Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Vote for....ME!

According to this article on Voice for America , more than ten politicians have announced or are seriously considering running for President in 2008. The election is almost 700 days away.

It all seems too early somehow. As much as I would find it thrilling to hear "Madame President" or to witness the first person of color become President, it just seems to0 early to know who would be the best person to lead the United States. The only thing I'm certain of is that I won't be voting for Sam Brownback. Although I am not a one issue voter, and the war in Iraq clearly is the area crying out most for leadership, I will be watching (and blogging) closely on how sexual justice issues are addressed in the month's ahead.

But, if you are eager to vote NOW, I have an opportunity for you. My blog has been nominated in several categories for the UU Blog award. My favorite entry from 2006 is up for "Best Political Commentary" and I've also been nominated in the Best New Blog and Best Minister Blog categories. So, if you like what you have read here, please vote here for this blog. It's listed by its title "Sexuality and Religion: What's the Connection?" And check out some of the other blogs listed. They are terrific. You don't have to be a Unitarian Universalist to vote. Just a supporter.

Maybe it will help get you in the mood for all those other emails you are getting from people running for President. Or at least the Academy Awards.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Reminders from Galatians

I had the honor of offering the "right hand of fellowship" at an ordination on Sunday, except we renamed it "welcome to ministry."

This section of an ordination is from the Christian tradition. The term “right hand of fellowship” comes from the book of Galatians, 2:9. Paul explains that he and Barnabas have been given the “right hand of fellowship” by three of Jesus’ disciples who have “perceived the grace that have been given to me.” They are to go to the Gentiles and the uncircumcised and preach the gospel.

I couldn’t help but wonder aloud what Paul and Barnabas would think some 2000 years later about a left handed Jewish UU minister sexologist woman (me!) offering the hand of fellowship to an out, UU minister woman of Indian heritage.

But perhaps we’d be surprised. Perhaps Paul would revel that his later words in Galatians 3:28 -- that in the promise that there would be no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male and female -- were coming closer to fruition in the world. I love the promise of that passage -- that one day, there will be a world where personal integrity will trump neat binary classifications.

It echoes part of the hymn that usually closes UU ordinations:

"Wake now, my conscience, with justice thy guide;
Join with all people whose rights are denied.
Take not for granted a privileged place;
God's love embraces the whole human race."

May it be so.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The "T" in GLBT

Newsweek Online has a terrific story this week about the first ever conference of clergy of transgendered experience. You can read it at : http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16774861/site/newsweek/

At a time when many denominations are struggling to affirm the G and the L in GLBT, and a television star is entering treatment to understand his use of homophobic slurs in public, too few religious institutions are trying to understand the "T" (to say nothing of the QQI -- queer, questioning, and intersexual persons.)

I believe with my whole heart that sexual difference is a blessed part of our endowment, and those persons who do not fit into the male/female binary need to be fully welcomed into our faith communities, including in lay and clerical leadership positions. Kudos to Newsweek for covering this conference in a non-exploitative manner and to all of you who are working for true full inclusion of us all.
The Religious Institute is working on a Study Note on the Science and Theology of Sexual Difference. I'll let you know when it's ready!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the Union

Didn't you just love hearing "Madame Speaker, the President of the United States" last night and watching Representative Nancy Pelosi stand behind Bush during the speech? I couldn't keep my eyes off of her. It was a moment. I couldn't help but think what it would be like to have the person standing in front of the mike be a woman or a person of color.

I also couldn't help but think that the President was aiming this State of the Union at people like ME rather than his usual pitch to his far right supporters. I didn't like what he said about Iraq, but I'll leave it to other bloggers to discuss that. I was more interested in what he didn't say.

He talked about the need for more funding for AIDS programs, especially in Africa. But for one of the first times at a State of the Union address, he didn't mention overturning abortion -- last year, he said the word abortion three times, last night not at all. He didn't mention abstinence and he didn't call for marriage to exclude same sex couples (as he did in 2004, 2005, and 2006.) He didn't talk about his opposition to stem cell research, just passed by the House last week.

