Thursday, June 21, 2018

Indignity and Injustice: How much will we allow to be imposed?

Question:  Will you respect the dignity of every human being?
Response:  I will with God’s help.

I was looking for a way to talk about the despicable way our government has been treating refugee/immigrant families at our southern border. I felt that I needed to couch any comments I might make in faith-based terms since the Attorney General of The United States had used Scripture to justify what I consider immoral and reprehensible actions that I am convinced are also repugnant to our Creator. So I found myself once again relying on the vows of our Baptismal Covenant.

The pictures of cages made from chain link fencing, uprights and doors/gates horrified me. And please do not tell me those were not cages. Two images came to mind for such structures: One is a dog kennel run. The other is the cage where the “big box” membership clubs lock up tobacco products. Neither image is suitable for any human being, much less children and babies! I KNOW what a cage looks like, so please don’t even try to spin that any other way.

Then I saw more pictures that showed these children sleeping on pallets on concrete floors using emergency “blankets” for cover, the kind made from shiny reflective materials intended to help hold in body heat. I was further repulsed. This is not how the wealthiest nation on the face of this planet should be treating children (or adults). Pallets no less. Not even mattresses.

This situation seems to have touched a nerve across a very broad spectrum of the faith communities of our nation. Condemnation has come in from the political right and the political left. That nerve is so raw that some 600 members of the United Methodist Church have filed ecclesiastical charges against the Attorney General. This link tells that story, but be warned it also contains some of the pictures I have referenced. https://tinyurl.com/Methodists-Charge-Sessions

I have no idea what will come of this but it does give me a degree of hope that we really have not reached the point of having no shame in what we do as a nation.

The POTUS has issued an Executive Order rescinding the policy of separating families at our southern border. Note that I said policy. There was never a law that required such actions.

Personally, I must take a “wait and see” approach because, to be bluntly honest, I do not trust either the author of the executive order or the contents of it to deal with this issue in a way that I think will be in accord with our baptismal covenant vow to respect the dignity of every human being. I just do not believe that such an intent will be found much less enforced.

Would we be having this discussion at all if those refugees fleeing persecution and gang violence had blond hair and blue eyes? Would our concerns be nearly as great if they did not have brown or black skin? Is our systemic racism rearing its ugly head for all the world to see? I fear it so. Again.

Perhaps I remember too much history. When I first learned of this process of separating children from families, my mind immediately went back to Nazi Germany. The gut wrenching stories of parents being separated from children and the journeys each would take - gas chambers and ovens or work camps - still have not left my thoughts. I would like to think that we would never descend to such depths of depravity, but I am not willing to rule that out... sadly so. Too often we forget that we had our own version of concentration camps in this country. We just used the word “internment” camps to make it sound a little nicer and more civilized. Really!?

The haunting words of Pastor Martin Niemoller come to mind: “They came for the _______ and I was not a ________, so I did not speak up. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak up.” We are called by the faith we profess to speak up for those who are marginalized and oppressed for any reason. How could we claim to be respecting the dignity of every human being if we did not speak up?

The General Convention is almost upon us. Will we have the moral courage to speak up and speak out on behalf of all who are marginalized and oppressed for whatever reason? Will we have the strength of conviction to take actions to change our ways? Will we make an effort to respect the dignity of every human being regardless of how that human being should be respected?

We do not know the outcome of any resolution until we are actually in committee with it and vote on the floors of the houses of General Convention. But we can still contact our deputies to General Convention. We can contact our bishop(s). We can remind them of our common vow to respect the dignity of every human being whether it is about marriage equality or refugee treatment or any of the myriad of ways we can think of to mistreat each other. Let them hear your stories about how not having your dignity respected looks like in this our household of faith.

Please continue to pray daily for the General Convention of our church and all who make
decisions that affect us.

Some other perspectives:

Elections for the new leadership of Integrity USA are now taking place. Pray and cast your vote if you are a member. If you are not, join us in bearing good fruit.






Bruce Garner, President Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow

Friday, June 15, 2018

Good Fruit

Good Fruit: Our Work Does Yield Good Fruit! (Eventually)

The good folks at “THE TWELVE” a faith based blog, have showered us queer folk with high praise for our steadfast work over the last few decades. A recent item appears at this link:
Five Ways the LGBTQ Community is Saving the Church

The five ways the article states that we are saving the church are:
1 We’ve had to face our judgment
2 We’ve had to face hard conversations that we previously avoided
3 The LGBTQ community is driving the church to look more deeply at scripture
4 The LGBTQ community is helping us rediscover unity
5 The LGBTQ community is helping us rediscover grace

There is far more to the article than just the lead in to each of the five. I commend the article to you because it helps me and I hope it helps you see what some of the struggle over the last decades has produced, at least in the view of one group of people. Sometimes I fear we are so enmeshed in our work that we never really see the fruit of our labors. The “we” in the first two should apply to us even though in the article the focus is essentially the “straight” church.

