Saturday, August 30, 2008

Post Denver Convention, Post Palin Thoughts

I was just too stunned by yesterday's announcement to blog about what was missing from the Democratic convention as I had promised.

I might be celebrating today a step forward for women if McCain had nominated Christie Todd Whitman, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Olympia Snow, Susan Collins -- in other words, a Republican woman candidate for the White House who actually supports women's rights with a proven track record at the national level. I encourage you to watch the opening segment from Friday night's Daily Show. Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee get it as only they could. Let's just begin by pointing out how disappointed I am that the candidate for Vice President is against abortion even in cases of rape and incest and supports a constitutional amendment against same sex marriage.

But, I still want to say something about what concerned me about last week in Denver, before our attention is turned towards Minnesota. Although I Senator Obama talked about "reducing unintended pregnancies" and "our gay brothers and sisters", I can't recall that any of the most major speakers committed to Roe or called for marriage equality. A few speakers may have mentioned the word gay, but at least as far as I heard, none mentioned the word "transgender" or called for ENDA. Besides Bill Clinton, if AIDS prevention in the U.S. was mentioned, I missed it. We heard a little bit about Joe Biden's bill on sexual violence against women, but otherwise issues of sexual harassment, domestic violence, and sexual abuse prevention were MIA. So was speaking out against abstinence-only education or removing abstinence requirements in Pepfar. And the faith panels included far more faith leaders who do not support sexual justice than those who do.

So, yes, this election season will be historic, but for those of us who work for sexual justice, there is much to do to have our commitments honored by both parties.

As I will end my sermon tomorrow, "let us labor together, for all that is sacred and just, as co-creators of the loving world we seek."

Have a blessed weekend.

Friday, August 29, 2008

We Are Living History

To me, this picture says it all.

Regardless of your political affiliation or who you will vote for in November, we witnessed history last night.

Forty five years ago, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King told the crowds on the mall, "I have a dream."

Last night, that dream became a reality in front of the world in moments that caused tears to roll down my face.

Perhaps I'll blog later about the week as a whole, including what I wished we had heard but didn't.

But last night I had trouble getting to sleep because of how moving it was -- and I woke up early this morning with hope in my heart.

We are living history, and today is a hope filled day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

100,000th Reader

Here's to my 100,000 readers!

Thank you to all of you who have visited my blog during the past two years.

Blessings on your day!

Rev. Debra

One More Time: Faith Leaders and People of Faith are Pro-Choice, Pro-Full Inclusion, and Pro-Sexual Justice

This story from the front page of Yahoo News by an AP reporter made me want to scream at the computer at 7:00 am this morning.

He reports that faith leaders at the Democratic convention are pressing the party on their positions on restricting abortion, school choice, and other such issues.

Not ONE pro-choice faith leader in Denver was interviewed for the article.

This is not just a matter of this one reporter's ignorance. The fact is that when I reviewed the list of people asked to speak at the various faith forums and caucuses being held at the Democratic convention only a few were clergy who have been outspoken for sexual justice. Many more have been open in their opposition to reproductive rights and marriage equality. Perhaps this reporter can't be blamed for not hearing other voices.

But, I am so tired of reading that "people of faith" or "faith leaders" don't support sexual justice or that if you believe abortion is a moral decision, it means you are anti-choice. SO, one more time:

There are millions of people of faith (and their faith leaders) who support sexual justice, the moral agency of women, abortion rights, family planning, sexuality education, full inclusion of LGBTQQI persons, and marriage equality. There are religious denominations, including Senator Obama's, that actively support these issues.

I am one of tens of thousands of religious leaders who are pro-faith, pro-family, pro-choice, pro-full inclusion, pro-marriage equality, pro-women's rights...and I believe with all my heart and being the words of the Religious Declaration: that "sexuality is God's life-giving and life-fulfilling gift" and that we all have the right and the obligation to celebrate our "sexuality with holiness and integrity."

So, to the AP writer and Yahoo news, yes, there are some people of faith at the convention promoting more conservative positions. But, I am willing to wage money that the majority of people of faith in Denver support sexual justice. What can we do to help you cover them?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Take a Moment To Celebrate Women's Equality Day

Today is Women's Equality Day, the anniversary of the day that women first got the vote.

Last night, watching Michelle Obama, I couldn't help but think about how far we've come from the vision of the suffragettes who won the vote. Could they have imagined her?

Ten years younger than I am, I thought, "she is the woman that the second wave of feminism created" -- a woman with a full time brilliant career serving others, a working mom devoted to her school age children, a partner in a peer marriage -- a woman who was basically unknown to me when I was growing up in the sixties, but the woman I hope today's girls will know they can become. And tonight the convention will feature the first woman candidate for President and many female Senators , Congresspersons, and Governors.

Change is happening, has happened.

The evening would have been perfect except for the benediction, offered from this UU minister's perspective, without regard for the diversity of religious belief in the convention hall or across America. Note to the others offering invocations and benedictions: your remarks not only have to be non-partisan, they need to speak to all of us. Your language of the divine and what is most sacred needs to include all of us -- even nonbelievers, no less those who don't call Jesus Lord. Let's hope the rest of the clergy involve don't make the same mistake.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Conventions Begin

It's a good thing that Mad Men is on Sunday nights (my current must see TV program), because for the next four nights, I'll be glued to CNN or CSPAN.

