Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween, Part Two

This is the first year that my son feels he is too old for trick or treating. He'll stay home with me and answer the door. It will be a reverse rite of passage in some way. I feel both a sense of sadness about this marker as well as relief that I don't have to help him make a costume this year. The Martha Stewart thing is definitely not me.

But what I want to write about today is the news reports I have heard that there are several communities where registered sex offenders will be required to spend Halloween night at a community center. I would feel better about these programs if they were coupled with prevention messages to parents and children. But at least the way they have sounded on news reports is that they prey on people's fears of sex offenders while doing almost nothing to keep children safe.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have written a book on keeping children safe from sexual abuse. They also know that ninety percent of the time children are abused by people they know well -- family members, family friends, babysitters, coaches, teachers, and even religious leaders. Locking the registered sex offenders up for the night is not the answer.

Surely we do not want our children, tweens, or teens going into anyone’s home alone while they are trick or treating. Just because the person down the street is not on a registry does not mean it is safe for your child to visit them alone in their kitchen. How much safer children might be tonight if a parent/child education program had taught:
*Parents need to accompany children who are trick or treating.
*Older youth need to go in groups.
*Trick or treating should take place at the front door.
*Under no circumstances should children or teens enter inside people’s houses while they are trick or treating.

And don't forget to bring the flashlight and the box for Unicef.

Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween 2006, part l

Halloween decorations are everywhere in my neighborhood with some houses going to extraordinary length. Every time I pass one, I wonder when Halloween became the new Christmas decorating season. Right now we have a single uncarved pumpkin on our front porch.

I was thinking about Halloween when I read this new report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force titled
"Homophobia at ’Hell House’: Literally Demonizing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth". The Task Force estimates "that this Halloween season, 1.6 million people, many of them children as young as 10 years old, will go to "Hell Houses," religious alternatives to traditional haunted houses that are designed to scare youth into a "sin-free life."Instead of spooking youth with ghosts and monsters, Hell House tour guides direct them through rooms where violent scenes of damnation for a variety of "sins" are performed, including scenes where a teenage lesbian is brought to hell after committing suicide and a gay man dying of AIDS is taunted by a demon who screams that the man will be separated from God forever in hell." They also include scenes where women who have abortions are damned to hell.

One has to wonder how many unsuspecting parents, thinking that they are visiting a haunted house, end up taking their children to these Hell Houses.

According to the report, "Hell Houses first appeared in the 1970s at the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, and they have been gaining popularity since 1996, when the Rev. Keenan Roberts, an evangelical Christian pastor in Colorado, began selling "Hell House kits" to churches worldwide. Roberts estimates that these kits, which cost $299 each, have been distributed to 800 churches across the United States and 18 countries."
That's right, churches sponsor these Hell Houses.

Have they forgotten that the New Testament teaches us to ’love your neighbor as yourself?’ Have they forgotten that Jesus taught that we must love and include everyone? Cloaking hate in Christian language does not mean that it is not hateful or harmful. Religious leaders know that sexual difference is a blessed part of our endowment.

These Hell Houses are fear-based education at their worst; I am glad that the Task Force has exposed their homophobic and anti-choice messages.

More on safety and Halloween tomorrow.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Is Nicaragua an omen for South Dakota?

The male dominated Nicaragua government voted unaninimously to ban all abortions yesterday. That's right -- ALL. No exceptions for rape and incest, no exceptions for the woman's health and life.

Remarkably, this law doesn't change much for the women in that country. This past year, under the existing law, only six women were allowed to have a legal abortion.

But, 32,000 desperate women sought illegal abortions last year. If caught, they and their doctors would have faced jail terms.

Making abortion illegal doesn't stop abortions; it just stops women from having access to safe procedures.

Women's lives and reproductive health are a political pawn in Nicaragua and other countries around the world.

But it's not just somewhere else. The voters in South Dakota will decide on November 7th if abortion will remain legal in the state. The Mississippi legislature is poised to pass such a ban as well.

The immorality of coercing women to carrying pregnancies to term or forcing women to seek dangerous procedures on their own stuns me. My heart aches for them.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

New Jersey's ruling

As you no doubt know, the New Jersey Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision yesterday that said that the state constitution demands full equal rights for same sex couples. They also gave the State Legislature 180 days to figure out what that means, including whether to call those rights marriage or a civil union.

