Wednesday, October 30, 2013

City of Philadelphia Passes Sweeping LGBTQ Rights Extensions

-Jon Richardson,  Integrity VP of National Affairs

I was delighted to learn this week that the City of Philadelphia has passed new legislation extending rights and encouraging businesses to participate in extending equal rights to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* people. Some of the most significant aspects of the legislation relate to providing greater equality for trans* people in Philadelphia. Particularly, the city is providing tax benefits for businesses that provide trans*-friendly health insurance options for employees, and the city has committed to provide gender neutral restrooms in all new or newly remodeled city-owned buildings.

Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter said, “My goal is for Philadelphia to be one of, if not the most, LGBT-friendly cities in the world and a leader on equality issues.”

As a priest in Philadelphia and as a passionate advocate for LGBT equality, I am deeply grateful to Mayor Nutter and the other leaders of the City of Philadelphia who have worked to craft and have supported this legislation.

This Sunday, Episcopalians across the church will be celebrating All Saints’ Sunday, and many of us, as we are in my own parish, will be celebrating with baptisms in church. Many more churches will recite the Baptismal Covenant, even if there are no baptisms, as this is one of the Sundays that is set apart as particularly appropriate for remembering the covenant we share as Christians. In the Baptismal Covenant we will ask and answer those now-celebrated five questions about how we will live as baptized Christians in the church and in the world.

The last question (and I might argue, the culmination of the covenant) is, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

Of course the answer is always that we will with God’s help.

I rejoice that this Sunday, as we say these words at the Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd, we will be saying them in a city that is one step closer to living in a world that is defined by justice and peace among all people and respect for the dignity of every human being.

Pennsylvania is a state that has a long way to go on the struggle for true equality, but it is inspiring to live in one of the cities that is helping to lead the way. And, I am heartened to be serving as a priest in a church that supports this progress in the words of our liturgies and in our actions in the world.

The Rev. Jon M. Richardson is Integrity's Vice President for National Affairs and the Rector of Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd in Philadelphia, PA.  His blog (at features his sermons and theater reviews.

Monday, October 21, 2013

UPDATED: Christie drops appeal, Marriage Equality in NJ is here to stay!


On Monday, October 21st, just hours after the first couples began receiving their marriage licenses, the Christie Administration dropped its appeal of a lower court ruling that brought marriage equality to the state.  The Supreme Court will no longer review the case in January as described below, and marriages may continue.

On Friday, October 18th, the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey voted unanimously to deny the Christie administration a stay of a Sept. 27 lower court ruling  legalizing marriage equality, while an appeal of that case proceeds.  Same-gender couples in the state may wed as soon as Monday, and are already completing the applications in many municipalities to pass the 72-hour waiting period before the law goes into effect. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the appeal in January.

"On Monday, New Jersey will begin to tear down its Berlin Wall separating straight people who have had total freedom, and LGBT people who have not," said Steven Goldstein,  the founder and former Director of Garden State Equality, a plaintiff in the case along with six New Jersey families.  "Imagine the happiness you’d feel if you won the Super Bowl, the Nobel Prize and an Academy Award all in a single moment, and multiply it by a million. That’s how we LGBT New Jerseyans feel right now.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court’s action today is more than about us longtime couples in love. This is also a triumph for LGBT youth and our hope they’ll get to live in a kinder world than we did. We seek a world that will tell every child, whether LGBT or not: You are normal, and so are your dreams."

Response from the Diocese of Newark

Episcopalians have also been preparing for this day for a long time.  The Right Rev. Mark Beckwith, Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, issued a statement to Friday night to his flock, which makes up the northern third of the state. "I rejoice that state law now provides the opportunity for all couples to receive the full benefits of marriage. I join my prayers of thanksgiving with those many couples who are – at this moment, applying for marriage licenses. Many of our diocesan clergy are preparing to officiate at celebrations. I have been in conversation with one priest whose congregation is planning a group wedding ceremony – and how I as bishop might participate."  He went on to outline his expectations for how clergy and parishes will proceed, using the blessing rite adopted by the 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  The rite is still distinct from a marriage in the eyes of the church, but clergy who choose to can act as an agent of the state, which considers the couple married under the law.  The June Supreme Court ruling means that the Federal government also recognizes the marriage, with all the rights and responsibilities that go with it.

Clergy are expected to come to an agreement with parish leaders about holding such services.  Approximately half of the 100 congregations in the diocese have endorsed the work of The OASIS, the diocesan LGBT ministry which was authorized by the Right Rev. John Shelby Spong in 1989.

