Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Wishes for the New Year

My family will travel to Charleston, South Carolina this weekend to participate in a wonderful event called Renaissance Weekend. Now in its 25th year, Renaissance brings together nearly 1000 diverse professionals and their families for a weekend of conversations, panels, good food, and fun. We are very grateful to be included.

I will be speaking on a variety of panels and co-leading the New Year's worship service. I will conclude my section with this prayer on the New Year by WB Dubois. It is my prayer for all of you united in the work for justice in the world.

"We pray, oh God, for confidence in ourselves, our powers, and our purposes in the beginning on this New Year. Ward us from all lack of faith and hesitancy and inspire in us not only the determination to do a year's work well, but the unfaltering belief that whht we wish to do, we will. Every deed accomplished finishes not ony itself but is fallow ground for future deeds. Abundantly endow us with this deed-born faith."

Blessings on the New Year.

I'll be back here January 3rd.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas 2006

I offer the Matthew 1:18 - 25 Scripture Reading tonight at our Christmas Eve services (9 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. if you are in Connecticut.) To me, this small pericope contains all of the hope of the holiday season.

Joseph goes to sleep, ready to "dismiss" Mary after finding out she is pregnant. An angel comes to him and tells him to name the baby "Emmanuel’,which means, ‘God is with us.’ "

It is the promise of every new birth...indeed of every life...of every day. God is with us. That is the hope, that is the promise, that is the light to guide us in these dark days.

I will read a poem tonight by Edward Erickson. It ends:

To celebrate Christmas is to attest
the power of love to remake humankind.
May we be renewed in the love which can save the world.

May you and your family be renewed with love, peace, and grace on this Christmas and always.

Rev. Debra

Thursday, December 21, 2006

95% of Americans Have First Sex Before Marriage

While I was away finishing up my new book, a couple of news headlines caught my eye. The Guttmacher Institute released a new analysis of people from 1953 - 2003 and found that 95% of Americans had first intercourse before marriage during those 50 years. Despite impressions to the countrary, the proportion of people having premarital sex has not changed in at least fifty years, and it's nearly everyone. Remember (and I've done other posts about this) that there is a national abstinence-only-until-marriage program that says the "expected standard for human sexual behavior" is no sexual intercourse until marriage. NOT, as my son might say.

There was also a story about Rev. Haggards' church which has now fired its youth minister for a consensual sexual relationship that happened before he was married (no details provided), saying it was against Biblical standards about sex. Apparently Christopher Beard was behaving pretty much like the rest of us, and it cost him his job.

Now, what I wondered when I read the story was "which Biblical standard" they were refering to? Because the Bible isn't really a very good model for us today when it comes to its heroes sexual lives. Could they possibly have meant Jacob with his two wives and two concubines? David with his 21 wives? Solomon with his hundreds of wives and concubines? The levirite law that required women to have sex with their brother-in-laws if their husband died leaving them childless? Mourning Jepthah's daughter because she died a virgin? Paul's admonition about marriage that it was "better to marry" than burn with passion? How about the women at the well with the multiple husbands and lovers that Jesus revealed himself to?

I believe that the Bible offers us a relational ethic -- love your neighbor as yourself -- as well as a sexual ethic that teaches us that our bodies are good, that pleasure is good, that sexuality is a wonderful gift but it can be abused, and that we must exercise that gift responsibly. It doesn't teach a consistent message though that the expected standard for sexual intercourse is wait until you are married.

It is past time for America to recognize that an ethic based on chastity until marriage alone does NOT help people make moral, ethical sexual decisions...according to the Guttmacher Institute study, it didn't help your parents and grandparents; it's not helping your children either.

P.S. For my regular readers, I'm pleased to tell you that the book is 98% finished and will be at the publishers on time for release in August 2007.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Chanukah 2006

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah. I will make potato latkes and we will light our menorah.

To briefly recap the story: In 167 b.c.e., a Greek leader named Antiochus attempted to institute a Greek state religion. He ordered the takeover of the temple in Jerusalem, had a statute of Zeus built on its altar, and called for ritual sacrifice there and in other Jewish temples throughout the countryside. Mattathias killed the first Jew who came forward to offer a sacrifice as well as a state official, and he and his five sons were forced to escape to the hills. Together, they organized first a small band of rebels to resist Antiochus, which grew to a 6000 person army that retook Jerusalem and the Temple. Three years from the day that Zeus was erected, the 25th of Kislav, Judas Maccabeus and his followers rededicated and purified the Temple in an 8 day celebration. Chanukah has been celebrated more or less continuously for 2,170 years.

Chanukah is the first recorded battle for religious freedom and against efforts to have a minority religion assimilated into a larger whole, reason enough for us as Americans to celebrate it. But it is in the legend that grew up in the 2nd century of the common era that I think we can find our greatest inspiration.

You probably know that legend: according to a very short passage in the Talmud, the Maccabees came into the temple and after purifying it, went to relight the eternal flame. They only had enough oil for one day. Pressing new oil from the olive trees would take another week. Miraculously the oil lasted for the entire eight days. The Rabbis who wrote the Talmud transformed the telling of the history from a heroic military battle into a story of God’s miracle and grace to the Jewish people. They moved it from a story based on the facts to a story based on the universal need for faith and hope and redemption. It is a truth story, not a true story.

And that’s where I think the stories of this season converge. They are stories of miracles – the ordinary story of the poor unwed teenage mother and her older boyfriend cast off by society that becomes the miracle of the baby to be named “Emmanuel”: God is with us…the story of the ordinary drop of oil that lasts for eight days to show us that God’s will prevails...the story that remind us that one person's actions can change the world -- that that person could be us.

Robert F. Kennedy once said, "Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build a current taht can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." It did for the Macabbees -- it could for us.

The stories remind us that in the darkest of winters, in the physical world or in the dark parts of our souls, even the tiniest light can with faith become brighter and stronger, until the whole world is filled with that light once again – and that every human life, no matter how humble his or her beginnings, can indeed bless the entire world.

Happy Chanukah!

Like the Chanukah oil, I hope this blog post can last eight days. I am taking the next week off to finish my new book which is due to the publisher by the end of the year. Have a great week! I'll let you know how it went next Thursday.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Sin is NOT Homosexuality

I've read a lot of the news reports on Rev. Barnes' resignation from his megachurch after he "confessed" his homosexuality. They all quoted a religious leader on the right who declared homosexuality a sin, and several stated their belief that homosexuality was a choice.

None directly quoted a religious leader who flatly countered these positions. Let me do that here.

There is no sin in being homosexual or in engaging in same sex eroticism in a loving, just relationship. The sin is homophobia, the denigration of our neighbors because they are physically and emotionally attracted to people of the same sex. The sin is heterosexism, the presumption that heterosexuality is normative for all people and morally superior. The sin is forcing people to deny their God-given gift of their sexuality and to suffer to try to live their lives in a way that is antithetical to who they really are. The sin is violence and discrimination against GLBT persons and denial of their civil rights. The sin is when any of us, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, violate our commitments to our partner and hurt our families. The sin is making sexual decisions that hurt us and hurt others.

