Monday, June 30, 2008

Rev. Wallis, Is It Time for Us To Talk Again About Reducing Unplanned Pregnancies?

Jim Wallis, the Director of Sojourners, and I have had several public and private discussions about abortion in the U.S. He believes and writes that the dialog about abortion has to change, and that both pro-choice and anti-choice persons need to agree to work to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S. He said so again in this week's Newsweek online.

My point, also repeated in each of these dialogs, is that we need to agree to reduce the numbers of unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. It is precisely because life is sacred and parenthood is precious that no woman, no couple, no family should be forced to deal with a potential life that is begun carelessly. Jim and I agree that abortion is a moral decision; what we don't agree on is that it is always a tragedy. I also cannot support abortion reduction as a goal in itself as long as there are active forces trying to make the procedure illegal or enact restrictions that make it almost impossible to get.

Here's what Rev. Wallis said on last week:

On abortion. I have repeatedly said that I believe abortion is wrong and always a moral tragedy. The number of unborn lives that are lost every year is alarming. But I also do not believe that the best way to change that is to criminalize abortions and just force them underground. The question is how can we actually prevent unwanted pregnancies, protect unborn lives, support low-income women, offer compassionate alternatives to abortion, make adoption much more accessible and affordable, carefully fashion reasonable restrictions, and thus dramatically reduce the shamefully high abortion rate in America? You say you want to respect the will of the people. Well, every opinion poll shows the same thing - substantial majorities think that there are too many abortions and that we should pursue measures to reduce and restrict the number, but they do not support overturning Roe v. Wade.

What Rev. Wallis isn't telling you is that the abortion rate is at its lowest since 1974, a year after Roe v. Wade. Abortions are coming down in the U.S. The abortion rate is down 100,000 since 2000, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

What Rev. Wallis isn't telling you is that a majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and that 62% of mainline Christians and 84% of Jews believe that.

What Rev. Wallis isn't telling you is that according to the Guttmacher Institute, placing retrictions, whatever "reasonable restrictions" might be, doesn't make abortions rarer, it makes them less safe.

And despite my reading his paragraph over and over again lest I missed it, what Rev. Wallis isn't calling for is hope for young women for productive futures through quality education and job opportunities (as was missing in last week's stories on the so-called pregnancy pact), sexuality education, and high quality family planning services. Rev. Wallis, as a pro-choice feminist and minister, I will do everything I can to work with you on assuring adoption services and high quality prenatal care and parenting support -- when will we see you working to assure women AND men have access to the means to prevent pregnancies in the first place?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Good News from the Presybyterian USA General Assembly

This just in from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). It still needs to be ratified by the local presbyteries, but it is GOOD NEWS for today and a time to thank God that the spirit is moving among us.

Here's the press release:

More Light Presbyterians Applaud General Assembly Action
PCUSA Welcomes All to Service in the Church

SAN JOSE, CA - June 27, 2008 - More Light Presbyterians said a decisiontoday by the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to liftits ban on ordination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons isgood news for Presbyterians and Christians across the country and world.

"This is a great moment affirming God's love for all people. We arethankful to the Commissioners at this Assembly who upheld standards forleadership and service in our Church, and at the same time eliminatedcategorical discrimination that has denied ordination to LGBT persons basedsimply on who they are and who they fall in love with," said Michael J.Adee, Executive Director and Field Organizer for the organization.

The action by the General Assembly removes G.60106b from its Book of Order,the Constitution which governs the Church and replaces it with new language.Formerly, it required fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman orchastity in singleness to be eligible for ordination as deacons, elders orministers.

"The intent of this standard, passed over a decade ago, was to bar LGBTpersons from full membership and service in our Church since marriageequality is not yet available to most in our country," Adee said.
New language passed by the General Assembly reaffirms historic standards ofthe Church that focus on faith and character which has withstood the test oftime, and did not exclude anyone based on sexual orientation, genderidentity or marital status.

Looking to the Future

"A new spirit of acceptance and the recognition that we have many differentkinds of families in our churches has taken hold," said Vikki Dearing,Co-Moderator. "This reflects the hearts and spirits of people in the pews.We rejoice with the many that will now be able to answer God's call to servein our Church."