"We are finally be able to say to our gay and lesbian members, 'The State of New Jersey has finally caught up with Redeemer,'" said the Rev. Cynthia Black, rector of Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, an Integrity Proud Parish Partner which has been blessing same-gender relationships since 1991. "For the past 22 years, this church has publicly affirmed that all committed and loving couples are equal in the eyes of God."

Members of Redeemer have been preparing for this day.  One parishioner, Colleen Hintz, creates vestments, and designed a special set to be used at the services.  "My sister is a lesbian—I never thought I would live to see the day that she would be able to get married to her beloved Sarah," she said, holding back tears. Hintz’ sister and her partner live in Texas, a state that has yet to approve marriage equality.  Another, Carol King, composes hymns.  She has been working to choose or write appropriate music for the services. "This is a simple matter of justice for me," she said, "Justice has been denied for far too long."

Response from the Diocese of New Jersey

The Diocese  of New Jersey, with its cathedral at Trenton, recently elected the  Rev. Canon William H. "Chip" Stokes as its new bishop; he will succeed the Right Rev. George Councell in November.  The two leaders issued a joint statement after the lower court ruling, stating, "(We) applaud Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson's ruling that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. Our hope and prayer is that Judge Jacobson's court order will be honored, and that same-sex couples may be married beginning October 21."

The Diocese of Jersey also endorsed the official blessing rite adopted at General Convention, and Bishop Councell has given his clergy permission to officiate at these services if they choose to, a position we are hopeful Stokes will uphold.  An official list of welcoming congregations is maintained by The OASIS, the diocese's LGBT ministry.

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

Friday, October 18, 2013

Around The Church In 15 Days

-Vivian Taylor
Executive Director, Integrity USA

Last week I was invited to speak at the National Press Club as a part of an event by the Not All Like That project. It was an amazing opportunity to meet other Christian leaders and believers and hear what folks had to say. It was a diverse group of people speaking to harm done to LGBTQ by folks claiming Christianity, and how as Christians we can now work to undo that harm.

Here's a video of my speech from that event:

Since then I have been on a wonderful journey across the country. My next stop was Atlanta. I was blessed to join Integrity Atlanta for Pride. The Pride Eucharist held at All Saints' featured an incredible homily from Bishop Mary Glasspool, I had the chance to meet some of the 250,000 Pride attendees at the Integrity booth and in the parade, over all it was an amazing.

Traveling west, I visited Integrity's hardworking administrator David Cupps in Kentucky for a day long meeting.

From them, I made my way to Texas where I visited several Church folks in Austin before heading to Houston. It was a great joy to join Integrity Houston for a Spirit Day reception.

Tonight I'll be speaking at Christ Church Cathedral here in Houston after the Integrity Eucharist. If you're in the area, why don't you come on out?

From here I'm headed out to Portland Oregon to attend a Believe Out Loud training and meet even more folks, and from there I'm headed to California.

This trip has been an incredible opportunity to make connections with so many people. It strong reminder that the real power and energy of Integrity is in the people. As I have gone from place to place, one thing is very clear: No one is more of an expert on the specific local situations than the folks living there. Speaking with people about their own lives and experiences is an absolute treasure trove.

To all the people I've met and will meet on this trip, let me thank you for your hospitality and friendship. To everyone else, I pray and hope that I have the chance to meet you soon!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Coming Out Into Love

Vivian Taylor
-Executive Director, Integrity USA

As some of y'all may know, my father recently passed. The night before he died the Hospice nurse sat my family down and explained that in her opinion he would probably die within the next 24 hours, and that we should say anything we had to say to him soon.

My father had chosen to spend his last days at home, his medical bed sitting in the middle of his library. The library was connected to the living room and the kitchen, so that he could continue to hang out with us as long as possible. After the nurse left I walked into the library, shut the doors, and sat down. He had lost consciousness, but I was ready to tell him everything that was on my heart, all my secret, everything that I was sorry for, everything that I'd forgiven him for, everything that I was thankful for that I'd just never mentioned. I was ready for it to take hours.

Instead, it look about four minutes. There just wasn't much that he didn't already know, there wasn't much that we hadn't already talked about.

I only came out to my father about two years ago, but it changed things between us. It was not simply that he now had confirmation that I was a trans woman and that I was gay. Being out to him allowed us to talk about our lives, to compare to notes, to collaborate.

The night I came out to him he called me. I was walking around my neighborhood in Boston. One thing his said was, “I don't completely understand this, but I trust you.” And from day to day he showed that he did.

That trust, that knowledge that when my full self was known I was still loved, still trusted, it was the single most freeing and blessed experience of my life.

Today is National Coming Out Day. Coming out isn't just about simple identification. Coming out is about living honestly, living fully, giving the people in your life the chance to love you for who you really are.

