Monday, May 31, 2010



Happy Memorial Day!

What a great morning this was. About 25 of us from the Unitarian Church in Westport marched in the local Memorial Day parade. We were indeed "gay and straight together" like in the Holly Near song. We ranged from age 3 to mid 80's. The most wonderful part about it is that we were cheered from one end of the parade route to the other. I was prepared to have to do some "sidewalk counseling" if people were rude, but instead, we were welcomed and appreciated. It was a lovely way to celebrate Memorial Day. And felt hopeful for the day when in every town, a Rainbow Task Force would be welcomed and included.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine who has been serving in the military for the past ten years. She told me she hasn't been able to sleep since last night's vote by the House of Representatives to eliminate Don't Ask Don't Tell. The vote was 234 to 194 to end this discriminatory policy that has caused so many service people to live in the closet and so many to have been dismissed from the military.

My friend, who is a happily out lesbian in her personal life, has lived "don't tell" for her entire military career. That's meant having to never answer questions about whether she's married or partnered, never having a picture of her partner on her desk or being able to bring her to a social event, and worrying during dangerous overseas assignments about how her partner would learn if something happened to her. It's meant never sharing with her work colleagues about her outside life and trying to "pass" as heterosexual.

I've admired her commitment to her military career but have always wondered about the cost to her well being to living such a bifurcated life.

There's still a vote in the Senate to come, but the Senate Armed Services Committee also voted yesterday to repeal DADT as it is known. Some military chaplains have expressed their dismay that they won't know how to minister to gay service people. Some have wondered how they will be able to handle sleeping quarters for gay and straight men and women. The quick answer is, "you already do." There is no reason to believe that the military doesn't already reflect the general population figures that at least 4% of people are gay or lesbian.

The larger answer though is that discrimination doesn't belong in the military. The military was able to integrate people of color. They have slowly been figuring out how to integrate women. And they will be able to do so for gay, lesbian, and bisexual military as well.

The decision to publicly affirm one's sexual orientation -- whether straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual -- should be up to the individual, not public policy. It's time -- it's past time -- for the Congress and the military to reverse policies of exclusion for my friend -- and all the other GLB servicepeople proudly serving their country.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Washington Post On Faith

I am so happy to tell you that I've been selected to be a member of the Washington Post "On Faith" panel.

This panel consists of diverse religious leaders from across the United States. Each week we're asked a question, and I'll have the opportunity to write a piece for them on that subject.

This week was on immigration, and I'm so excited that I'm actually the first featured post on their website and in their press release to Religious News Service.

You can read more here

It would be great if you could read the article and post a comment. I have a sense that they keep track of who gets the most comments on their posts. Right now, I'm running behind Cal Thomas.

Let me know what you think!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Evangelicals' Theology of Sex -- Good News, If You're Heterosexual and Married

The National Association of Evangelicals just announced the publication of a new booklet, "Theology of Sex," as part of a new effort for dialog about the ways to reduce abortions in the U.S.

I'm delighted that they are taking seriously our call in our January report, Sexuality and Religion 2020, for denominations and religious institutions to talk about human sexuality in the context of their own faith traditions.

And this report does that. We couldn't agree more with the NAE's understanding that the Bible teaches us that sex is good, that "God established multiple purposes for sex" and that spouses must be committed to one another's sexual satisfaction. And I was surprised but gladdened to read about the NAE's support of family planning.

The report is indeed "good news" -- if you are an evangelical, heterosexual, married, monogamous adult.

Not so much if you are one of the 75 million single American adults, who are advised to express their sexuality only "in a chaste way." The report advises that homosexual behavior is sinful, that marriage is designed by God only for one man and one woman, and that cohabitation is indeed still to be considered "living in sin." I can't help but wonder how such pronouncements are going to help single evangelical adults -- both straight and gay -- live responsible and ethical sexual lives.