Now, I confess that I have not read the 90 page opinion yet, but my initial response is to celebrate their understanding and commitment to equal rights, while wishing that the would have affirmed this as "marriage." I simply don't get what it means when people say yes to civil unions but fervently believe that the word marriage should only belong to heterosexual couples. It's not as if we always do a good job of honoring it.

I increasingly though am of the mind that we should move to the European system. The state should perform civil unions for couples -- both same sex and other sex. Religious bodies should perform marriages -- and each religious body should determine for itself their criteria for who should be eligible for sacred ceremonies.

I always feel like a bit of a fraud when I sign a marriage license. The state asks me to perform no other state function as a member of the ordained clergy, and I don't need their permission to bury someone or name a baby. In Europe, as I understand, clergy don't sign the licenses; the state official does.

But, for now, let's celebrate one more step to recognizing relational justice for all.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My day in NY

I spent Monday at Greenstone Radio taping four shows with Lisa Birnbach and Jane Fonda. They will be airing on a regular basis this month, and we will be taping additional ones. It was great fun, and I think we also got out some important information. I'm looking forward to taping more shows with them on faith issues. I also taped a WNBC Today in New York segment that will air tomorrow morning, for those of you in the New York area who watch tv before 7 am.

Today at 3 p.m. the New Jersey Supreme Court will hand down its decision on marriage equality. Take a moment with me to pray for a just outcome. I'll be back tomorrow to talk about the decision.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Blessings on your day!

I love my ministry. I spent Saturday morning at my home congregation in a strategic plan meeting and on Sunday I preached at the Unitarian church in New London, CT. I had the privilege of sharing worship with my good friend and colleague Rev. Carolyn Patierno.

Today, I will be taping a segment for Today in New York, the early morning news program on NBC in the NY metropolitan area, and then I am off to Greenstone radio to tape a live segment with Lisa Birnback and Jane Fonda. You can listen to it streaming at 11:30 am EST at


We are also going to tape three other shows that will air in coming weeks.

Tuesday and Wednesday, I will be at the Fifth Fosdick Convocation. It's described this way, "once every decade, America's great preachers come to the nation's Protestant's cathedral to call progressive Christians to action." I am very honored to have been chosen as one of the 35 workshop leaders at this convocation, and I am looking forward to being inspired by great preaching by prophetic leaders.

I'll let you know how all of this goes when I'm back blogging on Thursday.

I hope that you too feel as blessed by your work in the world. I know how grateful I am for these opportunities.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Yes, it's Sex

The Yahoo news headline said "priest denies having sex with Foley."

It's important for me to say up front that it is irrelevant to Mark Foley's actions that he was abused by a priest as a child. That presumably happened when he was 13; the actions we know he committed were in his forties and fifties. That's a lot of time for therapy. Yes, there is a higher proportion of histories of abuse among those who abuse others, but most people who are abused as children or teenagers never hurt anyone else. It seems callous and disingenuous that Mark Foley is accusing his priest NOW, when there have been many moments to have come forward before.

But, what was done to him was also wrong, and yes, it sounds like sexual abuse to me. The priest in a taped radio interview admits that he was naked with young Foley, skinny dipped with Foley, massaged a nude Foley, slept nude in a room with Foley, and that perhaps there was one incident when he was on tranquilizers that he's not sure what happened. In an interview you can read on CNN, he said "we were just fondling" and we "were friends." I would be in a police station pressing charges if I found out my 13 year old son had this type of adult friend...you?

That the news media is debating whether this was "sex" shows just how confused we are about sexuality as a country. You may remember our national teachable moment, where 20% of the country agreed with President Clinton that oral sex wasn't really sex. It is.

We need to move from an act-based sexual ethic to one based on relationships. It doesn't matter whether Part A goes into Part B for sexual abuse to occur or for sex to have occurred between consenting partners. Two people sharing erotic acts are "having sex", and when one of them is an adult and the other a teen or a child -- that's wrong.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

More on Faith in Public Life

I had one of those "NPR driveway moments" yesterday as I came home from a long two days of meetings and presentations in New York City. The story was called "Republicans Zig: Will Christian Conservatives Zag?" and it was about how some chapters of the Christian Coalition are leaving the national organization because it has become too concerned with issues like the environment, poverty and sex trafficking rather than only concentrating on abortion and same sex marriage. One of the men they interviewed said that the key family issue facing Ohio voters was banning same sex marriage.

