Posts Tagged ‘LGBT’

Yup, for the past well over a year I had placed the adjective “used to” or “retired” in front of writer. Why? I simply needed to distance myself and rest, to rediscover the glimmer of joy as writing when done at a publishing level can sometimes sap a lot out of an individual (I find especially in smaller markets where money is not enough to live on) and when I let the project not the market shape my work.

Yet, I am slowly moving back into writing and speaking on my own terms, a little as my home church, Centennial Presbyterian, has invited me to take 2 services this summer, but also in part to the Calgary Public Library where I have been on a retro reading kick rediscovering the comics that shaped my fiction writing in my teens.

Currently rediscovering James Robinson and Tony Harris’ Starman run. The story of Jack Knight really aided me in reshaping the super hero universe I had been spinning stories out of for my friends since late elementary school, and became known as “The Verse” in High School where friends would eagerly await each new chapter (and even say a short story banned from publishing as a winner of a short story contest for the CBE due to LGBTQ content–a bi-sexual monk of all things).

Yes, the stories that saw characters that stayed with me well through college years and were a great stress release.  Some rejuvenated and in e-books shared on this sites, others lost to the mists of time. Ah technologies dying and losing saved files, hard copies vanishing there’s only so much one can save when they could write the equivalent of a book a month when one had free time when work was not 40 hours a week, when a term paper could easily be distracted from by pounding out another epic chapter…before the layers of life… for non-fiction writing when A&W still had an excellent and cheap breakfast before the advent of microwave bacon and the doubling of price…when there was space for quietness and reflection.

But life story morphs and as one reflects on building the writer’s space renewed in one’s home, family crisis leads to the space evaporating to aid an individual.

Now though, as I continue down the retro train, and rediscover old interests I ponder a renewal of the work.  Maybe not “The Verse” (for the longtime fan out there know it eventually got dubbed “The TyVerse”; ah the era’s of Johnny Power; Bionic Knight; Street Avenger and Hacker such wonderful times that the stories were told, and as any good story not to be revisited but for a few).

Where will this renewal lead, I do not know, but it is time to first work on discovering/crafting the space to create, to research, to spread out and be…

Thank you my loving wife for supporting the renewal of interest.


Religious Institute

Summer 2012 Newsletter

From the President

When I tell people what I do for a living, sometimes people respond by saying, “Wow, you work on the most controversial issues of our time.”  People use phrases like “hot button issues” and “wedge issues” to describe the movements for full inclusion of LGBT people, marriage equality, and recently, contraceptive coverage.

Except these issues aren’t really controversial to most.  At July’s London Summit on Family Planning, sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the British Government, donor governments and foundations promised to provide an additional $4.6 billion so that an additional 120 million women can receive family planning services.  The vast majority of people in the U.S., including women of all faiths, use and support contraception.  The trumped up Fortnight to Freedom campaign by the U.S. Catholic Bishops tried to make contraception a controversial public policy issue failed to garner much public attention, especially as compared to the U.S. Nuns on the Bus campaign against proposed draconian budget cuts.

Last month’s 19th International AIDS Conference demonstrated that those with significant political differences can find common ground on hopes of ending the AIDS epidemic. This event brought together scientists, activists, medical professionals and politicians, all working to create an AIDS-free generation. Many noted the extraordinary scientific gains made since the conference was last held in the United States, over two decades ago. What was once unmentionable is now being targeted for eradication by a broad coalition of people, nations and organizations, all working together. Sometimes, we can find common ground, even on sexuality issues.

The American public is also increasingly in favor of LGBT rights.  Recent polls show that the majority of Americans now support marriage equality, and more than three quarters support legislation protecting lesbian and gay people from employment discrimination. We also have seen incremental progress coming out of the summer meetings of various religious denominations—more on that is covered in the newsletter below. It is indeed shameful that the Boy Scouts of America just reaffirmed its position against openly gay Boy Scouts or Boy Scout leaders, at a time when the vast majority of young people the ages of those engaged in those programs support gay rights. The Democratic National Convention has even included marriage equality as a plank in its platform. There simply is no justification for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity—and most Americans agree.

We need to actively resist those who would marginalize issues of sexual justice by labeling them as “too hot to handle.”  One can only hope that the platform committees of both parties are listening.

Take Action!

One Billion Rising
V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls, is inviting one billion people to walk out, dance, rise up, and demand an end to this violence on February 14, 2013, V-day’s 15th anniversary. One Billion Rising is intended to activate women and men across every country, demonstrating collective strength and solidarity across borders and protesting violence against women and girls. The Religious Institute is proud to be a co-sponsor. Join us!
Learn more and take action here . . .

Make April 10th National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day
Young activists have called on President Obama to recognize April 10th each year as National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day. This action would empower youth activists, government agencies, and the HIV and AIDS community to mobilize young people and their communities towards creating an AIDS-free generation.
Learn more and take action here . . .

