Friday, August 28, 2009

Join the Viritual Rally to Support Dr. Leroy Carhart

Maybe you don't know his name.

But the anti-abortion terrorists do. He's one of the remaining doctors who performs late term abortions for women and families in desperate need.

Operation Rescue is targeting his clinic in Nebraska starting today.

NARAL has launched a virtual rally to support him. You can find out more at You can also find out more on twitter #drcarhart

Doctors like Dr. Carhart and Dr. Hern are heroes who deserve our support -- and federal protection. They risk their lives every day to provide legal medical services to women.

The least the rest of us can do is speak out on their right to do so. Join me. As Dr. Tiller said, Trust women.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Religious Institute Web Site!

That's the banner from my organization's newly redesigned website.

We're announcing it to the world today.
It contains the very first online database of denominational statements on sexuality issues. You can search 28 denominations and more than 20 sexuality issues, and find out what the official policy says.

It also has our first two online guides. Acting Out Loud is for faith communities that want to move from welcome to full inclusion. Just Say Know is designed to help clergy become involved in sexuality education.

It also has front page content that will change every day: news about sexuality and religion, new resources, a feed to our Twitter account, (follow us @religiousinst and me @revdebra), and a link to this blog.

We are so grateful to the people at BusinessArchitechs who donated a tremendous amount of time to creating our new web site. I met one of the owners on a cross country plane last December, and he was excited about our ministry. If you are looking for help on your web site, give them a call.

Check out the new website. We hope it will become your go-to portal for all things about religion and sexuality! Tell your friends and colleagues.

Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sex and the Single Minister and Single Adult: Redux

My blog here and the related blog on Huffington Post on "Sex and the Single Minister" has gotten a lot of comments, retweeting, digging, and reposting.

Some people were angry that I wasn't just cheering on the ELCA votes, which indeed were historic. I'm delighted that both the Lutherans and the Episcopalians took steps to affirming justice for gay and lesbian persons this summer; both went farther than they have in the past, both stopped short though of marriage equality and a full commitment to recognizing sexual diversity as part of God's blessing to us. So although I applaud steps forward, I view it as part of our ministry to keep speaking out until "victory emerge resplendent." (Isaiah 62:1)

Others wrote me on twitter and email thanking me for voicing their own situations, either as single ministers or single adults. As one twitter wrote, "Shh...we don't talk about sex for singles." It's made me think about writing more on this topic, and I promise I will.

Still, others misinterpreted what I was saying as promoting an "anything goes" ethic of sexuality. I've been accused of this for most of my career, with people ascribing a false hedonism to my beliefs. I generally respond that I think the sexual ethic that the Religious Institute promotes -- an ethic based on personal relationships and social justice, and love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure -- is much more rigorous than one based on a wedding ring and particular sexual acts. Surely, we all recognize that marriage alone does not assure that sexuality will be expressed with holiness and integrity.

Our sexual ethic accepts no double standards, and applies to all adults, without regard to sex, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status or sexual orientation. How that can be translated into "anything goes" is beyond me.

But, please, keep telling us what you think.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Celebrating the ELCA - But What About the Single Minister?

Friday, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted by a substantial margin to affirm the ministries of gay and lesbian clergy in "committed, lifelong, same-gender relationships." In the words of my colleagues at the ELCA, this vote means "ending the discriminatory two‐tier system of the past and holding all ministers to the same high standard in their relationships."

We're celebrating with this step forward by the ELCA, which echoes the decisions made at the Episcopal General Convention earlier this summer. These votes are major steps toward recognizing the humanity of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the Protestant churches.

But, the emphasis on "committed, lifelong relationships" leaves out the single minister, the divorced minister, the widowed minister -- whether gay, straight, or bisexual -- who are held to a standard of celibacy unless their partner status changes.

I've long felt that the real problem denominations face is that they are unable to acknowledge that celibacy until marriage doesn't work for the vast majority of single adults. The last time I checked, there are more than 75 million American adults who are single -- more than at any time in the past. We're marrying later, divorcing at high levels, and living longer, so more of us will be widowed. And as a whole, we're having sexual relationships when we aren't in marriages.

