Friday, September 29, 2006
How terribly sad for everyone concerned, and how ironic that Rep. Foley has been the chair of the caucus on missing and exploited children. I wrote back in June how misguided this bill was in concentrating on registries for treated sex offenders to keep children safe from abuse.
Because the facts are again that abuse of children is perpetuated by people children and teens know and often know well. Ninety percent of the time. Just like Rep. Foley knew this young man, had his email address, and was from the content of the emails, starting to groom him for a sexual relationship.
This young man knew to tell. But not all young people do. That's where prevention has to come in.
But the other sad part of this story is I have to wonder would this story have been different if Rep. Foley had been able to publicly acknowledge that he was a gay (Republican!) man and could have lived openly among his colleagues. Might that have meant that he could have made life affirming sexual decisions with other adults rather soliciting minors on emails? Of course, that is speculation, but I have to wonder how being in the closet affected him.
Scripture reminds us to not cast the first stone. For tonight, my prayers go out to both the Foley family and the yet unnamed young man. For tomorrow, I hope that the media will use this story as a teachable moment to talk to young people about sexual abuse. If they don't, I hope you will.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Our eighth grade son started attending the "Our Whole Lives" sexuality education program at our church this past Sunday. This comprehensive program will run for the next twenty eight weeks. It was jointly developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, and it provides honest, accurate, and age-appropriate information on sexuality subjects, including abstinence, decision-making about sexuality, contraception, sexual orientation, STD prevention, and masturbation.
People often ask me why my children need a sexuality education program. After all, they ask, don't you provide them will all the information they need? Actually, Greg asked the same thing. But, the reality is that we can't provide him with an opportunity to talk with his peers about these issues under the guidance of a trained adult and there are no doubt areas he would rather discuss with someone besides his mom. Our school system does NOT have a sex education program; thank goodness, our church does.
Now I am a bit biased about the OWL program, as I was an early advisor on its development and one of the pilot testers. But, as a parent, I am also thrilled that my church is sharing responsiblity for educating my child about these important issues, and that he, and the 23 other students, are learning early that sexuality and religion do go together.
Contrast that with the call I got this week from my daughter who is a college senior. She had just come from a lecture by some peer educators on abstinence where the slogan used was "Have you ever had an orgasm to die for?" She was furious -- "Mom, these are scare tactics. They don't help, they just deny people the information they need to make sure that sex can be safe." These aren't school mandated or government abstinence-only programs; these are student-led efforts. It's puzzling to me that abstinence-only groups are spreading on college campuses, and one can only hope as I told my daughter that other groups are making sure that comprehensive health education is available.
The folks at the UUA are now working on a young adult OWL curriculum. It can't come out soon enough. I'd hate to think my eighth grader is better prepared to make healthy sexual decisions than some 20 year olds on campus.
I am off to meetings at Harvard today on abstinence-only education, and I will take Monday off to observe Yom Kippour. "See you" on Tuesday.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Dear Deb, I think it's a complex discussion. I stand unequivocably for full glbt equality, including marriage equality, and for women's reproductive choice including choosing abortion. I work with many groups, both within the UUA and in interfaith coalitions, that agree with me about those.
But I also work on issues such as Darfur, economic justice, racial justice, peace, religious liberty, the environment, and the death penalty, with a number of groups who disagree about sexual justice issues. As Bernice Johnson Reagan wrote in an essay in coalition building, "Coalition work is done in the streets. You do not go to a coalition seeking mothers' milk..."
While I'm privileged to work for a religious group (UUA) which supports my own convictions on most issues, I work in many justice arenas to find the broadest group possible which shares my view. I never pretend to be anyone but myself--an open lesbian partner/ mom / UU minister. I don't feel that I am backing away from sexual justice issues by focussing elsewhere; I think there are other issues which demand commitment and attention. Over the years, in coalitions, I have watched a number of areas of disagreement--notably about the Middle East, abortion, and gay rights, take down too many good efforts. I think it is key to leave room for disagreement on some issues while moving forward on others.
