Thursday, April 30, 2009

Religious Institute Releases New Report on Progressive Clergy

I am pleased to let you know that this morning the Religious Institute released a new report on our groundbreaking survey of the progressive clergy who are part of our network. It was released in conjunction with a new report on welcoming congregations by our partners at the Institute for Welcoming Resources.

Both of our surveys demonstrate that when a congregation undergoes a formal welcoming process, the congregation benefits: there is greater inclusion of LGBT people and their families, greater advocacy on a wide range of social issues, and a greater openness about sexuality in general.

The Religious Institute survey is the first national study of progressive clergy's attitudes about LGBT inclusion and other sexual justice issues. Our network is nearly unanimous in its support for LGBT people, sexuality education, and reproductive justice. Yet, many of these clergy report that they have not preached about sexuality, only a quarter have sexuality education programs in their congregation, and many congregations could do more to improve both their services and public advocacy on sexual justice issues. Denomination affiliation and whether a congregation has undergone a welcoming process make a difference.

Read the full report here, including our recommendations for clergy, congregations, and denominations. And let us know what you think.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First 100 Days for Sexual Justice

I just heard on the "Today" show that the President is liked by more than 80% of the American public.

I'm one of them. I have to confess that I still get teary when I see certain photos of the President and his family.

It's been a good -- but not perfect -- beginning for sexual justice.

Gag rule -- gone.

Ban on stem cell research -- gone.

First reduction ever in abstinence-only-until-marriage education -- done.

Last minute Bush regulations on health care providers -- on the way to being gone.

Holding, despite a great deal of pressure, to the goal of reducing the "NEED" for abortion, not efforts to make abortion more difficult to obtain.

On the other hand, family planning was the only health service stripped from the stimulus package, and oh yes, the very unbalanced Faith Based Advisory Council. And no word on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or public promises on hate crimes.

But there is no question that we are in a different policy world than we were on January 20th. And we're grateful for this new beginning.

PS. Great common sense victory for Secretary Sebelius, despite tremendous anti-abortion groups' lobbying.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

More Half Marathon

That's me in the middle, with my good friends Betsy and Cynthia, at the end of the More Half Marathon. Note the medals! (Okay, they gave them to everyone who finished, but I'm still proud of it!)

It's the first time since my mid twenties that I've done anything like this. It was hot in NYC today -- 90 degree hot -- and they actually cancelled the full marathon. (I had only planned to do half!)

I dedicated my walk to the women and girls in the Congo and raised monies to support the V-Day Congo campaign.

It was amazing to see 10,000 women over 40 who had trained to be part of this event. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm ready to sign up for next year.

I wasn't sure I could do it -- and running the last quarter mile over the finish line felt great! Thanks to all of you who supported me -- and the 10,000 women who decided that middle age women can do anything we set our minds to!

Friday, April 24, 2009

One more step for marriage equality

Late Wednesday night, the Connecticut legislature ratified the state Supreme Court's marriage decision. Like in Massachusetts a few years ago, legislators affirmed what neighbors had learned -- that extending civil rights to gay and lesbian couples is just, that it doesn't in any way whatsoever affect heterosexual marriages, and that all of the scary myths (did you see those NOM ads a few weeks ago?) are lies.

My only problem is with the journalists. Headlines blared "Legislature approves gay marriage."

Marriage isn't "gay" or "straight". It's just marriage, people. And in increasing number of states, it's legal for all of us.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bravo, Secretary Clinton!

This is what change looks like.

This is what a strong commitment to women's moral agency and reproductive justice looks like.

Take 3.25 minutes and watch this piece as Secretary Clinton responds to Congressman Smith's question about the Administration's position on reproductive services. Yes, she states clearly, unambiguously, and without apology that that includes access to safe and legal abortions.

It's a wonderful 3 minutes.

Thanks to Emily Douglas at RH Reality Check for posting it first.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Thoughts

I was in high school at the first Earth Day. I remember that along with my teenage anti-war and fighting the dress code efforts, it felt slightly subversive.

