Friday, October 29, 2010

A Reflection from Integrity Executive Director Max Niedzwiecki

Halloween – An Episcopal Holiday?

This Sunday, October 31st is Halloween. It is our national holiday for fear. It’s a time when many of us face our fears in a fake sort of way and try to have fun with it. For many LGBT folks, it's a day free of fear. It's a day when drag is mainstream and it's okay to be different.

Being different on other days sometimes creates fear. “Homophobia” is all about fear. Those who discriminate against LGBT people are “homophobic” – they’re afraid of us. Honestly, I have trouble with this word. I'm not scarey, I would rather other people not see me as scary, but I can’t control what other people feel. Feelings of fear are the major reasons that people discriminate against us and other people who are “different.” The important work we do at Integrity is to insist that LGBT persons are treated with the same respect as everyone else.

That respect needs to extend to ourselves as well. “Homophobia” also has a second meaning: not fear and discrimination against other people, but against ourselves. The recent teen suicides have been reminders, as if we needed it, that internalized homophobia can be deadly.

My wish for everyone who reads this is that on Sunday, October 31st we face our fears in a way that goes beyond the typical Halloween hoopla. It’s OK if you want to go to church with a fake arrow through your head (tell your Rector I said so), but I hope that during our time together in worship we can also accept the Grace we need to face our fears in a healthy and truthful way.

For me, facing truth and overcoming fear are big parts of being an Episcopalian. At our best, we seek God’s truth and follow it, leaving behind the fears that motivate so much of our prejudice and self-loathing, even when those fears are deeply embedded in our culture. As Jesus himself said, being a Christian is a path to liberation: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

The Episcopal Church’s progress on full inclusion for all people is a testament to our growing commitment to finding and following God’s truth, and turning our backs on fear. Let’s celebrate that, and commit to keeping the momentum going, this Halloween and beyond.

Anti-Homosexual Bill to be Proposed by Bishop in Congo

This was posted by the Association for Women's Rights in Development

A Democratic Republic of Congo bishop and lawmaker said Monday he had put forward a bill that would make homosexuality a punishable offence, as being gay was an “abomination”.

“We would like the law to punish homosexuality, bestiality and necrophilia. Morally, homosexuality is a deviation, and spiritually, it is an abomination,” pentecostal bishop, Ejiba Yamapiale told global news agency, AFP.

The bill comprises seven articles including imprisonment and fines for homosexuals, and will be debated by the National Assembly's committee on society and culture.

“We have proposed this law to moralise our society,” said Yamapiale, who leads the Pentecostal Church of Saviours in the capital Kinshasa.

“As Africans, we know that there is polygamy but there must not be men who sleep with other men, with animals or corpses,” he said.

“It is necessary to punish these unnatural practices, which do not fit with our values,” he said.

Homophobia is widespread across Africa. The law put forward by Yamapiale echoes similar anti-gay legislation in Uganda, while last year two Malawian men were jailed after staging the country's first gay wedding.

Homosexuality is also outlawed in Cameroon and punishable by prison terms.

In August, African Anglican bishops voiced their strong disapproval of homosexuality at a meeting attended by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

October 25 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In support of our Global Transgender Community..................

Integrity Joins TransEpiscopal and Other International Rights Groups in Support of Transgender Activists in Turkey

Here is the story from the Associated Press:

International rights groups on Monday urged Turkey to drop criminal charges against five transgender rights activists and encouraged authorities to investigate the police treatment of the case.

Police stopped the five in May, accused them being prostitutes and beat them up, according to the Ankara-based transgender rights group, Pembe Hayat, or Pink Life.

The five go on trial on Oct. 21 on charges of resisting police and face a maximum three years in prison .

Five international human rights and gay rights organizations, including the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a joint letter to Turkey's Interior and Justice ministers that the police officers should be held accountable. Police would not comment on the case.

The rights group called for an end to violence against transvestites and transsexuals in Turkey and asked that the government enact laws to protect gays and lesbians against discrimination.

Human rights advocates say gays and lesbians suffer frequent discrimination and abuse despite human rights reforms enacted in line with Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

Many transgender people escape Turkey's conservative towns and villages for more tolerant cities like Istanbul and Ankara. But many still encounter hostility and discrimination and, unable to get jobs, turn to prostitution.

