being-thinking-acting” (Lizardy-Hajbi, 2020).

[2] For a complete description of communication styles and skills, see Chapter 3 in Doehring (2015)


Doehring, C. (2015). The practice of pastoral care: A postmodern approach (Revised and expanded ed.). Westminster John Knox.

Doehring, C., & Arjona, R. (2020). A spiritually integrative digital pedagogy In K. Ott & D. Stephens (Eds.), Teaching sexuality and religion: Perspective transformation and embodied learning (pp. 127-143). Routledge.

Doehring, C., & Kestenbaum, A. (2021). Practicing socially just, interreligious, and evidence-based spiritual care. Manuscript Chapter3_Doehring&Kestenbaum_12-8-2020.docx

Lizardy-Hajbi, K. (2020). Frameworks Toward Post/Decolonial Pastoral Leaderships. Journal of Religious Leadership., 19(2), 98-128. 

Ott, K. (2013). Sexuality, health, and integrity. In P. B. Jung & D. Stephens (Eds.), Professional sexual ethics: A holistic ministry approach (pp. 11 - 21). Fortress.

Weekly forum reflections and responses on readings (7 points for weeks 1 - 9; 2 points for Week 10) for 65% of grade:  Students will post to discussion forums by Tuesday (midnight MT) and reply by Friday (midnight MT) and receive points for both their posts and responses (except in week 10) (see grading rubric below).

Code of ethics assignment (5%) in Week 8 (Tuesday, February 23). Code of Ethics Assignment

Final Assignment (30%) Due Tuesday, March 9 Word length: approximately 4000 words

Each option will require students must do a literature search in the ATLA and psychological databases. You will need to substantively use at least 5 references from your search and at least one needs to be from psychological studies, and/or the journal Pastoral Psychology. In assignments like the sermon and educational program, literature search references can be discussed in footnotes/commentaries that elaborate on how these projects utilize your critical thinking skills. Here is a guide to how to do a literature search: HOW TO DO A LITERATURE SEARCH  In this course, we use APA format for citations and references.  Iliff's writing lab has a link to suggested sites for writing resources and style guides. Use this link to find the Purdue OnlineWriting Lab, and their guide to APA 7 formatting.  

Students will focus on an aspect of sexuality using the OWL definition of sexuality, which we are exploring in our weekly topics, and will include commentary on how this assignment helps you pursue Learning Goals in socially just, interreligious, evidence-based spiritual care.

 You can share your ideas on possible topics/resources for assignments here: Sharing resources for final assignments 

CASE STUDY (a good option if you have had IST 2012 Pastoral Theology and Care you will be using Doehring (2015) The Practice of Pastoral Care. Case Study Outline-1-26-2021.docx  

JOURNAL ASSIGNMENT (this assignment is only an option for students who have previously done a journal assignment in one of Dr. Doehring's courses) Journal Assignment Outline 1-26-2021.docx  

CURRENT EVENT ANALYSIS using Learning Goals to develop strategies for spiritual care and community outreach/organizing (a good option for MASJE students). Current Event Guidelines 1-25-2021.docx  

RESEARCH PROJECT A research project (a good option for students already engaged in a research project for an MTS/DMin thesis that includes some aspect of sexuality). Research Paper Outline 1-26-2021.docx  

EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM using Learning Goals for a spiritually integrative approach to teaching about an aspect of sexuality. Religious Education Event Planning 1-26-2020.docx  

SERMON and commentary using Learning Goals for a spiritually integrative approach to preaching about an aspect of sexuality. Sermon Assignment Outline 1-26-2021.docx  

Final Grade Scale (Note: at Iliff professors determine grading scales they will use to assign final course grades) A 97-100; A- 93-96; B+ 89-92; B 85-88; B- 81-84; C+ 77-81; C: 73-76; C- 69-72; D+ 65-68; D 61-64; D- 57-60; F 0-59

This grading rubric, used for all forum discussions, will be modified and will include points for your literature search.

