Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Church Task Force on Marriage Issues Progress Report

The Church Task Force on the Study of Marriage, created by Resolution A050 at the 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis, today issued a report on the progress it has made since convening last year.

A video presentation was sent to both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies (clergy and laity elected to represent their dioceses), with written reflection questions. The Chair and Vice-Chair of the Task Force gave a presentation at the meeting of the House of Bishops at Camp Allen in Texas last month, at which the responses were presented.

"It became clear from the input we received that there is a profound level of support and concern for the work we have been asked to do," said the Rev. Brian C. Taylor, Chair of the Task Force. "Episcopalians care deeply about marriage and its potential for bringing joy and grace and for helping people become more fully alive and faithful as God’s agents of love and reconciliation in this world."

One of the key charges of the task force is to address the pastoral involvement of clergy in places where civil same-gender marriage is permitted. The response thus far has been piecemeal as dioceses choose to (or choose not to) craft their own policies, some using the provisional rite created to bless such relationships and also adopted by the Convention. The Task force "“feels that it is part of our responsibility to propose something for the church’s consideration that could offer consistency to what is currently taking place," Taylor explained.

In June, the Task Force will release a portfolio of resources for individuals and groups to use to discuss the issue.

The group also created its own Facebook page and Youtube channel encourages Episcopalians to interact with them via social media.  One-minute videos reflecting on "how you see God in relationships" may be emailed to taskforceonmarriage@gmail.com.

Integrity's Communications Director, Mel Soriano, Created this video
for the Task Force on Marriage  

The Task Force was created as a directive of Resolution A050 at the 2012 Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis.   The Rev. Canon Susan Russell, former President of Integrity, and the Rev. Cameron Partridge, Co-Convener of TransEpiscopal, are among the members.

To learn more about the report, visit Episcopal News Service.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Alan Gates Elected as Next Bishop of Massachusetts

On the fourth ballot, the Convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts elected the Rev. Alan M. Gates as its 16th bishop.  Pending the consent of the House of Bishops, Gates will succeed the Right Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE, when he retires later this year.

The Rev. Alan M. Gates

Diocese of Massachusetts
Gates is currently the Rector of St. Paul's: Cleveland Heights in the Diocese of Ohio, where he also served as Chair of the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee.  He worked previously in the Diocese at St. John the Evangelist: Hingham, as well as in Western Massachusetts and Chicago.  He attended Middlebury College and the Episcopal Divinity School, and is married with two grown sons.

"I am thrilled to welcome Alan Gates back to Boston," said Integrity's Executive Director, Vivian Taylor.  "He has been wonderfully supportive of Integrity's work in Ohio, and we are thrilled to have our new national office a few train stops from the Cathedral where he will be serving as Bishop."

The Diocese of Massachusetts, which includes the nine counties of the Commonwealth east and southeast of Worcester and has 77,000 members, is one of the oldest in the church.

Bishop Shaw has been a strong advocate for our work, and has been struggling with illness in recent days. Integrity asks its members to continue to pray for his recovery and comfort.  We look forward to deepening our relationship with Bishop-Elect Gates in the days ahead.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Archbishop of Canterbury Links Attacks on African Christians to Pro-LGBT Churches

The Most Rev. Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury

PHOTO CREDIT:  Catholic Church
in England & Wales (flickr.com/catholicism)
Used under Creative Commons License

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby,  today claimed on LBC radio in England that he had stood by the grave of more than three hundred Christians in Africa who had been killed as a result of "something that had happened in America." One is likely to conclude, as the interview continues, that "something" referred to the growing acceptance of LGBT people and our relationships by American churches, with the Episcopal Church the largest among them.

This is a very serious claim. Clearly Christians are being killed in religious and ethnic violence in many parts of the world, but this is for many complex reasons. To claim that these people died specifically because of same-gender marriage in America requires significant documentation. Who said that this was the motive? Was it the murderers? Or was this an interpretation offered by the relatives of those who died?

During the Middle Ages, half the population of Europe was wiped out by the Black Death. Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. A moral panic took hold amongst the remaining Christian population and Jews were massacred.

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall preaches at
Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd
in Philadelphia in 2013.