About a dozen transgender people, most of them sex workers, have been killed in Turkey over the past few years in attacks activists have described as hate crimes. They claim authorities and police remain unsympathetic and fail to adequately investigate the murders.

Read the rest of the story

The Rev. Cameron Partridge of TransEpiscopal has this to say:

"We stand in complete solidarity with the five transgender activists as they go on trial in Turkey.  We pray for their release, for the recognition of their human dignity, and that those who have treated these women in such a dehumanizing way would be held accountable for their actions.  As we move toward Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, when communities around the world remember those who have died because of their gender identity or expression, we work to transform cultures of violence into spacious communities in which all of us can be who we are."

Please join TransEpiscopal, Integrity and other major international human rights organizations by expressing your concerns to the two Turkish Ministers:

Mr. Sadullah Ergin
Ministry of Justice
Address: 06659 Kizilay, Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90 312 419 33 70

Mr. Beşir Atalay 
Ministry of the Interior
Address: T.C. İcisleri Bakanlığı, Bakanlıklar, Ankara, TurkeyTel: +90 312 422 40 22

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bishop Christopher, under threat, returns to the USA

From Albert Ogle, Integrity VP of International Affairs...............

When Bishop Christopher Senyonjo’s picture showed up on the front page of a Ugandan paper under the headline, “100 Top Homos - hang them,” Integrity supporters of the bishop and his work  became ever more concerned about the growing climate of homophobia in Uganda.

Other LGBT leaders were also targeted and Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has been providing emergency counseling and shelter for some of the victims of this latest wave of public violence.

The inflammatory story in “Rolling Stone” (no connection to the USA version) was published just as I returned from a visit to Uganda with Pastor Joseph Tolton of The Fellowship in New York. I quickly made contact with the bishop and his staff.  So far, they are all safe and are asking for our prayers. I now try to communicate with him on a daily basis.

Our trip to Uganda was very productive and informative.  Organizers in Uganda, including Integrity Uganda,  have formed a Civil Society Coalition of 34 partner organizations..  This coalition successfully challenged the “Rolling Stone” in Ugandan courts and it was mandated to close its doors.  The coalition will also consider additional legal strategies and will make all legal resources available to stop this latest phase of the anti-gay witch hunt which appears to have support from some American based churches.

Earlier this week the Rt. Rev, Mark Sisk, Bishop of New York, wrote a private letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing his concern that Bishop Senyonjo had been so publically targeted in the newspaper. Sadly, the Archbishop has remained silent on this.  Instead, he voiced his concern about the election and consecration of Mary Douglas Glasspool as Bishop Suffragan in the Dioxese of Los Angeles. Here's what he had to say:

“The decision of the American Church to go forward, as it has, with the ordination of a lesbian bishop has, I think, set us back. At the moment I'm not certain how we will approach the next primates' meeting, but regrettably some of the progress that I believe we had made has not remained steady. Alongside that, and I think this is important, while the institutions of the Communion struggle, in many ways the mutual life of the Communion, the life of exchange and co-operation between different parts of our Anglican family, is quite strong and perhaps getting stronger. It's a paradox”. 

Yes, well, here's what I find as a paradox:  that a photograph of heterosexual bishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda appears on the front cover of a magazine with the headline: "Hang Them" without any outrage from his fellow bishops. This story made international news, was reported on CNN, in the UK and in the Washington Post, yet,  no-one within Anglican Church leadership circles rose to his defense, except Bishop Sisk.

Regardless of his lack of church support, Bishop Christopher continues to preach an inclusive gospel of a loving God to everyone, including his enemies. Please keep him and his persecuted community in your prayers. Write to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Let him know of your support for Bishop Christopher and ask him to join all of us in respecting the dignity of every human being.

You will also have another opportunity to support the brave bishop and his work. Bishop Christopher will soon  return to the United States along with his wife Mary (an equally brave and courageous leader who has watched their beloved Church of Uganda’s behavior towards her family). They will arrive in  California on November
14th and will be visiting New Orleans (December 5th at St. Anne’s) Atlanta (St. Bartholomew’s on December 12th) and will have two consultative meetings in New York and Washington DC around immigration and asylum issues for the USA around LGBT people. For more information on his visit and an update on the difficult legal situation he and his friends are facing, stay posted or join his Facebook page.