Forum Discussion 7 points
Forum Discussion 7 points
Criteria Ratings Pts
Discussion Posting
7.0 to >5.25 pts
Full Marks
Post is on time, with well-written, in-depth reflections on each of the prompts. References key concepts in each of the readings, using APA in-text references. Demonstrates awareness of the need for one's own process of spiritual integration. Demonstrates a developing capacity for spiritual and social empathy and reflexivity in one's responses.
5.25 to >3.5 pts
Good Progress
Post is on time, with well-written, in-depth reflections on some but not all of the prompts. References key concepts in some but not all of the readings, does not consistently use APA in-text references. Does not fully demonstrate awareness of the need for one's own process of spiritual integration. May not always demonstrate a capacity for spiritual and social empathy and reflexivity in one's responses.
3.5 to >1.75 pts
Needs improvement
Post is 1 -2 days late, limiting opportunities for responses from the group. Casual language and/or poor grammar or proofreading. Not all prompts addressed. Reflections lack depth and do not draw upon key concepts. Does not consistently use APA in-text references. Does not demonstrate awareness of the need for one's own process of spiritual integration. Does not consistently demonstrate a capacity for spiritual and social empathy and reflexivity in one's responses.
1.75 to >0 pts
Post is 3 days or more late, without opportunities for responses from the group. Casual language and/or poor grammar or proofreading. Not all prompts addressed. Reflections lack depth and do not draw upon key concepts. Does not consistently use APA in-text references. Does not demonstrate awareness of the need for one's own process of spiritual integration. Does not demonstrate a capacity for spiritual and social empathy and reflexivity in one's responses.
7.0 pts
Total Points: 7.0

Learning Covenant in Spiritual Care Courses

Confidentiality: Personal disclosures are not to be discussed outside of class without agreement and permission. Students can talk about their stress/emotional reactions with trusted others, as long as the focus is on them and not the content of what other students share. In case study assignments that are not fictional, students need to disguise the identity of care seekers. Students must be aware of and abide by the mandatory reporting laws of the state in which they provide professional caregiving. If they are designated spiritual caregivers within their religious tradition, they need to also be aware of what their religious organization requires. If students have reason to suspect or have first-hand knowledge of recent, current or ongoing child abuse or neglect perpetrated on a child currently under the age of 18 years, elder abuse, sexual and domestic violence, or threats of homicide or suicide in any of the pastoral situations they use for fulfilling the requirements of this course they need to seek immediate consultation with supervisors, denominational leaders, and the professor of this course so that proper reporting procedures can be ascertained. Current information on (1) "clergy as mandated reporters" and (2) links to state laws can be found here at the Children's Bureau of the US Department of  Health and Human Services. Faculty will abide by the bounds of professional and Title IX reporting laws rather than absolute confidentiality (detailed in our Canvas Policies & Services).  Under Iliff’s Mandatory Reporting Policy, all employees, with the exception of the Dean of the Chapel and Spiritual Formation, are mandatory reporters.[i] The primary purpose for sharing this information with the Title IX Coordinator is to ensure the impacted party receives information about rights and resources, and that Iliff is able to respond appropriately to such incidents.

Self-Differentiation: In preparing forum posts and responses, assignments, and spiritual care conversations, students are responsible for (1) tracking how they experience stress in their bodies and stress-related emotions, and (2) using practices that foster self-compassion and empathy, such that their emotional/stress reactions are resources for learning, not liabilities.

Levels of self-disclosure: The purpose of self-disclosure is to develop competencies in spiritual care, especially a commitment to one’s own process of spiritual integration that enhances self-differentiation and a capacity for empathy. The purpose of self-disclosure in this learning context is not for personal healing. In deciding how to use/disclose personal experiences in discussions and assignments, students need to track their levels of stress before they share in class discussions, and in assignments/forum postings, and to not disclose experiences that overwhelm their capacities for self-differentiation, spiritual integration, and critical thinking skills. Students need to use their support systems when they become overwhelmed and in making decisions about what kinds of personal experiences to share in weekly posts and journal/case study assignments.