PHOTO CREDIT: Christian Paolino
Used with permission
Is it possible that the Archbishop is being caught up in a moral panic? Accusations that Muslim believers will kill Christians who are associated with a "gay church" have been with us for many years, but we have yet to see clear evidence that this is so. To blame deaths in South Sudan, or Nigeria or the Congo solely on our weddings is to ignore the many other reasons that hatred and civil war exists in those places.

By promulgating the view that it’s all "the gays" fault, the Archbishop is actually feeding the wave of homophobia that is sweeping other African nations which have strong Anglican presences – Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya.

Welby said that he was told when he was visiting South Sudan, "Please don’t change what you’re doing [not marrying gay or lesbian couples] because if you did, we couldn’t accept your help and we need your help desperately." Yet, the Church of South Sudan IS accepting help from the Episcopal Church, despite our very public progress on LGBT inclusion, including the blessing of same-gender relationships.

If the Archbishop is as keen on listening to the experience of gay and lesbian people in his own country and throughout the Anglican Communion as he says, then he needs to reconsider the effect of such remarks, both on those who leave the church and turn their backs on God because they are not fully welcome, and on those in Africa and other countries who have no doubt that their sexual orientation or gender identity is the reason they are meeting with violence and death, while the church looks on.

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall, President of Integrity, is a native of Great Britain. She serves as Rector of St. Benedict's: Los Osos in the Diocese of El Camino Real and is the author of A Thorn in the Flesh: How Gay Sexuality is Changing the Episcopal Church.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Michigan moves forward on marriage equality

The entire state of Michigan stood in tension during the first two weeks of March. The tension hung on the outcome of a trial and week-long deliberation regarding the constitutionality of the state ban on same-gender marriage. Two women, life partners who between them have adopted three children with disabilities, filed the suitHowever, due to state law they are unable to adopt one another’s childrenInitially they intended to overturn the ruling that prevented partner benefits for same-gender couples. That case failed. This caseto overturn the 2004 amendment against same-gender marriage, was stronger. Lawyers for the couple presented solid and compelling testimony that children who are raised in households with same-gender parents are just as healthy and capable as children raised by heterosexual couples.

During the trial, local news channels interviewed Christians who supported 2004 amendment to the state constitution (Article One section 25) defining marriage as between one man and one woman. In response a number of Christians (including clergy who support marriage equality) renewed their effort to make public appearances at the marches taking place outside the courthouseThe Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs, Jr., Bishop of the Diocese of Michigan, published a statement in the Detroit Free Press on March 19, 2014 which said: "I stand in support of marriage equality and pray that our justice system will work to break down the walls of segregation, promote the humanity of all and calm our irrational fears."

Voters in Michigan passed the 2004 referendum amending the constitution. Ten years later lawyers for the state argued that federal courts should not overturn a policy adopted by the public referendum. Rather, they said, Michigan voters should decide if change was needed. 

Anticipation mounted as the trial drew to an end. No one knew how the judge, appointed by Ronald Reagan, would rule. A week after the close of the trial, just after 5pm on Friday, March 21, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman published his decision in a thirty-one page document striking down the state of Michigan ban on same-gender marriage. Responding to the lawyers for the state, Judge Friedman ruled that state authority "cannot trump federal constitutional limitations."

Shortly thereafter, the bishops of the four dioceses in the state of Michigan issued a statement in support of the ruling:
"As Christians and leaders in the Episcopal Church, we applaud Judge Friedman's decision to overturn Michigan's ban on equal marriage as a step on the right side of history,"
As the case of DeBoer v. Snyder continues to work its way through our judicial system, it is our hope that future judges will continue to find that the denial of marriage to same-gender couples is a denial of human dignity and a denial of rights under the law. We look forward in hopeful anticipation to the day when we can recognize all faithful and covenant relationships between any two people regardless of sex, both within the Church and within our society."

Thanks be to God,

The Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley
Bishop - Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan

The Rt. Rev. Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr.
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Michigan

The Rt. Rev. Rayford Ray
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan

The Rt. Rev. Whayne M. Hougland, Jr.
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan

Bishop Gibbs has given permission for clergy in the Diocese of Michigan to use the 2012 General Convention approved liturgy "I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing". While not marriage vows, this blessing is currently available to be used to bless committed same gendered relationships in the Diocese of Michigan. Clergy must notify the Bishop and receive the approval of the Vestry in order to use the liturgy.