The authors of the NAE document emphasize an act-based sexual ethic, which privileges sexual intercourse in marriage as God's single intent for us all. Not only do I view "sex" as so much more than one act, I also believe that sexual diversity is part of God's blessing. At the Religious Institute, we call for a relational sexual ethic that accepts no double standards by sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. You may want to read the theology section of our 2020 report at

Although the authors and I disagree in many ways about sexual theology and the myriad sexual messages in the Bible, I am pleased to see them breaking their silence about this central issue in people's lives. And although we have a different understanding of what their conclusion means, at the Religious Institute, we too "advocate a sexuality that is joyful, nonexploitive, respectful, and aligned with God's creative intent."

We look forward to the dialog.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sex Education for Conservative Politicians - Redux Mark Souder

Dear Mr. Souder (and Mr. Pekar if you are listening):

I know both of you say that your faith is important to you, so maybe you'll listen to some advice from this sexologist minister.

I know you've fought against comprehensive sexuality education and promoted abstinence only education -- even in a video with your mistress.

But let me share with you some of the things we teach in sexuality education that we think every public figure -- indeed every person -- needs to know.

You can have a sexual feeling without acting on it.

A sexually healthy adult understands the difference between a sexual relationship that can be life enhancing and one that might be harmful to oneself and others. In other words, sex is never worth losing your job or your family over. NEVER.

A sexually healthy adult lives according to their values. It is one thing for a person in an open relationship who works for the right of each person to make their own decisions about their sexuality to have outside experiences-another for people like you to act in a way that is directly oppositional to the public policies you espouse. Frankly, I find it hard to understand how you can live with yourselves as you pursued this affair (or in Mr. Pekar's case, "rented" a boy). Surely someone has taught you about the importance of living with integrity.

I wish I believed that your situation would help other conservative policy makers back off from trying to legislate other people's sex lives. Remember that line, people in glass houses...But since I end up writing a similar column to this oh every six months or so, I'm not too optimistic.

What happens next is up to your families and your colleagues and your own soul. May you find a way to repair your families and your life...and may you indeed serve as an example to your colleagues.

In Faith,

Rev. Debra W. Haffner

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Take the Faithful Voices Pledge

My organization, the Religious Institute, wants to change the way America understands sexuality and religion.

The popular view in our culture is that people of faith oppose sexuality education, reproductive justice, and the full inclusion and equality of LGBT people.

You know better.

And most of my readers are probably fed up with hearing conservatives claim to speak for all people of faith on these issues, when you know they don't speak for people like us.

You may have been appalled when Congress placed new restrictions on abortion access and reinstated abstinence-only sex education -- all because of the lobbying efforts of certain church leaders. You might have been horrified, and angry, when conservative religious organizations financed the campaigns that overturned marriage equality in California and Maine. Regardless of your faith tradition, you are surely frustrated that so many faith communities remain silent on sexual health and justice, while ignoring the sexual health needs of their congregants.

We created the Religious Institute in 2001 to raise a faithful voice for reproductive justice, comprehensive sexuality education, and the full inclusion of women and LGBT persons in faith communities and society. Since then, we have built a national network of more than 5,000 clergy and religious professionals, representing more than 50 different faith traditions.

Now, we are taking our message from the pulpit to the pews. And we hope you will join us.

I invite you to take 10 seconds, right now, to take this pledge: "As a person of faith, I support sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society."

When you do, you will become part of the Faithful Voices Network -- a new, multifaith movement of individuals like you who share a progressive vision of sexuality and faith, and a religious commitment to truth and justice. The Faithful Voices Network will encourage religious leaders everywhere to engage the issues of sexual health and healing that affect every individual and every family. It will give you the tools and resources to break the silence around sexuality in your congregation, and become an advocate for sexual justice in your community.

Every voice counts. We are counting on yours.

