Monday, September 29, 2008

La Shana Tova

At sundown tonight, Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year begins. The legend says that tonight the book of life is open and on Yom Kippour our fate for the next year will be sealed. These ten days are called the "Days of Awe."

It is a time for reverence...for prayer...for offering and asking for forgiveness...for charity...for taking stock of one's blessings and how we can better serve the world...for reflection and renewal and recommitment.

As a Jewish Unitarian Universalist, I can't write those words without thinking that it is always time for all of those. That each day we awake, the book of life is open to us, and every day we should take the time, even if it is only a few moments, to feel awe -- the miracle that we are alive at all, the miracle that we are loved, the miracle that we have this day for reflection and renewal and recommitment, to ask forgiveness and to be oh so grateful.

May this be a blessed year for you and your's. May you be inscribed in the book of life and may you feel gratitude for all that is good. La Shana Tova.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Report from GCAPP in Atlanta

I'm just getting ready to leave Atlanta, where I was the first keynote speaker at the biannual meeting of GCAPP, the Georgia Campaign To Prevent Teenage Pregnancy. I talked about my new book, "What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know" with an emphasis on the conference theme of reaching out to boys and men.

What I learned in preparing for the speech is that teen men have actually had greater improvements in risk taking behaviors in recent years than teen women, in many areas. They've had a larger decrease in the proportion who have had intercourse in high school, and the average of first intercourse among boys has increased in the past 15 years. They are less likely to drink than teen girls -- although more likely to drop out of school or be the victim of a violent crime. Boys and girls have almost identical rates of being the victims of dating violence.

But, as the panelists after me dramatically pointed out the issues for teen fathers, especially young men of color, continue to be dire. And I heard a terrific presentation about "Men of Strength Clubs" that are challenging the dominant culture's view of masculinity.

As always, it is the Q&A sessions after my talks and the conversations in the hall where I learn the most. One woman asked me if I thought I was perhaps too optimistic. I told her it was an occupational hazard for a minister from a tradition that believes in universal salvation.

But, I am optimistic -- at least about our children and teenagers and the excellent work these 200 service providers are doing for them here in Georgia.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Woman For Vice President, But Not As Your Pastor

I wrote last year about being in the audience at Renaissance Weekend and hearing Rev. Richard Land, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention, talk about why women can't be ministers. Although there were women ministers on the panel with him, he without any hesitation or even apology, said in no uncertain terms that he would never support women as senior clergy nor did he think rites performed by women could be considered valid. To say I was offended is an understatement.

At least according to an interview in Christianity Today, he has no such hesitation about a woman as Vice President, reporting indeed that he had recommended Sarah Palin as a candidate.

But, let's not think that this means that the Southern Baptists think that women can lead churches. According to a report by Religious News Service, the current issue of Gospel Today is being kept off the shelves at the SBC's Lifeway Christian Bookstores. Why? Because there are five women ministers on the cover. Read more at:

So, what am I not getting? Apparently Mr. Land has said that the Bible only speaks out against women ministers not women Vice Presidents. But, I'm not sure what verses he could be referring to. Of course, there are those very few verses in Ephesians that say that women must be submissive to their husbands, and by inference, that no man should be submissive to a woman. But, correct me if I am wrong, I don't think there is any verse that says we can't be pastors. And then there are those Genesis and Galatian texts that say that we are all equally created in God's image.

So, a few questions are in order here. If Ms. Palin wins, might the Southern Baptists finally change their minds on women senior ministers? Or do they know if Ms. Palin has her husband's permission to run for office? And what happens if she becomes the Commander in Chief of all of the armed services, and all those military men have to report to her?

Can you really support a woman for the second highest office in the land and yet not want another woman to baptise, marry, or bury you?

