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The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

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The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

Religious Institute, Inc.
Founded 2001 (2001)
Key people
Mission "Advocating for sexual and reproductive justice, education and health in faith communities and society"
Website .orgreligiousinstitute

The Religious Institute, Inc. is a liberal American multi-faith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society.[1][2] It was co-founded in 2001 by Reverend Debra W. Haffner, a Unitarian Universalist minister and sexologist, and Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield, an American Baptist minister and theologian.

The Religious Institute’s stated purpose is "to change the way America understands the relationship of sexuality and religion". [1] Among its objectives are building a network of clergy and other religious leaders who are dedicated to sexual justice, promoting sexuality education in faith communities, and educating policymakers and the general public about a progressive religious view of sexuality.

Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

In May 1999, a group of twenty theologians from various traditions came together to formulate the "Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing". It offers a progressive religious framework for sexuality.[3] As of 2006, it had been endorsed by over 2,250 religious leaders from over 35 religious traditions.[4] The Religious Declaration reads:[5]

Sexuality is God's life-giving and life-fulfilling gift. We come from diverse religious communities to recognize sexuality as central to our humanity and as integral to our spirituality. We are speaking out against the pain, brokenness, oppression, and loss of meaning that many experience about their sexuality.
Our faith traditions celebrate the goodness of creation, including our bodies and our sexuality. We sin when this sacred gift is abused or exploited. However, the great promise of our traditions is love, healing, and restored relationships.
Our culture needs a sexual ethic focused on personal relationships and social justice rather than particular sexual acts. All persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure. Grounded in respect for the body and for the vulnerability that intimacy brings, this ethic fosters physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It accepts no double standards and applies to all persons, without regard to sex, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.
God hears the cries of those who suffer from the failure of religious communities to address sexuality. We are called today to see, hear, and respond to the suffering caused by violence against women and sexual minorities, the HIV pandemic, unsustainable population growth and over-consumption, and the commercial exploitation of sexuality.
Faith communities must therefore be truth seeking, courageous, and just. We call for:
  • Full inclusion of women and sexual minorities in congregational life, including their ordination and the blessing of same sex unions.
  • Sexuality counseling and education throughout the lifespan from trained religious leaders.
  • Support for those who challenge sexual oppression and who work for justice within their congregations and denomination.
  • Theological reflection that integrates the wisdom of excluded, often silenced peoples, and insights about sexuality from medicine, social science, the arts and humanities.
Faith communities must also advocate for sexual and spiritual wholeness in society. We call for:
  • Lifelong, age appropriate sexuality education in schools, seminaries, and community settings.
  • A faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment.
  • Religious leadership in movements to end sexual and social injustice.
God rejoices when we celebrate our sexuality with holiness and integrity. We, the undersigned, invite our colleagues and faith communities to join us in promoting sexual morality, justice, and healing.

A New Start

At its inception, the Religious Institute was a program of Christian Community, Inc. That organization became defunct in February 2012. In March 2012,[6] the Religious Institute incorporated as an independent organization, Religious Institute, Inc, and received IRS recognition as a non-profit educational organization shortly thereafter.


The Religious Institute addresses a variety of sexual and reproductive justice concerns through advocacy, education, and development of resources as well as through partnerships with clergy and congregations, national religious organizations, and sexual and reproductive health organization.

Sexually Healthy Faith Communities

The Religious Institute believes that all religious communities are responsible for addressing sexuality. It defines a sexually healthy faith community as one that is “committed to fostering spiritual, sexual, and emotional health among the congregation and providing a safe environment where sexuality issues are addressed with respect, mutuality, and openness.”[2] Sexuality is integrated with spirituality in liturgies, pastoral care, religious education with both youth and adults, and in community social action programs.

Sexuality education

The Religious Institute believes that religious communities have a unique role in providing sexuality education. Its publication A Time to Speak: Faith Communities and Sexuality Education provides ideas and resources for faith communities on how to provide sexuality education for their congregants as well as support sexuality education in their communities. [3]

Seminary education

The Religious Institute has engaged seminaries across the country to institute new courses and institutional changes on sexuality issues, through sexuality education for seminarians, including a classroom graduate course; an online, graduate-level course; faculty and student training workshops; and ongoing research on seminary practices. [4] This work builds on a 2009 study by the Religious Institute, Sex and the Seminary: Preparing Ministers for Sexual Justice and Health[7] that surveyed 36 leading seminaries and rabbinical schools of diverse size and geographic location, representing a range of Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist traditions, which found sexuality courses largely absent from most seminary curricula and degree requirements. This study also outlines the criteria by which a seminary, rabbinical or divinity school could be considered as sexually healthy and responsible.