It's clear from the newspaper, the tv shows, the mailers, the emails, the Presidential proclamations, and so on, that Earth Day has become mainstream. I don't know the data, but I'm guessing that a significant majority of Americans now recycle, use the new light bulbs, turn off the lights and turn down the heat, and unplug as much as possible. Last week, my church announced it had achieved status as a green congregation. One tweeter wrote, "Earth Day is every day."

How great that is!

I can't help but think how much farther we are on environmental issues than on sexual and reproductive health issues. True, in 1970, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness and abortion was only legal in New York. But the most dramatic changes on those issues happened before I graduated from college -- and it seems like we have faced one battle after another for the past twenty five years.

My growing sense though is that there is a new societal consensus emerging -- and one can only hope and pray that in the next ten years, sexuality education will finally be commonplace, abortion rights will be secured, family planning services will be available as part of health care reform to all, and marriage equality will be secured, at least in many more states.

After all, who would have thought in 1970 that you'd be carrying water in an aluminum bottle or pulling a blue recycling bin to the curb each week?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dayenu -- the seder at the White House

I'm hoping you can click on this photo of the White House seder and make it larger. It was sent to me by a friend who is a friend of a person who was there. Of course, I had heard about the White House seder -- how during the campaign, there was a seder in a hotel room and the campaign workers rather than saying "Next Year in Jerusalem!" -- the traditional ending of the seder -- said "Next Year at the White House! and THERE THEY ARE.
For those of you are Jewish, you might note that they are using the Maxwell House Haggadah (the haggadah of my childhood seders when haggadahs came with coffee cans!) and that each person has their own seder plate. As my sister said, "They didn't have to share their charoseth."
Look to at who seems to leading the seder. Do you think they sang Chad Gad Yo or that Sasha did the four questions?
I found this photo touching and affirming. One can hardly imagine a seder in either of the Bush White House dining rooms. Maybe the Clintons though.

Monday, April 20, 2009

President Obama, Abstinence-only-until-marriage education is wasteful, ineffective, and immoral

On Saturday, President Obama announced that he would ask his department and agency heads this morning for "the painstaking work of examining every program, every entitlement, every dollar of government spending, and asking ourselves: is this program really essential?" He promised that programs that are "wasteful or ineffective" will be eliminated.

So, just in case this isn't on the Acting Secretary of DHHS' list, let me suggest that the three abstinence-only-until-marriage programs be at the top. More than 1.5 billion dollars have been spent on these programs since they were first created. Congress' own study found that these programs have not helped young people abstain from sexual intercourse, and other peer reviewed studies have found that some of the funded programs have actually put young people at risk of not using contraceptive and condoms when they do become sexually involved and increasing the likelihood that they will engage in oral and anal sex. A wasteful and ineffective federal program? You bet.

But also an immoral one that denies young people life saving information, distorts the truth, and leaves the most vulnerable young people without the education and skills they need.

Not only that, but as a state senator, as a US Senator, and as a candidate, the President pledged his support for comprehensive sexuality education that includes helping young people delay getting involved in mature sexual behaviors and provides them with information about pregnancy and STD prevention

Mr. President, you already cut the program in the 2009 budget. I'm praying that as part of this cost-cutting effort you'll recognize it's time to eliminate it completely.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Judith Krug -- A Life to Celebrate

Judith Krug died last Saturday night at the age of 69. You may not know her name, but for those of us who care about our right to information, she was a hero. For more than four decades, she was the director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. She created Banned Books week in 1982, took on the Patriot Act’s library provisions, and helped bring a case against Internet censorship to the Supreme Court. I only met her a few times, but I have always considered her an important ally.

The New York Times editorial page did something they rarely do, which is include “an appreciation” about her on their editorial page on Wednesday. But it was her NYT’s obituary that made me smile. It ended with a story that Ms. Krug used to tell audiences about why she was a stalwart supporter of freedom of information.