Summer Denominational Update

Episcopal Meeting Brings Same-Sex Blessing Rites Among Other Sexuality Issues

The 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held July 5-12, 2012, resulted in many resolutions on sexual justice issues, including HIV/AIDS, same-sex marriage, abortion, sexual ethics, transgender clergy and laity, and many more.
See the new Episcopal statements on sexuality issues here . . .
Read a firsthand account of these debates and resulting statements here . . .

Methodists Approve Sexual Ethics as Integral Part of Formation for Ministerial Leadership, But Remain Divided on LGBT Issues
Many sexuality issues were debated at the 2012 United Methodist Church General Conference, held April 24-May 4, 2012, notably including adopting a rigorous program of ministerial readiness regarding professional ethics, sexual ethics, healthy boundaries and self-care as a standard aspect of clergy education, with reference to Religious Institute research in the resolution language.
Read more . . .
The denomination also voted to retain language calling homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and to sanction only marriage for heterosexual couples.
Read more . . .

Presbyterians Debates Marriage, Ultimately 
The 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), held June 30-July 7, 2012, debated two different ways to include committed same-sex couples in their understanding of marriage, but both were ultimately defeated. Overture 13-04 would amend the Directory of Worship to change the characterization of marriage from a “man and a woman” to “two persons” but was defeated 308-338-2. The second overture would have issued an authoritative interpretation permitting ministers residing in states where marriage between same-sex couples is already legal to preside at same-sex wedding ceremonies, but it was defeated 24-26. The General Assembly did approve legislation to study the meaning of Christian marriage.
Read more . . .

Reformed Church in America Affirms Its Stance on Homosexuality
The Reformed Church in America General Synod, held June 21-26, 2012, affirmed a position that homosexual behavior is a sin according to Scripture, following more than three hours of debate. The RCA also called for the creation of a committee to study practical ways to ”move forward” on sexuality issues without changing the RCA’s official position.
Read more . . .

Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly Selects Reproductive Justice as its Next Congregational Study/Action Issue
Over the next four years, UUA congregations across the country will study, reflect, and act upon issues of reproductive justice as part of a denomination-wide Congregational Study/Action Issue, as a result of a vote of the UUA General Assembly, held June 20-24, 2012.
Read more here . . .

UUA Passing Study on Code of Conduct
The Unitarian Universalist Ministry Association voted at its annual meeting to study a revision to its code of conduct related to sexual misconduct. Religious Institute President Rev. Debra Haffner prepared the study guide that will be used.

Tracking Denominational Statements on Sexual Justice
The Religious Institute has just updated its Denominational Statements database. This resource has been created for those seeking up-to-date information about the official positions of major U.S. religious denominations on sexuality-related issues, and includes statements from 28 denominations covering official positions on marriage, gender identity, abortion, sexuality education and many more issues. Newly updated statements reflect The United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church 2012 stances, with other denominational stances being added and updated regularly. Access this resource here.

New Resources
benefits of contraception in the USBenefit of Contraceptive Use in the United States
This new video by The Guttmacher Institute presents factual information about U.S. contraceptive use and its benefits.
See the full video here
Read the fact sheet here

Making Love JustMaking Love Just
The modern understanding of sexual sin is about the misuse of power and exploitation of vulnerability, not just sex itself. It’s time to redraw the ethical map—but how should a contemporary Christian ethic of sexuality be formulated? This book uses provocative questions to increase readers’ skills and confidence for engaging in ethical deliberation about sexuality, building personal clarity and a mindful approach to relationships, and participation in respectful moral debate. Religious Institute President Rev. Debra Haffner calls this book “A helpful guide for the theologian, seminarian, and person of faith who is seeking to understand and integrate a truly redemptive Christian ethic of sexuality.”
Read more here . . .

A Guide to the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act Decision
This new policy brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation explains the key issues in the Supreme Court’s recent ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act, and looks ahead to the implementation of health reform now that questions about the constitutionality of the law have been resolved.
Read more here . . .

newlywed's guideThe Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy
This easy-to-read guide can help Conservative or Orthodox chassan (grooms) and kallah (brides) to navigate questions around marital sexuality issues. It is written in clear and descriptive language suitable for teachers, rabbis, and Jewish couples with questions about sexuality.
Read more here . . .

Rainbow BridgesRainbow Bridges
Rainbow Bridges, a 48-page guide developed in a pilot project to resettle LGBT refugees in San Francisco, offers practical step-by-step guidance on welcoming LGBT refugees fleeing persecution in their home countries. It offers guidance to ensuring their mental and physical well-being, helping them find support in their new communities, and outlines the avenues for refugees to receive housing, employment, and federal assistance.
Download Rainbow Bridges here . . . 

Faithful Voices Network

Faithful Voices Network
by Marie Alford-Harkey, MDiv
Director of Education and Training

From July 2-10, I attended The Episcopal Church General Convention as an exhibitor for the Religious Institute and as an alternate lay deputy for the Diocese of Connecticut.

