Friday, June 30, 2006

Original Blessing

I'm in St. Louis at the annual meeting of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. Yes, this is my second trip to St. Louis in the past week, if you have been tracking my travels.

I'll be leading a multifaith worship service on Saturday morning, called "Standing on the Side of Love." This is my third worship service at an AASECT annual meeting; several people told me tonight that it's the only religious service they go to each year. That feels like a big responsibility.

I'm going to be preaching about the need for sexologists who have been alienated from faith to once again become theologians. I'm going to introduce my concept of "original blessing."

Here's a small excerpt from my sermon. If you'd like me to send you a copy of the entire sermon, send me an email at the Religious Institute.

"You surely have heard about the dogma of original sin which at heart says that because we are born through sex, each of us carries sin in our lives. But if we are to be theologians, we must counter that concept. Let's talk instead about original blessing. How joyful it is that each of us is born out of passion, hopefully out of love --- the miracle of our birth and the miracle of our life begin with the miracle of a sexual act. How radically different the world might be if original blessing became the message of our religious communities."

May you have a blessed July 4th weekend. Celebrate our freedoms.

Rev. Debra

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rush Limbaugh's hypocrisy

Of course, you have heard this news. On Monday, Rush Limbaugh was stopped at the airport because of a vial of Viagra in his suitcase in someone else's name. The press reports focused on whether this was a violation of his parole on drug charges.

Not one asked the question: What was Rush doing with Viagra? Now, that may seem like an obvious question, but this is the man who in 2004 wrote a column called, "Close Your Fly, You Won't Die." This is a man who says that one of his 35 truths is "Abstinence protects against STDS and pregnancy - every time it's tried." This is a man who supports abstinence-only-until-marriage education that teaches that sex only belongs in marriage, the program that says that sex in marriage is the "expected standard of human sexual activity."

The news reports also haven't mentioned that Rush is divorced -- three times -- or that he is single today. So, if Rush is using Viagra for the same reason other men use Viagra, does that mean...? You bet. So much for expected standards. So much for living according to the values you espouse in the public square. If I was Rush's minister, I'd want to talk to him about how it's important to make sexual decisions consistent with your personal values.

But this is what I really want to know -- did they find an equal number of condoms in his suitcase? Because, Rush, if you aren't going to be abstinent, they are the only thing that are going to protect you.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Support the First Amendment

It's hard to believe that the First Amendment needs your support -- but it does. Americans United for Separation of Church and State and The Interfaith Alliance have created a new internet petition campaign to safeguard our "first freedom" -- our right to practice our religion without coercion and for separation of church and state.

The first bullet point of the petition says "Every American should have the right to make personal decisons -- about family life, reproductive health, end-of-life care and other matters of personal conscience." As my regular readers know, I have taken some progressive religious leaders to task for not engaging sexual justice issues, so I am delighted to see this that TIA and Americans United have addressed reproductive health and by inference GLBT issues directly.

Let's help them get millions of signatures. Go to and sign the petition. Pass it on. As the petition ends, let us "join together, as the most diverse nation in the world, to commit ourselves to defending and preserving this freedom.

Do it now. It will take you less than two minutes. It will be today's good deed.

Monday, June 26, 2006

National AIDS Testing Day

This wonderful piece of art was created just for June 27, 2006, which has been declared as National HIV/AIDS Testing Day by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Association of People with AIDS.

I have accepted an invitation to be a member of the CDC's new Faith Alliance. I was frankly a little surprised to be asked during this administration. They assured me that they knew who I was and my positions on HIV prevention. I had to say yes.

Religious communities have an important role to play in HIV -- churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples can and must educate people how to protect themselves against the virus, we can encourage people to be tested and to reach out for counseling, we can provide solace and support for those who are HIV positive, and we can care for those who are ill. How could we consider doing less?

If you have never been tested and might be at risk, there is no better time than today to make an appointment. Go to and find a testing and counseling site near you.

UUA General Assembly, Part II

Even the St. Louis Arch sent a welcoming message.

