Monday, January 25, 2010

Celebrate: Tenth Anniversary of the Religious Declaration

Today is the tenth anniversary of the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing.

The Religious Declaration first appeared as a full page ad in the New York Times on January 25, 2000. It was surrounded by the names of the 850 religious leaders who had endorsed it. It was the first ever multifaith call for sexual health, education, and justice in America's faith communities.

It was an amazing day. We received scores of calls, letters, and emails, thanking us for creating the Religious Declaration. I remember one person who said that the page became blurry as the tears rolled down his face as he read the names.

We've seen remarkable progress during the past ten years towards a greater vision of inclusivity in America's faith communities. Women are now the leaders of several mainline denominations, and bishops and elders in many others. In 2000, only a handful of denominations had welcoming organizations; now, nearly all do. More than 3000 congregations are official welcoming congregations. And more than a dozen denominations now have policies and programs supporting sexuality education.

Further, there has been some dramatic changes in society at large. The original creators of the Religious Declaration called for the "blessing of same-sex unions", not daring to imagine marriage equality. In 1999, only clergy from the UUA were sanctioned to perform such ceremonies; today at least a dozen Christian and Jewish movements allow their clergy to perform marriage or union ceremonies for same sex couples. The Religious Declaration spoke of "sexual minorities" rather than "transgender" because there was little understanding or awareness in either the religious world of the transgender community.

There is of course so much more to be done to create a healthier, more positive and inclusive relationship between sexuality and religion, and to assure that all faith communities are sexually healthy, just, and prophetic. On February 9, 2010, the Religious Institute will be announcing new goals for the next decade. I'll post more here.

But, today, we are celebrating those who created the Religious Declaration and those who work tirelessly each day to further its vision. Join with us.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Trust Women: Why 37 years later, I'm still celebrating Roe v. Wade

I'm happy to support NARAL's Blog for Choice Day.

Today is the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I was 18 years old, a college freshman, and a virgin when Roe was decided, but I knew it was important.

I can still picture me walking down High Street in Middletown, CT when I heard the news. I quickly thought back to my college friend who we had arranged to go to New York City earlier that year, because abortions were legal there. I thought about the girl in my high school biology class who dropped out of school when she found out she was pregnant. I thought about the story my grandmother had told me about her illegal abortion in the thirties.

In those 37 years, I've counseled hundreds if not thousands of women faced with unplanned pregnancies. I helped write a manual on pregnancy options counseling in the late 1970's. As the Director of Counseling at Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington in the early 80's, I sat with hundreds of women facing unplanned pregnancies. Sometimes they were the daughters of anti-abortion protesters at our clinics, not knowing where else to turn.

I think about all of my friends, relatives, students who have chosen abortions after soul searching. One in three women in America have been there. One in three -- someone you know.

I think about the women and men I've counseled since I've entered the ministry: the couple with the 20 week pregnancy who finds out that her very wanted fetus has a devastating illness; the pregnant 13 year old with the mental illness and her mother; the woman who after infertility treatment finds out she has three live embryos and knows she can only take care of two.

Each of them had to decide for themselves what was right in their very own particular life situations.

I trust women because I believe they have the moral agency to make those decisions.

And that it's not ever the government's role to make these most intimate decisions in people's lives.

My 18 year old self was overjoyed to learn about the Roe decision. I was naive then to think that the issue was settled once and for all.

My 55 year self sadly knows differently. But, affirms how important it was then...and is today.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

John Edwards: Could He Not Have Known About Contraception?

Last week, I blogged about Peter Orzag and the D.C. media scramble about what the headlines called his "love child."

Several people felt that I hadn't been hard enough on out of wedlock pregnancies. I countered that there was a major difference between a young, unemployed, poor single parent and the life circumstances of Mr. Orzag's partner.

I had promised I'd write more about out of wedlock pregnancies, and then the disaster in Haiti happened.

I started thinking about these issues again as we heard the announcement that John Edwards was indeed the father of his mistress's toddler.

I wrote more about it for Huffington Post earlier today:

The bottom line for me is not a new public health campaign against out of wedlock births -- but one against unplanned pregnancies. It is unfathomable to me how men like Orzag and Edwards put themselves and their partners at risk of an unplanned pregnancy. Surely they know about contraception and condoms. What were they thinking? (Or it's clear what they were NOT thinking.)

As I've written here before, surely, despite differences about abortion, we can all agree that it is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious, that they should never begin carelessly.