We really have had to engage in conversations that are difficult and that, quite frankly, most of us would have avoided unless pushed into them. Sexuality has always been that topic no one wants to discuss because it is a subject that involves all of us. It has nothing to do with the “icky” topic many want to make it. It’s a part of who God created us all to be. There are dozens of facets of the topic, yet the tendency has been to avoid the discussion. I’m inclined to believe that if we can have hard conversations about sex, we can have equally difficult conversations about race, and a host of other areas where our relationships often falter.

We certainly have all had to look more deeply into Scripture. I think it is a safe bet that most reading this have had to learn Scripture in order to defend ourselves from its misuse and misinterpretation and its being taken out of context. When an object is being used to oppress, it bears looking at with completely new vision to counter that oppression. Hearing the words “the Bible says” is usually a decent indicator that the words are coming from someone who knows very little about what is actually in the Bible. Scripture is such an important part of our worship that all have benefitted from our studies.

In just a few weeks, we, The Episcopal Church, will have an opportunity to demonstrate how well we have fared in our tasks, even perhaps, saving our church. How well will we do?

Some will trot out old arguments to try and keep queer folks in the second class status where they find themselves in eight of our dioceses. Others will look for ways to create exceptions to the call for full and equal inclusion at all levels of our church, in all the sacraments, all the time. This again will be based on arguments we have heard before, especially about honoring the history of tradition. They were the same words we heard to keep women and people of color “in their place” in church and society. Is oppression really a tradition we should want to uphold?

My recollections of our church’s past is that we consistently have sought ways to create exceptions to that which would hold all accountable to the same standards. Perhaps our biggest debacle was around the ordination of women. There are no exceptions in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are no “carve outs” or “exemptions” or anything else to allow any of us to water down either loving God with all our heart and soul or mind and strength OR loving our neighbor as ourselves. Try as we might, we are all held to that same standard. We cannot water that down.

So while we may bask for a short while in the praise of those who appreciate what we have tried to do, we cannot rest there for long. The arc of history may bend toward justice, but there are always those with short memories who must be continually reminded of what that means and how easily we can back slide right off of that arc.

My broken record: Contact your deputies to General Convention. Contact your bishop(s). Make sure they know you want them to have the church to continue to bear good fruit. Let them hear your stories about how you still don’t enjoy full inclusion in our household of faith.

Please continue to pray daily for the General Convention of our church and all who make
decisions that affect us.

And just a reminder: Elections for the new leadership of Integrity USA begin next week. Pray and cast your vote if you are a member. If you are not, join us in bearing good fruit.




Bruce Garner, President Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow


Friday, June 8, 2018

Baking Cakes, Entertaining Strangers

Those of us of the Judeo-Christian heritage know of at least one story of cake baking in
Scripture. Abraham brings home strangers, apparently to be around for a meal as well. He asks
Sarah to bake cakes for them. (I think what consisted of a “cake” in that time is vastly different
from our modern concept of cake, but that is not the point... just sayin’.)

Sarah bakes the cakes. Period. She didn’t ask for the strangers’ credentials or “papers”
or make sure they followed the same religious practices as she did or any other criteria. She
just baked the cakes. It was a simple act of hospitality.

Much is being made about the Supreme Court decision concerning a bakeshop refusing
to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple because of the baker’s religious beliefs. Seems
many want to be clear that it is a narrow ruling and that discrimination against LGBTQ folks is
serious and illegal. That is of course the legal aspects and all that entails.

The real point is getting lost in all of the hype. As much as anything else, the baker’s
refusal to bake the wedding cake was not an act of hospitality, rather inhospitality. He did what
Sarah did not do: he imposed his own religious beliefs on someone. The baker discriminated
against two people. He passed judgement using criteria that should not matter in such a
transaction. Baking cakes, buying and selling cakes, buying and selling anything doesn’t call for
the imposition of religious criteria unless you are following strict religious dietary laws: think
orthodox Jewish people and kosher food. Even in that instance I doubt anyone would think
about discrimination. Hospitality would be more important.