I don't get it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Prayers for Virginia Mollenkott, Eve Ensler, and the Women in the Congo

One of the greatest blessings of my move to ministry are the people I get to know and with whom I share my ministry. There are the people I work with every day -- Kate Ott, Tim Palmer, Katey Zeh, and Rev. Steve Clapp who enrich my life and work beyond words.

And then there the people I get to meet and know in the course of my ministry.

On Friday night, I attended a celebration of the life and work of Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, the author of such groundbreaking books as "Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?" and more recently "Omnigender". Virginia has spoken out for the LGBT community and God's love of diversity for decades. Virginia self identifies as a transgender, lesbian, evangelical Christian (and some of you thought sexologist minister was an oxymoron!) In addition to her amazing decades of scholarship and activism, she has a huge generous heart. I wrote her how inspired I was by her work -- she wrote me back her admiration for our's, and told me to just keep doing it, one project at a time, just like she has.

And then Sunday morning, I received an email from Eve Ensler, who is currently on her third trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Along with the UN and UNICEF, she has created a project to stop the rape of women and girls in the Congo and to support a hospital and city to repair the tens of thousand of women who have been victims of unrelenting brutal violence. This past week, the Panzi Hospital, where women are repaired daily, was attacked by bandits. You can read more in Eve's own words at

The Religious Institute is launching a project in the coming weeks to engage faith communities in this Congo initiative. I'll be posting more here, but we will be asking congregations of all types to hold Congo Sabbaths during the coming year, to educate themselves and to help raise money to help women rebuild their lives after rape and torture. As people of faith, we must stand up against this violence against women's very beings.

Virginia and Eve, you inspire me by your courage, your commitment, your outrageousness, your fearlessness. I hope they'll inspire you too.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Moving Beyond Abortion As An Electoral Issue

So in the midst of this economic meltdown, what made the front pages again this week? Abortion.

The New York Times had a front page story on Catholics and abortion. The Wall Street Journal had a story on Thursday on new abortion ad campaigns. I received two proud emails from groups, Catholics United and a new pro-choice organization, on their new abortion ads in key electoral states.

Now, I am consistently and historically pro-choice, and as my regular readers know, I am strongly committed to reproductive justice and to helping people understand that abortion is always a moral decision.

BUT, goodness, even I am weary of this being a front-and-center election issue, especially given what surely we all agree are the most pressing issues -- how do we keep the economy from imploding and how do we get out of Iraq, to say nothing about how we address the concerns of the most vulnerable among us.

The fact is that the two parties couldn't have more different positions on abortion, and we all know that. The fact is that most Americans have reached their own consensus on abortion -- they want it to be legal, and they want it to rare. And in almost every poll, between 8 and 9 in every 10 Americans believe we need sex education and family planning to reduce unintended pregnancies. As I often say from pulpits and in my writing, because life is so precious, surely we can agree to work together to ensure that it is not created unintentionally or carelessly.

Isn't it time we acknowledged that there is indeed a consensus on this and move on? And are there others of you out there who can't wait for it to be November 5th??

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Redux -- YES I meant I believe in sex education starting in kindergarten

So, silly me -- I thought this flap over sex education in kindergarten would be quickly over, once the facts about the Illinois law were known and that it would be dropped.

I mean we do have this very scary economic crisis going on.

But, last night, on CNN, it was brought up again by the conservative commentator, and then I heard him say, "Barack Obama supports the SIECUS guidelines, and that means teaching about body parts in kindergarten." He went on for a bit, but I didn't hear it, because I was so stunned to hear him mention the SIECUS guidelines.

Why? Well, because those Guidelines are one of the things I am most proud of in my 30 year career...I conceived them, I put together the task force of professionals from leading education and health organizations to develop them (including the CDC, the American Medical Association, and the National Council of Churches of Christ), and along with Dr. Bill Yarber, I developed the framework and edited the 1991 first version and the 1996 update. I also oversaw their adaptation for schools in Brazil, Russia, India, the Czech Republic, and Nigeria. The guidelines form the basis for some of the best curricula, including Our Whole Lives, in the country.