Call to Action: Pass on this blessing for those who are being bullied

A Blessing For Those Who Are Being Bullied

If you are a GLBT boy or girl, man or woman, who is being bullied, then this blessing is for you. Carry it with you. Keep it near you at all times. Let it shield you from all harm. Let it be a light through any darkness as you find your path to the dignity and respect you deserve as a child of God.

My Name Is ______________________.
What ever others may try to call me, My Name Is ______________________.
God knows me by My Name because God gave me life.God calls me by My Name because God has a purpose for my life.God remembers My Name because God loves me just as I am.
Therefore I will not be afraid. I will not be intimidated. I will not be denied my dignity. I will not harm myself.
I will not be called by any other name than My Name.
My Name is _______________________.
And I am beautiful and precious in the eyes of the Lord.

This blessing was written by the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, a Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Print this out on a card and hand out to any LGBT youth who may someday find themselves at risk.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Must Read: SCLM Visits Province I

Liturgy and Music commission hears call for openness, equality for same-gender couples

From Episcopal News Online

Ministering in the "middle of this cauldron of multicultural activity" that is Harvard Square, the Rev. Joseph Robinson, rector of Christ Church Cambridge in the Diocese of Massachusetts says he wants to be able to welcome everyone, including same-gender couples who want their relationships blessed.

"And what they're asking of me is that it's the same for everyone, that it's done with intention, truthfulness and that it begins with the words 'dearly beloved,'" Robinson told the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music Oct. 19 during a hearing here. "It needs to sound like something that's recognizable."

"Whatever we do, whatever we offer our people, let it be eloquent, let it be truthful, let it be prayer and let it be common because those are the things which are the strengths of our church," Robinson added.

Robinson comments came as SCLM met for five hours with representatives of Province I to hear about their experience with same-gender blessings.

In all, the commission devoted a day and a half of its Oct. 18-20 meeting to work on General Convention Resolution C056 which authorized it to work in conjunction with the House of Bishops to collect and develop theological resources and liturgies for blessing same-gender relationships. The commission is to report to the 77th General Convention in 2012 in Indianapolis.

"It will be up to the General Convention [to decide] what to do with those resources," the Rev. Ruth Meyers, SCLM chair and Hodges-Haynes professor of liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, told the commission Oct. 19 before the hearing began.

C056 said that bishops, "particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church." The SCLM hearing was meant to hear how a group of Episcopalians, most of whom live in civil jurisdictions that recognize same-gender unions in some way, provide that pastoral response.

Same-gender couples can marry in Connecticut (Province I), Iowa (Province VI), Massachusetts (Province I), New Hampshire (Province I), Vermont (Province I) and Washington, D.C. (Province II). Meyers told ENS that the commission wanted to hear from Province I Episcopalians because they have been leaders in the church's pastoral response to the needs of same-gender couples. Included in that response is a collection of pastoral resources the province published in October 2008.

An increasing number of other Episcopal Church dioceses, both where the civil jurisdiction gives same-gender unions some level of legal recognition and where they do not, allow clergy to bless those unions.

During the hearing, many of the more than 30 Episcopalians -- some of whom have been involved in blessing same-gender unions, sometimes for decades -- told the SCLM that they want to see the church treat such unions equally and with the same openness that it treats heterosexual marriage.

"I want to bring this out of the shadows so that we don't continue some kind of ecclesiastical version of don't ask, don't tell," Diocese of Maine Bishop Stephen Lane said, telling the commission that his acceptance of same-gender blessings comes from his understanding of the Baptismal Covenant.

"I think it is heretical and immoral to have different standards for different groups of baptized people," he said, adding that he fears the church will "lose its nerve" and settle for something that is "separate but equal."

The Rev. Rob Hirschfeld, rector of Grace Church Amherst, Massachusetts, told the commission about blessing the union of two military women who were teaching at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Diocese of Western Massachusetts Bishop Gordon Scruton does not allow priests to bless such unions and so, Hirschfeld said, "it was don't ask, don't tell for them and it was don't ask, don't tell for me."

The 30-minute diocesan presentations involved lay people, deacons, priests, bishops, and same-gender couples who have had their unions blessed by the church. The delegations were encouraged to bring service leaflets from the blessing of same-gender unions and other materials that clergy have used to work with couples and congregations to prepare for such blessings.