The ELCA has confirmed it wants its clergy coupled for life -- or sexless. But, just as the prohibition on gay clergy in relationships didn't work (but merely drove people in relationships underground), I'm guessing that all those single clergy aren't going to give up sex, either.

We need a new sexual ethic that replaces "celibacy until marriage, chastity after." It's an ethic without double standards based on sexual orientation, sex, gender, or marital status -- and it calls for relationships to be consensual, non-exploitative, honest, pleasurable, and protected, and based on shared values. It applies to all adults, even those of us who are called to ministry.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Report from the ELCA General Assembly: Winds of Change

A report from a colleague at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) General Assembly. It made me cry. I thought you might like to read it.

Pray for the delegates today as they vote on whether gay clergy can be in known committed relationships.

666 may be the name of the Beast in Revelation, but in Minneapolis right now 66.67 is a glorious number... Just in case you hadn't heard from someone else, the Social Statement on Human Sexuality was adopted today with an exactly 2/3rds super-majority vote. Of 1014 votes cast. It came as a surprise, no kidding, a surprise. I mean by that, I was sitting there staring at the numbers on the screen and realized that I had thought that we were not going to get enough votes. Not that I had decided that we were going to lose - I just thought that we wouldn't win. Make sense? Well, never mind, it made sense to me at the time.

It was an immaculate moment. Staring at the numbers. Immaculate.

We now have a document treating on sexuality that forms a far more appropriate basis for policy than that provided by the predecessor churches' documents. The great hope is that the church will be a better church for all of this. You will have seen the press release that contains our thoughts on this historic spiritual event.

And then there was the Scripture text for tonight's Goodsoil worship service at Central Lutheran Church, across from the Convention Center. Mark 4: 35-41. The story of crossing the Sea of Galilee during which Christ calmed the seas. The story in which it is said that "A great windstorm arose..." And it did.

We had a tornado, with not a lot of warning. The problem with being deep inside a large structure like the Convention Center is that you are completely insulated from what is going on outside. Suddenly there was a shrill lip whistle heard in Goodsoil Central and an authoritative voice said that "no option, you are required to go to the lowest level of the center and stay there. Tornado coming." And it did, a real tornado. Came down on 12th Street between the Hilton Gardens we are staying in and Central Lutheran. All the tentage, tables, and chairs of the meal service and Pub that Central Lutheran had been using to support the assembly were pushed down and thrown around. Some of the table ended up on the roof of the Convention Center. We were hustled to the bottom floor of the Convention Center. The assembly kept meeting. Guess they thought the assembly was safe enough where it was. Luckily no one was injured near the Convention Center, and none of debris penetrated the substantial glass on the Center.

Then there was the storm in the Hall. Not a storm really, but certainly a tension of anticipation. The rule was that we would take care of the amendments to the Social Statement and then vote on the amended Social Statement. An Ad Hoc Committee had been formed to receive all the proposed changes to the Social Statement, make sense of them, and group them into those that the committee recommend approval and those it did not, with reasons. The ones the committee said to adopt went along fairly quickly. It was when the motions came up that committee recommended a No Adopt that the tension level went up a couple of clicks. These motions were very similar and clearly had the intention of watering down the Social Statement to accommodate more of the "marriage is between a man and a woman."There was one brief moment when it looked like we were going to move without debate straight through the amendment we were working on to the actual Social Statement and vote without any parliamentary debate at all - just vote on the amendment then just turn right around and vote on the Social Statement, done. The motion was defeated, but it gave everyone a scare.All the efforts to change the Social Statement to make it reflect a-man-and-a- woman bias, an exclusive bias, were defeated.The time for debate had to be extended past the scheduled end time to allow for as much debate as had been scheduled.

As the additional time was running down, finally a motion was made to call the question. And a vote was had, 676-338. It was said that it was a close vote. Actually it wasn't. It was a vote in which the Social Statement received 2/3rds of the votes cast; that's not close.

Tomorrow we take up the Implementing Resolutions that flow from the Social Statement. And we will have the Committee of the Whole on the proposed change to ministry policies.

