Wednesday, May 31, 2006


This past Sunday, I performed a wedding ceremony for a lovely 30-something couple at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. As we signed the marriage license and I pronounced them "husband and wife, wife and husband", I couldn't help but think how morally wrong it was that the same legal protections are not available to same sex couples. On Wednesday, a court in New York began considering a case to change the marriage laws.

But if the Republican leadership has its way, no state will be able to recognize marriages between same sex people. Next week, Senator Frist will bring SJ Res 1 to the floor for the vote. I've read that President Bush has agreed to do a press conference in the Rose Garden next week about his support of the Federal Marriage Amendment. If passed, it will write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution.

That's morally wrong. And there's still time for us to stop it. If you have not yet written your Senators to urge them to VOTE NO, I'm going to make it easy for you. The Action Center is all set up to help you send an email to your Senator. Click here, put in your zip code, and send a message to your Senators today.

Over the years, I have met with the staff of many Senators offices. What I've learned is that hearing from constituents matters. Know that those who are opposed to marriage equality are writing. Let them hear from YOU today. It only takes two minutes...I promise. Please CLICK HERE.

Stand up for love. Stand against discrimination. Let's make sure the Senate knows that people of faith support marriage equality.

25 Years of AIDS and Still A Lack of Commitment to Prevention

This week is the 25th anniversary of the first diagnosed cases of AIDS. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 70 million people have contracted HIV and more than 30 million have died. The numbers of people with HIV have doubled since 1995.

30 million dead.

The numbers are staggering. They are not just statistics. For me, they are Danny, Michael, Damien, Stuart, Lacey, Marjorie. You have your own list.

Last night PBS' Frontline aired part one of "The Age of AIDS." It was a carefully constructed history of the beginning of the epidemic. The heroes came back to me: Don Francis, Dr. Koop, Jonathan Mann. So did those who did nothing, political and religious leaders who didn't care enough because the disease was primarily affecting gay men at first.

I watched with my children and was flooded with memories. I remembered debating Phyllis Schafley on a PBS program in the 1980's, shortly after Dr. Koop's report came out. I told her, "It is immoral to say to the young people of America 'just say no or die.'" It still is. I remembered taking Dr. Koop to Hollywood to meet with stars about how they could become involved in responding to AIDS. I remembered my first speech on AIDS at a CDC meeting in 1986, shortly after HIV had been identified. I said then "Every new case of AIDS from hereon will be a failure of political will to honestly address sexuality and drug use." It still is.

And I remembered the funerals. I went to a lot of funerals of beautiful young men who died way too soon during my first years at SIECUS. And although anti-virals have changed that in the United States, millions of people are still dying around the world. And the US government spends one third of its HIV prevention monies promoting abstinence from all sexual contact. And the Vatican still prohibits condom use.

Watch Part Two on Frontline tonight with your children. Tell them there is still no vaccine for HIV. Talk to them about condoms and safe sex. Tell them what the epidemic meant to you. Tell them in a moral world, no one would get a preventable fatal disease.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Reunion Weekend

I spent part of Memorial Day Weekend at my 30th college reunion. It seems that the majority of my classmates went on to become doctors, lawyers, university professors, and journalists. There were two other ministers there, but I think it's fair to say I was the only sexologist.

People weren't surprised about that though. In many ways, my work in sexology grew out of my involvement in the women's health movement during my time on campus. Some one asked me if I was still causing trouble in the world -- well certainly some people would think so. One person asked me if I really know more about sexuality than most other people in the class know; I'm still trying to think of what the right response to that would be. (If you have a suggestion, please send it!) Several people talked to me about their own sexuality struggles, and others noted how many members of our class had died of AIDS early on in the epidemic.

It was good to see people and it was good to be seen. The 1970's were a very particular time on campus; for example, it was notable that only my reunion class and the one before it had never learned the school song. No longer the younger alums but not yet the older, this group of 50 year olds are by in large making a difference in the world. More importantly, they are warm, engaging, nice people who were making a difference in their family's lives.

Here's to the Wesleyan class of 76.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Patriot Guard Riders Love Their Neighbor

It's not often that I agree with the Republican controlled Congress. But, I want to salute their vote on Wednesday prohibiting demonstrations at military funerals.

The act specifically targets Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church which has been bringing his hate campaign against gays and lesbians to military funerals. You may remember Phelps -- he and members of his family held signs saying things like "God hates fags" at Matthew Shepard's funeral and the funerals of people who died of AIDS. He has recently turned to bringing his hateful placards to areas surrounding the funerals of those who have died serving in the War in Iraq. He has gone so far as to say that the War in Iraq is punishment for tolerance to GLBT people.