It will be fascinating to see how sexual justice issues play out over the next two weeks. Despite all of the atttention the nation needs to be spending on the economy, the war, health care, and education, I'm wondering how much time will be spent on sexuality issues -- most notably reproductive health and justice and full inclusion of LGBT issues.

Right now, according to the line up for the Denver speakers, the presidents of NARAL and PPFA are evening speakers. Curiously, I can't identify one of the speakers as a leader on lesbian and gay concerns. Perhaps the party hopes that no one will notice if marriage equality just isn't mentioned.

I debated whether to join many of my colleagues at the many faith based events scheduled in Denver this week, but since no one asked ME to speak ; ) I decided I'd stay home and watch it on television.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Will YOU Be My 100,000 reader?

In the next 48 hours, according to, I will have my 100,000 reader.

I don't think I will be able to tell who you are, but I hope you'll all celebrate with me. I am grateful to those of you who are my regular readers (several thousand each month, which make you a pretty decent size congregation) and invite you to join in the discussions of sexuality and religion, ethics, and morals with me.

Blessings for the new week!

Rev. Debra

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sexual Justice and the Upcoming Conventions

I know many of you have been glued to the television watching the Olympics these past two weeks. I've watched women's gymnastics and a little bit of swimming, but as a political junkie, the next two weeks of the conventions will be much more "must see TV" for me.

Last week, the Religious Institute sent a letter to both presumptive candidates and campaigns, urging them to affirm sexual justice issues. I thought some of you might be interested in the letters, which were basically identical in our requests.

I can't wait to see how all of this plays out! Stay tuned.

Here's the bulk of the letter:

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.

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.

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.

Over the last nine years, over 2,800 religious leaders from more than 50 faith traditions have endorsed the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, which recognizes sexuality as “central to our humanity and integral to our spirituality.” In that time, the Religious Institute also has published a series of Open Letters to Religious Leaders, articulating progressive, theologically informed positions on sexuality education, abortion as a moral decision, marriage equality, adolescent sexuality, sexual and gender diversity, and assisted reproductive technologies. Together, the Religious Declaration and Open Letters – written in collaboration with prominent theologians from a range of religious backgrounds – constitute a platform for sexual justice that we encourage your campaign to adopt and actively promote.

We'll let you know if we hear from them!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What College Freshman Know...

Beloit College introduced its "Mindset List" of this year's college freshman.

It includes 60 items, that today's freshmen, have "always known", different that those of us from earlier generations. It ranges from ice tea in cans and bottles to Jay Leno as the only host of the Tonight show to electronic filing of tax returns.

Only one item has directly to do with sexuality: there have always been gay rabbis. Actually that should probably have read "openly gay rabbi's".

But it occurs to me that for at least for students in college today, there are many assumptions about sexuality that weren't true say for students ten years ago. Off the top of my head here are a few:

*They have been asked to take a virginity pledge, offered abstinence-only-until-marriage education, and had an abstinence group that they could join us campus.

*Their choices of contraception now include the patch, the ring, and emergency contraception.

*Medical abortion is an alternative to surgical abortion.

*There was a gay/straight alliance at their high school.

*They know someone who calls themselves gender queer.

*If they are Unitarian Universalist or UCC, they had sex education in church, in middle school. If they belong to one of ten religious denominations or live in Massachusetts or California, they know a same sex married couple.

*Hooking up is not attaching a trailer to the car.

*They never snuck their parent's Playboy or Playgirl Magazine. They probably didn't go to the library to look up sexuality questions. Their first view of women in scant underwear was in a catalog that came to their home in the mail.

*They know more about STDS/STI's then their parents.

*They've had vaccines for Hepatitis and HPV.

*They use condoms the first time they have sexual intercourse.

*A majority of them still haven't received comprehensive sexuality education at home, school, or their faith community.

Here's a challenge to my Facebook readers -- what else would you add to this list?

And to those of you my age, the challenge is not to read the Beloit List, and feel old...really old.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Abortion, Sexuality Education, Marriage Equality -- We are Winning Rights

I "borrowed" this picture from a celebrity web site -- it's Ellen and Portia's wedding from this past weekend, and when it popped up as a yahoo headline, I thought to myself "how far we really have come."

I am generally an optimist, but there are days when as a minister and an advocate, I feel discouraged, especially when I'm being attacked from either the left or the right.

But, this picture reminds me that we are moving towards a world of sexual justice where two women celebrities marrying are featured because they are celebrities, not of the same sex.

And if that seems like I am naive, just think about other recent advances. See for example my post from last week about social evangelicals taking credit for the Democratic platform calling for a reduction in unwanted pregnancies and abortions through comprehensive sexuality education, widespread family planning, and better supports for women who want to have their pregnancies go to term as well as more support for adoption. Finally, the goals of the pro-choice community are being seen as the middle ground they have always been. (See Frances Kissling's hard hitting post on this over at RH Reality check or Jim Wallis' article in the Sojourner's newsletter for more.)

