Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Media Matters -- Just Because Someone Is Labeled "Progressive" Doesn't Mean They Are

Media Matters has just released a study comparing how progressive and conservative religious leaders are covered by the media.

It’s worth reading the whole report, but according to their own press release, the highlights are:

  • Combining newspapers and television, conservative religious leaders we studied were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders between November 3, 2004 -- the day after the 2004 presidential election -- and December 31, 2006.

  • On television news -- the three major television networks, the three major cable channels, and PBS -- conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders.

  • In major newspapers, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed 2.7 times as often as progressive leaders.

But, there is a problem with this analysis. What the report doesn’t tell you – and neither does the press release of this organization that labels itself as progressive – is that 18 of the 20 most quoted religious leaders in America are MEN.

More significantly, the majority of the “progressive religious leaders” are not indeed progressive – at least not when it comes to sexual justice. Of the ten most quoted “progressive” religious leaders, only two are unambiguous and outspoken about their support for reproductive rights and LBGT issues, a few are largely silent, and more than half are actually OPPOSED.

Perhaps Media Matters can be convinced to reanalyze their data – how many more times are anti-choice, anti-LBGT religious leaders covered than those who stand with the majority of Americans in support of these issues? How many more times are MALE religious leaders covered than FEMALE clergy?

These aren’t theoretical issues for us at the Religious Institute. We have worked hard to be included in media stories on these issues, and have often been told that the religious voice has already been covered – by a voice on the right. I once had a producer tell me that they would only use me on a story if they didn’t have to identity me as “Reverend Haffner.” When I asked why, they told me that a woman pro-choice clergyperson would be too confusing to their television audience.

Will this report make a difference to how the media covers religion? Surely the experience until now is not because the press doesn’t know that women religious leaders or religious leaders that support sexual justice exist. But just in case, we’re ready and willing – both to appear as well as suggest dozens of other names to the media when they do these stories.

Let’s see – off the top of my head, there’s also Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes, Rev. Irene Monroe, Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, Rev. Janie Spahr, Dr. Mary Hunt, Rev. Barbara Lundblad, Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlewaite, Rev. Erin Swenson, Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Rabbi Sandy Sasso…and that’s just for starters. Google them – I think you’ll agree.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Marching for Peace on Memorial Day

My son and I ended up marching with the Peace Group at the local Memorial Day parade. The sunflowers around my neck, I was told, represented what could be done with fields that are currently being used to store nuclear weapons.

People along the parade route applauded as we walked by. Well, not everyone, but enough to make us feel that people get it -- that we can support the troupes and persons who have died in the service of their country while still wanting us out of Iraq.

That is until we passed the reviewing stand. The elderly vet announcing each of the groups was at first silent as we walked by. It took a second to realize he wasn't going to announce us. Then, he said, (I swear I'm not making this up), "It's inappropriate to walk for peace in a Memorial Day parade." He added, "Not that I'm making a political statement."

Of course, he was.

But, walking for peace on Memorial Day didn't feel political -- it felt necessary. And honoring of those who had died -- and hopeful that one day we won't be sending young people off to die in countries that don't want us there. In memory and in hope.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Reports of the Death of the Religious Right Are Premature

Rev. Jerry Falwell was buried yesterday -- and according to several media reports in the past week, so too was the influence of the Religious Right on evangelicals. The Washington Post, NPR, Time Magazine, and the NY Times have all run reports on how evangelical leaders are moving from the Religious Right emphasis on sexual issues and moving on to address poverty, Darfur, and even AIDS.

I’m not willing to join the chorus that the days of the Religious Right are over.

Have we forgotten that two months ago a coalition of religious leaders on the right, including James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, and their allies fought Richard Cizik as the head of the National Association on Evangelicals by announcing that the great moral issues of the day were abortion, marriage equality, and abstinence-only-until marriage education?

The fact that they were unsuccessful does not mean that they have gone away or are without clout. Witness the pandering of the Republican presidential candidates to this base.

