Thursday, November 30, 2006

World AIDS Day 2006, Part One

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day. The theme is "Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise."

It reminds that we have not -- that I have not. I remember giving a talk back in 1985 at a CDC conference on AIDS where I said that every new HIV infection would be a failure of will to educate, protect, and motivate. That was tens of millions of cases ago.

Today there are 65 million people in the world who live with AIDS. There have been 25 million deaths. The numbers are staggering. One adult in a hundred in the world is living with HIV. In parts of Africa, it is one in three.

People around the world continue to fight about how to prevent AIDS -- abstinence still wins over condoms, needle exchange is still forbidden in many places, homophobia and sexism still keep people from being able to protect themselves.

The good news is that AIDS is no longer a liberal/conservative issue. Such organizations as Christianity Today, Catholic Relief Services and the Ecumenical AIDS Alliance had information about World AIDS Day on their web sites. Tomorrow, Senator Obama will be preaching at Rev. Rick Warren's Saddleback Church.

What more can you do to get involved? How can you "keep the promise?" I hope you'll publish those promises here.

Tomorrow, I plan to post my memories of people who I have lost in this epidemic. I hope you will add your own tributes.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Breakthrough on the Soaps

I was a "General Hospital" fan when I was in high school and then again when I was nursing my babies. So, I can't say I know much about "All My Children" and the stories of Pine Valley.

But, I have just learned that this Thursday, AMC is going to debut a story line about a person of transgender experience -- Zarf, a male rock star, who will begin transitioning to a woman. Zarf will be daytime's first transgendered character.

According to the press release, All My Children has worked with GLAAD on the development of the character and the story, although GLAAD spokespersons have not seen the soap yet. One can hope that this story will be told with empathy, compassion, and knowledge of the issues facing people in transition.

I may just have to tune in to see.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Christian Coalition Admits Focus Against Sexual Justice

You may have missed this story about the President-elect of the Christian Coalition resigning last week. The Rev. Joel Hunter said he "hoped to broaden the organization's agenda beyond opposing abortion and gay marriage. He hoped to include issues such as easing poverty and saving the environment."

Apparently the Board didn't agree. Hunter was quoted as saying, "They pretty much said, 'these issues are fine, but they're not our issues; that's not our base."

This may be one of the first times that the Christian Coalition has admitted what those of us working for sexual justice have known for the past twenty years -- that they are not an organization committed to promoting Christian values but to controlling our sex lives and sexual choices. No wonder their budget has shrunk from $26 million to less than $5 million annually.

I know that the vast majority of Americans support the right to privacy in sexual decisions -- including most people of faith. I wonder how many dollars, chapters, and members the Christian Coalition has to lose before it learns that as well.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Pope's visit to Turkey

I don't usually include the Pope in my prayers, but I did this morning. He is off to Turkey, both to meet with Muslim leaders and Orthodox Christian leaders. This picture is from a rally yesterday in Turkey where more than 25,000 demonstrators shouted "No to the Pope." The news report I heard this morning said that the Pope will wear a bullet proof vest and will probably travel in an armored car.

I disagree with the Pope about contraception and homosexuality, but I find myself admiring his bravery -- and indeed his faith -- this morning. He doesn't have to go to Turkey; he is doing it to demonstrate his commitment to tolerance and inclusion. Those are values I share. Regardless of precautions, he is putting his life on the line for those beliefs.

It has me thinking about what I am willing to do for my beliefs and for my faith. People often tell me that they think I am brave for being public about my positions on sexual justice. But as a Unitarian Universalist, I don't have to be brave. My denomination and my congregation support my work. I have only felt physically at risk four times in my 30 year career. My clergy colleagues in denominations that threaten their orders for speaking out but do so anyway are much braver than I am.

So, let us pray for the Pope today -- his safety and for reconciliation and peace.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Prayer

A friend emailed me this prayer today. I liked it so much that I thought I'd pass it on to you. She thinks it's from Human Rights Watch, but if you know the author, let us know. I am grateful to all of you who are part of our ministry.

