Friday, October 15, 2010

The Bully Pulpit

During the month of September, five teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 took their own lives because they decided death was easier to bear than life. Raymond Chase, 19, Tyler Clementi, 18, Billy Lucas, 15, Seth Walsh and Asher Brown, both 13, all took control of their lives and determined the effort and agony were no longer worth it. What causes a human, during the infancy of his or her life, to jump from a bridge, hang himself or herself from a tree, or look down the barrel of a gun and pull the trigger?

The sad reality is that bullying is an age-old tactic used by people, organizations, and governments to destroy lives. It is one of the most effective methods in dehumanization available to the evil-hearted. While there are myriad cases of bullying that include physical and/or sexual abuse, the vast majority of incidences occur without any physical contact.

For the record, bullying, in any form, is abuse! And in many regards, the non-physical form is more damaging. The colloquial adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a bold lie!! In the Judeo-Christian tradition, speech has great power. Words are how the Universe came to be. For Christians specifically, it was the Word that became flesh. When bullying occurs in the form of words, it inflicts a wound that cannot receive the usual care associated with injury. If I incur a physical injury, I can partake in the common ritual of cleansing the wound, applying some sort of balm, and applying a dressing. This dressing serves as a protection, to decrease the likelihood of re-injury. It serves as a way for me to receive some attention in my distress. As others see my bandage, they inquire, they offer care. My wound is validated.

When bullying takes a verbal form, the target is left with no tangible or visible way to care for this wound. This is the type of bullying that comes from pulpits. When clergy stand and proclaim in the name of God that only one sexual orientation is holy, or more explicitly, say that one is possessed with a demon if they profess to be lesbian, gay bisexual or transgender, this is bullying. We, as clergy, are using our power to oppress, confuse, and abuse those for whom we have been charged with caring. When we stand and tell women to return to abusive homes, we are further crushing their God-likeness. When religious zealots stand in front of abortion clinics and yell epithets to women entering, in the name of God, the wounds inflicted are real and damaging. But these wounds don’t have the luxury of cleansing. They don’t get a band-aid to signal to others there has been a trauma and to be cautious. There is no manufactured balm that can be applied to kill off the remaining bacteria and initiate the healing process. How do these victims heal?

Bullying happens on the playground, at our jobs, on the sidewalks of abortion clinics, in our homes between spouses or parents and children, and unfortunately all too often, in our places of worship. It is only a matter of time before individuals like Raymond, Tyler, Billy, Seth, and Asher have to find a way to release the pain and express the torment. Not only can sticks and stones break our bones, but words can harm us in far more spiritual and practical ways. As people of faith, we must use our words in holy ways and speak ALOUD to stop this travesty.

-The Rev. Kimberly Banks-Brown, Minister of Advocacy for Faith Aloud

Friday, September 24, 2010

Standing with the Shamed and the Judged

Guest Blog by Rev. Krista Taves, Board President

Many people are unaware that a minister’s scope of responsibility is not just the congregation she or he serves. We also are called to work outside of the four walls of our buildings and be a presence in the community. When I came to Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel ( as its minister five years ago, I gave myself about 1½ years to scope out the St. Louis justice scene, to see where I would spend the outward focused part of my ministry to this congregation.

When the Unitarian Universalist seat opened up on the Board of Trustees for the Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice, I knew I had received my answer. MO RCRC had been a presence in Missouri for almost 30 years when I joined. It’s focus was three-fold – advocating for reproductive justice in Missouri, providing training for clergy and other helping professions in the delivery of spiritual care to those facing unplanned pregnancies, and offering that spiritual care free of charge to women and their families.

Within two years I was asked to accept the role of President of the board, and I happily accepted. Since that time, much has changed. MO RCRC disaffiliated from its parent organization, the Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and went independent as Faith Aloud ( Our goal was to become a national organization. Since that time, we have reorganized again, and now are two organizations: Faith Aloud Missouri Project, which continues the advocacy work at Jefferson City; and, Faith Aloud, a national organization offering direct outreach to abortion clinics in the United States and Canada, and focusing primarily on direct spiritual care to women and their families. I am now the President of the Board of this national organization.

