Friday, January 30, 2009

I've taken to reading regularly since the inauguration.
This wonderful picture is the President signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It strengthens all previous pay equity federal laws. Ms. Ledbetter, who had sued her employers all the way to the Supreme Court, spoke at the signing. You can read it all at the White House blog. (Yes, in case you didn't know, the White House now has a daily blog.) We are so pleased that the Congress acted so quickly to pass this bill, and that it is the first bill signed by the new President. We hope that a transinclusive ENDA will be signed quickly as well.
The picture made me smile for another reason: do you think that they sent out a memo to the women officials about what do wear? They look like a cast of the Vagina Monologues. Speaking of which, I'm appearing in the VM next weekend at a production at my church. If you are in the area, I hope you'll come. All ticket proceeds will benefit the Congo Sabbath initiative.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Family Planning Eliminated From the Stimulus: How DID THAT Happen?

So, I'm a little less in love today.

It's that moment when one realizes that one's newly found love isn't perfect.

The stimulus plan originally included a provision to make it easier for the states to use medicaid funding for family planning services for low income women. The Republicans vociferously disagreed, and the White House didn't push back -- at all -- but just removed the provision. See Christina Page's insightful blog over at RH RealityCheck, Et tu, Barack?

How easy it is to make the sexuality and reproductive health needs of women an issue that can be pushed to the side. Now, we can hope and work to make sure that family planning services are adequately funded in the federal budget so this isn't a death knoll -- but it's a good reminder that no matter who is the President and who controls the Congress, we need to not be complacent about speaking out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Goodbye Gag Rule

I'm in love with the new President.

I've kept the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, and even last week's TV Guide, for the beautiful pictures.

I admit, I was a little worried when January 23rd came and went without a word about the gag rule. But on Friday, late afternoon, the President lifted it. What that means simply -- the U.S. will once again fund family planning programs around the world, most importantly the UNFPA.

To read more and to thank the President, go to

The most important way we can prevent unplanned pregnancies and save women's lives (from unsafe and illegal abortion fatalities) is to provide contraceptives as part of an overall strategy to empower women. Seems like common ground to me.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama, an anti-abortion poster child?

Since I'm out of town, I've asked Dr. Kate Ott, associate director of the Religious Institute, to post about this disturbing new ad that came out on the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision:


During the President’s Inauguration, Catholic Vote ran an advertisement on BET (Black Entertainment Television) that used Barack Obama’s story as an anti-abortion tale.

My first reaction to this ad was, “How disrespectful to Barack Obama! . . . to use him, a historical anomaly, to vilify women and men struggling to make a decision about an unwanted pregnancy; to use a man who clearly has stood up time and again for abortion access and women’s reproductive healthcare and choice; to use, and worse to distort, the circumstances of his birth, all for an advertisement!"

Here are my second, third and fourth reactions.

We do not know the potential fame or folly for which our children are destined. To base decisions solely on the unknown possibility of a pregnancy is flagrantly dismissive of the other lives involved in that decision and sets up our children for unrealistic, unattainable futures. We do not know who our children will become; we only know how well we can support them, provide for them, and give of ourselves to them. In the Religious Institute's Open Letter on Abortion as a Moral Decision, we say, “The sanctity of human life is best upheld when we assure that it is not created carelessly. It is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious that no woman should be coerced to carry a pregnancy to term. We support responsible procreation, the widespread availability of contraception, prenatal care and intentional parenting.”

There is no other visually identified person in this advertisement except a floating fetus. That’s a medical impossibility. Removing a woman’s body from the visual message does more than make us focus on the fetus; it forces us to create a false separation between a pregnant woman and the fetus in her uterus. They are inextricably intertwined, as are their lives and decisions about their futures. Abortion is not an abstract act; why must we continue to erase the physical presence of the moral agents in these decisions – women? This separation diminishes our ability to grasp the true moral complexity of an abortion decision. The advertisement stresses “broken, abandoned and struggle” as the descriptive circumstances into which Obama was born. Barack Obama’s mother and father were well educated and had family support systems that allowed them to make a choice about this pregnancy, which is not the case in all unwanted pregnancies. I don’t even think we can surmise (without hearing from his mother, which is no longer possible) if this was an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy.

My fourth reaction is that the advertisement is a new version of the old ethical argument that “absolute respect for human life” is the only moral principle upon which to judge abortion, and its only application is to prioritize the life of the fetus. In almost no other moral deliberations do we actively deny other moral principles, such as justice or love of neighbor. The advertisement coercively limits the scope of our moral imagination and denies how context influences moral choice. “The ability to choose an abortion should not be compromised by economic, educational, class or marital status, age, race, geographic location or inadequate information” (our Open Letter again), but in reality it is. The choice to have an abortion is always a moral choice; women are always capable moral agents; moral decision-making requires deliberation of multiple principles.

