Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Anti-LGBTQ legislation masquerading as “religious freedom” legislation


Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We continue to see a backlash in more than one state legislature over the Supreme Court decision legalizing same gender marriage.  What are we, as Integrity and The Episcopal Church to say about that?  How shall we speak to this?

As The Episcopal Church, our position has been made clear via numerous General Convention resolutions that LGBTQ persons are children of God and that we are entitled to be fully included in all aspects of the life of The Episcopal Church.  There are prohibitions against discrimination that apply to both lay and clergy members of our church.  In short, the guidelines are in place that protect us from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

We are not naïve enough to claim that, despite decades of witness, education and ministry, all the doors are open to all of us everywhere at the parish and diocesan level.  We know that some bishops will still not allow clergy to perform same gender marriages.  We know of parishes where an LGBTQ clergy person would not be called as rector.  We even know of places where lay people are excluded from the life of their dioceses because they are LGBTQ.  Our struggle continues.

We are also aware that despite being guaranteed the right to marry, we can lose our jobs, our children, our families, and much else because we availed ourselves of that right and rite.  (The problem is much more prevalent in the south than elsewhere in our church and nation.)

We have spoken about these issues, having made statements at the church-wide level and receiving the media spotlight on several occasions.  Even though The Episcopal Church may not have the leverage or impact that major national corporations have been able to use with state legislatures and/or government leaders I hope we will continue to speak out at all levels.

So, again, what are we to say to these unpleasant and discriminatory actions?

Legislatures have been hearing from faith communities on all the issues of LGBTQ inclusion.  The loudest and most vocal of those voices against inclusion have been from more conservative branches of Christendom.  That has been especially true in the south where voices such as those of the Southern Baptist Convention remain strong.  Not surprisingly, we have heard every argument against our inclusion and in support of discrimination against us that we frequently heard in our own General Conventions over the last 40 years.

We have a challenge before us and that is to be as vocal and as gently loud as we need to be in proclaiming a different view of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the reading of Scripture that does not support our exclusion.  This is a challenge best met at the local level.  Integrity USA can and has and will continue to make statements about discrimination against LGBTQ folks.  But it will take translating those statements and positions into the voice of local constituents if there is to be any chance of influencing members of state legislatures, governors and other government leaders.

Our Vice President of National Affairs, The Rev. Gwen Fry has been involved in several locations in responding to the issues raised by discriminatory legislation passed in North Carolina and Mississippi.  Her experience and resources are available to anyone who can use them.  Integrity USA will do its best to provide resources to our members and friends at the local level for this new frontal attack on who we are as children of God. Our bishops in North Carolina and Mississippi have also spoken out.  (See the websites of those dioceses.)

As I see it, the true key to our success in derailing damaging and hurtful legislation and actions is for us to put a human face on the issue.  I’ve found that many have little problem in dismissing and/or ignoring an “issue.”  But when that issue is before them with a face, eyes, ears, nose and a warm smile, it is much more difficult to dismiss.   A local face, someone known from childhood, from church, from school, makes dismissing the issue even more difficult.

I live in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and raised.  He reminded us that none of us is free until all of us are free.  We have work to do.

Let us all pray without ceasing for our sisters and brothers who must endure yet another dehumanizing action on the part of those who should be looking after their welfare.  Let us pray that they will have the courage and strength of conviction to witness to the power of Jesus Christ in their lives.  Let us pray that they will be strong in the face of those who refuse to respect the dignity of every human being, those who avoid seeking and serving Christ in all persons and those who have the most difficulty in loving their neighbor as they love themselves.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

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