Friday, February 27, 2009
Prevents Teen Pregnancy. The Budget supports
State, community-based, and faith-based
efforts to reduce teen pregnancy using evidence based
models. The program will fund models that
stress the importance of abstinence while providing
medically-accurate and age-appropriate
information to youth who have already become
Could this be the death knoll for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that are neither evidence-based (the evidence is that they don't work) and that acknowledge and provide information and services for young people to prevent pregnancies and disease? Will the budget finally end funding for ineffective, wasteful, and harmful (no less immoral) programs?
President Obama also today took the first step toward eliminating "the HHS “refusal rule” imposed by the Bush Administration that would have limited women’s access to birth control. The rule would have allowed health care professionals to refuse, on religious or moral grounds, to provide women with the family planning services they need -- or even to refer to providers who would offer these services. Further as I understand it federally funded clinics would have been prohibited from asking future employees their willingness to offer these services: in other words, a hospital might hire a pharmacist who wouldn't dispense EC to rape victims or a Title X doctor who wouldn't give teenagers contraception.
From a press release from Advocates for Youth:
According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Department of Health and Human Services has sent a proposed rule change “Rescission of the Regulation Issued by the Department of Health and Human Services on December 19, 2008, Implementing the Church Amendments (42 U.S.C. 300a-7), Section 245 of the Public Health Service” for review to OMB.
Once a notice of the rule change is published in the Federal Register, the public will have a chance to submit comments.
This regulation was signed into law in the last days of the Bush administration, despite nearly 200,000 people wrote comments opposing them.
As a religious leader, I applaud the President's decision. I can appreciate that some physicians, nurses, pharmacists and so on do not want to participate in delivering sexual health services -- I just don't think they should work for federally funded programs that have as their mandate to deliver them. Blessings for one more step forward from the dark anti-reproductive health policies of the last Administration.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
You must read this study and view the videos at their web site. TFN has documented that 96% of the public schools in Texas don't teach about pregnancy and disease prevention, and 41% include inaccurate information in their programs.
The report also documented that some schools are including overtly Christian materials in their public school classes, clearly a violation of the law. Here's an excerpt:
Consider a handout used by one district entitled: “Things to look for in a mate.”
How they relate to God
A. Is Jesus their first love?
B. Trying to impress people or serve God?
Another district turned over a series of what appear to be student handouts that lay out a scriptural case for abstinence from sexual activity.
Question: “What does the Bible say about sex before marriage / premarital sex?”
Answer: Along with all other kinds of sexual immorality, sex before marriage / premarital sex is repeatedly condemned in Scripture (Acts 15:20; Romans 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13,18; 7:2; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 7).
These programs are hurting the young people of Texas -- and young people throughout America. Nearly 1.5 billion federal dollars have gone to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.
Last night, President Obama said his staff is scouring the 2009 budget to remove "wasteful and ineffective" programs. He could start with the three federal abstinence-only programs. They don't work -- and they deny young people life-saving information. That's not only wasteful, it's immoral.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Cheers to Dustin Lance Black, the young (how young is he??) writer of MILK, who thanked Harvey Milk for saving his life and the lives of other young gay men by promising them a better life. It was sweet and touching and TRUE.
I was thrilled that Sean Penn won, glad that he dissed the hateful protesters, and that he asserted that marriage equality is coming. I think so too.
Kate Winslet...She was terrific as the 30 something Hannah, not so believable to me as the older prisoner. And I still don't understand how being illiterate is WORSE than killing Jews. Really. Also, how come not a single reviewer talked about the fact that this was CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE? He was 15, she was in her mid thirties. Wouldn't people have been outraged about a movie about a 15 year old girl with a man twenty years older? (Oh right, they were. It was called Lolita, and if I remember correctly, it was banned.)
And I was rooting for Slumdog, and glad it won all those awards. It still amazes me that a movie that shows the horrors of poverty in Mumbai still ended up feeling uplifting. One can only hope that some of the money the movie made goes back to helping all the children of the slums who appeared in it. Is it?