In response, a group of motorcycle riders formed to protect mourners from"interruptions caused by any protestors or group of protestors." Called the Patriot Guard Riders, these men ask the family of the fallen service member if they can be present to offer protection. At their web site they list dozens of funerals where their members have protected families from Phelps and his minions. The governor of Indiana has just honored them by asking them to accompany him on their bikes at the Indy 500 this Sunday.

It seems appropriate this Memorial Day weekend to also honor those who respond to hate with love and respect for those who have died serving our country. Surely the Patriot Guard Riders know that on those bikes they are serving God who commands us to love our neighbor.

Let's pray that with the US Congress against him, Fred Phelps will get the message and stay home. If he doesn't, it could cost him $100,000 and a year in prison.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend. Back on Tuesday.

Rev. Debra

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Anniversary Reflections

Today is the third anniversary of my ordination as a Unitarian Universalist minister. It was a magical, love filled evening.

Surrounded by close to 300 friends, family, colleagues, and congregants, I was charged to:

"Speak the truth with love, to listen with sensitivity and compassion, to provide support and offer a prophetic voice to the world with courage and humility; to search for the sacred in all people, and to allow them to see the divine in you and in one another.

I'm trying. I love being a minister, and despite the nearly nine years it took me to answer my call, and the seven years of study and preparation to be a minister, I feel so blessed to do the work I do in the world. I am grateful to all those who support me in this journey.

The offering music at the ordination was a UU hymn called "Fire of Commitment." I love these words:

"When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul ablaze,
When our hunger and our passion
meet to call us on our way,
When we live with deep assurance
of the flame that burns within
Then our promise finds fulfillment
And our future can begin."

I hope you feel that flame. I feel blessed that I do.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Skip the Movie -- DaVinci Code Part 3

I saw the DaVinci Code last night. After a blockbuster weekend, there were 6 other people in the movie theater with me. I think that's because the word is out -- the movie is dreadful. Too long, completely predictable, overdrawn, and poorly acted (with the exception of the villains who are terrific). The music was lovely though.

And, let me repeat, this is fiction, and much of the religious backstory is fiction as well. Some of it actually made me laugh. The portrayal of the vote at the Council of Nicea struck me as funny. It will clearly offend some Christians in its central message, although my fellow Unitarian Universalists are most likely going to wonder what the fuss is about.

But, as I wrote last week, it is a national teachable moment. For those of us who are ministers, it is an opportunity to talk about the early church, Jesus, and most especially Mary Magdalene. I highly recommend my colleague Karen L. King's book, "The Gospel of Mary of Magdala", to you if if you'd like to learn what we really know about this important woman of the gospels.

Save the money on the movie -- buy her book.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Milestone for the Religious Institute

We did it! Over the weekend, we passed 2500 endorsements for the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. The Religious Declaration is a clarion call to the nation's faith communities and religious leaders to affirm sexuality as a life-giving and life-fulfilling gift and to be truth seeking, courageous, and just.

It was released in 2000 with the support of 850 religious leaders. Today's 2500 endorsements come from clergy, theologians, academics who specialize in religion, and religious educators. They represent more than 40 distinct faith traditions, including some which might surprise you like Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, Buddhists, and Muslims. There are seminary presidents, Methodist and Episcopalian bishops, and leaders of large multifaith organizations.

They stand for full inclusion of women and sexual minorities in congregational life, life long sexuality education, and a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment.

As faith leaders, we advocate for sexual and spiritual wholeness in our religious communities and in society. Please encourage the religious leaders in your life to endorse this vision of sexual health and justice.

On to 3000.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Today's Chicago Sun Times -- More on Sexuality at the Movies

I do a lot of print interviews, and it's more usual than not that I'm disappointed with the way my message is portrayed.

So, I was delighted to read this morning Catherine Falsani's interview with me in The Chicago Sun Times. This is the first article I've read that focuses on the sexual messages of The Davinci Code. Here's a piece of what she wrote:

Jesus could feel all that humans do -- joy, love, sorrow, anger, fear, pain -- why would he not also feel sexual? That isn't sinful.

It's just human.

And it doesn't mean that he had to have sex to be sexual.

But what if Jesus did?

How, exactly, would that threaten the very foundations of the Christian faith? A faith that is, if I'm not mistaken, based on the fact that Jesus came to Earth and sacrificed his sinless human life on the cross to redeem the rest of humanity, so that by faith, through grace, we all could be saved.

A faith that is not, unless I'm overlooking something, based on the idea that Jesus was a celibate man who neither married nor fathered children.

