Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Afternoon At The White House

This is going to read a little bit like that classic "what I did on my summer vacation" essay you wrote in the 8th grade.

But, I'm just back from a trip to Washington, D.C. and a meeting of progressive faith leaders with Rev. Josh DuBois and Michael Ware from the White House Faith Based Office, Jennie Yeager from Public Communication, and Lauren Dunn from the Domestic Policy staff.

The meeting was held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building -- that's the one that sort of looks like an ornate wedding cake. And we were in a room that used to be the Vice President's office in past administrations (until they moved them to the actual West Wing.) Despite prior meetings over the years, I was still excited to be there.

We began asking for this meeting shortly after the inauguration. I am indebted to Nancy Ratzen, the President of the National Council for Jewish Women (NCJW), for helping make it happen.

Our purpose for the meeting was to bring progressive religious leaders to demonstrate faith based support for sexuality education. I was joined in speaking by Rev. Ignacio Castuera, National Chaplain for Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Ann Hanson, Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice for the United Church of Christ; Rev. Carlton Veazey, President of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (all of whom serve on the Religious Institute advisory committee); Rev. Ann Tiemeyer from the National Council of Churches of Christ; Rev. Amy Stapleton from the United Methodists; Lisa Cox from Catholics for Choice; and Nina Schwartz from NCJW. Together, we estimated that we represented over 60 million people of faith in the U.S. who support comprehensive sexuality education -- and oppose teaching young people only about abstinence.

The White House staff was warm, receptive, interested, and had many questions. They seemed particularly interested in learning about the UCC/UUA's Our Whole Lives programs for difficult to reach youth, and sex abuse and violence prevention. Rev. DuBois assured us that their goal was to reduce the need for abortions not the number of abortions (a subject I have written about here many times, and it was great to hear him use that language). We were also told to expect that the President would have something to say about teenage pregnancy prevention in the next few months.

It's always hard to know at first whether such meetings accomplish much. But I think we succeeded in our mission. We brought truly progressive religious leaders to the White House to support sexuality education. Our united voice let them know that mainstream to progressive Jews, Protestants, Catholics, and Unitarian Universalists support sexuality education and have for decades. We reinforced our faiths' commitment to truth telling, to helping young people develop a freely informed conscience, and to helping them celebrate their sexuality with holiness and integrity, as adolescents now and as future adults.

I'm grateful to the people who helped make it happen, to my colleagues for traveling to be with us, and to the people at the White House who listened, really listened, to us.


Lilylou said...

Very, very cool, Debra! By the way, I know Amy Stapleton slightly; we were in seminary together at Iliff in Denver. She's quite the activist!

Barbara said...

Thank you, Debra. I'm so glad to hear about your meeting and who was there with you. Glad too, to hear that there are finally people in the White House that are listening to what you have to say.
I'm so grateful to you for faithfully, lovingly speaking truth, reality and common sense about sexuality to all who will listen. Thank you so much.