Sunday, June 28, 2009

Follow Me On Twitter!

The General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association has just ended - five full days of study, exhibits, meetings, workshops, plenary meetings, and worship services. It was great to meet so many of my regular blog readers at the Religious Institute's exhibit and at my workshop. To those of you who are reading my blog for the first time since we met at GA, welcome! And a thank you to James who told me that this blog is his homepage!

I'm actually off now for a four day vacation in Idaho and Wyoming. If something interesting happens in the world, I'll probably Twitter rather than blog. So, consider following me on Twitter at RevDebra! I'm building a Tweet Congregation, and I'd love you to join us!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Governor Sanford Should Have Just Said NO: Sex Education for Politicians

I generally don't blog twice in one day, but Governor Sanford's admission that he was in Argentina having an affair instead of governing this week brought to mind a post that I wrote last year for Huffington Post called "Sex Education for Politicians." With a few minor updates, here's what it said.

Governor Sanford joins the long line of exposes of public figures' sex lives. Many have been heterosexual men who have potentially risked everything for a sexual encounter or thrill. Think Eliot Spitzer, Gary Hart, Marv Alpert, Bill Clinton, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Bill Cosby, and Bill O'Reilly. Mr. O'Reilly and Mr. Cosby continue with their work; others have not been so lucky. It remains to be seen what will happen to South Carolina's governor.

But these men have either forgotten, or never learned, some basic rules for sexually healthy adults. So here they are:

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.

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.

Sexually healthy adults discriminate between sexual behaviors that are life-enhancing -- for themselves and their partners -- and 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, taking time off from your job to go to a foreign country without telling your staff how to find you, soliciting someone in a public bathroom or park: chances are it's going to land you on the front page, and you'll lose your job. It's even worse if you've campaigned or worked against other people doing the same things.

Remember that a moral sexual relationship is consensual, nonexploitive, honest, mutually pleasurable and protected. Does the relationship meet those criteria? We don't know much about Governor Sanford, but it sure sounds like he hasn't been honest with his wife. If you can't answer yes to all five criteria, say no.

Always ask if the behavior is consistent with your values, expressed and internal. Let's start with South Carolina's more than $3 million dollar a year commitment to abstinence-only education, Governor, and your party's comments on marriage. Do those lessons only apply to others?

Of course, this ethic applies to all of us, not just people in political power. It's just that other people don't end up on the front page. Bottom line: don't have sexual relationships or engage in sexual behaviors that put your family, your career, and your future at risk. It's basic sex education that everyone needs.

Religious Right: Old Wine, New Wineskin

Dear Ralph Reed:

I read yesterday that you are starting a new organization, the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

I read that you told US News, "This is not your daddy's Christian Coalition. ..It's got to be more brown, more black, more female, and younger. It's critical that we open the door wide and let them know if they share our values and believe in the principles of faith and marriage and family, they're welcome."

Now, Mr. Reed, I believe in faith and marriage and family; in fact, I have faith, a marriage, and a family. I also believe as your web site says in the "dignity of life and marriage."

So, why do I think that you weren't thinking of people like me when you created this new version of your previous organization? Our faith teaches that God created all of us and that sexual and gender diversity is part of God's blessing. We believe that marriage should be available to all committed loving adult couples. We believe in women's moral agency. We believe that all families have value and deserve respect and support.

We think those ARE "time honored values." And we're not going to let you claim that you speak for all people of faith or that you get to narrowly define faith, marriage, or family.

Because they belong to all of us.

And just because you say that this is new some of us remember only too well your earlier work. It may be a new wineskin, but it's not new wine.

In Faith,

The Reverend Debra W. Haffner

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Celebrating Title IX

I was not an athletic child.

It probably wouldn't have matter much if I was. The only sports available to girls in my high school were field hockey and cheer leading. Athletic girls had to fit themselves into one of these two narrowly defined categories. There were no intramural sports for women when I first got to Wesleyan.

That all changed thirty seven years ago today when Title IX was enacted, requiring schools and colleges to offer equal athletic opportunities to girls and young women. I was actually interning that summer for Congressman Stewart McKinney, and I wrote his testimony on why his daughters deserved the same opportunities to participate in high quality sports as his son. I remember how thrilled we were when the bill passed.

Title IX changed the world for young girls and young women, who have the whole world of sports opened to them. My daughter and my nieces were soccer players, basketball players, and karate students in elementary schools. Many of the women reading this probably can't imagine a time when young women didn't participate in athletics.

The White House is featuring photos of women athletes today.

Oh, and me? I still don't participate in team sports, but I love yoga, working out, hiking, cross country skiing, and dancing. And today, there are probably classes or clubs in most high schools for those.