One aspect of this work has become most meaningful to me. I completed the training offered by Faith Aloud to be a clergy counselor. Approximately twice a month I am referred to women who have called Faith Aloud asking for help. Sometimes these women are facing an unplanned pregnancy and are struggling with the spiritual issues of the choice they are being asked to make. Sometimes the woman has either had an abortion or given a child up for adoption and is struggling spiritually with the choice she made. We offer non-judgmental compassionate spiritual care to these women, regardless of religion and belief. Our prime concern is that they make the choice that is right for them. We are not pro-abortion, we are pro-choice.

I am continuously moved, and often angered, by how much damage has been done to women by orthodox Christianity. At least 25% of women who have abortions are evangelical Christian. When they make the choice to end a pregnancy, many believe they are condemning themselves to God’s judgment and that they deserve to be separated from the love of God forever. They feel that the moral response to their abortion is to judge themselves and to feel shame for what they have done. They keep their abortion a secret from friends and family, which increases the shame. When they call Faith Aloud they are desperate for some kind of absolution and have a hard time believing that we will not judge them. I have spent hours listening to and praying with women who don’t believe they deserve forgiveness, who can scarcely comprehend that they don’t even need forgiving because there is nothing wrong with the choice they made. When they looked at the reality of their lives, when they listened to the truth in their hearts and made their decision, THAT was the voice of God speaking, not some selfish evil desire.

While I find these calls spiritually exhausting, they also tell me that I’m exactly where I need to be, and my commitment to continue this work grows stronger. Even when my term as president of Faith Aloud comes to an end, I will continue to be a Faith Aloud Clergy Counselor and do everything I can to change the national discourse about abortion. I have become convinced that secular arguments will never do that. In fact, they are failing because they do not speak to the heart, the soul, and the spirit. Abortion rights are being successfully chipped away in every state, usually on religious grounds. The only way to change what is happening is to change the way people think about abortion and reproductive justice in spiritual and religious terms.

This is why liberal religion is so important. This is why liberal churches, regardless of denomination or faith, are so important and why religious liberals and progressives are compelled to evangelize. We don’t save souls; they’re already saved. We save lives. We believe that the holy speaks through the ordinary and the mundane. We trust in humanity. When our liberal churches become inwardly focused we are denying a this-worldly liberation and salvation to those who desperately need our message that the promise of wholeness and unending grace is offered to everyone.

We save lives by taking back the religious language, by taking back the Scriptures, by taking back and reframing what it means to be religious and moral. Too many women and men are paying the price for religions that cycle through shame and punishment. I offer time and talent and treasure to Faith Aloud because I believe it is the voice we need, the voice that will reclaim the religious landscape for women and their families and this country.

Faith Aloud begins its national launch this weekend and we want as many people as possible to know about its ministry. I would encourage you to forward this message to as many people as you know. Go to and have a look for yourself at its mission. Watch the many videos we have produced that are watched by thousands of women who come to us in crisis. If you know of a woman who struggles with a reproductive choice, tell her we are there for her and she can call our 1-800 line. And if you are so moved, become a supporter of Faith Aloud and know that you are doing your part to save lives and spirits.

May the spirit move us and may we allow ourselves to be moved.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Formation of Gender Identity in the Church

by Rev. Rebecca Turner

Growing up in a small Missouri town Southern Baptist church in the 1960s, I recall very little being said about sex, sexuality, and gender. We didn't have sex education of any kind in my church. But I do remember that every pastor was a man. Every deacon was a man. Every greeter, usher, and offering collector was a man. Every person who read the scripture in church, who directed the choir, who was in any way participating in worship leadership was a man.

