Debra Haffner

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Rev.Debra Haffner Debra Haffner
Alma mater Yale University (MPH)
Wesleyan University
Union Theological Seminary (MDiv)
Occupation President and CEO of Religious Institute, Inc.[1]
Religion Unitarian Universalist

Reverend Debra W. Haffner (born 1954) is Co-founder and President of Religious Institute, Inc.[1][2] A sexologist and ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, she is the endorsed community minister with the Unitarian Church in Westport, CT.[3]

In 2001 Rev. Haffner co-founded the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing with Rev. Dr. 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.[4]

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,[5] Director of Community Services and Public Relations, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington.[6] She has also worked at the Bureau of Community Health Services at the U.S. Public Health Service, and at The Population Institute.


Debra 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. Ms. Haffner received her Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary. She also has 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.[7]

Haffner has taught at Yale Divinity School, Meadville Lombard Theological School, Pacific School of Religion, and continues as an adjunct lecturer/visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary.[8] She has authored numerous works, including several guides for congregations on sexuality.

Professional Awards[edit]

  • Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation Ministry to Women Award, 2011
  • Unitas Award, Union Theological Seminary, 2009[9]
  • Norwalk High School, Alumni Wall of Honor, 2005
  • Apple Award, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 2005
  • Sex Educator of the Year, Sex Information and Education Council of Connecticut, 2002
  • Distinguished Alumni Award, Association of Yale Alumni in Public Health, 2000
  • Margaret Vaughn Award, Family Planning Association of Maine, 2000
  • Dr. Richard J. Cross Award, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, 1999
  • Elected Fellow, Society for Adolescent Medicine, 1997-2006
  • Gallagher Lecturer, Society for Adolescent Medicine, 1997
  • Public Service Award, Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, 1994


The Reverend Haffner is a national contributor to the Huffington Post,[10] RH Reality Check[11] and the Newsweek/Washington Post blog, On Faith.[12]

Rev. Haffner has appeared on Oprah, PBS Religion Weekly, Dateline 20/20, Crossfire, Headline News, CNN News, Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Geraldo, The View, Morning Edition, Speaking Faith, and the O'Reilly Factor on YouTube.

Haffner's organization the Religious Institute, Inc. posts resources on its website. She is a regular commenter on Twitter and Facebook. She also has an award-winning blog, Sexuality and Religion: What's the Connection?[13]

Sexuality Education[edit]

Haffner has been a sexuality educator since the mid-1970s when as a student at Wesleyan she was trained by the Boston Women’s Health Collective[14] to teach gynecological self-help exams. Haffner is an AASECT certified sexuality educator.[15]

Her contributions to the field of sexuality education include creating the first educators handbook for Planned Parenthood in 1981, directing the nation’s first conference on AIDS and Adolescents in 1986 for the Center for Population Options (now Advocates for Youth,[16] and co-authoring the first national study on the costs of teenage childbearing with Martha Burt from the Urban Institute.

While at SIECUS, she created the National Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education,[17] which she co-authored with Dr. William Yarber of Indiana University,[18] the National Commission on Adolescent Sexual Health,[19] and the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education[20] which now has more than 140 national organization members.

In addition, 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.[21] From Diapers to Dating is in its third edition and has been translated into 11 languages, including Russian, Czech, and Hebrew.

Sexually Healthy Faith Communities[edit]

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.[22] 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 6400 religious leaders from more than 70 denominations have endorsed the Religious Declaration.

Haffner created the concept of sexually healthy faith communities in 2002[23] which has been extended to sexually healthy and responsible seminaries[24] and denominations. As a result of her work at the Religious Institute, four denominations now require sexual health training for their clergy candidates[25] and more than twenty seminaries have received the distinction as a sexually healthy and responsible seminary. Haffner is the co-creator of the nation’s first online course on sexuality for religion professionals.

"Sexuality education is a religious issue," Rev. 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."[26]

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. Rev. 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.[27] 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.[28] "Every place of worship needs a safe-congregation policy," Haffner said.[27]

Selected Publications[edit]


  • Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities with Marie Alford-Harkey, Religious Institute, Inc, 2014.[29]
  • Meditations on the Good News: Reading the Bible for Today, Religious Institute, Inc, 2013.
  • What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know: Facing Today's Challenges with Wisdom and Heart, Newmarket Press, 2008.
  • A Time to Heal: Protecting Children and Ministering to Sex Offenders, LifeQuest, 2005.
  • Beyond the Big Talk, Newmarket Press, 2001, paperback, 2002.
  • Exploring the Dimensions of Human Sexuality with Jerry Greenberg and Clint Breuss, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2000, 2002, 2004.
  • From Diapers to Dating: A Parents' Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children, Newmarket Press, 1999, paperback 2000, revised update 2004.
  • What I've Learned About Sex with Pepper Schwartz, Perigee Books, 1998.


  • Sexuality and Religion 2020: Goals for the Decade, With Tim Palmer. Connecticut: Religious Institute, 2010.
  • A Time to Seek, With Tim Palmer. Connecticut: Religious Institute, 2006.
  • Reaching Out to Faith Communities, Connecticut: Religious Institute, 2006.
  • Balancing Acts: Keeping Children Safe in Congregations, Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 2005.
  • A Time to Build: Creating Sexually Healthy Faith Communities, Connecticut: Religious Institute, 2002, revised 2012.
  • A Time to Speak: Faith Communities and Sexuality Education, New York: SIECUS, 1998, Religious Institute, 2011.
  • Facing Facts: Sexual Health and America's Adolescents, New York: SIECUS, 1993.
  • Sex Education 2000, New York: SIECUS, March 1990.
  • AIDS and Adolescents: The Time for Prevention is Now, Washington D.C.: Center for Population Options, 1986.
  • Teenage Childbearing: How Much Does it Cost?, With Martha Burt. Washington D.C.: Center for Population Options, 1986.


  • Raising Spiritually Healthy Children, Tikkun Magazine, February/March 2009.
  • Towards a Theology of Sexual Justice, The Progressive Christian, January 2009.
  • Sexuality and Scripture: What Else Does the Bible Have to Say? Reflections: Yale Divinity School, Spring 2006.
  • Adolescent Sexual Health, Journal of Adolescent Health Care, June 1998.
  • Gender Stereotypes in Sexuality Education, New York University Law Review, May 1995.
  • A Less Than Complete Guidebook, Family Planning Perspectives, 22:6, 1990.


  1. ^ a b "The Rev. Debra W. Haffner". Religious Institute. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  2. ^ "Exempt Organizations Select Check". Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  3. ^ "The Unitarian Church in Westport - About Our Ministers". 2003-05-24. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  4. ^ "About Us". Religious Institute. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Widener University | Sexuality Education Leader to Speak at Widener Commencement". Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Home - Union Theological Seminary". Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  10. ^ "Rev. Debra Haffner". Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Haffner, Debra W. "Debra W. Haffner - On Faith Panelists Blog at". Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  13. ^ "UU Blog Awards". UUpdates. 2007-10-21. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ 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". Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Ibid.
  26. ^ 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. 
  27. ^ a b Gorlick, Adam (2007-08-06). "Course Helps Churches Handle Offenders". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-08-20. 
  28. ^ "Online course helps churches deal with sex offenders". Boston Herald. Retrieved 2007-08-20. 
  29. ^

External links[edit]