I'm just back from the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association, where I received final fellowship in the ministry. (See Friday's entry below.) What a joy to be there!

I heard wonderful talks by such people as Welton Gaddy, Barry Lynn, Rebecca Parker, and Mary Oliver. I spent hours browsing in the exhibit hall, talking to people from organizations promoting every possible social justice issue, including sexual justice. (And yes, I left with several new books and one new pair of chalice earrings!) It was wonderful being in a religious community where marriage equality and reproductive choice are GIVENS -- not to be debated or argued, but to be celebrated.

The concluding worship service on Sunday morning was the highlight of the weekend. I LIKE megachurch. There were 5000 people worshipping together, singing together, clapping together, praying together. The worship leader was the Reverend Gail Geisenhainer from Vero Beach, Florida. She spoke of justice, freedom and inclusion. She spoke of her radical welcome into a small congregation in upstate Maine. She inspired me for the journey.

I thought you'd like to read her story of what it is to be introduced to a welcoming congregation. You can read the whole sermon at Here's an excerpt.

A friend invited me to his church. He said it was different. I rudely refused. I cursed his church. "All blank-ing churches are the same," I informed him, "they say they're open - but they don't want queer folk. To Heck with church!" My friend, persisted. He knew his church was different. He told me his church cared about people, embraced diverse families, and worked to make a better world. He assured me I could come and not have to hide any elements of who I was. So I went. Oh, I went alright.

And I dressed sooooo, carefully for my first Sunday visit. I spiked my short hair straight up into the air. I dug out my heaviest, oldest work boots, the ones with the chain saw cut that exposed the steel toe. I got my torn blue jeans and my leather jacket. There would be not a shred of ambiguity this Sunday morning. They would embrace me in my full Amazon glory, or they could fry ice. I carefully arranged my outfit so it would highlight the rock hard chip I carried on my shoulder, I bundled up every shred of pain and hurt and betrayal I had harbored from every other religious experience in my life, and I lumbered into that tiny meetinghouse on the coast of Maine.

Blue jeans and boots. Leather jacket, spiked hair and belligerent attitude. I accepted my friend's invitation and I went to his church. I expected the gray-haired ladies in the foyer to step back in fear. That would have been familiar. Instead, they stepped forward, offered me a bulletin, a newsletter and invited me to stay for coffee. It was so... odd! They never even flinched!

How would your church have done? How is it that every church would not have welcomed her? May we all work for justice and freedom.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Live Report from the UU General Assembly

I'm writing this on my second day at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Last night, along with more than 30 other ministers, I was welcomed into final fellowship at the Service of the Living Tradition.

It was a deeply moving experience. I began my journey to ministry almost 18 years ago when I first experienced my call. I resisted that call for nine years, but it's been almost 10 years since I began seminary very part time. So, last night was a powerful confirmation and affirmation of a decade of study, internships, hospital service, and the practice of ministry.

I was SO happy to be there, happy to be a Unitarian Universalist minister, happy to be with so many dedicated colleagues, happy to be part of an association where the largest banner declares "civil marriage is a civil right" -- and happy to be doing the work I love and feel so called to do in the world.

I wanted to share the moment.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Sexual Justice

The General Assemblies of these two denominations are wrapping up -- I was tempted to call this blog "women 2, sexual minories 0."

The "stain glass ceiling" may have been broken, but both denominations voted against full inclusion for gays and lesbians. The Episcopal Church adopted Resolution B033 that calls on bishops and Standing Committees to "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." The Presbyterians affirmed their fidelity in marriage, chastity in marriage ordination standards and accepted the "Peace, Unity and Purity" report. In case it's not clear in the doublespeak of this language, basically the EC is saying no to openly gay and lesbian bishops (manner of life is code for homosexuality, not such things as dishonesty, immorality, alcoholism, and so on) and the PCUSA is saying no to ordaining any gay clergy (since they don't allow marriage for gay persons, no gay person who has sex need apply.)