As for the picture above -- it was a beautiful dress, but could those be real emeralds? The ring too. If they were real, shame on you, Angelina. Think how many children that could have fed.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
A Time to Every Purpose: The Language of Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing is a compendium of progressive theological statements on a range of sexuality issues that enable religious leaders and faith communities to preach, teach and advocate for sexual justice. It includes historical information and statistical data to establish the social and economic contexts for each of the sexuality issues addressed. It also provides responsive readings for use in congregational worship, as well as study group questions and lists of resources.
And for a limited time only, it's free to clergy and lay leaders. Just send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get a copy out to you.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
My colleague Robby Jones of Public Religion Research released a report today on American attitudes on marriage equality. The exciting news -- almost six in ten Americans now favor civil unions or marriage for same sex committed couples, including 61% of Catholics and 70% of mainline Protestants. The bad news is that 40% of those surveyed report hearing negative messages about homosexuality in church compared to 4% who have heard positive messages, and those who have heard negative messages are more likely to oppose marriage (which is why its so important that progressive clergy speak out and take action on these issues and why improving the sexuality education of seminarians is so important.)
The ELCA (that's the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Task Force on Human Sexuality released its second revised report today. The good news is that it calls for sex education for children and teens, and that it takes a big step forward for the Lutherans by permitting gay and lesbian clergy to live in committed relationships (current policy "requires" all to be celibate, regardless of relationship status.) Unfortunately, according to my friend and colleague Emily Eastwood of Lutherans Concerned, it falls short because it does not recommend any public recognition of same sex relationships by the church, neither blessings of unions or rites. The task force report will not become policy until voted on at the ELCA general assembly in August.
But, I see the arc bending towards justice in both of these two reports. I'm going to make a guess here -- in the next four years, civil unions will be a reality in at least fifteen states and in the next ten years, most of the Mainline Protestant denominations and all but the Orthodox Jews will both recognize gay and lesbian out clergy and perform blessings on their marriages where it is legal. AND I'm going to do my part to see that that happens. I hope you'll do yours.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I think you would have been impressed by their maturity, their willingness to talk to and trust an adult they didn't know, and their hunger for information. It's reassuring to know, as I write in my book, What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know, that our future is in their hands.
I thought similarly when I watched the Fox interview with Bristol Palin. Mature, confident, she both acknowledged her bond with her new baby and that she wished that she had waited another 10 years for child bearing. She said she wants to be an advocate to prevent teen pregnancy (surely one of my colleagues is following up!) and that abstinence-only education isn't realistic. To my surprise, her mother at the end of the interview calls it "naive." She didn't call for it to be defunded, but in some ways, there couldn't be more of an indictment on how telling your teens to "just say no" without coupling it with contraception and condom information is NOT the way to go.
I gave the girls from Emma Willard a strong message that they should wait to have sex until they are ready for a mature sexual relationship -- That no sex beyond kissing should take place unless they and their partner can answer YES to all of the CUHMP criteria (for new readers, that's consensual, non exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable and protected) and that I didn't believe that most 16 year olds could. But, I also answered their many questions about condoms and contraception honestly and directly (except for the one that asked if condom sales go up during a recession -- I said I had no idea.)
What was clear to me from yesterday -- both my time with these young women and watching Bristol Palin -- is that they (and young men) want and need adult guidance to navigate the years of their developing sexuality identities. I'll try to post the Bristol Palin video here later, but for now, you can go to YouTube and search it. For my readers who are parents, it's tonight's teachable moment with your tweens and teens.
Monday, February 16, 2009
It's so different than what most schools offer. The federal abstinence-only-until-marriage education program has spent more than $1.5 billion in federal monies for a program which "has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity." It requires "teaching abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard", "that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard or human sexual activity" and "that sexual activity outside of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects." Note, that's all sexual activity not just intercourse.
