Debra Haffner

Debra W. Haffner (born 1954) is co-founder and president emerita[2] of the Religious Institute, Inc.[1][3] A sexologist and ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, she was the endorsed community minister with the Unitarian Church in Westport, Connecticut.[4] Haffner retired from the Religious Institute on April 30, 2016. She has been the settled minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston, Virginia since August 2016.

Rev. Debra Haffner
Dh compressed.jpg
Alma materYale University (MPH)
Wesleyan University
Union Theological Seminary (M.Div.)
OccupationPresident and CEO of Religious Institute, Inc., retired[1]

Early life and educationEdit

Haffner was born in 1954 in Morristown, New Jersey. She attended Norwalk, Connecticut public schools, and graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut in 1975. Haffner received her Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) from Union Theological Seminary. She received a Masters of Public Health from the Yale University School of Medicine. She was a Research Fellow at the Yale Divinity School in 1996-97. Haffner received a Doctor of Public Service, H.C., from Widener University in 2011.[5] Haffner received her Doctorate of Ministry from the Pacific School of Religion in 2016.


Haffner, who has taught at Yale Divinity School, Meadville Lombard Theological School, and Pacific School of Religion, continues as an adjunct lecturer/visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary.[6] Works she has authored include several guides for congregations on sexuality.

In 2001, Haffner co-founded the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing with Larry Greenfield. The Religious Institute, Inc. was established as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization on March 6, 2012. The organization's stated mission is to advocate for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society.[7]

Prior to founding the Religious Institute and entering ministry, Haffner was President and Chief Executive Officer of SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (1988-2000), Director of Information and Education for the Center for Population Options,[8][failed verification] Director of Community Services and Public Relations, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington.[9][failed verification] She has also worked at the Bureau of Community Health Services at the U.S. Public Health Service, and at The Population Institute.[citation needed]

Sexuality educationEdit

Haffner has been a sexuality educator since the mid-1970s. She was an AASECT certified sexuality educator until she became a full time parish minister.[10]

Her contributions to the field of sexuality education include:

While at SIECUS, she created the National Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, which Haffner co-authored with Dr. William Yarber of Indiana University, the National Commission on Adolescent Sexual Health and the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education.[12][13]

Sexually healthy faith communitiesEdit

Haffner's most recent work has focused on helping faith communities understand the relationship between sexuality and religion and creating sexually healthy faith communities. In 1999, she conceived of the project to develop a multifaith progressive statement on sexuality and religion and coordinated the development of the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing.[14] Written with the input of twenty leading theologians, the Religious Declaration first appeared in The New York Times on January 25, 2000 endorsed by more than 800 religious leaders. As of January 2013, more than 6,400 religious leaders from more than 70 denominations have endorsed the Religious Declaration.

"Sexuality education is a religious issue," Haffner has publicly stated. "We have a commitment to helping young people develop a moral conscience, including an ability to make healthy decisions. We have a religious commitment to truth telling, which means that people should have full and accurate information, not biased and censored."[15]

In collaboration with the New England Adolescent Research Institute (NEARI), Haffner developed a course entitled Balancing Acts that is designed to train ministers and other religious professionals in how to keep children and youth safe from sexual abuse. Haffner works frequently with congregations who are struggling with including sex offenders in their congregations, and in this program, she addresses the concerns these faith communities face when discerning how to discern appropriate involvement for these individuals.[16] It suggests the formation of a "limited access agreement" to determine what activities the individual may participate in and suggests rules and guidelines to prevent the occurrence of future abuse.[17] "Every place of worship needs a safe-congregation policy," Haffner said.[16]

Published workEdit

Haffner has written two award-winning books for parents: From Diapers to Dating: A Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children and Beyond the Big Talk: Every Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Teens.[18][non-primary source needed] Haffner also authored Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities, with Marie Alford-Harkey. This book was published in 2014.[19]

She also had an award-winning blog, Sexuality and Religion: What's the Connection?[20]


Haffner is a national contributor to the Huffington Post,[21] RH Reality Check[22] and the Newsweek/Washington Post blog, On Faith.[23]


  1. ^ a b "The Rev. Debra W. Haffner". Religious Institute. Archived from the original on 2012-04-18. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  2. ^ "About".
  3. ^ "Exempt Organizations Select Check". Archived from the original on 2017-01-15. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  4. ^ "The Unitarian Church in Westport - About Our Ministers". 2003-05-24. Archived from the original on 2013-12-07. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  5. ^ "Widener University | Sexuality Education Leader to Speak at Widener Commencement". Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  6. ^[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ "About Us". Religious Institute. Archived from the original on 2012-11-23. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-01-15. Retrieved 2013-01-28.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC, Inc".
  10. ^ Haffner's listing Archived 2017-12-01 at the Wayback Machine at Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  11. ^ Burt, M. and Haffner, D. "Teenage childbearing: how much does it cost? A guide to determining the local costs of teenage childbearing." Washington, D.C., Center for Population Options, 1986. 87 p. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  12. ^[dead link]
  13. ^ Haffner, DW (1995). "Facing facts: sexual health for America's adolescents: the report of the National Commission on Adolescent Sexual Health". SIECUS Rep. 23 (6): 2–8. PMID 12319704.
  14. ^ "Religious Declaration".
  15. ^ Deakin, Michelle Bates (2007-08-17). "UU sexologist faces off against Bill O'Reilly". UU World. Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Retrieved 2007-08-20.
  16. ^ a b Gorlick, Adam (2007-08-06). "Course Helps Churches Handle Offenders". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-08-20.
  17. ^ "Online course helps churches deal with sex offenders". Boston Herald. Retrieved 2007-08-20.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ Debra, Reverend (2010-03-24). "From Diapers to Dating: A Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children - From Infancy to Middle School by Reverend Debra W. Haffner". Archived from the original on 2012-12-30. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  19. ^ Cruz, Eliel (2014-06-21). "Organization is Helping Bisexuals Be Happily Embraced By God". Retrieved 2014-07-25.
  20. ^ "UU Blog Awards". UUpdates. 2007-10-21. Archived from the original on 2013-01-05. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  21. ^ "Rev. Debra Haffner". Archived from the original on 2012-11-09. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  22. ^ "Debra Haffner".
  23. ^ Haffner, Debra W. "Debra W. Haffner - On Faith Panelists Blog at". Archived from the original on 2010-10-07. Retrieved 2012-11-08.

External linksEdit