I'm sure this is heartbreaking for people who support sexual justice in these denominations. I can not begin to imagine how it must feel to those called to ministry in these denominations who are being told by their own community that they aren't wanted. It's hard for me as a UU to understand why they stay.

I leave tomorrow for the UU General Assembly in St. Louis. I'm proud that in my denomination sexual justice is a fact not a distant goal.

Have a good weekend, I'll be back on Monday.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Time to Celebrate!

Change happens slowly in denominations. It took more than thirty years since the first women were ordained, but the Presbyterians and the Episcopalians have finally taken the steps to break the glass ceiling of their respective denominations. You no doubt know that Katherine Jefferts Shori -- that's her on the left -- was elected (on the fifth ballot, but nevertheless still elected) to be the presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church of the USA. The Presbyterians elected Rev. Joan Grey to be their new moderator, the highest spokesperson and titular leader in the denomination.

One has to wonder if it will be take thirty years before GLBT clergy will be eligible to be the leaders of mainstream denominations.

I’m reminded about what an Episcopal priest said to me back in 2000. I was complaining about how long it was taking me to finish seminary and my ordination requirements. I had shared that I had first felt called to the ministry in 1989, and here it was 2000, and I still had at least three more years to go. She smiled thoughtfully, and then told me that in God’s time, eleven years was nothing at all.

Perhaps what is important then is not to worry today about how long it took – but to celebrate that the time for full inclusion of women at all levels of the Presbyterian and Episcopal denominations in the United States has come.

BREAKING NEWS: I just read that the Episcopal Church voted to reject a demand from the worldwide Anglican Church that they stop appointing gay bishops. (More on this as I learn more!) If someone reading this was there, please post a comment and tell us what it was like when the vote was passed!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Dr. Felicia Stewart

I am off to Washington, D.C. on Monday morning to participate in a memorial service for Dr. Felicia Stewart. Dr. Stewart was a program director at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs during the Clinton administration, and one of the authors of one of the "Bibles" in the sexual and reproductive health fields, "Contraceptive Technology."

I knew her for a long time. She was fearless in her dedication to women's reproductive health, and she was dedicated to supporting and mentoring younger people in this field. She was elegant, outspoken, and brilliant. I wanted to be like her when I grew up.

She died at the age of 63 a few weeks ago. She died much too soon. One of my favorite memories of her was listening to her give a speech about menopause at a conference, as she laughingly shared with the audience that she was having her own hot flash. She was candid, comfortable, and owned her sexuality.

In preparing my comments for the service, I found out that she had been excommunicated from her cradle religion, the Mormon Church. Knowing how on some deep level the religion of our childhood and faith stay with us, I can only imagine how painful that must have been. And how absurd to think that this church did not want her, for surely she was graced by God in her talents but also in her work in the world. Felicia blessed the world, and those of us who were lucky enough to know her.

To paraphrase a passage from Phillippians –
She was true,
She was honorable.
She was just.
She was lovely…
She was of good report.

If there be any virtue,
And if there be any praise,
Think on her.

Rest in peace, Felicia.

Friday, June 16, 2006


According to the Episcopal News Service, on Wednesday night, more than 1500 people came to the forum on something called the "Windsor Report" to debate whether the church should offer "an apology and repentance for having"ordained Bishop Gene Robinson at their last meeting. That's the language they use -- to apology and repent for having elected an openly gay Bishop. This is not a judgment on Bishop Robinson's service to the church just that his life partner is a man. The report calls for a moratorium on ordaining gay and lesbian priests, electing gay and lesbian Bishops, and creating rites for same sex unions.

I can't stop thinking what it must have been like to have a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person sitting in that room listening to the speeches. My heart breaks thinking about the pain that they must have felt. No matter how gentile the speaker, the words must have been soul numbing. The message: NOT WANTED. Not wanted on the basis of who you are and who you love. NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR US.