"God of Wonder, Giver of Life. . . energize us so that our faith may
give us the vision and the mission; that
Our love may be grounded in the miracle of your love.
Sustain us in the pain of our losses, disappointments, and feelings of inadequacy in the face of overwhelming need.
Please be with us as we continue our walk into the future with open hearts and minds
So that we will discover new possibilities through a new network of support to bolster our good intentions.
Let us go forth into our homes, our communities, and our world in
Thanksgiving, gentleness, peace and joy."

Blessings to you and your's on this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blessings for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite national holiday. I like it because almost everyone in the United States celebrates it. I like it because its origins are based in religious freedom and tolerance. I like that it brings families together, and I even like the food. I love the Macy's Day parade, and if it's a nice day, we'll be there watching the floats. I like that college students are home for the long weekend, and I like that all of my family lives close enough for us to celebrate together, even if that means dinner at one house and dessert at another.

Mostly though I like that it is a reminder to pause and reflect on our blessings. I try to do that every day as part of my spiritual practice, but on Thanksgiving, it is also a chance to share our deep sense of gratitude with those we love and to give thanks for the very preciousness of our lives.

May your Thanksgiving be such a day of gratitude and blessings. See you next week.

Reverend Debra

Monday, November 20, 2006

"Be Fruitful and Multiply" for Jesus?

I love babies. I'm at that age where I am too old to have them any more and too young for my children to be having them. But, there is no one in the world more important to me than my children. And, I have spent a lot of my career working with people on how to better parent their children.

I just want to be clear -- I am my life and in your's. I fully support the right of every family to decide when, whether, and how many children to have.

So, why did I find this report in The Nation about the "Quiverfull Movement" so disturbing? Kathryn Joyce in "Arrows for the War" details this religious movement which is encouraging Christian women to have as many children as possible in order to fill the ranks of fundamentalist Christians. It is sexist, xenophobic, and scary. I couldn't help but think of the "Handmaiden's Tale" by Margaret Atwood. You need to read it to believe it.

I can just imagine a new federal program encouraging huge families under the anti-contraception proposed head of the nation's family planning program (which reminded me a lot of "1984"). (I know that sounds ridiculous, but so does an anti-family planning doctor running the nation's family planning program.) On Friday, I told you this was a done deal. But, it turns out that family planning advocates believe that they can reverse this appointment, and urge you to contact Secretary Michael Leavitt with your concerns. RCRC has posted an action letter
that you can sign and they'll have it sent to him.

You would think that the people who oppose abortions would be doing everything they could do encourage women to use family planning to avoid unplanned pregnancies. It turns out, that at least for some of them, they'd really rather we just have more children.

Actually, I don't think they want people with my point of view to have more children -- just people like their's.

Friday, November 17, 2006

New Head of National Family Planning Program is Anti-Family Planning -- HUH?

So just when you think that there is some hope that the Bush administration might get that the nation does not support their policies on sexuality issues (or the war or much else for that matter), something happens that makes you realize how out of touch they are. Yesterday, I blogged about the Catholic Bishops telling their married congregants not to use birth control.
Seems like the nation's family planning program could be headed in that direction as well. The Bush administration yesterday announced its appointment of Dr. Erik Keroack as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs, the nation's official in charge of the national family planning program.
Here's part of the press release we put out:
"It is a cruel joke on low-income women in America who turn to the government for assistance with family planning services to place Dr. Erik Keroack in charge of the national Title X program.
Dr. Keroack is an anti-contraception advocate who has been serving as medical director of "A Women's Concern," an organization with an official policy that states "birth demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality, and averse to human health and happiness." The official mission of the organization is to discourage women from having abortions and learn "how to establish a vital relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church."
“The vast majority of religious denominations in the United States support the right of each family to decide when and whether to have children. The vast majority of people of faith in this country practice birth control use, which allows them to celebrate their sexuality with holiness and integrity.
"From a religious perspective, voluntary contraception allows women and families to nurture their children and their families. It is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious that we call for a faith based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights.”
By the way, this is a done deal. No confirmation hearings, no chance for change. Stay tuned to see what Dr. Keroack decides to do. Let's hope that the new Congress makes sure he understands that his job is to serve women and families not deny them sexual and reproductive health services.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

New Guidelines from the Bishops -- Sure To Be Ignored

Not that this was a surprise, but the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to adopt new guidelines this week, attempting to regulate the sexual lives of both heterosexual and homosexual adults.