But moreover , engaging poverty and global warming does not mean that evangelicals and even many other so-called progressive religious leaders are supporting marriage equality (I wish the press would stop using the term same-sex marriage unless they are willing to use other-sex marriage), civil rights for LGBT persons, and the moral agency of women to make decisions about their reproductive lives – or that those who have embraced AIDS as a global issue, are supporting the availability and distribution of condoms to those who are sexually active.

Last month, the Religious Institute convened a meeting of progressive religious leaders who understand the connection of these issues to our religious conviction that sexuality is God’s life fulfilling gift to us all and that all people must have the right to make their own moral and responsible sexual choices.

I support and applaud my religious colleagues who are working on the pressing moral issues of poverty, the war in Iraq, Darfur, immigration, and so on. I wish though that they understood that part of the solution to poverty is improving women’s rights, increasing access to birth control, and assuring safe and legal abortion services. Well-to-do women have always had access to abortion; half a million women around the world die each year from pregnancy related causes, often because they resort to illegal and unsafe abortion procedures. Well-to-do gay men and lesbian women can purchase the legal advice they need for adoptions, health care proxies, insurance policies, and so on – it is poor LGBT people who especially need the rights that marriage and non-discrimination in employment would confer. What will it take for mainstream and soically progressive evangelical leaders to understand and more importantly be willing to articulate the connection between sexual and social justice?

Every time the press and religious leaders relegate these issues as “hot button” issues, they hurt tens if not hundreds of thousands of people here and around the globe. The fact that some continue to do so dramatically illustrates the continued influence of the Religious Right which has made silence – or even condemnation acceptable.

Forgive me if I am not ready to celebrate.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Graduation 2007

I cried in the parking lot when I dropped her off the first day of kindegarten.

I sobbed as I drove home when we left her off freshman year.

And as they handed her the diploma yesterday, I surprised myself by bursting into tears.

Each a step for her in the journey to adulthood...each a step for me in letting go.

It makes sense that graduation is also called commencement. Graduation from college is indeed a new beginning. And new beginnings require courage, determination, and a sense of adventure.

May these new beginning be blessed for all of these graduates -- and their parents and families as well.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Thank you, Clergy Consultation Service

People often ask me if the work we are doing at the Religious Institute, organizing progressive religious leaders who will speak out for sexual justice, is new.

I always answer "no". That it continues a tradition that goes back to the Bible (think of the persons who spoke for the Song being included in the canon), the early church (think of Jovinian and Julian who argued for the virtues of marriage not virginity), think of Martin Luther speaking out against a required celibate clergy.

But, you may not know about Rev. Howard Moody and the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion. Forty years old on May 21st, Rev. Moody organized clergy, first in New York, and then across the country, to provide counseling and support for women with unwanted pregnancies when abortion was illegal.

Their press release, covered in a front page story in the NY Times, read:

“Therefore believing as clergymen that there are higher laws and moral obligations transcending legal codes, we believe that it is our pastoral responsibility and religious duty to give aid and assistance to all women with problem pregnancies. To that end we are establishing a Clergymen’s Consultation Service on Abortion which will include referral to the best available medical advice and aid to women in need.”

Ultimately, according to the Religious Coalition on Reproductive Choice, more than 1400 ministers and rabbis joined the Clergy Service, risking arrest to provide women with the pastoral support and services they needed. Rev. Moody has said that at one point he was offering counseling to women from around the country, six hours a day, five days a week.

Tomorrow, Rev. Moodyand the Consultation Service will be honored at a service at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South, New York, NY from 4 - 6 p.m. I was honored to be asked to be a speaker, but cannot attend because it is my daughter's graduation from college this weekend (more on that on Monday.)

What would I have said? Thank you. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for your commitment to women's lives. Thank you for the risks you took. Thank you for setting the foundation for organizing religious leaders to speak out for sexual justice. Thank you for being the shoulders we stand on.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

You go, Governor!

I'm often glad I'm from Connecticut, partially because of our record on sexual justice issues.