Especially by people who know better.

Monday, January 18, 2010

We Are the One's We've Been Waiting For - Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King

Yesterday at an interfaith Martin Luther King service in my town I said, "Today is not just a day of celebrating. It's a day of calling. Martin Luther King called us to our better selves, called each of us to take action in the world." And I asked the congregation to send prayers and money to the people of Haiti.

I keep thinking about Pat Robertson's stupid comment last week about Haiti. I've been thinking about what I would say to him if I had a chance. I think I've finally got it.

The God I know does not send earthquakes, or floods, or tsunamis or disease to punish people.

The God I know sends prophets like Martin Luther King to awaken us to action.

The God I know sends us -- you and me -- to make the world a better place.

Let us hear that call.

What can you do today to make a difference?

UPDATE: A Prayer from Haiti, by my colleague Dr. Pamela Lightsey, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary

A Prayer for Haiti

by Dr. Pamela Lightsey

O God, we have been stunned once again by an event
Which seems so unnatural and yet is called "natural disaster."

We have no words to answer the "why" which we feel,
No wisdom to explain away the unexplainable areas of life.

Keep us from attributing this event as a heavenly reprimand,
Or from a certain haughtiness that tempts the distant soul.

Give us to be compassionate and gentle, servants to those in need.
Remind us of your gracious love in the midst of sorrow,
And your ability to work miracles when hope is faint.

We pray for those who suffer in Haiti even now
And for those who await rescue.
For relatives, for the children,
For mothers and fathers,
Sisters and brothers,
Grandparents, aunts and cousins.
For the survivors who question what more they might have done.
And for those who must keep on keeping on, in spite of.
For the leaders,
For those who bring aid
And those who await news.
Strengthen and encourage them we pray.

Now unto you, O God, we take the burdens of this hour and place them in your divine care.
For all you do and are doing, seen and unseen, we give thee thanks, Eternal God of All Creation.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Help Haiti's Women

I have been glued to the television news reports about Haiti. My heart breaks at the images.

I watched a report this morning about children in the capitol. It was heart wrenching to see them -- and their mothers.

I know natural disasters affect men, women, and children...but I started to think this morning about the special needs of the women of Haiti. Women who are delivering babies this week without medical care. Women who are pregnant or post partum. Women who live in shelters for victims of domestic violence that may have been destroyed. Women who may be sexually assaulted or raped in this time of disorganization, as women so often are in times of crisis. Women who need sanitary supplies. Twelve year old girls getting their first periods without mothers or homes. Women watching their children suffer or die.

Women who need us to support organizations that are there especially to help them. International Planned Parenthood is seeking funds for its Haitian affiliate, Profamil, so that they have the resources to reach out during this disaster. UNFPA is seeking funds for emergency contraceptive care and reproductive health kits. V-Day has begun a fund for the V-Day Haiti Sorority Safe House, one of the few shelters for victims of domestic and sexual violence in Haiti.

Please help. Please pray.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Please Help the People of Haiti

The images from Haiti this morning are heart-breaking.

I was going to write more about out-of-wedlock births, but it's more important today to ask all of my readers to help.

The easiest and fastest way everyone can do something, according to the White House is to:

simply text "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts, charged to your cell phone bill.

I just did. It took me three seconds. Can I ask you, my faithful blog readers, to do the same?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Secretary of State Clinton: Women's Health is Integral To International Security

Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton gave a strong and compelling speech this past Friday on the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development. I had the honor of being invited to the speech, but weather and a prior commitment kept me away. I understand the participants were a who's who of the sexual and reproductive rights movement.

You can watch the speech yourself here: or read the transcript at

She recommitted the United States to the program of action, and after listing out the horrifying statistics on maternal mortality around the world, said, "these numbers are not only grim, but after 15 years, they are intolerable. If we believe that human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights, then we cannot accept the ongoing marginalization of half the world's population. We cannot accept it morally, politically, socially, or economically." She said that the Obama administration is "integrating women's issues as key elements of our foreign policy agenda" and "rededicating ourselves to the global efforts to improve reproductive health for women and girls....we have pledged new funding, new programs, and a renewed commitment to achieve Millennium Development Goal Five, namely a three fourths reduction in global maternal mortality and universal access to reproductive health." She also said that more U.S. funding is on the way to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which was denied funding under the Bush administration. And she talked about U.S. supported programs integrating maternal health services, family planning, and HIV/AIDS screening and treatment -- something that I've been advocating for for more than two decades and is clearly overdue.