This doesn't mean that I need to say "All points are equally valid." I have moral convictions. But I do need the discipline to say, "The nature of coalition work is that we are here because we agree about X and want to be strategic and effective in taking action about X" and let go of Y, Z, and A B C. Where I think any group hits morally troubled waters is when it purports to have 'the answers A-Z' to the religious right. Complexity isn't popular these days, but I have to hold on to my conviction that any adult, regardless of public declarations of a simplistic manner, understands that it is descriptive of the essence of life. All the best, and thanks for your provocative questions.
Of course, I agree with Meg that there are times we need to put aside our own issues to work in coalition on pressing human concerns. When I attend meetings on hunger or Iraq or poverty and so on, I don't enter those rooms carrying any agenda but the one that I am there for. But, what I don't do is turn away from or put down other people's commitments either. I understand that not every mainstream or progressive religious leader will embrace sexual justice issues -- but when some of my colleagues deliberately marginalize them or worse speak out against women's moral agency and the full inclusion of GLBT people, I am called to speak out.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
There are nationally recognized religious leaders who understand and articulate the connection. For example, my friend and colleague Rev. Barry Lynn who heads Americans United has an excellent new book out called Piety and Politics which demonstrates how attacks on sex education, gay rights, and women's moral agency are of a single piece with attacks on the separation of church and state, the teaching of evolution, the posting of religious symbols in public places, public prayer, and so on. He urges readers to say no to theocracy, and in one of my favorite passages, he writes:
"The goals of Christ and the goals of the Religious Right seem to have little in common. Christ did not spend his time trying to forge a faith-based government. He did not obsess over the sexual habits of people. Were he here today, I find it inconceivable that Christ would parade in front of abortion clinics screaming at teenage girls or picket a gay man's funeral hoisting a sign with a hateful homophobic message."
Rabbi Michael Lerner from Tikkun sent me this message about yesterday's blog:
Dear Debra, It is certainly true that the Religious Right tries to make the issue of abortion and homosexuality the central issues in American politics. We at the Network of Spiritual Progressives unequivocally oppose any attempts by the state to prohibit reproductive choices for women or to prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying with the same attendant rights gives to heterosexual marriages. Yet at the same time we agree with Jim Wallis in insisting that we not allow the Right to set the terms for politics in the U.S. Our task as spiritual progressives, we believe, is to change the dominant discourse so that it does not persist in its narrow fascination on private sexual and reproductive choices, important as they are, while ignoring these other areas that Jim Wallis mentions (poverty and economic issues in particular). We at the NSP also believe that issues of peace and non-violence, human rights and civil liberties, torture, and addressing the fundamental spiritual crisis in America should be central to the agenda of a progressive movement, and that we should insist on broadening the public discourse away from a narrow focus on abortion and homosexuality.
I agree completely. I wish I could spend more of my time working with clergy and congregations on how to be sexually healthy, how to help people integrate their sexuality and their spirituality, how to help people live sexual lives with holiness and integrity -- and less time responding to the religious rights attacks on people's most personal and private decisions. But, as long as the religious right makes abortion and gay rights central issues in their agenda for America, progressive and mainstream religious leaders must engage these issues as well.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Read the report of his comments yourself at
Whether we like it or not, the religious right continues to make sexual justice issues the core of their public policy agenda. Last week, Sojourners launched a new campaign they call the "Red Letter Christians." In their press release they wrote,
The goal of the group is to advance the message that our faith cannot be reduced to only two hot button social issues - abortion and homosexuality. Fighting poverty, caring for the environment, advancing peace, promoting strong families, and supporting a consistent ethic of life are all critical moral and biblical values.
And indeed they are. But the Sojourner's campaign is not just about trying to focus moral attention on these pressing human needs. Rev. Jim Wallis, Sojourners' President, has said publicly that he is against abortion and marriage equality. He is not alone in the progressive religious movement in trying to distance himself from sexual justice issues.
