Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy New Year!

My family will travel to Charleston, South Carolina tomorrow to participate in a wonderful event called Renaissance Weekend. Now in its 28th year, Renaissance brings together nearly 1200 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. The weekend is strictly off-record, and I'm assuming they mean blogging too. We'll see what we have permission to share.

May 2009 be a year of blessings for you and your's.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chanukah, Christmas, and YOUR Miracle Story

It's Christmas Eve and the fourth night of Chanukah.

And I hope by late afternoon, your to-do list is done, and you can take a few moments to reflect.

Chanukah and Christmas are both stories of miracles. The miracle of the band of brothers that turned into an army fighting for religious freedom. The miracle of the oil that lasted eight days. The miracle of the baby born to the poor teenage couple who changed the world.

The angels told Mary and the shepherds "don't be afraid." They remind us to open our hearts to the possibilities of the miracles around us.

Your story is a miracle too. The miracle of being born -- of being alive. The miracle that you love and are loved. The miracle of having TODAY to create as well as you can. The miracles that surround us.

Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah. May you experience the miracles of the holidays.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chanukah 2008

Monday is the first day of Chanukah...tonight we light the second candle on the menorah.

I have to admit to having to recheck the historical story of Chanukah each year. I remember the part about the oil lasting eight days; it's the rest that doesn't come easily.

So, in case you have forgotten, here's the basic story, copied from my blog last year:

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 2,171 years.

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.

So, take a moment tonight, whether you celebrate Chanukah or not, to be thankful for religious freedom and diversity. Be thankful for the light returning to the earth -- and maybe to your soul. Be thankful for the reminder that a small group of people can change the world. Celebrate the miracle of your life and the lives of the people you love. Light the light within you and bring it into the world. So may it be.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

One More On Rick Warren -- Who Would You Have Liked?

Religious Dispatches asked me to write a piece on Friday evening.

Read it here:

On several list servs and blogs, people have asked who might have been a better choice, and if there even are pro-lgbt and pro-choice evangelicals or African American ministers.

Yes and yes. The Religious Institute clergy network includes both. Rev. Lowery is both.

It also includes outstanding women clergy who didn't make the short list either. Half of our clergy network are women.

So, I've been thinking about who I wished had been selected, who are members of our network or who would have been a signal that evangelical viewpoints are welcome too.

Tell me who YOU might have suggested.

My short list of nationally recognized religious leaders who would be inclusive:

Rev. Bill Sinkford, President of the UUA

Rev. John Thomas, President of the UCC, President-elect Obama's religious home for the past 20 years

Rabbi David Saperstein, Union for Reform Judaism, who did the invocation before the nomination

Sister Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun and author

Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder of the Fellowship Churches

Rev. Tony Campolo, my personal favorite evangelical minister

Rev. Martin Marty, beloved American religious historian who would have crossed across almost all lines

That's just a start...who might you have suggested if asked?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back in the Water

Right after the election, a congregant asked me what would happen to the advocacy work of the Religious Institute now that we didn't have to worry about the President and the White House.

I told her that there would still be plenty of work for us to do.

In the past week, as you know if you've been reading, the inauguration team asked Rev. Rick Warren to do the invocation, dismaying many in the progressive religious (and secular) community -- and yesterday the Bush administration with only a few days in office released the new regulations that require any federally funded health facility, including family planning clinics, to hire staff who can choose not to provide health services they disagree with.

The Vatican last week issued a major paper against Assisted Reproductive Technologies. I asked my colleague Dr. Kate Ott, a Catholic ethicist, for her response. She wrote:

Released on December 8, 2009. “Dignitas Personae: On Certain Bioethical Questions” is a statement of the Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

As Catholics, like myself, celebrate Advent and re-tell the mystery of the Christmas story – it's fitting to reflect on reproductive technologies. The document is internally dated September 8 by the Vatican, which is the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. The Church has drawn our attention to two doctrines regarding extraordinary births - Mary (Jesus’ mother), born free of original sin and Jesus, well let’s just say he was a reproductive mystery. The miraculous biblical stories of birth fit more closely with our notions of reproductive technologies than with the Vatican's re-assertion that the authentic context for human life is an act of reciprocal love between a man and woman in marriage.

An analogy of Jesus’ birth and modern IVF is not a direct corollary. Yet, it does leave me puzzled every Christmas that a tradition who so staunchly advocates a strict pro-heterosexual marriage, anti-abortion/reproductive technology stance celebrates an unwed, young woman becoming pregnant without engaging in sexual intercourse. The story lacks marriage and a male/female act of “reciprocal love” a.k.a. penile-vaginal sexual intercourse.

I don’t raise this issue in support of open doors to all reproductive technology or that faith in God alone cures infertility. Rather, I suggest we reflect with greater care and more awareness on our stories of birth, infertility, and disease. The biblical tradition and our religious heritage are not neat and tidy. Infertility and disease affect communities. Births and how they come about affect communities.

The title, Dignitas Personae means “the dignity of a person.” What Dignitas Personae, and Donum vitae before it, have failed to articulate is how the dignity of all lives is to be affirmed from conception to death. Instead the Church focuses completely on an embryo’s dignity to the exclusion of women’s lives, their families, and those who live with chronic diseases. Ethical positions on assisted reproductive technologies and embryonic research become more complex and richer when we ask about the dignity of ALL persons. The seamless ethic of life from conception to death is one we can affect positively or negatively with responsible scientific exploration and intentional ethical deliberation. To truly recognize the dignity of all lives – a couple struggling with infertility, a patient with Parkinson’s disease and his family, or a community that suffers from genetic disorders - we need to look beyond heterosexual procreative rules to a communal understanding of reciprocal love and justice.

I don't think the Religious Institute needs to worry that we will not be needed any time soon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Speechless: Rev. Rick Warren asked to do invocation at Obama inauguration

I'm speechless.

I've just received an email from People for the American Way that Rev. Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church, an evangelical megachurch pastor who urged his congregants to support Prop 8 and is fervently anti-choice, has been asked to do the invocation at the Obama inauguration.

There are thousands of well known brilliant progressive religious leaders, including women, people of color, and those whose theology is embracing, that could have been invited to do this. My initial feeling is one of betrayal. For every pro-choice voter and every LGBT voter who worked tirelessly for this election, I think we deserve an explanation...and an assurance that we can count on this new administration to stand with us -- as we stood with them.

My heart feels a little broken for this moment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Milk the Movie: Do More For Hope

Go see this movie. Take your teenage children -- or take your youth group.

My 15 year old son and I saw it last night. He was unfamiliar with most of its history; I remembered Anita Bryant and the murders, but little else. I kept reminding myself that this was the 1970's, before the HIV/AIDS epidemic devastated San Francisco.