I haven’t even touched on the racial implications of airing this advertisement on BET during the inauguration of the first black President of the United States. This, I think, has more to do with the racist and sexist moral character of the group supporting and contributing to the ad, not the moral decision of women to have an abortion.

Our moral struggle should be one that sees racism, poverty, and heterosexism as factors that destroy communities and place women and men in uncompromisingly difficult moral decisions – not one that uses historical events as an opportunity for moral exploitation.

More "Proof": President Obama on Roe v. Wade

White House Press Release, January 22, 2009

Statement of President Obama on the 36th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose.

While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.

On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work; and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere.

Rev. Debra: God bless him.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Proof that Change Has Come -- The President on Sexual Justice Issues

My son sent me an email on Tuesday asking if I enjoyed the first day of President Obama's administration.

I felt elated all day...but even more so when I went to

Go to and

If for some reason those links don't work, just go to and follow the agenda items.

And you'll see why I feel so elated. The White House lists the policy positions for the new administration: they included a commitment to Roe, a commitment to reducing unintended pregnancies through comprehensive sex education and family planning services, a commitment to overturn DOMA, pass a transinclusive ENDA, support for full civil unions, adoption rights...they even use LGBT as the label of a section. Read it yourself!

Change HAS happened. You helped make that change happen. We all need to continue to work to make sure it can.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Justice is Rolling Down Like Waters

I loved almost every minute of it.

(You know what I didn't love...I'm not going to write about it.)

I was in a room full of crying men and women -- who rather than be on their holiday -- were sitting around a screen. I started to cry when I first saw the millions of people on the mall...I cried when the Obama girls and Mrs. Robinson first appeared...and it went on from there.

I LOVED his speech...I loved the poem...and God bless, Rev. Lowery for his INCLUSIVENESS of everyone of us.

And I did something I haven't done in forever...which is sing every last word of the National Anthem, the room holding hands, crying with hope and anticipation and forgiveness and wanting so so much to believe in the possibilities that we just saw.

My heart is overwhelmed.

Tell us how it was for you. ; )

Monday, January 19, 2009

Blessings for President Obama, Blessings for Us All

I am away in Mexico on vacation (plus doing a few workshops) at one of my favorite places on earth.

Tomorrow, a group of us will gather in a dining hall to watch the inauguration. On one hand, I am missing being in the center of it all, but also relieved to not be in the crowds in Washington.

I went to Jimmy Carter's swearing in and an inaugural ball. That may have to suffice for my bucket list.

But I am sure like your's, where ever you are, that part of your heart and surely all of our hopes are with the President-elect and his family this Martin Luther King's birthday holiday.

And I know many of you are joining me in prayer for President Obama, to be brilliant and compassionate and wise and to lead us into a better America and a better world.

And I know you know that this one man cannot do this alone -- but all of us must take responsibility for what we can do to bless the world.

Blessings for the new President, the Vice - President, their families.

God bless America.

America, bless God.

Friday, January 16, 2009

False Advertising: Where Are the Progressives?

The headline of the press release reads, "Long Time Foes United to End the Cultural War: Evangelical and Progressive Religious Leaders Come Together." The report is called the "Come Let Us Reason Together Governing Agenda," produced by Third Way and Faith in Public Life.

If only the headline were true. The fact is that this is a report by, in the words of U.S. News and World Report, a "coalition of prominent evangelical leaders." In that it expands their previous call for abortion reduction to include for the first time a call for comprehensive sexuality education and family planning services, it's an important step forward. And since it includes a call for ending job discrimination against gays and lesbians, moving beyond the 2007 call for treating lesbians and gays with dignity, it is a step forward. I'm delighted to know that there are centrist and social evangelicals who are moving forward on these issues.

But it is false advertising to promote this report as evangelical and progressive religious leaders coming together. My colleague, Tim Palmer, was on the press conference call yesterday. Four of the five speakers identified themselves as pro-life; not one affirmed sexual and gender diversity ; and several went out of their way to affirm their anti-marriage equality position (although the report did not mention marriage at all). There are 30 people who have submitted supporting statements for the report; I would call only four of them progressive religious leaders, and only one has a demonstrated, longstanding commitment to women's reproductive choice and LGBT persons.

