Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The editorial, written by my long term colleage Cory Richards from the Guttmacher Institute, examines what he calls the "adoption vs abortion myth." We often hear from politicians as well as evangelical leaders that efforts to increase adoptions is part of the common ground strategy to reduce the numbers of abortions in the U.S.
Richard presents compelling U.S. and international data on why increasing adoptions is not a realistic strategy for decreasing abortions. He reminds us that the best way to decrease abortions is to decrease the number of unintended pregnancies, through contraception and through sexuality education that encourages young people to delay and to use protection.
That's not only good public health, that's good moral sense. Although I firmly believe that a woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy should be supported no matter what her decision (becoming a parent, relinquishing a child for adoption, having an abortion), what I feel even more strongly about is that I wish that all pregnancies were created deliberately, with love, in loving families. It is both a public health and moral disgrace that half of all pregnancies in the US are unintentional, even in the 21st century.
Surely real common ground is assuring through contraception and sex education that all pregnancies are planned, wanted, and indeed, cherished.
Monday, October 29, 2007
*The Georgia Supreme Court commuted the prison sentence of Genarlow Wilson. You may remember that he is the young man who has served two years for having consensual oral sex when he was 17 and she was 15, but was sentenced to 10 years.
*The Maine State Attorney General is now investigating the Portland School Board's decision to provide birth control to middle school students and not reporting those students as victims of sexual abuse.
*And the New York Times magazine once again declared the death of the radical religious right.
Both the Georgia and Maine situations indicate how confused the culture is about adolescent sexuality and sexual offenses. Surely, we all agree that there need to be laws protecting children and teens from being abused by adult sex offenders. Let me be absolutely clear: I do not believe that children and teens can ever give consent to adults who want to be sexual with them. But, do we want teenagers going to jail for having consensual sex with each other? Or, to have to report two thirteen years olds, who although by almost any standard are not emotionally or spiritually ready for intercourse, to the department of family services? And if not jail, what might be appropriate punishment?
It seems to this minister and mom that this is where communication with your children comes in and good sexuality education programs. I heard Mr. Wilson this morning on the Today Show say that teens need to know what the state law is about consent, and indeed, I'd add they need opportunities to discuss what it means for a relationship to be consensual. In Maine, I continue to believe that health professionals should act as health professionals, counseling on delay and involving families, but offering services to teens who need them. Let's let the clergy and parents provide the moral lessons.
As to the New York Times, as I said when Jerry Falwell died, reports of the death of religious conservatives is premature. As someone who advocates for the rights of women and LGBT persons, it's not time to celebrate.
Friday, October 26, 2007
The article tells the story of a school program that teaches 4th grade boys to be knights and 4th grade girls to be ladies-in-waiting as part of an anti-bullying program. You have to read this excerpt for yourself:
The image of knights and ladies came to mind. Ever since a group of medieval re-enactors had visited the area, my daughter had been interested in that time period. Mrs. Cavasos decided that this theme could be integrated easily into the anti-bullying program the school was using.
The boys would be given opportunities to be physical in the context of preparing themselves to be “defenders and protectors of all that is good, true, and right.” The girls would be given opportunities to seek out beauty and learn about healing. As ladies they would be the “nurturers and caretakers of all that is good, true and right.”
We used art activities, read stories about dragons, created costumes, studied new vocabulary words, and researched the medieval time period. We learned about the use of herbs for pharmacological needs.
Using their fine motor skills, the girls worked on creating headdresses and decorating their castle. The boys used large motor skills to create huge dragon posters that they helped to string up between trees.
The culmination of our efforts was an outdoor dramatization that students and teachers in other classrooms envied. Several other teachers opened their classroom doors to see what was happening as dragons passed through the hallways and out to the trees. Teachers looked outside to hear the dialogue as young knights went into battle. They were interested to see the knights use all their energy to slay those terrible dragons with beanbags. And when the knights fell to the ground, a group of beautiful young ladies rushed to their sides with healing herbs from the pouches they had created.
It's upsetting to me that Education Week would run this story of educational sexism and gender stereotyping without comment. What about allowing children to choose which part they want? What about girls who want to slay dragons or boys who want to heal and nurture (to say nothing about developing fine motor skills in boys or large motor skills in girls)? Or, goodness, what about encouraging both boys and girls to take both parts, learning to be both "defenders" and "nurturers and caregivers" -- for surely we all need to be both in adulthood? And I can't even begin to imagine how a gender variant child might have felt in this classroom.
