Thursday, March 30, 2006

Criteria for a Moral Sexual Relationship

At my talk at Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, I outlined my five criteria for a moral sexual relationship in response to a question. The Religious Declaration calls for a new sexual ethic based on personal relationships and social justice, not specific sexual acts, but that can be hard to operationalize.

And so I've developed these five criteria, that I suggest people remember as CUHMP or "Can you have my pleasure?" I teach them at schools, colleges, churches, and nursing homes.

I believe that a moral sexual relationship is:


Non-Exploitative (that's where the U comes in, for Not Using)


Mutually Pleasurable

Protected (against pregnancy and disease if any type of intercourse is to occur.)

And then I ask audiences what they need to know to assure that these criteria are met. The most typical answers are Time, Communication, and Shared Values.

These criteria apply if you are 18 or 45 or 85, if you are gay, straight, or bisexual, if you are married or single. The question to ask you today is "Do they apply to you?"


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Good News From the South!

Last night, I gave the annual Margaret Cuninggim Lecture to a full auditorium of students, faculty, and staff at Vanderbilt University. I was a bit hesitant about accepting the invitation because my talks about sexuality and religion haven’t always gone well in the South. At a talk a year ago in Georgia, the first questioner said something like, “I don’t know what kind of minister you are, I don’t know what Bible you read, and I don’t know what church would hire you. I’ve never been so offended in my whole life.” A woman followed me into the elevator after that talk demanding to know if I had been saved.

Well, I am happy to report that this talk was warmly received. I told them I was there to talk about the “gospel of sexuality and religion.” As you know, the word gospel literally means the good news, and I shared with them the good news about the growing religious movement to affirm sexuality as a life fulfilling gift and the progress we are making on affirming sexual justice in faith communities. I told the organizers afterwards that I felt a little of my “southaphobia” (the irrational fear that New Englanders and New Yorkers feel about going to the south) ease away.

It also helped going into the speech to know that on Monday night, the Mississippi legislature had defeated a bill to outlaw abortion in the state. Emboldened by South Dakota (see posts below), Mississippi and eight other states introduced abortion bans. We can have successes, even in the South!

I return to Connecticut feeling re-energized. When 150 people in Tennessee respond positively to a message of sexual justice and Mississippi legislators resist the pressure to roll back women’s rights, I find hope. The vase on my desk of newly cut daffodils from my yard helps that feeling of rebirth!

MEDIA ALERT: I will be a featured commentator on "State of Belief" on Air America this Sunday at 5 p.m. Eastern time. On Monday, you can check their web site to hear the show. It’s also available at the itunes music store.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Television Networks Reject UCC Ads Again -- Speak Out!

The United Church of Christ is one of the most forward thinking denominations on sexual justice, and they need your help TODAY.

You may remember that last year they produced these great tv ads welcoming all kinds of people to their faith communities and that all of the networks rejected it. Well, it has happened again. They released new ads today (that you can see at their web site) and ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and the WB network have refused to run them. Now, to be clear, the UCC wants to pay for these ads; they are not public service announcements, and the networks won't take their money. They say they are too controversial, presumably because they offer welcome to gays and lesbians. Yet, these same networks think nothing of continuing to provide forums on their news shows to religious right leaders while ignoring progressive religious voices.

They have a new petition to the networks and they are seeking signatures. Do it now, while you are thinking about it. It took me less than a minute. Consider it your mitzvah for today.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

New Poll Shows People of Faith Support Sexual Rights -- Today's Good News!

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "The arc of the universe bends to moral justice."

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found most Americans disapprove of the South Dakota abortion ban and demonstrate increasing support for gay and lesbian rights. Strong opposition to gay marriage has fallen to a new low of 33% compared to 58% before the 2004 elections, and 60% of the American public now favors gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. Almost half of Americans now favor adoptions by gay people, up significantly since 1999.

And we're happy to report that people of faith support these principles. According to the report, "White Catholics and non-evangelical Protestants are half as likely to strongly oppose gay marriage today as they were in 2004", and only 56% of white evangelicals strongly oppose marriage equality, down 9% in one year. A majority of White and Black Protestants and Catholics oppose South Dakota's draconian abortion ban becoming a national model, as do one third of White evangelicals.