Episcopalians made some very important statements this year. The Episcopal Church now has a provisional rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships. Because Episcopalians work out our theology through our practice of worship, this is a very large accomplishment. We also passed resolutions guaranteeing access to lay and ordained ministry to transgender persons. And we passed a resolution to “urge members of the U.S. Congress to repeal federal laws that have a discriminatory effect on same-gender civilly married couples…

Kori Pacyniak and Zena Link
It’s been a tumultuous stretch for Episcopalians since the election and consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Because Bishop Robinson was the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, his election stirred up controversy over issues of sexuality and faith that had been brewing more quietly in the years prior. (Pictured at left: Kori Pacyniak and Zena Link, Episcopal Prophets for Sexual Justice).

What was refreshing at General Convention 2012 was the lack of controversy. The transgender inclusion resolutions passed with very little discussion and few dissenting voices. The liturgy entitled “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” and its supporting materials garnered much commentary in a public committee hearing, but most of the opposition was organized from 3 dioceses. The support, on the other hand, was broad, deep, and passionate.

The Right Rev. Bishop James E. CurryDespite media attempts to portray it differently, the story at Episcopal General Convention 2012 was the gentle movement of the Holy Spirit. Episcopalians, it seems, are mostly ready to settle the question of who is included in God’s love, and move on to figure out how to participate in God’s mission of reconciliation, restoration, and healing the world. The attitude of deep listening that I observed did not develop overnight, however. It’s taken almost 40 years of prayer, education, courageous witness, and activism on the part of LGBT Episcopalians and our allies.  (Pictured at right: Bishop James E. Curry in the Religious Institute booth).

At the Religious Institute, we’re working to change the public conversation around religion and sexuality. We do this through education, activism, and advocacy, and we know that even though our progress can seem incremental at times, it is working. It is important for people of faith to present a voice to counter the voices of exclusion. We can’t underestimate the power of faithful voices joined together for justice. Thank you for staying involved.

Religious Institute News

Religious Institute 501c3The Religious Institute Receives Formal IRS Recognition
The Religious Institute has received official IRS recognition, and is now an independent 501c3 nonprofit organization. Thank you for your support during our reorganization and rebirth—with your help, we look forward to many more years of advocating for sexual and reproductive justice in faith communities.

Thanks to our Summer Assistants!
The Religious Institute welcomes Ben Herrington-Gilmore, who will be an Intern with us for the next several months. He joins us from Occidental College, where he majored in Diplomacy and World Affairs. The Religious Institute would also like to thank Alexa Sullivan for her invaluable work this summer as our interim Administrative Assistant, and wishes her well as she returns to Mount Holyoke College.

5500 Religious Leaders and Counting
This summer, the number of clergy and religious leaders who have joined the Religious Institute’s network has passed the 5500 mark. We are grateful to have your as partners in the movement for sexual justice in faith communities—thank you!

Thank You For Your Support!
The Religious Institute would like to thank The Mary Wohlford Foundation for their recent new grant award. We are grateful for their contributions to our shared work.

Religious Institute on the Road

  • August 12, 2012, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Simsbury, CT
    Director Marie Alford-Harkey will be preaching at 9am.
    Read more information here.
  • August 19, 2012, St. Mark’s Episcopal Chapel in Storrs, CT
    Director Marie Alford-Harkey will be preaching at 7:45 and 10 am.
    Read more information here.

Stay Connected with the Religious Institute


Endorse the Religious Declaration or an Open Letter

Join the Faithful Voices Network

View Our Website

Email Us


It is amazing the outcry towards Mainline denoms currently. Since 1988 in Canada we have bore withness to the nastiness and visceralness directed at the United Church of Canada because of their inclusion of LGBTTQ in the holy orders of God (essentially the idea that God calls to the ministry whom God calls and humanity needs to accept in our own narrowness).

The United Church of Christ in the US has come under fire for not only ordination, but also a full “marriage” for those of the same gender.

Recently the Episcopal Church not only took the route of the UC Canada, but also has issued a liturgy to bless same gender unions; and accepted transgendered individuals into the priesthood.

The ELCA/ELCIC are dealing with upheaval for their own moves to tear down patriarchal ladders and redraw a circle of inclusion.  Same as the Presbyterian Church (USA) and in some ways the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

There are other traditions (actually smalled congregations) that are moving beyond the idea of academic qualifications for ministry, and an understanding that everyone and anyone is called to the office of the ministry (the priesthood of all believers anyone?). By removing the academic stumbling blocks all God’s children are able to affirm a call to ministry whether it is in the marketplace, social enterprise or pulpit.

But hear the earth shattering cries of heresy, apostasy, abomination…and yet we are left to ponder this story from Peter in the Acts of the Apostles:

Acts 10:9-16

New King James Version (NKJV)

Peter’s Vision

The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. 10 Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance 11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”

15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

Simple point: Give up the bloody labels and know God loves everyone. Yeesh!

(because please remember it wasn’t very long ago (less than a hundred years, some less than a generation: that women; aboriginals; metis; half-breeds; non-whites– were seen as abnormalities, abominations and unable to be called by God to serve in the church as fully equal and included members…just sayin’).