I found myself wondering what Harvey Milk would think about now. He'd be 88 years old if he was alive. I'd like to think that he would feel satisfaction knowing that the majority of Americans now support job protection, marriage or civil unions for same sex couples, that young people are more likely to come out at younger ages, that an out lesbian has the top rated talk show on daytime TV.

But, the parallels between the Prop 6 campaign and Prop 8, the lies and the bigotry, the hate from people who think they talk for God but hate gay people, and those who wanted to erase the face of gay people and families would surely cause him dismay.

I left the movie feeling that I'm not doing enough. That we have to do more. That more religious leaders need to speak out. That we must create a world where sexual and gender diversity is affirmed. Where one day this struggle will feel like "old history" not today's history.

Where hope, Milk's ever-present word, is fulfilled.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Time to Celebrate -- 3000th Religious Leader Endorses

On Friday last week, the 3000th religious leader endorsed our "Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing." She joined 2,999 other clergy, theologians, religious educators, and staff at faith-based organizations from more than 50 faith traditions and every state in the U.S. (plus 12 other countries) in calling for sexually healthy and just faith communities and a prophetic voice on sexual justice in the public square.

We are delighted to reach this milestone. We were also delighted last week to have a fellow blogger cite our ministry for leading the "religious left groundswell" for sexual justice.

Numerous other voices in the past week have joined our call in the blogosphere for progressive religious leaders to speak out for women's moral agency and full inclusion of LGBT persons, including marriage equality.

As I pointed out in a comment on Digby, those of us who support sexual justice need not compromise on these issues, because indeed our viewpoint has been adapted by mainstream America -- a majority of Americans support legal abortion, a majority support either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples, and a majority elected a pro-choice, pro-sexuality education, pro-family planning President.

It's time for us to say we are the common ground.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pat Boone Had One Thing Right: Hate is Hate

I never understood why my mother's generation of teenagers liked Pat Boone.
Now I have more of a reason to dislike him.
Pat Boone wrote an article this week, which unbelievably said:
"There is a real, between the jihadist in Mumbai and the hedonistic, irresponsible, blindly and tactics of our homegrown sexual .”
He was talking about people who worked to overturn Prop 8 in California, but I'm guessing he also meant people who support a broad range of sexual justice issues. The connection is reminiscent of those who blamed 9/11 on gays and feminists -- or Katrina on the pro-choice movement or the illicitness of New Orleans. I also remember the Focus on the Family article that labeled me "the high priestess of immorality."
His article was titled "Hate is Hate in India or America."
You're right about that, Mr. Boone. And it is your hate speech against all of us who believe in marriage equality for same sex couples that needs to end. Do you think Mr. Boone knows that biblical passage, "love your neighbor as yourself?"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Newsweek: The Joy of Gay Marriage

In case you missed it, NEWSWEEK's cover story this week is on religious support for marriage equality.

Here's the online link:

The author talks about scriptural support for same sex relationships and debunks some of the conventional wisdom about "biblical marriage." She points out, for example, that biblical marriage was mostly polygamous in the Hebrew Bible and that Jesus and Paul don't hold up marriage as an ideal at all.

She doesn't say anything that I haven't written and spoken about often -- or that many theologians haven't said often either. But what's remarkable is that she said it in NEWSWEEK, one of the major national news magazines, and that almost every religious leader she quotes in the article is progressive on sexual and gender diversity.

Think about it -- this article would have been unimaginable even five years ago in a national magazine. And even today, we fight to make sure that progressive religious voices are heard in the media.

Now, not unexpectedly, religious right leaders are up in arms...check out the readers comments that accompany the article. And then, add your own, telling NEWSWEEK, bravo!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

People of Faith Support LGT rights

More encouraging signs that the arc of the universe is bending right now:

GLAAD has just released the "Pulse of Equality Survey", a nationally representative phone survey about American attitudes towards gays and lesbians. They not only looked at America as a whole, but also attitudes of mainline Christians, Catholics, and evangelicals. Here's some of what they found:

81% of Mainline Christians support marriage or domestic partnerships/civil unions for gay and lesbian couples
78% of Catholics
59% of Evangelicals

52% of Mainline Christians favor marriage for gay and lesbian couples
46% of Catholics
28% of Evangelicals

70% of Mainline Christians favor adoption of children for gay and lesbian parents
70% of Catholics
66% of Evangelicals

66% of Mainline Christians favor allowing openly gay and lesbian people in the military
67% of Catholics
50% of Evangelicals

68% of Mainline Christians favor expanding hate crimes laws to include gay, lesbian and transgender people
61% of Catholics
54% of Evangelicals

57% of Mainline Christians favor employment, housing and public accommodations non-discrimination laws for gay, lesbian and transgender people
51% of Catholics
41% of Evangelicals

The next time you read that religion opposes rights for gay people remember this poll...and think about writing a letter to the editor of that site, station, or newspaper. These data will help us challenge the "common wisdom" that people of faith don't support civil rights for LGT people, and remind us that signficant number of evangelicals are already with us.

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Town That Full Integrates Transgender

These pictures in Sunday's New York Times made me teary -- especially the comments from parents of these transwomen in Southern Mexico.

The pictures offer hope for a world withouth transphobia.

If you work with young people -- or if you are in a faith community learning about gender and sexual diversity, this is sure to be a new resource.

And even if you don't, you'll find your assumptions challenged -- and I hope your heart opening.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Sol Gordon, Rest in Peace

My colleague and friend Sol Gordon died this week in his eighties.

You may never have heard of him, but to my generation of sex educators, he was an early pioneer and an inspiration. At the top of his career, he was giving hundreds of speeches around the country each year.

He was bigger than life when he spoke. He had a big booming voice, and he used humor in a way that was theatrical. He originated the phrase "askable parent" and he initiated the work that group into Family Sexuality Education Week.

He had the best one liners of any one in sexuality education. I use his quotes regularly. Here's a sample: "there's something wrong with a culture that teaches sex is dirty, save it for someone you love."

"How much is too much [about masturbation]? Once is enough if you don't like it, otherwise there's no such thing unless it's interfering with school, work, family dinners, and so on."

"When your spouse says "I have a headache", instead of brooding, get him/her an aspirin."

"Mature love is invigorating. Immature love is exhausting"

and so on....

When I was a teenager, Sol's book YOU and his comic books reassured me. As a young professional, he inspired me. As the Executive Director of SIECUS, he often wrote me notes, some encouraging and complimentary, others with suggestions for what we could be doing better.

His was a life well lived...and his legacy will live on in all who read his books, who he trained, and who laughed with him.

Rest in peace, Sol.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

New Huffington Post: Unearthing Common Ground

I always feel a little like I'm cheating on you, my regular readers, when I write for Huffington Post. I hope you understand....