Jesus’ hospitality was radical. The man would talk to anyone, eat with anyone, socialize
with anyone, and visit whomever He pleased. He did not stand on ceremony or appearances.
And despite what some of our Christian kindred want us to believe, these encounters were not
all the time about sinners and redemption. Sometimes it was just ordinary socialization among
friends and strangers alike. Yet, the model he personified was the basis for salvation because it
centered on how we treat each other. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

This is another opportunity for us to practice radical hospitality. For everyone who gets
denied a cake based on the religious beliefs of the baker, let us be the bakeshop where all that
matters is our hospitality and not anything about who might walk through our doors.

Those better schooled than I have said this Supreme Court decision about cakes was
based on a procedural error by a government agency and not intended to indicate that
discrimination against LGBTQ folks was legal. Some of our kindred in other faiths are not

interpreting that ruling the same way and hail so-called religious freedom to discriminate in the
name of Jesus. I am not convinced the radical love and hospitality Jesus practiced and expects
of us is in line with such discrimination.

There is a petition in the Solemn Collects for Good Friday where we pray for those who
in the name of Christ have persecuted others. I cringe every time we pray that collect. I would
like to think that we, as Episcopalians, are different from those who claim the right to
discriminate in the name of Jesus. I hope we are. Yet in the eyes of the “average” person we are
lumped in with those who do discriminate. Our voices of inclusion continue to get drowned out
by those who would exclude. Our work still lies before us to change that perception.

In a few weeks we will have a chance to be clear about the radical love of Jesus in issues
of cake baking and matrimony. I pray that we will use that chance to right some wrongs and to
bring more of God’s children in touch with the Jesus of radical love and hospitality. I hope we
can give our kindred in eight dioceses reason to bake wedding cakes. It’s time. It is time dear
bishops of our church. It is time dear deputies of our church. Let us not squander that time and
lose yet another opportunity to share the love of Jesus.

Contact your deputies to General Convention. Contact your bishop(s). Make sure they
know you want everyone to be able to bake cakes, similar to those baked by Sarah, but for
weddings.

Continue to pray daily for the General Convention of our church and all who make
decisions that affect us.




Bruce Garner, President Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Nominees for the 2018 Integrity Election

The following candidates have come forward for the elected positions. The election for provincial coordinators and the chair of the Stakeholder's Council will be deferred until after the new board has had an opportunity to review and update the By-Laws to meet the needs of Integrity today.

The statements by each candidate will follow the list of offices. Because the Stakeholder's Council election is deferred, the stakeholder voters - as defined in the By-Laws - will not be included in this election ballot.

Only Integrity members who are current with their dues will be eligible to vote. If you are a member and do not receive an email by the evening of Tuesday June 19 regarding the election, please contact treasurer@integrityusa.org to confirm your membership and dues status. You may also renew at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/integrityusa.

Voting eligibility and candidate eligibility are based on the rules described in the By-Laws adopted in 2009. Eligible voters (Integrity members who are current with their dues) will be receiving an email with an individual unique link that that only allows one vote per person. Write-in candidates will be permitted. The voting will begin Wednesday June 20, 8am EDT and will conclude Wednesday June 27, 5pm EDT. After that time, the link will no longer allow you to vote. Results will be announced before July 3, 12pm EDT.

Members of Integrity will be voting on the following positions.

President: The Reverend Gwen Fry
Vice-President of National Affairs: Brent Cox
Vice-President of Local Affairs: Kay Smith Riggle
Treasurer: DeAnna Bosch
Secretary/Director of Communications: Letty Guevara-Cuenca





President

The Reverend Gwen Fry

I am an ordained Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Arkansas. My experience coming out as a trans woman of faith makes me keenly aware of the necessity for the equality of all God’s children. Experiencing the effects of discrimination first hand, I have been actively involved in the work of justice in the transgender community both in Arkansas and across the Episcopal Church. I am an advocate and activist for the transgender community who was a leader in the coalition of organizations that fought back the anti-transgender bills introduced in the Arkansas General Assembly last year. I currently serve as the Vice President of National Affairs for Integrity USA; is a board member of Pridecorps, an LGBTQ youth center in Little Rock, Arkansas; and on the board of Stonewall Democrats of Arkansas. An active member of TransEpiscopal, I also serve on its steering committee.

Vice-President of National Affairs

Brent Cox

In addition to being a lifelong Episcopalian, my career has been in nonprofit organizing and management, including serving as Integrity's National Field Organizer in 2012. In that role, I helped carry out Integrity's successful campaign for the EC to approve the ordination of transgender priests, and to permit same-gender blessings. Both goals were achieved at that year's General Convention. More recently I served as the director of policy and programs for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, creating and carrying out their hate crimes legislation and reporting work. Other notable work includes several years with the ACLU in Mississippi and Florida. 

