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