Reverends Haggard and Barnes are primary evidence against the myth that people choose their sexual orientation. Both confess that they have struggled with their same sex attractions their whole lives. They tried to pray it away; they tried to marry it away; they tried to make it go away by having sex with women they loved; they tried counseling to make it go away. From the news reports, it certainly seems that they did everything they could to "change."

But, they couldn't. No more than I could change my sexual orientation...or you change your's.

It's time for the churches that condemn homosexuality to learn that lesson. It's time for the congregants to think through what it means to "love your neighbor as yourself." I am reminded of this line from I believe Meister Eckart, "When will grown men and women stop believing in a God that makes them sad? It is a lie, any talk of God that does not comfort you."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Another Evangelical Minister Resigns Over Sex With Men

The Denver Post reported yesterday that Rev. Paul Barnes resigned on Sunday from his 2100 person evangelical megachurch after "confessing" in a 32 minute video that he had had sex with men during his marriage.

Read the article at

Barnes, who was apparently about to be "outed", called his attraction to men "the thorn in my flesh" and recounted a not unfamiliar story of homophobic comments from his father and his church and desperate attempts to deny his sexual orientation. He said that he had been to counseling about these issues three times but he could "never find anyone to talk to."

Rev. Barnes, I'm sorry that that was true. You obviously didn't look very hard. If you had looked beyond your own church you would have found that there are faith based organizations in almost every denomination that affirm and welcome GLBT people. There's even a group called Evangelicals Concerned. There are hundreds if not thousands of gay clergy that live their lives honestly and faithfully that would have been happy to talk with you.

I am angry for you that you have lived in a world where you had to hide who you were from the people closest to you and where you have experienced such self-loathing. At the Religious Institute we believe that sexual difference is a blessed part of our endowment and that God loves and welcomes all of us. It is the integrity of our relationships that are important, not the sex or gender of our partner.

We can suggest lots of people -- even people in Colorado -- for you to talk to...Give us a call.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mid December musings

No, that's not our tree...but our tree is up and decorated with the almost 30 years of ornaments that my husband and I have collected. I am trying not to think of it as one more thing off of my December "to do" list. I have to admit that I often feel abit overwhelmed in December -- both as a minister and as a member of a multifaith family.

We have been cutting down our holiday tree at the Audubon Society with another family for the past 18 years; it’s one of my favorite rituals. We invite a family of Jewish friends over each year to help us decorate the tree. We play dreidel, make latkes, go into New York City to see the trees and windows, and open stockings while eating cinnamon buns on Christmas morning. We do something to serve others during the holiday.

Rituals offer us a sense of community and continuity and a way to celebrate our faith. But, I think we also need to give ourselves permission to let go of some of them if they no longer make us happy. I've decided that I am not going to write a newsy holiday letter this year. My house will not be perfectly decorated. I am not baking cookies or making big holiday meals. My gift list is considerably shorter. Take a minute to think about what you can do to make the next month simpler and less stressful.

For me, I will remember to breathe and exercise and make sure I follow through on my good intention of daily spiritual practice. I am making a public commitment here to do what sustains me and let go of the “shoulds.” As someone once said to me, “we need to stop shoulding on ourselves.” I remind myself it is time with people I love that is most important this season – and always.

I hope you will take that time -- as well as time for yourself. I had my coffee in front of the lit tree this morning; it was a good way to start the week.

Friday, December 08, 2006

More on Conservative Rabbi's: A Mixed Blessing

It turns out the story of the Conservative ruling Wednesday was much more complex than the original Washington Post and NY Times stories.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards actually passed three conflicting opinions. In the long history of Rabbi's debates going back before the midrash, the opinions leave it up to each seminary and each local rabbi to decide what is appropriate. The most liberal of the opinons calls commitment ceremonies "appropriate" and "welcomes" clergy who are gay while prohibiting anal intercourse (presumably only by male couples.) But a conservative opinion was also passed by enough votes for adoption that upheld the ban on marriages and clergy, and a third opinion calling for "reparative therapy" for gays also was adopted.

The end result is that with God's grace, some seminaries will begin ordaining gay and lesbian Conservative rabbis, and some Rabbis will perform unions for same sex couples.

I agree wholeheartedly with Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum's assessment: “It’s absolutely a step in the right direction. But justice demands full inclusion of gay and lesbians in Jewish life with no conditions attached. Functionally, the option of equality for gay men and lesbians has been achieved. A religious ideology of equality is still far away.”

That day is surely to come.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Conservative Rabbis Move to Fuller Inclusion

Yesterday a high level group of Conservative Rabbis voted to allow seminaries to ordain openly gay and lesbian Rabbis and to allow their Rabbis to perform commitment ceremonies for same sex couples.

They join the Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish denominations in moving to full inclusion of gay and lesbian people.

The vote was close, and the report was not without controversy. As I understand it from the press report, the Rabbis decided that the Leviticus texts only prohibited a very specific sexual act -- an act incidently that about one in four married heterosexual couples have tried. See the article at:

We applaud this move to recognizing the full humanity and gifts of gay and lesbian people, but as the Religious Declaration says, we need to move beyond an act-centered morality, to one that is based on relationships. The fact that a specific act makes many people uncomfortable does not make it immoral or unethical; only the context of the relationship can determine that.

Update: I wrote about the fetal pain bill earlier this week. It failed in the Republican dominated House of Representatives yesterday -- but barely. These is still so much we need to do.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New Baby for the White House

The front page of the today's Washington Post online features this headline, "Mary Cheney expecting."

Here's the link:

Mary Cheney and her partner Heather Poe are having a baby -- and that's front page news. Now, I don't know about you, but I don't remember hearing about Dick Cheney's other five grandchildren being born.

One can just begin to imagine the conversation between Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush this morning -- after of course, they deal with that pesky report that calls the Iraq War a disaster. I wonder if Mr. Bush congratulated Mr. Cheney or called Mary and Heather to offer best wishes. I wonder if even for a moment he paused at how his efforts to deny couples like them the rights to all of the protections and privileges of marriage might one day hurt this coming child.

I look forward to the day -- and I believe it is coming -- where this might not be front page news. But, for now, Ms. Cheney and Ms. Poe, congratulations. And as soon as I find an address for you, I'll be sending you a copy of my book, "From Diapers to Dating."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Latest Attempt to Mandate Bad Information

The House of Representatives this week is scheduled to vote on a bill titled the "Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act of 2006." Republicans are hurrying to have this bill considered before the new Congress takes over.

The bill requires that every woman in America who is having an abortion after 20 weeks receive a pamphlet that says that abortion causes pain to the fetus and that they have been offered fetal anesthesia.

