Friday, February 29, 2008
I've decided to take this "extra" day off today and enjoy some private time, but I couldn't wait to tell you my big news.
I'm about to have a new baby...of sorts.
I held it for the first time this week -- the actual hardcover of my new book for parents. It won't be in stores for a few weeks, but I just found out it can be pre-ordered on amazon for a 5% additional discount before it goes on sale in stores.
And if you order it from this link directly, a portion of the proceeds will benefit our work at the Religious Institute, promoting sexual justice in America's faith communities.
The book addresses how to raise physically, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually healthy children and teens. I look at the media myths that are scaring parents unnecessarily and the real challenges that today's parents and children face. If you are a parent or a grandparent, a youth serving professional or involved with youth in religious institutions, I hope you'll take a look.
And let me know what you think! I'm eager for others to meet the new baby too!
Thursday, February 28, 2008
It's really worth the three minutes.
It's a compilation of ten moments where candidates have been asked about their faith in inappropriate ways during this campaign season. I somehow had missed when the Democrats were asked for their favorite Bible verse.
Their timing is apt, especially given Senator Clinton's mocking Senator Obama's inspirational messages this weekend and in light of the almost not to be believed announcement this week that the IRS is investigating the United Church of Christ decision to have Senator Obama as a speaker at last year's general assembly.
We seem to be awfully confused about the role that faith should be playing in this year's campaigns. Thank goodness for folks at Americans United and TIA to help us become clearer. Check out the video.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
As my regular readers know, I was raised in a fairly secular Jewish household, married a Roman Catholic, and became a Unitarian Universalist in my mid thirties and ordained as a UU minister 5 years ago. My denomination is filled with people who come from other religious backgrounds, often seeking a new religious home that better meets their needs today. Turns out we are not alone.
It's worth looking at if you are interested in religon and its impact on American life.
And for the perspective of sexual justice, it's a reminder that more than half of Americans are either Roman Catholic or Evangelical Protestant. The mainline Protestant churches represent less than one in five Americans, and non-Christians are fewer than one in 20.
The percentage of UU's, Reform Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims all hover around .7%. And more than one in six American adults report being unaffiliated.
One of the most interesting findings is that more than one quarter of Americans had left what I call their "cradle religion" to change faiths; that number rises to more than four in ten if movement between Protestant denominations are included.
And even more interesting to me is that 4 in 10 people are married to someone who came from another faith. We are perhaps more tolerant and open than we know.
There is a lot to study in this new report, but I think it gives us new understanding that religion is more dynamic in America than we have previously thought. And that dynamism provides religious leaders, including those in my own denomination, with opportunities -- to share our messages of hope, inclusion, acceptance, and welcome to those who may be seeking new faith communities.
Let me know what you think.
Monday, February 25, 2008
I am not sure how I had missed the news that last Tuesday at 14 year old boy walked into a middle school classroom in Oxnard, California, near Los Angeles, and used a gun to kill Lawrence King, age 15, presumably because he was gay and gender-non-conforming.
I felt both rage and sorrow, a call to action as well as impotence. HOW is it that in 2008 such hatred and fear about other people's sexuality continue to exist? What would make the 14 year old that scared, that angry to act this out? Why aren't schools safe for young men like Lawrence or educating the young man who is his attacker?
And WHEN are handguns going to be outlawed in this country?
My heart breaks for both sets of parents and family and friends. Lawrence is dead; the other young man's life is changed forever. I understand that there are vigils planned across the country; reach out, find one.
But, more, ask yourself as a person of faith -- what can you do today, this week, this month -- at your local school, your faith community, your town, your country -- to make it safe for all of God's children.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
I am very concerned about all of the candidate's ethics, character, and positions. If McCain gave special favors to a lobbyist, it matters not to me whether they were lovers, family members, close friends or neighbors -- what matters is corruption.
That's important news. Reporting intimate family matters and decisions is private. The press should know the difference.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
This is my second visit to this school, and one of the things that I really value is that they offer me the privilege of meeting with the young women alone, without any faculty present, so that we can talk openly about issues without their feeling observed. It is a trust that I take very seriously.
I opened both sessions talking about how to make moral, ethical decisions about sexuality. I go over my five criteria for a moral sexual relationship (consensual, non-exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable, and protected if any type of intercourse occurs) and ask them what they need to know if these criteria are being met (time, communication, trust, and shared values.)
And then I answer questions that they have written before I start on index cards. Some of the questions are factual: when is a girl most likely to be fertile? What’s bisexuality? What’s the most effective method of birth control? Some of the questions are surprisingly explicit, including a much larger number of questions about female orgasm that I might expect among a group of 17 and 18 year old girls. (I don’t think I even knew the word when I was in high school!)