As a mother of a son and a daughter, if this had happened when they were in elementary school, I would have spoken out against such rigid gender reinforcing in the classroom. Was there no outcry?
The purpose of the program was said to be to teach children to treat each other with respect. Surely this message could be given without resorting to the dark ages.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Now, I have to admit until this morning I had never heard of Mr. McClurkin, but he is a Grammy award winning gospel singer and also apparently according to Wikepedia and news reports, a person who claims his desire for sex with men was cured through prayer. There seems to be some disagreement about whether he is anti-gay, but in response to criticism, the Obama campaign posted this statement today on its web site:
I have clearly stated my belief that gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity, and rights of all other citizens. I have consistently spoken directly to African-American religious leaders about the need to overcome the homophobia that persists in some parts of our community so that we can confront issues like HIV/AIDS and broaden the reach of equal rights in this country. I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights. And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin's views and will continue to fight for these rights as President of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division.
Some commentators are calling for the Senator to disinvite Rev. McClurkin, but I am frankly pleased with how much better Obama seems to be getting in affirming lesbian and gay rights. Remember, this is the man who needed 24 hours to get it right about General Pace's homophobic comments.
I don't believe that people can change their sexual orientation through prayer - or therapy - but I do believe that people can choose their behaviors, and perhaps that is what has changed for Rev. McClurkin. More importantly, I believe in the right to free speech, and that the cure for hate speech isn't censorship but more speech.
So if I was advising the Senator, I'd encourage him to include a gospel singer or another minister who affirms sexual and gender diversity in this upcoming tour, and to take the time to reiterate his support for full inclusion. We hope Obama might borrow from our "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sexual and Gender Diversity":
"Sexual and gender oppression can no longer be portrayed as virtuous and morally defensible."
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Here's the description:
Among these was the highly successful Vida Positiva (Positive Living) programme in Mozambique. One of the many elements of Vida Positiva was to promote safer sex among couples by tackling the primary reasons that married men were having sex outside of their marriages: because they were bored with their sex lives at home. To do this, educators worked with community ‘gatekeepers’, including priests and nuns from Christian churches, to promote pleasure-focused couples counselling....
Kubatsirana is an ecumenical HIV/AIDS Association of 56 churches in and around
Chimoio, Mozambique, and in seven areas of Sofala and Manica Provinces. Kubatsirana
provides HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation within four programmes:
• Church training and technical support programme
• Home-Based Care for PLWHA and OVC
• A support group for people living with HIV/AIDS
• Sustainable Agriculture and Income-Generating Project as a support to PLWHA,
OVC and volunteers working for the programmes
The Church Training programme includes training church leaders as well as husband
and wife couples to become Marriage Counsellors in their communities. The training
includes communication skills, gender-roles, conflict resolution, sex and sexuality and pre-marriage counselling and relies on two publications: "Enjoy your Marriage"
(Cunningham, Family Impact, Bulawayo) and "Answers for your Marriage” (Bruce and
Carol Britten, SA), which is very detailed in everything from positions to cultural issues.
According to Kubatsirana’s Technical Advisor, Carina Winberg: "We have started to do
something about the problems of couples not enjoying their sexual realtionships. Three or four years ago we identified this problem among the pastors, couples and families we work with, and then decided to bring it up as a subject in the prevention courses for pastors and church leaders. Last year we started separate courses for church leaders and their wives on what we call "Couples Counselling and Retreats". We have one very good couple (husband and wife team) teaching both men and women. Just a few weeks ago we trained 20 pastors on topics such as:
• how to improve your sexual relationship
• how to counsel couples in your church on sexual matters
• how to give pre-marriage counselling
• how to follow-up with young couples in order to support them in building a good
It strikes me that we could use this type of project here in the United States as well. Surely in the search for common ground with evangelical leaders, we could also agree to MARRIAGE ENRICHMENT, including sexual enrichment, for married couples.
Perhaps we could start with offering such a workshop for married Members of Congress.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Read my thoughts at Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-debra-haffner/good-news-about-adolescen_b_69345.html
(They only accept original blog entries on breaking news, so that's why that's there and not here...)
Colleagues at Faith in Public Life and Faithful Democrats blogged throughout the conference. It's worth reading their reports.
For any of my colleagues who hope to change the dialog on values from as Laurie Goodstein reported in the New York Times on Thursday "the hot button issues of abortion and homosexuality", this weekend's speeches will demonstrate dramatically why we must continue to speak out about OUR VALUES about sexual justice. (And please, could we all stop labeling these as "hot button" as if other issues like Iraq, gun control, the environment, and so on, are not controversial as well?)
My hat is off to Rudy Guiliani who spoke at the summit, but refused to back away from his commitment to women and gay persons. One can only hope for as much from his Democratic opponents.
Friday, October 19, 2007
For today and the weekend, I;ve decided to post this clip of a man singing in a contest. I almost never forward these type of things when I get them on my email, but I want to invite you to click and spend four minutes watching and listening.
What does this have to do with sexuality and religion? Everything, I think. Watch the faces of the judges and the audience pre-judge this man based on what he looks like and where he works. Think about how perhaps you have judged others. Open your heart to what happens as he begins to sing. Let the tears come. Watch what happens when people respond to his dignity and self worth.
It's a four minute sermon on love your neighbor. Really, take the time and click here. And invite your friends to watch too. Let me know what you think.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Could this woman be smiling because she's just been named the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs, which means she's now in charge of the nation's family planning program?
Dr. Susan Orr, like other recent Bush appointees to the position, actually opposes federal support for contraception. She is a former official with the anti-choice Family Research Council. According to news reports, she has fought against federal employees health insurance including contraception, has taught abstinence-only-until-marriage education, and cheered the Mexico City Gag Rule. I haven't found anything about whether she has actually worked against the Title X family planning program, which provides access to services for low income women, but I'm guessing she's not going to be a big supporter of services to adolescents.
It's hard to believe that the Bush administration keeps trying to appoint people who philosophically oppose the national commitment to the reproductive health needs of women (a program supported by more than 8 in 10 Americans) to run these programs. Once again, we need to ask Congress to investigate and block this appointment.
Let's remind people across the spectrum on abortion that as people of faith, it is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious, that we can all agree that it never be created carelessly or because services were not available. It would indeed be common ground to ask for a secretary of population affairs who supports family planning services.
Monday, October 15, 2007
During the coming months, both the House and the Senate will have several opportunities to either eliminate this ineffective program, reduce its funding, or continue it. According to the LA Times article, it seems that no one wants to look like they are voting against abstinence.
But, that's not what a vote to end this program would be. Indeed, a vote to assure that states have the latitude to decide how to implement sex education programs and that programs are both medically accurate and proven effective is a vote to assure programs that might actually have a chance of helping young people delay.
Today, the Religious Institute, with help from our friends at SIECUS, delivered 535 letters on Capital Hill (one to every Senator and Representative) urging them to oppose abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and providing them with copies of our "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sex Education."
Here's in part what the letter said:
In the next few months, you will be voting on whether to reauthorize abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. As a national coalition of religious leaders, the Religious Institute urges you to vote for comprehensive sexuality education and against programs that withhold critical information from the nation’s young people.
There are strong public health arguments for comprehensive sexuality education, but as religious leaders, we are specifically asking you to keep in mind the moral foundations for supporting sexuality education as you vote – education that respects all people, honors truth telling, and promotes the highest ethical values in human relationships.
Our theological commitment to truth telling calls us to speak out against abstinence-only- until-marriage programs. Programs must be age-appropriate, medically accurate, and truthful. Education that respects and empowers young people has more integrity than programs based on incomplete information, fear, and shame. The fact is that programs that teach abstinence exclusively and withhold information about pregnancy and STD prevention fail our nation’s young people.
Now, it's your turn. Let your Congresspeople know that as a person of faith you want federal programs that both encourage young people to delay and help them protect themselves, either now or in the future.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Although my organization, the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, works with congregations and clergy from across the spectrum of religious institutions, I am proud to be an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and proud of the work that UU congregations do to be sexually healthy faith communities and advocate for sexual justice.
If you are happy in your religious home and how it treats sexuality issues -- or if you are happy not belonging to a faith community -- read no further.
But every week as I speak across America, I meet people who have given up on their religion or their faith, often precisely because of the way it handles sexuality issues. So if that's you, I want to share with you our good news: that the Unitarian Universalist Association is one denomination that does not ask you to choose between being religious or being sexual, but instead affirms the dignity and worth of all people. We have a long history of supporting women's right to abortion, the rights of LGBT people, the need for comprehensive sexuality education -- and an even longer history of the right to tolerance, freedom of the pulpit, and the freedom to seek your own theological answers to your questions. An upcoming ad in Time magazine for the UUA promises, "Find and Ye Shall Seek."
If this sounds like it might be home for you, I hope you'll visit http://www.uua.org/ and find a congregation near you. Try us out some Sunday. We might be just what you are looking for.
Friday, October 12, 2007
First, here's the link directly to the paper: http://www.faithinpubliclife.org/content/feature/upload/2007/10/Third%20Way%20report.pdf Apparently, some of you couldn't get to what I posted yesterday.
And I do encourage you to read the paper -- slowly and carefully. The authors say that they are "writing primarily for progressives who too often have an impoverished understanding of Evangelicals." If that's you, this presents a good history, up-to-date polling data on attitudes and voting by Evangelicals, and I think some encouraging data about how half of evangelicals are progressive or moderate on social issues (I think the one fifth, one third, one half formula is very helpful.) I also think that the section on "shared principles for the role of religion in the public square" is very useful, especially for those of us who work with people whose religiophobia protests public engagement by religious leaders.
Second, I misspoke in yesterday's email about the role of some organizations -- I now know for sure that colleagues at Americans United and HRC were asked for review and comments, and the Union of Reform Judaism's President was included in a list of supporting statements. Nevertheless, (and please Third Wave correct me if I'm wrong), pro-choice religious organizations were not interviewed, quoted, read, or consulted for the section of the report on these issues.
Indeed, had this report been titled and promoted differently, I might have easily recommended it to you as what one supporter identifies it is: "a response to progressives about evangelicals." Had the report been labeled as an effort to find common ground for "those who consider themselves progressive and evangelical" with those who are conservative evangelicals (which indeed is what it seems to be), I would have hailed it as a vital first step. Both one of the authors and a staff person from Faith in Public Life have written on a faithbloggers list serv, partially in response to my post, that this is only a first step and that they know that they didn't present the history, polling data, or wide range of views of progressive religious people on these issues.
But, then why promote it, as the subtitle and the press releases suggest as "A Fresh Look at Shared Cultural Values Between Progressives and Evangelicals" while acknowledging that you are aiming it at a particular audience. Does Third Way have a report planned to help evangelicals understand US? Because surely the history of the progressive movement for social reform, the attitudes of progressive and mainstream religious people, and the movements for sexual and social justice would be equally enlightening to the evangelical movement.
But, let me take their conclusion at face value: they say that this report offers "first steps across that [the cultural divide] bridge." It is indeed important to seek common ground, and I believe that there is vast mainstream support for the vast majority of sexual justice issues. Just for starters, Americans of all types of backgrounds support sexuality education, HIV prevention, the availability of contraception, safeguards for children on the Internet, the need to strengthen families, stem cell research and the civil rights (including employment rights) of gays and lesbians in large majorities. At the Religious Institute, we've participated in some very exciting common ground efforts on reproductive rights (and I'll be sending that report on to the folks at Third Wave) and our Open Letters provide solid theological support for sexual justice.
We believe that there is common ground and a need for respectful dialog and engagement. We don't believe that we are part of a "cultural war" but rather responding to people's deep need and hunger for sexual healing and justice. Third Wave, we look forward to talking with you about your planned next steps and how to bring religious professionals who are progressive on sexual justice issues into your conversations -- and next reports.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
It’s a long report that purports to be about offering “shared cultural values between evangelicals and progressives”, especially on five sexuality-related issues. I hoped to find a balanced report of a process of finding common ground.
But, it doesn’t even try. The authors are leading evangelicals and people associated with the Third Way Foundation. Although I like and work with one of the authors, I think it’s fair to say that there is scant representation of progressive religious voices in the report. Indeed, although the report includes sections such a “Brief History of Evangelicals” and “Evangelical Views Are More Nuanced than Believed” there is no corresponding history of progressive religion or how progressive religious people’s views are too not the stereotypes so often presented. The Sources listed do not present even a single progressive religious author writing on the five key issues. And needless to say, no one contacted us here at the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing for our input and review. But not just us – the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Religious Coalition on Reproductive Choice, Catholics for a Free Choice, faith based welcoming groups…no, not quoted and probably not consulted either.
I encourage you to read the report, and I think it raises some good issues, specifically about the need for respect and understanding and seeking common ground. I want to take the time to read it throughly, before I write more about how they treat the five issues. (Although as I have written before, I am willing to join in a call for reducing unintended pregnancies but not on reducing abortions, not as long as availability is under attack.)
But for now I have one question for my friends and colleagues at Faith and Public Life: How do you issue a call for common ground that doesn’t include half of the participants in the discussion?
Monday, October 08, 2007
It turns out that in addition to not hearing the two church/state cases I wrote about last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court also declined to hear a case about whether its constitutional to prohibit the sale of sex toys in Alabama. Their action means the law now says it is illegal to sell vibrators in Alabama, as well as Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas.
Now, to be clear, the law doesn't prohibit one from owning or using a sex toy in those states, or from selling a medical device (think back massager) that could be used for some other, ie, non-sexual, purpose. It's just selling anything that has an exclusive purpose of sexual pleasure, specifically genital pleasure.
I admit I haven't read the court documents on the case, and I certainly understand why the Justices might not have wanted to issue opinions about it (I'll leave it to Jon Stewart or SNL to take a shot at Judge Thomas' likely response) -- but I don't get it.
How can selling guns that kill people be legal when vibrators are not?
Friday, October 05, 2007
You can read my column on Senator Craig's latest announcement here:
And if you can add a comment there or even tell them I'm one of your favorite bloggers, that would be great.
Have a lovely long weekend.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
I was struck by the irony that this suit was settled the same week that Clarence Thomas is back in the news, saying that Anita Hill's description of his illegal sexualized behavior was false.
Like countless other women, I have been sexually harassed in the workplace and lost my job because of it. It happened more than 30 years ago when I was fired from a teaching assistant position because I said no to sex with the professor. Except in 1975, people didn't talk about sexual harassment, instead teaching young women as one person I complained to said, "stuff like that happens to women. Look for another position. No one will believe you anyway."
I didn't tell anyone else. Sixteen years later, during the Clarence hearings, people said, "She must be lying. Otherwise she would have complained about it earlier."
Except we didn't -- out of fear, out of shame, out of believing that it was just something that sometimes happened to women.
Sexual harassment is now illegal in the workplace, and women and men today know better than to make degrading sexual statements or unwelcome sexual advances...that after the first "no", all requests should cease.
Well, not all men and women. Isaiah Thomas and James Dolan who fired Ms. Brown Sanders should have known better. May they serve as a reminder to us all.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
It's easy to scoff at the preponderance of special days and special months, but in this case, at least for me, it was an important reminder. Domestic violence is one of those issues that is talked about too little, often acknowledged too late in faith communities.
It brought me back to the summer of 1975 when I was looking for my first job. I had applied for a position at a local domestic violence center in Washington, D.C. and was seated in the reception area waiting for an interview. A woman, with a broken nose and split lip and two noisy toddlers sat across from me. Every once in a while, I sidled an uncomfortable glance at her.
She looked right at me. "You don't think you could ever end up this way do you? Well, college girl, I went to Smith and graduated from there five years ago. I married the wrong guy and this is how I ended up. You could end up this way too."
I didn't get the job, but I've never forgotten her.
She may still be sitting in your pews. There are lots of ways women (and men) can be abused, not all physical. Domestic violence knows no bounds by income, religion, or race.
More than wearing a ribbon, ask yourself what you can do to reach out to people who may be victims, what you can do to help prevent personal intimate violence.
Remembering is only a start.
From the AP story:
The Supreme Court refused today to expand the rights of church groups, turning down appeals in a pair of cases.In the first, the justices rejected a free-speech claim from an evangelical minister from Northern California who wanted to hold worship services in the meeting room of a public library.
In the second, the court rejected a freedom-of-religion claim from Catholic Charities in New York, which objected to a state law that requires them to pay for contraceptives for their employees as part of their prescription drug coverage. New York, California and more than 20 other states have adopted laws that require employers to include birth control pills in their drug coverage. Though churches are exempted from these laws, the exemption does not extend to church-related groups.
To this religious leader, the Supreme Court has correctly drawn the line between the separation of church and state. Women who work for church related institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, should not be denied insurance coverage for family planning services, and clearly worship does not belong in a public library. And after last year's decision on late term abortions, it's good to know that at least for this year, there isn't an opportunity for the Court to curtail women's rights.
Monday, October 01, 2007
Six years ago, Rev. Larry Greenfield and I had a vision of a new organization that would bring a progressive religious voice to sexuality issues.
Six years later, we have professional offices in Westport, CT, four staff members, and we are recognized as the leading multifaith advocate for sexual health, education, and justice in America's faith communities.
You can read more about our work at our web site and sign up for our monthly e-newsletter.
And wish us well as we begin our next chapter in our organization's development.