Thursday, May 30, 2013

Love Free or Die to Air on Public TV, Prayers for Bishop Shaw

The documentary Love Free or Die telling the story of Bishop Gene Robinson's election and ministry as an openly gay bishop in The Episcopal Church, will be re-broadcast on PBS on June 3 (check local listings for times).

The film has been seen in around 500 community screenings across the country, including many sponsored by Integrity groups and other Episcopal congregations, under special arrangement with Groundswell, the social justice arm of Auburn Seminary in New York.

Surprisingly, the widely consulted Dove Foundation movie review site denied Love Free or Die a family-approved rating because "two men kiss and hold hands" and "many people state they are gay."  A Groundswell petition has been started by the Rev. Ellen Tillotson to ask Dove to change their rating.  As of today, over 1,200 people have signed!  Please sign on if you have not done so already.

A double rainbow appeared outside St. Aidan's Church in Virginia Beach
before a recent screening by the local Integrity chapter
Photo Credit: Province III Coordinator Susan Pederson
In a related note, your prayers are requested for the Right Rev. M. Thomas Shaw SSJE, Bishop of Massachusetts, whose personal recollections of the 2008 Lambeth Conference and other events are featured in the film.  Bishop Shaw recently had a cancerous growth removed from his brain and is undergoing treatment.  Visit the diocesan webpage for more, including how to send well wishes.
Almighty God our heavenly Father, graciously comfort your servant Thomas in his suffering, and bless the means made use of for his cure. Fill his heart with confidence that, though at times he may be afraid, he yet may put his trust in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 Integrity USA Operations Manager David Cupps collaborated on this article

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A New Integrity for a New Church


The Mission of the Holy SpiritThe season of Pentecost is referred to as "the birthday of the church" as we commemorate the Holy Spirit inspiring the disciples to formally begin ministry in Jesus' stead. 

The leadership of Integrity has been exploring some wilderness this past year. We witnessed a sea change of sorts at General Convention last July, when many of the resolutions we supported were passed with comparatively little rancor.  Our interim Executive Director, the Rev. Harry Knox, departed with our blessing to lead the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.  And we dealt with the untimely loss of Communications Director Louise Brooks, who had been for many years the woman "behind the curtain" for Integrity's media and public presence.

We are not immune, either, to the tidal shift occurring within our church and society, which has meant hard questions for many congregations and groups as they struggle to remain relevant and vital in a changing culture.  The model we once followed at the local level, providing discreet spiritual refuge for those who did not yet feel welcomed or safe in the church mainstream, does not resonate with a generation who grew up in a church where discussing -- if not agreeing upon -- issues of sexuality and gender is becoming the norm.  The generation that follows will know no other, thanks be to God.

Integrity Visioning Retreat, Pasadena, Calif., September 2012
In September, we met with a group of these young people, prepared to be told hard truths about the future of our work.  We were pleasantly surprised to discover that they did not in fact think it was time to hang up and go home.  They recognized that achieving a "yes" at the national level is not the same as actually implementing that "yes" across the church.  They are also keenly aware that the majority of LGBT people view the institutional church with trepidation and even scorn, which must be overcome with personal engagement and humility if we are to share the good news with those who have been socialized to believe it is off limits to them.

But they were also clear that the Integrity of tomorrow, much like the church of tomorrow, cannot look like it does today to survive in the long term.  While we still have some traditional chapters who continue to offer worship and programming with an inward focus, we must also be open to new ways of being and thinking as opportunities to minister take shape. This is already happening in:
  • Partnerships with diocesan ministries and other social justice organizations within the church to provide broader educational, social, worship and advocacy programming
  • Collaborating with our peer organizations in multiple denominations as well as secular LGBT partners under the "Believe Out Loud" umbrella to grow the welcoming-church movement 
  • Engaging youth and young adult leaders to represent the church at campus and secular LGBT events like the Creating Change conference
  • Using social media to reach those who are not connected to the church in a traditional way
There is much more that we could be doing.  We are limited only by the amount of people and resources we can bring to bear.  The national leadership is striving to better know the reality at the local level across the church.  To that end, we appointed eight Provincial Coordinators, who will in turn work to identify a Diocesan Organizer in every diocese.  We hope this model will establish reliable and regular two-way communication, allow resource and idea-sharing, and improve our accountability to the whole Church.  These will be the "point people" for Integrity chapter leadership, congregations, bishops and their staffs, and ecumenical and secular partners to engage with Integrity at the local level. If you are passionate about justice and connected to what is going on in your area, please prayerfully consider this role and contact us for more information.