The problem? Well according to a review article by the American Medical Association, "Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester," and there is "little or no evidence" of the effectiveness of fetal anesthesia and "limited or no data" on the safety of administering it.

In other words, anti-choice legislators are attempting to pass a bill that is not consistent with what science is telling us in order to discourage women from having abortions. They are also trying to legislate medical practice based on false information.

That's not just bad medicine -- it's bad ethics. Women have the right to complete and unbiased information when they are making decisions about the future of pregnancies. Mu understanding is that most abortions after 20 weeks are because of fetal abnormality and the mother's health. Adding to the mother's pain at this time is wrong. Tell your Congressperson to vote no.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Advent reflection

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent in Christian churches. In that tradition, Advent is the beginning of the preparation for the birth of Jesus, a time of waiting, a time of reflection about the miracle to come.

I like the symbolism and the metaphor -- it reminds me to open my heart to what is waiting to happen next, both externally but also deep inside of me. I once read a book that suggested that we periodically ask ourselves three questions: What is it too soon for? What is it too late for? What is it the right time for?

I just finished reading "Leaving Church" by Barbara Brown Taylor this weekend. I recommend it highly. It is the story of her move from parish ministry to teaching and writing. She writes that "the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human." I resonated to her desire to move more deeply into ministry in the world beyond the doors of a particular congregation. She asks "What if the church's job were to move people out of the door instead of trying to keep them in, by convincing them that God needed them more in the world than in the church?"

Advent. What is waiting to happen in your life? What miracle might emerge if you began to prepare for it today?

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day, Part II

I remember the first time I saw the AIDS memorial quilt. I was stunned to tears and silence by the enormity of the losses that each stitch represented.

In the mid to late eighties it seemed like every week someone I knew died of AIDS. It's actually been at least three years since I've lost a friend or colleague to this disease. But each year around the world three million die. 3,000,000. It's a huge loss.

I hold in my heart the memories of Bill Travis, who helped me design the Teen for AIDS program; Danny Jacobs, the membership coordinator at SIECUS; Carolyn's best friend Billy; my college friends: Marjorie, Lacey, Stuart; Rosella's brother John; my dear friend and colleague Jim A.; too many colleagues in HIV prevention to name.

I invite you today to pause and say a prayer for those you have lost...for all of those who the world has lost...and to recommit yourself. Preach about AIDS. Reach out to your local AIDS service provider. Make a donation. Teach your child about sexuality. Teach an adult about safer sex. Get tested. Write a letter to your Congressperson. Do something. Keep the promise.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

World AIDS Day 2006, Part One

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day. The theme is "Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise."

It reminds that we have not -- that I have not. I remember giving a talk back in 1985 at a CDC conference on AIDS where I said that every new HIV infection would be a failure of will to educate, protect, and motivate. That was tens of millions of cases ago.

Today there are 65 million people in the world who live with AIDS. There have been 25 million deaths. The numbers are staggering. One adult in a hundred in the world is living with HIV. In parts of Africa, it is one in three.

People around the world continue to fight about how to prevent AIDS -- abstinence still wins over condoms, needle exchange is still forbidden in many places, homophobia and sexism still keep people from being able to protect themselves.

The good news is that AIDS is no longer a liberal/conservative issue. Such organizations as Christianity Today, Catholic Relief Services and the Ecumenical AIDS Alliance had information about World AIDS Day on their web sites. Tomorrow, Senator Obama will be preaching at Rev. Rick Warren's Saddleback Church.

What more can you do to get involved? How can you "keep the promise?" I hope you'll publish those promises here.

Tomorrow, I plan to post my memories of people who I have lost in this epidemic. I hope you will add your own tributes.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Breakthrough on the Soaps

I was a "General Hospital" fan when I was in high school and then again when I was nursing my babies. So, I can't say I know much about "All My Children" and the stories of Pine Valley.

But, I have just learned that this Thursday, AMC is going to debut a story line about a person of transgender experience -- Zarf, a male rock star, who will begin transitioning to a woman. Zarf will be daytime's first transgendered character.

According to the press release, All My Children has worked with GLAAD on the development of the character and the story, although GLAAD spokespersons have not seen the soap yet. One can hope that this story will be told with empathy, compassion, and knowledge of the issues facing people in transition.

I may just have to tune in to see.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Christian Coalition Admits Focus Against Sexual Justice

You may have missed this story about the President-elect of the Christian Coalition resigning last week. The Rev. Joel Hunter said he "hoped to broaden the organization's agenda beyond opposing abortion and gay marriage. He hoped to include issues such as easing poverty and saving the environment."

Apparently the Board didn't agree. Hunter was quoted as saying, "They pretty much said, 'these issues are fine, but they're not our issues; that's not our base."

This may be one of the first times that the Christian Coalition has admitted what those of us working for sexual justice have known for the past twenty years -- that they are not an organization committed to promoting Christian values but to controlling our sex lives and sexual choices. No wonder their budget has shrunk from $26 million to less than $5 million annually.

I know that the vast majority of Americans support the right to privacy in sexual decisions -- including most people of faith. I wonder how many dollars, chapters, and members the Christian Coalition has to lose before it learns that as well.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Pope's visit to Turkey

I don't usually include the Pope in my prayers, but I did this morning. He is off to Turkey, both to meet with Muslim leaders and Orthodox Christian leaders. This picture is from a rally yesterday in Turkey where more than 25,000 demonstrators shouted "No to the Pope." The news report I heard this morning said that the Pope will wear a bullet proof vest and will probably travel in an armored car.

I disagree with the Pope about contraception and homosexuality, but I find myself admiring his bravery -- and indeed his faith -- this morning. He doesn't have to go to Turkey; he is doing it to demonstrate his commitment to tolerance and inclusion. Those are values I share. Regardless of precautions, he is putting his life on the line for those beliefs.

It has me thinking about what I am willing to do for my beliefs and for my faith. People often tell me that they think I am brave for being public about my positions on sexual justice. But as a Unitarian Universalist, I don't have to be brave. My denomination and my congregation support my work. I have only felt physically at risk four times in my 30 year career. My clergy colleagues in denominations that threaten their orders for speaking out but do so anyway are much braver than I am.

So, let us pray for the Pope today -- his safety and for reconciliation and peace.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Prayer

A friend emailed me this prayer today. I liked it so much that I thought I'd pass it on to you. She thinks it's from Human Rights Watch, but if you know the author, let us know. I am grateful to all of you who are part of our ministry.

"God of Wonder, Giver of Life. . . energize us so that our faith may
give us the vision and the mission; that
Our love may be grounded in the miracle of your love.
Sustain us in the pain of our losses, disappointments, and feelings of inadequacy in the face of overwhelming need.
Please be with us as we continue our walk into the future with open hearts and minds
So that we will discover new possibilities through a new network of support to bolster our good intentions.
Let us go forth into our homes, our communities, and our world in
Thanksgiving, gentleness, peace and joy."