More than a decade later, the evidence is clear. The programs don't work. Teenagers who take this program are just as likely to have sex a few years later than teens who don't -- but with an important difference. They are LESS likely to use a contraceptive method than teens who have had a more comprehensive program.
President Obama, when he was candidate Obama, spoke out against these programs and supported comprehensive sexuality education. We are hoping that he will not include the program in the federal budget. Go to the NO NEW MONEY campaign to learn how you can speak out against these ineffective and immoral programs.
And ask your clergy person, to endorse the "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sex Education." We need to demonstrate that religious leaders support comprehensive sexuality education in large numbers.
I'll let you know how Emma Willard goes on Wednesday.
Friday, February 13, 2009
For a long time, I used the word "partner" in public to describe him, because same sex couples in Connecticut were not allowed to marry. I didn't want to take advantage of my heterosexual privilege to be able to label him as such.
Periodically, someone at church would ask him if we were still married -- or why I referred to him that way. It was a good teachable moment.
That changed when Connecticut became the second state to allow same sex couples to marry this past fall. I decided I could say "my husband" again in public -- at least in Massachusetts and Connecticut (and Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, and some other places I don't go to very often!)
This is "Freedom to Marry Week." My colleague Tim Palmer has an excellent blog on the Freedom to Marry website, along with other reflections on marriage for same sex couples. Two thirds of Americans now support either civil unions or marriage equality.
It's time for this discrimination against same sex couples to end. It doesn't make sense that same sex couples who want to commit themselves to each other publicly can't; it doesn't make sense that they are denied civil benefits; it doesn't make sense that the marriages clergy from denominations that support full inclusion perform don't count if the members of the couple have the same genitals. Really, that's what it all comes down to...biology.
Because it's really not about sex...it's pretty clear that lots of heterosexuals engage in sexual behaviors that many people would not want to do themselves.
So go to Freedom to Marry, get involved, speak out. As our Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality says, "where there is love, the sacred is always in our midst."
Happy Valentine's Day to all of you.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Eve Ensler performed a stirring new piece she's written on a teenage girl forced to be a sex slave in the DRC, and then interviewed Dr. Denis Mukwege about the Panzi Hospital and the City of Joy. As devastating as the statistics of brutalization are (over 5 million Congolese killed in the past ten years, over 200,000 women raped), it is always the stories that stay with me.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The 15 women who transformed at my church as they offered The Vagina Monologues.
The brilliant and brave Eve Ensler who wrote the play -- and whose words and video of the women of the Congo (DRC) inspired our congregants to raise $3600 for the women of the DRC over the weekend.
The courageous women who told me their own stories of sexual violation after the worship services.
Last night, we went to see the premiere of her return to Broadway after 44 years in a new play by Moises Kaufman, 33 Variations. It is an inspiring wonderfully told story of a musicologist, diagnosed with ALS, and the passion that drives her to complete her last major book.
It is an ensemble piece filled with strong performances, but it is Jane's character -- and Jane -- who owned my heart. Her courage in portraying a woman who becomes increasingly disabled, her courage in testing herself to return to Broadway, her ability to speak her truth about what this has been like for her at her blog, awes me.
If you are in the New York area, go see this show.
She invited us to come backstage afterwards. My camera didn't work, so go to Jane's blog later today, and I'm guessing there will be pictures. There were about 10 of us, including Gloria Steinem, Eve Ensler, Pat Mitchell, and Jane Fonda in her dressing room. This is what feminist heaven would look like. I am so grateful she included me.
I am so filled with gratitude and love for all of these women who touched my soul this weekend.
My heart is singing.
Monday, February 09, 2009
We performed The Vagina Monologues, by Eve Ensler, to full houses on Saturday evening and late Sunday afternoon. I preached on Sunday morning at our two services on embodiment, the ways our bodies and souls can be violated, and on how we can heal. I talked about how often the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures call us to "bind up the broken", but reminded the congregation hat we are all the broken and we all can be the healers.