In other words, it was a little like listening to hearing your child "dissed" on national television. I was first proud (wait, wait, did he just say SIECUS guidelines?) and then angry about them being distorted -- and then even angrier about them being injected into the presidential campaign, as if they were a bad idea.

So, yes, sex education in school should begin the primary grades and continue in an age appropriate manner through schooling -- actually, throughout life. I think most adults would agree that our need for information actually continues into midlife and beyond (but that's a subject for another post.)

But, really, CNN commentator and folks on the right -- don't we all have much bigger issues to worry about -- like which candidate is going to do a better job on the economy and national security?

UPDATE: Huffington Post just added my more extended blog on this. Read it at

Monday, September 15, 2008

Even the Red States are Really Purple....

My weekend in Fort Wayne, Indiana, included keynoting a conference for people of faith from a wide number of churches, doing a parenting workshop, leading the adult education session and preaching at a UCC congregation.

I was reminded -- once again -- that even in the most conservative areas, people need and want a message that affirms sexuality as part of spirituality and full inclusion for us all.

Here's some of what happened this weekend:

An elderly couple with tears running down their faces asked if they could hug me after I preached, the woman saying, "I've never had my gay son affirmed this way at church before."

A couple with a young child reached out to me to talk about how and when to talk to their child about their use of IVF to conceive.

Two gay men told me that they have plans to go to Massachusetts to get married later this fall and asked for my blessing.

A woman thanked me for acknowledging women like her who had been sexually abused as children.

At last a handful of clergy who had never heard of the Religious Institute joined our network.

Oh, and an elderly man handed me a cookie when I got off the plane, welcoming me to Fort Wayne.

It's good to remember that even in the red states, there are many progressive people who support sexual justice -- and welcome the stranger and love their neighbor.

Friday, September 12, 2008


I'm off this morning to speak and preach in Fort Wayne, Indiana this weekend.

I thought I'd post a piece of the sermon I gave last weekend. It's about a discipline I learned this summer from my dear friend, Rev. Kathryn Booth.

Have a blessed weekend!

Here it is:

Let’s call it the practice of “fascinating.” Kathryn is starting a contemplative retreat center in Acadia with her partner, but in order to have health insurance and some guarantee of a weekly income, she works as the office manager of a hospice. At a staff meeting one day, one of her co-workers exploded in anger at another and left the room. The woman she had directed her anger at then said calmly and quietly, “fascinating.” “Fascinating?!” asked Kathryn, “What do you mean?” And the woman explained to her that whenever she encounters someone’s anger or contempt or anxiety, especially when it seems to be directed at her, she steps back and thinks, “Fascinating. I wonder what’s going on for her or him to be acting that way.”

Think about it…this is one step beyond the Buddhist’ principle of detachment. It asks us to step back and actually feel compassion for the other person, to remember that we rarely know what is going on "where the spirit meets the bone. " Try it, the next time someone is impatient with you in line at the store or at work or rude or you get an email that was better left unsent or your co-worker or partner is angry or upset with you. Don’t engage your ego; it may not be about you. Think “fascinating” and wonder what might be going on for them —and then decide how to react, if at all.

I’ve also discovered that “fascinating” can be an internal spiritual practice as well. Next time you find yourself anxious or depressed or inexplicably angry, step back from yourself for a moment and observe. “Fascinating. I wonder what this is about.” Show the same compassion for yourself that you hope to show for others. “Hmm…fascinating.” A therapist many years ago wisely taught me, “You have feelings. You are not your feelings.” If perhaps we can think to ourselves, “fascinating”, we can more easily move to the next moment.

Try it, and let me know. Fascinating.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yes, Sex Education for Kindergarteners

Sex education has made it into the national campaign, but not in the way I would hope.

Last year, you may remember that I had the opportunity to debate Bill O'Reilly on whether sex education should begin in kindergarten.