Blessings to you and your's on this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blessings for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite national holiday. I like it because almost everyone in the United States celebrates it. I like it because its origins are based in religious freedom and tolerance. I like that it brings families together, and I even like the food. I love the Macy's Day parade, and if it's a nice day, we'll be there watching the floats. I like that college students are home for the long weekend, and I like that all of my family lives close enough for us to celebrate together, even if that means dinner at one house and dessert at another.

Mostly though I like that it is a reminder to pause and reflect on our blessings. I try to do that every day as part of my spiritual practice, but on Thanksgiving, it is also a chance to share our deep sense of gratitude with those we love and to give thanks for the very preciousness of our lives.

May your Thanksgiving be such a day of gratitude and blessings. See you next week.

Reverend Debra

Monday, November 20, 2006

"Be Fruitful and Multiply" for Jesus?

I love babies. I'm at that age where I am too old to have them any more and too young for my children to be having them. But, there is no one in the world more important to me than my children. And, I have spent a lot of my career working with people on how to better parent their children.

I just want to be clear -- I am my life and in your's. I fully support the right of every family to decide when, whether, and how many children to have.

So, why did I find this report in The Nation about the "Quiverfull Movement" so disturbing? Kathryn Joyce in "Arrows for the War" details this religious movement which is encouraging Christian women to have as many children as possible in order to fill the ranks of fundamentalist Christians. It is sexist, xenophobic, and scary. I couldn't help but think of the "Handmaiden's Tale" by Margaret Atwood. You need to read it to believe it.

I can just imagine a new federal program encouraging huge families under the anti-contraception proposed head of the nation's family planning program (which reminded me a lot of "1984"). (I know that sounds ridiculous, but so does an anti-family planning doctor running the nation's family planning program.) On Friday, I told you this was a done deal. But, it turns out that family planning advocates believe that they can reverse this appointment, and urge you to contact Secretary Michael Leavitt with your concerns. RCRC has posted an action letter
that you can sign and they'll have it sent to him.

You would think that the people who oppose abortions would be doing everything they could do encourage women to use family planning to avoid unplanned pregnancies. It turns out, that at least for some of them, they'd really rather we just have more children.

Actually, I don't think they want people with my point of view to have more children -- just people like their's.

Friday, November 17, 2006

New Head of National Family Planning Program is Anti-Family Planning -- HUH?

So just when you think that there is some hope that the Bush administration might get that the nation does not support their policies on sexuality issues (or the war or much else for that matter), something happens that makes you realize how out of touch they are. Yesterday, I blogged about the Catholic Bishops telling their married congregants not to use birth control.
Seems like the nation's family planning program could be headed in that direction as well. The Bush administration yesterday announced its appointment of Dr. Erik Keroack as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs, the nation's official in charge of the national family planning program.
Here's part of the press release we put out:
"It is a cruel joke on low-income women in America who turn to the government for assistance with family planning services to place Dr. Erik Keroack in charge of the national Title X program.
Dr. Keroack is an anti-contraception advocate who has been serving as medical director of "A Women's Concern," an organization with an official policy that states "birth demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality, and averse to human health and happiness." The official mission of the organization is to discourage women from having abortions and learn "how to establish a vital relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church."
“The vast majority of religious denominations in the United States support the right of each family to decide when and whether to have children. The vast majority of people of faith in this country practice birth control use, which allows them to celebrate their sexuality with holiness and integrity.
"From a religious perspective, voluntary contraception allows women and families to nurture their children and their families. It is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious that we call for a faith based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights.”
By the way, this is a done deal. No confirmation hearings, no chance for change. Stay tuned to see what Dr. Keroack decides to do. Let's hope that the new Congress makes sure he understands that his job is to serve women and families not deny them sexual and reproductive health services.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

New Guidelines from the Bishops -- Sure To Be Ignored

Not that this was a surprise, but the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to adopt new guidelines this week, attempting to regulate the sexual lives of both heterosexual and homosexual adults.

The guidelines "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination" (yes, that's what it was called) passed 194 to 37. Such "inclinations" said the Bishops are "inherently disordered" and thus same sex sexual activity is sinful. They also voted to take public positions against same sex marriage and adoptions by gay couples.

Heterosexuals were not immune though from new attempts by these celibate men to regulate their sex lives. In a document called "Married Love and the Gift of Life," the Bishops reassert their opposition to contraception, saying it introduces a "false note" into marriage. They do acknowledge in the report that most American Catholics are indeed using contraception.

One Bishop tried but failed to get all the other Bishops to stop offering communion to those who violate these teachings. Instead it will be left up to the individual Bishop.

I find it hard to understand how a church body can vote to pass policies about sexuality that are irrelevant to their congregants. Surely the Catholic Church knows how much their people need help in living their sexual lives with holiness and integrity -- starting with some of their own clergy. Did I miss the guidelines on that?

I thought of this quote from Meister Eckardt nearly a thousand years ago, "How long will grown men and women in this world keep drawing an image of God that makes them sad? It is a lie -- any talk of God that does not comfort you." These new reports fail that test.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Report from the South

The Religious Institute sponsored a great meeting in Atlanta, Georgia yesterday. Thirty two clergy, theologians, sexologists, and staff from sexual and reproductive health organizations gathered to discuss the intersection of sexuality and religion and how the can better work together.

We heard exciting presentations from such people as Rev. Steve Clapp, the Christian Community, Loretta Ross, Sister Song, Christian Thrasher, the Morehouse Center for Excellence, Rev. Erin Swenson, the Southern Gender Education Association on strategies for involving faith communities. In the afternoon, Dr. Randall Bailey of ITC, Dr. Daniel Helminiak of Georgia State, and Dr. Kate Ott of the Religious Institute presented some of the cutting edge theological research on sexuality and religion.

As stimulating as the presentations were, the best part of the day for me was learning about the exciting activities happening in the Southeast, meeting the people who are challenging sexual oppression on many levels, and listening as the group decided to meet again and discuss next steps for future collaboration.

Post the election, it is once again easy to talk about red and blue states, but what was clear from this time together is that even the deep south is really purple. I salute these folks for what they are doing to bring sexual justice in a part of the country dominated by conservative religious voices and look forward to seeing what happens next.

I once again experienced a little "Southern healing."

Monday, November 13, 2006

My Offer to Rev. Haggard

An Associated Press article this weekend said that Rev. Ted Haggard would begin a project of "spiritual restoration" for the next three to five years that would be "confrontational" and beginning with a "confession of sins." James Dobson of Focus on the Family (who is not a minister, he just plays one in the media) has said that he cannot be part of the team because of a lack of time.