Saturday, June 23, 2012
Originally, Jesus’ most important commandment wasn’t to love God with all one’s heart or with all one’s soul. God was a warrior, not a shepherd. Men and women were supposed to be equal. And as with many other people, Adam‘s lifespan was symbolic.
Vatican Urges AIDS Cure And Universal Drugs Access, Sidesteps Condoms
Gay Mormons Marrying Women
Separating Fact From Fiction In Vatican Leaks Case
Filmaker Who Used To Support Mosque Has Joined The Anti-Islam Movement
LGBT Religious Leaders On The Spirituality Of Marriage
David Lose: Do Christian Denominations Have a Future?
Despite my obvious denominational loyalty I’m not sure Christian denominations have a future — or whether they even should. Here are five reasons that I not only suspect the day of denominations has passed.
Paul Brandeis Raushenbush: Religious People Celebrate LGBT Pride
At the heart of most Pride parades in America, you will see religious congregations marching. Unfortunately, like many of my sisters and brothers who identify as both LGBT and religious, I find that sometimes I am asked to choose between my identities.
Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D.: Saying ‘Vagina’ in the Pulpit
In the aftermath of the silencing of Rep. Brown, I confess that I took some delight in the many tweeple who took to the twitterverse to speculate on what if any euphemistic term would have been acceptable in lieu of the medically appropriate anatomical term, vagina.
Fahad Faruqui: Connecting Islam and International Law to Help Refugees
In recent years, Muslim countries especially have seen a huge growth in refugees. In this context, it is especially important to understand the Islamic principles relevant to refugees and the connection to international law.
Richard Giannone: Pride and HIV/AIDS: The Spiritual Goodness Within
At Mass one witnessed the spectrum of AIDS from halting gait and blemishes to emaciation. HIV was making people realize that the tenacity of love of life flourished in these wasting men.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
At the heart of most Pride parades in America, you will see religious congregations marching. Jews, Christians, Pagans, Buddhists, and others share in the spirit of the original Stonewall uprising of ’69 by proclaiming that they have a right to be who they really are meant to be, which, in our case, is both LGBT and religious. Unfortunately, like many of my sisters and brothers who identify as both LGBT and religious, I find that sometimes I am asked to choose between my identities.
Vatican Gets Fox Media Adviser
Five Bible Images You Probably Misunderstand
Gay Mormons Marrying Women
Separating Fact From Fiction In Vatican Leaks Case
Filmaker Who Used To Support Mosque Has Joined The Anti-Islam Movement
Emilie Townes: Gay Marriage and Religion: What Marriage Means to Me
We are both clear that we do not to conform to the standard text of marriage, but we want to find ways to breath new air and life into what it means to be married not only by the state, but even more so in the eyes of the Holy Spirit.
Rabbi Andrea Myers: Religion and Gay Marriage: Unpacking the Ketubah
Marriage is not about what you feel but what you do about that feeling. That is why our ketubah ends b’emunah, in faithfulness, with the assertion that it is more than just words.
Rt. Rev. Mary Douglas Glasspool: Marriage Equality Through A Sacramental Lens
The life of the very Church that I love will be so enriched once it finds a way to publically, respectfully, and intentionally recognize God’s grace poured into the lives of gay and lesbian couples.
Dr. Joel Hoffman: Five Bible Images You Probably Misunderstand
Flawed translations conceal biblical messages from modern readers by failing to convey the significance of images and metaphors. Here’s what goes wrong.
David Lose: Do Christian Denominations Have a Future?
Despite my obvious denominational loyalty I’m not sure Christian denominations have a future — or whether they even should. Here are five reasons that I not only suspect the day of denominations has passed.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Recently, and not surprisingly, the emotional battle over LGBT rights has focused on America’s moral giant Martin Luther King, Jr. and the question: “What Would Martin Do?”
Christian Woman Writes Letter To 18 Year Old Self
The Price Of Being Prophetic: Isaiah 6:1–8 And John 3:1–17
WATCH: Jean Vanier: Become Weaker
Catholics Rally Around Nuns Amid Vatican Crackdown
PHOTOS: Most And Least
Christian States In America
Rev. Michael Dowd: Death: Sacred, Necessary, Real
Everything we value is possible only because of death. We can no longer afford to remain ignorant of it; the cost is too high. Death is no less sacred than life.
Rev. Malcolm Boyd: Is the Underground Church Dead or Alive?
If a church continues to pillory gay people, denying dignity and equal treatmnt, refusing hospitality and expression of God’s love, well, don’t preach love until you show a little.
Jonathan Talat Phillips: Top 10 Books of the New Edge
Spiritual counterculture are harder to define, hosting a multidimensional mix of spiritual awakening, new media activism, visionary art, punk attitude, permaculture principles, Burning Man aesthetic and Occupy ideologies.
David Sloan Wilson: PZ Myers: Not Functioning as a Scientist on the Subject of Religion
Who pretends that complex issues are so simple that they can be comprehended merely by opening one’s eyes? Religious fundamentalists and political demagogues come to mind. But they are not alone.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner: ‘Why Do People Hate Jews?’ Is Not the Right Question
Henry Blodget raised eyebrows yesterday with an article published in Business Insider, originally titled “Why Do People Hate Jews?” This was quickly changed to “Why Do Some People Hate Jews,” and finally to “What Are the Sources of Anti-Semitism?”

