Friday, February 26, 2010

Global Reproductive Justice: Theological Considerations

Yesterday, I convened a colloquium of theologians from around the world to help the Religious Institute develop a new "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Women's Lives: Global Reproductive Health Justice."

It was a remarkable group in its brilliance, commitment to these issues, and cultural and religious diversity. I am so grateful to Dr. Ghazala Anwar, Dr. Mary Hunt, Dr. Azza Karram, Ruth Messinger, Dr. Fulata Moyo, Dr. Maria Jose Rosado Nunes, Jon O'Brien, Dr. Mercy Oduyoye, Dan Pellegrom, Rev. Dr. Rebecca Todd Peters, Rabbi Mychal Springer, and Katey Zeh for braving the New York city weather to be with us for a day.

We started from the premise that a half million women dying each year in childbirth or from complications of pregnancy and child birth, when most of their deaths are preventable, is a moral outrage. Dr. Karram reminded us that that's one woman every minute of every day. Dan Pellegrom pointed out that if men were as likely to die from the results of sexual intercourse, the world would have paid attention and done something a long time ago.

Despite coming from diverse perspectives, we agreed quickly on some core principles. Life is sacred. Women's moral agency must be respected and supported. Men are critical partners in these efforts. Losing women to childbirth harms families and communities, and diminishes us all. Religious leaders must educate themselves, their congregations, and policy makers about the need to assure that women have the comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services they need.

We'll be turning all of this into a new Open Letter, but in the meantime, you can get involved. Sign your congregation up to participate in the Rachel Sabbath Initiative at our web site. Educate yourself with our fact sheets and resources. Tell a friend. Get involved.

In the five minutes it's taken you to read this, five women died unnecessarily. You can help change that.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Martin Marty's Challenge to Me

Last week, I wrote about Albert Mohler's attack on the Religious Institute's new report, "Religion and Sexuality 2020" but his agreement that evangelical churches and leaders must do more to prepare themselves to address sexuality issues.

I volunteered to help him evaluate his seminary and their training program. I'm not surprised to report back that I didn't hear from him.

But, Martin Marty, the esteemed religious historian, took note of our report and Rev. Mohler's response. If you don't know Rev. Dr. Marty, the New York Times just recently called him "the unofficial dean of American religious historians." He is an emeritus professor at the University of Chicago, past president of the American Association of Religion and the American Society of Church History. He's also one of the most lovely people I know, and I'm happy that I've had the chance to get to know him and his wife Harriet.

Marty writes in his February 22, 2010 Sightings column. He writes, "the Institute to its credit does not narrow its attention to the usual trinity of homosexuality, contraception, and abortion, but focuses more on justice issues and pastoral needs that often get overlooked in the debates and proposals."

In noting Albert Mohler's response, Marty imagines that Mohler and I sit down to "carry on honest, open, text-based dialogues toward depolarizing ends and human good, beginning with churchly good?...What if the matters were approached more through conversation and less through argument."

Dr. Mohler, I'm ready and open for that dialog. Name a time and place. Marty, maybe you can join us!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lessons from the Field

I've been giving a lot of speeches lately.

In just the past two weeks, I've been to three states. I've spoken for an afternoon with a group of United Methodist church teenagers. I was one of the speakers at Yale Sex Week. I met with a group of senior high school women at Emma Willard School. I spoke to 200 parents this past weekend in a suburb outside of Minneapolis.

And I am reminded once again of how hungry people of all ages are for good information about sexuality -- and for support for moral, ethical sexual decision making. Teenagers need basic information they are missing (one anonymous question asked if one could cause an abortion by hitting one's ovaries). Parents need encouragement to talk to their children (one parent said to me this weekend, "my daughter is 11; she's too innocent for me to talk to her. I know I need to get to menstruation soon.")

But, more they need support for clarifying their own values and ethics. The high school teens and the college students are struggling with the hook up culture that seems to be present. At least one in every six anonymous questions I got with the teenagers had to do with hook ups "gone wrong" or why was it that someone hadn't called the next day. The girls didn't believe that boys could fall in love. It made me sad for them.