I don't often agree with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, but I did when he told Rev. Wallis on CBS "People are going to have to stand on one side or the other. These are decisions that can't stand in the middle."
Poll after poll tell us that the majority of Americans support the right to privacy in our most intimate decisions, and so I'd like to believe that sexual justice is a mainstream, middle of the road value. But, I for one, along with the more than 2600 religious leaders that are part of the network of the Religious Institute, believe in a faith based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights and full inclusion of women and sexual minorities. I'm not willing to compromise the rights of women or GLBT people to appear more middle of the road; I wonder what it will take for some of my religious leader colleagues to understand that the leaders on the religious right are not going to allow sexual justice issues to fade into the background. As a result, we reaffirm our call to faith leaders and faith communities to be a prophetic voice for sexual and spiritual justice and wholeness.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Friday, September 22, 2006
May we prepare ourselves for the changes in the year to come.
May it be a good year.
May it be a healthy year.
May it be a year of peace for all of us, all around the globe.
May it be a year of peace within ourselves.
May we live our lives with integrity, service, and love.
May we be blessed with the strength of this community, of our families, of our friends.
May we remember what it truly important in life and may we remember to be grateful every day.
May we all be inscribed another year in the Book of Life.
La Shanah Tovah!
There are some days where I have to search for topics for my blog. There are other days like today where there are many things deserving comment or reporting. I could, for example, write this morning about the new CDC guidelines that encourage HIV testing for everyone beginning at age 13. (Is this the same government that wants to deny young people information about condoms and birth control?) I could also share with you how delighted I was to attend my first meeting of the Religious Roundtable of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force yesterday and how honored I was to be elected to their steering committee.
But, tonight is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and my thoughts are turned towards its celebration. I resonate with the new year beginning in September rather than the middle of winter. I like the call tonight to reflection, to forgiveness, to charity, to opening a new chapter in one's life. I will attend services today at my dad's congregation; on Sunday, we will observe the New Year in our Unitarian way at my home congregation, the Unitarian Church in Westport. I will take time tomorrow to reflect on my blessings, my shortcomings, and my hopes and prayers for the people I love.
La Shana Tova! Happy New Year. May you be blessed with a healthy and sweet new year. May this be a year of peace.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
The Family Research Council is bringing 1400 conservative activists to Washington, D.C. for a Value Voter's Summit. Now, I wasn't invited to participate, and I haven't seen the agenda, but I'm guessing that there will be plenty of attention to sexuality issues.
But a poll released on Wednesday by the Center for American Values, a program of People for the American Way, found that issues such as abortion and marriage equality rank LAST in importance to the vast majority of Americans when deciding how to vote. Indeed, although this poll of more than 2500 randomly sampled U.S. citizens found that a majority of Americans support stem cell research, and marriage or civil unions for gay couples, 85% believe that issues like poverty and affordable health care are more imortant than issues like abortion and same sex marriage. Indeed, in thinking about voting, abortion and marriage equality come in dead last on how a person would decide to vote for a member of Congress. When people say that they "vote their values" more "people think of the honesty, integrity, and responsibility of the candidate than any other values."
Despite what the Family Research Council would have you believe this weekend, this poll shows that we are ALL values voters -- and a majority of us think that loving our neighbors and caring for the poor are the values that are most important -- not just for individuals but for government and religious leaders as well. Congratulations to People For the American Way for taking back the term "values voters."
But, I mostly hear comments from people who oppose what I have to say and I think it's fair to say even what my ministry stands for. Over the weekend, one "anonymous" poster sent very negative comments to seven different posts including a few with obscenities (and several with random Bible quotes that were taken out of the context of the text to disparage my thoughts.)
I don't make it my business to read blogs of those on the religious right, unless someone writes and tells me that they are about me or the Religious Institute. I write this blog for people who are genuinely interested in the connection of religion and sexuality, for people who have been alienated from their faith because of sexuality issues, to bring a progressive religious voice on sexual morality, justice, and healing to those who welcome it.