Perhaps he got the message that this new Congress isn't with him on sexual justice issues. Perhaps he understood that he was, as Madame Speaker had said, that he was a GUEST in their House last night. Perhaps he remembered that change is happening. If not, he needed to only look over his shoulder.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Womb of Her Own

Do you remember this movie where the now governor of California plays a pregnant man?

I couldn't help thinking about it when I read the news story late last week that a medical team at New York Downtown Hospital is seeking to conduct the nation's first uterine transplant -- from a dead woman into a live woman who doesn't have a uterus but desires children. It turns out that doctors in Saudi Arabia did so back in 2000 and the uterus was healthy for a whole three months. Could the technology to transplant a uterus into a man be far behind?

The announcement seems to me rather - ahem - premature. It turns out that there hasn't been a single animal study that did this that has resulted in a live birth. The ethical issues are far from having been worked out. Who is going to give consent to the donation? I am an organ donor and support organ donation, but I'm not ready to donate my uterus even though I'm done with it. What happens if the uterus is rejected but before the fetus can live on its own? Who is going to pay for what surely will be outrageously expensive procedures and drugs? And so on...

I understand the desire to be pregnant and carry one's own child, but at what cost? I think I feel the same way about uterine transplants as I do about the adoption of other people's frozen embryos...until the day comes when the 400,000 children now in foster care in the U.S. have been adopted, it seems to me that there are limits on how far women should go to have babies that grow inside their own bodies. Just because something is scientifically possible, it doesn't mean that it is morally desirable.

Monday, January 22, 2007

34th Anniversary Roe v. Wade

Today is the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I was a college freshman on that January day in 1973. Not yet a feminist or even very politically aware, I remember the sense of relief we all felt. We thought it meant no more women would have illegal abortions in the U.S., putting their very lives as risk. We thought it meant women my age wouldn't drop out of school to get married and have babies they weren't ready for, as had happened several times at my high school. We thought it meant women wouldn't have stories like the one my grandmother had told me of desperately seeking someone to help her end a pregnancy that she couldn't afford.

What we didn't know is that it would mean a personal and political fight that I would be involved in for the rest of my life.

Yesterday, I spoke at the National Advocates for Women conference in Atlanta, a glorious convening of more than 300 very diverse women -- doulas, midwives, gynecologists -- high school student to grandmother. There was not a uniform position on abortion, but I believe there was a commitment to seek common ground with each other. Here is some of what I said -

The Religious Institute is pro-family, pro-child, pro-women's moral agency, and pro-lives. As religious leaders, we affirm that every life is sacred and that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. It is precisely because life is so precious that we must work to assure that it is not created carelessly. It is why our efforts to prevent unintended pregnancies, through comprehensive sexuality education and family planning services, are so important. It’s why we must work together to assure that abortion is safe, legal, accessible and rare. It’s why we must assure that pregnant women have quality prenatal care, and the financial and emotional support to care for those babies after birth. It is why we must reach out to the most marginalized among us, and it is why we must treat everyone with dignity and respect. ..

I have also sat with hundreds, if not thousands of women, as they have struggled with unplanned pregnancies, first as a pregnancy counselor, then as a minister, some times as a friend, some times as a relative. I have tried to offer a listening heart to women whose unplanned pregnancies went on to become wanted children despite less than optimal life circumstances and to those who’s very planned and wanted pregnancies were ended due to a grave medical concern. I have been there for women who have chosen selective abortion after IVF has produced too many fetuses and for women coming to grips with the fact that they would never have their own biological children. Through them all, I have been awed by the glorious resiliency of women and the importance of affirming women’s moral agency to determine her own reproductive future to the extent that biology and indeed technology allow...

We will be posting the entire talk at our web site www.religiousinstitute.org at the end of the week if you would like to read more.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What I do...

It is not uncommon for someone to ask me, after I explain that I am a minister and a sexologist, "but what exactly do you do?"

Let me tell you about this week.

