Thursday, May 08, 2014

#Bringbackourgirls For Mother's Day

It’s been almost a month since more than 270 young women were kidnapped from their school in Nigeria, and only a week since the world’s news media, the United States, and the Nigerian President have starting speaking about this horrific assault.

I first learned about what was happening on May 1st on social media, and tweeted, “If 200+ white girls were kidnapped in London, it would 24/7 headline news with governments sending troops in to help.” I kept thinking about how the U.S. media had been obsessed with covering the stories of one missing white young woman: how Jon Benet, Elizabeth Smart, and Natalie Holloway are household words but that these brilliant school girls in Nigeria weren’t making headlines at all. 

I’m glad they are now.  But, I have to ask, “What took so long?” And “if thousands of social media activists hadn’t responded, would they be headlines now?” I want someone in the media to acknowledge that they were wrong in not covering this as soon as it was known.  I want there to be searing analysis about how we are not in a post-racial era at all.  I want there to be coverage of how it is that there are men willing to enslave young women because they wanted an education and that there is a market of men who will buy them.  I want world leaders and media leaders to acknowledge that sexism and racism still permeate the world. I want the world to redouble its commitments to women's education and women's safety. 

As a survivor of sexual assault, my heart aches for these young women and the terror they must be experiencing.  As a mother of a young woman, my heart hurts for their mothers who don’t know where their daughters are but do have an idea about what they are going through.   As a minister, I cry out for us to remember our call to take care of the most vulnerable and the most marginalized. 

I fear that just like some of the individual kidnappings, too much time has passed for these young women to be found.  But, I will keep praying that they will. And, I will do my part to raise my voice to make sure that the search goes on.  On Mother’s Day, I will light candles for them and for their mothers.  I hope you will join me.   

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Prayers for the Supreme Court

Yesterday, the Religious Institute staff co-led a faith rally before the Supreme Court hearings on contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act.  I've written about that elsewhere but I wanted to share my comments from the worship service.  I'm delighted to tell you that as of yesterday nearly 10,000 people had signed our petition with the National Coalition of American Nuns. (If you haven't done so, please go to right away!)

Here are my opening words and prayer before the Supreme Court yesterday:

We are so pleased to welcome you to this faith rally, this worship service, and this important day.  I’m Rev. Debra Haffner, President and CEO of the Religious Institute, a multifaith organization committed to raising faithful voices for sexuality education, reproductive justice, and the full inclusion of women and LGBTQ people in faith communities and society.

I stand here today representing thousands of people of faith who have demonstrated their commitment to universal access to birth control.  I bring with me the names and hopes of more than 9800 people of faith who are standing with us and will have their names on a banner that will be at the Supreme Court later this morning.  I bring with me more than 45 leaders of national faith organizations that have endorsed a national statement on behalf of birth control coverage.  I bring with me the more than 6400 religious leaders who have signed our Religious Declaration calling for a faith based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to contraception and more than 1200 clergy persons who have endorsed the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning. 

Please respond to my statements with:
       We are people of faith.

We believe that all persons should be free to make personal decisions about their reproductive lives, their health and the health of their families.

        We are people of faith.

We affirm that ensuring equal access to contraceptives through insurance coverage is a moral good.

         We are people of faith.

We know that the sin is not family planning; the sin is denying women coverage and access to services they want and they need.

         We are people of faith. 

It is because life is sacred, that we believe that every woman must be able to plan her pregnancies intentionally without governmental interference and without her employer in her bedroom.

          We are people of faith.   

We support religious freedom.  Religious freedom means that each individual has the right to exercise their own beliefs and the right not to have others’ beliefs forced upon them.  We know that individuals have religious freedom and that corporations do not. 

We are people of faith.

We gather today – as people from many traditions with many beliefs – surrounded by a cloud of witnesses here with us in spirit -- united by our hopes and our prayers for the wisdom and eloquence of the attorneys, the compassion and hearts of the justices, and the lives of the millions of women who are counting on us to assure their right to plan their families based on their own faith and conscience.

And so may we say together, so that all who listen will understand, that religious leaders and people of faith support women’s moral agency and universal access to contraception:

            We are people of faith. 

May it be so.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

We Are All Gay Ugandans Now

I can't sleep tonight because my heart is crying for the LGBT people in Uganda...and the other countries in Africa where homosexuality is illegal.

But tonight mostly for the people in Uganda, and their families, and the people and organizations who support them -- where the law says they are all criminals and can be put in jail or worse.

I am a white straight woman in the U.S. and I want the world to know that I care.

I care because the world watched when my family was rounded up and marched to the camps because people thought they were less than, inferior, not worthy of human rights.