As we "emerged from the desert" knowing much more about ourselves and what we believe Integrity needs to be, we prepared mission and vision statements and a strategic plan to make them reality:

Our Mission

Integrity USA's mission is to inspire and equip the Episcopal Church, its dioceses, congregations, and members to proclaim and embody God’s all-inclusive love for LGBTQ persons and those who love them.

Our Vision

Integrity's vision of its success is that The Episcopal Church thrives as a beacon of love, justice, and compassion, where ALL PEOPLE are equally embraced and empowered.

We are already seeing results.  Hundreds of people have attended Believe Out Loud training opportunities across the country, and are working to bring their congregations into the welcoming-church movement.  We have six chapters in formation or rebirth. We are now in the process of calling a new Executive Director, whose leadership will be the lever to move us forward.  We are excited and joyful to be a part of this moment, and hope the Spirit will inspire you to join us.

Christian Paolino is the Chair of the national Stakeholders' Council of Integrity and the Diocesan Organizer for Newark

Thursday, May 16, 2013

CALL for ACTION: Equal Immigration Rights

by The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall

When I immigrated, a little over twenty years ago, I was well-educated, white and had a British accent. Even with those advantages it was hard for me to get a green card. I lined up early one morning at the Arlington INS office in order to be one of the few people who would even get an interview. There was a couple ahead of me – they were there so that a non-American wife could get to live here with her husband. I was there alone. Even if we had been legally married, the INS would not have accepted our lesbian marriage as valid for immigration purposes.

We all know there’s an immigration bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee right now. We also know that it’s not fully comprehensive – it leaves out a very specific segment of the population – gay or lesbian families. Family reunification has always been an important plank of this country’s immigration policy, but once again we are being told that our families are less important, our families are not “real” – we don’t count.

It is estimated that there are 32,300 bi-national, same-sex couples residing in the United States today, more than 45% of whom are raising children. We believe that these families share the same right to dignity and fair treatment as other families, and therefore deserve to have their status as a family recognized and protected by our nation’s immigration laws. That is why Integrity worked hard at last year’s General Convention to help pass D011 “Reform Unequal Immigration Law” through which the Church pledged to support legislation that would expand our nation’s definition of family under immigration law to include the same-sex permanent partners and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
This resolution also committed our dioceses and congregations to renewed advocacy on behalf of families and individuals of all sexual orientations who are facing unwanted moves, deportation or separation due to our nation’s immigration laws. We know from experience that getting a resolution passed by General Convention is only the first step – in order for it to have teeth, we have to do the hard work in our dioceses and congregations to make it valid on the ground.

The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations is working on our behalf to support two amendments proposed by Senator Leahy. The first would allow Americans in same-sex relationships to sponsor green cards for their foreign-born partners. The second would provide the same protection to legally married bi-national same-sex couples that is afforded to others under existing immigration law. We can do our bit by asking our Senators (or members of the Senate Judiciary Committee) to “support the inclusion of same-sex partners and spouses in comprehensive immigration reform by supporting Leahy amendments 6 and 7.”

Please make the call or send an email today.

You can get more information about the Immigration Bill at

Caroline Hall is President of Integrity USA and serves as priest-in-charge at St. Benedict's Episcopal Church in Los Osos, CA.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wrap-Up & Photos from Integrity President's NYC-Area Visit

Integrity USA's President, the Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall, had a busy week recently as she made her way around the New York area to meet with folks and talk about the work of LGBT inclusion in our churches.

Participants in a Believe Out Loud Workshop at St. James': Hackettstown
On Saturday, April 27th, she spent the afternoon at a Believe Out Loud Congregational Workshop at St. James' Church in Hackettstown, N.J.