On Sunday, I did a training for religious education teachers on sexual abuse prevention in church at my home congregation, the Unitarian Church of Westport. After worship, I also did a program for parents of our middle schoolers on talking with them about sexuality issues.

Today, the Religious Institute is convening an outstanding group of fourteen theologians and clergy to develop a new "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sexual Difference." We'll begin with a reception this evening hosted by Union Theological Seminary and will work together tomorrow to develop a theological framework for understanding sexual orientation and gender identity and calling for full inclusion. I am so looking forward to working with such people as Rev. Dr. Marvin Ellison, Bangor Seminary, Rev. William Sinkford, the President of the UUA, Dr. Mary Hunt, WATER, and Rev. Barbara Lundblad, Union Theological Seminary on creating this project.

On Friday, I will represent the religious perspective at an invitation-only colloquium sponsored by Columbia University's School of Public Health on the limitations of abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs.

And then I'll leave for Atlanta for the national conference sponsored by National Advocates for Pregnant Women. I'm one of the closing plenary speakers on Sunday morning, and will address faith based perspectives on pregnancy and childbirth.

During this week, I will have the opportunity to address sexual abuse prevention; parents as sexuality educators; sexual orientation and gender identity; adolescent sexuality; reproductive health and rights; and women's health -- all issues that I care deeply about. I am so grateful for my ministry and for those who support the work of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing.

Minstry and sexology -- yes, they do go together.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Desperate need for better information

I confess -- I am a Desperate Housewives fan. I enjoy the sly humor, the send off of soap operas and cultural mores, and the friendship of the women.

But, I also really believe in the potential of entertainment media to inform and to educate people about public health messages. One of my favorite work days ever was the day that I took former Surgeon General Koop to Hollywood to meet with writers and producers about integrating HIV prevention messages into entertainment media.

So, I was distressed about last night's episode which included a subplot about two teenagers considering having sex and desiring to obtain contraception. The young woman put down condoms as ineffective at least three times during the program, and the teenagers reported that they needed parental consent to obtain birth control pills from a clinic. They also present condoms and the pill as either/or instead of both. There was a strong message about abstinence from at least one of the adults (and a wink wink message from another.)

Mark Cherry and the other writers did a huge disservice to its teen and adult viewers, and I hope they hear from public health professionals. The fact is that condoms are 97 to 98% effective against pregnancy if used correctly and every time, and highly protective against most (but not all) STDS. The 85% figure for pregnancy is closer to actual use, largely because people who say they use condoms do not always use them. And it's not true that teenagers need parental consent for birth control. I wonder how many teens and young adults might have been influenced by these messages NOT to go to a clinic and not to protect themselves by condoms.

Leading to desperate situations indeed.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Common Ground?

Remember this jump rope song from your childhood -- "first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Carol with the baby carriage."

Well, in 2005, that was no longer true for the parents of 36% of the babies that were born. CLASP has just published a well balanced, insightful report called Out of Order? Factors Influencing the Sequence of Marriage and Childbirth Among Disadvantaged Americans
by Paula Roberts. In their announcement of the report, they say, "This brief explores the attitudinal, experiential, economic, and social contexts in which disadvantaged parents have children and decide to marry or not marry. It also discusses the public policy implications of research on this topic."

I was especially intriqued by the discussions about why this change is happening. Roberts writes, "the evolving debate about the nature of marriage occurs in the context of highly advanced reproductive technologies. These technologies allow people an unprecedented control over their reproductive choices; they allow sex and childbearing to be separated from each other in ways heretofore unheard of."

There is ample research that children do better in two parent families, but as this report demonstrates, there are also many reasons that marriage is not the best choice for women who are pregnant or parenting. And as so many women know, marriage at the time of conception does not guarentee a husband who will be there for the birth or raising of those children. Death, abandonment, violence, mental illness, separation, and divorce are also realities in women's lives.