Could anyone really believe that? With millions of children in the United States going to bed hungry, with millions of children living in the foster care system, with half of marriages ending in divorce, with increasing violence against women, and girls, with failing school systems and millions of uninsured families (you get the point) - the number one family issue is stopping the committed gay or lesbian couple down the street from getting married?? No wonder the Christian Coalition is worried about losing members and voters.

But the story also raised the issue of people voting for leaders who articulate their faith. This came up in the panel I moderated on Tuesday night at the 92nd Street Y with Dr. Marty Klein, Joan Bertin, and Rev. Barry Lynn. Bertin and Klein argued that our elected officials' faith has no place in their policy making role.

I couldn't disagree more. Our faith informs our values, our attitudes, and our own decision-making. It surely should not be the only factor in deciding how one feels and votes, either as an elected official or as a member of the electorate, but there is no question that my commitment to not only sexual justice but the common good is at least partially based in my own beliefs and faith commitments. There is a role for both faith and science in public life and public policy decisions, and we would be better off if people on all sides of the ideological spectrum began to accept that.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


My first job after college was as the Resource Coordinator for the Population Institute. We're both still working hard to assure reproductive health and justice thirty years later.

The very first thing I professionally published was a fact sheet for P.I. called, "Population Synthesis 1976."

I pulled it out this morning when I heard that the U.S. Census Clock passed 300 million this morning at 7:46 am.

This is what I wrote in 1976:

"There are currently more than 215 million people living in the U.S., ten million more than in 1970. At current rates, there may be 262 million of us at the turn of the century -- and that does not include illegal immigrants. It could be argued that the U.S. presents the greatest population problem in the world...although Americans are only 5% of the world's population, we consume over one third of the earth's non-renewable resources and energy...some population experts believe that the average infant born in the U.S. today will impose as much as fifty times as great a burden on the world's environment and resources during its lifetime as the average infant born in India."

We don't hear much about the population problem today, do we? But surely it is still true that we live heavier on the earth than perhaps any other people in the world.

So as we celebrate this 300,000,000 milestone -- and send wishes to the babies born today -- may we remember that God calls us to good stewardship of the earth, and that we must continue to be mindful of the environment and over-consumption.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Freedom of Religion?

Well, the Associated Press may recognize legal gay marriages (see my post from the weekend) -- as did the New York Times in the obituary on Congressman Studds that ran on Sunday -- but it seems that nominees to the federal bench may not be able to.

Rev. Chuck Currie reports on his blog that the nomination of Janet T. Neff to the federal bench has been put on hold because she participated in a legal marriage ceremony in Massachussetts of a same sex couple. Not only was it a legal ceremony, it was also a religious ceremony presided over by a United Church of Christ minister.

It just wasn't the type of ceremony approved of by leading organizations on the religious right, and so Judge Neff's nomination is being held up. Maybe they need a civics lesson reminding them that we live in a pluralistic society and they don't get to make the rules for all religions and all states.

I'm moderating a panel on Tuesday at the 92nd Street Y in New York City called "America's War on Sex." It certainly seems so some days.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Indicator of Change

I just read this online story, and even though I don't usually blog on Saturdays, I had to share this. This is from a nationally syndicated AP story (appearing in papers throughout the country), and in its own way, indicates that we area moving to full -- okay, fuller -- inclusion.

First Openly Gay U.S. Congressman DiesBy JAY LINDSAY, AP BOSTON (Oct. 14) - Former U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay person elected to Congress, died early Saturday at Boston Medical Center, several days after he collapsed while walking his dog, his husband said.

Rest in peace.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Moment of Reflection

It is a beautiful fall morning here in Connecticut. The trees outside my window are all in various shades of change.

So are we.

It has been a long hard week in the world. I am tired of the constant negative election ads on radio and television. I have spent a lot of the week thinking about Foley and child sexual abuse, the war, and North Korea.

