Friday, September 28, 2007

Week End Good News! Hate Crimes Prevention Bill Passes

Looking beyond the Episcopal Bishops, it was a good week for sexual rights.

The Bishops in Connecticut decided that Plan B (emergency contraception) can be distributed in Catholic hospitals (a day ahead of the law telling them it had to be offered.)

Verizon changed its policy decision about allowing NARAL, a pro-choice group, to use its text messaging system.

And most importantly, the Senate passed the Hate Crimes Bill by a large margin early today.

My colleague Harry Knox over at HRC sent out the following message:

The Mathew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed today by a vote of 60 to 39 in the Senate, an excellent margin! This is a huge victory for the LGBT community and for people of faith who believe that no one ought to live in fear because of who they are.

I believe to the bottom of my soul that we got this far because of the work of the faith community. Senator Kennedy’s office seems to think so as well. We got a frantic e-mail from our legislative team last night to help find scriptural passages in support of Hate Crimes and on the Senate Floor today Kennedy brought up the clergy sign-on letter for Hate Crimes that many of you signed. He also quoted from the letter on the floor.

All the work leading up to this day from the Clergy Call for Justice and Equality in April, to the letters, and sermons, and post cards, and phone calls, and editorials, and even the informal conversations you had in the hallways made this day possible. We are grateful beyond words to be in the company of such fine people.

Me too...and all of you who are working for sexual justice on so many fronts. Celebrate yourselves this weekend.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Episcopal Bishops Leave Us Nothing to Celebrate

I'm just back from the National Religious Leaders Roundtable meeting in Washington, D.C., an organization sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. We are a diverse group of religious leaders supporting full equality and full inclusion of LGBT persons in society and in the life of the church.

I'm proud to be an elected member of the Steering Committee, and leave these meetings with a renewed sense of excitement and purpose about this part of my ministry. I'm grateful to Phil Soucy from Lutherans Concerned who suggested using "Advocates" instead of "Allies" as the "A" in LGBTQQIA in response to the issues I raised here a few weeks ago.

How sad it was then to read about the decision by the Episcopal Bishops in this morning's New York Times. Here's what it said:

In a voice vote, all but one bishop supported a resolution, called “A Response to Questions and Concerns Raised by Our Anglican Communion Partners.” Several conservative bishops who are considering leaving the Episcopal Church were not in attendance. The resolution affirmed the status quo of the Episcopal Church, both theological conservatives and liberals said.

It states, for example, that it “reconfirms” a call to bishops “to exercise restraint” by not consenting to the consecration of a partnered gay bishop. It also says the bishops promise not to authorize “any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions.” Still, some bishops allow such blessings to occur in their dioceses.

Both positions have been stated in past meetings of the governing body of the church, the General Convention.

In other words, they did not renounce their previous decision to elect Gene Robinson Bishop, but surely did not move further to fully include lesbian and gay persons in the denomination. I'm sure that this was seen as a compromise and an attempt to hold the worldwide communion together.

But, it was a compromise made by considering some of God's children less deserving of serving and of living family lives sanctified by the church they love, and I don't see anything to celebrate. I am certain though that one day, maybe not even so long from now, that justice will prevail. Until then, we'll just have to work and pray harder.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Plant It This Afternoon

I spent part of Yom Kippour in the healing gardens of the historic Episcopal Church in my town. The church advertises itself as offering radical welcome to all -- and in case there is any doubt what that means, it hosts the local Pride Day celebration and monthly gay bingo.

I couldn't help but wonder how they will be affected by what happens at the meeting of the American Episcopal Bishops this weekend in New Orleans. The Bishops are expected to stand up to the larger Anglican community which asked them to renounce their election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, to Bishop. Their decision is expected by Tuesday. I know that many are praying both for a wider welcome and that the worldwide communion holds.

As I offered prayers, meditated, and read the Bible in this quiet garden, my eye fell on this quote, supposedly told by John F. Kennedy. It is both a call to justice and a reminder that change comes slowly.

The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree.
The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach
maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, "in that case, there is no time
to lose. Plant it this afternoon."

I'm off to Washington DC on Monday and Tuesday for the Religious Roundtable meeting of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. We're doing Congressional visits about ENDA.

I'd like to think we are planting (fast growing) trees.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

One Heart At A Time

As often happens when I speak, I am most touched by the private conversations that I have afterwards with people.

