Over the course of her career as a minister and sexologist, Reverend Debra Haffner said, she has received numerous laughs and blank looks of disbelief after telling people what she does. But, at a talk Sunday afternoon about “Sexuality, Religion, Faith and Morality,” Haffner, an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, explained that her two professions are actually not contradictory, but instead offer a unique insight into modern sexuality.
“Both share a common vision: how to love each other and treat each other with respect and dignity,” Haffner said.
Haffner, who was raised in a secular Jewish family before she became a minister, proposed a new gospel of sexuality to an audience of about 40 people in William L. Harkness Hall on Sunday. Haffner said it is important for conservative religious leaders to reform their doctrines to fit modern times and quoted Biblical evidence to support her position.
“We must articulate that the sin is not sex, but sexual exploitation,” Haffner said. “Sin is forcing people to deny their God-given gift: sexuality.”
Sexuality is critically important to a marriage, Haffner said, adding that as a minister, she refuses to marry people who are virgins.
Today, Haffner said, religious leaders must focus on the health of the sexual relationships rather than condemn the sexual acts themselves. Haffner’s ideal for moral sexual relationships, she said, is represented by the acronym CUHMP: consensual, non-using, honesty, mutually pleasurable and protected.
“There is a dramatic need for a new sexual ethic, not regulating the morality of specific acts, but rather the quality of relationships,” Haffner said.
Older religious conceptions of sex no longer apply to modern society, Haffner said. In the past, she said, chastity before marriage made sense because of people’s lifestyles, as individuals would marry soon after they hit puberty and die soon after their children reached adulthood.
Before Haffner attended seminary to become a minister, she was a sexologist, she said. She said she approached the study of the Bible believing it had two things to say about sex: that it was forbidden until marriage and that it was intended only for procreation. But eventually, she said, she came to believe that Genesis is full of affirmations of humans as sexual beings.
Jessie Zelisko, a high school sophomore and Unitarian Universalist who attended the talk, said she was impressed by Haffner’s references to the Bible in support of her positions. She said she is also Unitarian Universalist and agrees with many of Haffner’s views on sexuality.
“Hearing about how Genesis backed up my beliefs helped to give me a background I can use to discuss these issues with people,” she said.
Eunju Namkung ’13 said Haffner’s talk made her think more about reconciling her differing beliefs on spirituality and sexuality.
But Mira Vale ’13 said she was skeptical of Haffner’s doctrine and use of the Bible.
“It was difficult for me to hear how she breezed through Genesis to make the points she wanted to make,” Vale said. “People from an exacting religious tradition would probably be less inclined to do so.”
Haffner is the executive director of the Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization dedicated to sexual health and justice located in Westport.