I said then, and I'll repeat now, that I believe in K - 12 sex education. So do more than 150 national health, medical, religious, and youth-serving organizations.

Sex education in the early primary years sets a foundation for later, more in-depth education. It includes lessons on taking good care of your body, family roles, treating people with respect, the names of body parts, and sex abuse prevention. It helps children feel good about their bodies, their gender, their families, and gives them age-appropriate information. It teaches them "no, go, tell" about sexual abuse -- say no, get away, and tell an adult you trust what happened. It supports parent/child communication about these issues.

The Unitarian Universalist Association and United Church of Christ sex education program "Our Whole Lives" includes a model K-12 program. I wish all children received such basic, supportive programs.

The curriculum DOES NOT include discussions of sexual behaviors or contraceptive methods or other information that would not be age-appropriate for five- or six-year-olds. The ad referenced in the article is supposed to scare viewers by conjuring up images of sexually explicit material being presented to five-year-olds -- nothing could be further from the truth.

And Mr. O'Reilly, I still think that five-year-olds can be taught that babies grow in a special place inside their mother called a uterus.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Jonas Brothers, purity rings, and what teenagers need

Until a week ago, I hadn't heard of these latest new boy band. They are the Jonas Brothers, and from what I've gathered, they are these tweens' version of NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, and oh, dating myself, David Cassidy and the Partridge Family.

On Monday night at the MTV awards, a British Rocker named Brand (who I hadn't heard of either) made fun of them for wearing "purity rings." These rings are part of a faith-based program for teens to pledge to not have sex until marriage. Jordan Sparks, of American Idol fame, also has made her pledge public, and fired back at Brand that not everyone was a "slut."

I thought to myself, "when did personal choices about sexual activity - or lack of -- become a public declaration of superior morality?" The Jonas Brothers and Jordan Sparks are all under 20 and most are still in high school. Almost all of us would agree that it is better for high school age teenagers not to engage in sexual intercourse until they are emotionally and cognitively mature enough to handle its consequences, but I am troubled by the suggestion that all of those that do, are making immoral choices.

Here are some facts. Although some studies indicate that abstinence pledges cause young people to delay having intercourse, it's only by about a year and a half and those same studies show that when they do have sex, they are more likely to not use contraception and condoms. Pledgers are also many times more likely to have had oral sex or anal sex than non-pledgers, substituting other sexual behaviors. And no program has evidence that it delays sex until marriage, the explict promise that is being made. For more than sixty years, about 90% of people have first intercourse before they are married.

What young people need from us is more than symbolic gestures. As I've written about numerous times on this blog, and in my books, is they need adult help in making healthy and responsible decisions about their sexual behaviors, consistent with their own values. We need to support the virgins and the teens who are engaging in sexual behaviors in loving, committed relationships responsibly.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Could Sarah and Bristol Palin Be A Turning Point on Sex Education?

After a week that included a day in New York taping ABC News and a less than 24-hour trip to St. Paul, I was glad for a quiet Saturday and homecoming at church yesterday.

I've been a little taken aback by some of the criticism I've received about my blogs last week, including ones from the United Kingdom and Australia that called me mean-spirited and nasty. The comments on my blog took on an unusually heated tone as well.

For those who think Sarah Palin's family should be off limits, I wonder what you thought of her doing exclusive cover stories with People and US Weekly, including extensive family pictures. I'll repeat, I don't think you can have it both ways.

I'm more troubled, though, that these seem to be the ONLY interviews she's given this past week. Shouldn't we all be concerned that she's being sold as a personality, indeed a celebrity, rather than a serious policy maker? I look forward to hearing interviews from Sarah Palin, policy maker, not home maker.

