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The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

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

Religious Institute
Religious Institute logo.jpg
Founded2001 (2001)
FounderRev. Dr. Debra Haffner & Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield
Key people
  • Rev. Marie Alford-Harkeyy (President & CEO)

The Religious Institute’s stated purpose is "to change the way America understands the relationship of sexuality and religion". 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 HealingEdit

In May 1999, 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.[2] As of 2006, it had been endorsed by over 2,250 religious leaders from over 35 religious traditions.[3]

A new startEdit

At its inception, the Religious Institute was a program of Christian Community, Inc. That organization became defunct in February 2012. In March 2012,[4] 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 communitiesEdit

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.” Sexuality is integrated with spirituality in liturgies, pastoral care, religious education with both youth and adults, and in community social action programs.

Sexuality educationEdit

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.

Seminary educationEdit

The Religious Institute has engaged seminaries in the United States 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. This work builds on a 2009 study by the Religious Institute, Sex and the Seminary: Preparing Ministers for Sexual Justice and Health[5] that surveyed 36 seminaries and rabbinical schools of varying 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 sexualityEdit

The Religious Institute feels 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.

Reproductive justiceEdit

The Religious Institute affirms the moral agency of women and asks faith communities to support reproductive rights. It holds that abortion should be safe, legal, accessible, and rare. It supports "responsible procreation", accessible and affordable contraception, prenatal care, and "intentional parenting".[6]

Marriage equalityEdit

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.

Sexual and gender diversityEdit

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", 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."

Sexual abuse preventionEdit

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.


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 assistanceEdit

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 engagementsEdit

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 spokespeople from various denominations to speak on sexual justice issues.


The Religious Institute's clearinghouse includes information on sexuality and religion, including practices, resources, trends, and current controversies.


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-11-23. Retrieved 2012-11-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "Historic Religious Statement Calls on Faith Communities to Promote Sexual Justice and Healing for All" (Press release). SIECUS. January 18, 2000. Retrieved 2010-12-25.
  3. ^ Pollitt, Katha (2006). Virginity or death!: and other social and political issues of our time. Random House. p. 207.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ 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.

External linksEdit