Monday, June 22, 2009


We took my almost 16th year old son to see Hair this weekend on Broadway.

I was exactly his age when I saw it the first time.

Both times, it was fun, energetic, and entertaining. It deserved the Tony this year.

What it was not this time was shocking. And not just because I was watching it as a middle age baby boomer rather than a slightly rebellious teenager. (I was in the 10th grade when I saw Hair -- I often dressed the part but I didn't live it in any real way.)

The culture has changed. The homoerotic references in the play don't seem sly, they were sweet. The interracial relationships the same. The profanities mundane. The simulated sex overdone. The quick moment of nudity not shocking. The edge that the play must surely have had when it debuted muted. I thought my son must have had the same reaction to it that I did when late 6o's teenager me watched "Happy Days": "you really thought that was so radical?"

It was also reminder of a world before AIDS had changed the way young people understand and experience their sexuality.

We've grown up sexually as a culture, and overall, I think that's good. And those late 1960's hippies -- now in their sixties -- had something to do with it. So did the men at Stonewall -- so did the women in Atlantic City. More than 40 years ago.

Take your teenagers. It was an afternoon of teachable moments.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Abstinence Only Education = More Pregnant Teenagers

I tweeted last night: Abstinence-only education=teens still having sex but not protecting themselves when they do. I predicted this in 1997.

The Guttmacher Institute released a new study by John Santelli yesterday that found that the reason the teen birth rate has begun to rise is that while teenagers are still having sex at the same rates, fewer are now using contraception.

No surprise. For more than a decade, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have told teenager not to have sex and have withheld information about contraception and condoms. In fact, they have been prohibited from providing young people with information about contraception and condoms, except to tell them they don't work.

So, there should be no surprise that they don't use them.

And it shouldn't be any surprise that "just say no" doesn't work. As my regular readers know, I want to help young people delay getting involved in sexual behaviors they aren't ready for. I believe that most high school students aren't ready for sexual intercourse of any kind or to handle its consequences.

But, I also know that at least half of teens aren't going to listen to that -- and so I believe it is our moral responsibility to give them lifesaving prevention information.

This latest study demonstrates what happens when we don't.

To get regular information about breaking sexual justice news, follow me on Twitter at RevDebra

Thursday, June 18, 2009

One Small Step for the President, Giant Steps Needed

The President released a statement expanding benefits for lesbian and gay federal employees for coverage for their partners yesterday.

I watched it on CNN and was taken by his words. You can watch or read it here:

The President said it was a first step. First steps are good.

But, it was a pretty small step. And it doesn't undo the inexplicable and shameful defense by the Obama Department of Justice last week of DOMA, which compared same sex marriage to incest.

The President yesterday said he is committed to overturning DOMA and understands it is wrong. Those next steps can't come quick enough.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Ground that Common Ground Can Stand On

My colleagues over at RHReality Check have begun a new section of their blog dedicated to writing about common ground on abortion. I spoke to its moderator, Christina Page, yesterday, and she has invited me to share my thoughts on the forum. I'll let you know when that happens.

I told her that I believe in people of diverse views and good intentions coming together to seek genuine areas of overlapping concerns through careful dialogue and engagement. However, I am skeptical about the current calls for common ground as a way of developing public policy. As I wrote last week for the Women's Media Center, I firmly believe that the only common ground on abortion I can stand on must begin with an agreement that we must reduce the numbers of women who become unintentionally pregnant in the first place -- because of a lack of information or a lack of services or a lack of opportunities in their lives. As comments on this blog and the WMC site attest, I was criticized by people on all sides for that position.

More than a decade ago, I was part of an intense, two-day common ground initiative at the Wye River. Religious leaders across the spectrum participated, and we did agree on where common ground could be sought. I encourage you to read the paper that emerged from that dialogue at the website of the Religious Institute. I reread it just a few minutes ago and believe it is as applicable today as when it was written. At that common ground meeting, we agreed that there were seven opportunities for common ground dialogue:

* Promoting sexual responsibility
* Fostering equality and respect for women
* Strengthening parent-child communication about sexuality
* Working to reduce teenage pregnancies
* Improving prenatal and maternal care
* Supporting the choice of adoption
* Working together to reduce the conditions that lead to unplanned pregnancies

The common ground on abortion has already been carefully laid out. As Scripture teaches, there is nothing new under the sun. If people who oppose abortion are ready to talk about empowering women's moral agency and providing sexuality education and contraceptive services to teens and young adults, I believe real common ground can be found. After all, those of us who are pro-choice are already advocating for prenatal and maternal care and adoption as real options.

Is it cynical, or realistic, to believe that today's calls for common ground, whether in the blogosphere or at the White House, are going to come up with a pretty similar list? And can you blame those of us who have been part of these conversations for, say, 20-30 years for not being so enthusiastic about another round that starts at ground zero?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Has Dr. Tiller's murder changed the terms for common ground?