Despite what press reports and the Religious Right would have us believe, people of faith support sexual justice. It makes me think of that old bumper sticker, "The Moral Majority is Neither."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A lighter look at sexuality

I'm tired of being upset by events in the world this week, and I did a eulogy at a funeral today. So, I thought I'd end this week with a lighter note.

Let me introduce you to the Story People by Brian Andreas. He's a wonderful artist and story teller, and every day you can get a "Story of the Day" delivered to your inbox.

This week, they sent this story:

I read somewhere that if given a choice between sex and peace of mind, she said, most people would choose peace. Personally, I said, I do fine with a little anxiety.

Kudos to him for celebrating the joy of sexuality. You can receive a story in your inbox each day at Of course, you can receive this blog in your inbox each day too! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

March Madness Redux

Actually, I'm not talking about basketball. I'm talking about the craziness that is going on in state legislatures this March on sexual rights. Legislatures in 11 states are debating bans on abortions and in 9 states, they are debabating adoptions by gay people.

In my home state of Connecticut this week, the Public Health Committee let a bill die that would have required hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. That's right, in Connecticut, a hospital has the right to not offer medical support to women who have been raped who don't want to carry their rapist's child. What's also distressing is that following pressure from the Catholic church, the committee didn't even begin discussing the scheduled bill until 15 minutes before the deadline for reporting it out of committee. Surely we can expect more serious consideration of the lives and well being of women than that. Surely as people of faith, we must join together to speak out against this madness.

Oh, and on basketball...Go Huskies!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Bible and Marriage

Perhaps you have had this story circulating on the Internet forwarded to you:

On Wednesday, March 1st, 2006, in Annapolis (MARYLAND) at a hearing on the proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Jamie Raskin, professor of law at AU, was requested to testify. At the end of his testimony, Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs said: "Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?" Raskin replied: "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible." The room erupted into applause.

I applaud Professor Raskin's turn of a phrase. But, he also could have challenged her notion of what her Bible says about marriage. He could have asked her "What about Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar? Or Isaac, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah? Or Solomon and his hundreds of wives of concubines? Or New Testament prohibitions against divorce or advice to wives to be subservient to their husbands?"

The fact is that although Scripture offers many biblical models for blessed relationships, we cannot rely exclusively on Scripture for understanding marriage today. Indeed, Scripture neither commends a single marriage model nor commands all to marry, but rather calls for love and justice in all relationships.

For a theological framework for marriage equality, visit and view the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality.

Monday, March 20, 2006


I spoke to a group of faculty and students today at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. My original career training was in public health, and twenty five years ago, I probably would have shared the skepticism that some brought to this session with an ordained minister. I talked with them about why public health programs, including sexual and reproductive health programs, should see faith communities as important partners.

I introduced them to a word I created a few years ago, "religiophobia", the fear of religion that often characterizes the attitude of people working in the sexual health and rights field. Now, unlike homophobia or gynephobia, that fear may not be irrational. Many of the people working in sexual rights have had negative experiences concerning their sexuality in faith communities, and many are bone weary of fighting the Religious Right.

Yet, as I shared with them, there are many major mainstream religious denominations that support sexuality education, abortion rights, and marriage equality and tens of thousands of religious leaders who are working for sexual justice.

Their response was cautious but enthusiastic. And as often happens, a few people stopped at the end of the program to ask me for information about how they might find a faith community that addresses these issues. I guess you could call me an evangelical!

PS If you'd like a copy of today's powerpoint on "Reaching Out to Faith Communities" drop us an email.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sex in the Bible -- the Really Good News!

I preached this morning at a church in White Plains, NY on sexuality and religion, and I used Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as my text. These two chapters set the stage for the very positive sexuality messages that you can find in Scripture.

In the first chapter of Genesis, it says, God created “humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female, He created them.” The very first commandment that God offers these new humans: “be fruitful and multiply.” In other words, GO HAVE SEX. And then God surveying his humans, declares "it was very good."

In Genesis 2, God is displeased for the first time because God recognizes that “it is not good for man to be alone” and sets out to find Adam a companion. God brings each of the animals forward to Adam, and suggests it as a companion. Adam rejects them all. It is only then that God puts Adam to sleep to create woman. The centrality of sexuality is emphasized in the last line of the chapter: “Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” The goal of union in Genesis 2 is sexual pleasure; procreation is not mentioned in this account of creation.