I respect that the issues I address are often difficult for people and that people of good faith can differ on these issues. I even like being in dialog (not debate) with people to see if we can seek common ground. But, really, if you hate what I'm writing, why are you spending your time reading this?
I'm guessing that my sister's knitting blog doesn't have people who hate knitting.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
More than 35 million American women have had abortions in the past three decades, yet few have talked about it publicly. Too often, abortion has been a woman's private experience, and the silence has hurt the public's understanding that millions of women have faced unplanned pregancies. Even more, the public debate often forgets that 61% of women who have had abortions have also had children.
I feel lucky to have never faced this decision in my own personal life. But, I have many friends and congregants who have -- women who were too young, women who didn't have the financial resources, women whose contraceptive failed, women who were forced to have sex, women whose wanted pregnancies could not be continued because of their dire health problems or the medical problems of the fetus.
MS is asking those of us who have had abortion to sign a petition that they will make public of women who have had an abortion in their lifetime. You can sign the petition at https://msmagazine.com/donations/ms/womenspetition_c3_091906.asp
Public dialog about AIDS changed when people with the disease came forward. Public dialog about gay and lesbian people changed when people who were gay and lesbian came forward. The MS foundation hopes that by sharing the stories of real women who had abortions the public dialog can change too. I hope you'll consider it and pass it on.
Based on the news reports, it seems that the Vatican needs to do more than issue press statement apologies...one wonders and shudders to think how this will all end.
Monday, September 18, 2006
I'm thinking about that comment again after just finishing reading about the Pope's extraordinary apology for comments he made about Islam last week and the ensuing violence that has resulted in churches being burned in the middle east and the slaying of a nun in Somalia. My first thought was to quote Shakespeare, "a pox on both their houses."
The Pope was wrong in quoting an anti-Islamic medieval text and has apologized for using the quote. (Don't they have someone who vets his speeches before he gives them??) The violence in response is wrong. It is just the latest chapter in religious intolerance and hatred springing from religous beliefs.
What I usually tell the person who tells me that they detest what religion has done to the world is that I agree with them. And then I tell them that that faith and religion have also brought hope and healing to the world through history to the world as well. But, right now, the image of the dead nun shown on the Today Show is hurting my heart. I am reminded of Meister Eckhardt's quote, "When will people stop believing in a god that makes them sad?"
Friday, September 15, 2006
It calls for increased funding for prenatal care, Title X family planning services, teenage pregnancy prevention services, and sexuality education programs that include abstinence and prevention information.
It makes sense. It talks about reducing the need for abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies. Its proposals are based on good science and good ethics. It shows that people from differing points of view can seek common ground and work together.
And if funded, there is no question that it would reduce the need -- and therefore the numbers -- of abortions in the United States.
Why is it then that I'm guessing the Religious Right isn't going to get behind this?
Thought for reflection over the weekend: I just read this quote by Kahil Gibran:
"Your daily life is your temple and your religion."
How well are you doing? I'm cutting it out and putting it on our refrigerator as a reminder.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
On Wednesday, I was one of the panelists at the launch of this new publication in Washington, D.C. About one hundred people from diverse organizations in D.C. attended the presentations. I joined Jessica Arons, the author of the report, Shira Saperstein from the Moriah Fund, Dr. Pablo Rodriquez, Planned Parenthood of RI, Malika Saaada Saar, Rebecca Project for Human Rights, and Rhonda Waller, from Adura to discuss various aspects of the report.
The Four Cornerstones of the report are:
The ability to become a parent and to parent with dignity.
The ability to determine whether or when to have children.
The ability to have a healthy pregnancy.
The ability to have healthy and safe families and relationships.
In this report, CAP affirms its commitment to reproductive health and justice, and although the language is perhaps not as clear as I might have liked, to sexual health and rights as well. As part of a broad policy agenda that stresses reproductive health and healthy pregnancies, they support accessible abortion services, comprehensive sexuality education, marriage equality, and the right of gays and lesbians to adopt children.