I have written many times that one cannot label oneself progressive without a commitment to sexual justice. I have also said innumerable times that I would be delighted to help these two organizations bring truly progressive religious leaders to the table to discuss these issues. But until we're invited, expect us to continue to speak out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Love Your Enemies -- Albert Mohler Helps Us Get Out the Word About the Seminary Study

A few days I told you about how excited we were that Rev. Dr. Martin Marty wrote his weekly column on the Sex and the Seminary Report.

Well, it turns out that Dr. R. Albert Mohler, the president of the largest Southern Baptist Seminary, did so as well. You can read it at

Dr. Mohler, who you may remember opined last year that if it turns out that homosexuality is genetic, perhaps it might be a reason to support selective abortions. He said our study of the seminary is "really about turning seminaries into agencies for a liberal and revisionist sexual agenda."


Actually, it is about giving future clergy the skills they need to counsel, preach, and educate about sexuality issues in the context of their faith traditions.

He apparently "knows" quite a bit about me, probably I guess from his time as a Focus on the Family board. (Focus once ran an article on me, titled the "high priestess of immorality."] Here's what he said,

Debra Haffner's name will be recognized immediately by anyone involved in issues of sexual controversy in recent decades. She is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, but previously she served as chief executive officer of SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, and, among other positions, as an official with Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington. She has been pushing a radical sexual agenda for a long time.

Well he got the jobs right. But a radical sexual agenda? Hardly, Dr. Mohler. The vast majority of Americans support sexual justice: almost 9 in 10 support family planning services and sexuality education, a majority support the Roe decision, more than six in ten now support civil unions or marriages for same sex couples. More, the majority of Americans want to make sure that the government does not dictate their own personal sexual decisions.

On a positive note, he did say that the report was "riveting." I hope you'll agree with that.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Straight Minister Releases New Report on Seminaries

You didn't see that headline, did you, when we released our new report last week?

Then, why was it that every print article I read today on Bishop Robinson speaking at Sunday's events was headlined, "Gay Bishop to speak"...Not simply Bishop, or even Episcopal Bishop, but Gay Bishop?

Why weren't Rev. Watkins or Rev. Warren labeled by their sexual orientation? Are we to infer that they are both heterosexual because the label wasn't used?

Thank goodness we are passed the time when the President-elect isn't being labeled as "Black President-elect" or "Multi-racial President elect", at least in the stories I'm reading in the mainstream press.

We all have a race...we all have a cultural identity...we all have a sexual orientation and a gender identity. And unless we are going to comment on it for everyone, it is time to stop the heterosexist assumption that unless we use a different label, you are presumed straight.

There is no gay marriage...there is only marriage.

There is no gay adoption...there is only adoption.

And there is only one kind of people -- God's people.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reasons to Celebrate and Give Thanks

I start and end each day with a spiritual practice that includes moments to reflect on all that is good in my life and to whisper "thank you."

And so as this new week begins and 1/20/09 is only a week away, I am thankful:

*That Bishop Gene Robinson will give the invocation at the first event of the inauguration on Sunday and that Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will do the sermon at the National Prayer Service. Rev. Robinson is one of the Bishops who have endorsed our Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing and the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality. Rev. Watkins, the first woman to ever offer the sermon at this service, just this past week endorsed the Religious Institute's Congo Sabbath. I'd like to think that some of the response to Rev. Warren led to these wonderful opportunities for progressive clergy who support sexual justice issues to take their place front and center.

*The National Council of Churches of Christ is promoting the Congo Sabbath Initiative on the front page of its web site. With so many demands for their attention, my heart is full that they are standing with us on the Congo Sabbath.

*Dr. Martin Marty, the country's leading historian on American Religion, devoted his weekly column to the Religious Institute's new seminary survey. Read it here. It went to more than 5000 subscribers on Monday morning.

And like every day that the people I love are healthy, happy, and gainfully employed, I give thanks for life this day. As I once heard Dr. Estelle Raimey say, "I have loved and been loved. The rest is background music."

Monday, January 12, 2009

More on "Sex and the Seminary"

The release of the "Sex and the Seminary" report at the Society for Christian Ethics and the Society for Jewish Ethics combined annual meeting was very well received. More than 50 ethicists, theologians, and seminary representatives attended the reception. It was covered by Religious News Service, NPR, the Chicago Tribune, the Christian Post, and more than 400 Internet news services. Interestingly, even the most conservative religious blogs supported the need to cover sexuality issues in seminary.

My favorite editorial was by theologian Mary Hunt over at Religious Dispatches.