Connecticut, you may remember, brought us Griswold v. Connecticut, forty years ago this June, which led to the Supreme Court deciding that married women had a constitutional right to contraception. Connecticut was the first state to legislate civil unions for same sex couples. I remember several years ago, when I was at SIECUS, that we did a report card on sexual rights in the states, and Connecticut was one of the only states to received an A.

Yesterday, the Governor quietly signed a bill that requires all of the hospitals in Connecticut to offer rape victims PLAN B, emergency contraception. Now, that should be a no brainer, but because of the number of Catholic hospitals in Connecticut, it turns out that rape victims were not offered EC in nearly half of our state's hospitals. That will now have to change.

Catholic clergy lobbied hard against the bill, but the rights of women who are raped prevailed. Women who have been raped should not have to risk pregnancy if they are accidently brought to an emergency room where the provider or hospital opposes contraception. Surely, we can all agree, regardless of our positions on abortion, that pregnancies arising from rape should be prevented.

It's a small step for sexual justice...but it's a step. Now, if we can just convince Governor Rell to sign the marriage equality bill if it reaches her desk.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Rev. Jerry Falwell

I never met him.

And unlike many of the leaders of the Religious Right, he never took me on by name, not when I was at SIECUS and not when I decided to become a minister. We probably disagreed about everything and certainly about areas related to sexual justice. He was anti-feminist, anti-choice, and anti-LGBT equality. For awhile in the early 1980's, I had a bumper sticker that proclaimed, "The Moral Marjority is Neither."

It is hard to be forgiving. I can still hear him blaming pagans, feminists, and gays and lesbians for 9/11. I remember when he refused to have a meal with the people from Soul Force. His latest condemnation of Richard Cizek was featured on my blog...and who can forget the campaign against Tinky Winky?

But, he was an effective religious voice for his beliefs in the public square and a tireless advocate. When I ask audiences to name a religious leader speaking out about sexuality issues, his name has always been first. His commitment to young people through Liberty University was admirable. In addition to his national activities, he continued his pastoral activities at a local church. I'd like to think twenty years from now, I'd leave even ten percent of his legacy in the public arena.

The Religious Institute extends its sympathy to Rev. Falwell's family, his friends, his church, his university -- and yes, his followers. His life was a life well lived.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sex Ed for Grown Up's

This past weekend, I led a workshop called “Sex Ed for Grown Up’s” at my home congregation’s annual retreat. More than thirty people attended, most in their forties and fifties and in long-term relationships, and several privately told me that they were surprised by how much they didn’t know. One said, “I can’t believe that I go to a church where one of our ministers talks so openly and directly about sex! But it’s great!”

The Religious Institute works to help clergy and seminarians speak more openly about sexuality from the pulpit, in adult education, and in the community. We often hear from the more than 3000 leaders who have endorsed the Religious Declaration and Open Letters that they some times feel isolated and alone among their clergy colleagues.

We also hear that they don't feel trained or equipped to preach or educate about sexuality, often having had no professional preparation to do so. That's why I'm so committed to clergy and seminarian education.

As ministers, how can we not be prepared to talk openly and honestly about sexuality, one of God's more precious life fulfilling gifts to us?

When was the last time you heard a minister talk about sex? Would you be willing to talk to your clergyperson with a sexual problem or concern? Does your church offer sex education for adults? Let us know!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

The first Sunday I ever went to a Unitarian Church was on Mother's Day, 1987. We were searching for a religious community that would support an interfaith couple with a small child.

The Reverend Bill Murray was preaching about "Gaia, the Earth Mother." The music included Holly Near and Chris Williamson. I felt at home immediately.

It took my husband a little longer.

That's not the only intersection between my faith and Mother's Day. Did you know that Julia Ward Howe, a Unitarian, called for the first Mother's Day in 1870? It was an attempt to organize women around the world to advocate for peace. It's a good reminder about what is still needed today.

My ministry in the world is very tied to motherhood. The Religious Institute advocates for safe motherhood for all women, intentional parenting, and the right to choose when and whether to become a parent at all. My books for parents emphasize the foundational role we play in our homes in raising sexually healthy children and teenagers.