As Vince Edwards of the Diocese of Connecticut told the commission about the experience of having his relationship with Rodney Ayers blessed, he said he wanted to remind the members about what he saw as the bottom line of the decisions they faced.

"All the words we write, all the things we print, all the meetings we have, it is actually all about love," he said.

Stories of waiting for the Episcopal Church to act figured prominently in the testimony.

The Rev. Meredyth Ward, priest-in-charge of Church of the Epiphany in Wilbraham in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, told the commission that in 2004 she was part of the diocese's first official study of same-gender blessings. After nearly two years, she said, none of the group's position papers or proposed rites were able to be published.

"I love my bishop dearly; he is a good man, but he is waiting for the wider church to act before he will and he will not give us permission to do anything that you all and General Convention does not authorize," she said of Scruton. "We're here to plead with you to act because we are waiting and we are, quite frankly, tired of asking permission for something that we know to be morally right."

The last witness, Chris Rivers, a professor of French at Mount Holyoke College in Western Massachusetts, told a common story of having his same-gender relationship sanctioned in three different civil jurisdictions to preserve his and his partner's legal rights.

"We've been married three times now. I'm waiting for the fourth because the one that I really want is the Episcopal Church," he said. "I want the Book of Common Prayer … I want those words and I want it in this church and I want it now."

SCLM has a year to go before it has to decide on the substance of its report that will be included in the so-called Blue Book collection of reports to 2012 General Convention. Meyers said that the commission currently envisions that the material that it will present to convention will include one or more essays "that provide theological foundations for this work," one or more rites, pastoral resources to assist clergy and others who prepare couples for blessings, teaching resources for congregations wanting to discern whether they will offer blessings and "some sort of guidance" for bishops and clergy for addressing the legal issues in the various civil contexts in which the church operates.

"We may also be looking at proposed canon changes, given the various civil contexts," she added, explaining that the current canons say (in Title I.18.1) that the clergy will follow the laws of the church and the laws of the state when officiating at a marriage. Thus, those two sets of laws "are now in conflict" in places that allow civil marriage of same-gender couples, she noted. Meyers said that the SCLM is consulting with the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons about possible canon changes that might be proposed.

Between now and the October 2011 meeting when SCLM finalizes its Blue Book report, the commission plans what it is calling a "church-wide consultation" in Atlanta March 18-19 that will include one lay and one clergy deputy from each diocese. Meyers said the commission will present its work to date and ask for feedback from the participants.

The commission will continue to report on its progress to the House of Bishops and consult with the bishops, Meyers said. She and others associated with the SCLM's work on C056 met with the bishops in Phoenix on Sept. 18.

To assist in it its work, SCLM has established three task groups to focus on, respectively, liturgical resources, pastoral counseling and teaching resources, and theological resources. The commission also has established a blog and e-mail inbox ( for comments and reflections. Also, the pastoral counseling and teaching resources task force is inviting Episcopalians to share their approaches, models, resources and any other reflection via a survey here.

C056 also called on the commission and the House of Bishops to invite theological reflection from throughout the Anglican Communion. The commission is discussing a meeting in an Episcopal Church diocese outside of the United States at which Anglicans from elsewhere in the communion would be invited to learn about its work. Some members of the SCLM also will report on its work during the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation Aug. 1-6, 2011 in Canterbury, England.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is a national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly and Episcopal News Quarterly.

Stigma and the LGBT Suicides -- a View from Harvard

A week ago today I made my way from the Episcopal Chaplaincy building on Garden Street, through the chill evening to Harvard’s Memorial Church. As I rounded the corner by University Hall, the light of over two hundred candles flickered ahead of me on the steps that face Widener Library, the same steps from which the liturgics of commencement are enacted every spring. This was a vigil to mark, cry out against and be galvanized by the recent rash of LGBT suicides across the United States over the last several weeks. This series of events, and the unprecedented public conversation that has circled about them, has been devastating to many in the Harvard community, particularly LGBT and allied students.

I came to this vigil to represent the Episcopal Chaplaincy (as indeed Episcopal Chaplains across the country have been responding to this rash of violence), which was one of several co-sponsors of the event, and to reach out to LGBT students across the University at this difficult time, letting them know that they are not alone. Voices of people of faith too often stoke the broader cultural dynamics of violence at the root of all of this, and it felt important to be visible as an Episcopal priest standing against that violence. I was also present as a Lecturer currently teaching—and having previously taught—a number of LGBT students deeply impacted by the rash of suicides. Though I’m not sure how many other chaplains were present (there was at least one other), I know I was far from the only professor or staff member there, and that sense of institutional solidarity and support moved me.