Several denomination offices have requested copies of the reports and meetings for follow up. We'll be sending copies of the report, with a letter from Union Theological Seminary President Serene Jones and me, to every denomination and every ATS and Jewish seminary in the next few weeks. YOU can download the full report OR you can request a complementary hard copy by writing

On a list serv I'm on, one of the other subscribers wrote, "great report, but I fear it will be a long time before many of the mainline denominations are able to be that honest and realistic about issues of sexuality."

We're determined that this report will not just gather dust on shelves but act as a catalyst for change in seminaries to better prepare future clergy. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Seminaries Failing to Prepare Clergy on Sexuality Issues

I'm in Chicago at the Society for Christian Ethics annual meeting.

Later this evening, the Religious Institute will release its two year survey of 36 leading seminaries in the U.S. and how they address sexuality issues.

Our bottom line conclusion: even the most progressive seminaries are failing to prepare future clergy adequately on sexuality issues.

Here are some of the key findings:

• More than 90% of the seminaries surveyed do not require full‐semester, sexuality‐based courses for graduation.

• Two‐thirds of the seminaries do not offer a course in sexuality issues for religious professionals.
Three quarters do not offer a course in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) studies.

• Seminaries offer three times as many courses in women’s and feminist studies as they do in LGBT studies or other sexuality‐related issues.

• The next generation of scholars is not addressing sexuality issues. Sexuality‐based courses are taught by senior professors or adjunct faculty, not by upcoming faculty seeking tenured positions.

The study also noted a “stained glass ceiling” in seminaries and a lack of policies on full inclusion of women and gay, lesbian and transgender persons. Two-thirds of the seminaries surveyed have fewer than 40% women serving in faculty, senior administrative and trustee positions, in contrast to student populations that are frequently more than 50% women.

To read the full report, the press release, and the executive summary, go to our web site, and click on the link for the Sex in the Seminary study.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Can You Share This Responsive Reading for the Women of the Congo?

My colleague Katey Zeh has written this lovely responsive reading for congregations to use to pray for the women and the girls of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Spirit of Compassion, who hears the cries of all those who suffer from war, famine, and violence,

Be with the women of the Congo whose bodies, lives, and families are torn apart by sexual violence.

Spirit of Love, who sees the brutality and mutilation that have become daily realities for the Congolese women,

Bring healing to their bodies, their minds, and their spirits.

Spirit of Justice, who calls us to see, hear, and respond to the injustice and suffering caused by sexual violence,

Embolden us to speak out against those who use rape as a weapon of war.

Spirit of Oneness, who seeks to reconcile all that is broken in this world,

Unify us as we work to bring an end to violence against women and girls around the globe.



Sign up at the Congo Sabbath section of our web site. The responsive reading is available as a reproducible bulletin insert or as a word document. We've also compiled a list of resources on the Congo for people of faith and religious leaders.

I am praying you will become involved.

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

There were wall to wall (okay, mat to mat) people at yoga on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. I had to park at the parking lot behind the parking lot at the gym (reminding myself that the extra steps would be good for me.) And yes, I've resolved to increase yoga from two times a week to three or four, lose the weight I gained over the holidays, and I've even signed up for the More Magazine half marathon for women over 40 in April. And to keep myself honest, I'm telling YOU, my loyal readers about these resolutions.

Not far behind my almost annual weight resolution are the resolutions to be a better person -- to be more loving, more patient, more careful with my words, kinder, and more forgiving. I resolve to try harder to bring more of my ministerial best self into all of my day to day interactions -- including being more patient, kinder, and more forgiving of myself.

I am resolving to enjoy every minute of watching the inauguration, leaving the issue of the invocation behind me for the next few weeks. As one Renaissance participant said, "they can have the invocation if we can have the legislation." I resolve to be more open to seeking common ground with diverse religious leaders on areas where we can indeed find consensus -- and I resolve to continue to speak out without fear when we can't. I resolve to finish and submit the proposal for the book that is being born inside me. I resolve to be the best steward possible of the Religious Institute and our exciting new projects.

And I resolve to open my heart and my life to what is being asked of me...and to love my neighbor as myself.

What resolutions are in your heart today?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Blessings for the New Year

I had the privilege of co-serving worship on New Year's day at Renaissance Weekend.

It was a lovely way of beginning the New Year. I closed with these words from Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, the founder of the Church of the Larger Fellowship of All People:

"In whatever sense this year is a New Year for you, may the moment find you eager and unafraid, ready to take it by the hand with joy and with gratitude."

May this be a year of courage, strength, adventure, joy, and gratitude. As Meister Eckhardt wrote more than 800 years ago, the only prayer we really every need is thank you.