I’m paraphrasing here from memory but you’ll get the idea. Ms. Krug shared that when she was 12, her mother caught her reading a sex education book under the covers by flashlight. Her mother started, “Young lady, don’t do that.” She paused. “Turn on the light so you don’t ruin your eyes.”

A lifelong supporter of sexuality education and information was born. May she rest in peace.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Facebook and Twitter

My young adult and teenage children used to say they couldn't believe I had a blog when they didn't.

They were considerably less enthusiastic when three weeks ago I signed up for a Facebook account. Neither will "friend" me. I've been trying to keep my Facebook access only to people who I actually know, and I've been concerned about whether to ignore requests from professionals in my fields who I have never met.

So, last night, I signed up for Twitter. Anyone can now "follow" me at RevDebra. (I have to admit that I'm a bit uncomfortable about the language of people I don't know "following me." I have had a few death and physical harm threats over the past 25 years, but my colleagues on Twitter have assured me that in this one case being "unprotected" is a good thing.) I'll keep my Twitter up-to-date on what I am doing, new resources, and my 140 character take on what's going on in the world of sexuality and religion.

I'd welcome your suggestions and ideas!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

James Dobson: The Right Has Lost the Culture Wars

James Dobson, as you probably know, is stepping down as the head of Focus on the Family.

Yesterday, it was reported that in his farewell speech, Dobson conceded defeat:

“We tried to defend the unborn child, the dignity of the family, but it was a holding action...
We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.”

Now, my regular readers know, that I reject the idea that we are in an evenly balanced "culture war", but I have to admit that I liked watching him throw up the white flag. He went on to say that God was on their side and Focus would continue to fight.

And I thought to myself, fight for what? Intolerance, exclusion, denial of women's moral agency and full human and civil rights for LGBT persons?

I remembered a bumper sticker I had in the late 1980's: "the Moral Majority is neither." It's still true today.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Marriage Matters Redux

I did a routine premarital counseling visit on Saturday.

We talked about all of the things I usually cover in a first session with a couple who wants me to marry them. We talked about how they met, how they courted, why they love each other. I asked questions about their plans for children, how they handle finances, what they argue about and how they handle disagreements, how their families feel about their relationship, and yes, dear readers, about sex.

I liked them a lot and agreed to perform their marriage ceremony this summer.

It was all routine, except that they were the first lesbian couple who had asked me to officiate at a wedding since the Connecticut law changed to make it legal for them to be married in my home state. I've performed many same sex ceremonies, but not one where I got to sign an official wedding license.

And so we decided to incorporate signing the wedding license directly into the ceremony, witnesses and all. And I will "pronounce" them legally wed, by the powers vested in me by the state of Connecticut, and supported by state laws in Massachusetts, Iowa, and Vermont (and perhaps other states by August as well.)

It will be a perfectly routine wedding -- with ring bearers and flower girls and parents walking them up the aisle and a chupah and glasses to break -- and tears and love and joy.

One day, such weddings will be routine everywhere.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

White House Faith Based Office

So, while I was in Canada, the White House announced the final members of its 25-person faith based and neighborhood council office. Here's the list:

