Tuesday, February 28, 2006

How About Those Who Are Already Born?

Yesterday, at a Vatican sponsored conference, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed that embryos are "sacred and inviolable" even before implementation in a woman's uterus. He set the stage for discussions against in vitro procedures, stem cell research, and emergency contraception, and for calls for embryo adoptions.

We all know that there are deep religious differences on the question of when life begins, and I can't object to the Pope clarifying the Vatican position. But, why haven't we heard from this Pope on taking care of the world's children who have already been born? Why haven't we heard Vatican announcements on what we can do for the children of Darfur, the Sudan, Southeast Asia and so on? Why has this Pope still not addressed the soul scarring effects of those children who were sexually abused by priests and why has he refused to meet with its survivors?

A few weeks ago, I preached on "Love" and talked about the Pope's new encyclical on love and charity. Although surprisingly affirming of sexual love, I wondered if it was setting the foundation for future statements against contraception, women's rights, and GLBT people. Yesterday, we learned the beginning of the answer.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Insights from my trip to Hanoi

This picture was taken when I was in Viet Nam last week, visiting my daughter who is studying in Hanoi this semester and conducting research with two economics professors on the basket women and the informal economic sector. That's me, kneeling in the front row in the black and the blue shirt. Alyssa is in the back in the red. The other women are from the World Health Organization, Family Health International, Pathfinder, TamsubanTre (a hotline about sexuality for teens in Viet Nam), the Institute for Social Development Studies, and the Consultation of Investment in Health Promotion.

I gave an informal talk on my work helping sexual and reproductive health organizations in the United States reach out to faith communities, and we had a lively discussion about whether this might apply to their work in Viet Nam. Religion plays a very different role in Viet Nam than it does in the U.S., and it coexists uneasily with the government. Pagodas are every where, with a mixed display of Buddhist, Hindu, Daoist, Confucian, and native iconography. Almost everyone practices ancestor worship rituals for departed relatives, and one goes to the pagoda and temple to ask for heavenly assistance on health, jobs, children and so on. Although the Vietnamese government guarentees freedom of religion, the SRH people I spoke to shared that they were concerned how the government might respond if moral and religious issues were raised with women in their programs.

And yet, there was a surprising openness about sexuality issues. While I was there, the party newspaper reported that abortion rates had been declining. Family planning billboards dotted the countryside. A museum display in Hanoi included at least twenty very erotic statues. The Women's Museum celebrated the Viet Nam delegation to the Beijing conference. The NGO's are beginning efforts aimed at teenagers. Population growth rates have stabilized, although HIV rates continue to increase.

I went to Viet Nam to visit my daughter; I left with renewed appreciation of how important culture is in definining sexuality and religion. Now, I just need to stop worrying about the potential for bird flu and motorbike accidents.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

I had a long talk with my friend Peter yesterday. Peter is an ob/gyn in Minnesota, and for years now, he has flown to South Dakota once a week in a small plane to offer abortion services at the Planned Parenthood clinic there. A few days ago, the South Dakota legislature passed a ban against abortion, and it is expected that the governor will sign it. The law is almost certain to, in the words of the New York Times, "reach a remade, more receptive United States Supreme Court."

If implemented, the law will make Peter a criminal if he continues to provide women with medical services. His young adult son calls it the "return of the coat hanger law."

You've heard people say that we need to work to reduce the numbers of abortions. As Rabbi Arthur Waskow reminded me, South Dakota's strategy will only limit the number of legal abortions, because surely women will continue to seek out illegal ones. In his words, "like the one that killed my grandmother in 1914. She had already birthed five young boys, including my father, and evidently hoped to be able to concentrate her energy on raising them. Because abortions were illegal, instead she was unable to raise any of them — and her absence shadowed my father’s life till his dying day."

Actually, the only moral response is to work to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. It is precisely because life is sacred that we need to make sure it isn't created carelessly. Rather than implementing draconian laws and restrictions, shouldn't we all be working to assure that men and women have the sexuality information and contraceptive services they need so that all pregnancies are created with intention and love?

On a lighter note, I asked my 12 year old son if he had started reading my blogs to know what I am thinking about things. He answered, "Mom, that's what dinner is for!" I'm off to join my family for Sunday dinner now.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Welcome to my new blog at blogspot!

Welcome to my new blog! I began a blog on another hosting site and within the past week, I found that I had been forced to advertise online ordinations and anti-choice counseling services. So, I'm switching to blog spot, and they promise no advertising, unless I approve it in advance.

Several of my colleagues have asked me if there is enough to post on sexuality and religion in an almost daily blog. Let's see -- during the past week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case outlawing late term abortions and South Dakota passed a law outlawing most abortions. You may want to visit our web site www.religiousinstitute.org and read our Open Letter on Abortion as a Moral Decision. The Department of Health and Human Services settled out of court to stop funding "The Silver Ring Thing", an overtly religious program that teaches young people that God wants them to be abstinent until marriage. An Ohio legislator, tongue surely in cheek, proposed a bill to ban Republicans from the right to adopt children, a response to those would keep gay people from having abortions.

And in my own life, I preached on love and sexuality this past Sunday at the Unitarian Church in Westport (I'll post the link to that sermon as soon as it's up), saw "TransAmerica", taught a class on sexuality and the Bible at my seminary class at the Yale Divinity School, and I recovered from jet lag from my visit to my daughter in Hanoi.

So, yes, I have plenty to write about -- and I hope you'll check in often!