We believe that God is doing a new thing in our Church. We believe that amore loving and welcoming Church is where the Spirit is taking us. Weinvite everyone who wants to know how to become a more welcoming andaffirming place for all God's children to contact us. Together we arebuilding a Church for all God's people!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Can you help our work on marriage equality?

I was supposed to be spending the weekend at the General Assembly of the UUA, but on Wednesday, for the first time in my life, my back went into utter complete spasms and I have been flat out since Wednesday evening. (If you are reading this, and have had back issues, I'd love any advice here or offline at

But, in addition to your ideas, I need your help this week. If you've been following, you know that there is a vigorous attempt in California to overturn the recent Court decision on marriage equality. You may also know that at least two other states have marriage referendums on their ballots in November.

We want to launch a campaign to demonstrate clergy support across the county for marriage equality. We hope to optain 1000 clergy signature for our Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality and to develop a preaching packet for mainline and progressive clergy on why gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry.

The problem is that as a small organization we did not anticipate this in our annual budget this year and don't have the money to do the massive mailing. So, we are turning to our supporters. We have a generous friend of the Religious Institute who has offered to match every dollar we raise.

Can we count on you for $25, $50, or $100? You can donate online at You can use paypal or send in a check to our offices at 21 Charles Street, Suite 140, Westport, CT 06880.

You can be part of ensuring that loving couples can make public and legal commitments to build lives together. Won't you help today?

(P.S. And prayers would be welcome for my rapid recovery. In 25 years of being a public speaker, I've only cancelled one other time. I'm still hoping to be well enough to go on Saturday.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

SO, Which Part of the Bible Are They Talking About?

In Focus on the Family's James Dobson's radio broadcast earlier today, he said that Sen. Barack Obama was "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology."

Senator Obama replied that Dobson "was making stuff up" and that "somebody would be hard pressed to make that argument" that he was distorting the Bible.

I'm concerned about both. I find it almost laughable that Mr. Dobson (he is not a minister, he just plays one on radio and tv) doesn't understand that he too uses the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own theology. After all, the Bible is silent on birth control, silent on abortion, and silent on consensual same sex adult sexual relationships as we understand them today, yet Mr. Dobson says he is talking about a Biblical morality when he opposes them. And as a Unitarian Universalist minister, I understand that of course, we bring our own worldview and our own theology to understanding our sacred texts.

But, I also frankly am uncomfortable with one of the two candidates for President going head to toe with a leader of the Religious Right on what the Bible says at all. What do you think? Is Biblical interpretation something relevant to this season's political campaign?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Was There A Pregnancy Pact in Massachusetts? Why It Doesn't Matter

So, to my readers who are parents, did you have the teachable moment on Jamie Lynn Spears and the pregnancy pact this weekend?

We did at dinner on Friday night. My almost 15 year old son said he doesn't believe that these teenage girls came up with any such thing. He imagined that one girl may have said it as a goof in being asked why so many girls were pregnant in this one high school ("yeah, we got together and signed an agreement.")

As the news unfolded over the weekend, he's not the only one who doesn't believe the principal's declaration to Time magazine.

But, it really doesn't matter, does it? Because the fact remains that 17 teen girls in one high school are having babies this year. I don't believe as some of the folks on the news do that it's the result of the media. Rather, as I said in Friday's posts, one can guess what motivated this young women to either try to get pregnant or not do enough to avoid it: it's probably about them not seeing futures for themselves, not having hope, not having self esteem, not doing well in school, not having close relationships with their parents, and not having easy access to contraception and the the type of high quality sexuality education that goes beyond information to helping young people develop the MOTIVATION to avoid pregnancy as teens.