If that isn't good enough, she features the work of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing and quotes me extensively.

Here's the link to the article --

I'm so pleased with this column -- well, everything except the quote that says I look more Martha Stewart than Carrie Bradshaw...

Have a great weekend.

Rev. Debra

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Davinci Code and Sex

No, I haven't seen it. The movie opens this Friday, but I think I'll wait until the lines are shorter. But, I did read the book. And I've read many comments by religious leaders this week about it. Some Catholic groups are calling for a boycott of the movie; other groups are calling for an "othercott" this weekend, suggesting people in protest see any other movie to affect the ratings.

The controversy around the book and the movie centers around the role of women in the early church and Dan Brown's suggestion that Jesus had a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene which resulted in children. The slightest suggestion that Jesus might have been sexual with another person infuriates some.

It doesn't me. Now, there is nothing in Scripture that suggests that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were an item. But other researchers like William Phipps have said that it was certainly possible that Jesus would have been married in his mid teens like other Jewish young men of the times and that his wife might have died in childbirth before we meet him again in his early thirties. (The average Jewish man was in an arranged marriage shortly after puberty and the average life span for a woman in the first century was age 25.) Others like Ted Jennings have written that Scripture suggests that Jesus was in a homoerotic relationship with the "beloved disciple."

The Councils that debated the two natures (human and divine) of Jesus in the early Christian church didn't leave records about whether they discussed his sexuality as part of understanding Jesus' humanity. But surely if Jesus was fully human, he was sexual from his birth to his death as are we all. Is there any way to know for sure if Jesus expressed that sexuality in a physical relationship with another person? There's no way to know.

What I do know is that breaking the silence about sexuality and the role of women in the church is a good thing. And if a new movie helps bring about that, that's a good thing too.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More on Politics and Your Sexual Health

I somehow missed this story when I was in Nebraska last week.

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a National STD Prevention Conference. The 2006 conference was held in Florida last week and it was supposed to feature a panel on research on abstinence-only programs. My friend and colleague Bill Smith, the Vice President of Public Policy at SIECUS, had been invited to be part of the panel "Are Abstinence-Only Programs A Threat to Public Health" which had gone through the peer review process to select speakers.

It turns out that Congressman Mark Souder was upset that a critic of abstinence-only programs was going to present at a CDC conference. The panel's title was changed at the last minute to "Public Health Strategies of Abstinence for Youth", Mr. Smith was DISINVITED, and two pro-abstinence-only people were invited to participate, even though they had not been through the peer review process.

One of the new speakers was Dr. Eric Walsh, a family physician affiliated with Loma Linda University. According to SLATE, Dr. Walsh's "approach to public health is explicitly ideological." His web site bio says, "Dr. Walsh seeks to serve the Lord through medical missions and the preaching of the Gospel in all the world. "

Bill told me, "this is the most direct example we have that political appointees will respond to pressure from ideologues when it comes to public health."

I'm taking this kind of personally. I was the CEO and President of SIECUS for 12 years, and Bill is a trusted friend and colleague of mine. But it's more than that. My theological commitment to TRUTH TELLING coupled with my public health training commitment to PREVENTION means that I'd like to believe that we can count on the CDC to be above politics when it comes to the nation's health...even the nation's sexual and reproductive health. I guess not.

P.S. We published the May issue of our newsletter today. If you'd like to be on our newsletter list, sign up at

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day


I'm just back from preaching at our annual church retreat. The theme for Sunday's worship was of course Mother's Day.

Did you know that Mother's Day was first proposed in the United States by a Unitarian? (No, that's not the beginning of a joke...although I did hear a new Unitarian Universalist joke today....Q: What's a Unitarian Universalist? A: An atheist with children to raise.)

Julia Ward Howe proposed the first Mother's Day in 1870. The same woman who had composed "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" had increasingly become an activist for peace. When a new war broke out in Europe, she developed what she called her Mother's Day Manifesto.

It said in part:

"Arise then…women of this day. Arise, all women who have hearts…say firmly, “we will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure others….From the voice of a devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It say’s Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”

These words resonated in my heart today as I read them. I hope you took the time to honor those in your life who mothered you today, whether your biological mother or the men and women who provided you with nurturance and care. I hope those of you who are mothers were amply celebrated by your children and partners. And in the spirit of Julia Ward Howe, I hope you will recommit yourself today and every day to working for justice.