Following Judge Friedman’s ruling county clerks in Michigan initially stated that they would begin issuing marriage licenses on Monday. However a few hours later four counties announced that they would open on Saturday, March 22 for a special issuing of licenses. The county clerks also decided to waive the normal three day waiting period between issuing the license and a wedding ceremony. Thus the first couples were married shortly after 8am on March 22. The county clerk offices remained open until 1pm. According to the New York Times, on Saturday, March 22, three hundred couples were reported to have been married among the four counties that issued licenses and performed ceremonies. Sadly, by the end of Saturday the sixth circuit court, responding to a request by the Michigan State’s Attorney, issued a stay until Wednesday (March 26) on all licenses and marriages for same gendered couples.

Nonetheless there is hope. The attorney for the couple that won the suit said that the judge’s thirty one page judgment was strong. Recent polls indicate that a majority of Michigan residents now support marriage equality. On March 28, Attorney General, Eric Holder released a statement saying in part, “I have determined that the same-sex marriages performed last Saturday in Michigan will be recognized by the federal government. These families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages." Amazingly, in a week’s time it now seems possible that Michigan will become one more state to honor marriage rights for all people. Now we wait with the hope that marriage equality will become the law in Michigan and marriages can be fully honored and celebrated by all people.

The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski is the Rector of Christ Church: Dearborn in the Diocese of Michigan, and Co-Convenor of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Andy McQuery, Diocesan Organizer for Oregon, Steps Down to Pursue Call to Priesthood

Integrity is proud to announce that Andy McQuery, Diocesan Organizer for Oregon and convener of the Integrity Portland chapter since September, 2009, has been accepted by the Right Rev.  Michael Hanley as a postulant for holy orders and plans to attend Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Conn., in the fall to study for the priesthood.  He has therefore stepped down from his roles with Integrity, although he will continue to serve on the chapter board of directors in an advisory capacity for the next few months. 
Andy McQuery at the Integrity Portland
2014 St. Aelred's Day observance
PHOTO CREDIT: Charlene McCreight

"Just as we were beginning our chapter's renewal, Andy contacted me, asking to serve," said Integrity's Vice President for Local Affairs Matt Haines, who was at the time the Diocesan Organizer for Oregon.  "His humble, stalwart and faithful leadership has helped to create a culture of LGBTQ inclusion all over the diocese.  Well done!"

"Andy has played a role in Integrity events throughout the diocese of Oregon, participating in Portland, Eugene, Salem and Ashland Pride events and leading Believe Out Loud workshops in many churches," said chapter board member Charlene McCreight, who has been elected as the new Chapter Convener.  "His presence has been deeply felt and he will be greatly missed."

At his final Integrity event, Andy said, "Tonight has been grand and glorious, and I stand here with a heart bursting full of gratitude.  I look around this room and I see so many people who have become good, good friends; so many who have given abundantly of their time, talent and treasure in this shared work of justice and reconciliation. We have come so far and done so much, and I will carry you and many wonderful memories in my heart forever."

 Charlene McCreight is the Convener of Integrity Portland

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sorting Out Phelps

It’s been a few days since Fred Phelps died, and I still can’t sort out my feelings. I don’t know whether to throw a party and dance on his grave, thanking God for finally ridding us of that pernicious hate-monger or whether to cry with compassion for his family and sorrow that in this life he never saw the face of the God who is Love.

Students of Siena College counter a Westboro Baptist
Church demonstration in Albany, N.Y. on Mar.  6 2009
PHOTO CREDIT:  Sebastien Barre
Used under Creative Commons License
I can only imagine that his life was fuelled not by the living waters of grace, hope and forgiveness but by anger, resentment and fear and so he made a god in his own image - a god who hates fags. He represented the hatefully distorted face of Christianity to such an extreme that he made the average right-wing bigot look moderate. I am glad that he is gone and I hope that with his passing, his family church the Westboro Baptist Church will lose steam and go quietly into the night. But that which he represented is still among us. Hatred and prejudice have many faces. They are alive and well in the hearts of liberals as well as conservatives. They are alive and well wherever people feel misrepresented, overlooked and impotent as well as in places where people feel more powerful and better than the average Joe.