Since these girls and their families have not spoken to the media (and I hope they do not!), we don't really know. But what we do know is the school board voted not to offer contraceptives, the director of the clinic resigned in protest, and 17 young women are on the way to becoming mothers. Those girls need love and support and prenatal care and parenting courses -- and the town, like all other towns, needs to do everything they can to help teen girls AND teen boys make healthy sexual decisions, including preventing pregnancies.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sisterhood of the Maternity Pants

In case you missed these news stories, Jamie Lynn Spears, 16 year old actor and sister of Brittany, had her baby yesterday and a Time magazine investigation discovered a "pregnancy pact" in a seaside town in Massachusetts, resulting in 17 pregnancies in the local high school this year. It seems that a group of young women, all 16 or younger, took a pact to get pregnant together and support each other when they have babies. At the moment, it seems that all were having sex with men in their twenties who were not their boyfriends.

I can hear the cries of those who see this as the result of a morally lax culture, further evidence of the decline of morality.

Now, it's hard for this minister and sexologist not to think along with many, "what were they thinking?" Surely in today's world, somewhere along the line, these young woman had to know that unprotected sex was not a good idea, that having a child as a teenager would change their lives forever. It's easy to be glib and think they weren't thinking.

But, I'm guessing they were. If national research holds up, these girls probably came from homes where there was little discussion about sexuality or options for young women's futures being greater if parenthood is delayed until their twenties or later. I'm guessing some of these girls came from homes with too little supervision and a permissive atmosphere where they learned that teen sex wasn't such a big deal; conversely, some may have come from homes that were too strict, where they felt disconnected from their own family and sought to create their own. And they were thinking like early adolescents: concentrating on what would be fun about new babies, baby showers, extra attention, and someone who would love them unconditionally. I hope the community is help to reach out to them with compassion.

Of course, their individual stories may be different, but there is a clear message in these stories for my readers who are parents. Parents who talk openly and honestly about sexuality with their tween and teen children, including explicitly sharing their values about when sexual intercourse is appropriate (after high school, in a committed relationship, when engaged at marriage, YOUR value) have teens who wait longer. Telling your teen your hopes for their futures and offering your support results in teens who delay and who use contraception when they do become sexually active. Share your values, set limits for their dating behavior, offer your unconditional love. I talk more about all of this in my books "Beyond the Big Talk" and "What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know." Check out that website.

And start tonight's dinner conversation by asking your teens if they have heard about Ms. Spears and the "pregnancy pact." Ask them what they think. Listen. Share your values and hopes for them. Tell them you love them and your are there for them, and that their lives will be easier, perhaps better, if they wait to become parents until their adults.

It's not a complicated discussion. We'll be having it at my dinner table tonight. Let me know how it goes.

POST SCRIPT: See my longer blog on this issue at my blog on Huffington Post.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is your brain straight or gay? and does it matter?

I wonder if in all the attention to marriage equality in California, you happened to see any news stories about the publication on Monday about the potential difference between the brains of people who are straight and the brains of people who are gay.

Here's the beginning of the abstract:

NEUROSCIENCEPET and MRI show differences in cerebral asymmetry and functional connectivity between homo- and heterosexual subjects
Ivanka Savic* and Per Lindström
Stockholm Brain Institute, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, 171 76 Stockholm, Sweden
Edited by Jan-Åke Gustafsson, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, and approved April 30, 2008 (received for review February 27, 2008)

Cerebral responses to putative pheromones and objects of sexual attraction were recently found to differ between homo- and heterosexual subjects. Although this observation may merely mirror perceptional differences, it raises the intriguing question as to whether certain sexually dimorphic features in the brain may differ between individuals of the same sex but different sexual orientation. We addressed this issue by studying hemispheric asymmetry and functional connectivity, two parameters that in previous publications have shown specific sex differences. Ninety subjects [25 heterosexual men (HeM) and women (HeW), and 20 homosexual men (HoM) and women (HoW)] were investigated with magnetic resonance volumetry of cerebral and cerebellar hemispheres.

What they found in essence was that sections of the brains of straight women and gay men were similar and that the brains of straight men and lesbians were similar, which provides additional evidence to the growing body of science that sexual orientation is present at birth and not "chosen." William Salaten has an interesting article at Slate about the findings.