Some of the ones in the evening session were in the “can we shock the minister” genre. One wrote something like, “I’m having sex, lots of it, with people of both genders. Why do I have to be sitting here?” I answered calmly that perhaps she might learn something about ethical sexual decision making, and then addressed the girls who might be sitting wondering why they were there when they had no interest or intention to have sex with a partner for a long time.
The question that was perhaps designed to be the most distressing I actually found amusing. It read, “Dear Rev. Haffner, why don’t you have a real job?” Several young women in the audience actually gasped. But I chose to answer it sincerely, explaining that I run a national organization, serve a church part time, have a counseling practice, and am just about to publish my 6th book. The seniors broke into spontaneous applause. Several apologized to me afterwards for their classmates.
But most importantly, I shared with them that I love the work that I do and that I have been privileged to educate tens of thousands of people about the precious gift of their sexuality. What I wished I had also told them was that I am one of the lucky people who have found their calling in the world, and that my wish and prayer for them would be to do so as well.
Because then, it never does seem like a real job – but a blessing, even in the evenings with teenagers who aren’t sure they want to be there.
Monday, February 18, 2008
And what's so interesting to me is that although this was a completely secular workshop, religious influences on these couple's lives kept coming up, especially in the side conversations. Without violating anyone's confidentiality, let me just say that once again, I learned the powerful permission giving role that clergy can play in affirming that sexuality is part of God's blessing and how in even the most conservative religions, sexuality in marriage is to be enjoyed and celebrated. As I told one couple, God wants you to have great sex! I wish more clergy were giving that message!
While I was away, I found out that this blog won two first place awards in the UU blog contest and several second and third places. Thank you to all of you who voted for me -- and check out the other blog winners here. There are some great ones that may be new to you!
I'm off tomorrow to speak at a private school in upstate New York. More on Wednesday when I return. (My close friends and family are beginning to implore me to talk to my overdemanding boss who has taken too many speaking engagements this fall and spring...oh, that would be me.)
Thursday, February 14, 2008
I love that Valentine's Day is almost a national holiday. How great that we have a day to remind us how important love is in our lives. I like that there are organizations that have proclaimed this week as Freedom to Marry Week, V-Day, and even National Condom Week. I like that this holiday has pagan and religious roots, but has transcended all that into a holiday that is celebrated all over the world. I liked the way it was celebrated in elementary school: every child gives a valentine to every other child in the class.
Every Sunday, the congregants at the church I serve as community minister in Westport, CT, begins its affirmation, “Love is the spirit of this church and service its law.” Our religious traditions call us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Our work at the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing is fundamentally about love. We are working to help create a world where the gift of our sexuality can be celebrated with holiness and integrity. Our core commitments are grounded in love: all children should be loved and wanted; all people should be treated with dignity and respect; all persons should have the right to legal and religious marriage; all people should have the information, education and services they need to make responsible sexual decisions.
We are proud of the work we do at the Religious Institute. In 2007, our budget and our staff doubled in size. We are grateful to those of you who support our ministries and we invite you to learn more about our accomplishments in 2007 in our new annual report.
We don't need to have a partner to celebrate Valentine's Day. Take the time to reach out to all the people you love in your life. Be grateful to each person who has taught you how to love with your whole heart and being -- parent, friend, partner, lover.
May your heart be filled with love this Valentine’s Day.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
A new exit poll commissioned by Faith in Public Life in Tennessee and Missouri reports with apparent relief that white evangelical voters are nearly twice as likely to rank jobs and the economy as the most important issues rather than abortion and same sex marriage. Still, between one in five and one in seven voters ranked these as the MOST important issues. Iraq came in a distant third.
Now, I'm not sure how I would answer the question of what is the MOST important issue, for surely as I evaluate the candidates I am looking for their positions on many issues and just as importantly, their experience, their character, and their ability to lead the country (as well as win the election.)
But I do know that their positions on sexual justice matter. As Tim Palmer and I wrote in an article published in the January/February issue of Tikkun, http://tikkun.org/magazine/tik0801/frontpage/sexual_justice, "We must resist the temptation to bury sexual justice beneath common ground. We agree that the moral issues at stake are broader than the mainstream media would suggest. In fact, they are all woven together. And the irony is, if we push aside women ’s reproductive rights and LGBT inclusion, we could do real harm to the very constituencies we agree we are called to serve: children and the poor." The rest of the article goes on to lay out the reasons that those concerned with economic justice must be concerned with sexual justice as well. Read the full article here on sexual justice and morality here.
It is so important that progressive people of faith speak out to make sure that such issues as full legal rights for LGBT persons, stem cell research, sexuality education, HIV/AIDS prevention and services, pay equity, family leave, reproductive health services including safe and legal abortion, and women's rights are addressed from our faith perspectives in the months ahead.