So, Rev. Haggard, I'd like to volunteer my pastoral care services or a referral to another member of the network of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. Any of us would begin with working on helping you accept who you are as a sexual person and understanding that sexuality is God's life-giving and life-fulfilling gift. We would help you affirm that sexual difference is part of our blessed endowment, and to understand the "clobber texts" in the Bible about same sex relationships in the context in which they were written. We could study how other texts in the Bible affirm many forms of blessed relationships. We could look at how the teachings of some churches about homosexuality has done violence to people, including you, your family, and your congregation by asking you to deny your feelings. We could look at the criteria for moral sexual decision making.

Yes, Rev. Haggard, we sin when we abuse our sacred gift of sexuality and exploit others. But, the great promise of our traditions is love, healing, and restored relationships. We could talk about that as well.

So, consider this an offer. Unlike Dr. Dobson, I'd make the time.

Rev. Debra W. Haffner

Friday, November 10, 2006

Election Results # 3

I promise this is my last one, but it's nice to have something to celebrate this week.

I'm receiving post-election analysis from several non-profit organizations that I thought I'd share (in case you are not on these mailing lists.)

From Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

* At least three new pro-choice candidates for Governor won.

* Several state legislatures have flipped to pro-choice majorities, including both chambers in IA, the House in WI and the Senate in MN.

* Pro-choice leaders, including the first woman Speaker, now control the House of Representatives.

* There are 28 seats in the House that have changed parties so far. 27 Representatives who lost were anti-choice or mixed. 18 new Representatives are 100% pro-choice.

* There are 5 Senate seats that have changed parties so far. 4 Senators who lost were anti-choice or mixed. 4 new Senators are 100% pro-choice.

From NARAL Pro-Choice America: The U.S. House gained 20 pro-choice seats.

From the Human Rights Campaign Fund: Pro-gay equality forces now hold a majority of seats in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.

From an analysis by Faith in Public Life: The seven marriage amendments that did pass passed by on average 12 points less than they did in 2004. And Arizona DEFEATED an amendment.

Let's not forget the victories for stem cell research in Missouri and access to abortion in South Dakota, California, and Oregon.

These are value votes, and we were the value voters who won. People voted to protect the values of freedom, responsibility, research progress, and the right to privacy in our most personal decisions. Those aren't Democratic or Republican values; they are not red state/blue state values; they aren't even conservative/liberal values. They are American values, and although the work is far from over, we can take heart that in many places in America, and in the U.S. Congress for the next two years, they will be affirmed.

Have a good weekend.

Rev. Debra

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Election Part 2

More good news on the election -- Voters in Oregon and California rejected parental notifcation requirements, and voters in Missouri supported stem cell research. Arizona voters became the first to reject an anti-gay marriage law, and voters in Kansas rejected the man who has been on a witchhunt against family planning clinics.

Now what's interesting to me is that none of the news analysis of these votes talked about people voting their values (as surely they would have had the results been reversed.) But, the fact is they DID. They voted their beliefs that people have the right to privacy in their most important personal decisions. They voted against intolerance and they voted for parental involvement not forced notification.

And I'll leave it to other progressive bloggers to discuss the news about the Secretary of Defense.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rev. Haffner on the Election, Round 1

We had more than forty people, largely from our church, in my living room watching the results of the election together. It might surprise you to know that there was political diversity in the group, particularly about our local Connecticut elections, but it definitely felt right to be watching in community.

I asked the last group of stalwarts to go home to bed at 12:30 a.m. The overall composition of the Senate still hasn't been decided this morning, waiting on results from Virginia and Montana.

We are a non partisan organization, so I won't comment here on the outcome of particular races. But, I am so thankful for the dramatic defeat of the draconian ban on abortion in South Dakota and the defeat of the marriage amendment in Arizona. Many pro-choice, pro- equality candidates won. Other states did pass marriage amendments.

But, regardless, I think the American people sent a message. Stop politics as usual. Do something about ending the Iraqi War. Return to a nation characterized by fairness and compassion.

Overall, a satisfying evening. We didn't get everything we wanted; we didn't lose everything we needed. Sort of like life.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

More on Haggard, Sexual Morality, and the Election

The pictures of Rev. Haggard I found online reminded me on an incident a long time ago. I had been on Crossfire debating a member of the Religious Right, and we were screening the tape in my office. A staff member walked by and said, "Who's the gay guy on tv with Debra?"

Rev. Haggard in the letter to his congregation said:

"The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem."

But he didn't take responsibility -- that was part of the problem. As our Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing says, "all persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure." It's not hard to see where Rev. Haggard's actions both in his marriage and his outside relationships fall far short of that moral standard.

I have been saddened by not surprised by the statements of some on the religious right that fail to see how their own preached homophobia keeps people in the closet seeking dangerous and immoral relationships. I was heartened though by evangelical David Kuo's comments in Time magazine (,8599,1554908,00.html) that reminds us that Jesus makes no comment about homosexuality at all in the gospels.

There is going to be a lot of commentary tomorrow on what the election had to say about values, religious voters, and the like. Please go out and VOTE today -- let OUR values of inclusion, freedom, choice, equality, and justice be heard.

Monday, November 06, 2006

What sin needs to be forgiven? Weighing in on Haggard

In a letter to his congregation, Rev. Ted Haggard said:

"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem," Haggard wrote. "I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life."

One wonders which part he means -- the part that has been a leader in the movement to deny people who are gay their rights? the internalized homophobia that allowed him to purchase sexual services from male escorts while participating in discussions within the White House denigrating gay and lesbian people? the part about deceiving his wife?

Why do I think what he meant is his own attraction to members of the same sex?

Ted Haggard dramatically illustrates how soul damaging the denial of the blessing of sexual difference is. How different his life would have been had he accepted his own sexual attractions and made decisions about his sexuality that were life affirming rather than so now ultimately destructive to himself and his family.

We're going to hear a lot of talk about forgiveness and redemption by people on the right as they discuss this case. And surely our hearts go out to Reverend Haggard and his family as they go through these difficult days.

May we pray for God's grace that perhaps at least some will see how their own hateful attitudes towards GLBT people need forgiveness as well.

On this election eve, I also need to ask you to go out tomororw and VOTE OUR VALUES. We have an opportunity to send a real message especially those of you in states with ballot initiatives on marriage equality and abortion. Let's be sure the "value voters" in 2006 are US.

Friday, November 03, 2006

George, Walter, and me

I got to hang out with George Clooney and Walter Cronkite this week at the annual dinner of the Interfaith Alliance Foundation.

Okay, I'm exaggerating...but I did get to meet each of them and have my picture taken. Mine didn't come out very well, but I'll post one if they send it to me. It was thrilling talking with Walter Cronkite about his father founding the first Unitarian church in Houston, T exas, and George...well let's just say I think every woman there was thrilled to have their two minutes with him.

The Interfaith Alliance Foundation is one of the most important organizations out there working on bringing a multifaith voice to important progressive issues in the public square. Along with Americans United, they sponsor First Freedom First, and if you haven't signed that petition supporting our first amendment rights I hope you will do so now.