In the evening we had a most glorious worship, presided over by Bishop David Brauer-Rieke of Oregon Synod. Rev. Barbara Lundblad preached a spectacular sermon in which she focused on the questions contained in the Scripture cited above in Mark. More than 1000 worshipers filled the church at Central Lutheran, which had some damage to its exterior from the storm, but none to the inside.Ross Murray said someone asked him if it was a sign from the Holy Spirit that a great wind arose when the question of the Social Statement was taken up in earnest. He said he replied that, yes, it could have been just as much a sign as was the sun coming out when the Social Statement passed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Health Care Is a Right -- Not a Privilege

I missed my phone call with the President today.


President Obama did a conference call with faith leaders on health care reform, and for some reason, I was unable to access the conference call. My clergy friends on facebook are already reporting that nothing new was said. I still wish I had been able to get on the call.

But, I thought you might want to listen. You can hear it at

I'm pretty sure that sexual and reproductive health issues didn't come up (but I'll listen to be sure.) However, before I was a minister, before I was a sexologist, I was a public health professional, and I believe with all my heart that health care should be a right for us all. And I'm hoping that while the President was speaking to my clergy colleagues, he was also getting the message that as people who are committed to serving the most needy, the most marginalized, and the most vulnerable, he cannot back away from a public option proposal for all who otherwise have no insurance.

Monday, August 17, 2009

You May Now Kiss the Brides

I officiated at my first LEGAL wedding for a same sex couple this weekend.

I've married other same sex couples before, but I've never been able to sign a wedding license for them.

It was a beautiful summer day. The wedding overlooked Long Island Sound. Their entire families, from great aunts and grandmothers to babies in arms were there. Their parents walked them down the aisle. They held hands and beamed into each other's eyes as they recited their vows. We celebrated the miracle of their love and their commitment.

They asked me to incorporate the actual signing of the license into the ceremony itself. They asked me to speak for a few minutes after their vows, after the readings, after the rings, about how lucky they felt to be able to marry in Connecticut and have that marriage recognized in their home state of Massachusetts, and how we all wished for the day that all would be able to marry as they could.

I signed the license with their mothers as witnesses. And then I said, "By the power vested in me by the state of Connecticut, and recognized in five other states, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, New Zealand, and soon to be many more states and countries, I now pronounce you legally wed."

And everyone cried and cheered.

Then, I blessed them, as I do every couple I marry. And ended, "you may now kiss the brides."

It was an ordinary summer wedding...and yet extraordinary. Later, one of the more elderly relatives said to me, "you can hardly believe that there are people who think God opposes this." I told her I couldn't believe that at all.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"Abortion Neutrality" In Health Care Reform: Unjust and Unfaithful

I have found the reports of the town halls about health care reform appalling. I simply do not understand how so many people believe the lies and distortions -- but even more, I don't understand how people don't believe that everyone deserves health care.

And that health care should cover all medical services.

Once again, abortion is taking center stage as a key area of public debate. I was called yesterday by a DC colleague and told that the faith community was getting behind "abortion neutrality" in health care reform.

What would that mean? It would mean the public option would not include abortion services and that private options need not include reproductive health care. Translation: poor and low income women would have no coverage for abortion services. Other women, who opt for the public option because they work for a small business, are self employed, or unemployed, would have no coverage.

This doesn't seem like "neutrality" to me. It sounds like selling out women again for political expediency.

That's why I added my name to this letter signed by diverse religious leaders, raising our voices to the inclusion of reproductive health care services in health care reform. I've reprinted it below.

I desperately believe we need health care for everyone. But, I implore the White House and the Democrats in Congress not to abandon their commitments to choice to do it.

Letter from National Religious Leaders to Members of Congress Urging Access to Abortion in Health Care Reform August 13, 2009

Dear Members of Congress,

As religious leaders, we support public policies that are just and compassionate and prioritize the needs of those who are poor and marginalized in our society. Therefore we are opposed to attempts - many made in the name of religion and morality - to exclude abortion services from health care reform.

While our reasons for supporting the inclusion of abortion services in health care are diverse, they are grounded in the teachings of our faith traditions and our commitment to social justice. The majority of faith groups in America have affirmed that abortion is a decision of conscience that should be safeguarded by government. Further, these faith traditions affirm that health care services, including abortion, must be available to all, regardless of income.