I care because I am the mother of a gay man who I love with all my heart.

I care because I love so many lesbians, gay men, bisexual, transgender and queer people who enliven my life and heart.

I care because as a sexologist I know that sexual orientation is a core part of our humanity, and that who we fall in love with is not wrong.

I care because I know that the distance from the state of Arizona which is about to say that private store owners can choose not to serve gay people is not as far as we'd like to think from the legislators in Uganda...and the hate in the street in Nigeria also happens in Peoria and New York City.

I care because as a minister I know that God loves all of God's children and all of us have dignity and worth -- and that sexual diversity is a blessing from God. 

And I hurt because my little organization doesn't have the resources to do much about this...except to pray and to raise our voice.

But the White House does...and the State Department does, and they need to do more than condemn.  They need to embargo and halt funding and do whatever it is they do when a government starts to destroy its people based on who they are.  And the U.N. surely can stand up to this heinous legislation, and say, NO! Not on our watch.  And the big gay rights organizations and civil rights organizations, organize us.  Figure out where we need to march and where we need to stand and ask us to take action.

I can pray and I can write and I can tweet and Facebook.  But others of you have the resources to do more, and I implore you to stand up NOW.

Because we can't stand by and watch.  We are all gay Ugandans now.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Praise God. SCOTUS declares DOMA Unconstitutional

We are living history. 

And this clergy woman ally cried when the Windsor and Perry decisions were announced.  This mom of a gay son cried.  This friend of more same gender loving people than I can count cried.  This 35 year advocate for sexual justice wept with joy. 

The Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.  Same sex couples in California can get married.  Legalized same sex marriages will be recognized by the federal government.

Same sex couples in 38 states still don't have the right to marriage.  We're not done with fighting for equality -- but for now, we celebrate.  And I have no doubt the next cases will expand these rights for all. 

Here's the statement the Religious Institute just released:


As religious leaders, we celebrate the Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality and that the Defense of Marriage Act has been declared unconstitutional. 

The faiths we affirm challenge us to speak and act for justice for all who seek to express their love in the commitment of marriage.  We find support for marriage equality in our scriptures and our traditions in their overriding messages about love, justice, and inclusion of the marginalized. Many religious traditions already perform marriages for same-sex couples; at least a dozen Christian denominations and Jewish movements, allow their clergy to perform marriage or union ceremonies for same-sex couples.  As religious leaders, we affirm that persons of all sexual orientations should have the right to civil marriage and its benefits.  As our traditions affirm, where there is love, the sacred is in our midst.

The United States is one of the most diverse religious countries in the world. We affirm that religious denominations must have the right to discern who is eligible for marriage in their own tradition. In addition, all clergy should be free to solemnize marriages without state interference based on their own traditions and conscience.  Same sex couples in every state must have the right to legal marriage. 

We join with millions of people of faith in celebrating today.  We pledge to continue our work for marriage equality and relational justice for all.   


Monday, May 20, 2013

Meditations on the Good News: Awe Came Upon Everyone

Yesterday, Pentecost was celebrated by Christians worldwide as the birthday of the Christian Church, and so I wanted to share with you this Pentecost reflection from my book Meditations on the Good News: Reading the Bible For Today.

Awe came upon everyone.
Acts 2:43

Later on that Pentecost day, “awe came upon everyone,” and all had the “goodwill of all the people” (Acts 2:47). No one is left out. All the people, no matter how different, receive the grace of being alive, of sharing the possibilities of being filled with reverence and the joy of living.

As I write this, the birds outside my window are singing different songs, some in their own robin language, some in their own wren language, some their own sparrow language. At first, I only hear it as birds singing, a single blended note. But when I slow down and really listen, the different songs emerge. I hear the robin, the sparrow and the wren individually. They are singing to their mates, but for right now, it feels like they are singing to me.

I look outside my window, and at first my mind only registers that there are tall green trees. But, as I slow myself down, I differentiate the evergreen, the pine, and the maple. I watch a bird fly from one to the other. By slowing down for a moment and really looking, really listening, I feel awe for the nature that I too often overlook.

The day is dawning, and I am given the gift of seeing today.

We have the opportunity to be awed, in our everyday surroundings, every day. Take a moment, right now, and look outside your window. Look, really look, at the nature that is right outside your window. Open your ears and listen, really listen. Take a deep breath and be in awe that you are created in a body that breathes for you without your needing to do anything at all.

Take a few minutes throughout today just to be and observe. Let today be a day, to paraphrase e.e cummings’ words, when the ears of your ears awake and the eyes of your eyes are opened.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Meditations on the Good News. Please feel free to forward it to anyone you think may be blessed to read it.