I'm frankly mixed about these types of studies. Of course, it is endlessly interesting to think about how it is that we are so "wonderously made", and I know that for those who believe that "homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle", the science could make a difference. But, I wonder if these discussions don't also reinforce a rigid, binary view of human sexuality, and set us up for what Salaten in his article calls a "chemical war": that once truly known, will parents opt to change the sexual orientation of their fetuses before birth? Will the knowledge help us celebrate God's blessing of sexual diversity or seek to control it?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Blessings on all the California Marriages

At five p.m. today, marriage will become legal for same sex couples in California. Colleagues in California tell me that they have weddings to perform lined up all week. California doesn't have a residence requirement for marriages, so I expect that many gay and lesbian couples from other states will be heading out west as well.

There will be a lot of press today and tomorrow and maybe even Wednesday about this, and then, I'm guessing it will start to fade, just like it did in 2004 in Massachusetts. During the next few months, thousands of newly married couples will celebrate with their friends and families, they'll open gifts and cards, take a few days off, and then get on with their lives together, with full legal recognition by the state. And they'll learn a day at a time that the promises and joy of the wedding day aren't what makes a marriage work. Most of the couples being married legally this week have been married in their hearts for a long time and already know those lessons.

Those heterosexual couples that oppose these marriage will surely also learn a day at a time that the marital status of their gay neighbors and co-workers really don't affect their own.

The new will become commonplace.

I pray for the day that marriage for all consenting adults, regardless of their sexual orientation, will be commonplace by law across the U.S., commonplace in many faith communities -- yet ever extraordinary for the two people who are taking the courageous and faithful act of pledging to build their lives together.

And so may it be.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Happy Father's Day

The New York Times this morning erroneously announced that Rev. Rick Warren, evangelical leader of a megachurch, had invited fathers who were gay to join him in church this weekend.

At the end of the article, there was this correction:

Following news of the plan by gay fathers to attend Saddleback Church this coming Sunday, the church’s pastor, Rev. Rick Warren, has issued a statement clarifying the church’s role. “We did not invite this group, and I will not be meeting with them,” he said, adding that he had a previous commitment and would not be in church on Sunday.

"That group" is Soulforce, and the visit is part of their American Family Outing visits to evangelical megachurches. I love what they are doing: bringing families with LGBT parents and straight allies to attend worship at these churches and asking for meetings with the ministers and church leadership. In the most basic terms, they are asking these evangelical Christian churches to offer them the same welcome they would offer anyone who was visiting -- the welcome that surely Jesus calls them to offer.

As you can read here, some churches and some leaders have stood up to the challenge, but others have refused to meet. Rev. Warren is just going to be absent. We can pray (but frankly it's hard to be optimistic) that the many other ministers who will be there will welcome them.

I'll be at my home church this Sunday. You can be sure that we will celebrate all of the fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, regardless of their sexual orientation. Would all other faith communities do the same.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Take a Minute Today to Tell Your Senator "Just Say No"

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know that there was increasing optimism that Congress might decide to stop funding abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. After all, 17 states have now decided to not accept this money which denies young people honest and accurate information about contraception and STD prevention. After all, the House held hearings in April that demonstrated that abstinence-only programs are not only ineffective but put young people at risk for STDS and pregnancies when they do become sexually involved. After all, more than 250 religious leaders let this hearing know that they support for comprehensive sexuality education. After all, the Congressionally sponsored major research study found that none of the programs studied actually delayed young people having sexual intercourse.

Yet, after all that, we've just learned that the Democratic-led Senate may vote as early today to extend the Title X abstinence only program as part of its extention of Medicaid.

It's time for Congress to do what these programs tell teenagers, "Just Say No." Here's a site that will help you send a message today. You can also call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, tell them what state you are from, and tell the person answering the phone that you are a person of faith and that your faith teaches truth telling. It's time, it's way past time, to end this program that does not.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Abstinence Pants

One of my regular readers sent me the photo. It seems that K-Mart is now selling a line of clothes produced by the abstinence-only program, "True Love Waits."

Here's how they are described:

"Whether she is lounging around the house, going to practice, or doing her chores. These soft athletic style crop pants will keep her comfy. Perfect for wearing with her favorite sweatshirt or tee. These athletic pants boldly proclaim just where she stands by pointing out that "True Love Waits" in a large screen print on the front and back of these pants."