If coverage for abortion is eliminated from health care reform, the poor and communities of color will bear the consequences. Already, a low-income woman is four times as likely to have an unintended pregnancy and five times as likely to have an unintended birth as her higher income counterpart. Lack of access to abortion services perpetuates inequality and compromises the future of women, their families and their communities. In this religiously pluralistic nation, our health care system should be inclusive and respectful of diverse religious beliefs and decisions regarding childbearing. One in three American women has an abortion by age 45, making it one of the most common medical procedures in the nation. Ignoring this truth belies the rhetoric of comprehensive, accessible health care.

A health care system that serves all persons with dignity and equality will include comprehensive reproductive health services. We call on Congress to preserve the current standard of reproductive health care and ensure that millions of uninsured and underinsured women will have access to these services. Thank you for your consideration.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Secretary Clinton: Thank You For Your Visit to the Congo

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton went to Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week. It's one of the most dangerous places in the world.

She promised $17 million in US aid for the victims of rape and sexual violence and for prevention efforts.

She met with and listened to survivors. She challenged the government to stop abetting violence against women and girls. She spoke out against the exploitation of minerals for the developed world's technology.

And all anyone is really talking about in the news is her response to the question about what her husband would think. And oh, her bad hair day.

I'd be cranky too if someone asked me what my husband thought in a public forum. I've been trying to think of a single example where a man in a public office is asked in public what his wife thinks. I can't. (Although that might have been a reasonable question to ask the former President after Korea!)

I'd definitely be cranky too after hours and hours of flight times, the little planes and jet lag, but even more the horrors she no doubt was hearing about.

And I AM more than cranky that the news media is paying attention to all the wrong things about this visit. I so wish that they were holding Mrs. Clinton up for her personal commitment, the fact that the U.S. state department is finally paying attention to the atrocities in the Congo, and shining the light of the world upon the femicide that has been going on for far too long.

The women of the Congo deserve more. The Secretary of State deserves more.

And all of us must become involved. If you haven't become part of our Congo Sabbath Initiative, please consider doing so this fall. You can read more at our web site,

Monday, August 10, 2009

Health Care Reform Must Include Reproductive Health

Regardless of whether you are one of my readers who support my positions -- or one of those who read me to find out what people like me are saying -- I'm guessing that your email inbox are full of urgent emails asking you to take action on health care reform. Just this morning, I've received emails from Barack Obama, David Axelrod, and Moveon.

I am personally sickened by the news reports of fabricated protests at town hall meetings, and do hope that you'll let your Representatives and Senators know how you feel. I also was glad to read that the White House has a new section on to response to the myths and half truths about the proposals.

One of these distortions has had to do with reproductive health care and what will happen under the new health care plan. Some have suggested that the pro-choice community is willing to remove reproductive health care as a reimbursed service from plans that already cover it. Not as far as I know.

My colleague Rabbi Dennis Ross, the Director of Concerned Clergy for Choice, has written an excellent "sermon starter" for ministerial colleagues to use in sermons on health care reform. I've copying it below as I think he did a great job of elaborating on the issues.

Clergy Backgrounder/ Sermon Starter
As clergy, we affirm that national health care reform must include access to reproductive medical services for women and families.

Our pastoral experience demonstrates the vital importance of reproductive health, which builds a foundation for healthier families and communities. Reproductive care protects the health and safety of women by reducing maternal and infant mortality, thereby safeguarding the well being of women and their families. It allows women to continue education, provide a livelihood and contribute to the growth of our economy.

Out of the recognition of the spiritual significance and responsibility to secure the health of every human being, clergy have through the years consistently supported access to comprehensive medical care that includes reproductive medicine.

Reproductive medicine is preventive care. It includes routine medical and gynecological examinations, comprehensive sex education, access to contraception and a reduction in unplanned pregnancies, obstetrical services including prenatal and post-partum care, screenings for sexually transmitted infections and cancer, as well as abortion care and non-coercive medical counseling. The lack of preventive care can allow a minor illness to grow into a major medical condition.