For those of you looking for my comment on the news revelations about Ted Haggard, I have decided to wait until there is more credible information available. I am mindful of picking up the first stone and feel for his family as they learn more about his activities.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Uncle Sam Wants Abstain

So, let's say you are 25 years old, finished with graduate school, with your own apartment, making a living, and unmarried like most 25 year olds. You're seeing a new person and it's date # 3, or 4, or 5. Should you have sex?

Not according to the federal government. The nearly ten year old abstinence-only-until-marriage program has a new target -- 19 to 29 year olds. (I'm not sure what happens at 29 that makes them comfortable with you having sex, but at least if you are unmarried, you can have sex before you turn thirty.)

According to the news report, "the revisedguidelines for 2007 are aimed at people ages 19 to 29 because recent data show that more unmarried women in that age group are having children. "We wanted to remind states they could use these funds not only to target adolescents," Horn said. Therevised guidelines stipulate that states applying for the grantsare "to identify groups ... most likely to bear children out ofwedlock, targeting adolescents and/or adults within the 12-through 29-year-old age range." ...According to ACF, grants for 2006 amounted to $50million, and a similar amount for 2007 is expected.

No matter that 90% of young adults have had sexual intercourse. No matter that they are financially independent, contributing members of society. No matter that many of them are in long term relationships and many are cohabitating with their partners.

This isn't public health; it's hard to even believe it's morality. I made the decision not to marry couples who are virgins -- marriage is way too important to do only because you want to have sex with the person, and sex, although not in the top five criteria for a good marriage, is way too important to not know if it can be satisfying. To be honest though, I've never had a couple come to me for premarital counseling who isn't already sharing sexual intimacy.

Aiming federally sponsored programs at keeping adults abstinent is just silly. Let's hope the states choose to abstain.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween, Part Two

This is the first year that my son feels he is too old for trick or treating. He'll stay home with me and answer the door. It will be a reverse rite of passage in some way. I feel both a sense of sadness about this marker as well as relief that I don't have to help him make a costume this year. The Martha Stewart thing is definitely not me.

But what I want to write about today is the news reports I have heard that there are several communities where registered sex offenders will be required to spend Halloween night at a community center. I would feel better about these programs if they were coupled with prevention messages to parents and children. But at least the way they have sounded on news reports is that they prey on people's fears of sex offenders while doing almost nothing to keep children safe.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have written a book on keeping children safe from sexual abuse. They also know that ninety percent of the time children are abused by people they know well -- family members, family friends, babysitters, coaches, teachers, and even religious leaders. Locking the registered sex offenders up for the night is not the answer.

Surely we do not want our children, tweens, or teens going into anyone’s home alone while they are trick or treating. Just because the person down the street is not on a registry does not mean it is safe for your child to visit them alone in their kitchen. How much safer children might be tonight if a parent/child education program had taught:
*Parents need to accompany children who are trick or treating.
*Older youth need to go in groups.
*Trick or treating should take place at the front door.
*Under no circumstances should children or teens enter inside people’s houses while they are trick or treating.

And don't forget to bring the flashlight and the box for Unicef.

Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween 2006, part l

Halloween decorations are everywhere in my neighborhood with some houses going to extraordinary length. Every time I pass one, I wonder when Halloween became the new Christmas decorating season. Right now we have a single uncarved pumpkin on our front porch.

I was thinking about Halloween when I read this new report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force titled
"Homophobia at ’Hell House’: Literally Demonizing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth". The Task Force estimates "that this Halloween season, 1.6 million people, many of them children as young as 10 years old, will go to "Hell Houses," religious alternatives to traditional haunted houses that are designed to scare youth into a "sin-free life."Instead of spooking youth with ghosts and monsters, Hell House tour guides direct them through rooms where violent scenes of damnation for a variety of "sins" are performed, including scenes where a teenage lesbian is brought to hell after committing suicide and a gay man dying of AIDS is taunted by a demon who screams that the man will be separated from God forever in hell." They also include scenes where women who have abortions are damned to hell.

One has to wonder how many unsuspecting parents, thinking that they are visiting a haunted house, end up taking their children to these Hell Houses.

According to the report, "Hell Houses first appeared in the 1970s at the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, and they have been gaining popularity since 1996, when the Rev. Keenan Roberts, an evangelical Christian pastor in Colorado, began selling "Hell House kits" to churches worldwide. Roberts estimates that these kits, which cost $299 each, have been distributed to 800 churches across the United States and 18 countries."
That's right, churches sponsor these Hell Houses.

Have they forgotten that the New Testament teaches us to ’love your neighbor as yourself?’ Have they forgotten that Jesus taught that we must love and include everyone? Cloaking hate in Christian language does not mean that it is not hateful or harmful. Religious leaders know that sexual difference is a blessed part of our endowment.

These Hell Houses are fear-based education at their worst; I am glad that the Task Force has exposed their homophobic and anti-choice messages.

More on safety and Halloween tomorrow.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Is Nicaragua an omen for South Dakota?

The male dominated Nicaragua government voted unaninimously to ban all abortions yesterday. That's right -- ALL. No exceptions for rape and incest, no exceptions for the woman's health and life.

Remarkably, this law doesn't change much for the women in that country. This past year, under the existing law, only six women were allowed to have a legal abortion.

But, 32,000 desperate women sought illegal abortions last year. If caught, they and their doctors would have faced jail terms.

Making abortion illegal doesn't stop abortions; it just stops women from having access to safe procedures.

Women's lives and reproductive health are a political pawn in Nicaragua and other countries around the world.

But it's not just somewhere else. The voters in South Dakota will decide on November 7th if abortion will remain legal in the state. The Mississippi legislature is poised to pass such a ban as well.

The immorality of coercing women to carrying pregnancies to term or forcing women to seek dangerous procedures on their own stuns me. My heart aches for them.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

New Jersey's ruling

As you no doubt know, the New Jersey Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision yesterday that said that the state constitution demands full equal rights for same sex couples. They also gave the State Legislature 180 days to figure out what that means, including whether to call those rights marriage or a civil union.

Now, I confess that I have not read the 90 page opinion yet, but my initial response is to celebrate their understanding and commitment to equal rights, while wishing that the would have affirmed this as "marriage." I simply don't get what it means when people say yes to civil unions but fervently believe that the word marriage should only belong to heterosexual couples. It's not as if we always do a good job of honoring it.

I increasingly though am of the mind that we should move to the European system. The state should perform civil unions for couples -- both same sex and other sex. Religious bodies should perform marriages -- and each religious body should determine for itself their criteria for who should be eligible for sacred ceremonies.

I always feel like a bit of a fraud when I sign a marriage license. The state asks me to perform no other state function as a member of the ordained clergy, and I don't need their permission to bury someone or name a baby. In Europe, as I understand, clergy don't sign the licenses; the state official does.