An older woman approached me in Iowa yesterday and asked to speak to me.

She said, "You're a minister, right?" I said yes.

Woman: "And you believe gay people should have the right to marry?"

Me: Yes.

Woman: "But where in the Bible does it give gay people that right?"

Me: "As I talked about the Bible recognizes that there are many types of blessed relationships. Have you ever heard the line, "Where there is love, the sacred is in our midst."

Woman: "Yes, but where in the Bible is this allowed?"

Me: "Marriage was very different when the Bible was written. Women were property, men could have multiple wives...but, tell me why this is important to you?"

Woman: "My brother has lived with a man for a long time. I want to support him, but it's hard when I've learned in church that it is wrong."

We talked for a few more minutes about how hard that must be and that yes, as a religious leader, I supported him. Her struggle was real, but she was trying. She'll get there.

Yesterday, the mayor of San Diego at a tearful press conference announced he was ready to support marriage equality, reversing his opposition. It's really worth taking the five minutes to watch this.

Hearts are changing. Please join me in prayer today for the protesters in Jena, LA and for the Episcopalian bishops meeting in New Orleans. May justice roll down like mighty waters.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Sad Decision

I'm sad to learn that the Maryland Supreme Court voted 4 - 3 to uphold the ban on marriages for same sex couples earlier today. I suppose I should be heartened that it was a close decision, and that the General Assembly will surely take up the issue in the coming year.

But, it makes me sad to think that countless Maryland families have once again been told that they just aren't as equal as others, and that their children are going to bed tonight knowing that the state doesn't protect their family. And it enrages me that this court, like the court in Washington State, based its decision partially on the ability of heterosexual couples to procreate. Perhaps someone should introduce a bill requiring fertility tests of heterosexual couples or banning heterosexual marriages when the woman is in perimenopause.

Today, the Religious Institute released a new publication, "A Time to Seek: A Study Guide on Sexual and Gender Diversity." You can read the full publication at And even better, for a short time, we are able to offer free copies of A Time to Seek to clergy and lay religious leaders. If you fit that description, send us an email.

Perhaps we should send one to the 4 Maryland justices.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Off to Iowa

I'm off tomorrow morning to speak in Ames, Iowa on Wednesday. I've never been to Iowa, and it's a long trip with multiple legs from my home in Connecticut. But I understand that the Presidential candidates are spending a lot of time there, and I'm excited to talk to the Iowans (is that what they are called?) about what it's like to be so important in the coming election season. Connecticut is always a mere * in primary votes.

I also like that Iowas is the first of what I think of as the "square states" to allow same sex marriages. Well, at least they did for four hours last month. And depending on what a court decides, they may become the second state to do so.

I'll report more from the heartland when I get there.

Friday, September 14, 2007

It's Our Country Too

I often think that part of my commitment to sexual and social justice stems from my earliest experiences growing up Jewish in a predominately Christian community. In second grade, there was a "Hate Debbi Haffner" club, and I was taunted mercilessly by the Catholic girls in my class who were preparing for their first communion. I learned early on what it was to to be the outsider.

I was reminded of those feelings this week when I read the latest poll results from the First Amendment Center. They report that:

*65% of Americans believe that the nation's founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation.

*55% believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation.

And the number of people who believe that freedom to worship extends to all religious group is down 16% since 2000. Almost half believe that public schools should be able to put on Nativity re-enactments with Christian music.

That makes me still an outsider. Millions of other Americans who practice a non-Christian faith or don't practice at all too.

If this hurts you as it does me, go to First Freedom First and sign the petition after you read this.

And oh, if you are part of the 55%, here's what the Constitution says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

La Shana Tova with some news thrown in

Tonight begins the Muslim celebration of Ramadan and the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashana, the New Year.

September always feels like the beginning of the New Year to me, much more than the dark days of January. As the mom of school age children and as a minister of a church that begins its year in September, it is now that I gear up, make plans, create new resolutions, and one more time, begin anew.

It feels like a new year in this country, with true possibilities for sexual justice.

Let me review for you a few of the things that have happened since September lst:

*The California Senate passed a marriage equality bill. First passed by the California House, it awaits the Governor's signature by October 14th. (Court rulings are expected soon in Iowa, Maryland, and Connecticut.)

