Karen Yang is the Program Coordinator at Faith Aloud. Karen is a student at Eden Theological Seminary, where she is pursuing a Master of Divinity. She is enrolled in a dual-degree program, and is concurrently pursuing a Master of Social Work at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to working at Faith Aloud, she worked at SAGE Metro St. Louis, which provides services and advocacy to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender older adults.
1. Tell us about Faith Aloud and the services you provide to the St. Louis community and beyond.
Faith Aloud’s mission is to eliminate the religious stigma of abortion and sexuality. We recognize that the religious stigma surrounding issues of sex and reproduction cause a great deal of personal hurt as well as bad public policy. We address this stigma on multiple levels. We are known for being the only pro-choice nationwide provider of spiritual counseling. Recognizing that many people making reproductive decisions wrestle with faith concerns, Faith Aloud provides free, confidential, all-options spiritual counseling for those who are pregnant or who have already had an abortion. Our DVDs of clergy members provide spiritual strength for difficult choices.
We have a multi-layered approach to working on policy issues in the St. Louis area and throughout Missouri. Our Integrated Voter Engagement program connects members of our community with their school, city, state, and national elected leaders.
2. In your view, what is the role or roles of communities of faith and faith-based organizations in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movements? What specific services does Faith Aloud provide that serve the religious pro-choice community?
Professing values of compassion, justice, and wellness, communities of faith and faith-based organizations have a moral imperative to engage with reproductive health, rights, and justice movements. Progressive religious groups understand this imperative.
It is essential that reproductive health, rights, and justice movements welcome and make intentional efforts to partner with communities of faith. According to Pew Research (2010), 78.4% of people in the U.S. identify as Christian, 4.7% identify as Jewish, Muslim and all other religious identities, and 16.1% identify as not religious. By sheer numbers, communities of faith and faith-based organizations are essential to winning policy changes for reproductive justice. As powerful moral and ethical voices, faith leaders can be key advocates when speaking to policy makers and to media.
To equip these important intersections between faith and RJ groups, Faith Aloud provides trainings and educational seminars across the nation. These trainings fill a number of needs, including training people o faith in abortion counseling and reproductive justice, as well as training advocates and providers in understanding and working with people of faith.
3. What is the MASHE for MO campaign, and why is it needed in St. Louis right now?
The Medically-Accurate Sexual Health Education for Missouri (MASHE for MO) campaign is a joint effort by Faith Aloud and Teen Pregnancy Prevention Partnership of Missouri. Currently, Missouri does not require public schools to provide medically-accurate sexual health education, resulting in teens receiving limited and inaccurate information. Missouri public schools can even choose to provide abstinence-only curricula. As a result, school districts in and around St. Louis have some of the highest rates of unplanned teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infection (STI) prevalence, double that of the national average. Therefore, MASHE for MO is focused in school districts with the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STI prevalence.
In addition to working with TPPP of St. Louis, Faith Aloud is working with congregations, faith leaders, community leaders, student groups, school officials, and elected officials to assess local wants and needs for sexual health education, advocate for the implementation of medically accurate sexual health education in schools, develop policy to support this implementation, and increase women’s participation in voting and policy change.
4. How are you reaching out to women in congregations to be reproductive justice leaders? What has been the response in communities?
We are holding meetings in congregations that are within the school districts of concern. There, we ask questions, listen, and share who we are and what we do. We ask about the issues they think are most important to their communities and we work to build intersections between social justice issues. We want them to see Faith Aloud as a valuable resource for getting things done. The work is slow, but we always find women who are interested. We’ve found new volunteers and are working to build their leadership skills so that they can reach out to more women. Most of our staff, board, and volunteers are women of faith who are actively engaged in our policy efforts.
At Faith Aloud community events, women of faith have educated others about the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and how to navigate the healthcare marketplace. Women of faith affiliated with Faith Aloud have pushed for Medicaid expansion in Missouri. At a rally hosted by Faith Aloud and NARAL Missouri, women of faith protested Hobby Lobby’s attempt to block contraceptive access. Now, women of faith are calling upon parents and teens in congregations to voice their wants and needs surrounding sexual health education.
5. Why was it important for Faith Aloud to take on the issue of comprehensive sex education?
First, within Missouri as in other states, much resistance to comprehensive sexual health education comes from those who identify as religious or who use opposing religious arguments. It is powerful for people of faith and faith leaders to step up as voices in favor of comprehensive sexual health education as a result of, and not despite, their faith convictions.
Second, communities of faith and faith-based organizations are uniquely positioned to build power within local communities and to create movement for comprehensive sexual health education initiatives. As mentioned, people of faith compose a majority of people within the United States, with Christians being the dominant group. In Missouri, this Christian majority is manifested in churches at almost every corner, numerous billboards plastered with religious language, and the prominence of religious rhetoric surrounding reproductive rights and sexuality in political arenas. Faith Aloud recognizes that communities of faith and faith-based organizations can wield considerable political and social influence within their communities, school districts, and political districts. Therefore, Faith Aloud leverages its connections within the community to mobilize people of faith for political action and social change in support of sexuality education and reproductive justice.
Finally, Faith Aloud is committed to giving voice to local reproductive justice needs. Whereas larger, national reproductive justice organizations may be able to take an eagle’s eye view of reproductive justice needs across the country, Faith Aloud has local networks devoted to addressing the unique needs of local communities. By partnering with local congregations to conduct focus groups on the wants and needs of parents and teens regarding sexual health education, Faith Aloud ensures that comprehensive sexual health education is tailored to the populations represented in local communities and will be well-received by parents and students when it is implemented.
It is Faith Aloud’s vision that even after medically-accurate sexual health education is implemented, that our work on comprehensive sexual health education will build capacity within local communities to increase access to sexual health education, reproductive justice, and healthcare access. We believe that communities of faith and faith-based communities are integral to reproductive justice work, and that change cannot happen without faith leaders marching alongside mainstream movements. We hope that our work will provide a dynamic example of how faith-based organizations and communities of faith can partner with secular organizations to bring about change that is desperately needed, paving a way for similar efforts to pursue reproductive justice and implement comprehensive sexual health education.