What happens when you are raised in a Conservative Church, but realize that God created you in Her image that is the LGBTTQ community of our world?

Watch and listen:

Matthew Vine

Read more Here.

For we are all children and beloved of God…



Evangelistar von Speyer, um 1220 Manuscript in...

Evangelistar von Speyer, um 1220 Manuscript in the Badische Landesbibliothek, Karlsruhe, Germany Cod. Bruchsal 1, Bl. 1v Shows Christ in vesica shape surrounded by the "animal" symbols of the four evangelists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

This is a deep question that set of quite the 3 way then 2 way conversation/dialogue on Twitter. Why am I writing about a twitter chat? Simple, the case study that emerged in this convo was around Sex Work, which yes is a current hot button issue of “justice” within the church.

Yet it comes to a much larger issue. For we in Christendom find it easy to acknowledge the “button justice issues” whether it be peace work; just war theory; sex trafficking; slave trade; LGBTTQ Rights (or human rights in general); ending misogyny; inclusion/exculsion of X-Y-Z community; who gets into heaven; feeding the poor; ending homelessness; providing shelter; community involvement; mentorship; tutoring; ESL; sanctuary; sponsoring families; short term missions; long term missions; abortion; petitions; and the litany of our justice issues go on and on.

And yes, I am writing as a member of Christendom currently working in one of the “hot buttong justice” issues of the day in Calgary, AB and that is ending homelessness.  Yet I also reflect on deeper understanding of issues. So do I agree with all the questions and answers bandied about, who knows… I know each and every issue is deeper and more complex than a black and white answer; or statistics on a page (stats can be skewed or used to tell any story we wish to tell with them depending on what we declare within the bounds of the statistics, and what are the outliers of the statistics).

But it comes down to the concept of what is justice? A quote I tossed out is from the defrocked Dominican Priest, Matthew Fox, who is highly involved in the progressive Christian movement known as creation spirituality, and it goes simply, “We need to tear down Jacob’s Ladder, and as a world embrace the dancing of Sarah’s Circle”. This quote lends itself to the story in Genesis where Jacob sees the angels (aliens to some) climbing up and down the ladder, it is an image that the Protestant world has used as a metaphor for rampant individualism; caucasoid patriarchy and oppressive practices for if one truly wants to get ahead they need to work hard and climb that ladder.  The metaphor of Sarah’s Circle comes from the practice in matriarch of laughter and dancing to get to know one another, and to work together in the household.  This idea is to bring all into the communit of inclusion.

Now we humans like to complicate things and Christendom is no different, as I have noted in other writings the term Christianities is much more palpable, but we are attempting to figure out how to renew our world and bring Heaven here, as Jesus of Nazareth commanded us to do in the Gospel of Mark.

Yet the idea of true justice goes beyond being Emergent, Missional, Charismatic, Evangelical, Convergent, Post-Modern, Modern, Catholic, Monastic, Post Christian, Progressive Christian or any other funk label or denomination we in the Body of Christ can come up with to be a plug and play program ideology to solve our woes.

What true justice is?

It is quite simple, and there are over 2 billion of us to lead the way. It is seeing each and every human being as the Sixth Day of Genesis (Genesis 1) states: Made in the image of our Creator, She called us beloved, blessed and Very Good. We are not commodities, we are not rungs on a ladder, we are beloved children of a loving Creator that is in everything, and everything is in her.

Justice is the realization of this creation, marked with our lifespan choices, when God let us leave his care, and enter the world it was not because we were evil or despots, it was simply because we were ready to explore like many late stage adolescents/early adults. This is the truth in Genesis 3 as I read it, for God still provided love and care by clothing us (offering protection), walking with us (as any loving parent when kids leave home), and turning the world over to us to care for and craft paradise in.

So what is justice? Truly living into and out of the love of God…seeing one another as the blessed image bearers…seeing ourselves as the beloved image bearer…

Creating a world where all are included, all 7+ billion of us are seen this way, and a world system is created where each of us can live out not only our agency, but our passion/dreams that is our calling to create make our own community better.

Pollyanic? Maybe, or is it simply moving beyond the cynicism and commodification currently found in our caucasoid heteropatriarchal societies?



Religious Institute

March 2012 Newsletter

From Rev. Debra W. Haffner

As you may already know from our e-cards, the Religious Institute is in the fight of its life.

On February 21, 2012, at 8 p.m. in the evening, I opened an email from the Religious Institute’s fiscal agent, Christian Community Inc. that informed me it had ceased business operations, and that it was shutting down immediately. In its capacity as our fiscal agent since 2001, Christian Community Inc. was responsible for processing all donations to the Religious Institute, serving as our employer as well as managing our financial obligations. On the morning of Ash Wednesday, I learned that that all of the Religious Institute funds already obtained for fiscal year 2012, and all of the Religious Institute reserves and fund balance, were gone—more than $424,000 that was owed solely to the Religious Institute for its future operations and activities.