As a gay Episcopalian, I grew up in the South, attending a church whose leadership were unusually vocal about their belief that homosexuality was incompatible with Christianity. For a while, I left the Church because of this and only returned after seeing Gene Robinson's leadership and hearing his call to return. I believe strongly that Integrity is dearly needed to help parishes call home other LGBT Christians who still don't believe the Episcopal Church welcomes them, or who have simply come to believe that Christ is unimportant in their lives now that they have been gone from the Church for so long. That is great and important work, and I believe Integrity should play a key part in helping churches actively call LGBT members home to the Body of Christ. I would be honored to be part of this work as a member of Integrity’s board.

Vice-President of Local Affairs

Kay Smith Riggle

I made my way to the Episcopal Church after being reared in a Baptist church, educated at Georgia Baptist School of Nursing and a long wandering in the desert after thinking I was through with churches for good. A friend repeatedly invited me to his church and I finally went in an effort to stop the invitations. I was pleasantly surprised with the differences and soon found myself on the path to becoming an Episcopalian.

My career was spent in Georgia as a Public Health Nurse. I became a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and managed the Women’s Health’s programs which included the Family Planning clinics for a 10 county area. My work led me to dealing with controversial subjects, advocating for Women’s Health issues, sexuality education and providing direct health services.  My work in Public Health put me in a position to see the AIDS crisis unfold and working in the rural counties to respond to the AIDS crisis. I worked on a team in our health district to educate our community and to provide for the needs of those diagnosed with AIDS. I also served in community organizations that provided support and services to the gay community.  

After becoming a member of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, I met the love of my life who confided to me that he was transgender. Our journey began as her transition began.  In 2004, that was a challenge since there was very little public knowledge about transgender people and issues, particularly in the Deep South. Our priest suggested that we contact Integrity. We became members of Integrity GA. The support and help we received from Integrity was invaluable and life giving. We have both served as officers of Integrity GA. For the past 3 years I have served as Province IV Coordinator for Integrity USA. 

In running for VP of Local Affairs, I hope to help re-envision Integrity USA to respond to LGBTQIA folks not being fully welcomed into and not having access to all the sacraments in all churches and to meet the challenges from the recent disturbing changes in our culture by, as Presiding Bishop Curry says, “through the transformative Jesus Movement.”


Treasurer

DeAnna Bosch

My husband and I were confirmed in the Episcopal Church in June, 2001.  I have been actively involved in our church since that time, having served on Vestry, as church Treasurer, participated in and coordinated various ministries, on Altar guild, an acolyte, as Diocesan council delegate and other positions.  I recently retired as Administrative Director of Lord of the Streets Episcopal Church, a special evangelical mission church of the Diocese of Texas for the homeless of Houston.

Having lived during the “Women’s Lib” movement and experienced it first hand in my daily working life, I am sensitive to injustice and discrimination of anyone.  I see Integrity as one way I can proactively work for inclusion of everyone in my church. As a Straight Ally, I bring another perspective to the work and can often open or bridge discussions with others.  I attended General Convention as a Volunteer and Visitor in 2012 and was much moved by the Integrity Eucharist and activities there.

We have lived in Houston, TX, for almost 40 years, have 4 children, 5 grandchildren and 4 great-grandsons.  I have a BSBA in Accounting from the University of Tulsa, OK, Non-Profit Executive certification from the University of Houston, and completed Education for Ministry (EFM) program of University of the South, Suwanee, TN.

I live in the Diocese of Texas, am member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Houston, Board member of Integrity Houston since 2010.  I am on the diocesan board of Episcopal Seniors Foundation and  I have been responsible for email lists and notices to parishioners monthly and for special notifications, attended meetings and served as Treasurer of Integrity Houston for 7 years.

My background is in Accounting, systems, procedures, and non-profit accounting with over 40 years experience in corporate positions, including 11 years as an independent consultant for systems, cost accounting, procedure development and documentation.  An additional eleven years experience with non-profit organizations, including Episcopal churches and 501( c)3s.

The past three years serving as Treasurer of Integrity USA have led me to many fulfilling relationships and a greater understanding of God’s love for all.  All means All.


Secretary; Director of Communications

Letty Guevara-Cuenca

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, I am the first generation of Spanish immigrants, earned a Bachelor in Education, and another Bachelor in Communications (Journalism) from the Andres Bello Catholic University.