Yesterday, I read this passage from UU minister William Ellery Channing written in 1928 --

"To honor God is not to tremble before him, it is to become what we praise, to feel the divine principle within us, the very spirit of God."

Morality, including sexual morality, is all about the very way we treat each other. May we all become what we praise.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I blogged last week about how frustrating it was that the print and electronic media was not covering mainstream and progressive religious voices on the Foley scandal.

So I am happy to report to you that I'm quoted in today's USA Today in an article by Kathy Kiely on page 4 A, disavowing the link between homosexuality and child sexual abuse. You can read it yourself at http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2006-10-11-gop-gay-identity-crisis_x.htm

You can read our press release prepared by Geoffrey Knox and Associates at the web site of the Religious Institute. Stay tuned, I hope, for more.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A higher moral ethic

Today's Washington Post features a terrific editorial titled "Values Choice for the GOP" by Eugene Robinson http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/09/AR2006100901037.html
on how the Foley scandal could be the end to the "phoney trumped up culture war" or a chance for firing and disavowing gay staff members.

There are those on the right that are now expressing their surprise and dismay that there are gay staff members in Congressional offices.

Really --- and in your office, your family, your local doctor's office, every where you look...gay people are among us.

Living healthy, ethical moral lives. Raising children. Working for the public good.

One more time -- it is irrelevant morally that Congressman Foley is gay; the issue is that he solicited male pages. Would this situation have been any different if the salacious IMs were with a 16 year old teenage girl? Would America be more or less outraged? What do you think?

Robinson mentions that Republicans have tried to pain Democrats as "anything goes libertines." I have been accused of having "if it feels good, do it" morality by people on the right my whole career.

If people took the time to look, they would see that the Religious Declaration actually articulates a strong moral ethic that holds people -- all people -- to a high standard based on love, justice, mutuality, consent, nonexploitation, commitment and mutual pleasure.

Ex-congressman Foley must be held accountable, as well as the people who knew about his actions and did nothing. Their being gay had nothing to do with it though.

Monday, October 09, 2006

"America's War on Sex"

My colleague and friend Dr. Marty Klein has a new book out, "America's War on Sex" that outlines how the government, some religious institutions, and organizations on the right are seeking to control our sexual lives. He reprints the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing to hold up religious leaders who are speaking out for sexual justice.
Dr. Klein has generously agreed to donate the royalties of his book sold to readers of my blog and our newsletter to the Religious Institute if you order it online at www.americaswaronsex.com Simply put in the code RI10.
I did not agree with everything Dr. Klein says in this book (starting with the war imagery of the title), but I found all of it thoughtful and stimulating. I think you will too.
By the way, our October newsletter will be out tomorrow. You can sign up to receive an e-copy at the web site of the Religious Institute. It's full of new resources and upcoming events on the relationship of sexuality and religion. You can also send us an email at info@religiousinstitute.org to subscribe.

Friday, October 06, 2006

One more on Foley

Have you seen a progressive religious leader on television this week talking about Mark Foley?

I have not. But, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins has been all over the media, falsely connecting child sexual abuse and homosexuality. FRC has a so-called fact sheet on its site on "homosexuality and child sexual abuse" that badly distorts the facts, and somehow the media turns to them as experts.

It's not that we haven't tried. You can read the Religious Institute's press release on Mark Foley at http://www.religiousinstitute.org/press/press0004.html. Rev. John Thomas, the President of the United Church of Christ, issued a statement decrying the religious right's use of this scandal as one more way to try to demonize gay people. A group of mainstream Christian leaders sent a letter to Congress asking that every one in power who knew about Foley's solicitation of pages and did nothing resign.

Isn't it past time for the electronic and print media to include our voices in these discussions?

On the other hand, maybe it's time to let the investigations take place and return to covering the more pressing problems facing America and the world.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fifth Graders and Art Work

Did you see the story in this morning's news about Sydney McGee, the 28 year veteran art teacher who did not have her contract renewed because she took a fifth grade class to the Dallas Museum of Art? Apparently one child complained to her mother about "having" to view nude statutes and paintings with nude bodies. The Firsco School District is now saying that this was about performance issues not the field trip, but Ms. McGee has a letter she's made available to the press reprimanding her for explosing children to these images.