I don't get it. Oh, I get that people of faith have different moral values about homosexuality, and that this is an issue of great concern in some Christian denominations. But what I don't get on a more fundamental level is that a denomination based on Jesus' radical call for love and inclusiveness is fighting about who to exclude from the call to serve, on the basis of sexual identity.

WWJD? It seems very clear to me.

Let us hold the delegates to both the Presbyterian and Episcopalian meetings in our hearts and prayers this weekend.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Prayers for the Presbyterian Church

The Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly begins Thursday in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the birthplaces of the civil rights movement in the United States. Over the next week, the delegates will have the opportunity to either expand or contract sexual rights in their denomination.

Delegates will be discussing "The Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church." Yes, that says purity. The report recommends no change in the requirement (G-6.0106b) that only married, faithful heterosexuals or chaste singles can be ordained. They will also be debating three resolutions to overturn the PCUSA' support of women's rights to choose safe and legal abortion.

The Covenant Network of Presbyterians speak for many faithful Presbyterians in their belief that "God is calling faithful gay and lesbian Presbyterians to full inclusion in the life and leadership of the church, and the deletion of G-6.0106b." PARO, the pro-choice Presbyterian group, is working to assure the defeat of the anti-choice overtures.

We stand with those who are working for sexual justice within the PCUSA and pray for open hearts as these resolutions are debated. We hope in the words of the Covenant Network, that they will "join in an spirit of expectation, prayer, and receptiveness to what God will do through this 217th General Assembly...this is a time for hope in the church!"

PS Our June newsletter was published this morning. We are pleased to offer blog readers complimentary online subscriptions. Subscribe at the newsletter link on our website.

Report from Canada

I was the closing plenary speaker yesterday at the 28th Guelph Sexuality Conference at the University of Guelph, Canada.

I had a number of concerns before going to the conference. Crossing the border into Canada is now much more of a hassle than it used to be, and doing it for a 36 hour trip gave me pause. I had read that Canadians were much less religious than people in the United States (only one in five go to church regularly as compared to one in two in the U.S.), and I was concerned that my message might not be relevant to the audience. And, I greatly prefer being the opening or luncheon speaker at conferences; people are generally very tired at the end of a conference and often more focused on leaving than on paying attention at the final plenary.

But, I enjoyed it immensely. Like audiences in the U.S., almost everyone in the room had grown up in a faith tradition. Only three people could remember receving positive messages about sexuality in their early religious home; most said they remembered the silence. The audience felt most receptive when I talked about the need for healing the brokenness that so many carry about their sexuality; although Canada is much more sane about sexual justice (I was told before the conference that abortion, sexuality education and same sex marriage are non-issues in public life in Canada), personal struggles with sexuality issues transcend geographic boundaries.

As often happens, I was most moved by my conversations after my talks. One woman told me that she wouldn't have left the church if she had had a minister like me. I assured her that there are many religious leaders who support sexual justice.

One woman waited until the end and came up to me with tears in her eyes. She told me that she missed her church, missed practicing her religion, and that I had given her hope that she might find a religious community to support her. The word religion comes from the word "religare" -- to bind fast, to connect. In those moments, we did.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Prayers for the Episcopal Church

When you go to the home page of the Episcopal Church, you would hardly know that they were about to hold their General Convention and you would certainly not know that it may be roiled with controversy about sexual orientation.

At the last General Convention three years ago, the House of Bishops voted to elect the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as Bishop of New Hampshire. At this convention, there will be a series of votes on issues related to sexuality, but perhaps the most important vote will be the vote for the new presiding Bishop of the EC in the United States.

The current Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold, has been a strong supporter of sexual justice. In fact, the Religious Institute is proud that he was one of the earliest supporters of our "Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing." There is a wonderful article in Sunday's New York Times on Bishop Griswold, which quotes him in part as saying:

"God's truth is always unfolding. If we can accept that there are new truths that science brings us, or new discoveries in medicine, why is it when it comes to sexuality, there is no new truth...a number of those most upset...have enjoyed the mercy of the church in the case of their own divorce and remarriage, which is something Jesus commented on."