We read the Religious Institute's responsive reading and prayer for the Congo Sabbath, and showed a short video for V-Day about the Panzi Hospital and the City of Joy.
Through ticket sales and donations, we raised more than $3500 for the women and girls in the Congo at the two performances and during coffee hour.
We CAN be the healers. If you haven't signed up to participate in the Congo Sabbath Initiative, please go to our website and do so. It's easy. We've posted all the material you need.
It was a wonderful, moving, exhilarating weekend. I am so deeply grateful to the fifteen women in our cast, Meg Jones who directed us, Suzanne Sheridan who sang "Not Ready to Be Nice" during the worship services, to Rev. Ed Thompson and the women's choir, to David Vita for his support, and to the Reverends Frank Hall and Margie Allen for sharing their pulpit with me.
Help bring healing to the women of the Congo. Sign up here.
Friday, February 06, 2009
The new White House Office on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships: Who's Missing at the Table?
The Office has four priorities, according to the press release, including:
It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.
Note that the wording is NOT “abortion reduction” as being reported in the press, but reducing the need for abortion, surely a goal as I have written many times that is common ground. Although I’m not sure why there isn’t a commitment to reduce pregnancies among teenagers rather than it being a topic to be “addressed”, the statement does support the agenda laid out on the White House web site for the new administration:
Supports a Woman's Right to Choose: President Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority in his Administration. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in that case.
Preventing Unintended Pregnancy: President Obama was an original co-sponsor of legislation to expand access to contraception, health information, and preventive services to help reduce unintended pregnancies. Introduced in January 2007, the Prevention First Act will increase funding for family planning and comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods. The Act will also end insurance discrimination against contraception, improve awareness about emergency contraception, and provide compassionate assistance to rape victims.
What’s curious then is that among the fifteen leaders who have been named to the new Advisory Council, only Rabbi David Saperstein from the Union for Reform Judaism is an outspoken supporter of women's reproductive choice, although several of the named persons are vocal anti-choice supporters. Given the President's public commitments and the published White House agenda I note above, the lack of denomination and religious organization leaders who are known to be supporters of these issues and who have expertise working on them is troubling and disappointing. It’s also deeply troubling that only one of the council members is a woman religious leader, that only one third are women, and that none are out gay and lesbian religious or secular leaders.
The last is particularly concerning because the President in establishing the office left in place a Bush executive order that s specifically authorizes religion-based employment discrimination in publicly funded programs, what seems like a reversal of candidate Obama’s strong statement in July: “if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them or against the people you hire on the basis of their religion.”
The good news is that there are still ten openings on the Advisory Committee. On Wednesday, we sent Rev. Joshua DuBois, the new head of the office, a congratulatory letter introducing the work of the Religious Institute and our network of more than 4400 religious leaders committed to sexual justice. I’ll be calling him for a meeting next week. We will be sending the White House a letter with the names of religious leaders who are committed to sexual justice and knowledgeable about reducing teenage pregnancy and unintended pregnancy prevention for their consideration.
I am mindful of the President's call to reach out an open hand, rather than a clenched fist. Although we agree with our colleagues at Americans United and The Interfaith Alliance that we might have preferred to see an end to this program, we are prepared to work with it and the Council to be sure that a progressive religious voice is represented and that its recommendations are consistent with the President's commitments.
Leave a comment and tell us who you would like to see us suggest for consideration for the remaining 10 slots.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Last spring, we brought together theologians, ethicists, and experts in ART to develop a new Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Assisted Reproductive Technologies. It calls for religious leaders to become knowledge about ARTS and for scientists to engage with religious leaders and theologians to consider the ethical implications of these new technologies. One of the participant's words still ring in my ears: "Just because we can, should we?"
I'm copying the press release below. Please go to our web site and read the Open Letter and the accompanying support materials, including books for more information, a responsive reading, and questions for reflection. And weigh in.