But it was also personally important to me to be there as someone who has experienced that broader culture of violence as a member of the LGBT community. Following the example of previous speakers, I spoke in the brief open mic period at the end of the vigil of coming out. In my case, I explained, I happen to have come out twice—first, my sophomore year of college as gay, and then in graduate school as a transgender man (I transitioned from female to male in 2002). I spoke of the importance of community, real community based on authentic relationships, and how important it is right now to reach out to one another across the borders—particularly of faith traditions — that too often separate us.

Two days before the vigil, the combination of the Sunday lectionary readings and the rash of suicides already had me thinking about what it was like to be a young person struggling with the intersection of faith and social stigma. The theme of leprosy in the readings inspired me to open my sermon with a story of how, when I was in fifth grade, I stumbled upon a library book, Damien, the Leper Priest about Damien de Veuster, a Roman Catholic priest (recently included in the new collection Holy Women and Holy Men) who had served a community living with what is now called Hansen’s Disease. Damien went to this shunned community, fought bureaucrats to get them basic living supplies, built them a physical infrastructure (water supply, housing, etc), bound up their wounds, worked to de-stigmatize the disease, and ultimately contracted it himself, dying as a “leper among lepers.” This was the one book report I did that year that really meant something to me. There was something about the shape of Damien’s ministry in relation to the dynamics of social stigma that rocked my ten-year-old world. It didn’t hurt that as a gender nonconforming kid, stigma was very familiar to me.

The intersection of stigma and faith emerged in another recent Harvard event, a Divinity School panel entitled “Queer Youth and Religious Debates Over Sexuality." When I arrived, I was struck first of all by the Harvard police who stood guard at the doors to the room where the panel was held. Even in its absence, this visible reminder of potential disruption felt overbearing; I could feel it actually raising my heart rate as I listened. While all the remarks were moving, I was struck particularly by those of Professor Mark Jordan who spoke of how “the fights about [LGBT youth] often try to claim them for one camp or another — either religious or queer, but rarely both.” This is one of the peculiar challenges for those of us who are indeed, and have long been, both.

And so as this moment of grief and anger— here at Harvard and far beyond—begins to fade from media coverage, we must refuse to forget this episode. I don’t want any of us, whatever our age, sexual orientation, or gender identity, to lose sight of the violence—psychic and physical-- that underlies and emerges from the workings of stigma in all its forms. I'm particularly cheered to read the several statements that communities and individuals across the Episcopal Church have made (see Episcopal Cafe for a collection of them)-- reading them makes me grateful for the support I received as a young person, and galvanized to continue extending that support here and now.

Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge
Interim Episcopal Chaplain, Harvard University

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Renewed Vision for Integrity USA

Making God’s Love Tangible Everywhere

Integrity Vision Statement

Max Niedwiecki
Executive Director


Since 1974, when Integrity began, the Episcopal Church has become much more welcoming to people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.  We just ordained our first openly lesbian bishop, after having ordained our first openly gay bishop.  Marriages between people who share the same sex or gender are celebrated in many diocese.  The Church is developing rites and pastoral resources for the blessing of same-sex relationships on a national scale.  The Church has spoken out in favor of equality in civil marriage, immigration, and other domains of public life.

But there is still much work to be done.  Episcopal congregations, the Episcopal Church, and our broader society do not yet give full witness to God’s love for all.

Twin Focus Areas

Making God’s Love Tangible In and Through the Episcopal Church

Integrity will continue to be a leader in making “all the sacraments for all the baptized” a reality throughout the Episcopal Church so that all Episcopalians are able to serve God as they were born to do.