The New York Times ran this excellent op ed piece this weekend on the need for sexuality education in light of Bristol Palin joining the more than 400,000 other young women who will give birth as teenagers this year. I wonder if, in some odd way, this whole situation will move the country's debate on sexuality education forward. Just as Rock Hudson personalized AIDS and Ellen DeGeneres personalized gay people when she came out, perhaps Bristol Palin, in a way that Jamie Lynn Spears did not, will help people understand that all young people need complete and accurate information about their sexuality.

In recent months, an additional 10 states have decided to stop accepting federal abstinence-only-until-marriage education funding, bringing the total number of states rejecting it to 25. Maybe we are at a turning point after all.

Friday, September 05, 2008

What I Told the Press at the RNC

I'm back from St. Paul. -- tired but glad I had this opportunity to represent progressive people of faith.

Here's the first piece I've seen coming out of our press conference. Here's a clip with me from ABC News NOW this week.

Here's how I began and end my comments:

"As faith leaders, we offer our compassionate support to the Palin family, but we are here today to present a religious foundation for supporting programs to prevent teenage pregnancy and diseases and assure healthy futures. Governor Palin has said that her daughter made her own decision, but the party platform supports policies that deny personal decision making about sexual matters, from abstinence-only-until-marriage education to denying women abortions even in cases of rape and incest to denying same sex couples the right to marry....

It is is way past time...for policy makers in both parties to cease funding abstinence-only-until marriage programs that are not only ineffective, but put our teenagers at risk -- at risk for pregnancy, at risk for disease, at risk for short changed futures, for the denial of the gift of their sexuality. It is time to provide all of our young people with comprehensive sexuality education that respects the diversity of values in a community and provides full and medically accurate information. It's the only moral response."

What a fascinating election season this will be. It is clear from the past two weeks that sexual justice issues will be centrally discussed and debated. As progressive people of faith, I urge you to become involved. Read all you can. Volunteer. Help register people to vote. Get your absentee ballots now if you will be out of town. Talk to your friends. Make sure your young adult children are registered. VOTE.

Together, let us make sure that when the pollsters and the media and the public discuss "values voters", they know that we vote our values too.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I'm at the RNC, speaking at a faith press conference on sexuality education and other sexual justice issues

I received a call late yesterday afternoon, to come out to St. Paul and do a press conference at the RNC meetings on a faith based perspective on sexuality education and adolescent sexuality. Here's the press release. It's at 2 p.m. CST...please keep me in your prayers.

Advocates of Comprehensive SexualityEducation Holding Press Conference in St.Paul , Minnesota (Sept. 4, 2008 -- St.Paul , MN ) A panel ofclergy, youth and family advocates, and educators will hold a press conference today at 2:00 PM in the Mezzanine Conference Room of theAlliance Bank Center, at 55 East5th Street , St. Paul .

These leaders will call on elected officials at the stateand federal levels to stop funding for abstinence-only programs and to protectadolescent health by supporting comprehensive sexuality education. Although $1.5 billion dollars in taxpayer money has beenspent on abstinence-only programs since 1996, abstinence-only programs are noteffective. One in four teenage girls has a sexually-transmitte d infection, andof the 750,000 teen pregnancies that occur each year, 82% are unintended.*

The best way to protectAmerica ¢s young people fromunintended pregnancies, and from sexually-transmitte d diseases and infections,is by providing comprehensive sexuality education in our public schools. .

Speakers will include: Rev. Debra Haffner, Director of the Religious Institute onSexual Morality, Justice, and Healing; Rev. Robert Eller-Isaacs, Minister of Unity Church-Unitarian of St. Paul andPresident of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association; Brigid Riley, Executive Director of Minnesota Organization for AdolescentPregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPP); Dr. William J. Doherty, Marriage and Family Therapist andLicensed Psychologist ; Libby Arnosti, seventeen-year- old high school student andcongregant at Unity Church-Unitarian.

If you're out here, please join us. I'll tell you how it goes later!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

More on Sarah Palin

The Sarah Palin story is a national Rorschach test.