Often, I try out an idea here...and if it feels like it deserves a large public policy audience, we expand on it for the Huffington Post (which has a much larger readership than I do here.)

So, if you were interested in my posts on the new calls for common ground on abortion, I hope you'll go read me at:

and hope that you'll add your comments and perspectives.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Reframing the Holiday Season

I saw my first holiday lights on the way home from work tonight.

Today at the local clergy association, Rev. John Danner, a UCC minister here in Westport, CT, told us about his sermon this past Sunday where he addressed the new common wisdom that "it's going to be a meager Christmas." We began to toss out other such sentiments that we've been hearing: "kids are going to be disappointed this holiday", "we can't do much for this Chanukah", "I'm worried about not giving my children a good Christmas" and so on.

The point was not lost on any of us. Less disposable income for gifts is starting to equal a disappointing holiday. What a sad comment on what the December holidays have come to mean.

I suggested to John that he write a column for our local paper on this, but he demurred. I told him I'd like to write a blog.

So, here's my challenge to my readers. Whenever you hear someone make this type of statement, gently offer them a reframe. "Yes, we may not be as able to buy as many or as lavish gifts, but I'm wondering what we can do to make it the best holiday season ever." Think about what new traditions you can start. Think about the volunteer work you can do as a family. Think about how to celebrate the religious meanings of the holiday in your home and in your faith community. Go to the free carol sings, the school holiday concerts, the congregation holiday parties. Make presents rather than buy them. Offer the gift of your time and attention.

What will you do to make this the best holiday ever?

Monday, December 01, 2008

World AIDS Day 2008

I've probably given more than 2000 speeches in my career. And, I have to be honest, I don't remember the content of many of them. (I do remember venues...the House of Lords in London, the Chautauqua amphitheater, the President's Plenary at the American Psychological Association, the Old Executive Office Building to name a few...)

But, I still remember a speech I gave more than twenty years ago at a Centers for Disease Control conference on HIV/AIDS. My talk was to be on AIDS and adolescents, and I followed a number of scientific talks delivered without passion or urgency. I did something I've only rarely had the courage to do -- to put aside my carefully prepared talk and speak from my heart. I talked about how none of the previous speeches had talked about sexuality or homosexuality or sexual behaviors -- or the messy ways that people lived their lives. I talked about how a failure of political will would result in people becoming infected and that we had to start educating people where they were, not where we would like them to be. I talked about the people I knew who were already sick or dead, and I challenged that audience someplace in a hotel ballroom in Virginia to do everything in their power to start educating and stop this epidemic. And I told them we could not tell the young people of America to "just say no or die" and that it was up to us to stop new infections.
And when I sat down spent, the room stood up for what I remember as the first standing ovation I'd ever received.

And I think now, more than 20 years later, how many people have died and how many people have been many people are still infected every day, every year, because we still don't have the will to educate all people where they are, not where we want them to be. And my heart hurts remembering the faces of people I've known who died: Jim and Danny and Stuart and Lacey and Marjorie and Billy and Bill T. and...and I remember this World AIDS Day once again why it is so important to work to make the world a place that affirms the diversity of our sexualities and where every one has the ability to make responsible sexual choices.
May we never forget that it is up to us.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Prayer for Thanksgiving

I think that Thanksgiving should be a national religious holiday.
Now, not to alarm my colleagues at Americans United, I don't mean that we should all be encouraged to pray in the same way or indeed pray at all. But, it does seem like a true Universalist holiday -- that everyone of us can take the time to give thanks.
And no, my family doesn't look like this one, and I'm guessing yours might not as well. But, we will gather with three generations from at least four distinct faith traditions and eat too much food and take the time to share our thanks. And I will offer this blessing:
Spirit of life,
We are filled with thanks this day.
Thanks for the love we share.
Thanks for the work we do.
Thanks for our joys and comfort and support in our sorrows.
Thanks for the food we are to eat -- the people who grew it, the people who transported it, the people in the stores who sold it, and the people here who prepared it, and we pray for food for all who are hungry.
Thanks for the people who love us, even when we are not so loveable.
Thanks for the new hope in our land.
Thank you for this day, this time, these moments together.
Blessed be.
May your holiday be blessed with joy and thanks giving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

How to Reduce Abortions? Prevent Unintended Pregnancies in the First Place

There was a steady drumbeat of articles last week calling for new common ground on abortion in light of the election of a pro-choice President. Articles quotes such anti-choice religious leaders as David Gushee, Jim Wallis, Professor Kmeic, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good as calling in Gushee's words in the Baptist Press for "reducing the demand for abortion" by expanding adoption services and providing pregnant women with health care, child care, and education.

Missing from every one of these calls was a call to work to prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place through sexuality education and contraceptive services.

These leaders use the Guttmacher Institute's research that shows that women often choose abortion for financial reasons and that poverty impacts the abortion rate. But what they fail to mention, is that it first affects the unintended pregnancy rate: that poor women are at least five times more likely to become pregnant unintentionally.

Here's what Guttmacher Institute's Susan Cohen wrote the last time this abortion reduction strategy was floated by Democrats for Life in 2006:

While it is theoretically possible that increased social supports for pregnant women and even more “adoption-positive” problem-pregnancy counseling could have some impact, neither can hope to approach the real reductions in the abortion rate that could be achieved by preventing unintended pregnancy in the first place.

That's what the science says -- and I also think it's the moral position. I've worked with thousands of women facing unintended pregnancies. They aren't looking for "abortion on demand"; with less than a handful of exceptions, they sat with me (and often their partners or their parents) and wept as they tried to decide what was best to do. They often did have financial concerns, but they were rarely short term (how would I pay for prenatal care or infant care?) but rather about how they could afford to raise a child (or in many cases another child in a family that already had them) to adulthood. And they too often didn't have partners who they wanted to spend their lives with or who could support them. In the words of one of colleagues, "they had too much responsibility already and too few resources, both personal and economic."

So, here's my suggestion for common ground. Let's stop talking about reducing the numbers of abortions as a goal by itself, and let's start talking as a country about reducing unintended pregnancies in the first place. We'll work with you to make sure that every pregnant woman who wants to carry her pregnancy to term can afford to do so and you'll work with us to reduce the number of women and couples who have to face an unintended, unplanned, and often unwanted pregnancy.

Sounds like a plan.

Hopefully the one that the Obama administration and the new Congress (as well as my evangelical colleagues) will adopt.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Latest Bush Administration Attack on Women's Health and Sexuality

At midnight last night, the Bush administration quietly and without much media attention put into place a new regulation that allows persons working in health care facilities that receive federal funds to refuse to provide services and information to patients if it disagrees with them. It also prohibits the hospitals and clinics from asking prospective employees about their willingness to provide such services.