Seven candidates are running to succeed Bishop Griswold -- four voted for Bishop Robinson, three did not. Let us pray for our colleagues and friends at the General Convention that God's grace prevails and that there will be an affirmation not a reversal of full inclusion for all.

P.S. I'm delighted to tell you that Mother Jones has reprinted my editorial on why progressive religious leaders must speak out on sexual justice. I'm off to speak in Guelph, Canada on Monday and Tuesday, and will be back with a new post on Wednesday.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Week in Review: Sexual Justice Wins 3 - 2

Unitarian minister Theodore Parker wrote that "the arc of the Universe bends towards justice."

It certainly seems so this week. In addition to the US Senate turning down the Federal Marriage Amendment despite pressure from the Republican leadership and the White House this week, we can celebrate that:

*A new law went into effect in Washington State that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Opponents failed to get enough signatures on a petition to stop the law from going into effect. See for a good story on this.

*Clergy for Fairness delivered a letter with more than 2000 clergy signatures to the US Senate before the vote on the FMA, and their press conference received extensive coverage.

*The FDA resisted pressure from the religious right and approved a new vaccine Gardasil against cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer for women worldwide. This new vaccine offers the potential, if cost and delivery can be addressed, to make cervical cancer as obsolete as polio.

That's the good news from this week. Conversely, Louisiana passed a ban against most abortions should Roe v. Wade be overturned and Alabama's voters voted to prohibit same sex marriage. My heart goes out to women and GLBT folks who live in these states.

But to end on one last piece of good news -- I'm also pleased to tell you that the Center for American Progress published a new editorial by me today on why progressive religious leaders must address sexual justice issues. Check it out. I'm very honored to have my work featured on their home page.

Have a great weekend.

Rev. Debra

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Allan Rosenfield

Last night, I attended the retirement celebration dinner for Dr. Allan Rosenfield. Many of my readers have probably never heard of Dr. Rosenfield. If we celebrated the right things in America, you would have.

Alan is the Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. During his twenty years of leadership of the school, its budget grew from $12 million to $161 million. He has been a leader in the sexual and reproductive rights field (Allan is credited with helping created the contraceptive revolution in Thailand and introduced the idea of over-the-counter distribution of oral contraceptives), HIV/AIDS, and Maternal and Child Health field. He has worked tirelessly around the world for the rights of women.

Over 800 people attended last night's dinner. There were tributes by Hillary Clinton, Richard Gere, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. There were presidents and executive directors of hospitals, foundations, leading non-governmental organizations, and even a Princess there to honor him. It was a reunion of sorts for many of us in the sexual and reproductive health field.

However, I don't think people came to honor Allan's myriad accomplishments. Rather, they came to honor his life. Every person I spoke with had a story about how Allan had been there for them, how he had taken the time to talk with them at a difficult point in their life, how he had mentored them, taught them, inspired them. I think every one of the 800 people had a story about how Allan had made a difference in their professional and personal life. As much as anything, we wanted to be there to celebrate his humanity. I was moved to tears many times during the evening.

Allan is retiring only because a medical condition is forcing him to leave the work and the people he loves. Allan, I salute you for all you have done, but more because you model how we all should live. These words from Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing ran through my mind last night. I think they describe you perfectly. I hope they will comfort you. Thank you for being our symphony.

“To seek elegance rather than luxury and refinement rather than fashion;

To be worthy, not respectable…and wealthy, not rich.

To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly.

To listen to stars and birds; to babes and sages, with open heart.

To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.

To let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.

This is to be my symphony.”

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Federal Marriage Amendment Fails!

This just in -- the Federal Marriage Amendment failed just minutes ago, with a 49 - 48 vote. That's 11 votes short of passage.

Thank you to everyone who wrote and called about this Amendment. A CNN poll released this morning shows Americans evenly divided on this issue.

Clearly the issue of marriage equality isn't going to go away. We need to continue to educate people that where there is love, the sacred is always in our midst, and that all people should have the right to the benefits of civil marriage. We need to say often that sexual difference is part of our blessed endowment, and that marriage equality is the only moral response.