Or, think about John McCain's muffled comment at Saddleback on marriage about supporting civil protections, Now, he didn't quite say civil unions but it was close. Or about the recent votes in Massachusetts or the Supreme Court decision in California -- or the wedding pictured above. There is no question that we are getting closer to marriage equality in this country than we could have dreamed even a decade ago.

There was a point in my work in sexuality education as President of SIECUS where I realized we had WON the major conflict, that the "battles" were now about content, but not about whether schools should teach sexuality education at all. (You probably don't remember that in the late 1960's the John Birch Society said that sex education was a Communist Plot and asked in a widely distributed booklet, "Is the Little Red School House the Place for Raw Sex?") The culture has decided that young people need information and education, even as some communities fight abstinence only or talking about contraception and STD prevention as well.

Looking at Ellen and Portia beam in this picture, I wonder if we're not close to that place about sexual orientation...thinking about the Democratic platform, to that place about reproductive rights.

There are of course tons of rights still to secure, but there is no question that we are moving towards justice. Call me naive, but I'm ready to celebrate along with the Degeneris-DeRossi's.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Don't Leave Sexual Justice Out of Saddleback

On Saturday, the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church (one of America's largest evangelical megachurches and the author of the Purpose Driven Life) is hosting the two presidential candidates for a dialog on values based issues.

Like the earlier Compassion Forum, we hope that this dialog will not exclude important sexual justice issues.

I've written more extensively about this for Huffington Post; please go to to read more.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Common Ground on Abortion and Unintended Pregnancies

My regular readers know that the Religious Institute calls for a faith based commitment to reproductive rights and believes that abortion is a moral decision. You also know that I have repeatedly resisted those who claim that they are progressive but advocate for policies to reduce the number of abortions by 90 or 95% without both assuring access to safe and legal abortion services and advocating for sexuality education and family planning to avoid unintended pregnancies.

We've often felt like a lone voice in the religious community on this issue.

So, I want you to go over to the Christian Broadcasting web site and read this article by David Brody, their CBN News Senior Correspondent, on the proposed language on abortion for the Democratic platform. He reports that such evangelical and Catholic leaders as Joel Hunter, Jim Wallis, and Tony Campolo helped create it.

He's surprised that the language includes support for prenatal care, adoption, and parenting, AS IF pro-choice persons haven't always actively supported these issues. I have a 30 year history in the sexual and reproductive rights movement, and I want to remind CBN that such organizations as Planned Parenthood, NFPRHA, and SIECUS (which I headed for 12 years) have always supported options based pregnancy counseling for women with unintended pregnancies, that include having and raising a baby, adoption, and abortion services. The Religious Institute's Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision explicitly includes support for intentional parenting and removal of barriers that keep women from having children they desire.

Mr. Brody applauds what he sees as a change in the pro-choice position and that it is likely to reassure evangelical and Catholic leaders. No change, Mr. Brody and CBN, but I'm glad you like it. It's what the pro-choice movement has been about all along.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sex Education John Edwards Could Have Used -- Like Others Before Him

As we were stuck with weather delays on returning from the Canadian Rockies on Friday, we watched the John Edwards story unfold on the TV monitors in the airport. Once again, my initial response was that this is private behavior, that the press should not be involved in such stings, and that our prayers should be with the family. But, the possibilities that the Edwards campaign hired his mistress for a job she had little experience for or paid her money to keep her quiet moves this into a public realm in a different way. And I shudder to think what this might have meant if Mr. Edwards was now a candidate for the Presidency.

And I remembered a column that I had written for the Huffington Post after the revelations about Eliot Spitzer...or was that John McCain...or Senator Craig...or?

So here with some updating are some basic guidelines for politicians -- or any sexually healthy adult.

Honor your commitments to your partner. A sexually healthy marriage is based on honesty and trust; only you and your spouse know what you have agreed to, but don't put her in the position of having to stand by you at a microphone while you confess to the entire world. Keep that picture in your head as you are considering your behaviors. I have great respect for the way Elizabeth Edwards responded this weekend.

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. If your partner isn't interested in exploring a particular part of your eroticism with you, the safest thing is to explore it only in the confines of your mind.

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. Sex workers don't. Neither do women or men in their twenties. Oh, and the scrupulous use of birth control and condoms are not alternative behaviors. One can only hope that Mr. Edwards knows for sure that this is not his child.

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, just say no. Visiting a sex club, a sex worker, having sex with an employee, soliciting someone in a public bathroom or park, putting a lover on a payroll: chances are it's going to land you on the front page and you'll lose your job or your reputation .

Remember that a moral sexual relationship is consensual, nonexploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable and protected. Does the relationship meet those criteria? If you can't answer yes to all of these, say no.

Always ask if the behavior consistent with your values, expressed and internal. If you're found out, will you be accused of hypocrisy? More importantly, can you live with yourself -- and the impact of the world and your family finding out? It is painful to think about the conversations this weekend at the Edwards' home.

Of course, these ethics apply to all of us, not just people in political power. Remember that Scripture counsels us to be careful about throwing the first stone.