WHAT? In other words, it will be okay for a doctor or a pharmacist in a federally funded hospital treating a woman who has been raped to not offer her emergency contraception; for a counselor not to tell a woman seeking pregnancy counseling about abortion; for a teenager who is sexually active not to be offered contraceptive services or even contraceptive information if the provider disagrees. And they don't have to refer to someone who will provide that information.

It sounds like a scenario from the Handmaiden's Tale...or the Bush administration's last battle against women's health and sexuality.

Tens of thousands of people wrote the Bush administration decrying the regulations, apparently to no avail. They included the President-elect, who we hope will add this to the list of executive orders he will overturn on January 21st.

Yesterday, Senators Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray introduced a bill to overturn this regulation before it causes much damage. Read Senator Clinton's explanation here.

One would expect that all those people calling for common ground on abortion would be protesting this blatant attack on access to contraception. As I have written over and over, surely we can agree that the first steps to prevent abortions are information, education, and access to contraception. So, how come we haven't heard from any of you on this? Surely you understand that limiting contraceptive services is putting women and families at risk...or is this really about punishing women for their sexual activity? Speak up and prove me wrong.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tom Daschle for DHHS Secretary -- Caution Ahead

The Obama cabinet's first known pick -- for Senator Tom Daschle for Secretary of Health and Human Services. At first glance and from what I've been able to find, the appointment may be mixed for sexual and reproductive rights.
Daschle has a 50% voting record from NARAL. On the other hand, he has a 16% voting record from the Christian Coalition.
He supports Roe, but also voted for bans on late term abortion procedures. He did vote no on the ban on abortions for women in the military, and he does support stem cell research. I couldn't find a clear position on sexuality education, but one hopes that his support for science-based approaches means he'll stand against the ineffective $200 million from his department that supports abstinence-only education.
He opposes marriage for same sex couples, but in 2005, NGTLF honored him for leading the fight against the Federal Marriage Amendment. He has a strong record on HIV/AIDS services.
In other words, for supporters of sexual and reproductive justice, we're not out of the woods yet. I'm guessing we're going to see other "consensus" type appointments in the days ahead. Clearly, in terms of these issues, it won't be quite the battle it has been for the past eight years. But if you were wondering if we could sit back and just enjoy the next four, I think this is a good indication that people of faith and religious leaders who support sexual justice need to continue their prophetic voice. I'll look forward to meeting with him!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Please, please join the Congo Sabbath Initiative

The front page of today's New York Time's focuses on the ongoing tragedy of the tin mines in the Congo.

I wish you could have been part of the Religious Institute's conference call on Friday afternoon with V-Day founder and playwright Eve Ensler. Eve has recently returned from the Congo, and shared with us heartbreaking stories of the women who have been terrorized there. In some areas, one out of every two women have been raped, some as young as three months, some as old as eighty. At the Panzi hospital, brave medical personnel work tirelessly to repair women's bodies ripped apart by weapons and machetes. Eve's stories of raped girls who leak urine constantly & raped women who have been rejected by their families were set against the courage that she and others are giving women to speak out and reclaim their lives. We listened in stunned silence as she implored faith communities and faith leaders to become involved to end what she has termed "femicide" in the Congo.

I am asking each of you who are reading this to become involved...and to pass the word on to other people of faith. You can do something to stop rape and violence against the girls in the Congo. We are asking you to be part of our national Congo Sabbath Initiative. Go to this link and sign up for more information about how you can do an adult education session, a sermon, a prayer or responsive reading AND a collection to support these women. Read more about the Stop Rape in the DRC campaign.

Get involved. Spread the word. The women in the DRC are counting on us.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My Typical Week

I'm interviewing candidates for a position as my special assistant at the Religious Institute, and they keep asking what a typical day or a typical week is like.

I tell them that one of the things I enjoy most about my ministry is that there is no such thing.

Here's some of what I've done this week:

Worked with my colleagues on finishing up a publication on our survey of how seminaries address sexuality issues.

Edited our November newsletter.

Spoke at a parents group in a neighboring town about my book, "What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know."

Concluded the last of the couples enrichment program I lead at my home congregation.

Spoke to 60 teenagers at a neighboring UCC church.

Prepared for a conference call on our Congo Sabbath Initiative with writer and activist Eve Ensler.

Provided assistance to a journalist covering the transition and a minister struggling with a policy about safe congregations.

Prepared my workshops and speech for Jewish Family Services in Milwaukee, Wisconsin next week.

It is all sacred work. I am grateful for the 150 adults and teens for allowing me to provide sexuality education to them this week and for their trust in me. I am grateful to my colleagues who share my ministry. I am grateful and humbled by this wonderful ministry I am called to do in the world. Blessings to you all.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Religious Organizations Call on President-Elect Obama to Support Reproductive Rights

Nineteen faith-based organizations concerned with reproductive justice have issued a letter today to President-elect Obama. It sharply contrasts with the paper issued by the Catholic Bishops yesterday which called for the new President to uphold restrictions on abortion services. How lovely it is to know that people of faith have joined together to support women's and teenagers rights, here and around the world, AND that this new President is likely to follow our recommendations.

The letter begins:

Our faith communities, comprising millions of Americans, unite in a shared moral commitment to preserve the reproductive health of our nation. Though traditionally cast as a woman’s issue, we maintain that prioritizing reproductive health and justice is an integral part of achieving greater social justice for all. The ability to plan and care for one’s family is central to addressing the myriad social, political and economic concerns we face. Accessing comprehensive health care services safely and legally is inextricably linked to the ability of our country’s citizens and families to thrive. This is why we urge you to make these issues a priority in your administration.

It calls for access to comprehensive sexuality education, abortion services and contraceptive information and options. The letter specifically calls for the President-elect to:

*Work to end to the federal abstinence-only-until-marriage education
* Support the Freedom of Choice Act
*Repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion services.
*Ensure contraceptive access for all women and men by increasing support and funding for Title X family planning clinics and for voluntary international family planning assistance.
*Protect and strengthen access to birth control, including emergency contraception.
*Restore funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
*Fully coordinate and integrate family planning with HIV prevention, care, and treatment programs.
*Repeal the Global Gag Rule (Mexico City Policy), which withholds much needed aid from family planning agencies that even mention abortion.

The letter was signed by:

American Friends Service Committee
Catholics for Choice
Christian Lesbians Out
Disciples for ChoiceDisciples Justice Action Network
Jewish Women International
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Lutheran Women’s Caucus
National Council of Jewish Women
Planned Parenthood Clergy Advisory Board
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Church of Christ
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church & Society
Union for Reform Judaism
Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual

You can read the full letter here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One Week Later -- Still Celebrating, Still Grieving

I’ve been at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexology the past four days. It was held this year in San Juan, Puerto Rico (and yes, it was beautiful and warm!)