Just because we can, should we?
The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing today issued a call to the nation’s religious leaders to engage the ethical considerations of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) and to become stronger counselors and advocates for the safety, effectiveness and accessibility of these technologies.
The Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Assisted Reproductive Technologies, developed by a group of clergy, theologians, ethicists and reproductive health advocates, appears amidst a national debate over the use of in vitro fertilization and other technologies that can produce multiple births. "The broad spectrum of assisted reproductive technologies calls for deeply personal and complex moral decisions that are unprecedented in human history," the Open Letter says. "Religious leaders and theologians have an integral role to play with families, medical providers, and scientists as these technologies unfold."
The Open Letter calls on religious leaders to:
Study the teachings of their faith traditions as well as the current science related to reproduction, families and ARTs
Promote denominational study of pastoral and ethical responses
Advocate for counseling, accurate medical information, health and safety regulations, and increased research into the risks and efficacy of ARTs
Speak out against ART practices that violate human rights and dignity
"When you consider that one in eight American woman of childbearing age has used an infertility service, it is clear that the ethics and efficacy of reproductive technologies is a growing pastoral concern," said Rev. Debra W. Haffner, director of the Religious Institute. "The use of these technologies raises important moral questions regarding the need for regulations, prohibitive costs that deny access to low‐income families, and discriminatory policies and practices. Unfortunately, the rapid growth of assisted reproductive technologies has outpaced religious and ethical discernment."
The Open Letter urges faith communities to support public funding of prevention, screening and diagnosis of infertility, as well as access to information, health care and unbiased counseling. Effective and safe ARTs should be made available in ways that "respect the diversity of family structure and not exclude on the basis of partner status, economic circumstances, or sexual orientation," the Open Letter says.
The Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Assisted Reproductive Technologies was developed at a colloquium sponsored by the Religious Institute. Participants represented a diverse range of religious perspectives, including Roman Catholic, Jewish, Mainline Protestant and Unitarian Universalist, as well as leading universities and national reproductive health advocacy organizations.
The full text of the Open Letter, including a list of participants, is available on the Religious Institute web site. This spring, the Religious Institute will publish a guidebook, A Time to be Born, to assist religious leaders in addressing the moral and religious implications of assisted reproductive technologies.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
The Religious Institute is launching a national campaign to obtain thousands of clergy signatures on its Open Letter to Religious Leaders About Sex Education.
Congress will be considering the nation's first federal comprehensive sexuality education in the next few months. This spring, the Religious Institute will host a congressional briefing on religious support for these public school programs. For the first time in a decade, we have the opportunity to end funding for the ineffective federal abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and to have legislation passed for the first federal comprehensive sexuality education effort. You can help make this happen!
We are seeking clergy who will join the call for medically-accurate comprehensive sexuality education. If you are a member of the clergy, please send us an email at email@example.com and we'll send you the link to endorse the Open Letter. If you are a member of a faith community but not ordained and you think your clergy person would add their name, please send me their email as well.
We hope to have 1000 endorsers within the next two weeks. Please help us spread the word!
Monday, February 02, 2009
*An end to the federal abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and a call for the first federal support for comprehensive sexuality education.
*Full access to affordable, high-quality sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception, emergency contraception, abortion, prenatal care, adoption, HIV/STI prevention and treatment, and safe and proven assisted reproductive technologies. We also urge support for a global HIV/AIDS program free of abstinence-only restrictions.
*Full equality – including marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples and a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act – for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and their families. We specifically ask the President to reconsider his hesitations about marriage equality, yet support his commitment to civil unions and rescinding DOMA.
You can read our letter here. Many of these issues are already part of the White House agenda; all however will need the support of all of us to assure that they become a reality. You can let the President know that you support the Religious Institute’s sexual justice priorities. Our voices, as people of faith who support sexual justice, will make a difference.