The guidelines "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination" (yes, that's what it was called) passed 194 to 37. Such "inclinations" said the Bishops are "inherently disordered" and thus same sex sexual activity is sinful. They also voted to take public positions against same sex marriage and adoptions by gay couples.

Heterosexuals were not immune though from new attempts by these celibate men to regulate their sex lives. In a document called "Married Love and the Gift of Life," the Bishops reassert their opposition to contraception, saying it introduces a "false note" into marriage. They do acknowledge in the report that most American Catholics are indeed using contraception.

One Bishop tried but failed to get all the other Bishops to stop offering communion to those who violate these teachings. Instead it will be left up to the individual Bishop.

I find it hard to understand how a church body can vote to pass policies about sexuality that are irrelevant to their congregants. Surely the Catholic Church knows how much their people need help in living their sexual lives with holiness and integrity -- starting with some of their own clergy. Did I miss the guidelines on that?

I thought of this quote from Meister Eckardt nearly a thousand years ago, "How long will grown men and women in this world keep drawing an image of God that makes them sad? It is a lie -- any talk of God that does not comfort you." These new reports fail that test.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Report from the South

The Religious Institute sponsored a great meeting in Atlanta, Georgia yesterday. Thirty two clergy, theologians, sexologists, and staff from sexual and reproductive health organizations gathered to discuss the intersection of sexuality and religion and how the can better work together.

We heard exciting presentations from such people as Rev. Steve Clapp, the Christian Community, Loretta Ross, Sister Song, Christian Thrasher, the Morehouse Center for Excellence, Rev. Erin Swenson, the Southern Gender Education Association on strategies for involving faith communities. In the afternoon, Dr. Randall Bailey of ITC, Dr. Daniel Helminiak of Georgia State, and Dr. Kate Ott of the Religious Institute presented some of the cutting edge theological research on sexuality and religion.

As stimulating as the presentations were, the best part of the day for me was learning about the exciting activities happening in the Southeast, meeting the people who are challenging sexual oppression on many levels, and listening as the group decided to meet again and discuss next steps for future collaboration.

Post the election, it is once again easy to talk about red and blue states, but what was clear from this time together is that even the deep south is really purple. I salute these folks for what they are doing to bring sexual justice in a part of the country dominated by conservative religious voices and look forward to seeing what happens next.

I once again experienced a little "Southern healing."

Monday, November 13, 2006

My Offer to Rev. Haggard

An Associated Press article this weekend said that Rev. Ted Haggard would begin a project of "spiritual restoration" for the next three to five years that would be "confrontational" and beginning with a "confession of sins." James Dobson of Focus on the Family (who is not a minister, he just plays one in the media) has said that he cannot be part of the team because of a lack of time.

So, Rev. Haggard, I'd like to volunteer my pastoral care services or a referral to another member of the network of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. Any of us would begin with working on helping you accept who you are as a sexual person and understanding that sexuality is God's life-giving and life-fulfilling gift. We would help you affirm that sexual difference is part of our blessed endowment, and to understand the "clobber texts" in the Bible about same sex relationships in the context in which they were written. We could study how other texts in the Bible affirm many forms of blessed relationships. We could look at how the teachings of some churches about homosexuality has done violence to people, including you, your family, and your congregation by asking you to deny your feelings. We could look at the criteria for moral sexual decision making.

Yes, Rev. Haggard, we sin when we abuse our sacred gift of sexuality and exploit others. But, the great promise of our traditions is love, healing, and restored relationships. We could talk about that as well.

So, consider this an offer. Unlike Dr. Dobson, I'd make the time.