Side by side, the two first texts of the Bible emphasize the equality of men and women, recognize that we need companions and helpers in life, affirm sexuality as both procreative and re-creative, teach that our bodies are good and shame is bad, and tell us that God is pleased to offer this gift. Really -- read it for yourself!

Stay tuned for more about what the Bible really says about sexuality.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Ministry and Sex Therapy

I'm just back from the meeting of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research annual meetings. It may not surprise you that I was one of only two ministers at the meeting. But given the high incidence of sexual dysfunctions Americans face -- did you know that one in three men and four in ten women report some problem in their sex life in the past year? -- and the low number of people seeking help from therapists and doctors, it seems to me that clergy are ideally positioned to help people with their sexual and relationship issues. How many people in our congregations must struggle with sexual issues that clergy are reluctant or ill prepared to address. If sexuality is one of God's most life giving and life fulling gifts, shouldn't we have the information and skills to celebrate it with holiness and integrity?

If you are looking for a certified sex therapist, check out the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists. If you'd like to learn of a sex positive clergy person in your area, leave me a comment here or at our website.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Keeping Children Safe in Faith Communities

Everyone knows the stories of child molestation in the Catholic Church, but the reality is that children are abused in congregations of all denominations. And too few churches, synagogues and mosques have actively considered how to keep children safe.

Today, I worked with a group of ten ministers from congregations in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania on developing policies to protect children and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse and harassment and to determine under what circumstances, if any, a convicted or confused sex offender can be involved in the congregation. The workshop was based on my books Balancing Acts and A Time to Heal: Protecting Children and Ministering to Sex Offenders.

I'm always a little surprised how many myths people have about child sexual abuse. The culture emphasizes stranger danger, when the reality is that 9 in 10 children who are abused know the abuser well; in the case of girls, it's most likely an adult male who is a family friend - for boys, in 45% of the cases it's a teenage girl. And most of these ministers, like most people in the general public, vastly overestimate the number of people who will reoffend. According to a Department of Justice report of 61 studies, less than 13% of offenders who have received treatment will reoffend. Congregations can provide people with a community of support and accountability if they are willing to limit their involvement to adult worship and adult education and sign a written agreement.

Every faith community has an obligation to make a commitment to keep children safe -- from the person who is know to have a history of molesting children and from those whose sexual attraction to children is unknown to anyone but themselves. Half a million children are sexually abused each year -- faith based communities must begin to play a greater role in prevention of this social and public health crisis.

PS I will be at conferences the next three days, and won't be posting new entries until Monday. But, why not go to our web site and read our latest newsletter?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Taking care of the orphan

The Washington Post ran an article in Sunday's paper titled, "Why Courts Are Adopting Gay Parenting", detailing the latest assault on sexual minorities: attempts in nine states to ban adoptions by people who are gay or lesbian.

There are nearly three quarters of a million children in the United States waiting to be adopted or in foster care. Those working for these adoption bans irresponsibly and inaccurately claim that children are hurt by living with two same sex parents, and therefore, children will remain within the foster care system rather than go to loving families, where the adults happen to be gay. They say they are acting out of their religious beliefs.

Scripture calls us to take care of the widow and the orphan in dozens of passages; for example, Exodus 22:21 says, "You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan." So, here's my proposal to the religous right on this one: before you can gather one more name on your petitions to ban adoptions by a gay person, file to adopt a child. Become a foster parent. Make sure that every child in this country has a home. Then, and only then, can you begin to acting morally.

P.S. Let's nip the use of the term "gay parenting" in the bud. I don't do "straight parenting." Parents who are gay and lesbian don't "gay parent"; they parent with love and struggles, just like the rest of us. Who we are sexually attracted to or involved with doesn't really enter into it.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The White House war on science

I have a love/hate relationship with The New Yorker. I love "The Talk of the Town", rush to read the cartoons, and even enjoy the clever ads. But, I often don't have time to do more than skim the articles which almost always seem to me about four pages too long, and they have a tendency to pile up in our living room, a reminder of how little time I really have after motherhood, writing, and ministry.

But, I want to encourage you to try to read every word in Michael Specter's article in the March 13, 2006 issue, "The White House vs. the laboratory." It is a thoughtful, well researched article on the Bush administration's war on science, particularly science around contraception, emergency contraception, effective sexuality education programs, and stem cell research. He writes that this administration is vehemently and boldly opposed to "any drug, vaccine, or initiative that could be interpreted as lessening the risks associated with premarital sex."