*The Gag Rule was overturned in the Senate by a margin of 53-41 votes. According to CHANGE, "this restrictive policy bars U.S. family planning aid, including contraceptives, to any foreign organization that uses its own funds or funds from other donors to provide information, make referrals, or counsel women on abortion; advocate for the liberalization of abortion policies; or perform legal abortion services. "

*The Senate passed a provision that grants the President authority to waive the restriction under PEPFAR (the international AIDS prevention program) that 1/3 of all U.S. global HIV prevention funding be used for abstinence-until-marriage programs.

*The Senate passed an increase in funding for international family planning and reproductive health programs in fiscal year 2008.

*Hearings were held on ENDA, the full inclusion anti-GLBT workplace discrimination bill, and a floor vote in the Senate may take place before the end of the month.

These decisions all happened as a result of last November's elections. Your votes mattered; they will continue to matter.

This New Year feels alive with possibilities.

May we be blessed with a year of progress and justice. May it be a year of health, happiness, and wisdom for you and your loved ones. May it be a year of peace.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Today -- September 11, 2007

It is pouring rain this morning in Connecticut. The skies are dark, the air is heavy, and I am resisting leaving my home.

September 11, 2001 was a beautiful day in the New York metropolitan area, with a sky like the one in this picture. I was on my way to a ministers' meeting, enjoying driving with the top down, when the first news came over Morning Edition. By the time I reached the meeting, the second plane had hit. Each of us stumbled into the meeting with shock and fear; we sat around a radio straining for more information as the church had no tv. We cried, we prayed, we sang, and within 30 minutes, one of the ministers said, "We all have to go back now to our home congregations and get to work."

And we did. Two men from our church, brothers, were killed. Others escaped. Everyone had a story of someone they knew.

They still do.

I imagine that your heart feels heavy this morning. Mine does. Filled with grief, sadness, remorse, anger. I yearn to believe "never again."

But, I don't believe that. It seems inevitable that it will happen again. Violence, terrorism, suicide bombings, war are happening all the time. Why do we think it will be different on our soil? Why don't we cry out each and every day when we read of yet another suicide bombing?

The words of Finlandia are signing in my mind as I write this:

"This is my home,
the country where my heart is,
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine,
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

Oh hear my song, thou God of all the nations
a song of peace for their land and for mine."

Tell the people in your life you love them. Do a mitzvah. Forgive someone who has hurt you. Tell Congress you want this war to end, regardless of yesterday's report. Hug your children. Address an injustice.


Sunday, September 09, 2007


Today was the homecoming service at the Unitarian Church in Westport. I've been a member of this church since 1989, and their endorsed community minister since 2003. I am not part of the staff of the church, but instead tithe my time, offering support to the ministers and the staff and services to the congregation related to sexuality issues.

I wrote this chalice lighting for homecoming Sunday. It's my wish for us all, no matter what community you call home.

The first spoken words in the Hebrew Bible are “Let there be light.” Let there be light today as we once again gather in community. Let us feel the light within each of us burn brighter. Let us feel the light of each others’ lives surround us. Let us feel the light of the new year that begins for so many of us, not in January, but in the early days of September.

Let this chalice light represent what brings us back to our beloved community – the gifts of friendship, of wisdom, of insights, of encouragement, of support. Let this light remind of us our history, our knowing, our shared silence and our shared laughter, our shared tears and our shared hope for our futures.

May our lights be rekindled – as individuals, as friends, as family, as church community.

Let there always be light.

Friday, September 07, 2007


During the past few weeks, either in blogs or face to face meetings, several people have called me an "ally" on GLBT issues. It happened again yesterday.

You may have heard the expanded letters "GLBTQQIA" to talk about people who might be considered part of, for lack of a better word at the moment, a sexual minority. It stands for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersexual, and assexual -- or to some people "ally", meaning heterosexual people who support the others.

But, somehow "ally" doesn't reflect my internal sense of why I am committed to full inclusion of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, in society and the life of the faith community.

It's made me think back to the feeling that I had growing up when I learned people labeled me as "white." Growing up Jewish in an area dominated by White Anglo Saxon Protestants and White Roman Catholics, I somehow never felt like I belonged to them. In my childhood mind, Jews and Blacks were much more closely aligned than I was to the second grade Catholic girls who taunted me ruthlessly because I wasn't going to be confirmed and thus going to hell.