In case you missed it, the list of features include:

Drawstring waist
Bold abstinence screen print
Elastic cuffs. Cotton/Polyester blend
Machine washable

Oh, and guess what -- they only come in women's sizes, not men's, because after all, as the program True Love Waits teaches, it's a girl who has to stop boy's urges.

I have to wonder if the parents who buy these for their teen daughters are also taking the time to talk with them on a about healthy sexual decision making, good communication skills, assertiveness, and setting sexual limits.

I also have to wonder what the folks at K-Mart who made this decision are thinking. Because in a world where the vast majority of parents want teens to know about abstinence and contraception and STD prevention (not either/or but both), I'm guessing they aren't also offering T-Shirts with Planned Parenthood slogans.

And for as much good as these pants are going to do, one of colleagues suggests that they better be available in maternity sizes as well.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hillary Clinton Made Me Teary This Weekend

Saturday was a beautiful day in Connecticut, but I spent part of it inside watching Senator Clinton's speech. And despite the fact that I was upset with her last Tuesday for not conceding then, I found myself teary as she began her talk.

Just like last Tuesday when the delegate count confirmed Senator Obama as the nominee, Saturday was also historic. I've written here that as a teenager, I aspired to one day be a Member of Congress with only a handful of role models. I resonated when Senator Clinton said that because of her candidacy, no one will ever doubt again that a woman can run for President of the United States. And I believe had she not had some of the baggage from her past and the most charismatic opponent we have seen in decades, she would have won the nomination.

But, that is not to say that sexism is not alive and well. The Women's Media Center has put together this compilation of sexist tapes from the media (largely Fox but not entirely) that took my breath away. It's really worth the five minutes to watch it. And to my younger readers who don't claim for themselves the word "feminist", I can't think of a quicker way to show you how misguided that is. It was not just "iron my shirt" -- it was comments about her hair, her cleavage, her clothes -- words like "nagging wife" and "castrating" and innuendos about her sexuality. My pulse is still racing a half hour after watching it.

In one of the many articles I read today about "what went wrong", one person (I'm sorry, I can't remember who) suggested that it is time for a national dialog not just on race but on gender. Perhaps together Senator Clinton and Senator Obama could start.

Friday, June 06, 2008

An Extraordinary Week

It has been an extraordinary week. Truly -- extra-ordinary.

Regardless of your political leanings or which candidate (or which party) you have been supporting, I know that you must have joined me teary eyed watching Senator Barack Obama on Tuesday night. You knew you were watching a moment in American History books for decades if not centuries to come. It was a heart singing moment.

My heart sang this week as well when the California Supreme Court announced it would not stay the marriage equality decision. Several of the gay and lesbian people I was with in California this week are planning their summer weddings to their long standing partners. My heart sings with them.

And the General Assembly of New York State voted 102 to 33 to extend workplace protections to transgender persons -- three votes to one. Extraordinary.

And my heart is still singing by the extraordinary people I spent the week with in San Francisco talking about full inclusion of GLBT persons in our nation's churches. The meeting was off the record, but they know who they are, and I am deeply grateful.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

More on Same Sex Marriage

I'm out in San Francisco this week at a meeting of leaders working for full inclusion of LGBT persons in faith communities.

USA Today appeared under my hotel room door this am, and I saw an article labeled "Most say gay marriage private choice." The good news -- in a national USA Today/Gallop Poll, 63% of Americans say that the "government should not regulate whether gays and lesbians can marry the people they choose". Only a third think the government should be allowed to prohibit such marriages. The results held up in ever region and every age group, except people 65 and older.

This is HUGE. It means the American public now gets it -- marriage is a private matter, and each of us should be able to marry the person we chose, regardles of religon, race, or biological sex.

Now, if we could just get the media to stop saying "gay marriage". I don't label myself in a "heterosexual marriage" and I don't perform "heterosexual marriage ceremonies."

The poll shows we're read for it to be "marriage" for us all. The arc of the universe is bending.