It was a good, compelling speech, and heart warming for those of us who worked on the Cairo conference and platform and have been dismayed during the past administration how it was ignored. But, I was also struck by what it didn't include: a call for safe and legal abortion for the world's women. I also found it telling that she did not ever use the words "sexual and reproductive health" together, words that were hard won at the Cairo conference to expand the focus of programs. She instead talked about reproductive health care and family planning services as a basic right. Is the Obama administration retreating on the sexual health and rights framework supported during the Clinton years?

It's a question I promise to pursue in the coming weeks with Administration officials.

Those concerns notwithstanding, it was thrilling to hear our country once again go on record supporting women's health, women's rights, and women's lives.

Want to get involved? Join the Religious Institute's Rachel Sabbath Initiative. Go to our web site for more information.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Heartsick Over New Jersey Denial of Marriage Equality

My friends Don and Brent are one of the best couples I know. They've been together more than 18 years, and they delight in each other in a way that few long term couples do. They met while they were undergraduates at a Christian college. They were married in a religious ceremony by two ministers. They own a home, they share work they love, they are active members in their community. Their friends marvel at how happy they make each other.

Just two problems. They are both men, and they live in New Jersey -- where yesterday the Senate Committee voted 20 to 14 to turn down marriage equality in the state. This action effectively means that their marriage cannot be legal in their home state for at least another four years, as the new governor is anti-marriage for same sex couples.

Their only hope is that the federal trial that begins on Monday in California about Prop 8 will end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps becoming the Brown vs. Board of Education type case for marriage equality.

As I've written here before, I am quite certain that marriage equality will happen in the next decade in the U.S. There simply is no justification except homophobia to prevent same sex couples like Don and Brent from being able to be legally married to each other and share all the benefits and protections of legalized marriage. As I tweeted yesterday to the 20 NO voting Senators, "what part of 'liberty and justice for all' don't you understand?"

I told Don and Brent last night that I'd be happy to perform a legal marriage for them here in Connecticut. It would be an honor to celebrate their love and commitment.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Single Adults Have Sex. Get Over It. Stop Covering It. (and Peter Orsag)

I just finished a blog for Huffington Post.

You can read it here

It's based on the "news" report this morning that President Obama's budget director had a child out of wedlock and is engaged to someone beside that child's mother.

The story astounded me. Not because of Mr. Orsag's private life, but because it's making the national news.

It's 2010, people. Most single adults have sex. Four in ten births in the U.S. are out-of-wedlock.

It's not our business. See what else I have to say here.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Sexual Justice in Faith Communities in the First Decade: A Decade of Progress

Happy New Year!

There have been lots of retrospectives about the first decade of the 21st century, from economics to arts to peace in the world. The conclusions have been decidedly mixed.

But, there is no question that the past ten years have seen remarkable progress in furthering the vision of the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, the seminal statement that was first published in January 2000.

Here are some of the highlights from 2000 until now:

*While women's ordination was not new in 2000, there has been notable progress in the numbers of women in denominational leadership. Women now head the Episcopal Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, and the Fellowship. Women serve as bishops in such diverse traditions as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, AME Zion, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the United Methodist Church.

*In 2000, only a handful of denominations had welcoming organizations promoting full inclusion of lesbian and gay persons in faith communities. Today, every mainline Protest denomination has an official or associated group working towards full inclusion, as well as several in Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic, and evangelical traditions. According to our colleagues at the Institute for Welcoming Resources, there are now more than 3300 welcoming congregations in the U.S., a threefold increase since 2003.

*Marriage for same sex couples was barely on the national agenda 10 years ago. Only UUA clergy were sanctioned to perform same sex unions; today at least a dozen Christian and Jewish denominations allow their clergy to perform marriage or union ceremonies, and they are legal in five states and the District of Columbia.

*It was ten years ago that the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ published all six of the curricula that make up "Our Whole Lives", the comprehensive sexuality education program for congregations that begins in early elementary school and continues through adulthood. At least a dozen denominations now have their own sexuality education curricula.

There is still so much to be done to realize the goal of sexual justice in faith communities and society at large. But, just for today, as we stand on the cusp of this new decade, it's time for us to celebrate all that has happened during the past decade. And to be thankful to all those who made it happen.

May this been a blessed year for us all.