Specter in part says this is the result of religous influences in the White House. What he does not include in this otherwise excellent article are progressive religious voices decrying the politicalization of science. There is nothing moral or ethical or religious about denying information about condoms and other contraception, withholding drugs that should be approved, and restricting research that can save lives.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

So, how come they left off sex?

Yesterday's New York Times had a full page ad from a group I hadn't heard of, The Campaign to Defend the Constitution. In case you didn't see it, the ad featured pictures of Ralph Reed, Louis Sheldon, and James Dobson, and says that they are "knee deep in the muck of the Jack Abramoff scandal." The ad is headlined, "These Religious Leaders Have A Serious Gambling Problem."

Now, I'm delighted that this organization has the tens of thousands of dollars needed to pay for a NY Times ad to oppose the religious right. But I'm concerned that the ad, in discussing these leaders work "to intrude in our personal lives", mention only the Terry Schiavo case and stem cell research. How is it that they decided not to include these leaders' concerted campaigns against comprehensive sexuality education, abortion rights, civil and religious rights for sexual minorities, emergency contraception, vaccine development, and so on?

Could it be that they were advised that sexual justice issues might be too controversial for NY Times readers whereas stem cell and right-to-die are not? The omission is even more curious because the email that they are asking you to send mentions both abortion and gay rights.

Breaking the silence about sexuality and advocating for sexual justice in the public square is a core part of the mission of the Religious Institute. Defcon, if you are brave enough to launch this campaign, surely you can be courageous enough to stand in your ads against the Religious Right's attacks on sexual rights.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Today is International Women's Day

My daughter in Hanoi told me this morning that International Women's Day in Viet Nam was a major holiday. I wonder if most U.S.-based people reading this even know that March 8 is International Women's Day.

This stunning photo dramatically illustrates that around the world pregnancy is still a leading cause of women's mortality. Yet, the Bush administration has just proposed sweeping cuts to family planning programs in its 2007 budget.

Today, a group of religious leaders will be holding a worship service in Washington, D.C. to commemorate International Women's Day. You can join their call for adequate funding for global women's health by supporting the Focus on Female Health Worldwide Act. And you can join our call for full inclusion of women in the world's religions, a goal we have yet to meet.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Rest in peace, Dana Reeves

One of the challenges of being a new blogger is choosing what to write about. I could write today about the governor of South Dakota signing the law to make abortion illegal or the article in the New York Times about gay/straight marriages.

But, I've spent the day thinking about Dana Reeves untimely death at 44 last night. Dana and Christopher Reeves were members of my church, the Unitarian Church in Westport. My colleague and senior minister, Frank Hall, visited with Dana regularly this past year. She inspired us with her courage, her fortitude, her devotion to her husband after the accident. They both spoke eloquently about what finding Unitarian Universalism meant to them.

I only met her a few times but I feel myself grieving today. And I am reminded, again, that we should never ever envy those with celebrity or money or privilege; that life can change in the instant of a medical diagnosis or an accident; that this life is not a dress rehearsal and we must each live as well as we can each day; that we are called to love, really love each other. May today be such a day.

Monday, March 06, 2006

It's hard to be a....

If you've read either of my books for parents, you know that I suggest parents use "teachable moments" to bring up sexuality issues with children and to introduce their own family values.

Tonight, my twelve year old son and I were in the car, listening to "Marketplace" on NPR. First, they covered today's Supreme Court decision to require law schools to allow military recruiters on campus if they wanted to receive any federal funding, regardless of their opposition to the "don't ask, don't tell policy." The interviewer said the story was about "homosexuals in uniform" and "avowed homosexuals." Greg had no idea that they meant soldiers (and I had images of gay pride parades) and we talked about whether there were "avowed heterosexuals." The next story was on the Governor of South Dakota signing the abortion ban (see story below.)

And then there was the story about last night's Oscar for best song, "It's hard to be a pimp." As the catchy song played in the background, I asked Greg if he knew what a pimp was. He did. And then I talked about my concern about hip hop's misogynist lyrics and how sex workers were often abused by the men refered to in the song.

As we got out of the car, I realized we were both humming the tune. "Honey," I said. "I really don't want those lyrics in our heads." We decided to change the words into an animal rights refrain, "It's hard to be a chimp."