But, for now, let's celebrate one more step to recognizing relational justice for all.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My day in NY

I spent Monday at Greenstone Radio taping four shows with Lisa Birnbach and Jane Fonda. They will be airing on a regular basis this month, and we will be taping additional ones. It was great fun, and I think we also got out some important information. I'm looking forward to taping more shows with them on faith issues. I also taped a WNBC Today in New York segment that will air tomorrow morning, for those of you in the New York area who watch tv before 7 am.

Today at 3 p.m. the New Jersey Supreme Court will hand down its decision on marriage equality. Take a moment with me to pray for a just outcome. I'll be back tomorrow to talk about the decision.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Blessings on your day!

I love my ministry. I spent Saturday morning at my home congregation in a strategic plan meeting and on Sunday I preached at the Unitarian church in New London, CT. I had the privilege of sharing worship with my good friend and colleague Rev. Carolyn Patierno.

Today, I will be taping a segment for Today in New York, the early morning news program on NBC in the NY metropolitan area, and then I am off to Greenstone radio to tape a live segment with Lisa Birnback and Jane Fonda. You can listen to it streaming at 11:30 am EST at

We are also going to tape three other shows that will air in coming weeks.

Tuesday and Wednesday, I will be at the Fifth Fosdick Convocation. It's described this way, "once every decade, America's great preachers come to the nation's Protestant's cathedral to call progressive Christians to action." I am very honored to have been chosen as one of the 35 workshop leaders at this convocation, and I am looking forward to being inspired by great preaching by prophetic leaders.

I'll let you know how all of this goes when I'm back blogging on Thursday.

I hope that you too feel as blessed by your work in the world. I know how grateful I am for these opportunities.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Yes, it's Sex

The Yahoo news headline said "priest denies having sex with Foley."

It's important for me to say up front that it is irrelevant to Mark Foley's actions that he was abused by a priest as a child. That presumably happened when he was 13; the actions we know he committed were in his forties and fifties. That's a lot of time for therapy. Yes, there is a higher proportion of histories of abuse among those who abuse others, but most people who are abused as children or teenagers never hurt anyone else. It seems callous and disingenuous that Mark Foley is accusing his priest NOW, when there have been many moments to have come forward before.

But, what was done to him was also wrong, and yes, it sounds like sexual abuse to me. The priest in a taped radio interview admits that he was naked with young Foley, skinny dipped with Foley, massaged a nude Foley, slept nude in a room with Foley, and that perhaps there was one incident when he was on tranquilizers that he's not sure what happened. In an interview you can read on CNN, he said "we were just fondling" and we "were friends." I would be in a police station pressing charges if I found out my 13 year old son had this type of adult

That the news media is debating whether this was "sex" shows just how confused we are about sexuality as a country. You may remember our national teachable moment, where 20% of the country agreed with President Clinton that oral sex wasn't really sex. It is.

We need to move from an act-based sexual ethic to one based on relationships. It doesn't matter whether Part A goes into Part B for sexual abuse to occur or for sex to have occurred between consenting partners. Two people sharing erotic acts are "having sex", and when one of them is an adult and the other a teen or a child -- that's wrong.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

More on Faith in Public Life

I had one of those "NPR driveway moments" yesterday as I came home from a long two days of meetings and presentations in New York City. The story was called "Republicans Zig: Will Christian Conservatives Zag?" and it was about how some chapters of the Christian Coalition are leaving the national organization because it has become too concerned with issues like the environment, poverty and sex trafficking rather than only concentrating on abortion and same sex marriage. One of the men they interviewed said that the key family issue facing Ohio voters was banning same sex marriage.

Could anyone really believe that? With millions of children in the United States going to bed hungry, with millions of children living in the foster care system, with half of marriages ending in divorce, with increasing violence against women, and girls, with failing school systems and millions of uninsured families (you get the point) - the number one family issue is stopping the committed gay or lesbian couple down the street from getting married?? No wonder the Christian Coalition is worried about losing members and voters.

But the story also raised the issue of people voting for leaders who articulate their faith. This came up in the panel I moderated on Tuesday night at the 92nd Street Y with Dr. Marty Klein, Joan Bertin, and Rev. Barry Lynn. Bertin and Klein argued that our elected officials' faith has no place in their policy making role.

I couldn't disagree more. Our faith informs our values, our attitudes, and our own decision-making. It surely should not be the only factor in deciding how one feels and votes, either as an elected official or as a member of the electorate, but there is no question that my commitment to not only sexual justice but the common good is at least partially based in my own beliefs and faith commitments. There is a role for both faith and science in public life and public policy decisions, and we would be better off if people on all sides of the ideological spectrum began to accept that.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


My first job after college was as the Resource Coordinator for the Population Institute. We're both still working hard to assure reproductive health and justice thirty years later.

The very first thing I professionally published was a fact sheet for P.I. called, "Population Synthesis 1976."

I pulled it out this morning when I heard that the U.S. Census Clock passed 300 million this morning at 7:46 am.

This is what I wrote in 1976:

"There are currently more than 215 million people living in the U.S., ten million more than in 1970. At current rates, there may be 262 million of us at the turn of the century -- and that does not include illegal immigrants. It could be argued that the U.S. presents the greatest population problem in the world...although Americans are only 5% of the world's population, we consume over one third of the earth's non-renewable resources and energy...some population experts believe that the average infant born in the U.S. today will impose as much as fifty times as great a burden on the world's environment and resources during its lifetime as the average infant born in India."

We don't hear much about the population problem today, do we? But surely it is still true that we live heavier on the earth than perhaps any other people in the world.

So as we celebrate this 300,000,000 milestone -- and send wishes to the babies born today -- may we remember that God calls us to good stewardship of the earth, and that we must continue to be mindful of the environment and over-consumption.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Freedom of Religion?

Well, the Associated Press may recognize legal gay marriages (see my post from the weekend) -- as did the New York Times in the obituary on Congressman Studds that ran on Sunday -- but it seems that nominees to the federal bench may not be able to.

Rev. Chuck Currie reports on his blog that the nomination of Janet T. Neff to the federal bench has been put on hold because she participated in a legal marriage ceremony in Massachussetts of a same sex couple. Not only was it a legal ceremony, it was also a religious ceremony presided over by a United Church of Christ minister.

It just wasn't the type of ceremony approved of by leading organizations on the religious right, and so Judge Neff's nomination is being held up. Maybe they need a civics lesson reminding them that we live in a pluralistic society and they don't get to make the rules for all religions and all states.

I'm moderating a panel on Tuesday at the 92nd Street Y in New York City called "America's War on Sex." It certainly seems so some days.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Indicator of Change

I just read this online story, and even though I don't usually blog on Saturdays, I had to share this. This is from a nationally syndicated AP story (appearing in papers throughout the country), and in its own way, indicates that we area moving to full -- okay, fuller -- inclusion.