The Religious Institute had entered the wilderness. We were left with $3800 in a local bank account. I don’t think I have words yet to describe the sense of betrayal and despair I felt or the horror of realizing that the Religious Institute might have to close immediately.

I thought a lot about the Lenten and Easter story. I prayed, met with staff, and we prayed some more. We reminded ourselves that the greatest learnings can happen in the wilderness, and that betrayal can lead to re-birth.

The ministry of the Religious Institute is too important, too vital for us to do anything but continue. We are the leading multifaith organization promoting sexual health, sexuality education, and full inclusion of women and LGBT people in the life of the faith community. We were and are determined that we will survive this crisis.

We went to work. All ties between the organizations were immediately ended, and all possible local, state, and federal authorities were contacted and are investigating. I am confident that ultimately justice will prevail.

Within two days, The Unitarian Church in Westport had voted to become the Religious Institute’s temporary fiscal agent. (This is the church that ordained me and that I serve as a community minister.) As our new fiscal agent, TUCW is receiving tax-deductible donations to the Religious Institute which allowed us to open a bank account solely for the Religious Institute’s financial obligations.

We immediately obtained pro bono legal counsel from the Pro Bono Partnership. I am pleased to report that Religious Institute, Inc. is now legally incorporated in the State of Connecticut, obtained its own EIN, and as you will read below, has a new Board of Directors. The first meeting of the Board took place on March 9, 2012, and bylaws and a conflict of interest policy were adopted. In the next few weeks, we will be filing to become a nonprofit organization under the IRS.

Religious Institute 2011 staffPeople and organizations have been supportive beyond words and expectations. Later in this newsletter we will tell you about so many of them. Within 2 days, I had raised the money to cover the debts we were left and staff salary for two payrolls. By the time I’m writing this, in just three weeks, we have commitments for more than half of a tightened 2012 budget. We have had office volunteers, people bringing us lunch, the most lovely letters and notes, and infinite generosities. I have now experienced the worst of people and the best of people in new ways.

Our 2012 work will continue because it must. As you’ll see below, even during this crisis, we have continued to speak out on the war against women, providing the progressive religious voice that is so urgently needed. We are going ahead with our plans to create a new theological framework on domestic and international family planning, needed more than ever with new controversies about contraception. We are continuing our work with seminaries and denominations. The Rachel Sabbath initiative will go on, and the Religious Institute online class has more than 70 current students.

What can you do? If you have ever considered supporting the Religious Institute, now is the time. We have received donations ranging from $1.45 from a seven-year-old to commitments from foundations. In total, we must raise $365,000—$1,000 per day—to implement the plan for 2012 activities. Every donation, no matter what the size, matters.

If you are local, you can volunteer your time – we are a small staff, but can easily use one volunteer a day to help us through the crisis. You can hold a special collection or share the plate for the Religious Institute at your community of faith. You can send a card or a note of appreciation or encouragement to our staff. You can ask your friends on Facebook and Twitter to follow us or like us, or you can reach out to colleagues to endorse the Religious Declaration. And, please hold us in your prayers or in the light.

Thank you so much for your love and support. It will allow the Religious Institute not just to survive but once again thrive.

To donate, please go here.
Read the sermon I preached on Lent, Betrayal, and Re-birth on February 26, 2012 here.

Take Action: How YOU can help

Here are some ways you can help the Religious Institute continue:

  • Donate to the Religious Institute. All donations are fully tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. If you have ever considered financially supporting the work of the Religious Institute, now it the time. Every size donation matters. You can donate online here, or consider an ongoing, monthly donation to support the work of the Religious Institute. Email your interest with your phone number, and a staff member will contact you.
  • Contact us for help. Each year, Religious Institute staff conducts workshops, preaches sermons, gives presentations, and much more. Email your offer and phone number, and a staff member will contact you.
  • Pass the plate or special collections. Many faith communities take a special offering to support notable projects. A collection to benefit the Religious Institute would be a very meaningful way to support our work.
  • Buy Religious Institute publications. We are offering ALL of our outstanding study guides and resources at a 50% discount for the next 30 days. Contact us here for more information.
  • Introduce us to people and foundations that can help. If you know foundations or individuals who could fund our work, please tell them about us! Email your offer and phone number, and a staff member will contact you. We would welcome your introduction
  • Share our story with your friends. Share our information on your social networks, forward this email to your friends, post your comments on our Facebook wall, follow us on Twitter. Tell people that progressive religious voices support sexual justice!

Now more than ever—thank you for supporting the work of the Religious Institute.

Faithful Voices Network

The Faithful Voices Network exists as a way to demonstrate the power of everyday people in our movement. This has never been truer for the Religious Institute as people of faith are working around the clock to make sure that the organization will survive. In just two weeks, the Religious Institute has received more than 450 (and counting!) individual donations. We are grateful that you share in our commitment to this work.

