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.