Parents some times tell me they have a hard time finding teachable moments; next time, I'll tell them to listen to NPR.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

And the winner is...

It doesn't really matter who the winners will be. What's important to me is that so many of the films nominated for tonight's Oscars celebrate sexual diversity. The Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing callls for full inclusion of sexual minorities in congregational life and in society at large. It's easy to get discouraged by denominational struggles over if and how to include gays and lesbians in the life of the church. This June at least three Protestant denominations will be voting on reports on sexual orientation at their General Assemblies. But while the churches struggle, society is changing. It's hard to imagine even five years ago that the Academy Awards would feature loving films about lifelong love between two men and the struggles of an M to F transsexual or that so many straight A list actors would be willing to portray GLBT people. It felt brave when Tom Hanks played a person with AIDS in Philadelphia; if not quite commonplace, this year's stunning performances seem less so. Yes, I'm routing for Felicity Huffman and Brokeback Mountain, but those are artistic choices not political ones.

Friday, March 03, 2006

So what would God want in a new town?

My husband just forwarded me a news story from CNN. It seems that Domino Pizza's founder Thomas S. Monaghan is investing $250 million to build a town in Florida where there will be no birth control, no abortion providers, no sexual content on television, and no racy magazines in stores. He says that it is "God's will?"

They are building a megachurch in the center of the town with what is being said to be the world's largest crucifix. I wonder about their plans for schools, day care centers, health facilities, libraries, senior citizen centers, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. Oh, they don't have them yet....

It's hard to take seriously that Mr. Monaghan thinks that God's will is about policing a town's sex lives...rather than taking care of the most vulnerable, most needy among us. Think what $250 million might provide in services to those in need.

Want to do something? Make a commitment to never buy Domino's again.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Love the enemy?

I'm just returning from Concord, MA, where I led two sessions for parents on talking to their children and teenagers about sexuality, based on my books, "From Diapers to Dating" and "Beyond the Big Talk." More than 150 parents attended and based on book sales and conversations after the talks, the talks were very well received.

I generally talk for about 45 minutes and then answer questions for 45 minutes. Most of the questions are parents presenting real life situations and seeking advice and counsel. But some times people have other agendas. Last night, one older woman asked my opinion of gay/straight alliances at schools, saying that she thought they lured kids into being gay who might otherwise not be.

This morning, another woman said, "So, you think kindergarteners should be taught about condoms in school?" I answered, "No, perhaps you misunderstood when I said that if a small child picks up a condom in your bedroom and says what's this, you should just answer simply, "it's a condom". But, what small children can understand is that every child should be loved and wanted and that people can decide the number of children they want to have." "Oh," she replied, "you want us to talk to five year olds about condoms." I quietly asked the group if that's what they heard me say...they responded it was not. And then I quietly told her I wouldn't let her put words in my mouth, and that there was a difference between a parent answering a child's question and the school curriculum.

So, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see a letter to the editor in the Concord Journal taking on the parent coalition for bringing me to Concord. The letter said, among other things, "advocates for child sexual perversion have no place in our community."

The sex education advocate part of me responds with fury and hurt. How dare they label my work this way? And the minister part of me responds, "love thine enemy, love thine enemy, love thine enemy." I take a deep breath and wonder at how these women had their sexuality so broken that they couldn't hear my message that every parent needs to give their children THEIR values about sexuality and that parents must step up to their responsibility to educate their own children about these issues. LOVE THEM...but also make sure that the real story of my message to the parents of Concord is told.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Three Quarters in Poll Support Adoption by Same Sex Couples

In my first career, I was trained as a public health professional, and so I know the difference between good research and convenience samples. I know that Internet polls don't really tell us anything, but which group is more organized about getting the word out to its constituency to vote.

Still, I felt heartened to vote and see the results in a USA Today poll this morning about adoption by same sex couples. 73% of the people who've taken the poll support such adoption, despite the numerous states that are trying to legislate bans against it. Now, I suppose it's possible that folks on the right just haven't heard about this poll, but isn't it more optimistic to think that the American public understands that "love makes a family" and that sexual orientation doesn't have anything to do with good parenting? If you want to weigh in, take a minute to answer the poll question!

I've just replaced my 10 year old car with a new car and I've been debating whether to put my favorite bumper sticker on it's pristine back bumper. It's from the Unitarian Universalist Association, and it says, "We are all family and We all have value." I think I have to!