I'm happy to report that the Women's Media Center asked me to write an exclusive piece for their web site.

My article begins,

On Sunday, May 17, in his speech at Notre Dame, President Obama called for all sides in the abortion debate to tone down the rhetoric, recognize that we will never fully reconcile our views, and agree to work together where we have common aims. On Sunday, May 31, Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in his church. In the escalation of words and the threats of violence that followed, the President’s counsel seems both inadequate and na├»ve.

You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Supreme Court on Gays in the Military: Congress, It's Up to You

From the Center for American Progress this morning:

CIVIL RIGHTS -- SUPREME COURT DENIES CHALLENGE TO 'DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL': The Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear a challenge to an 1st Circuit appellate court decision on the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy, which had found that courts must defer to Congress on federal statutes regarding military affairs. The case was filed by "James E. Pietrangelo II, a former Army captain who was discharged from the military for being gay." But now, the Supreme Court's move "effectively leave[s] it to" Congress and the Obama administration "to resolve the long-standing controversial issue." Indeed, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), co-sponsor of legislation to overturn DADT, said on MSNBC last night that "one way or another [a change] is going to come." The president and Congress have been slow to act on the repeal, even as pressure to reverse the ban is gaining momentum. A new poll shows that nearly 70 percent of Americans support openly gay men and women being allowed to serve in the U.S. military. But the poll also shows a 12-point increase in the percentage of conservatives who said they oppose the policy, from 46 percent in November 2004 to 58 percent now. Obama's new nominee for Secretary of the Army, James McHugh, has also hinted that he supports a repeal of the ban.

It's time, it's past time, for the President and the Congress to act and overturn this unjust legacy from the Clinton Administration. Surely we all know that sexual orientation says nothing about fitness to serve. (And if it did, I'm guessing that overall the military has many more discipline problems with heterosexual soldiers than it does gay ones.) Mr. President, it's time for you to speak up about this.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Full Inclusion at the Tony's

It's clear change has happened when the 6th state can affirm marriage equality and it barely gets noticed by the press.

It's clear change when the Tony awards, watched by millions, can feature a large number of out performers and presenters, including the wonderfully charming Neil Patrick Harris who hosted the event (who I've loved since he was the prodigy Doogie Howser.)

It seems to me that full inclusion came to the Tony's last night, and although I'm guessing that athough that may have been uncomfortable for some, that some is a shrinking minority. As Harris sang in the glorious finale, "this should could not have been any gayer if Liza was named mayor or if Elton John took flight."

As network TV goes, so will go the nation.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

From a Priest Who Knew Dr. Tiller: A Personal View

UPDATE: Please see my Huffington Post piece on media coverage of the murder.

Rev. Father Robert Layne wrote me this letter yesterday about Dr. George Tiller. I asked (and received) permission to share it with my blog readers. I hope you'll take the time to read it, and share it with others.

Sunday last was a sorrowful day!! In the most hollowed of halls violence erupted, murder was done, evil triumphed. The sacrilege of the event and the desecration of the place cast a pall over all decent hearts. Dr. George Tiller was murdered while attending Church services.

To my family Dr. George Tiller was first a physician. In years past, he saved the life of our young daughter on several occasions when she was stricken with severe asthma attacks; Dr. George also saved my wife’s hands and arms from horrible scaring resulting from deep burns incurred during a grease fire on the kitchen stove. Dr. Tiller was a healer; he was a physician who performed legal abortions on those seeking his help. He was not an abortionist.

Yet tragically, the murder of Dr. Tiller climaxed years of demonizing this physician by the frantic forces of the anti-abortion extremists. These frenzied activists did not rationally and peacefully oppose abortion through discussion and debate. Instead they focused their wrath on one of the doctors who performed this legal and requested medical procedure. They particularly inflamed their rabid followers against Dr. George Tiller. He was “Tiller, the Killer!!” a handy rallying slogan for all the crazed cries of the fanatics. The likes of Bill O’Riley, Randall Terry, and the other strident voices of hate primed Tiller’s murderer. They may not have pulled the trigger, but the radical anti-abortionists put the gun in his hand, imbedded twisted divine sanction in his mind, and poured bitter hate into his heart. All these disclaimers of “not me” are so cowardly and vacuous. These fanatics are accessories before the fact to the murder of Dr. Tiller.