Coming out is an act of radical vulnerability, and as such is can be absolutely terrifying. It can also have serious risks. Thanks to our world's societal bigotries and biases, not everyone you come out to will respond well. Some might reject you, break relationship with you. There's no way around that being a painful, ugly experience.

Still, the benefits are incredible. You have the chance to change the world with the true of your own being. You have the chance to celebrate the reality of your creation by God, to grow and explore without walls of silence trapping you in. You have the chance to be truly known, to be truly loved.

To all the people coming out today, I say congratulations! I praise your bravery and your honesty! To those of you who are still trying to make the decision, well, it's up to you, but just know that it's wonderful out here, and that we're here when you are ready.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Requiescat in Pace: Michael W. Taylor, Ph.D.

The sympathy of the Integrity board and leadership is extended to our Executive Director, Vivian Taylor, and her family upon the death of her father, Michael W. Taylor, Ph.D, on September 29th at his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Dr. Taylor grew up in Nigeria, the child of Baptist missionaries. He did his undergraduate work at the Department of Classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying for a year in Athens. Continuing a long family tradition of service which Vivian also shares, he was a military historian in Vietnam with the United States Navy, achieving the rank of Lieutenant. In an essay published by the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard, he described returning to Vietnam decades later and having tea with a Vietnamese contemporary who -- as they discovered through conversation -- had been on the opposite side of a specific battle.

Dr. Taylor continued to excel in learning after leaving active duty. He earned his Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology from Harvard, and then went on to earn a law degree from U.N.C. He established a law practice focusing on public policy, civil rights, health care, and environmental issues. 

He also ran twice for a seat on the U.S. House of Representatives, found time to write four books, and visit archeological sites throughout his life. 

“Mike was a very astute man; he observed the world around him with great clarity.  I have no doubt that he had a crystal clear perception of all my flaws and shortcomings, and yet, he always focused on my strengths.  His Christ-like compassion called him to affirm me and my ministry often and for that I will forever be in his debt,” wrote Roger Thomas, executive director of Stanly Community Christian Ministry, and a family friend, in a memorial published in the Stanly, N.C., News & Press.

Dr. Taylor is survived by his wife, the Hon. Susan Chandler Taylor, his children William, Vivian, and John; and his mother, Evelyn Taylor; three sisters; and seven nieces and nephews.  Memorial services were held 2 p.m. Sat., Oct. 5, 2013, at the University Baptist Church, 100 S. Columbia St., Chapel Hill, N.C.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Those Who Bear Our Demons

Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. —Luke 8:35 –37

Sean R. Glenn

-Integrity Blogger

Earlier in September, I wrote a piece for Walking With Integrity concerning the spike of recent anti-LGBT violence in Seattle, Washington, wherein I brought to light the need for a re-articulation of our witness despite our victories on the political stage. Although I had exhausted my concerns about events particular to Seattle, a feeling of unease remained with me; there was more to say. Seattle is not a singularity, and the violence suffered there is being felt elsewhere, too; in other regions where (at least legally) the stigmatization of LGBT folk is beginning to be torn down. As such, I offer a continuation of my previous submission, with the desire to see beyond localized events and consider some tricky theological ideas.

October 12, 2013 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the death of gay Episcopalian, Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student who was brutally tortured and left to die, hung on a fence near Laramie, Wyoming; an unspeakable act of homophobic violence. The story is well known; Shepard’s death sparked an almost unprecedented flood of civil rights activism, activism which eventually led to legislation that bears Shepard’s name: the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. This transformation is, to my mind, salvific; it speaks its own kind of soteriology. Much like the cross, Shepard’s fence was transformed—it did not win. The sin of murder was transformed into the grace of protection for others; by bearing witness to Shepard’s death, communities proclaimed witness for those under the threat of oppression everywhere. Fifteen years later, we remember our queer martyr, our queer saint, knowing full well that the work before us—at home and abroad—is not done. Queer communities continue to live under the specter of violence, even in those regions (such as New York,i Massachusetts, and Washington State) where we are afforded protections of the law, the right to legal recognition of our relationships, and the support of our allies, within the church and outside.