They also remind the reader that 60% of women who seek abortions are already parents, and that the same women need both prenatal care and parenting support and safe and legal abortion, just at different times of their lives. They also remind us that the average woman in the U.S. spends five years trying to become pregnant or being pregnant, but more than 30 years trying to avoid pregnancy.
In my comments, I suggested that our culture confusion about reproductive health and rights was really a proxy for our cultural confusion about sexuality, and that both must be addressed. I challenged the audience:
We need to articulate our own values, and we need to confront the moral values of those who seek to deny these rights to men, women and teenagers. We need to ask, Is it ever moral to coerce a woman to carry a pregnancy to term? Is it ever moral to deny young people life saving information? Is it ever moral to deny a loving committed couple the right to a union protected by laws available to heterosexual couples. Is it moral in a pluralistic society to privilege one religious point of view over another?
You can read the report or its executive summary at
I am honored and grateful that the Center for American Progress included me today. More, I am deeply appreciative of their commitment to reproductive health and rights. I hope you'll read it. Pass it on.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
It was a very exciting and heady evening. Several hundred people filled the room to salute the launch of this new network, and listen to speeches by Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda among others. In the small world department, the President and CEO of Greenstone is Susan Ness, who I served with on the Montgomery County Commission on Women in the early 1980's.
Here's how Greenstone describes its history:
"Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and a high powered group of women decided to offer an alternative by founding GreenStone Media. It's the only national radio network owned by women, and it's designed to offer what is missing in talk today -- radio that is thought-provoking, emotionally involving, believable and trustworthy. Radio that talks with you, not at you. " Their slogan is "Less heat. More light."
In my favorite line of the evening, Ms. Steinem said that they will work to be just edgy enough that you can still have your children listening with you in the car. Right now, they have programs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. that you can listen to on some AM and FM stations but also on your computer (and soon to be podcast). I'm even moved to have my son reconnect the speakers on my desk computer.
I am excited to share with you that I will be taping some programs with Jane Fonda for the Lisa Birnback show in October, and will let you know here when you can expect them to air. When they move to weekend programming, I hope to be able to do more.
Victor Hugo said "There is no greater power on earth than an idea whose time has come." Greenstone is such an idea.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Cythnia Dailard reports that the federal government, nearly ten years since the start of the abstinence-only-until-marriage program has finally defined what they mean by abstinence. The new guidelines say that abstinence is "voluntarily choosing not to engage in sexual activity until marriage." They define sexual activity as "any type of genital activity or sexual stimulation between two persons."
Sexual stimulation? Let's see, that could include flirting, hand holding, kissing, french kissing...watching someone in tight jeans bend over and pick up a fork on the floor of the middle school cafeteria. Come on...were these people ever teenagers?
And any type of genital activity until marriage? Let's remember that the average age of marriage is now 26 in the United States. Could the people who wrote these regulations really think it is realistic to ask in love teens and twenty somethings prior to marriage not to share any type of stimulating behaviors? And what about gay and lesbians who are denied the right to marriage? I guess they better avoid stimulation throughout their lives.
This would be laughable if we weren't pouring millions of dollars into these programs each year. They offer bad public health advice to young people, and I think they fail to offer moral advice to young people as well. Frankly, as a minister, I would refuse to marry a couple who told me that they had shared no sexual behaviors at all; sexuality is too important in a marriage, and the decision to be married is too sacred, to have NO information about each other's sexuality prior to the wedding day. It's hard to believe that it is federal policy to encourage such ignorance.
Instead, we should be helping young people celebrate their developing sexuality, one of God's most life affirming gifts, in developmentally appropriate ways. In October, the Religious Institute will be convening a group of theologians to develop a new Open Letter on Adolescent Sexuality. I look forward to sharing it with you.