Of course, like so many of the women reading my blog, motherhood is also deeply personal. I am grateful to my own mother for her support, guidance, and encouragement, and that we still get to hang out together. I loved that she came with me to the movie premiere earlier this week.

Of all the wonderful blessings in my life, it is my children that are the most central to my being. They are my teachers, my guides, my inspiration, and the loves of my life.
Happy Mother's Day to you all!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Georgia Rule

Ministry takes me to many wonderful places. Last night, I had the privilege of being at the premiere of the new movie, "Georgia Rule", starring Jane Fonda, Felicity Hoffman, and Lindsay Lohan.

Each of their performances is stunning. (As are they are...what a treat to see them all at the premiere last night.)

But, more importantly, the film is the first movie that I know that deals honestly with the issues of adolescent familial sexual abuse. The buzz around the movie has been about Lindsay Lohan's continuing "bad girl" behavior on and off the set; how much more important it would be if the reviewers and the press addressed the central issue of the film.

Lindsay plays Rachel, who was sexually abused by her mother's husband for two years from twelve to fourteen. Her own promiscuity and her confusion about her sexuality stem from the abuse. Her mother struggles with whether to believe her or believe her husband.
Rachel represents the MORE THAN HALF A MILLION children and adolescents who are sexually abused each year. In the case of girls, it's most likely done by a family member or close family friend. In 90 percent of the cases, abuse is committed by someone the child knows well.

Go see this movie. Bring your teenage children. Talk about it. More importantly, educate your children and yourself about sexual abuse prevention. Make sure your faith community does so as well.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Today's Scripture Lesson

Sometimes when I have been in debates with people on the right, I've wondered how it is that we are both turning to Scripture for inspiration or both serve God with confidence in our calling. I have been known to quip that perhaps all we are proving is that God has a sense of humor.

This weekend at The Interfaith Alliance annual conference, I heard Rev. Dr. James Ryan of the Colorado Council of Churches talked about the differences between "Ten Commandment Christians" and "Sermon on the Mount" Christians." The Christians in audience got the distinction immediately.

It's the difference between a rule or act centered morality or a morality based in justice and right relations. Both are present in the Bible, but the emphasis is really quite different. The Religious Institute, the organization I direct, calls for a sexual ethic based on relationships not individual sexual acts.

I started to play with his analogy and would love your thoughts. Might the Jewish version be "Ten Commandment Jews" or "Wisdom Literature Jews?" Or on sexual ethics, "Leviticus and Romans" sexual moralists or "Song of Songs" theologians? What other Biblical contrasts make sense to you?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Speaking Out

I'm just back from The Interfaith Alliance National Leadership Gathering in Denver, Colorado. I led a workshop for TIA folks from around the United States on how and why sexual justice issues should be part of their interfaith work.

I am pleased to report that despite Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar's (pictured on the left) exhortation to the group in his plenary speech to put what he called "personal piety issues" to the side as being potentially divisive , the folks I talked to understood that sexual justice must be part of a progressive interfaith agenda. In fact, many of them were surprised and even angry to learn that when Rev. Edgar, of the National Council of Churches of Christ, said put aside "personal piety issues" he meant them to not discuss reproductive justice and GLBTQQIA rights.

But, I am pleased to report that Rev. Welton Gaddy, President of TIA, (pictured on the right) had no such hesitancy to embrace these issues in his addresses. From the rally we did on hate crimes on the steps of the Denver city office building to his state of belief presentation at Saturday's lunch, he freely talked about the rights of lesbian, gay, and transgender persons and women's rights, including women's moral agency. It was great to hear this Baptist minister "get" that sexual justice is part of social justice.

More on some of my learnings from the conference tomorrow

Friday, May 04, 2007

Father McGreevey?

Former Governor of Jim McGreevey's office released two press releases this week: his wife knew he was gay before she married and he is entering General Theological Seminary in the fall.

Somehow both of those ring false to me.

I've known and worked with too many women over the years who have only found out their husbands are gay when they finally have the courage to tell them (and in McGreevey's case, the whole world at a press conference.) The fact that his sexual orientation is being used as a pawn in their custody battle is wrong, but the "she knew it already" defense seems like a poor one.