Diane Baillargeon, president and CEO, Seedco, New York City, N.Y.
Anju Bhargava, founder, Asian Indian Women of America, New Jersey
Bishop Charles Blake, presiding bishop, Church of God in Christ, Los Angeles, Calif.
The Reverend Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association, Chicago, Ill.
The Reverend Peg Chemberlin, president-elect, National Council of Churches, Minneapolis, Minn.
Dr. Arturo Chavez, president and CEO, Mexican American Catholic College, San Antonio, Texas
Fred Davie, senior adviser, Public/Private Ventures, New York City, N.Y.
Nathan Diament, director of public policy, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of AmericaWashington, D.C.
Pastor Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor, Northland, a Church Distributed, Longwood, Fla.
Harry Knox, director, Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign, Washington, D.C.
Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, presiding bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Knoxville, Tenn.
Dalia Mogahed, executive director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, Washington, D.C.
The Reverend Otis Moss Jr., pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, Cleveland, Ohio
Dr. Frank S. Page, president emeritus, Southern Baptist Convention, Taylors, S.C.
Eboo S. Patel, founder and executive director, Interfaith Youth Core, Chicago, Ill.
Anthony Picarello, general counsel, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.
Nancy Ratzan, national president, National Council of Jewish Women, Miami, Fla.
Melissa Rogers, director, Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Rabbi David N. Saperstein, director and counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Washington, D.C.
Dr. William J. Shaw, president, National Baptist Convention, USA, Philadelphia, Pa.
Father Larry J. Snyder, president, Catholic Charities USA, Alexandria, Va.
Richard Stearns, president, World Vision, Bellevue, Wash.
Judith N. Vredenburgh, president and CEO, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, Philadelphia, Pa.
The Reverend Jim Wallis, president and executive director, Sojourners, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)Indianapolis, Ind.

The additional ten people include my friend and colleague, Harry Knox from the Human Rights Campaign, and Nancy Ratzen, whom I do not know but represents the National Council of Jewish Women, a solid supporter of sexual justice issues. That brings the number of people on this committee who stand publicly with the President's public commitments on sexuality issues to perhaps 20 percent. At least seven of these people are publicly anti-choice, and I'm guessing a few more of them probably are more quietly. It's hard to imagine how the Obama administration composed this committee with only one third women, only three of them women clergy. Only two of these people are openly gay.

This would all matter much less if the committee wasn't charged with addressing several sexual justice issues, including reducing unintended pregnancies and teenage pregnancy, and promoting the responsibilities of fatherhood. Yet, only a handful of the people on this list have ever worked on these issues. And it's not because the Obama administration didn't know who to pick from -- I know that several women's organizations provided the names of many women candidates, including women clergy, (yes, including me) to choose from.

Frances Kissling did a wonderful job over at Religion Dispatches addressing what's so wrong with this Council. I encourage you to read it. She said in part:

That leaves a majority of religious leaders on the Council who are likely to lead the nation down a road in which respect for women’s rights will be as absent from their recommendations for government policy and funding as they are in the religious institutions they represent.

For me, and for many feminists, President Obama’s Council on Faith based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be about as respected as President Bush’s Council on Bio-ethics. As with that Advisory group, the majority presence will drown out the minority and in this case, it will not be junk science that prevails but junk religion. I am so sorry that I have to draw this conclusion.

It's hard to imagine how this group -- which ranges from many highly conservative members who are by their own writings anti-choice, anti-gay and opposed to sexuality education, to a handful of people who are progressive on sexual justice in their public commitments, and many who have until now not dealt publicly with these issues -- will reach any meaningful consensus or common ground on how to achieve its stated goals. They surely will have intense discussions, although compromise statements beyond encouraging teens to wait to have intercourse and services for pregnant women and incentives for fathers to be involved seem unlikely.

I suppose I can pray to be surprised.

Monday, April 06, 2009

What Common Ground Looks Like

I'm just back from talking with somewhere between 400 and 500 parents in Hamilton, Ontario, about my latest book What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know and how to help their young people make healthy, moral, ethical sexual decisions.

The event was sponsored by the Sexual Health Network, a coalition of organizations chaired by the director of programs for the Catholic diocese of Hamilton, and includes members of the public health program, the schools and abstinence-only groups. They've joined together for a "Worth the Wait" program, encouraging high school age teens to delay getting involved in sexual activity.

I spoke for over an hour and answered questions for 45 minutes. I talked about why it is important for parents to give their teens their own family values about when it might be appropriate to have mature sexual behaviors of any kind; I talked about my CUHMP (the five criteria for a moral sexual relationship and the three variables that determine them); and I talked about the need to give young people "mixed messages" about sexual behaviors just like we do on drinking: in essence, we don't want you to and if you do, we want you to protect your life and future. I encouraged parents to think about what they really mean when they ask their teens to abstain (from what? until when?) and to be explicit in communicating with them.