To read Ms. Dailard's full article for yourself, go to http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/gpr/09/3/gpr090312.html
Monday, September 11, 2006
I love the Homecoming Service. Hundreds of people fill the lawn and we rededicate each of the important symbols of our church. We read a necrology of people who have been members and died since the church was founded.
There were many 9/11 reminders. Two sons of our church were killed in the towers; the flowers were dedicated to them yesterday. The day, crisp and sunny with a blue sky that went on forever, was just like that September day.
It was good to be back home in community. September 11, 2001, my sister in ministry Barbara Fast and I kept the church open past midnight and held a prayer service while Frank Hall, our senior minister, met with the families most immediately affected. It was good to be in community that night too.
I know that too many people have been alienated from their faith communities because of their sexuality. I meet people all the time who have given up on religion because of the way it addressed sexuality. One of the key messages of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing is that there are faith leaders (over 2600 of them!) and faith communities that welcome all people and that are committed to being sexual healthy faith communities. We are in every state and we represent more than 40 faith traditions. If you have given up, I hope you will try again.
Today, let us pause to honor the memories of those who died...let us remind ourselves that all we ever really know we have is the present day, the present moment. Let us recommit to justice for all.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Well, my public health background told me that this wasn't any scientific poll, so I said, "No." She said, "NO?? Should I repeat the question so you understand it better?" I said, "I think I understand the question. No." She sputtered, and I continued, "Parents can monitor and decide what shows their children watch. They can watch television with their children. They can turn it off. We don't need to police popular entertainment." She said, "I'm from the Dove Foundation and we are going to clean up television."
And then get this...she hung up on me.
I googled the Dove Foundation this morning. It turns out that up until now they have concentrated on identifying what they call "family friendly" movies. To give you a clue about who they are, they think that the Harry Potter movies push the occult. Now, I guess, they are turning to television.
Like any parent, I'm concerned about what my children see in the media. I regularly consult my friend Nell Minow's site; she's the Movie Mom and does excellent reviews so that my family can decide if we want to see a particular movie. If a television show has a 14 rating and my son wants to watch it, we watch it together and then we talk. It's called using the media as a teachable moment.
But, so called polling with predetermined outcomes about the content of media -- I think I'll pass. Dove Foundation, take me off your call list.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Mostly, I want to encourage you to read the comments on the entry I did last Friday on doctors denying women contraception. They are a fascinating blend of opinions, including many strong natural family planning advocates. Other people who join my concern about these clinics have also posted. I have not approved the four hateful messages (this is after all my space!), but I have posted all of the others.
It's a fascinating dialog and I invite you to join the discussion!
"See you" Friday.
Friday, September 01, 2006
It described a trend that frankly had escaped me until I read the article -- obstetrician/gynecologist offices that "pray for and with" patients, refuse to offer or even refer for birth control, sterilizations, or abortions, and promote only natural family planning.
There are according to the article more than 500 such medical practices in the United States. They quote one doctor who says, "We're trying to get doctors to see that contraception is not good medical practice" and that natural family planning "builds a marriage."
Unfortunately, the article doesn't quote one religious leader who thinks this is a bad idea.
It is. What happened to informed consent in medicine? Natural family planning is the least effective method of contraception, and effective contraceptive use is not only "good medical practice" but a moral choice. What happens when a woman goes to one of these doctors who has a different religious point of view? What happens in a rural area where this might be the only obstetrician/gynecology offices? Although not addressed in the article, one shudders to think how a woman with a sexually transmitted disease is seen in one of these practices. Do they treat her or send her out with a lecture? Do these doctors refuse women vaccines against Hepatitis and HPV because they protect against such diseases? What is the end of their limiting their services to sexually active women?
To my mind, these medical practices neither support women's health or their faith. They're dangerous and they are immoral in their goal of limiting women's moral agency. What do you think?
I'll be on spiritual retreat in Maine next week. I'll be "back" next Friday. Have a good Labor Day weekend!
Rev. Debra W. Haffner