Respect for differences: Students are responsible for using social and theological empathy to imaginatively step into and respect the worlds of those who are different from them in terms of beliefs, values, practices, and social location.

Timeliness: Group and team learning depend upon timely posts and assignments. Every effort must be made to post on time. If posts will be late, students must notify faculty, forum discussion groups, and/or learning partners. If assignments are consistently late and if late assignments jeopardize their learning partner’s deadlines, students may be required to withdraw from the course. Normally incompletes are not granted because all learning in the course is collaborative.

Availability of faculty: Faculty in spiritual care courses will normally respond within 24 hours to emails (Contact Carrie Doehring by email). Messages sent within Canvas are sometimes hard to track amidst other Canvas notifications. Spiritual care faculty offer support but not spiritual care or counseling, and are available to help students with referrals for spiritual care, spiritual direction, and counseling. 

Self-care: If this course makes you aware of sources of stress you'd like to work on with professional support, please see details about these professional services available for Iliff students: Self-care for students through Iliff's EAP  You can find resources for spiritual self-care here: Spiritual Self-Care Resources

Academic Standards: All students are expected to abide by Iliff’s statements on Academic Integrity, as published in the Masters Student Handbook.  Students should demonstrate academic and professional communication skills that include coherent expression of ideas, use of good grammar, and appropriate citation of sources referenced in responses and assignments. In this course, we use APA formatting for citations and references.  All course participants should use inclusive language and language that respects the diversity of sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation.

Discussion posts and responses are also expected to meet these academic standards (vs. more casual standards that apply to other online conversations/emails). Please proofread assignments and discussion posts before you submit them. Seek support from the Iliff Writing Lab as needed.

[i] College and university chaplains are included in the category of Confidential Resources, which usually includes those working in the Counseling Center, Health Center, and the University Chaplain. Faculty/staff members who happen to be similarly licensed in their field (e.g., who may be accredited as professional chaplains or licensed mental health professionals). are not exempt from reporting. Student chaplains are usually mandated reporters.

Self-care: If this course makes you aware of sources of stress you'd like to work on with professional support, please see details about these p rofessional services available for Iliff students:

All of Iliff students are enrolled in the EAP.  This is a comprehensive support service that provides counseling, coaching, and thousands of other resources. Regardless of where you live, you have access to this service!  Usually an EAP service is provided for staff and faculty in higher education, but we have extended it to Iliff students! 
If you feel like you need professional support, please know that you are eligible to receive free services from Iliff's EAP (Employee Assistance Program). Here is a summary of their services, and you can find all of their available services and how to access them by clicking HERE:

Spiritual self-care :

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Iliff Resources

Engage Spiritual Depth: Every Sunday Professor Cathie Kelsey shares a link to a short (5 min) video called "engage spiritual depth." She uses practices from many sources and adapts them to studying as a graduate student who also has a "life" beyond school.  If you want to check out past videos, go to:

Iliff meditation group: If you have any interest in joining a meditation group, you might consider trying out the Iliff Meditation Group led by Iliff alum William Jeavons. The group meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 2 p.m. (Mountain Time). This group is open to everyone and beginners are welcome. Here is William’s description of the group practice: “Our typical practice is a check-in as folks Zoom in for the first 10 minutes, flowing into a brief discussion about a theme for the day’s meditation, and then about 25 minutes of still, silent meditation.  Participants may, of course, use any favorite practice rather than the offered theme (often a Buddhist koan: a succinct teaching story or a question).  A time to share insights or questions (optional) follows the meditation. Shared meditation is a surprisingly powerful way to support one another just as we are and can be a lovely reset in a busy day!”