The theme of the conference this year was about cultural influences on our sexuality. I learned more about such issues as gay and lesbian youth, how the internet is changing sexual attitudes and behaviors, how to adopt harm reduction for university policy, and how HIV was reduced in Uganda. I enjoyed seeing friends and colleagues, and took the last afternoon to visit the rainforest with friends.

I deliberately didn’t watch the news for a few days. I needed to get away from the election news cycle for a few days, but I’m ready to get back. I did hear that President elect Obama is willing to overturn as many as 200 of President Bush’s executive orders, and I’m hoping he starts with repealing bans on stem cells, the gag rule and don’t ask, don’t tell.

The pictures of Obama and Bush at the White House on Monday thrilled me – but I am still heart sick over the anti-gay votes. I can’t help but wonder if it might not have gone differently if those progressive religious leaders whose mantra was “moral values don’t mean abortion or gay marriage” hadn’t worked so hard to obtain white evangelical votes. (And the last data I saw showed that didn’t work – 73% of white evangelicals voted Republican.)

I keep thinking about that scene in the Book of Exodus that is told during the Seder. God reprimands the Israelites for celebrating as the Egyptians perish in the Red Sea: “How can you celebrate when some of my creatures are suffering?” Indeed. It's past time for my colleagues who call themselves progressive to stop talking about the "wedge issues of abortion and gay marriage" and stand up for the rights of women and LGBT people.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Yes, We Can -- The Sexual and Reproductive Rights Goals for President Obama

You're probably receiving emails from a number of organizations about their hopes for the new Obama administration.

I thought I'd share with you the letter we sent to both campaigns in August, with a little bit of updating just for the President elect. Let me know what YOUR priorities are.

Dear President-Elect Obama: [i loved typing that right now!!]

Too often in the public debates around moral issues, it would seem that the only religious perspective is a conservative one. In your experience, however, you have heard the voices of thousands of religious leaders who hold progressive views on such issues as reproductive choice, sexuality education, and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans. Our hope is that you will make sexual and reproductive justice a priority of your campaign – as a matter of sound public policy, and as an expression of faith.

The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing is a national, multifaith organization dedicated to promoting sexual health, education and justice in faith communities and society. Our network of more than 3,500 clergy, theologians and religious leaders supports reproductive choice, access to sexual and reproductive health care, comprehensive sexuality education, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender and gender identity.

Specifically, we call for the following commitments to be included in the platform and your public addresses:

1. An end to more than 10 years of federal support for ineffective, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, and a renewed commitment to comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality education throughout the life span.

As religious leaders, we hope that young people will learn about their sexuality not primarily from the entertainment media or their peers, but from their parents, faith communities and school-based programs that address the biological, psychological, cultural, ethical and spiritual dimensions of sexuality.

The research is conclusive: Teaching about contraception is not associated with an increase in sexual activity or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Adolescents who receive comprehensive sexuality education have a substantially lower risk of teenage pregnancy than those who receive abstinence-only education or no sex education at all. Abstinence-only education has no impact on reducing teen pregnancy, delaying sexual initiation, or reducing STIs.

2. Full access to affordable, high-quality sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception, emergency contraception, abortion, prenatal care, adoption, HIV/STI prevention and treatment, and safe and proven assisted reproductive technologies. We also urge support for a global HIV/AIDS program free of abstinence-only restrictions.

It is precisely because we regard life as sacred that we believe it should not be created carelessly. As religious leaders committed to women's moral agency, we cannot support any strategy to make abortion more difficult to obtain. Rather, we must ensure that women have both the motivation (good education, jobs and hope for their futures) and the resources (including comprehensive sexuality education and access to high-quality family planning services) that will enable them to avoid unintended pregnancies.
We oppose measures that would limit access to reproductive services, such as coercive parental consent and notification requirements, and denying international family planning assistance to agencies in developing countries. We call instead for providing resources for parental and adolescent counseling, and for offering women full and accurate information about pregnancy options.

Recognizing that rates of unintended births are five times higher among low-income women, that more than half of the unwanted children in the U.S. are born into poverty, and that HIV/AIDS infections disproportionately affect poor communities and people of color, we must ensure that all citizens, regardless of income or geography, have access to sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services.

3. Full equality – including marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples and a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act – for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and their families.

Following the recent defeats at the polls, this is more important than ever. I loved that you mentioned gay and straight people in your acceptance speech. I also pray that you are more open to marriage equality than your last statements in the campaign indicated. Earlier on you indicated that you believed that religious marriage belonged to religions to decide; but that no one should be denied civil rights. Marriage equality is about equal rights.

Living in a time of rapid social change calls us to recognize the diversity of God’s creation and to honor the many ways that people live and love. America is the most religiously diverse nation in the world. No single religious voice can speak for all traditions on issues of marriage and sexuality, nor should government take sides on religious differences. Rather, religious groups must have the freedom to decide for themselves who is eligible for marriage in their own tradition, and clergy should be free to solemnize marriages without state interference.
America also is a nation of diverse families. Civil rights protections and the legal benefits of marriage strengthen families, enabling them to build stable, empowering and respectful relationships. Yet current law excludes married same-sex couples from 1,138 federal benefits, including Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits and tax benefits. Civil rights protections and marriage benefits are particularly vital to the well-being of millions of American children being raised by same-sex couples. I hope that you and the Democratic Congress will move to revoke the DOMA legislation.

Our positions on these issues are grounded not only in social and scientific research, but also in the experience of individuals and communities who are frequently overlooked or marginalized in our society. Our positions uphold a consistent Biblical mandate, expressed in other sacred texts as well, to love, do justice, seek equality, and act with compassion. Most important, they reflect a faithful affirmation of sexuality as a divine blessing, an embodied capacity for expressing love and generating life, for building relationships of mutual respect, and for promoting the well-being of people and society.

We stand ready to be of help. We look forward to working with you to achieve the dreams of equality for all. Yes, we can.

Rev. Debra W. Haffner

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

CELEBRATING -- But Tempered

I'm in Puerto Rico for the board meeting of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists...and then the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex.

I left for the aiport this morning, after only a few hours of sleep, with an overwhelming sense of optimism, gratitude and joy. America changed at 11 p.m. last night, and I couldn't be happier.

I was also happy to have emails from a number of pro-choice organizations that anti-choice amendments had been resoundingly defeated, including the rejection by a three to one margin of the Colorado amendment that would have given full legal rights to embryos.

But, when I landed here today, I found this report:

The gay-rights movement had a rough election elsewhere as well Tuesday. Amendments to ban gay marriage were approved in Arizona and Florida, and Arkansas voters approved a measure banning unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents. Supporters made clear that gays and lesbians were their main target.