Next week, I am one of the plenary speakers at a conference on the rights of pregnant and parenting women. It seems to me that we are still along way from assuring that every pregnancy is desired, that every pregnant women receives the medical and emotional support she needs, and that every child is wanted, supported, and loved. Surely that is common ground we can all agree on.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Take a stand today against the war

Some mornings events in the world are more important than anything I can say about sexuality. (If you are looking for a wide range of perspectives on sexuality and religion, read the comments at yesterday's post.)
I watched the President last night with a very heavy sense of heart and a sense of outrage. I thought of the slogan I read somewhere, "Which part of 'we are the peacemakers' does he not understand?"
So, tonight my family and I will join others at a local protest on the steps of a local church. It's supposed to be in the local 20's. I cannot NOT be there.
To find an event in your area, go to www.AmericasaysNo.org Put in your zip code and find a place where you can tell the President that you oppose his "surge". Go to www.christianpeacewitness.org to find out about the Christian march planned for March in Washington, D.C.
This is one place where "Just Say No" is the right response.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sex is how I pray?

On a list serv for members of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, someone asked people for their reactions to a new phrase he has coined for advocacy and education, "Sex is how I pray."

I understood that he is trying to affirm that one way people can know God or the divine is through our intimate relationships, including our sexual relationships. Throughout time, people have reported erotic feelings during spiritual practice (think the writings of the mystics) and spiritual feelings during sexual relations.

But, I find the expression "Sex is how I pray" troubling on many levels. I believe it could lead someone to infer that the speaker is engaging in some type of cultic sexual practices, a practice decried in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. It has the potential for minimizing or indeed mocking the importance of prayer in people's lives. And it seems nearly CERTAIN to anger rather than inform those who hold conservative beliefs about sexual justice.

I'm wondering what YOU think about this slogan -- and I'd especially like to hear from the more conservative readers of my blog (you know who you are.) I'm taking a bit of a beating on the AASECT list serv at the moment. You would think that after all these years I would be used to be attacked from both the secular left and the religious right -- but I'm not.

I do believe it is in our relationships with others that we come closest to knowing God's intentions for us. I love this quote from Meister Eckart -- "all that God asks of you most pressingly is to go out of yourself -- and let God be God in you."

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Thank You For Friendship

Last night was my women's group holiday celebration at a local restaurant. We have been meeting monthly since 1991. Sixteen years. We have seen each other through new babies, new careers, family and personal illnesses, divorces, milestone birthdays, and others of life's joys and sorrows. It is a constant in my life that sustains me, and I am grateful for their roles in my life.
My present this year was the book "The Fabric of Friendship" by author and spiritual director Joy Carol. I am fortunate to have worked with her in spiritual direction since 2002. I love the wisdom in this book, and highly recommend it to my women readers -- and the men who love them. Thank you, Joy for your wisdom and for your care.
Blogger informs me that this is my 200th entry. It seems like a good time to say thank you to those of you who read this blog regularly. Just like it seemed like a good time to say thank you to some of the important women in my life. Who can you thank today?

Monday, January 08, 2007


This weekend the Christian church celebrated the feast of the epiphany. The story goes that on January 6th the three kings finally reached the end of their journey to bring their gifts to the baby Jesus. The end of their journey brought them to a new beginning. They had an epiphany -- with awe and wonder, they experienced the world anew.
How often life seems like that to me. The year to come will bring many such endings and new beginnings in my family. My daughter will graduate from college and my son from middle school. By next fall, they will both begin again. As they enter new chapters, so will we.
But, every day offers us the opportunity of a new beginning, and when we are open, for at least, small epiphanies. To be fully present to THIS day, to let go of grievances and hurts, to bring the best of ourselves to each of our interactions, to be open to the learnings that present themselves THIS day. May today be just such a day.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Tell Virgil Goode About Religion in America

Before I was a minister, before I became a sexuality educator, I wanted to be a Member of Congress. The only problem was that during my teen years there were hardly any women in Congress. My boyfriend at the time gave me a copy of a biography of Representative Shirley Chisholm that I devoured.