In January 2012, the Religious Institute began classifying seminaries, rabbinical and divinity school meeting a majority of the criteria as Sexually Healthy and Responsible Seminaries. At that time, twenty institutions met this criteria, compared to ten at the time of the 2009 study.

Adolescent sexuality

The Religious Institute recognizes that faith communities serve more youth than any other agency other than schools and therefore has the opportunity and obligation to have honest discussions with adolescents about sexuality. The Institute encourages faith communities to speak openly with teens about their sexuality, provide accurate information, and affirm sexuality as a blessing.[5]

Reproductive justice

The Religious Institute affirms the moral agency of women and asks faith communities to support reproductive rights. Abortion should be safe, legal, accessible, and rare. It supports "responsible procreation", accessible and affordable contraception, prenatal care, and "intentional parenting." Reproductive justice requires equal access to health care.[8]

Marriage equality

The Religious Institute believes that marriage equality concerns not only issues of gaining access to legal protections for same sex couples, but it is also a matter of justice. It calls upon religious communities to affirm sexual diversity and all loving, mutual relationships as sacred.[6]

Sexual and gender diversity

The Religious Institute challenges religious leaders to speak publicly about issues of sexual diversity and to advocate, both in secular and faith-based contexts, for the justice and the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, including the ordination of LGBT clergy. On the completion of the Institute's "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sexual and Gender Diversity", [7] Rev. Haffner commented, “Sexual and gender oppression can no longer be portrayed as virtuous and morally defensible. While religious denominations continue to debate issues of sexuality, the silence and condemnation of clergy have led to destroyed relationships, suicidal despair and discrimination and violence against LGBT persons. Denying that God created diversity as a blessing is denying Biblical teaching."[8]

Sexual abuse prevention

The Religious Institute recognizes the responsibility of each faith community to ensure that it is sexually healthy and free of abuse and harassment. It works with congregations on issues of child sexual abuse and healthy childhood sexuality, sexual offenses and offenders, and how to develop democratic processes for times when action is required.[9]


The Religious Institute believes that all faith communities are "called by God to affirm a life of hope and healing in the midst of HIV/AIDS." In its publication The Age of AIDS: A Guide for Faith-Based Communities the Religious Institute in conjunction with PBS, Frontline, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting(CPB) provides resources for faith communities in responding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.


Technical assistance

The Religious Institute staff work with clergy, congregations, and denominational bodies on a one-time, short-term, or long-term basis to address sexuality issues. Staff can help choose or plan curricula, develop safe congregation policies, identify local consultants or referral sources, and respond to difficult situations and circumstances around a sexuality issue.

Training workshops and speaking engagements

The Religious Institute provides keynote speakers and workshop leaders for congregations as well as regional and national meetings on sexuality, spirituality, and religion; sexuality education for youth, parents, and adults; building sexually healthy faith communities; and other sexuality and religion topics.


Religious Institute staff assist the media in identifying leading spokespeople from nearly every denomination to provide public witness on sexual justice issues.


The Religious Institute's clearinghouse includes the most up-to-date information on sexuality and religion, including best practices, new resources, trends, and current controversies.

External links

  • Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing
    • Declaración Religiosa Sobre Moralidad, Justicia, y Salud Sexual (Spanish version of The Relgious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing
  • Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning
  • Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Maternal Mortality and Reproductive Justice
  • Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality
  • Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision
  • Open Letter to Religious Leaders about Sex Education
  • Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Adolescent Sexuality
  • Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Assisted Reproductive Technologies
  • Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sexual and Gender Diversity
  • Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing (official website)


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Historic Religious Statement Calls on Faith Communities to Promote Sexual Justice and Healing for All" (Press release).  
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing". Religious Institute. Retrieved 2010-12-25. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Clint Willis, ed. (2005). "An open letter to religious leaders on abortion as a moral decision". Jesus is not a Republican: the religious right's war on America. Da Capo Press. pp. 229–233. 
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