As a little girl I knew without being told that men made all of the decisions for the church -- all I had to do was look around. Men were the ones granted the religious authority to interpret the scriptures and make moral decisions. Women could cook, clean, play the piano, sing, and teach children in Sunday School. But once children reached the 5th grade, classes were divided by gender -- men taught the boys and men; women taught girls and women. Women made up at least two-thirds of the people sitting in the pews. They were the ones being "preached at" but they clearly were not the ones in charge.

And then there was Mother's Day-the biggest church day of all. Oh, you thought it would be Easter or Christmas? No, nothing could rival Mother's Day. The church was overflowing. It was the one day of the year that women were successful in dragging all of their children to church and lining them all up in a pew. Why? Because the pastor was handing out flowers -- awards to the mothers who had achieved something remarkable. Oldest mother -- usually around 100. Youngest mother -- usually around 14. Mother with the most children -- usually around 14. Yes, these were the women we were to emulate. The only way for a woman to get positive recognition in church was to give birth -- early and often.

When I was a freshman in college, my pastor asked me what I intended to do with my life. I said I wanted to go to seminary and become a missionary. (Missionary was the only acceptable career choice for a Southern Baptist girl who wanted to be in the ministry.) My pastor looked at me solemnly and said "You know, if you learned to play the piano, you could make a good pastor's wife." I knew enough to be insulted. I walked out, never to set foot in that church again until my mother's funeral.

My experience is not unique to Missouri or small towns or Baptists or yesteryear. Sadly, it is a common experience in many religious groups, and the implicit lesson is loud and clear: Men are qualified to deal with important religious and moral issues; women are not. Men have wisdom to impart; women are to be the helpers of the men. Even if no words are ever spoken that demean women (and that's highly unlikely), the lesson will still be imbedded in every child's brain. For little girls the damage is serious: they are not given experience in making important decisions and may even come to believe that they are incapable of critical decision-making. How often have we heard the stereotype of the indecisive woman? No doubt it was formed from the experiences that limited their freedom to make choices.

When a girl's options are restricted, when her chances to see strong women as role models are few, when she isn't allowed to make important decisions, when her reluctance to be a wife and mother are chastised, when she has no opportunity to debate with the boys, when her ideas about God are ignored, how will she grow into her own knowledge and confidence? Some girls have the ego to overcome these influences. Some encounter great role models in later years. Some get years of therapy.

Many others don't.

First published at August 13, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mainstreaming Abortion Provision

There is a fascinating story in the New York Times about "The New Abortion Providers".

While we agree that providing abortion care should be a no-brainer part of mainstream medical care, it may not be as simple as training doctors to provide this care as a part of their own ob/gyn or family practice.

In Midwestern and Southern states, where abortion restrictions are the most severe, lawmakers have been quite successful in punishing doctors who choose to perform abortions. The restrictions have not just been on the clinics, but upon the physicians themselves. These anti-woman laws include requiring doctors who perform abortions to have their offices certified as abortion clinics (and often ambulatory surgical centers), requiring them to maintain exorbitant malpractice insurance, and requiring them to have hospital privileges at a location within just a few miles of where they perform abortions.

The whole idea is to stigmatize the work so severely that physicians will not be able to offer even medical abortions in a private practice.

Another question we must raise is this: Does this movement to get abortion out of clinics and into private offices further promote the stigmatization of abortion? Out of site, out of mind? Is it seen as a good move so that women can more easily hide their choice? So that doctors don't have to tell what they do? While we are all in favor of medical privacy, it is very important that in our efforts to make abortion more accessible we do not add to the stigma. "Mainstream" should mean easy access and no reason to be ashamed.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Since the 1960's, a sex education war has waged in school districts and state legislatures around the country. Schools seeking to be responsible in helping students learn how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections established medically accurate sex education programs. But almost immediately, they experienced a backlash from religious organizations who wanted no sex education in public schools. The fear usually voiced was that information about sex would tantalize students and encourage them into early sexual experimentation. The solution they voiced was for sex education to be done in the home and church, where values could be the central theme.

