Friday, April 03, 2009

Religious Progressives and Sexual Justice Issues

There have been a series of articles in the blogosphere this week about which religious leaders can claim to be "religious progressives." There was also yet another article in Newsweek about ending the cultural war on abortion by "abortion reduction." As the head of a religious organization that supports sexual justice, I have to admit to feeling weary of such debates in the press.

I've written here many times about why the goal must be to reduce unintended pregnancies rather than the number of abortions -- and that at least to date, the Obama administration seems to understand that the first line must be to assure that young people have comprehensive sexuality education and family planning services and that women must have the financial, medical, and community support to truly have a choice to when facing an unintended pregnancy. It seems so patently obvious that that is the common ground on which we can all stand.

The US News and World Report article includes disturbing quotes from people who I think of as colleagues about those of us who believe that sexual justice must be part of a progressive religious agenda, indeed claiming that we divide the world into ideological purity or enemies. Here's the comment I left in response.

The danger in allowing leaders in the center who are not supportive of sexual justice to use the term "religious progressive" to define themselves is that it marginalizes those of us who are working as people of faith to assure that LGBT persons are fully included in the life of the faith community and society, that all young people receive comprehensive sexuality education that includes life saving information, and that women and men have access to reproductive health services, including voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment. Let me remind the author that these are not extreme positions but that they are supported by a majority of Americans.

I lead a network of more than 4500 religious leaders from more than 50 faith traditions ( that publicly embrace sexual health and sexual justice. We work closely with partners on a wide variety of issues that span the religious landscape, such as sexual abuse prevention, education for parents, and ending violence against women and girls -- and we are avid partners on a broad range of social justice issues with many who do not agree with us on abortion and LGBT rights. Dr. Jones and Faith in Public Life know from direct experience that religious progressives like myself regularly reach out to them for support. I only wish the reverse was true.

As long as women and LGBT persons' lives are on the line, the Religious Institute is going to continue to work to assure their rights to their own moral agency around their sexual and personal lives and societal and faith communities full recognition. I just don't see how one can label oneself progressive without that commitment.

Do you?


Chipster said...

Thanks so much for standing up for what to me is a clear moral and human rights issue. How can people who claim to be progressive be in the midst of negotiating away basic human rights for women and gay people? Is positioning the Democratic Party to gain a few votes more important than standing with our allies to demand justice for all? For over 20 years I have been having civil debates and discussions with evangelicals (including conservatives) over aeras of shared interest, especially around resisting organized White supremacist and antisemitic groups. The whole idea that this is something new for "progressives" is absurd.

Rev Bev said...

Well said. I have long been suspicious of the good intentions on the part of some centrist Christians (usually always male unfortunately) to de-escalate the culture wars when to do so has meant they choose to avoid addressing the reality of women's lives concerning reproductive freedom as well as the rights of the sexual minority communities. The issue is not getting votes or winning the popularity contest. It is can we as people of faith hear the voices of the women whose lives and dreams are irreparably changed and damaged by the erotophobia in our culture?