I'm always most moved by the people who seek me out alone after the sessions are ended. One mid twenties man wanted to know if sexuality wasn't inherently sinful. A parent wanted to talk about their middle school child who seemed to be having too many partners. A young woman worried about going to college without having had the chance to kiss someone. Another parent worried about how problems in her marriage were going to affect her children.

It is a privilege and a blessing to do this work. I hope you have the information and support you need.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Albert Mohler and Me: What He Said About Preparing Clergy on Sexuality

Rev. Albert Mohler didn't much like the report we released last week, Sexuality and Religion 2020: Goals for the Next Decade.

He's the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his bio says that Time magazine called him "the reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement."

He had this to say:

Evangelical Christians will see this report as further evidence of the theological accommodationism and biblical revisionism that marks liberal Christianity.

He seemed particularly to delight in pointing out that we quoted the influence of queer and feminist theologians in our understanding of scholarship. I guess in his mind that's evidence we are subversive.

But, in an interesting twist, he also definitely got our call for ALL clergy -- regardless of theological or ideology inclination -- to be better trained and better prepared to deal with the sexuality needs of their congregations. That was a major emphasis of our report.

He wrote:

"Evangelical Christians will rightly reject about everything found in this new report from the Religious Institute, but they should not avoid its urgency in calling pastors and Christian leaders to teach and preach about sex and sexuality. It is not enough to know the truth and believe the truth, we are called to preach and teach the whole counsel of God -- and that includes all that God has to say about sex."

Am I naive to think that there might be common ground here? Rev. Mohler, you are the president of a major seminary. We'd be happy to help you assess how your curricula and seminary prepares your future clergy to do just that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Exciting News From the Religious Institute

Yesterday was a historic day for the Religious Institute.

We released our latest report, Sexuality and Religion 2020: Goals for the Next Decade, at an audio press conference. I was joined by the esteemed religious historian, Dr. Martin Marty; the director of the women's program for the National Council of Churches, Rev. Ann Tiemeyer; and the President of the National Council of Jewish Women, Nancy Ratzan. How thrilling to have each of them there for the release.

The report is available at our web site, for download. You can read the press release and listen to the audio conference there as well.
The report outlines ten vital goals for sexuality and religion for the next ten years to achieve its vision: that by the year 2020, all faith communities will be sexually healthy, just, and prophetic. You can read the goals at our web site as well.

We also shared the announcement of the first major national religious denomination -- the Unitarian Universalist Association -- to require competencies in sexual health, sexuality education, and sexual justice for all of its ministerial candidates. We salute the UUA for taking this important step and hope it serves as a beacon for other denominations.

And, we announced the formation of our Faithful Voices Network, the first national grassroots, multifaith network of people of faith who are committed to sexual health and justice. If the goals outlined in Sexuality and Religion are to be achieved, energy and activism must arise up from within congregations and communities. We hope YOU will sign the statement:

"As a person of faith, I support sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society"

and that you will pass it on. Please encourage your friends, colleagues, and fellow congregants to join and speak up. Here's the link

Join us in assuring that all faith communities are sexually healthy, just, and prophetic.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Sexuality and Religion 2020: Goals for the Next Decade

At 1 p.m. today, the Religious Institute is releasing a major new report, "Sexuality and Religion 2020: Goals for the Next Decade."

We're holding an audio press conference. The renowned religious historian, Rev. Dr. Martin Marty, Rev. Ann Tiemeyer, National Council of Churches of Christ, and Nancy Ratzen, President of the National Council of Jewish Women will be joining me. We'll be live tweeting at #sex2020 during the hour, and the audio press conference will be posted at our web site.

You'll be able to download a copy of the report at 1 p.m. at

But more importantly, you can be one of the first people to join our new Faithful Voices Network. There's a pledge you can take at our web site:

As a person of faith, I support sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society.