She was up early again the next day and headed north to Christ Church in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., home of the Mid-Hudson Dignity-Integrity Chapter. There, she offered the sermon and led a forum afterwards.

The Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith, Bishop of Newark,
and the Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall
On Tuesday, April 30th, Dr. Hall met with the Right Rev. Mark Beckwith, Bishop of Newark. They explored the history of LGBT inclusion in the area, which began with the ordination of Robert Williams back in 1989 and the formation of The OASIS as a diocesan ministry to gay and lesbian Episcopalians. We also discussed possible ways we could work together to promote mission work in the LGBT community.

That evening, Integrity NYC-Metro hosted an "open house" event at St. Paul's Church, Chatham. After reading excerpts from her new book A Thorn in the Flesh, Dr. Hall participated in a spirited conversation with the multi-generational audience about the ways Integrity's focus is shifting and how we can continue to be an asset to the church.

Mr. Greg Newton of the BGSQD Bookstore
introduces the Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall
On Wednesday, Dr. Hall took lunch with students and faculty at General Theological Seminary in New York. That evening, she hosted a "meet the author" event at the Bureau of General Services: Queer Division, a new pop-up LGBT bookstore and gallery in the trendy NoLiTa district. It was interesting to take this subject matter into a secular space, where those less familiar with our movement's history within the church could bring different contexts and perspectives to the conversation.

Finally, on Thursday, May 2nd, Dr. Hall led an adult form at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in the West Village, unofficial "mother church" of the NYC-Metro Chapter.

Integrity extends its profound thanks to the Rev. Dr. Cathy Deats, the Rev. Mary Davis, the Rev. William Blake Rider, the Rev. Caroline Stacey and their congregations, The Rev.  Lang Lowrey III and the faculty and staff of General Theological Seminary, as well as Mr. Greg Newton at the BGSQD Bookstore for their hospitality and assistance in making these events possible.
Dr. Caroline Hall addresses an adult forum at St. Luke in the Fields in NYC, May 2nd, 2013
Dr. Caroline Hall addresses an adult forum
at St. Luke in the Fields in NYC, May 2nd, 2013
Dr. Caroline Hall addresses an adult forum at St. Luke in the Fields in NYC, May 2nd, 2013
Dr. Caroline Hall addresses an adult forum
at St. Luke in the Fields in NYC, May 2nd, 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall: Whom, Then, Shall We Hate?

 The following is the text of the sermon offered by Integrity's president, the Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall, at Christ Church in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on Sunday, April 28th.


What wonderful readings we have today – the vision of a New Jerusalem – a new way of living - where Jesus’ words, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another” are fully lived out. And the reading from Acts which shows us what a challenge loving one another was for the early church, just as it continues to be a challenge for us today.

Humans are not very good at loving one another. In fact, some theorists have suggested that the main function of civilization is to stop us murdering each other out of envy and rage. So Jesus’ new commandment was truly revolutionary, and it’s still revolutionary two thousand years later.
When Gentiles began to be welcomed into the new community of Jesus it created problems – the religious Jews had always kept themselves carefully separate from non-Jews, but now some of them were crossing the boundary. They were breaking the traditional purity laws.

We still have purity codes today, but ours are much less conscious, in fact we usually think of them as just common sense, or the way things are. In times of social upheaval purity codes get challenged, usually accompanied by controversial debates and political battles. Interracial marriage is an example in recent memory. For a white person and a black person to marry was to offend against the purity code of the time. Similarly, gay relationships offend against the purity codes of many people today. In the last thirty years we have seen this gradually changing until today a majority of Americans support marriage for gay couples.
It has always been part of the role of religion in society to protect purity codes and to uphold social arrangements around marriage and family organizations, so it’s not surprising that the Church has struggled with these questions, just as the early church struggled with the full inclusion of Gentiles. In the reading from Acts we heard that Peter was criticized for his acceptance of Gentiles, and so he had to explain to them step by step that first God had told him to defy the purity laws, and then secondly he found that God was already blessing these people.

Our experience as Episcopalians has been similar. We have found that God has been blessing us through the ministry of gay, lesbian and transgender people – and we have gradually realized that God blesses all of us - people of different ethnicities, people of different abilities, people of different skin tones, people of different sexual orientation, of different gender identity – even, dare I say it – people of different religions.
Which leaves us in a very difficult position.