The challenges of the last few weeks have come with one very welcome silver lining: The love and support of many, many people who are going above and beyond to do what they can to help the Religious Institute and its staff get through this difficult time and emerge stronger than ever.

wall of cards and lettersSpecial thanks to:

  • The Unitarian Church in Westport, for acting quickly to become the Religious Institute’s new temporary fiscal agent.
  • Pro Bono Partnership of White Plains, NY for their invaluable aid helping us to become a freestanding, nonprofit, independent organization.
  • Digital ArchiTechs, for hosting our web site at no cost until we are back on our feet.
  • Fred Garcia of Logos Consulting, for crisis communications assistance.
  • To Lynda Bluestein and Ruth Mayer for pro bono grant writing assistance.
  • To Kristen and Chad Helbert for providing pro bono shipping services for our publications.
  • To Betsy Miller, for her invaluable help in setting up our financial system.
  • To Tess O’Brien, Rainy Broomfield, Joanne Coviello and Perry Montrose for volunteering for office help.
  • To Ralph Tartaglione, Rodrigo Godoi, Doug Jones, Andy Jones, and Randy Burnham for help in receiving and organizing Religious Institute publications.
  • To April Alford-Harkey, Shannon Cobb, Rodrigo Godoi, and Ralph Tartaglione for all they have done to hold us up during these past three weeks.
  • For the notes, cards, and emails from people who support the ministry of the Religious Institute

We know that we are surrounded by prayers, and the kindness of so many friends, loved ones, and strangers has been uplifting. If you are able to offer assistance to the Religious Institute, please call or email us—we are grateful for the help. Thank you all very much!

Rachel Sabbath Initiative

What kind of a Rachel Sabbath will you celebrate in your congregation?

rachel sabbath initiative
This is our third year of using congregational gatherings or events near Mother’s Day (May 13th) to make a powerful statement on behalf of women and girls everywhere.

In 2011, participating congregations chose to highlight reproductive justice in many ways. Some of the most popular include the following:

  • Holding adult education programs on maternal health or family planning,
  • Engaging their social action/social justice committees on maternal health or family planning,
  • Incorporating Religious Institute prayers, readings, and other resources into their worship services,
  • Speaking about maternal health or family planning from the pulpit,
  • Addressing maternal health or family planning in congregational newsletters or web sites,
  • Youth education that discusses or addresses maternal health or family planning issues,
  • Bringing in Planned Parenthood or another women’s healthcare provider for a presentation on maternal health or family planning,

Highlighting reproductive justice can be as simple as using one of our responsive readings, or you can make it the centerpiece of your worship service. Congregational events or gatherings near Mother’s Day (May 13th) are the ideal times to make a powerful statement on behalf of women and girls everywhere. New prayers, sermons, responsive readings and much more are available here. Please sign up here and tell us that your congregation will be observing a Rachel Sabbath.

People won’t act if they don’t realize that global maternal mortality and the lack of access to family planning is a moral and public health crisis. Observing a Rachel Sabbath will not only highlight the challenges in women’s and girls’ reproductive health services worldwide, but it can also highlight the actions we can all take to become a part of the solution. Please take a moment to sign up here and let us know that your congregation will be speaking out for reproductive justice and health.

Religious Institute News

Religious Institute, Inc. Announces Inaugural Board of Directors

The Religious Institute, Inc. is pleased to introduce its incorporating Board of Directors:

  • Chair: Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield is the Executive Minister, American Baptist Church of Metro Chicago, IL, and the former President of Colgate Rochester-Bexley Hall-Crozier Divinity School. Rev. Greenfield is also the co-founder of the Religious Institute.
  • Secretary: Ms. Betsy Wacker serves as a board member of Connecticut Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and is former Director of Public Policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
  • Treasurer: Dr. William W. Finger, is a Psychologist and Professor at the VA Medical Center in Mountain Home, TN, the President of American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), and an AASECT certified sex therapist and supervisor.

Members At Large:

  • Rev. Barbara Fast is the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Danbury, Connecticut.
  • Ms. Katherine Hanley is the Executive Director of Tempe Community Council, and of the Tempe Community Foundation, Tempe, Arizona
  • Rev. Dr. Su Yon Pak is the Senior Director & Associate Professor of Integrative and Field-Based Education at Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York.
  • Rev. Debra W. Haffner, President and CEO, Religious Institute, Inc.

Religious Institute In The Media

Rev. Haffner on Geraldo
The past month has been one of the busiest for Religious Institute media appearances.  The day after we learned that the fiscal agent had ceased operations, Rev. Debra Haffner appeared on the “Geraldo” national radio program on ABC Radio, reacting to the Republican debate in Mesa, AZ and attacks on contraception, and giving voice to progressive religious support for contraception. Listen to the show here.

Religious Institute Blogs on
In addition to her regular blogs on Huffington Post and Washington Post, Rev. Haffner has started blogging on via Erin Burnett OutFront. Her February blog asks the Roman Catholic Bishops to Stop Playing Politics with Women’s Bodies and in early March she wrote An Open Letter to Rush Limbaugh. Please post your comments supporting sexual justice!

UUWorld Publishes Article on Religious Institute Crisis
On March 5, UUWorld Magazine published the first article on the crisis facing the Religious Institute and its impact on the organization. Read the article here.

