You are probably aware that I have been posing a series of questions on the Friday Flash each week for the last few weeks. All of them focused on the way or lens with which you view your circumstances as an LGBTQ person where you live as well as how you view the situation for where others live. My point was to get us all to try and see that the rest of the world may not be the same as our own when it comes to being able to live the lives with which God blessed us.
My methodology – and yes there has been one – was to prepare for critical questions about the future of Integrity USA as an organization. I frequently hear the following or an equivalent: “Why do we still need Integrity?” “Is there still a reason for Integrity’s mission?” “Do we still need Integrity?”
I think the best way to respond to those questions is to share a few observations with you about “LGBTQ life” in this country. (And be forewarned that this is a longer than usual column, but I ask you to keep reading.) Please consider the following:
There are still dioceses in The Episcopal Church where priests are forbidden to marry same gender couples. The Diocese of Central Florida comes to mind, but there are some in Province II and other provinces as well.
In my own diocese there is a rector who refuses to officiate at same gender marriages, which is his prerogative under our polity, but he also refuses to allow same gender marriages to be performed at all in “his” church. Dear friends of mine have finally left after serving there for 25 years because they could not be married in their own church.
Openly LGBT clergy have greater difficulty finding employment that fulfils their calling as ordained persons in many dioceses in our church. Deployment is not bias free in our church.
In some jurisdictions of the secular world, a same gender couple who marries on Saturday can be terminated from employment on Monday just because they identified as LGBT, despite the likelihood they were model employees. We may now have an openly gay man as Secretary of the Army (Eric Fanning: An Openly Gay Man Runs the Army ) but that doesn’t suddenly make life good for all of us.
One need only look to the State of North Carolina to see that the quest for full equality as LGBTQ persons is alive and well. Mississippi has tried to enact similar legislation. We would have had the most discriminatory laws in the nation in my home state of Georgia had not the Governor vetoed the bill. (Supporters of the bigoted legislation have vowed to bring it up again next year.)
As much as we might stereotypically believe, such attitudes are NOT limited to the southern portion of the United States! Consider the story of a Vermont teen who is a transgender male and what he had to contend with in his high school. The following link takes you to the story in the NY Times: Transgender Bathroom Debate Turns Personal at a Vermont High School
Consider also how things differ based on just being in a particular city in a state. In a large city, LGBTQ folks can often be themselves without fear of harassment. They can also get involved in the political process and express themselves accordingly. Such is not the case in smaller towns, even in the same state.
Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would allow for discriminatory practices based on one’s sincerely held religious beliefs. It is the First Amendment Defense Act, also known as FADA, but is in fact a thinly veiled means to allow discrimination.
If you have followed LOGO TV’s show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” you have witnessed the pain some contestants have suffered because they are LGBT. The creator of the show has made it clear that he intended to show how life was in different places and highlight the pain contestants had borne. (There is more than one way to educate people…..even subliminally!) Take this link to RuPaul’s own comments about the socially enlightening nature of the show and how it highlights the vast differences in where people live: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Highlights the Struggle for Acceptance
Where one lives, works and worships has a direct influence on how or if that person can be the person God created them to be.
The forces behind these discriminatory actions, at least in the South, are faith communities and how they influence the political processes in their respective jurisdictions. This is clearly so in Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi. The loudest voices of discrimination come from churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelically oriented faith communities. This does not always mean those faith communities have the largest numbers in terms of support, but it does mean that they are being the “loudest” about the issues.
How many among us are equipped to, willing and able to share our own faith community’s perspective on LGBTQ issues? Do we know how to witness to our own faith in one-on-one settings much less in a legislative committee hearing? When was the last time any of us gave witness to the power of Jesus Christ in our own lives? It isn’t easy, but it is something God has asked of us. It’s time to get “quietly loud” about our own faith.
If we live in certain places, the issues of being discriminated against may never cross our radar screens. Most of us do not live in those certain places. Most of us live in a place of uncertainty about how much of who we really are can be shown to the world at large and even to our own faith communities. It is all a result of the lens through which you see your own life and the life of others, especially those who do not live where you live.
The answer to the questions about a continued need for the ministry of Integrity might be coming more clear by now. From my own perspective, there absolutely remains a strong need for our ministry…..perhaps more so than other times in our history. I would ask you to ponder the question yourselves.
Integrity has a role in equipping the saints to share a different faith story about LGBTQ issues than lawmakers and policy makers in the secular realm have heard before. We can help provide the resources LGBTQ folks need to go into a hearing room and speak about a potentially discriminatory piece of legislation and do so from their own faith based perspective. We are blessed to have non-LGBTQ allies who stand up for and speak for us. But it is time we used our own voices to combat discrimination.
Integrity has a role in working with parishes and dioceses to help others understand first and fore most that LGBTQ members of our church are not very different from themselves…..we are all blessed by the same God, feel the rain from the same sky, enjoy the warmth from the same sun…..we have lives often just as boring as their own!!
Being able to marry the person we wish has not resolved all of the ills of discrimination and bigotry in the church or wider society.
Integrity has a role in helping create safe spaces for our own LGBTQ youth to exit their various closets and take their places in the warmth of the God who created and loves them…..exactly as they are. Those of us who are in leadership roles in our parishes do well to remember that young people are always observing us and that they are likely aware that we are LGBTQ ourselves. We teach when we do not always know we are teaching.
So, in response to the questions about whether there is still a need and purpose for Integrity, I must profess a very loud and firm YES!
I hope you agree….even if you live in the most LGBTQ friendly and safe space on the planet. I hope you agree and will join Integrity if you are not a member. I hope you will be even more supportive if you are a member by sharing your time and financial resources. I hope you will be an advocate in seeking new members of Integrity to join you/us in what is an important and lifesaving ministry.
We all pray and hope that there will be a time when there is no need for Integrity or any other organization seeking justice for all of God’s children. That time has not arrived. We continue to pray and work with the resources God has blessed us to use in the form of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Bruce Garner, President