Half a century later, there is a great deal of research that shows what kind of sex education programs actually influence behavior and the winners are programs that teach both abstinence and contraception (see But some of the religious voices in the debate are not convinced.

The Vatican's most recent document on the subject ( says that Catholic parents should remove their children from any sex education programs that do not support the doctrines of the church, and chastity appears to be the most significant doctrine. "The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality" directs parents to teach their children that "Chastity is the spiritual power which frees love from selfishness and aggression."

"True Love Waits", which is popular in conservative Christian churches is famous for its "chastity rings" and "chastity proms", identifies itself as a "chastity-empowerment program ( It teaches girls that they are to be modest and boys that they are to be masculine. It teaches all students that sex before marriage is dangerous, that condoms do not work, and that abortion will damage you forever.

Research shows that religious teens are less likely to engage in sexual intercourse before age 18, but that those teens are also less likely to use any protection in their first sexual encounter. ( Although critics of "abstinence plus contraception" programs denounce them for sending mixed messages, the "True Love Waits" chastity program does include information on what to do if you get pregnant (have a baby).

The Quiverfull Movement also deserves mention. Not specifically a sex education program, it is a Christian movement of homeschoolers whose aim is to "trust the Lord for family size". ( It teaches chastity before marriage and the woman's role as a breeder of many children. It teaches that the birth control pill is unsafe and causes abortion, and that vasectomy will cause a "blowout". (

These unscientific ideas would be laughable if it were not for the many young lives that they mis-educate. But these conservative groups do not speak for all. There are many religious groups who take seriously their duty to offer accurate and effective sex education programs and who gladly partner with their communities to be sure students receive sound instruction.

Jewish groups have consistently shown strong support for sex education in public schools, have offered sex education in Jewish schools (, and have developed their own research and curriculum (
Jewish teachings do not focus on abstinence, but on healthy bodies and relationships.

A number of organizations offer outstanding religious resources in sex education. The Religious Institute for Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing offers study guides for adult congregants to consider the importance of sex education. ( The National Black Church Initiative of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice offers a variety of short curricula for youth and adults who belong to communities of color. ( The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy has research studies to help religious groups plan their sex education programming. ( And Faith Aloud ( works directly with congregations to create personalized youth retreats about sex, sexuality, and gender.
Possibly the most comprehensive faith-based sex education curriculum, "Our Whole Lives" is a creation of the Unitarian-Universalists and the United Church of Christ. ( Based on the guidelines of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (, "OWL" offers age-appropriate lessons from kindergarten through adulthood that focus on healthy, respectful relationships. Going beyond the standard information on sex, pregnancy, and contraception, "OWL" includes progressive teachings on more controversial subjects such as same sex relationships, orgasm, and abortion.

Across the country, wherever school districts have dismantled their sex education programs because of controversy or because of following the "abstinence-only" craze, new options are needed. Progressive faith communities can lead the way and become important community partners in teaching positive values about sex, sexuality, and gender roles.

First published in

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Prayer for Women

On this 37th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we lift our prayers to All that is Holy.

We pray for women.

We pray for women whose daily struggles make it difficult for them to claim their God-given power to make decisions.

We pray for women to realize their own sacredness and to honor it by being true to themselves.

We pray for women who always place others' needs before their own.

We pray for women who believe the lie that men are superior.

We pray for women who suffer the injustices of low wages, inadequate healthcare, and poor childcare.

We pray for women who fear their own lovers.

We pray for women who travel hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion.

We pray for women who risk their own lives in their efforts to help other women.

We pray for women whose bodies can't support a healthy pregnancy.

We pray for women who are denied parenting through adoption.

We pray for women who keep secrets because they fear banishment by their community.

We pray for women who face discrimination in the workplace, the legislature, the military, and the bank.

We pray for all women to be strong and brave, to find their voices and tell their truths.

We pray for all the women of every nation to be treated as full human beings.

We pray these things to the Divine Feminine Presence that loves, nurtures, and connects all women.

The Reverend Rebecca Turner

Faith Aloud