I want to suggest, from a theological perspective, that a curious thing is happening, and to do so, I turn us to the Lukan pericope above and a homily thereon by Dr. Thomas H. Troeger. My last piece highlighted local violence in Seattle, but Seattle is not the only place that LGBT communities, to the surprise of many, continue to face unexpected—and sometimes, fatal—force. I posited the notion that continued solidarity is requisite; that work for affirming communities of faith is now required beyond the walls of our churches; that our witness must extend beyond those groups we have already fought to recognize (and, most certainly to those groups which are uncomfortable for us to recognize); that the work begun at our baptisms is never over. What I failed to mention, however, is that however much we might recognize this need, the continued presence of the hegemonic imagination is liable to render within us a legitimate anxiety. It would be a refusal of pastoral care to ignore this anxiety. Violence enacted in areas where we would otherwise presume protection—places like Seattle and New York City—reveals that we cannot presume an extant realization of our shared dream. As New York City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn has said, “I mean, a man was shot in Greenwich Village because he was gay. I thought those days were long behind us.”ii

Many of us thought these days were long behind us. To be sure, with work, they can be. The Lukan pericope cited at the beginning of this essay is useful to this end; it illustrates a kind of cultural anthropology that, as illustrated by Dr. Thomas Troeger, and despite the yawning gap of time between the first century and now, remains enacted: deviance labeling.iii Concerning Luke’s account of Jesus’ healing of the Gerasene demoniac, Troeger says,

His [the demoniac] community had tightened their circle
to keep him out.

He is not like us
He is the mad one.
The sick one.
The crazy one.
The unnatural one.
The misfit.
He is the utterly other. [. . .]

Deviance labeling
is a way for us to escape
dealing with our own fears and angers.
We heap our projected fears upon those who are different from us.

And because there are so many of these demons
their name is “Legion,”
which is exactly the name given to them
in the biblical story. [. . .]

Calling the demon “Legion”
suggests that there is nothing inherently wrong with the man himself.
He has been invaded
by demons not of his own making.

This should, of course, seem entirely obvious to us. Scapegoats have habitually formed communal identity. While I do not condone the act of scapegoating, we must realize that we still live in a world that, knowingly or unknowingly, thrusts its own demons onto others. To be sure, this is a reality that Jesus recognized and sought to critique. Br. Robert L’Esperance, SSJE, brings this to light in a homily on Luke 8:19-21. L’Esperance illustrates that the ministry of Jesus
undid many of the assumptions that undergird his society and the various social constructs that held it together. It raised the whole issue of group belonging and thorny religious questions of group identity, inclusivity and exclusivity, and who could lay claim to the Abrahamic covenant, not to mention who would serve as scapegoat, the essential social glue that held these groups together.v

What intrigues me, however, is the community’s response after Jesus heals the demoniac—after Jesus renders his status as scapegoat unstable, illegitimate, and the fault of the community. We are not privy to the rest of the story. Jesus tells the man to go back to his community and “declare how much God has done for” him. What we are told, however, is that the Gerasenes present at the healing were “seized with fear,” asking Jesus to leave. As Troeger writes,

What were they afraid of?
If the man himself
had been the problem,
then they would have had nothing to fear.
He was in his right mind now.

They were afraid
because the man
could no longer be their scapegoat.

They were afraid
because their neat and simplistic world
of who is in and who is out
had vanished.
They were afraid
because their deviance labeling
would now have to end.

They were afraid
because they could no longer
project phobias upon the man.

They were afraid
because now they would have to acknowledge
that it is the whole community
in need of exorcism.

The undoing of presumed social glues can be the catalyst for fear, rather than due self-examination. I am well acquainted with this fear; theological education is surprisingly adept at dismantling long-held convictions, and my time in seminary was the cause of a great period of paralyzing dislocation. It is a fear with which I continue to battle. As our work for equality lifts LGBT communities out of the mire of stigmatization, we may find the imagination of closet unwilling to relinquish its control, terrified to examine itself as the unstable construct that it is. As the Spirit says to our paradigms “What God has made clean, you must not call profane,”vii we may find ourselves required to begin a new kind of work, a continuation of the work already done. Reconciliation is never easy, but it is our calling; it is our duty; it is the nature of our on-going soteriological transformation. In so doing, may we also remember that we cannot ourselves, as stigmatized communities, fall into the same patterns as those paradigms that would seek to do us harm.

No more scapegoats
No more chanting:
‘You’re out, you’re out,
you can’t come in!”

i “Is Anti-LGBT Violence on the Rise in NYC?” <> (accessed October 1, 2013).

ii “Anti-gay Hate Crimes set to double in New York City in 2013,” <> (accessed October 1, 2013).

iii Thomas H. Troeger, “No More Scapegoats,” in ed. Olive Elaine Hinnant, God Comes Out: A Queer Homiletic (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2007), 42.

iv Ibid.

v Br. Robert L’Esperance, SSJE, “Belonging to Jesus,” a sermon preached at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, Cambridge, MA, September 24, 2013 <> (accessed October 1, 2013). Emphasis mine.

vi Troeger, “No More Scapegoats,” 43.

vii Acts 10:15.

viii Troeger, “No More Scapegoats,” 46.