And it broke my heart for my lesbian and gay friends in those states, and the many friends and colleagues who were married in California this summer. I don't think I can imagine how Harry, Susan, Joel, Bear, Randall, B.J., Mike, and so many others are feeling today. I pledge to them that my organization will continue to do all we can do to support marriage equality for all. I know that they know that they are truly married in God's eyes and in their hearts. I also want them to know that I'd be happy to marry them in my home state in Connecticut any time, because its legal here.

So, yes, today I still want to celebrate this historical election with every ounce of my being -- but tomorrow, I'll get back to work. Because until we all have sexual rights, none of us can be secure in our's.

12:45 AM Tuesday -- 44th President of the United States, Barack H. Obama




Tuesday, November 04, 2008

election night 7:08

Two states are for each.

I'm finding that I have to remind myself to breathe.

You too -- breathe.

At 8, we're having close to 50 people over to watch the results. Company will be good.

I just heard that on exit polls 73% of white evangelical voters voted McCain. That's only 5% less than voted for Bush. That means, despite all the efforts to ahem diversify these voters, most of them still voted Republican. More on that over the next few days.

Time to go back to the TV.

Election Day -- 3:12

So, I've managed not to look at any tracking polls, open any move.on emails or emails from the campaigns, but I can't say I've fully concentrated on my work today either.


So, if you are checking in, here's an adorable one minute to distract yourself with:

Listen to the young man.

You have, right?

Election Day 7:21 a.m.

I loved everything about voting today.

My husband* and I walked to the elementary school that both of our children attended.

The line stretched around the building. It made me teary to walk all the way to the back. Really, I was happy to see a long line. They said on the news that they project that 90% of Connecticut's eligible voters will vote today.

I loved seeing neighbors and people from church in line. I loved the woman holding the newborn in the blanket. I loved the people who had brought their small children with them. I loved the woman behind me in line who makes and sells fudge. I didn't mind standing in line for 40 minutes.

I loved the lady who handed me the "I voted today" sticker when we finally entered the building.

I don't particularly like the new scan electronic cards. I miss pulling the lever. But, watching my card be pulled into the scanner still felt thrilling this morning.

I loved the lady selling baked goods for the PTA, and I even loved the somewhat stale brownie I bought there.

I am SO HAPPY today is finally here. I am grateful to be part of it.

May God bless America.

**My long term readers know that I have generally named my spouse as my partner, to not assert any heterosexual privilege. But I realized this a.m. as I wrote this, that because of the Connecticut Supreme Court decision granting marriage equality, gay and lesbian people in Connecticut can now use the terms husband and wife. So honey, at least in Connecticut, I can now once again call you my husband.

5:45 am Chrismas - no - Election Day

It's 5:45 a.m.

I've been up since 5:30. It feels like I'm seven and it's Christmas morning.

I don't think I've ever felt an election so keenly.

The polls open in Connecticut at 6:00 a.m.

I'm planning on blogging a la Andrew Sullivan throughout the day.

A quick prayer, and I'm out of here. I'll report back when I get back.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Rev. Debra's 10 Tips To Reduce Your Pre-Election Day Anxiety

People keep telling me they are anxious -- not sleeping -- thinking about what we will know on Wednesday that we don't know now. So, here are my 10 tips for dealing with your anxiety today.

1. Don't check the polls on the web today. People are voting tomorrow. Those little up and down arrows won't tell you much. Just skip them. Don't click on them.

2. Call your local office of your party and ask how you can make a difference today or on election day. Offer to spend an hour or two.

3. Email all your friends in swing states and remind them how important it is to vote.

4. Check out your polling place on line, its hours, and what kind of ID you are going to need tomorrow. Plan to vote early. Talk to your boss about taking an hour off if the lines turn out to be long. Call a friend to go with you.

5. If you have done steps 2, 3, and 4 -- thank yourself for participating in our great democratic process. If you are anxious and you haven't done what you can do to participate, think of your own.

6. Remember to breathe. Use this simple mantra, "Breathing in, I calm my body; breathing out I smile."

7. Do not watch any more TV about the election today. You can watch tomorrow. Oh, Saturday Night Live's special election count down and the Daily Show don't count as TV. Laughter is good stress relief.

8. Exercise. Go to the gym; take a walk; take the clothes off the treadmill or the exercise bike, and do something for 20 minutes.

9. Plan who you will spend election night with. You don't want to be eating a can of peanuts or a bag of pretzels on your own. Buy a bottle of inexpensive champagne or sparkling cider and put it in your refrigerator to celebrate if your candidate wins.

10. Pray. Pray for both of the candidates and their families. Pray for your's. Pray for America. Pray for the world. It couldn't hurt.

And on Tuesday, VOTE.

Blessings on us all.

Rev. Debra

Friday, October 31, 2008

Last Friday Before the Election

November 5th can't come fast enough.

The Religious Institute is a non-partisan, multifaith organization. I can't tell you who to vote for, but I can tell you how important it is that you do vote.

I can also remind you how our sexual rights may be deeply affected by the outcome of national, state and local elections. The next President of the United States will likely name more than one Supreme Court Justice. Resources for sexuality education, abstinence-only-until-marriage education, HIV/AIDS prevention and service programs, and family planning services will be decided by majorities in the U.S. Congress. Local school boards will determine the content of sexuality and AIDS education programs.

On November 4th, voters in California, Florida and Arizona will decide on questions of marriage equality. Arkansans will vote on whether lesbian and gay persons can adopt or provide foster care. Voters in South Dakota will decide if abortion will remain legal; in Colorado whether to extend "equality of justice rights" to "embryos at the moment of fertilization;" and in California, whether a teenager's parent must be notified about her abortion.

The stakes could not be higher.

Journalists and pollsters are already speculating about how different groups of religious people will vote. Let's make sure that as people of faith, we let them know we are voting for sexual justice.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Red Sex, Blue Sex....From the New Yorker

This week's New Yorker has a fascinating article on evangelical teenagers and sexual behavior.

You can read it here at :

The author reports that white evangelical teen girls on average begin sex earlier than girls who are Jewish or mainline Protestant or Catholic.

I found this paragraph about reactions to Bristol Palin's pregnancy intriguing:

"... the reactions to it have exposed a cultural rift that mirrors America’s dominant political divide. Social liberals in the country’s “blue states” tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teenagers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter’s pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in “red states” generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teenager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn’t choose to have an abortion."

I actually think that "social liberals" don't like high school teenage sex any more than "social conservatives" but I do agree that many of us would be even more troubled by our teenage sons and daughters dropping out of school to have babies.