We are hoping to build a grassroots network of tens of thousands of people of faith committed to these issues, moving our work from the pulpit to the pews. Won't you go to and look for the Faithful Voices Network? Sign up today and tell your friends.

More about the ten goals for the next decade tomorrow.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The American Prayer Hour -- My Words At PSR

I'm speaking later this morning at the American Prayer Hour on the Pacific School of Religion's (PSR) campus. I'm so glad I could be part of this response to the National Prayer Breakfast, a gathering of religious right leaders, some of whom are behind the appalling anti-gay bill pending in Uganda.

I'm praying that the President will speak out for GLBT people when he addresses them.

Here's part of what I'm going to say in my homily this morning.

"The Family calls Jesus their strong man...but I don't understand how they identify with him at all. To use their own framework for Uganda, I would ask, WWJD? What would Jesus do?

And the gospel teaching is simply. HE WOULD LOVE THEM. HE WOULD WELCOME THEM. HE WOULD ASK THESE SO-CALLED RELIGIOUS LEADERS TO TAKE THE LOG OUT OF THEIR OWN EYE AND NOT CAST THE FIRST STONE. He would remind them that the second greatest commandment is LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. And that we are all neighbors.

He would tell them, SIN NO MORE. And that the sin is not homosexuality or transgender identity. The SIN is Heterosexism. The Sin is Homophobia. Transphobia. The SIN is when any of us -- LGBTQQI and Straight -- ANY OF US are asked to deny our God given gift of sexuality and our right to make responsible sexual choices and decisions.

I hope you'll join in one of these prayer hours across the country or join in prayer for all those oppressed because of who they are in the world. And then I hope you'll ACT.

May our hearts and prayers move us to deeds and actions to create a world where all of us can celebrate our sexuality and our sexual diversity with holiness and integrity.


Monday, February 01, 2010

Sex and the Super Bowl: Tell CBS ENOUGH

It's one week to the Super Bowl.

You've probably heard already that CBS has accepted $2.8 million from Focus on the Family to run an anti-abortion ad during the most-watched television event of the year. Focus and CBS are trying to dress it up, saying the ad is more a human interest story than an advocacy ad.

Sounds like a wolf in sheep's clothing to me. Although the ad is not available for preview, its storyline is. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother talk about the supposed circumstances of his birth in 1987. Mrs. Tebow's health was threatened in her late second trimester, and she alleges that medical professionals advised her to have an abortion. She refused...and 23 years later, the world is blessed to have her outstanding football player son.

The story may not be true. The Center for Law and Reproductive Policy says that Mrs. Tebow, who lived in the Philippines at the time, could not have been offered a legal abortion, because it was (and remains) illegal in that country.

But the veracity of the story is only a side point. The fact is that the ad clearly implies that Mrs. Tebow made the right choice, the only moral choice. Ironically, Mrs. Tebow made a CHOICE, something that the anti-abortion Focus on the Family would take away from other women.

The ad will imply that there is one right choice, one moral choice, one choice that is supported by people of faith. That's why the Religious Institute created a letter from national religious leaders opposing it. You can read it here.

Until last week, CBS said it had a policy against advocacy ads. In the past, it has rejected ads from the United Church of Christ on full inclusion,, PETA, and others as being too controversial. Just last week, it rejected an ad from a gay dating site as being too controversial for the Super Bowl. Somehow CBS doesn't seem to care that a lot of us find the ubiquitous ads for Erectile Dysfunction or the scantily dressed women in so many of their ads offensive as well.
I believe in using television for "teachable moments" with my children -- but really, does any parent need them during a football game?

There's still a chance to tell CBS to JUST SAY NO. Abortion is surely a serious issue that can be debated on public affairs programs, but NOT during the Super Bowl. To those who say that pro-choice advocates should develop their own ad, the reality is that most of those organizations, if they had $2.8 million lying around, would devote it to providing services to women, not on a 30- second TV spot.

Both the Women's Media Center and NARAL have petitions on their websites you can sign. We still have a week to tell CBS ENOUGH. Join me.