To get the Zoom link, or if you have any questions, please contact:   

Other Resources:

Shelly Rambo has compiled a list of “Practices for trauma studies and community care” that she uses in her courses on trauma at Boston University School of Theology. Rambo 2020 PRACTICES AND RESOURCES FOR TRAUMA CARE - 08.24.20.docx

The Chaplaincy Innovation Lab has compiled “Spiritual Care Resources for Religious Holidays (Passover, Easter, and Ramadan) during the COVID-19 Pandemic”

Carrie Doehring has made a video on Religious, spiritual, and moral stress of religious leaders in a time of pandemic: Spiritual self-care, which is part of a Luce-funded collaborative project on​ ​theological dimensions of life in the pandemic​ lead by Professor Zachary Moon (a JDP alum) at Chicago Theological Seminary.​ The content​ ​will be published in two ways: this recorded “guest lecture” running 45-60 minutes and as a written book chapter. The​ ​recorded videos ​are being​ made widely available ​on this website:

Do a five-finger meditation by Tara . (Links to an external site.) This is an easy way to calm yourself, no matter where you are. (I tried it in a dentist chair, and it worked for me!) Start by holding your hand in front of you, fingers spread. Using your index finger on the other hand, start tracing the outline of your hand. Trace up your pinkie, and down. Trace up your ring finger and down. As you do this, breathe in as you trace up, and out as you trace down. Continue finger by finger until you’ve traced your entire hand. Now reverse the process and trace from your thumb back to your pinkie, making sure to inhale as you trace up, and exhale as you trace down. You can find more tips for beating stress in my story, “Peak Anxiety? Here Are 10 Ways to Calm Down.” (Links to an external site.)

Sleep. Dr. Jeffrey Iliff (no relation that I know of!) in this interesting TED talk reports on his research into what he's calling the "glyphatic system." He describes how the mammalian brain clears metabolic waste products from the brain. Importantly, this happens only during sleep. His <12 min TED talk can be found here: [entered by J. O'Neal 1/10/21]

The benefits and challenges of making new habits (like adding a spiritual practice to our lives): How the science of habits can help us keep our New Year’s resolutions, with Wendy Wood, PhD: Podcast posted by Carrie Doehring

Resmaa Menakem's settling practices 

Description: “Learning to settle your body and practicing wise and compassionate self-care are not about reducing stress; they’re increasing your ability to manage stress, as well as creating more room for your nervous system to find coherence and flow.” (Menakem, 2017, p. 153) (2017). Chapter 11 of Menakem (2017) describes settling practices. An interview with Menakem can be found here:  This website includes this description of a settling practice: You can do this exercise sitting or standing, but if you are standing, put a little slack in your knees. Start by breathing naturally, and notice what is accepting the breath and what wants to push against it. What’s happening in the body? Then turn your neck to look behind you and notice without judgment if anything shifts. Does anything settle, drop or activate? Turn your neck to look over the other shoulder and notice again if anything shifts. Bring your neck back to neutral, and look for the room’s exits. Look up, then down, and straight ahead. Notice if the experience now is different than when you started. If any part of your body wants to move allow it to do so, using your hands to give it support. Notice the texture of that energy — is it about protection, or something else? Continue to breathe, and slow your breath. Slowly open your eyes, take a deep breath in and hold it for a pause, then let it go with a sigh. Repeat the deep breath two more times. Note that this practice may or may not have a dramatic impact the first time you complete it, but as it’s repeated, it can bring up all sorts of thoughts, feelings, and bodily reactions. Stay on the lookout for your system’s responses. 






Jan 06, 2021WedWeek 1 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 13, 2021WedWeek 2 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 20, 2021WedWeek 3 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 27, 2021WedWeek 4 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 03, 2021WedWeek 5 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 10, 2021WedWeek 6 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 10, 2021WedDescribe the kind of final assignment you are going to do, from among these choices:due by 06:59AM
Feb 17, 2021WedWeek 7 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 24, 2021WedWeek 8 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 24, 2021WedCode of Ethics Assignmentdue by 06:59AM
Mar 03, 2021WedWeek 9 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Mar 10, 2021WedFinal Assignmentdue by 06:59AM
Mar 13, 2021SatWeek 10 Discussiondue by 06:59AM