I know I have a lot of "social conservative" readers...what do you think about how the author describes you? And really, "relatively unruffled?" Surely conservatives share the concern about teenagers truncating their futures, entering into teenage marriages with high rates of divorce, ending their education. Yes??

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Break from the Election

A few weeks ago, I did an interview with a journalist in California on raising sexually healthy teenagers.

It's now a podcast, and available from the ITunes store. I haven't listened to it yet, but the transcript is posted at You can get to the podcast from there as well.

And if you are a parent or grandparent, I hope you'll check out information about my books at There are excerpts of all three books there.

Back to the election tomorrow.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Celebrating Women Over 40

The cover of the new More magazine features Jane Fonda at 70, Sharon Stone at 50, and Tea Leoni at 42 looking strong, beautiful, and sexy.

When I saw it, I thought that a cover of the three women dominating the upcoming election would have made the same point. Cindy, 54, Michelle, 44, and Sarah, 44.

This election is changing the way the public looks at women over 40. These women are eloquent, forceful, independent, accomplished, beautiful, and dare I say it - sexy. They are all women who balance motherhood and careers. They say to America and the world, women over 40 still have "it."

We've known all of them since high school. Cindy, the beautiful homecoming princess who every boy wanted to go out with but stayed home alot because they were afraid to ask. Sarah, the cheerleader who was great for gossip but you knew you had to watch your back. Michelle, the student government president. (Me -- I was the co-editor in chief of the yearbook and voted class flirt.)

They are in a way new role models for today's girls and young women. Actually, maybe for adult women as well. Now, if we could just have their hair, make up, and clothing allowances.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Marriage Matters -- For Same Sex Couples and the Rest of Us

A friend and colleague of mine is getting married today in California.

For the third time.

To the same man.

Their son will be their best man. Again.

And on November 4th, the voters in California could decide that none of those ceremonies make them legally wed.

And the federal government recognizes none of them.

I wonder how many of us who are in heterosexual marriages would go to the trouble -- or would choose to publicly recommit themselves to each other, again and again, knowing that it might not really count.

The difference is we don't have to. I was married 26 years ago. No one has ever questioned our right to be married, get benefits, be recognized -- and I've never had to do it again or explain to our children why some people don't want us to be a family.

It's pretty clear what's wrong with this picture. The injustice is staggering.

But, it's going to change. And voters in California, Arizona, and Florida can make a difference. So can the rest of us by standing up for marriage for same sex couples. Like 2200 clergy did earlier this week.

For now, mazal tov Joel. I hope it's a glorious celebration.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

God and the election

According to a yahoo news story, Sarah Palin has said that the election is now in God's hands.


Was the last election in God's hands? Or the one before that? How about in other countries -- does God choose the rulers there too?

In a few days, several hundred fundamentalist Christian ministers are going to pray in the San Diego arena for Prop 8 (the anti-same sex marriage bill) in California to pass on election day. You'd think they'd pray for something really important -- like the end of poverty or the war or homelessness or for jobs, equality, health. Nope, gay people who want to enter into legal committed relationships.

My own theology is that God is too big to worry about the 2008 elections, Presidential or otherwise. The only hands this election is in is OUR'S.

I'm spending the weekend making phone calls for my candidates and will spend part of election day driving people to the polls. What are your hands doing?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More on Congo Sabbath

Last week, I blogged about our new CONGO SABBATH initiative. We are inviting diverse congregations from across the United States to become involved in supporting the women and girls in the Congo. We invited more than 1800 readers of the Religious Institute's newsletter to sign up for more information, and so far, we have heard from only 30 congregations.

We need YOUR help to make this project that we are doing to support the V-Day's and Unicef's efforts in the Congo a success.

Perhaps I didn't do a good enough job of describing the horror of women's lives in the Congo. Saturday, the New York Times ran this excruciating front page story. Read it at

And then let me know if we can count on you to get involved. Send us an email at and we'll send you more information about how your faith community can help.

The women and girls of the Congo are counting on us to stand in solidarity with them.

Monday, October 20, 2008

2200 Clergy From Across the United States and Every Major Religious Tradition Support Marriage for Same Sex Couples -- Blessed Be!

I am so pleased to tell you that on Monday, the Religious Institute announced that more than 2,200 ordained clergy have signed our Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality.

They come from all 50 states (and D.C. and Puerto Rico) and represent more than 50 different faith traditions. They are rabbis, reverends, priests, bishops, elders, and imams. They include 100 of the best known religious leaders and thinkers in the United States, including the presidents and deans of a dozen seminaries and the elected leaders of eight major denominations, including the United Church of Christ, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assembly, the Union for Reform Judaism's Rabbis, the Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, and the Unitarian Universalist Association. We are also pleased that so many Catholic and Episcopal bishops joined the call for marriage equality, as well as Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu leaders.

We are grateful to all of the ordained clergy who are willing to publicly stand for marriage equality for same-sex couples. Read the list here. If you are clergy, please add your name. If you are a person of faith and your clergy person isn't listed, please forward it on.

And please speak up for the rights of gays and lesbians to civil and religious marriage.

We cannot allow the perception to continue that marriage for same-sex couples violates religious principles. As these 2,200 ordained clergy will tell you, there is strong theological support for blessing these unions and affording these couples equal rights under the law. As the Open Letter says, we know that "where there is love, the sacred is in our midst."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Economics and Sexual Matters

It's Friday morning in Dallas, Texas, and in a few hours, I am leaving for Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It's been a busy week. On Tuesday night, I had the privilege of participating in a forum at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City to launch the new book, "Dispatches from the Religious Left." Yesterday, the Religious Institute held a colloquium in Dallas for clergy and sexual justice leaders from throughout the state of Texas. Tomorrow, I keynote a women's conference in Grand Rapids, and on Sunday, I will preach at a large non-denominational church and do a workshop on being a sexually healthy congregation for its leaders.

People are hungry for our message, from the Blue State of New York to the Red State of Texas to the Purple State of Michigan . On Wednesday, my colleague Tim Palmer and I met with one of the editors at the Dallas Morning News. He asked something like, "how in a time of economic crisis can you get people to pay attention to your message?"

I told him that our issues are also economic issues. That poor and low income women are much more likely to get pregnant unintentionally, have abortions, their teens more likely to have babies as teenagers. That poor and low income gay, lesbian, and transgender persons are more likely to face discrimination, not have health insurance, and not have the resources to obtain legal assistance for benefits.

But, that I also believed that as middle class families are affected by the economic crisis that families will be strained, marriages will be strained, domestic violence may increase, that teenagers will face stresses and losses that they are not prepared for -- and that clergy must be prepared to deal with how job losses and loss of resources affect individuals and families relationships and sense of self.