I thought about my teenage self when I watched Nancy Pelosi become the first woman Speaker of the House yesterday as the 110th Congress took office. I cheered for both her and the teenage girls across America watching her. Change is possible. Those who might question her fitness for this office because of her gender stayed silent on the nation's airwaves.

Not so for another first.

Yesterday, Representative Keith Ellison made history also. He became our country's first Muslim to join Congress. He took his unofficial oath of office with his hand on a Qur'an that had once belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode objected, saying that he opposed this action, and that without punitive immigration reform, "there will be many more Muslims elected to office demanding the use of the Quran." Mr. Goode insinuated that having more Muslims in the United States would be a danger to our country.

I was pleased to be asked to be one of the first petition signers of a diverse group of religious leaders to reject Virgil Goode's bigotry and call on him to visit a local mosque and become better informed. That petition is now on the web, and people of faith are being asked to sign it. Please take a moment to add your voice.

We can become a more equitable world. The words from the Hebrew song "Bashanah" play in my mind:

"Soon the day will arrive, when we will be together...
Wait and see, wait and see
What a world there can be
If we share, if we care, you and me."

I hope you'll sign.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Supporting Stem Cell Research is Pro-Lives

In an editorial in today's Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/03/AR2007010301625.html), Robert Novack discusses whether the seven "pro-life Democratic" Senators will vote against stem cell research legislation in the upcoming Congress.

When the new Congress convenes, the new Democratic majority is likely to vote early on to pass stem cell research, legislation that was vetoed by President Bush in the last session. It is expected that they have the votes this year to override a Presidential veto, but it may hinge on these seven members.

But, the current federal restrictions on embrionic stem cell research seem anything but pro-life to me. Almost all of us have family members who are suffering from conditions that might be helped by this line of research. My step-father is one of them. His condition is getting worse, and life is becoming more of a struggle for him and my mother.

Stem cell research could ultimately save not only lives but the day-to-day quality of those lives. Surely supporting it is the true pro-life position.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

Renaissance Weekend is an off-the-record gathering, and we are cautioned not to report about other participants or their remarks. But, I am hoping that doesn't extend to blogging about our own experiences and impressions (and if it does, I hope the Laders will forgive me!)

As always, I found the weekend stimulating, exciting, and a wonderful opportunity to meet and dialog with people who I might never otherwise meet. I had a change to talk with several well known evangelical leaders and writers and am grateful for the time for respectful exchange.

Much to my surprise, an ongoing discussion at some of the religion panels was the question of the ordination of women. That's right, women. One priest explained one couldn't guarentee that Jesus would be present at the sacraments if they were offered by a woman. Another religious leader explained that because women were different they could not be senior pastors. Although several of the male clergy on that panel responded, there were no women on the panel to do so. The moderator didn't notice my hand up during the question and answer section.

The pain I felt during this discussion was real and palpable. It made me appreciate in a new way the pain that gay and lesbian people called to God's service must feel when they must sit silently in denomination assemblies when people debate whether they are fit to serve.

On New Year's Day, I was invited to be one of the co-worship leaders. As I wrote last week, I had prepared a few prayers for the service, but to my surprise, I was invited in the middle of the service to offer a short homily. I stood up, without notes and preparation, and talked about the great Commandments - love God with all your might, love your neighbor as yourself. I trusted in the moment that God would be with me to offer a message that might be meaningful (and that might have a beginning, middle and an end in under three minutes.)

I addressed the difficulty of loving your neighbor as yourself -- not treating, not liking, but loving everyone, and how that must begin with the hardest part of all -- loving yourself. I wish though that I had talked about how if we fall short of that, we should at least do our best to not hurt others, to not inflict pain. Doctors take an oath "to do no harm"; perhaps religious leaders and religious denominations should do so as well.

So, those are my New Year's Resolution for this year. Do no harm. Do all that I can do to make the words of the Great Commandments manifest in my life. And to forgive myself when I fall short, which I surely will.

These words from St. Francis have been in my mind since yesterday. I think they make good New Year's Resolutions as well.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
When there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;and where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

May you and your's be blessed in 2007.

Reverend Debra