P.S. On a personal note -- I will receive my 2nd Mother's Day gift tomorrow when my daughter returns from her semester in Vietnam! Back on Tuesday.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Report from Omaha

Thank you to all of you who sent me encouraging emails and prayers for my trip to Omaha in light of the hate mail I received. I'm happy to report that last night went off without incident. There were no protesters (there had been the last time I was out here), over 400 people attended the talk on "sexual morality, justice, and healing", and I received a standing ovation at the end.

It was my first experience with personal security guards. I felt a little like Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard or a politician with secret service agents. I am grateful that they were there, and even more grateful that they had nothing to do but watch me sign books.

The warm response to my talk was yet another reminder of how hungry people are for the message of justice and healing and how there are people of faith every where who support sexual justice. I had the good fortune to meet and have dinner with Dick and Mary Holland who underwrite this lecture series. I asked Dick what he hoped I would accomplish with the talk. He said, "Give them hell."

I was reminded of what early Universalist minister John Murry said about the role of Universalist ministers. He urged, "Give them hope not hell." I tried to do both.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Is Sex in Heterosexual Marriage Becoming A Sexual Justice Issue?

Is it really possible in 2006 that there are conservative religious leaders who are worrying that married heterosexual couples are having sex for pleasure not procreation?

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was quoted this way in the Sunday New York Times Magazine:

"I cannot imagine any development in human history, after the Fall, that has had a greater impact on human beings than the pill…I think there is no question that the pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation."

The idea that sex is only for procreation is NOT based in Scripture (see my blog entries on the Bible) but can be traced back to the influence of Platonists and the Stoics on the early Church. Stoic Musonius Rufus (30 – 100 ce) was the first to write that marital sexual intercourse was only for procreation:

“Sexual intercourse is justified only in marriage and is indulged in for the purpose of begetting children, since that is lawful, but unjust and unlawful when it is mere pleasure seeking even in marriage.”

Seneca went even further in advising passionless sex in marriage:

“In loving his wife, the wise man takes reason for his guide, not emotion…nothing is more depraved than to love one’s spouse as if she were an adulteress.”

Fast forward to Augustine three hundred years later. Augustine said that after the fall, sexual intercourse through semen carried original sin from generation to generation. Sexual intercourse in Eden is responsible for death. Had Adam and Eve not eaten the fruit, they would have been able to have sons “without intercourse, in some other way,” just as they had been created without parents. Augustine warned that married people are not to “run riot by immoderate license.” They are to limit “the lust of the flesh and order(ing) in a certain way within fixed limits its unquiet and inordinate motion.” Indeed, abstinence in marriage is a goal: “the better they are, the earlier they have begun by mutual consent to contain from sexual intercourse with each other.”

I wonder if that's the real goal of Christian conservatives like Mr. Mohler.

Stay tuned. I promise a blog entry on sex positive theologians from the first four centuries of Christianity later this week when I return from Omaha. I hope you’ll hold me in your prayers for this trip.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Contraception, Religion, and the NY Times

I hope you saw the excellent cover story in Sunday's New York Times Magazine on the increasing debates about contraception. If not, here's the URL:

But, there was one major flaw with the story, a flaw that I wrote about last week on the post on the Times article on Catholic bishops opposing marriage equality. Ten religious leaders are quoted in this article by Russell Short -- and all are conservative Catholics or evangelical Christians. Not a single mainstream or progressive religious leader is quoted. In fact, the story reads as if the controversy about contraception, abortion, and indeed sex in this country, is between secular public health and reproductive health professionals and religious leaders.

The fact is that debates about the role of sexuality in life go back to the early church. While many of the early Christian fathers warned about too much passion even in marriage, other religious leaders such as Jovinian and Athanasius argued that since sexuality was part of God’s creation, it must be good. Russell Shorto, in ignoring mainstream or progressive religious leaders in his otherwise excellent article on attacks on contraception, leaves the reader with the false impression that religious voices oppose the goodness of sex and sexuality. Has he interviewed some of us, he would have been able to report that the vast majority of faith traditions affirm that sexuality is God’s life-giving and life-fulfilling gift, and almost all Protestant and Jewish denominations affirm access to voluntary contraception.

Yes, I wrote the New York Times another letter pointing out that they once again failed to take note of the vast majority of people of faith who support sexual and reproductive rights. Anyone want to bet that once again they won't publish my letter?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Speak Out Against Discrimination

I caught the end of Mary Cheney's interview on television last night. Although I understand family loyalty, one couldn't help but wonder how she continues to support the Bush administration's attacks on equality for GLBT people.