First Openly Gay U.S. Congressman DiesBy JAY LINDSAY, AP BOSTON (Oct. 14) - Former U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay person elected to Congress, died early Saturday at Boston Medical Center, several days after he collapsed while walking his dog, his husband said.

Rest in peace.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Moment of Reflection

It is a beautiful fall morning here in Connecticut. The trees outside my window are all in various shades of change.

So are we.

It has been a long hard week in the world. I am tired of the constant negative election ads on radio and television. I have spent a lot of the week thinking about Foley and child sexual abuse, the war, and North Korea.

Yesterday, I read this passage from UU minister William Ellery Channing written in 1928 --

"To honor God is not to tremble before him, it is to become what we praise, to feel the divine principle within us, the very spirit of God."

Morality, including sexual morality, is all about the very way we treat each other. May we all become what we praise.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I blogged last week about how frustrating it was that the print and electronic media was not covering mainstream and progressive religious voices on the Foley scandal.

So I am happy to report to you that I'm quoted in today's USA Today in an article by Kathy Kiely on page 4 A, disavowing the link between homosexuality and child sexual abuse. You can read it yourself at

You can read our press release prepared by Geoffrey Knox and Associates at the web site of the Religious Institute. Stay tuned, I hope, for more.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A higher moral ethic

Today's Washington Post features a terrific editorial titled "Values Choice for the GOP" by Eugene Robinson
on how the Foley scandal could be the end to the "phoney trumped up culture war" or a chance for firing and disavowing gay staff members.

There are those on the right that are now expressing their surprise and dismay that there are gay staff members in Congressional offices.

Really --- and in your office, your family, your local doctor's office, every where you people are among us.

Living healthy, ethical moral lives. Raising children. Working for the public good.

One more time -- it is irrelevant morally that Congressman Foley is gay; the issue is that he solicited male pages. Would this situation have been any different if the salacious IMs were with a 16 year old teenage girl? Would America be more or less outraged? What do you think?

Robinson mentions that Republicans have tried to pain Democrats as "anything goes libertines." I have been accused of having "if it feels good, do it" morality by people on the right my whole career.

If people took the time to look, they would see that the Religious Declaration actually articulates a strong moral ethic that holds people -- all people -- to a high standard based on love, justice, mutuality, consent, nonexploitation, commitment and mutual pleasure.

Ex-congressman Foley must be held accountable, as well as the people who knew about his actions and did nothing. Their being gay had nothing to do with it though.

Monday, October 09, 2006

"America's War on Sex"

My colleague and friend Dr. Marty Klein has a new book out, "America's War on Sex" that outlines how the government, some religious institutions, and organizations on the right are seeking to control our sexual lives. He reprints the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing to hold up religious leaders who are speaking out for sexual justice.
Dr. Klein has generously agreed to donate the royalties of his book sold to readers of my blog and our newsletter to the Religious Institute if you order it online at Simply put in the code RI10.
I did not agree with everything Dr. Klein says in this book (starting with the war imagery of the title), but I found all of it thoughtful and stimulating. I think you will too.
By the way, our October newsletter will be out tomorrow. You can sign up to receive an e-copy at the web site of the Religious Institute. It's full of new resources and upcoming events on the relationship of sexuality and religion. You can also send us an email at to subscribe.

Friday, October 06, 2006

One more on Foley

Have you seen a progressive religious leader on television this week talking about Mark Foley?

I have not. But, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins has been all over the media, falsely connecting child sexual abuse and homosexuality. FRC has a so-called fact sheet on its site on "homosexuality and child sexual abuse" that badly distorts the facts, and somehow the media turns to them as experts.

It's not that we haven't tried. You can read the Religious Institute's press release on Mark Foley at Rev. John Thomas, the President of the United Church of Christ, issued a statement decrying the religious right's use of this scandal as one more way to try to demonize gay people. A group of mainstream Christian leaders sent a letter to Congress asking that every one in power who knew about Foley's solicitation of pages and did nothing resign.

Isn't it past time for the electronic and print media to include our voices in these discussions?

On the other hand, maybe it's time to let the investigations take place and return to covering the more pressing problems facing America and the world.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fifth Graders and Art Work

Did you see the story in this morning's news about Sydney McGee, the 28 year veteran art teacher who did not have her contract renewed because she took a fifth grade class to the Dallas Museum of Art? Apparently one child complained to her mother about "having" to view nude statutes and paintings with nude bodies. The Firsco School District is now saying that this was about performance issues not the field trip, but Ms. McGee has a letter she's made available to the press reprimanding her for explosing children to these images.

How deep does our erotophbia as a country go? I wonder if the mother of this child takes her to the grocery story where she can see the covers of women's magazines with their headlines promising better sex in ten days. Or what she does with the Victoria Secret catalogues that surely come in the mail -- or even the lingerie advertisements in the newspapers? Or what about allowing her in churches with religious art with nude bodies? Is the David now an erotic image to shield our children from?

Yes, today's children are exposed to thousands of sexualized messages, and most of us wish we could shield them. But from Greek statutes and religious paintings? And surely by the fifth grade, our children should have a solid understanding of their bodies and the gift that they are.

It may very well be that there is more to this story that we know at this moment. But it surely does offer yet another teachable moment to use with our children -- and our congregants.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Foley Part 3

As this story unfolds (see the latest in the Washington Post at ), I cannot help but shake but my head about the ignorance it shows about sexuality issues and their coverage. Added to the alcohol excuse, we are now being told that Representative Foley had been sexually abused as a teen by a clergy person. Is that supposed to help us understand lurid emails soliciting teenage pages? Yes, such sexual abuse is soul scarring, if it did happen, but it doesn't explain away or excuse abuse of another generation.

Have you heard any progressive religious leaders in the media talking about the Foley "situation"? But, there was Tony Perkins the head of the Family Research Council on CNN saying that the reason that members of Congress didn't act was "because they would be seen as homophobic or gay bashing." Apparently Newt Gingrich has been saying the same thing.

This IS NOT a story about Congressman Foley's homosexuality. For the record, an attraction to 16 and 17 year olds isn't pedophilia either. In fact, given how teenagers of both genders are held up as the sexual ideal in our culture, it's probably very common. That doesn't mean that adults can morally act upon it.

It is a story of sexual harassment and the abuse of power. As I said yesterday, it is also an abuse of power that the leadership didn't take immediate action to stop it. I wonder if the public would have felt differently if a sixteen year old female page was getting these types of emails from a Congressperson; I would not have.

I have written before about the criteria for a moral ethical sexual relationship -- consent, nonexploitation, honesty, mutual pleasure, and protection. I've also written before that a sexually healthy and moral adult understands that there is a difference between having a sexual feeling and acting upon it -- including emailing about it to someone who by definition is not in a position to consent or not be exploited.

I joined three other progressive faith leaders to in responding to this story on Faith in Public Life. You can listen to the audio at