I moved to the United States in 1999 and after several years in different positions, including as a correspondent for a newspaper in Venezuela, I started to work in CNN in 2006. as a radio anchor and producer. In recent years, I have been working as a digital and video editor and producer, writing for the CNN en Español while continuing to work with CNNe radio affiliates. She also functions as social media coordinator.

I was received into the Episcopal church in 2008 by Bishop Neil Alexander, am a member of Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Stone Mountain, GA, and am a very active Episcopalian, member of the Vestry, and Senior Warden.

In 2006, I started to collaborate with Saint Bede´s Episcopal Church in Atlanta with the Hispanic Community. I currently coordinate the Facebook pages for the Hispanic Communities of Saint Bede´s and Saint Edward, along with Saint Michael and All Angels Facebook page and Integrity Atlanta.

I am part of media team in the Nuevo Amanecer conference in 2016, continue to work in CNN en Español, and am postulant to the Holy Order of Deacons. I hope to be ordained in December 2018.








Friday, June 1, 2018

Ordinary Time

We have now moved into ordinary time in the church year. Yet, to me at least, the times seem anything but “ordinary”, especially as we approach our General Convention in July in Austin, Texas. When there is still work to do to help insure that all of God’s children are included in the life and worship of our church and society, there will be no “ordinary” time. None of us are free until all of us are free. Yes that is an often repeated phrase, but it is still true despite what some might wish.

The General Convention will vote on at least two resolutions that impact same sex marriage (Resolution A085) and the blessing of relationships (Resolution A086). I urge you to go to www.generalconvention.org to read these resolutions as well as the others that have been posted and assigned to committees for action at the convention. This link takes you to more than you may ever have wanted to know about the convention. It also gives you access to what is called the “virtual binder” where you can read what actions are happening, what’s coming up for a vote, and much more. You will also be able to access the bulletins used for worship at the daily convention worship services.

It should be of great concern to all queer folks that eight bishops still refuse to allow same sex marriages in their dioceses. Same sex couples are, to be rather blunt about it, not having their pastoral needs met in their own dioceses. At least one bishop has said that making arrangements for a same sex couple to be married in an adjacent diocese meets the terms of the legislation that was passed in General Convention 2015. I strongly disagree with that position. That isn’t even being asked to sit at the back of the bus. That is being asked to get off the bus entirely and go get on another one! We are hopeful that this situation will be remedied at this convention.

We previously provided you with a link to a video produced by a group of faithful Episcopalians in the Diocese of Tennessee, the “middle” of the three dioceses in that state. We now have the privilege of sharing with you another video produced by some of the faithful in the Diocese of Dallas... another diocese where the bishop does not allow same sex marriages. The link to the Dallas video is https://deargeneralconvention.com/video/ .  You might want to have a tissue handy. As in the case of the Diocese of Tennessee, you see no clergy. They would risk their livelihoods by doing so.  Have you contacted your General Convention Deputies and your Bishop(s) about making sure that ALL have access to marriage? Why not? Remember your kindred who may not enjoy all the benefits of our church that you do. Pray for them and then contact your Deputies and Bishop(s).

We have lost another beloved Integrity member whose  ministry was at  both the national and local level. The Rev. Paul Woodrum died last week. Paul was, if my memory is correct, our National Treasurer when I joined Integrity in the early 1980’s. Paul was among the earliest of gay priests to be open about his sexual orientation. Being his authentic self was very costly to him in the 1960’s and after. He paid the price for honesty. He built the bridge over which many would eventually walk.  Please see this link for more information.  May he rest in peace and rise in glory. I also ask your prayers for Victor, Paul’s husband of 37 years.

The nomination process for board elections has ended and a slate of candidates has been prepared.  Elections will be held 8am Monday June 18 - 8am Monday June 25. Election results will be announced Monday July 3 just prior to General Convention.  When you receive the ballot, you will notice that there are no nominees for Stakeholder’s Council Chair or for Provincial Coordinators. The present board wanted to provide as much latitude to the new board to facilitate our grass roots efforts and involvement. They will evaluate these positions and either hold a special election or seek to amend the bylaws to meet Integrity’s current needs.

With this Friday Flash, I am requesting that all members and friends of Integrity pray intentionally and daily for the Deputies and Bishops who will be participating in the General Convention.  Please pray daily that hearts will be moved to insure that ALL absolutely ALL of God’s children have access to all of the sacraments all of the time... and in their own parishes!






Bruce Garner, President Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow