On March 13, 2008, the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, along with our co-sponsors, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), held a congressional briefing in the U.S. House of Representatives on religious support for sexuality education. The briefing was sponsored by Representatives Barbara Lee and Christopher Shays, who are the lead Congressional sponsors of the Responsible Education About Life Act.
I was joined by Reverend Steve Clapp of the Christian Community, Rev Consuelo Donahue of Bethany Hospice, Rev. Dr. Janet Parker of Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ, Rev. Carlton Veazey of RCRC, Rabbi Laura Novak Winer of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Jennifer Heitel Yakush of SIECUS. We represented ordained clergy from seven different faith traditions: Church of the Brethren, Reform Judaism, National Baptist Convention of the USA, Presbyterian (USA), United Methodist, United Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalist.
Our traditions are different, but our message all affirmed that religious institutions support and provide comprehensive sexuality education out of our deep commitment to our theology, to our sacred texts, and to the belief that we are called to serve the most vulnerable, the most marginalized.
As I told the more than sixty people in attendance, for those of us from Jewish and Christian traditions, Scripture calls us to truth telling. We are to teach that “there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing”, but we also are required to give young people accurate and honest information so that they can make moral and healthy decisions about relationships for themselves now and in the future. As our Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sexuality Education states, “education that respects and empowers young people has more integrity than education that withholds information, gives misinformation, and instills fear, guilt, and shame.”
I ended my testimony, “It is time – it is way past time – for the federal government to support sexuality education programs for youth and to cease funding programs that are not only ineffective but may put our children and teenagers at risk – for disease, for short changed futures, for denial of the gift of their sexuality. It is time to provide all our young people with accurate education that respects the diversity of values in a community. It is indeed a time to speak and a time to act. May our religious voices help you understand that it is also the only moral response.”