In all this sorrow and grief, few persons have mentioned the many women who came to Dr. Tiller seeking his help. Most all were in untenable positions; pregnant by force, accident, or just plain foolishness. For some pre-natal testing had shown that the possible life they carried would be severely limited or destined for mere existence in a vegetative state. They came to Dr. Tiller because he was a man who deeply cared about the living. He used his medicine to minister to those women in need. Dr. Tiller never initiated any of the situations he was called upon to remedy. He only responded with understanding, love, and care to those desperate women seeking his help. I wonder if Terry and O’Riley believe that these women also are murderers and should be eliminated?

I don’t believe Dr. Tiller or any other human being would say abortion is a good thing. No one gets pregnant to have an abortion. But there are times abortion is deemed a necessary thing. And when that choice arises, the decision to act should be made by the woman and the man responsible, in consultation with their physician. Such a very personal decision should not be made by a group of fanatics, who claim divine sanction on whatever extreme measures they choose to enforce their will. The will of such extremists was done; Dr. George Tiller was murdered.

Finally, the ultimate decision of the right and wrong of Dr. Tiller will be made by Jesus, the Lord of grace and mercy. Jesus will also call to account the ones who incited and inflicted death on George Tiller. I wonder which will receive the warmer welcome, the physician who took the risk to help those in desperation, or the wanton group who willed and perpetrated the murder of that physician. As one who believes in the total love and mercy of Jesus, I believe that Dr. Tiller has nothing to fear.

In sorrow and grief that violence has again prevailed….

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

President Obama Proclaims June Pride Month: Now It's Time for Legislation

Reading the President's proclamation on Pride Month on the official White House web site, celebrating the lives of LGBT persons, made me teary.

No other President of the U.S. has ever uttered anything like these words:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.

The fact that he included bisexual and transgender people shows how he "gets it."

He also said:

My Administration has partnered with the LGBT community to advance a wide range of initiatives. At the international level, I have joined efforts at the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Here at home, I continue to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans. These measures include enhancing hate crimes laws, supporting civil unions and Federal rights for LGBT couples, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, ensuring adoption rights, and ending the existing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security. We must also commit ourselves to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic by both reducing the number of HIV infections and providing care and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS across the United States.

The next step, Mr. President, is to partner with the members of Congress to introduce, pass, and sign legislation. ENDA needs to be signed, DADA AND DOMA need to go. We are counting on you.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Religious Leaders Across the Country Condemn Dr. Tiller's Murder and Call For Safety of Providers and Women

The Religious Institute, in concert with the religious leadership of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Concerned Clergy for Choice, has just issued the following statement on behalf of hundreds of religious leaders, including the Presidents of three denominations:


As religious leaders, we affirm that life is sacred.

We mourn for Dr. George Tiller. We decry the cruel act of violence that ended his life. We pray for his family, friends, colleagues, and staff, and for the untold number of women and families who have been deprived of his compassionate care.

We condemn physical and verbal violence and harassment directed against abortion clinics, their staffs, and their clients. We call for a society that assures safe access and delivery of reproductive health care services, both for the women and families who need them, and the practitioners who provide them.

For a complete list of endorsers, see

Monday, June 01, 2009

Hate Speech Not Allowed - The Real Cause of Dr. Tiller's Murder?

I am horrified by the hateful comments on this morning's blog post. I generally don't allow these kind of comments, but after reading the bone chilling comments on Rev. Chuck Currie's blog, I wanted you to see these as well.

I have readers who are anti-choice, with whom I have respectful dialog about our differences. One of them posted yesterday.

But to those who equate Dr. Tiller's assassination with performing legal medical procedures for desperate women, there is no room for dialog. Shame on the NYT blog today for an article called "A Moral Murder" which provides cover to those who would kill providers and women. That some of these people call themselves pro-life is beyond travesty.

This is domestic terrorism designed to scare providers and to scare women. Frankly, they scare me. And those email addresses will be turned over to authorities just in case.

But, they will not deter me from speaking out for women's moral agency. And I'll go back to not posting hateful comments.

For those who said the culture wars are over, it's clear that a gunman in Kansas just proved how false that really is.

The Day After the Assasination of Dr. Tiller

The President issued this short statement last night:

"I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning. However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence."

I'm hoping today he says more about what the federal government will do to make sure that medical providers and clinics are safe.

What some of my younger readers may not know is that at least seven abortion providers were murdered in the 1990's...and bombings of clinics was not uncommon in the 1980's. I was the director of community affairs when one of the clinics I worked with in metropolitan D.C. (which provided contraception NOT abortion) was bombed in the middle of the night. I remember only too well how violated we felt, how shocked the staff were, the staff who felt they had to quit their jobs after the bombing. This was truly domestic terrorism, designed to intimidate those who provide family planning and abortion services.

My heart and prayers are with the people who are going to work at clinics this morning. I imagine they all feel a little less safe. I hope you'll reach out to the providers in your community with your support. And that regardless of your position on abortion, you'll speak out against violence.