In sum, access to reproductive medicine that includes contraception, reduces unplanned pregnancies and abortions and helps ensure the blessing that every child is a wanted and healthy child. The services of providers like Planned Parenthood are all the more important during economic challenge when people cannot afford a medical examination or diagnostic test.
Health care clinics and organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, need to be included in any national health plan because they are part of the solution to the national health care crisis. Clergy recognize doctors, nurses and other providers as God's agents of comfort and healing; clergy refer women and families to Planned Parenthood for quality and affordable care and view Planned Parenthood as an essential community resource. One in four women who receives contraception does so at a women's health center, as do one in six who obtains a Pap test or a pelvic exam and one-third of women who receive counseling, testing, or treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Planned Parenthood health centers across the country provide 850,000 breast exams annually and perform nearly one million Pap tests, identifying 93,000 women at risk of developing cervical cancer. Each year, Planned Parenthood cares for 3 million people making 10 million visits to 850 clinics nationwide. Reproductive providers are the entry point into the health care system for millions in the U. S; the only doctor or nurse they in a year is while visiting a health center like Planned Parenthood. During this economic downturn, clergy hear first-hand the anguished stories of those lacking medical access and, these days, reproductive health centers witness an increase in patients seeking a primary source of health care.

Access to health care needs to be based on science, not the personal religious beliefs of elected officials or health care providers. As clergy, we recognize that different faiths have different teachings when it comes to health care. Our experience providing counsel and support to people making medical decisions demonstrates that it makes sense to promote public polices that allow people the freedom to decide what medical care is best for them. Each individual in a diverse democracy should be allowed to draw from his or her own faith and personal conscience for guidance. Some legislators have threatened to thwart the entire health care reform initiative if abortion services are covered. Clergy from many faiths resist these attempts to undermine all national health care reform and affirm that public access to health care, including reproductive services, should be free from outside parochial biases and religious restrictions. The clergy experience providing counsel to individuals facing medical decisions demonstrates one thing; we need to give people the information they need and the access to the care, and then support them as they come to their own educated decisions about what treatments are right for them.

Health care reform should strengthen and protect women's health care, not weaken it. Women are more affected by high health care costs because yearly Pap tests, mammograms and obstetric care, for instance, require more regular contact with health care providers. This higher level of care means that women of childbearing age already spend 68 percent more in out of pocket health care costs than men. Women, men and children are equal in the eyes of God; justice demands that each of us deserves the medical care we need. Under health care reform, women must have access to the full range of reproductive health care services.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Note to APA: Progressive Clergy Can Help Your Clients

On Wednesday night, the American Psychological Association released a new statement that therapy to help gay people become straight (known as reparative therapy by some) doesn't work. I'm going to reprint the whole press release below.

It confirms more than 40 years of studies that clearly demonstrate that such therapy is ineffective, that sexual orientation cannot be changed by therapy, and is particularly ineffective with people who have known they are gay or lesbian from an early age. It reinforces earlier APA statements, and should put to rest claims for change.

It also advises psychologists who work with clients whose religious beliefs conflict with their being gay or lesbian:

"explore possible life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation, reduce the stigma associated with homosexuality, respect the client's religious beliefs, and consider possibilities for a religiously and spiritually meaningful and rewarding life.""In other words," Glassgold said, "we recommend that psychologists be completely honest about the likelihood of sexual orientation change, and that they help clients explore their assumptions and goals with respect to both religion and sexuality."

The full report is not yet available, but I do hope that it advises psychologists to refer such clients to religious leaders who affirm sexual and gender diversity as part of God's blessings, who can help them explore alternative understandings of seemingly homophobic sacred texts, and to understand that there are religious communities where they would be fully welcome and included. I work with people struggling with these issues all the time, and it often takes only a few sessions with a clergy person for people to feel affirmed and welcome. There have been many times where simply telling someone that I know that God loves them just the way they are...and that there are many denominations and religious leaders who feel that way...helps them reach self-acceptance.

No one should ever have to choose between their sexuality and their religion -- or vice versa. I hope the final APA report says that as well.

Here's the press release.