The other "A" word never came would have if someone had asked me how to approach a teen who tells you that she is pregnant, but my message was PREVENTION and PARENTING, and because my emphasis is on helping parents give THEIR (not MY) values to their children and teens, it was well received.

Dinner with the woman from the Catholic diocese was a balm for me after these past few days of people trying to paint me into a corner. There IS common ground on reducing teenage pregnancies and teenage sexual behaviors -- just as there IS common ground on supporting low income women who choose to have (more) children and not have social, medical or economic barriers to doing so.

Based on the one-on-one conversations I had with people after the talk tonight, I'm confident that I helped a lot of people think about how they might be more effective parents, especially around the areas of sex, alcohol and drugs. Despite that it's now going on 15 hours since I left home, it also helped me.

Marriage in Iowa, the White House on Unintended Pregnancy, and Religious Progressives -- Friday Was A Good Day

This past Friday was a very exciting day.

Iowa became the third state (or fourth if you include California) to approve marriage equality. And I couldn't help but think that if it can happen in Iowa, it surely can happen elsewhere.

I was honored to be included in the first White House conference call on reducing unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion. Yes, those are the exact words that the White House used -- nothing about "abortion reduction" as the frame. We were promised that we would all be involved in additional smaller briefings and have the opportunity for input.

And Huffington Post published my blog, "Don't Call Yourself Progressive If You Don't Believe in Sexual Justice." Read it here.

It set off a few fellow bloggers who accused me of extremism and throwing people out of the progressive coalition. But I won't let people paint me or the Religious Institute as extremist, because I know that the positions we take on sexual justice are shared by a majority of Americans, from the more than half who want abortion to remain safe and legal to the almost 90% who support sexuality education and family planning to the 89% who believe that lesbian and gay people should be protected against job discrimination. These are not positions on the far left, as some would claim, but mainstream positions that many people of faith (and people who claim no faith at all) support.

But of course, it's not just about numbers. My commitment to sexual justice is about people's lives -- women, teenagers, LGBT persons who should have the right to the information, education and services they need to make their own responsible and ethical sexual decisions.

I know there are many good people of faith who disagree with me and the Religious Institute on these issues -- and I am willing to work with them to seek common ground on issues where we might agree. I've taken part in those common ground discussions since 1991, and I will gladly come to the table with anyone who is willing to find areas where we can work together. Just ask.

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?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Breaking Advances in Sexual Justice -- This Just In

I'm at a private school today, speaking with faculty, students and parent -- but I just checked my email and learned two exciting developments.

The Swedish government just overwhelmingly approved marriage equality, joining Spain, Canada, Belgium, South Africa, and Norway, in giving same sex couples the right to marry.

And late last night, at the United Nations, the U.S. government spoke out for sexuality education and reproductive rights -- something we haven't done for these past long 8 years. Here's what they said, courtesy of the IWHC:

Today, at the United Nations the United States expressed its renewed and deep commitment to the goals and aspirations included in the International Conference on Population Program of Action and Development (ICPD) and the Key Actions of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):
"Ladies and Gentlemen, our common task this week is vital. Five years remain in both the ICPD and the MDG mandates. We can, this week, commit to stronger actions to reach our common goals. We must do much more to provide comprehensive, accurate information and education on sexuality, sexual and reproductive health for women, men, girls, and boys as they age and their needs evolve. We must, as well, foster equal partnerships and sharing of responsibilities in all areas of family life, including in sexual and reproductive life, and promote frank discourse on sexuality, including in relation to sexual health and reproduction. We must also acknowledge the direct link between population rates, fertility, and the ability to reach development outcomes.

"We need to prioritize comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, as defined in the Programme of Action and the Key Actions for its further implementation, in our work to strengthen health systems. The cluster of services agreed in the Program of Action is all essential to save women's lives and protect their health as well as protect their reproductive rights."

God bless this new administration!