Religious Institutions and Birth Control
On March 5, Rabbi Sandy Sasso published a thoughtful piece on contraception and religiously affiliated organizations, including a quote from Rev. Haffner and reference to the joint statement supporting the White House’s decision on contraceptive coverage. Read the article here.

The Panel Congress Really Needs to Hear From
On February 21, RH Reality Check published a list of people they want to see testify before Congress on women’s health, which led with Rev. Haffner. Read the full list and article here.

Religious Institute on the Road

March 25, 2012, St. Mark’s Episcopal Chapel in Storrs, CT
Director Marie Alford-Harkey will be preaching during the worship services.
Read more information here.

April 4, 2012, Norwalk Community College Academic Festival, Norwalk, CT
Director Marie Alford-Harkey will be part of a panel on “The State of Gay Marriage” from 10-11:30am.
Read more information here.

April 11-13, 2012, Mass Adolescent Sex Offender Coalition Annual Conference, Marlborough, MA
Rev. Haffner will be giving the Keynote Address “Talking About Sex: Pathways to Healthy Sexual Behaviors and Relationships” on April 13.
Read more information here.

April 15, 2012, St. Mark’s Episcopal Chapel in Storrs, CT
Director Marie Alford-Harkey will be preaching and leading worship.
Read more information here.

April 25-27, 2012, Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, Iroquois Spring Retreat, Rochester, NY
Rev. Haffner will be presenting the “Skills for a Sexually Healthy Religious Professional” workshop on April 26.
Read more information here. 

May 4-5, 2012 – UU District of Metro NY 2012 Annual Meeting
Rev. Haffner will be presenting the “Creating Sexually Healthy UU Congregations” workshop. The Religious Institute will also be exhibiting at this event. Stop by our table and say hello!
Read more information here.

Stay Connected with the Religious Institute


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English: No Homophobia logo

Image via Wikipedia

Labels destroy the Reign of God here on earth. That which we are called to build as believers by living out of God’s love.

We need to move beyond our petty labels, and Pharisaic of who gets into and out of hell based on some useless sin list. Join the backing of destroying Holy Homophobia: Let Your Light Shine

Okay so the church is slowly moving into the mid-20th century in acceptance of the LGBTTQ Members as individuals that can be fully called by God into ministry and such.

The Church as a whole, well, we still fall short in Truth & Reconciliation work with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, and yes we still enjoy planting ethnic churches (ala Chinese United; Ukranian Catholic, etc)…so we don’t like being fully inclusive of culture and traditions not our own for it may challenge our understanding of God. The next wave of full inclusion is to actually shatter this apartheid style system and welcome individuals of all cultures to one meeting place.

But wait…Apartheid system? Is that not a bit of a harsh word? Well it is a system that seperates based on ethnicity…which is what planting churches based around race is doing.

The next challenge is basic economics, denominations are collapsing under their own weight, the institution has outstripped the parishner, so yes, these labels may fade away.

But what will truly sound the death knell for the church as we know it today? Will it be the LGBTTQ Inclusion? Cultural Inclusion? Becoming post-denominational? No, those will be steps that will chip away during the current reformation, but what will truly shake the church to its core is the inclusion of:

The Disability Community

And I can hear so many saying, but we already include them, we have a ramp, we have a lift, we have…and the list goes on and to be blunt in my British way it is all Bollocks from a bunch of wankers trying to prove superiority somewhere.

Now back to P.C. talk. It is not, and will never be full inclusion under our current systems, why? Simple, we fail to see individuals in the disabled community as fully human. Why? Because if we do it shakes our theology to its core, it says that God created people who are differently abled as fully and complete the way they are. It states that being called by God has nothing to do with academic prowess, but rather an authentic spiritual life that emanates the love of God from living in and out of that heart.

So why will full inclusion shatter the current church model?

Simple, first orientation wise it forces us to actually read the Bible as it was intended and expand our understanding of what holy scriptures are and the life of Jesus.

Next the cultural apartheid ends and different ways of understanding/experiencing God come together we are removed from our own understandings and God goes truly global.

Reconciliation with the Aboriginal communities brings mysticism back to our faith, and connects us once again with Creation.

Finally, full inclusion happens with the full inclusion of those who are differently abled because it strips us of our faulty theology of healing, challenges us to move beyond original sin into original blessing…but more importantly it shows us the true barrier for community is our bastions of “light” the decrypt buildings we continue to prop up in our literally dying communities; when to be fully inclusive we need to get together; implode the impediments and truly dream of what a centre at the soul of the community is meant to look like.

It also radically changes the way we equip for ordered ministry, it makes higher academia obsolete; and it opens us back up to experiencing God.

So what challenge of inclusion will finally break the church? The inclusion that radically alters our physical and educational reality? Our holistic life…moving into full embrace of all God’s children and acceptance in love…

I know in the NE the most accessible woship space is the Mosque in Prairie Winds, wonder if they are willing to rent out for Sunday worship so a building doesn’t stop a child of God from becoming part of community…