TORONTO—The American Psychological Association adopted a resolution Wednesday stating that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.

The "Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts" also advises that parents, guardians, young people and their families avoid sexual orientation treatments that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and instead seek psychotherapy, social support and educational services "that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth."

The approval, by APA's governing Council of Representatives, came at APA's annual convention, during which a task force presented a report that in part examined the efficacy of so-called "reparative therapy," or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).

"Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation," said Judith M. Glassgold, PsyD, chair of the task force. "Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose. Contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions." Glassgold added: "At most, certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions. Yet, these studies did not indicate for whom this was possible, how long it lasted or its long-term mental health effects. Also, this result was much less likely to be true for people who started out only attracted to people of the same sex."

Based on this review, the task force recommended that mental health professionals avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts when providing assistance to people distressed about their own or others' sexual orientation.

APA appointed the six-member Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation in 2007 to review and update APA's 1997 resolution, "Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation," and to generate a report. APA was concerned about ongoing efforts to promote the notion that sexual orientation can be changed through psychotherapy or approaches that mischaracterize homosexuality as a mental disorder.

The task force examined the peer-reviewed journal articles in English from 1960 to 2007, which included 83 studies. Most of the studies were conducted before 1978, and only a few had been conducted in the last 10 years. The group also reviewed the recent literature on the psychology of sexual orientation.

"Unfortunately, much of the research in the area of sexual orientation change contains serious design flaws," Glassgold said. "Few studies could be considered methodologically sound and none systematically evaluated potential harms."

As to the issue of possible harm, the task force was unable to reach any conclusion regarding the efficacy or safety of any of the recent studies of SOCE: "There are no methodologically sound studies of recent SOCE that would enable the task force to make a definitive statement about whether or not recent SOCE is safe or harmful and for whom," according to the report.
"Without such information, psychologists cannot predict the impact of these treatments and need to be very cautious, given that some qualitative research suggests the potential for harm," Glassgold said. "Practitioners can assist clients through therapies that do not attempt to change sexual orientation, but rather involve acceptance, support and identity exploration and development without imposing a specific identity outcome."

As part of its report, the task force identified that some clients seeking to change their sexual orientation may be in distress because of a conflict between their sexual orientation and religious beliefs. The task force recommended that licensed mental health care providers treating such clients help them "explore possible life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation, reduce the stigma associated with homosexuality, respect the client's religious beliefs, and consider possibilities for a religiously and spiritually meaningful and rewarding life."
"In other words," Glassgold said, "we recommend that psychologists be completely honest about the likelihood of sexual orientation change, and that they help clients explore their assumptions and goals with respect to both religion and sexuality."

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Unlikely Partners: Report from the UN, Part Three

I woke up this morning and found a "google alert" notifying me of this screed against sexuality education and a distortion of a statement I made. I can't figure out who the author is from this blog, although I have guesses.

I find it hard to read these type of attacks without my heart racing. My body prepares for the "fight" part of fight or flight, even as I try to remind myself to "love thy enemy." I try to imagine the fear that must motivate this author, that surely we have a shared commitment to the well being of young people, and that maybe if we could actually talk to one another, we might find our shared humanity. And then I wonder if the writer would extend such generosity to me.

Just this week, I lived some of that experience at the meeting at UNFPA of the leaders of diverse faith-based organizations. It was very clear in the introductions that the world views and commitments of people there were very different. It was easy to make pre-judgments as who was an ally, who was likely to be an obstacle. The man who shared he was HIV positive and a minister: ally. The man who said that he was concerned with children's health and that would force him to think about women's heath, not so much. The economist who only saw faith organizations as places to get people into contraceptive and prenatal services - no. The people from the Salvation Army - unlikely. It's easy to turn the world into sheep and goats.

But, the reality was, once again, that everyone has a story and that almost all of these faith leaders have a shared commitment to service to the most marginalized, the poor, the sick and the needy. I found new colleagues in unexpected places, and connections where I hadn't expected them. We were able to agree on shared commitments to addressing HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality, gender-based violence, and the needs of migrant populations. I know that we didn't share common ground on abortion or full inclusion, but there are surely places we can work together for the common good. In the breaks, the lunches, the reception, I had honest, open discussions that created the beginning of relationships and respect.