P.S. Please take a moment to vote for this blog, "Sexuality and Religion: What's the Connection" at http://uupdates.net/uublogawards Voting ends on Friday; it will only take a minute. I'd really appreciate your support.
Monday, February 11, 2008
You probably weren't asked your opinion for the Grammys or the Academy Awards...
But here's your chance to vote.
It's time for the annual UU Blog awards.
I'm proud to report that this blog, "Sexuality and Religion: What's the Connection?" has been nominated in six categories, including Best Minister Blog and Best Political Commentary, Best of Class.
You vote at http://uupdates.net/uublogawards/ You don't need to be a UU to vote but you can only vote once. You don't need to vote in all categories.
I feel a little silly asking, but if you like what you read here, I hope you'll take a minute to go to http://uupdates.net/uublogawards/ and vote!
More importantly, thank you for reading!
Sunday, February 10, 2008
I was also moved by the overall sense of optimism. As Bishop Gene Robinson said in his plenary address (watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Krd602hYFLs )
"We shall overcome is not a wish. It is a fact."
There is no doubt in my being that one day, maybe within the next decade, the majority of American religious institutions will recognize that sexual diversity is part of God's blessing and that we are all God's children. For surely, we are.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Almost 2000 people are at this meeting. As I looked around the ballroom last night at the opening session, I thought to myself, "This is the Far Right's worst nightmare." There is an excitement and energy here that is palpable. I keep thinking of William James, "there is no greater power than an idea whose time has come."
I spent yesterday dressed in my clerical collar. I received a wide range of responses from people, especially people who were at my talk. One young woman told me that I confirmed for her that she has to go to seminary. One told me that he would try church again. But, another person, seeking the collar, asked me if I was here to protest against the meeting.
Unlike the larger world, the presumption here is that all attendees are LGBT. I've had to make the choice a few times in personal interactions whether to come out as a married heterosexual. I am aware of my sexual orientation here in the same way I was more aware of my race when I traveled in rural Japan several years ago. It is a deep reminder of white privilege, of heterosexual privilege.
As Friday begins, my heart is open to today's learnings.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
I'm giving a talk tomorrow morning that was to be titled "Why I Am An Ally for GLBT rights." The talk I ended up preparing is more aptly named, "Why I Am More Than An Ally". I will talk about how as a sexologist and a minister -- and as a person who believes to my core that our sexuality is one of God's most life fulfilling gifts to us -- that sexual justice, in its myriad meanings, is MY issue, not just an issue I lend my support to. I'm going to tape the talk, and we'll try to get it up next week on our web site.
The outcome from last night's primary is less clear than many predicted, but it is very clear that the outcome of next November's election will be pivotal for sexual justice - and the rights of all of us to exercise our moral agency to make responsible sexual choices.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
One of the PT's is a Jehovah's Witness and as he places the various equipment on the my body (who thought up electric stimulation anyway??), we've had several theological discussions.
I was stunned to learn this morning that his religion dictates that he not vote in elections. I tried to keep my heart open as I listen to why (which has to do with God being the only true ruler and that we are of God's kingdom not man's), but it was hard for me to comprehend.
I LOVE voting. I love not only the idea that in a democracy we have a say in our leaders, but I love going to the local elementary school, seeing my 80 something high school chemistry teacher who works at the polls each year, entering the voting booth, pulling the levers, buying the homemade baked goods from the PTA parents, and wearing the "I voted" sticker.
And I believe it is our moral obligation to vote -- and to be grateful for the opportunity to do so. I love that more people are turning out for these primaries than ever before, and I even love that this year, for the first time I can remember, I will be happy whatever the results in my party. (And I still have 12 hours to decide exactly who I am voting for...!)
So, in this case, I find it hard to be open to my PT's point of view. To this minister, standing up for what one believes and making oneself heard in this time and place is just too important.
IF YOU ARE IN ONE OF THE 24 PRIMARY STATES PLEASE GO VOTE.
Monday, February 04, 2008
The good news is that both the President and the Democratic Congress want to increase monies for the program. One of the bright lights of common ground in the past few years is a growing recognition by conservatives (both political and religious) that we have a moral obligation to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic around the world.
But that commitment has been hamstrung by the insistance that US monies be reserved for abstinence-only-until-marriage efforts -- in the case of the PEPFAR program, one third of the prevention monies must be used to promote abstinence-until-marriage regardless of the country or the culture. And US policies forbid any monies from being used with prevention programs aimed at sex workers.
This Congress has not been brave in opposing abstinence-only programs for American teenagers, despite the lack of evidence that they have an impact. It's hard for me to imagine they'll be any braver in considering the international program.
But, we can hope and pray that they will understand that the best public health response and the best moral response is to provide prevention dollars that are known to be effective and that allow countries to develop their own programs consistent with their own needs and culture.
And that it is never moral to say, "just say no or die."