Rev. Debra W. Haffner

Friday, November 10, 2006

Election Results # 3

I promise this is my last one, but it's nice to have something to celebrate this week.

I'm receiving post-election analysis from several non-profit organizations that I thought I'd share (in case you are not on these mailing lists.)

From Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

* At least three new pro-choice candidates for Governor won.

* Several state legislatures have flipped to pro-choice majorities, including both chambers in IA, the House in WI and the Senate in MN.

* Pro-choice leaders, including the first woman Speaker, now control the House of Representatives.

* There are 28 seats in the House that have changed parties so far. 27 Representatives who lost were anti-choice or mixed. 18 new Representatives are 100% pro-choice.

* There are 5 Senate seats that have changed parties so far. 4 Senators who lost were anti-choice or mixed. 4 new Senators are 100% pro-choice.

From NARAL Pro-Choice America: The U.S. House gained 20 pro-choice seats.

From the Human Rights Campaign Fund: Pro-gay equality forces now hold a majority of seats in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.

From an analysis by Faith in Public Life: The seven marriage amendments that did pass passed by on average 12 points less than they did in 2004. And Arizona DEFEATED an amendment.

Let's not forget the victories for stem cell research in Missouri and access to abortion in South Dakota, California, and Oregon.

These are value votes, and we were the value voters who won. People voted to protect the values of freedom, responsibility, research progress, and the right to privacy in our most personal decisions. Those aren't Democratic or Republican values; they are not red state/blue state values; they aren't even conservative/liberal values. They are American values, and although the work is far from over, we can take heart that in many places in America, and in the U.S. Congress for the next two years, they will be affirmed.

Have a good weekend.

Rev. Debra

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Election Part 2

More good news on the election -- Voters in Oregon and California rejected parental notifcation requirements, and voters in Missouri supported stem cell research. Arizona voters became the first to reject an anti-gay marriage law, and voters in Kansas rejected the man who has been on a witchhunt against family planning clinics.

Now what's interesting to me is that none of the news analysis of these votes talked about people voting their values (as surely they would have had the results been reversed.) But, the fact is they DID. They voted their beliefs that people have the right to privacy in their most important personal decisions. They voted against intolerance and they voted for parental involvement not forced notification.

And I'll leave it to other progressive bloggers to discuss the news about the Secretary of Defense.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rev. Haffner on the Election, Round 1

We had more than forty people, largely from our church, in my living room watching the results of the election together. It might surprise you to know that there was political diversity in the group, particularly about our local Connecticut elections, but it definitely felt right to be watching in community.

I asked the last group of stalwarts to go home to bed at 12:30 a.m. The overall composition of the Senate still hasn't been decided this morning, waiting on results from Virginia and Montana.

We are a non partisan organization, so I won't comment here on the outcome of particular races. But, I am so thankful for the dramatic defeat of the draconian ban on abortion in South Dakota and the defeat of the marriage amendment in Arizona. Many pro-choice, pro- equality candidates won. Other states did pass marriage amendments.

But, regardless, I think the American people sent a message. Stop politics as usual. Do something about ending the Iraqi War. Return to a nation characterized by fairness and compassion.

Overall, a satisfying evening. We didn't get everything we wanted; we didn't lose everything we needed. Sort of like life.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

More on Haggard, Sexual Morality, and the Election

The pictures of Rev. Haggard I found online reminded me on an incident a long time ago. I had been on Crossfire debating a member of the Religious Right, and we were screening the tape in my office. A staff member walked by and said, "Who's the gay guy on tv with Debra?"

Rev. Haggard in the letter to his congregation said:

"The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem."

But he didn't take responsibility -- that was part of the problem. As our Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing says, "all persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure." It's not hard to see where Rev. Haggard's actions both in his marriage and his outside relationships fall far short of that moral standard.

I have been saddened by not surprised by the statements of some on the religious right that fail to see how their own preached homophobia keeps people in the closet seeking dangerous and immoral relationships. I was heartened though by evangelical David Kuo's comments in Time magazine (,8599,1554908,00.html) that reminds us that Jesus makes no comment about homosexuality at all in the gospels.