Who is there left to hate?

If there is no-one left to hate, what will politicians and media pundits do? Love and good news never sold papers. If there is no one for us to hate, no one we are willing to blame and scapegoat, then politicians will have to find an entirely new strategy for getting us to support their agendas. No longer will we be willing to demonize foreign leaders, no longer will we be willing to mobilize to try to prevent one party or another from gaining power. No longer will we be willing to put up with partisan gridlock or with policies which give more power to the already powerful and more money to the already rich. Our whole financial and political system would have to change.

Can we imagine a world without hate? It might begin to look just a little like the New Jerusalem, the city where God makes all things new…

But let us not get too carried away. Hatred is very subtle. It isn’t always in your face. In fact, very often, especially for those of us who have grown up knowing that Jesus told us to love one another, it can be very hard to get a handle on. It comes out in little ways, in jokes made at someone else’s expense; in holding grudges and nursing grievances. It turns anger at injustice into a desire for revenge on the perpetrators. It turns grief into a demand for retribution. It infiltrates our minds in such a way that it seems quite reasonable. Hatred, fueled by fear, leads quite nice people to sanction violence and even torture – provided it happens at a distance.

Hatred allows us to justify striking back when we are hurt. Which is exactly what Jesus did NOT do. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane he didn’t strike back. When he was in front of Pilate he didn’t cooperate but he didn’t resist violently. In fact, Jesus was the model of non-violent resistance. And he went one step further… he didn’t just avoid violence, Jesus forgave those who betrayed him, those who persecuted him, those who killed him.
Jesus and hate simply do not belong in the same sentence.

As disciples of Jesus, we get to obey his commandment to love, and that means we have to forgive and to do that we have to give up our habit of hatred.

It’s not going to be easy, because our society is riddled through and through with hatred, anger and violence. It’s in our newscasts, our TV programs, our facebook posts…It’s inside our minds.
But taking up love and giving up hatred is what it really means to be an inclusive church.
Inclusive sounds warm and wonderful but that’s only part of the picture. If we are to be truly inclusive, if we are to build the reign of God on earth, if we are to follow Jesus then we have to find a way to change, and to change radically. Which means hard, careful work. It means examining the way we do things to make sure that we are not leaving groups of people out in the cold, that we are not disempowering someone else in order to empower ourselves. It means welcoming people who really are different from us.

It’s not going to be comfortable. If you think being an inclusive church is going to be church just like it’s always been but with more people, then you need to think again. Because those people whom God blesses just like she blesses you, may want to sit in your seat; they may want to change the hymns; they may even, heaven forbid, decide to change the prayer book.

The early church wasn’t at all sure that they wanted to include Gentiles and the debate went on for quite a while -  just like the Episcopal church today still isn’t quite sure that it wants to include women, latinos, gays, lesbians, African-Americans, Cubans, bisexual people, transpeople, deaf people… I could go on and on.

But if we take Jesus’ words seriously, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” If we get serious about being Jesus’ disciples; if we get serious about replacing hate with loving and forgiving, then we will be doing more than creating an inclusive church, we will be building the new Jerusalem.

“And the home of God will be among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God herself will be with them; she will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall: Come Out Again

The following is a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall at a Taizé service at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore, MD, on the Feast of St. Mark, Thursday, April 25th, 2013.  Dr. Hall is currently touring the Northeast to spend time with Integrity members and congregations.

The leaders of the Jewish people were trying to push Jesus into a damning admission which would give them the opportunity to accuse him of a major crime. They wanted him to declare that he was the Messiah so that they could shout treason and get rid of him. Not only was Jesus was a threat to their authority among the Jews, but his ideas might make trouble for them with the Roman authorities. They didn’t want the boat rocked.

Cathedral of the Incarnation
Cathedral Church of the Incarnation, Baltimore
Photo credit: Monument City
Yet in typical fashion, Jesus does not give them the answer they want. He says instead “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” It’s a familiar idea in Jesus’ teaching – don’t just listen to what people say but look at what they do, at how they live their lives – are they becoming more holy, more just, more compassionate or not? Jesus’ flock are the ones who are listening - those who are taking his teaching and his example and are using them to make the reign of God a reality in their lives and in the lives of the community around them.