People are hungry for our message -- that their sexuality is part of God's gift to us, that sexual and gender diversities are part of that blessings, and that we must make responsible sexual decisions. It's a privilege to bring it to people across the country.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Support Women and Girls in the Congo -- Announcing the Congo Sabbath Initiative

Over the past ten years hundreds of thousands of women and girls living in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been victims of brutal sexual violence, leaving them with severe physical ailments such as lesions, traumatic fistuale, and HIV/AIDS. Seven in ten of these women go untreated because of inadequate medical facilities.

I am pleased to let my readers know that today the Religious Institute launched the CONGO SABBATH INITIATIVE to ask congregations to become involved in supporting these women.

We are working to develop a faith-based initiative, to complete the V-Day and UNICEF, on behalf of UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, campaign titled “Stop Raping our Greatest Resource, Power to Women and Girls of the DRC.” This is a global Campaign to increase pressure at all levels to do more to stop rape in the DRC while highlighting the role of women as activists. One result of the Campaign will be the establishment of the City of Joy at the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu—a center for women for women who have survived rape and torture, where they will receive medical treatment, education, leadership training, and a chance to earn income.

To learn how your congregation can get involved, please visit our web site and click on the Congo Sabbath initiative. You could decide to do an education program, raise money for the hospital and the City of Joy, offer a prayer or responsive reading (or a full worship service on violence against women), stage the Vagina Monologues, or post information about how to become involved. There are lots of ways to help a congregation participate.

I'm delighted to report that forty-five nationally recognized religious leaders have joined the Religious Institute in calling congregations to participate in the Congo Sabbath initiative, an effort to involve religious leaders and faith communities in ending violence against women in the DRC. The list includes the leadership of seven denominations and the National Council of Churches of Christ.

They endorsed this statement:

"As faith leaders we are called today to see, hear, and respond to the suffering caused by violence against women. We encourage faith communities to participate in the Congo Sabbath initiative."


*Dr. Ellen T. Armour, Director of the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality, Vanderbilt Divinity School
*Rev. Steven Baines, Director of Interfaith Outreach, People for the American Way
*Fr. Dr. Luis Barrios, Chair of the Latin American & Latina/o Studies, John Jay College of Criminal Justice-City University of New York (CUNY)
*Rev. Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, Director, Faith Voices for the Common Good
*Rev. Dr. John Buehrens, Former President, Unitarian Universalist Association
*Rev. Ignacio Castuera, National Chaplain, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
*Rev. Robert Chase, Founding Director, Intersections
*Cyra Choudhury, Executive Director, Foundation for the Advancement of Women in Religion
*Rev. Steve Clapp, President, Christian Community
*Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, Regional Director, Union for Reform Judaism Pennsylvania Council
*Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder, Presiding Bishop, The Fellowship
*Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, Founder and Senior Analyst, FaithTrust Institute
*Rev. Larry Greenfield, Executive Minister, American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago
*Rev. Debra W. Haffner, Director, Religious Institute
*Ann L. Hanson, Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice, Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ
*Rev. Cedric Harmon, Associate Field Director for Religious Outreach, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State
*Dr. Mary E. Hunt, Co-Director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)
*Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs, Founder, Progressive Faith Foundation
*Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President, Union Theological Seminary
*Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, Director, Population and Reproductive Health Program, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation; Former Secretary General, World Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA)
*Rev. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
*Rabbi Dr. Peter S. Knobel, President, Central Conferences of American Rabbis
*Harry Knox, Director of the Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign
*Rev. Jennifer Kottler, Former Executive Director, Let Justice Roll
*Rev. Peter Laarman, Executive Director, Progressive Christians Uniting
*Rabbi Michael Lerner, Chair, Network of Spiritual Progressives
*Rev. Michael E. Livingston, Executive Director, International Council of Community Churhces; Immediate Past President, National Council of Churches
*Rev. Barry Lynn, Executive Director, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State
*Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice
*Dr. Mercy Oduyoye, Founder, Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians; Director, Institute of Women in Religion and Culture
*Rev. Troy Plummer, Executive Director, Reconciling Ministries Network
*Dr. Sylvia Rhue, Director of Religious Affairs, National Black Justice Coalition
*Rev. Karen H. Senecal, Clergy Project Manager, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
*Rev. William Sinkford, President, Unitarian Universalist Association
*Rev. Dr. William Stayton, Professor of Sexuality and Religion, Center of Excellence for Sexual Health, Morehouse School of Medicine
*Rev. Ron Stief, Director of Organizing Strategy, Faith in Public Life
*Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
*Rev. Dr. Emilie M. Townes, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Yale Divinity School
*Rev. Carlton Veazey, President and CEO, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
*Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Founder and Director, The Shalom Center
*Loribeth Weinstein, Executive Director, Jewish Women International
*Dr. Traci West, Professor of Ethics and African American Studies, Drew University Theological School
*Rev. Elder Nancy L. Wilson, Moderator, Metropolitan Community Churches
*Rev. James E. Winkler, General Secretary, United Methodist General Board of Church and Society
*Ani Zonneveld, President, Muslims for Progressive Values

*Organizations for identification only
** List in formation

I hope you'll join this important initiative. Click here for more information.

Photo courtesy of Paula Allen/

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I'm guessing that more than a few of you are making extra efforts to laugh these days. I find myself making the effort to stay up for The Daily Show, to find something to laugh about at the end of the day, and at least for the first ten minutes of SNL.

So, last night, we set out to find a funny movie. We had seen "Burn After Reading", and so we went to see Bill Maher's "Religulous."

And, it did have more than a few LOL moments. If you've watched Maher at all, you know that he has no personal use for organized religion, and in these interviews, he finds ample people who are willing to make "religulous comments." He surely brings out what a friend at the movie theater called the "shadow side" of organized religion.

But, ultimately, by the end of the movie I was angry. Maher seems totally ignorant of historical exegetical criticism of the Bible or that people can value the Bible without being a literalist. His lack of knowledge about Scripture is writ large throughout the movie.

But, much more dismaying is that he is either completely ignorant of, or just chose not to show, either the existence of a progressive religious voice or any of the positive work organized religion does in the world. No reference to religious leadership in social movements, like ending slavery or the civil rights movement -- or anti-poverty efforts today -- or a single interview with any of the wonderful diverse religious leaders I am privileged to know and work with for social justice.

The end result is the viewer is left with the idea that Religious = Fundamentalism and that the only other possible response is secular. The movie plays into the idea held by far too many on the right that the religious right is the only legitimate religious voice in the public square -- and by far too many on the left that there is no value in organized religion or faith.

Several years ago, I coined the term "religiophobia" to characterize progressive people with an irrational fear of organized religion (like homophobia is an irrational fear of gay people or gynephobia is an irrational fear of women.) This movie is full of it.