Let me be clear about my other posts -- I was not saying that I know ANYTHING about why Bristol Palin became pregnant. I was saying that based on Governor Palin's policies, I was pretty sure that she hadn't had discussions about pregnancy prevention in her home. I've also learned through news reports that she didn't have that type of education in her school or her church either. Yes, to some of those who have commented here and on my posts at Huffington and RH RealityCheck, teens who have comprehensive sexuality education get pregnant too. But, again, the research is pretty compelling that when parents talk to their teens about their values about sexual intercourse AND talk to them about contraception and/or condoms, they are more likely to protect themselves.

I am also not saying that Governor Palin is a bad mother for her choice to run. What's so interesting to me is that at least the conservative women I've seen interviewed aren't questioning the ability to take care of five children, two with pressing needs, and run for the second highest office in the country. Could it be that progressive mothers are because we are more likely to be working at executive level jobs and thus more likely to know, to have lived how hard it is to balance the needs of our children and our positions?

I can only speak for myself. I am, as my regular readers know, the proud mother of a now 15 year old son and 23 year old daughter. I have had a career (and indeed a vocation) through their lives. But, I took six months of maternity leave and eased back into work both times with weekly days at home. I have turned down offers to apply for jobs as presidents of much larger organizations because my children were too small for me to have a job that required 24/7. When my daughter became an adolescent, I made the decision to primarily work from home during her high school years. I have worked hard and made choices so that my children would always know and feel that they were my first priority.

I don't think progressive women reacting to Palin are re-igniting the Mommy Wars as the press has said. I don't think progressive women are saying that a working mother can't be President or Vice President. It's more that we can't imagine what it would take to do it -- especially given the Palin family's challenges at this time.

One last word from yesterday's comments -- if the Palin's want to keep Bristol's situation private, then why in heaven would they fly Levi Johnson to the convention?? Will he join them on the stage tonight? Will he be held up as the teenage boy who did right by his girlfriend? Again, I just don't think you can have it both ways.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Sarah Palin's Family Values

UPDATE: For my take on Tuesday, visit ...and if you have ABC News NOW on your cable system, I taped a piece with Annie Pleshett Murphy earlier today.

Monday's Post:

When I told my 23-year-old daughter the news about Sarah Palin's daughter, she said, "Mom, this must just be a joke. Did you check?"

The Democratic candidate has asked that his family and children be off limits. The Republican party says that this pregnancy is a PRIVATE FAMILY MATTER, although their policies surely don't support privacy for all women dealing with unintended pregnancies. Gov. Palin, according to MSNBC, has said that this was her daughter's own decision.


In 2006, Gov. Palin reportedly said that she would not support abortion even in the case of her own daughter becoming pregnant from rape. She opposes comprehensive sexuality education, and supports abstinence-only-until-marriage education. I can't know, of course, but I'm wondering how much talk there was about sexual limit-setting beyond "just say no" and contraception in the Palin household. I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that there wasn't much discussion either about all of Bristol's legal options when she told her parents about her pregnancy.

The research, as I've written about in my books for parents (see the list to the right), is quite clear. In homes where parents talk openly about sexuality with their children, including their values about premarital sex, contraception and STD prevention, their children are more likely to delay sexual activity and more likely to protect themselves if they do have sex. Perhaps Gov. Palin should reconsider her positions on teenage pregnancy prevention.

But something else has been bothering me all weekend, that seems even more troubling in light of this news. In my books, I have quoted the adage, "you are only as happy as your most unhappy child." Gov. Palin is the mother of a newborn with a disorder and of a 17-year-old who is about to have a baby while she's in high school. I have only the greatest compassion for what these past five months must have been like in her family. I've sat with enough families with children with disabilities and pregnant teens to know how heartbreaking these situations are -- and how much they demand of parents.

How is it, then, that she decided THIS was the time to run for national office? My family values -- and the decisions I've made throughout my career -- have always put challenging times in my family first. How come the "family values" folks aren't talking about that?