In Faith,

Rev. Debra W. Haffner
Executive Director
Religious Institute

p.s. -- Please take 10 seconds to pledge your support for sexual health, education and justice in our congregations and communities. Together, we can write a new future for sexuality and religion -- a future of healing, equality, and integrity. And please invite your friends after you take the pledge. There are links on the thank you page so you can post to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. THANK YOU!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Pill and Mother's Day: A Personal Reflection

Today is Mother's Day and my husband and son prepared a lovely brunch for me, my sister, and my mother. There were flowers, cards, and more carbs than I've eaten in a month. I felt very well taken care of, if not a bit nostalgic for the days of homemade painted macaroni necklaces.

Today is also the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill. Or more technically, the 50th anniversary of the day the birth control pill was approved by the FDA.

I first learned about "the pill" from my mother. She was of that generation that used the first high estrogen pills, and I remember asking her what the funny circle with the white and blue pills that were on the kitchen counter were. I think I was about six. She told me that she and my father only wanted two children and the pills meant she could have that. I still can picture that discussion: it taught me that parenthood was a choice and that there were ways to avoid pregnancy.

Fast forward 13 years, and I went to the campus health center to get birth control pills. I hadn't yet had intercourse; indeed I felt like I was one of the last standing virgins on campus. But, I wanted to be prepared when I did fall in love and I knew that the pill was my best option for not becoming pregnant.

I used the pill at various times over the next twenty years -- as a new couple in love, after my daughter was born, during the period I was trying to decide if our family size was complete. I used the pill both as "family planning" for some years, but also as a way to separate sexual pleasure and intimacy from procreation.

It's in that last that "the pill" truly revolutionized women's lives. More so than any birth control method before it, oral contraceptives allowed us to experience sexual pleasure without risking our lives and futures. It allowed us to choose when we would become mothers safely, but also to choose pleasure and intimacy without risking unintended pregnancies. (I came of age sexually at what surely is one of the few times in world history when sex meant few consequences for women -- we had the pill, abortion was legal, and the two prevalent STDs were easily treated; that's not true for young women today or women in many parts of the world.)

I think we're still dealing as a culture and surely as religious institutions with what it means that procreation and pleasure are easily separated. But, I know today, that I am grateful beyond words for my two children -- and the era of modern contraception that made them planned and oh so wanted.

Friday, May 07, 2010

This Week's Teachable Moments: Lawrence Taylor, Escorts, and The Pill

If you've read my books for parents on raising sexually healthy children and teens, you know that I recommend using every day moments to provide your children with a little bit of information about sexuality and a little bit about your values.

The news regularly provides opportunities to talk with your children about sexuality issues. From elementary school and up, your child is hearing information about sexuality from news sources, even if you don't think they are paying attention. And if you don't initiate talks about these topical areas, they may be left to figure it out on their own. These news stories can also provide a "hook" for you to bring up topics with your children.

I'm guessing that from age 10 and up, your child will hear about Lawrence Taylor's arrest for sex with a minor yesterday. This story could give you an opportunity to talk about the age of consent in your state, about healthy sexual relationships, about your values about fidelity in marriage.

Or then there's the story of the co-founder of the Family Research Council paying a male escort to travel with him in Europe through a gay online escort service. That would give you a chance to talk about sexual orientation or paying for sex or hypocrisy or again healthy sexual relationships.

Or maybe you're in the car and there's a story about the 50th anniversary of "the pill" this week. That gives you a chance to talk about contraception, how sexual attitudes have changed during your lifetime, or healthy sexual relationships.

The content needs to be age appropriate -- your discussion with your 8-year-old is different than with your 16-year-old, but the process I recommend is the same. Here are the three steps for a teachable moment discussion:

1) Ask your children what they've heard. Find out what they know.

2) Clarify their information, clear up misinformation.

3) Give your child YOUR family values. Say, "In our family, we believe...."

And keep it short. As my son used to remind me while pointedly looking at his watch, "Mom, it's a teachable moment, not a teachable hour."

P.S. - If you are a parent and don't have my parenting books, click on the link to the right, and you can buy a copy at and have a small donation returned to the Religious Institute.