For those of you who have read and enjoyed Meditations on the Good News, please consider leaving a review on its Amazon page.

Thank you!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Tell ESPN Anti-Gay Is Not Christian/Support Jason Collins

NBA Basketball Player Jason Collins inspired so many — including me — with his courage in coming out as a gay man and citing his Christian faith as a core reason for being public about his sexuality.

But hours after the news broke, ESPN sportscaster Chris Broussard’s said to millions of viewers: "I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don't think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian."

Since that moment, ESPN only tepidly apologized.

Working with our amazing partners at Groundswell/Auburn seminary, we created a petiton that
More than 800 people of faith have already signed demanding that ESPN not allow anti-gay speech to go unchallenged – 

 Will you join our campaign? Click here to tell ESPN that Christian doesn't equal anti-gay.

When NBA player Jason Collins came out as gay, he noted “My parents instilled Christian values in me. They taught Sunday school, and I enjoyed lending a hand. I take the teachings of Jesus seriously, particularly the ones that touch on tolerance and understanding.”

After years of hiding who he was, this courageous basketball player needs our support.
Click here to take action. 

More about the Religious Institute:
The Religious Institute applauds Jason Collins' courageous public witness, and our network of religious leaders affirms sexual and gender diversity as a blessed part of life. The Religious Institute is a national nonprofit advocating for sexual and reproductive justice, education and health in faith communities and in society. Click here to check it out. 
About Groundswell 
Groundswell is a place for people of faith, the seeking, and the secular to advocate for change they want to see in their communities. Together, we echo, amplify, and empower each other’s calls for justice. It's where anyone, like you, can easily set up a petition, recruit your friends and colleagues through social media, email whoever signed the petition, and get campaign support from Groundswell headquarters in New York City to make your campaign successful. Click here to check it out.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Marriage Equality:Personal is Political, Political is Personal

It's not often that we get to watch history being made. But as I watched the news this morning and saw colleagues standing in front of the Supreme Court, my heart thrilled knowing that inside the Justices were hearing the first arguments in a Supreme Court case that the Religious Institute was participating in as an "amici"--a friend of the case. Today, the Court will hear a case on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the California law that bans same sex marriage. Tomorrow, the Court will hear the case on the constitutionality of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, the bill that Bill Clinton now wishes he had never signed.

I've been working on marriage equality for more than a decade, although I remember distinctly that after the attempt to legalize marriage in Hawaii was turned down, it seemed more realistic to work for civil unions than marriage.  The first version of the Religious Declaration on Sexuality Morality, Justice, and Healing called for clergy to support "the blessings of same sex unions" because civil marriage seemed like too remote a possibility. That was only 13 years ago.

My commitment to marriage grew when I went to New Paltz, New York in 2004, under threat of arrest, to perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples. Two of my Unitarian Universalist colleagues had been arrested the week before, standing outside of Mayor Jason West's office in the tiny upstate New York town. This week, six of us went, fully garbed in clerical robes and stoles, prepared to be arrested to marry six more couples.

The first couple we married were two men in their late sixties in matching ties and blazers. They had been together 35 years. One of their 93-year-old mothers had flown up from Florida. Clutching her purse in a borrowed winter coat, she cried as my colleague pronounced them married. She said to me, "I've waited all my life to see my son married."

I knew at that moment that civil unions would never be enough.

That same year, I led a meeting of theologians to develop the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality. It declared, "where there is love, the sacred is always in our midst." The Open Letter has now been endorsed by more than 2800 clergy from more than fifty faith traditions. It's been used in historic battles in California and Maine, and echoed by religious leaders in states across the country. The Religious Institute has played an active role in educating faith leaders about marriage equality and providing them with the theological framework to use in their pulpits and in the public square. 

I cheered when Massachusetts became the first state to have marriage equality in 2004. I was thrilled when I finally got to say the words, "by the power vested in me by the state of Connecticut" when I marriage two women shortly after Connecticut made marriage legal. I had the honor of marrying two 87-year-old men who had been together for 57 years when marriage became legal for them in New York.

And one day, I hope to officiate at the legal marriage of my son and his to-be-chosen future partner, knowing that he will have the same rights as my daughter and her soon-to-be husband, as I have had with my partner of now 31 years. And that those rights won't only be in Connecticut and New York and 7 other states (plus the District of Columbia), but will be recognized everywhere.

My prayers today and tomorrow will be with the lawyers and the Justices and all those who have worked so hard to get to this day. Where there is love, the sacred is in our midst.