I similarly don't resonate to "ally" because my commitment to sexual justice, sexuality education for all, and affirmation of our sexualities as a gift from God transcends a commitment to supporting the rights of others. The people who would deny GLBTQQI persons their sexuality and their right to responsible sexual behaviors and expressions often would also deny the right to reproductive health services, erotica, sex toys, uncensored adult materials, the Internet, and sexual behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable. (Remember that sodomy laws in almost half the states were aimed at heterosexuals as well as gay people.)

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere."

I wonder what the impact would be if all of us working for sexual justice would label ourselves as "queer".

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Reflecting on Uncertainty and Faith

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of Mother Teresa's death.

I've been think a lot about Mother Teresa ever since last week when I read the Time magazine cover story in my dentist's waiting room. It included excerpts from "Mother Teresa: Come be My Life", a new book that presents many of her letters to her own spiritual leaders about her questions of faith and belief. After the experience of a dramatic personal call to serve the poor in India, Mother Teresa reported her anguish in letters over five decades that she had lost her sense of God's presence in her life.

Reading the letters made her very real to me in a way that news stories have not. Although some have reported great dismay about these revelations (Time itself called the cover story, "The Secret Life of Mother Teresa" as if it was going to share some soap opera details), I found great comfort in reading the letters. I have never trusted people who believe they know the ultimate truth, whether that is the Vatican, Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, New Age writers, or the man with the sign on 42nd Street proclaiming the world will end in 2012.

I have been blessed to have moments of grace where I have directly experienced a sense of the divine, but many more moments where I have questioned whether there is any more to our lives than what we directly experience. When I am asked by people about my beliefs in an afterlife, I usually say that THIS life is all I can try to understand. I can't remember which Unitarian Universalist minister first said "the only hell and heaven we know for sure is what we all experience on this earth."

I resonate most to the times in the wilderness in the world's great faith stories. I've been there; I bet you have too. As Mother Teresa's life surely points out, how we treat each other, and how we choose to spend the precious moments of our lives, is how we live our faith.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sex Education for Politicians...

And for the rest of us.

Several people have reminded me that this past twelve months of exposes of public figures sex lives have been going on a long time, and that many have been heterosexual men who have potentially risked everything for a sexual encounter or thrill. Think Gary Hart, Marv Alpert, Bill Clinton, James Baker, Bill Cosby, Bill O' get the picture.

So here are some basic pieces of sex education for adults.

Understand that you can have a sexual feeling without acting on it -- without even telling anyone about it. Think about it -- if Bill Clinton had thought to himself, "Cute Intern. Too Young, Too Risky" and moved on, he would not have been impeached.

Nothing, really nothing, is ever private between two people. Someone always tells someone. And the less the other person has to lose, the more likely they are to tell more people. In fact, unless it's your life partner, only have sex with someone who has as much to lose as you do.

Sexually healthy adults discriminate between sexual behaviors that are life enhancing -- for themselves and their partners - with those that could be destructive (of themselves or their partner(s). If there's a chance that the behavior could cost you your partner, career, reputation, say "thank you, that would have been lovely" and move on.

Stop and ask yourself is it consensual, nonexploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable and protected? One or two out of five is not enough.

Is the behavior consistent with your values, expressed and internal. If you're found out, can you be accused of hypocrisy? More importantly, can you live with yourself?

YOUR TURN. What would you add to this list?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Craig's Last List.

I've just finished my coffee and the Sunday New York Times. It had no fewer than six articles and op ed columns about Senator Craig's resignation and a cartoon. Alberto Gonzales and Tony Snow's resignations last week were barely mentioned.

I wrote on Thursday that I didn't think Senator Craig should resign over soliciting a policeman in a public bathroom. After reading all the calls for his resignation by Republican leaders, it seems to come down to this: homophobia is so entrenched in this party that he had to pay with his career. It's the "Children's Hour" forty years later writ large.

Laura McDonald in today's New York Times wrote a fascinating column about a 1970's research report that found that "policing bathrooms is pointless" and that "blackmail, payoffs, the destruction of reputations and families, all result from police interventions" in bathroom solicitations. And so they still do 35 years later.

Surely it's time for such stings to end. Surely it's time to apply a single standard for straight and gay public leaders. And surely it's time for politicans who struggle with their own sexuality to stop trying to legislate the sexuality of others.