As for the seminary? I can only say that I hope your call is real, unrelenting, and grounded in a desire to serve God in a new way -- and not a search for some place to hide. My usual counsel to people who ask me about seminary is don't go unless you have to...

Seminary education and the move to ministry was the hardest thing I have ever done, Mr. McGreevey. It is intellectually demanding, but more it asks you to examine every aspect of your faith, your understanding of your purpose in life, and it rigorously challenges how you think about yourself in the world.

I pray that you are sincere and ready. (And since you'll be in New York, perhaps you will want to take my course on "Sexuality Issues for Religious Professionals" at Union Theological Seminary the next time it's offered. It might be a good way to understand more of your journey.)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Hate Crimes Passes 237 - 180!

The first fully inclusive bill recognizing hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender folks passed the House of Representatives by a significant margin this afternoon!

On to the Senate...and time to let your Senator know that you expect them to support this legislation! The folks on the right are surely making their calls and sending their emails -- won't you send your's?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Speak Out Against Hate Crimes

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Bill. Now, such an Act already exists for hate crimes related to race, religion and sex, but it does not include support for local law enforcement agencies to investigate hate crimes related to disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

This should be a no-brainer vote.

It won't be because the radical right (I just cannot bear to label them as the "religious" right any longer) is lobbying heavily against it. For example, here's some of what the Family Research Council says on its web site, labeling the bill the "Thought Crime" bill:

Whereas one purpose of so-called "hate crimes" laws is to increase punishment for the thoughts a person may have been having while committing a crime, meaning such laws are really thought crimes laws, and;Whereas increasing punishment for a criminal's thoughts could quickly be expanded to outlawing the expression of other thoughts that liberal legislators and activist judges, under pressure from homosexual activists, list as "hateful," including sincere religious convictions and Bible-based moral values such as opposition to homosexual behavior, and...

But, that's not what the bill says at's not about what people think or what they say, it's about what happens when they commit physical violence against people because they are disabled, gay or lesbian, or transgender.

The radical right has nothing to fear from this bill unless they or their supporters commit physical violence against people because of their orientation or identity.

You can help make sure that your Representative understands the difference. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 203-224-3121, give them your zip code, and leave a message to vote yes.

Hate is not a moral value.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Time to Speak

On Monday, the Religious Institute brought together an outstanding group of religious leaders who are committed to full inclusion of women and LGBT persons in the life of the faith community and society at large, comprehensive lifespan sexuality education, and a faith based commitment to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment.

They included Rev. Steven Baines, People for the American Way; Rev. Ignacio Castuera,
National Chaplain, Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Rev. Steve Clapp, Christian Community; Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield, American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago; Ann L. Hanson, United Church of Christ; Rev. Cedric Harmon, Americans United; Rev. Dr. Joseph Hough, Union Theological Seminary; Rev. Jennifer Kottler, Protestants for the Common Good; Harry Knox, Faith and Religion Program,Human Rights Campaign; Rev. Peter Laarman, Progressive Christians Uniting; Rev. Meg Riley, Unitarian Universalist Association; Dr. Sylvia Rhue, National Black Justice Coalition; and Rev. John Selders, Amistad United Church of Christ.

The meeting was off the record, so that participants could be forthright and candid and so we could develop strategies together. But, at the end of the day, we agreed that there were overarching messages from the meeting that could be shared. We agreed that progressive religious leaders can no longer be allowed to distance themselves from sexual justice issues and call themselves progressive or prophetic. That we would individually and collectively call on our more reluctant colleagues to understand that racism, poverty, sexism, and homophobia are interconnected and that as progressive religious leaders, we must address them all. That we would call out our colleagues who, at best distance themselves from sexual justice and, at worst dismiss these issues as unimportant – and be willing to take them on publicly for turning their back on the sexual and reproductive rights of women and LGBTQQI people.

So much more happened at the meeting that I cannot share – but I am grateful beyond words to each of the participants for their brilliance, their motivation, and their inspiration. There is more we can and must do – stay tuned.