This is the message of a wonderful new book I'm reading, The Unlikely Disciple, by Brown University senior Kevin Roose. Rather than doing a semester abroad, he chose to do a semester at Liberty College -- the university Rev. Jerry Falwell founded. It's a fascinating and compassionate retelling of his semester with young, devout, evangelical Christians, who by and large agree to purity codes, are homophobic to the extreme, and are taught creationism and the Bible as the literal word of God as scholarly. But it's also the story of their shared humanity and how he comes to love them and they to love him.

So for this day, I'm choosing to offer prayers for those who like the author of the blog choose to distort my work -- and to think instead about the rooms I have been in over the years, like the ones at the UN this week, where I am reminded to be surprised by new allies and possibilities for collaboration. And I'm reminded by the words of the poet, "have compassion for everyone you never know what is going on where the spirit meets the bone."

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

My Advice to the UN on Reaching Out to FBO's

Here are some of the key points I made in my address at the UNFPA meeting on how to reach out to faith based organizations.

1. Approach religious leaders and organizations for their moral authority and their advice and counsel on how to serve the people in their communities. Look for partners, not just organizations that can help you serve people with your message. Appreciate their leadership and their influence on the lives of the people they serve.

2. Let religious leaders be the links between secular organizations and faith based organizations. Speak to faith based leaders from a faith based -- not a public health -- perspective. Ask for their help in articulating how their theological commitments to physical, emotional, and spiritual health lead to a commitment to reproductive health and justice. Be prepared to directly address the "textual harassment" of women and sexualities in sacred texts.

3. Seek opportunities for common ground and let faith based organizations enter partnerships where they are. Maternal mortality, child sexual abuse prevention, preventing gender based violence, HIV/AIDS may be easier that sexuality issues. Begin relationships, earn trust, and then help explain the larger connections.

4. Not withstanding number 3, be bold and courageous enough to break the silence about sexuality in faith communities. Help faith based communities understand that sexuality and spirituality are intimately connected and that human flourishing means being able to celebrate one's sexuality with holiness and integrity.

5. Let religious leaders be religious leaders. Do not try to "Message Them", don't expect them to become public health professionals. Ask them to partner with you as faith based organizations.

6. Never write off anyone as a potential partner regardless of their faith tradition. On the ground, priests and imams may be very willing to address the very real needs of the people they serve, regardless of the hierarchy's reluctance to address sexuality directly.

7. Make it easy for faith based organizations to partner on sexual and reproductive health issues. Explain the need in the community, but also offer worship materials, education, and leadership training.

What else would you have told the United Nations about reaching out to faith based leaders? Let me know and I'll pass it on.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Last Week the White House, This Week the United Nations

That's me with Bon Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations and Sister Joan Kirby, the President of Religious NGOs at the UN last night.

I'm at two days of a UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) "International Faith-Based Organization Roundtable" with religious leaders from around the world. The Religious Institute, Catholics for Choice, and Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice were included as progressive religious leaders, along with religious leaders from much more conservative FBOs like World Vision, the Salvation Army, and the Adventists. We're all here to advise UN agencies on how to best incorporate faith-based organizations in their work. The panels have addressed what I suspect UNFPA sees as common ground: HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality.

I was invited to speak on the panel on HIV/AIDS, but of course used it as an opportunity to talk about religion and sexuality and the need to break the silence about sexuality in faith-based organizations. I was a bit apprehensive, since during the first four hours of the meeting none of the other speakers had explicitly addressed sexuality, despite being at a meeting sponsored by a UN organization that has family planning at its core.

The memory of my friends who have died of AIDS gave me the courage to be explicit about my recommendations that faith communities are called not just to care but to help prevent transmission through honest education, witness and justice. I said explicitly that it was past time for us to recognize that people have sex outside of monogamous heterosexual relationships -- they have throughout history, and if we want to end this epidemic, preaching abstinence and monogamy is just not enough.

But I also offered recommendations for reaching out to faith leaders. I'll share more of that with you tomorrow.