How deep does our erotophbia as a country go? I wonder if the mother of this child takes her to the grocery story where she can see the covers of women's magazines with their headlines promising better sex in ten days. Or what she does with the Victoria Secret catalogues that surely come in the mail -- or even the lingerie advertisements in the newspapers? Or what about allowing her in churches with religious art with nude bodies? Is the David now an erotic image to shield our children from?

Yes, today's children are exposed to thousands of sexualized messages, and most of us wish we could shield them. But from Greek statutes and religious paintings? And surely by the fifth grade, our children should have a solid understanding of their bodies and the gift that they are.

It may very well be that there is more to this story that we know at this moment. But it surely does offer yet another teachable moment to use with our children -- and our congregants.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Foley Part 3

As this story unfolds (see the latest in the Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/03/AR2006100300704.html ), I cannot help but shake but my head about the ignorance it shows about sexuality issues and their coverage. Added to the alcohol excuse, we are now being told that Representative Foley had been sexually abused as a teen by a clergy person. Is that supposed to help us understand lurid emails soliciting teenage pages? Yes, such sexual abuse is soul scarring, if it did happen, but it doesn't explain away or excuse abuse of another generation.

Have you heard any progressive religious leaders in the media talking about the Foley "situation"? But, there was Tony Perkins the head of the Family Research Council on CNN saying that the reason that members of Congress didn't act was "because they would be seen as homophobic or gay bashing." Apparently Newt Gingrich has been saying the same thing.

This IS NOT a story about Congressman Foley's homosexuality. For the record, an attraction to 16 and 17 year olds isn't pedophilia either. In fact, given how teenagers of both genders are held up as the sexual ideal in our culture, it's probably very common. That doesn't mean that adults can morally act upon it.

It is a story of sexual harassment and the abuse of power. As I said yesterday, it is also an abuse of power that the leadership didn't take immediate action to stop it. I wonder if the public would have felt differently if a sixteen year old female page was getting these types of emails from a Congressperson; I would not have.

I have written before about the criteria for a moral ethical sexual relationship -- consent, nonexploitation, honesty, mutual pleasure, and protection. I've also written before that a sexually healthy and moral adult understands that there is a difference between having a sexual feeling and acting upon it -- including emailing about it to someone who by definition is not in a position to consent or not be exploited.

I joined three other progressive faith leaders to in responding to this story on Faith in Public Life. You can listen to the audio at http://blog.faithinpubliclife.org/2006/10/faith_common_sense_and_protect.html

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ivy League Protects Rights of Transgender Persons

I have a lot of ties to Yale. I attended the Yale School of Public Health in the late seventies and I met my spouse there. When I began to explore my call to ministry, I was granted a research fellowship there. Last semester, I was a visiting professor there.

So, I felt very proud to read this morning that the Yale Corporation had voted to add an anti-discrimination clause against gender identity and expression into its by-laws. Since 2002, every Ivy League School has done so; so have at least 75 other collleges. There is a list of schools banning gender discrimination at www.gpac.org/genius

In all of my sexuality work, I find people least understanding of people who express gender variance in their identity or public expression. Only the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ have ordained openly transgendered people to the clergy, although other denominations have had clergy who have transitioned.

We are a long way to full inclusion of transgendered people in church -- or in society. Let's pray that the Ivy's will lead the way.

Monday, October 02, 2006

More on Foley

Since I wrote on Friday, we have learned that these charges against Mark Foley began OVER A YEAR ago, and that the House leadership knew about them and did nothing. NOTHING.

I can't help but thinking that this is a very close parallel to what happened with the Catholic priests who were abusing children and the Bishops who moved them to other parishes rather than remove them from office.

This is the same Republican leadership who tout abstinence-only-until-marriage education, pass laws restricting access to abortion for young people, try to restrict access to the Internet -- but did nothing when they learned of one of their own soliciting teenagers literally in their own house.

Someone commented on my blog that the age of consent in DC is 16, and therefore the page might not have been a minor. But Representative Foley isn't a teenager -- he is an adult man with power over these pages. His actions, whether or not they turn out to be illegal, were immoral. They violate the very concept of consent and non-exploitation.

Surely the House leadership should have taken action long before ABC did.