Each one of us is called to be part of the flock. Each one of us is called to testify to the power of Jesus’ love in our lives by the way that we live. And we are being watched. Just as Jesus was watched, so we his followers are watched.

I think that’s especially true for those of us who are lesbian, gay transgender or bisexual, or those who are under thirty-five. It used to be that it was really hard to come out in the church – now for many of us it’s harder to come out to our friends and acquaintances outside the church. We are all being watched – and more often than not, the church is being found wanting.

People say they don’t want to be part of institutional religion because of the hypocrisy – and there is plenty of that. I understand that Edward Peters, a Catholic leader, recently said that Catholics who support same-gender marriage should not try to receive communion and if they do so, it should be denied them. This is just one more example of the kind of behavior that is getting a lot of media attention and is driving people away from our churches. We know that’s not what Episcopalians think, but most folk don’t make distinctions between one church and another but lump us all together in their minds.

Which means that we have to be even more aware of doing works which “testify to the Father.” The things we do are probably not going to be things that land us on the front page of the Washington Post, they’re more likely to be quiet actions of love and kindness, which grow out of a deep spiritual connection with our Abba. They’re more likely to be things which don’t stand out but which contribute to the deep well-being of our world.

And in the strange world of our God they’ll prove to be more important than the bold statements that make the headlines. God did not choose to incarnate in Rome, at the center of the Empire. God did not choose to incarnate in a wealthy, prominent family. No, God chose to incarnate in a small nation which has always been at the center of international trouble, to a small unconventional family in a small town huddled in a barn. God did not choose a flashy well-understood act to redeem the world, but instead allowed Godself to get killed in an ignominious way which no-one really understands, even to this day. And when Jesus was resurrected it wasn’t in front of crowds of people, it wasn’t in the Sanhedrin or Pilate’s palace, rather he appeared to his disciples in ones and twos and small groups.

So never let us imagine that small things don’t make a difference. In God’s kingdom it’s the small things that have the greatest impact. Sometimes we can see that they do, but more often their results are hidden.

Fifteen years ago the idea that gay or lesbian couples could ever be legally married was almost laughable. But today it’s becoming almost commonplace. We have just seen France legalize gay marriage; there’s a bill in the British Parliament as we speak; Rhode Island is on its way to becoming the 10th state to legalize gay marriage and the Supreme Court is considering the question. Moreover, the majority of Americans now think it’s ok. How far we have come in just a short time. There are many things that fed into that astonishingly rapid change, but the most important is the quiet witness of gay and lesbian people coming out to their friends, and coming out in their workplaces, and coming out in their churches.

We still need to come out today. But this time we’re not coming out as gay but coming out as Christian. Just as we had to battle public prejudice when we came out as gay, today we have to battle public prejudice as we admit that we too are Christian. And just as we had to tell people that we’re gay so we need to tell people that we follow the God who loves all people equally, even the homophobes – it’s not enough to hope that they’ll pick up the hints, that they’ll follow the clues and draw the right conclusions – we have to take our courage in our hands and testify to the Father.

What has made the difference for gays, lesbians and transgender people is that as we have come out the fantasy of the evil homosexual who is out to take your children and your marriage away has had to abate. It’s not gone altogether but it is less and less possible to maintain as more and more people know gay or lesbian people and know that they like and respect them.

It’s time now for all of us who hear Jesus and follow him to do the same thing for the image of the Christian as judgmental and limiting. It’s time for us to be seen to live lives that are joyful and generously open-hearted. It’s time for us to make sure that in everything we do we are glorifying God. It’s time for us to testify to the Father by our lives but no less by our words.
Each one of us influences a small group of people a lot and a lot of people a little, just like Jesus influenced the disciples a lot and the Jewish people a little. It’s time to use the influence that we have. It’s time to show that we belong to Jesus’ flock by testifying to the Father in our conversations as well as our lives.

It’s time for us, gay straight or neither to dare to come out as Christian!