With everything that is going on in the political world, you may have missed that the Senate leadership has promised to bring SJ Resolution 1 to the floor for a vote, maybe as early as June 5th. This resolution writes discrimination into the US Constitution. It says that "marriage in the US shall consist only of the union or a man and a woman" and prohibits the Constitution or any state constitution from offering legal rights pertaining to marriage to "any union other than that of a man and a woman." If it was to pass and be ratified, states like Massachussetts, Connecticut, and Vermont, would find their laws overturned.

This dangerous amendment went down to defeat in the Senate before. It is clearly an electoral year ploy by the Republicans to shore up their radically conservative base. You can speak out. Write your Senator TODAY at our Action Center. If you are a member of the clergy, sign on to the Coalition Against Discrimination in the Constitution's Faith For Fairness Letter and endorse the Religious Institute's Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality.

Our voices can and must make a difference. Unlike Mary Cheney, we can speak out for justice.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Love Your Enemy

I got my first hate comment on my blog yesterday. Now, I am not a stranger to hate mail. In 1997, when I was the President and CEO of SIECUS, I received 35,000 pieces of hate mail from a Concerned Women for America campaign. In recent years, I have periodically received what I would describe as Christian hate e-mails. People write to tell me that they are Christians and then generally quoting Revelations they call for my demise. I always wonder how they missed the parts of of the New Testament about loving your neighbor as yourself.

Anonymous sent me these words yesterday. I rejected them as a comment, as I will all hateful messages. But, I thought I'd share with you an excerpt:

It clearly says in scripture that Murder is a Sin and God Hates all sin. I heard you on KFAB from Omaha, NE and you are just telling Lies to further your choice...Stop spreading your legs and your lies. The first action would keep STDs and unwanted pregnancies from happening (it is a scientific fact.) And the second action would keep more lies from being proclaimed to the masses. Continue to read your scripture because in mine it tells me that we will be held accountable for every word that comes out of our mouths. Keep your sphincter shut. The world be the better for it.

I wish I could tell you that I am so tough that these messages don't unnerve me. But they do. And I've asked for added security at my talk in Omaha next week. But they also remind me to quote Matthew 5:44, "to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." So to Anonymous, I prayed for you and your heart and your brokenness this morning. And to the rest of you, an encouraging comment left here might be the balm I need today.

Blessings on this sunny day in the Northeast!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Will the Pope Allow Condoms to Prevent the Spread of AIDS?

The front page of Tuesday's New York Times includes a story that says that Pope Benedict has ordered a study of the church's teachings on condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS -- in marriage only. That's right; it's front page news that the Vatican is studying whether condoms can be used by a married couple where one of the partners has AIDS or is infected with HIV. The article says that condom use might be considered a "lesser evil" -- I guess compared to the evil of giving your spouse an incurable disease that you know you have.

Catholic theologians in the article are guessing that the Pope won't change church policy instead counseling such MARRIED couples to abstain from sexual intercourse completely. Rev. Thomas Berg from Westchester is quoted as saying that to use a condom (again in heterosexual marriage where one partner has HIV or AIDS) would "still be opting for something that dramatically disorders those sexual relations." That's the exact quote -- trying to protect one's spouse from a life threatening disease would dramatically disorder the relationship.

In what universe?? These are the same religious leaders who proclaim that sexual intercourse belongs only in marriage and then deny the sacrament of marriage to gay couples. Yet, they would also deny the right to have sex safely to married couples where one of the partners has HIV. How could it possibly be moral to advocate the transmission of disease rather than condom use? Perhaps our prayers could help the Pope do the right thing; actually if you're praying about this, let's suggest that the Pope recognize that condoms must be available to all who need them, regardless of marital status.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Listen to My First Podcast on Sexuality and Religion

I am definitely not what is known as an early adopter. I resisted having a cell phone for years, we still don't have TIVO, and I don't know how to program the vcr. I felt very 21st century when I started my own blog. So, I am very pleased to tell you that with more than a little help from my friends, I've created my first podcast.

Crossleft produced it. Crossleft is a not-for-profit organization that promotes grassroots action among progressive Christians. They believe that the teachings of Jesus are inherently progressive. I am very grateful that they chose to feature our ministry as one of their first podcasts and their willingness to stand up for sexual justice. I want to thank Rev. Robb Moore who volunteered his time to produce it.

My first podcast is a mini-sermon on sexuality and religion. It will give you an idea about the message of healing and hope that I try to bring to congregations around the country.

You can download it to your ipdo or mp3 player or just listen to it at or You can also download it at the itunes music store, although I personally couldn't quite figure out how to do that. Maybe you'll want to download it and listen to it in the car or at the gym!

I'd love to hear what you think. Leave me a comment here or send me an email. I've got email down.