But, for today, let's just take a moment to celebrate that despite everything, we won this one!

How Not To Win Supporters

I heard yesterday from two of the Religious Institute supporters about an Internet campaign to have people call Senators who support the Federal Marriage Amendment and ask the poor receptionist about the Senators' sex lives. The point, I suppose, is that unless the Senator has only procreative, vanilla sex himself, he (and I think these are all he's) has no right to say anything about someone else's sex life.

I understand the temptation -- and the anger -- behind these calls. Surely, as Prime Minister Trudeau said in 1969 when Canada decriminalized homosexuality, the state has no place in anyone's bedroom.

But, I vehemently oppose these tactics and believe that they are sure to backfire. They feed into people's homophobia ("see, we told you these weren't nice people") and fears. How much better it would be to call and leave a message that says, "I'm a person of faith and want the Senator to vote NO on the FMA. I believe that where there is love the sacred is always present, and that efforts to build discrimination into the Constitution are immoral."

That's all the receptionists needs to hear. They mark down on a tally sheet that one more constitutent stands on the side of love. And maybe they thank you for your call.

Which if you haven't made yet, the Senate still hasn't voted. See Sunday night's blog for the phone number.

Monday, June 05, 2006

New Poll Demonstrates Americans Value Religious Freedom

If you haven't written your Senators about the Federal Marriage Amendment, please see yesterday's blog for how to do so quickly and easily.

But frankly, I found today' s reports from the White House and the Senate too depressing to write about again. Especially because I want to tell you about a new report from the Center for American Progress that should make us hopeful for America.

The Religion project at CAP released survey results from a poll that they conducted in February on American's moral values and feelings about religion in public life. They found that almost three quarters of Americans worry about how materialistic we are becoming and almost nine in ten think we should be doing more to help the poor and disadvantaged. Two thirds of respondents believe that family, individual freedom, equality, and religious freedom are essential characteristics of American life. Almost six in ten believe it is important for America to value both faith and science.

The major moral crisis in America according to those polled -- 28% said children not being raised with the right values. 22% said corruption in government and business. Only 3 in 100 said abortion and homosexuality.

You can read the full poll results and even download a powerpoint presentation at the Center for American Progress website. There are a lot of sermons in this data.

On these days when the Senate is considering putting discrimination into the Constitution, let's hope that they are listening to what Americans are trying to tell them. (And I'm hoping that you've let them hear from you -- again read yesterday's blog on how to send your Senator an email or leave a message with their office.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006


On Saturday, President Bush devoted his weekly radio address to opposing marriage equality for same sex couples. It's hard for this minister to understand how in a week that included the news of American soldiers murdering Iraqi civilians he chose this moment to express his moral outrage against people in love wanting to enter civil marriage commitments.

A study to be released on Monday by the Center for American Progress finds that only 3% of us think that abortion and homosexuality are the major moral issues facing America. Given poverty, homelessness, the war, racism, the degradation of the environment, lack of access to health care, inadequate education and so on, I find that reassuring.

Nevertheless, with Bill Frist and George Bush's support, the US Senate will spend time this week voting on an ill-conceived effort to amend the US Constitution. You may have read in the paper this weekend that the FMA has no hope of passing. I'd like to think that a majority of the Senate will just say no to this attempt to write discrimination into the Constitution, but let's not count on that happening without our involvement.

So, here's what you need to do. If you haven't written your Senators yet to ask them to vote NO on Sen Res J 1, please go to our ACTION CENTER and send them an email NOW. It will take you less than two minutes to let your voice be heard.

Monday has been designated as a CALL IN DAY on the Federal Marriage Amendment. All you need to do is call the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121, tell them your state, and they will connect you to your Senators' offices. Simply tell the person who answers the phone that you are a person of faith and that you oppose the FMA.

Your spending five minutes today can make a difference in people's lives. What's a greater moral value than that?