There is going to be a lot of commentary tomorrow on what the election had to say about values, religious voters, and the like. Please go out and VOTE today -- let OUR values of inclusion, freedom, choice, equality, and justice be heard.

Monday, November 06, 2006

What sin needs to be forgiven? Weighing in on Haggard

In a letter to his congregation, Rev. Ted Haggard said:

"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem," Haggard wrote. "I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life."

One wonders which part he means -- the part that has been a leader in the movement to deny people who are gay their rights? the internalized homophobia that allowed him to purchase sexual services from male escorts while participating in discussions within the White House denigrating gay and lesbian people? the part about deceiving his wife?

Why do I think what he meant is his own attraction to members of the same sex?

Ted Haggard dramatically illustrates how soul damaging the denial of the blessing of sexual difference is. How different his life would have been had he accepted his own sexual attractions and made decisions about his sexuality that were life affirming rather than so now ultimately destructive to himself and his family.

We're going to hear a lot of talk about forgiveness and redemption by people on the right as they discuss this case. And surely our hearts go out to Reverend Haggard and his family as they go through these difficult days.

May we pray for God's grace that perhaps at least some will see how their own hateful attitudes towards GLBT people need forgiveness as well.

On this election eve, I also need to ask you to go out tomororw and VOTE OUR VALUES. We have an opportunity to send a real message especially those of you in states with ballot initiatives on marriage equality and abortion. Let's be sure the "value voters" in 2006 are US.

Friday, November 03, 2006

George, Walter, and me

I got to hang out with George Clooney and Walter Cronkite this week at the annual dinner of the Interfaith Alliance Foundation.

Okay, I'm exaggerating...but I did get to meet each of them and have my picture taken. Mine didn't come out very well, but I'll post one if they send it to me. It was thrilling talking with Walter Cronkite about his father founding the first Unitarian church in Houston, T exas, and George...well let's just say I think every woman there was thrilled to have their two minutes with him.

The Interfaith Alliance Foundation is one of the most important organizations out there working on bringing a multifaith voice to important progressive issues in the public square. Along with Americans United, they sponsor First Freedom First, and if you haven't signed that petition supporting our first amendment rights I hope you will do so now.

For those of you looking for my comment on the news revelations about Ted Haggard, I have decided to wait until there is more credible information available. I am mindful of picking up the first stone and feel for his family as they learn more about his activities.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Uncle Sam Wants Abstain

So, let's say you are 25 years old, finished with graduate school, with your own apartment, making a living, and unmarried like most 25 year olds. You're seeing a new person and it's date # 3, or 4, or 5. Should you have sex?

Not according to the federal government. The nearly ten year old abstinence-only-until-marriage program has a new target -- 19 to 29 year olds. (I'm not sure what happens at 29 that makes them comfortable with you having sex, but at least if you are unmarried, you can have sex before you turn thirty.)

According to the news report, "the revisedguidelines for 2007 are aimed at people ages 19 to 29 because recent data show that more unmarried women in that age group are having children. "We wanted to remind states they could use these funds not only to target adolescents," Horn said. Therevised guidelines stipulate that states applying for the grantsare "to identify groups ... most likely to bear children out ofwedlock, targeting adolescents and/or adults within the 12-through 29-year-old age range." ...According to ACF, grants for 2006 amounted to $50million, and a similar amount for 2007 is expected.

No matter that 90% of young adults have had sexual intercourse. No matter that they are financially independent, contributing members of society. No matter that many of them are in long term relationships and many are cohabitating with their partners.

This isn't public health; it's hard to even believe it's morality. I made the decision not to marry couples who are virgins -- marriage is way too important to do only because you want to have sex with the person, and sex, although not in the top five criteria for a good marriage, is way too important to not know if it can be satisfying. To be honest though, I've never had a couple come to me for premarital counseling who isn't already sharing sexual intimacy.

Aiming federally sponsored programs at keeping adults abstinent is just silly. Let's hope the states choose to abstain.