Forgiveness and gentleness are the marks of God’s people, which doesn’t mean that we need to be doormats, but that even as we resist the evil that enslaves us and our society, we do so with a peaceful, creative non-violent resistance that emulates the example of Christ. 

I hope that when Fred Phelps arrived at the pearly gates, St Peter met him dressed in drag and all the angels wore their best gender-bending outfits and waved rainbow flags. And I hope that even as he discovered that he was wrong and that God loves fags and queers, he also found that God loves very mis-guided Westboro Baptists too. And I hope that he found true repentance and finds a way, even from beyond the grave, to right some of the wrongs he perpetrated and perpetuated.

Back here on the earthly plane, it will not do our souls any good to harbor anger and resentment, so here is a blessing for Fred Phelps, taken from "For the Dying" by John O’Donahue.

May your spirit feel
the surge of true delight
when the veil of the visible
is raised, and you glimpse again
the living faces
of departed family and friends.

May there be some beautiful surprise 
waiting for you inside death,
something you never knew or felt,
which with one simple touch
absolves you of all loneliness and loss,
as you quicken within the embrace
for which your soul was eternally made.

May your heart be speechless
at the sight of the truth
of all your belief had hoped,
your heart breathless
in the light and lightness
where each and every thing
is at last its true self,
within that serene  belonging
that dwells beside us
on other side
of what we see.

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall is the President of Integrity, author of  A Thorn in the Flesh: How Gay Sexuality is Changing the Episcopal Church, and Priest-in-Charge at St. Benedict's: Los Osos in the Diocese of El Camino Real.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bishop Singh Speaks Out on LGBT Rights

On Wednesday, Feb. 26th, the Right Rev. Prince Singh, Bishop of Rochester, sent the following letter to the Anglican churches in Uganda and North and South India:

Dear brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church of Uganda and the Churches in North and South India,

My name is Prince Singh and I serve as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, New York, a member of the larger Anglican Communion. I write you because the recent passing of anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda weighs heavily on my heart. India, my country of birth, recently passed a similar bill criminalizing gay and lesbian people, deeming their lifestyle as a punishable crime. I write you because it is my moral obligation to express my deepest rue – that these children of God are being persecuted within my Anglican family. I implore you to stand with these children of God, now made even more vulnerable by this unjust bill that flies at the face of our common baptismal dignity.

Our hearts break for the people of Uganda. Why? In the United States, we have treated our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in a similar manner in the past. At one stage to be gay was criminal here and we treated gay people with great prejudice, hatred and fear. These attitudes are still present in our own country, but more and more enlightened people are able to see that God made gay and lesbian people - just as God made me brown. We are learning of the damage we have inflicted on human beings by hateful attitudes. But just as damaging as the sin of persecution is that horrible sin of silence. We have heard story after story of the pain and deep wounding that we have caused gay and lesbian people simply by saying nothing. Worse still, we have abused Scripture to fuel hate!

We cannot go on hurting those we are called to love and protect. These are our children, our mothers, our fathers, our brothers and sisters.

We don’t have all the answers, but we want to build a world where all people are safe, protected and loved equitably. What country does not want this for its people? What kind of Church wants to be complicit in creating a community of people who are scapegoats, ready sacrifices to hatred and bigotry?

We plead with you, as fellow Christians, as people who are called to reveal the love and grace of God to please pay attention and speak up.
  • Please protect those who are gay or work for gay rights.
  • Please provide a genuine safe space to hear the real life and stories of the gay community. They are not what you have been led to believe.
  • Please find ways as the Church to protect and advocate for those who are more vulnerable and marginal members of society. This includes not only gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, but also women, the poor, the unemployed, the outcaste and the hopeless.
We will be praying for you as you engage these issues of responsible discipleship. Please uphold us in your prayers as we strive to do the same in our context. Please tell us how we can be mutually helpful in this process since we are all interconnected in the web of life.

Your fellow servant in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, NY