We can do this by:

  • Providing resources and support to members, chapters, Proud Parish Partners and Integrity Believe Out Loud Congregations so they can be more effective on the parochial and diocesan levels
o   Believe Out Loud trainings on the diocesan and parish levels
o   Mentorship opportunities that link people on issues such as making parishes more welcoming
o   Educational materials on Integrity’s website, as well as materials that could be adapted to local needs (e.g., draft letters to the editor on various topics, draft resolutions for diocesan conventions, information sheets)
o   Opportunities to experience the links that bind us together as local, regional, and national communities
o   Partnerships with colleague organizations that support broader diversity aims that go beyond the LGBT community
o   Displays and encouragement to represent Integrity at diocesan conventions
o   Media training

  • Serving as an information channel to enrich the work of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music as it develops resources for the blessing of same-sex relationships

  • Encouraging partners to act on Integrity’s charge to “make God’s love tangible in and through the Episcopal Church”

  • Advocating for positive change at General Convention 2012
o   Coordination with partners at General Convention
o   Opportunities for members to have their voices heard on priorities and strategies, and to demonstrate that Integrity is an authentic voice for LGBT people and their friends
o   Educational efforts for deputies and bishops

... and other activities not listed here 

Integrity will let the wider society know about God’s inclusive love for all – including LGBT people – as it is expressed by the
Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church is a leading voice for truth and justice in the world.  As a national body the Church has clearly voiced support for marriage equality, as well as equality in the immigration system and other domains of public life.  Because of this, the Church draws the ire of those who would seek to make the oppression of LGBT people permanent, and the admiration of many others.  We will provide a distinctively Episcopalian voice on issues of social importance, and we can do that by:

  • Letting the world know that the Episcopal Church is on the side of justice when it comes to marriage equality, immigration equality, school bullying, and other issues
o   Model a “diverse” community that is motivated by inclusive love, within our own leadership and network
o   Work with partners to support civil rights initiatives like equality in marriage and immigration, especially in battleground states
o   Walking With Integrity blog and email list
o   Friday Flash
o   Face Book pages
o   Many other communications channels

  • Supporting the capacity development of allied groups globally, as our resources permit
o   Continued engagement with Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and his colleagues in Uganda

  • Letting LGBT people and those who love them know that there can be a spiritual home for them in the Episcopal Church

... and other activities not listed here 

Integrity’s Mission and Infrastructure Development

Unity and Diversity

In order to effectively promote justice within and through the Episcopal Church, Integrity will concentrate on strengthening its infrastructure of members, Chapters, Proud Parish Partners, and Integrity Believe Out Loud Congregations.  Integrity will also invigorate its Stakeholders Council, increase and diversify its individual membership, and continue to develop its network of Provincial Coordinators and Diocesan Organizers.  The people who populate these roles will all be essential components and decision-makers in the fulfillment of Integrity’s renewed vision.

This infrastructure-building work will proceed hand-in-hand with Integrity’s mission-driven work.  We can best build infrastructure by working together within a common framework, adjusting the framework to our changing needs, and continuously drawing more people into our movement.

Our broad strategy will be to provide coordination and resources that help our members pursue the goals that they have for their church and society.  The communities we work with are different, and at the national level Integrity’s work will mirror that diversity: Some leaders and groups will want to focus on making their parishes more welcoming; others may want to focus on General Convention, speak out for marriage equality, and/or support LGBT rights within the broader Anglican Communion.

Integrity will be as much a “bottom-up” as a “top-down” organization.  At the national level, we will follow the lead set by our members, as much as seek to lead them; we will be attentive listeners, as well as persuasive speakers.  Our job is not to dictate, but to coordinate, cultivate enthusiasm, and make the national network that we call “Integrity” powerful as a single body composed of diverse, dynamic, interrelated parts.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori & Integrity Sign Call to Action, "No More Bullying"


For Immediate Release: October 18, 2010 

Today, as leaders of Christian communions and national networks, we speak with heavy hearts because of the bullying, suicides and hate crimes that have shocked this country and called all faith communities into accountability for our words or our silence. We speak with hopeful hearts, believing that change and healing are possible, and call on our colleagues in the Church Universal to join us in working to end the violence and hatred against our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters.

In the past seven weeks, six young and promising teenagers took their own lives. Some were just entering high school; one had just enrolled in college. Five were boys; one, a girl becoming a young woman. These are only the deaths for which there has been a public accounting. New reports of other suicides continue to haunt us daily from around the country.

They were of varying faiths and races and came from different regions of the nation.

The one thing these young men and women had in common was that they were perceived to be gay or lesbian. 

Each in their own way faced bullying and harassment or struggled with messages of religion and culture that made them fear the consequences of being who they were.

In the past two weeks, cities like New York have seen major escalations in anti-gay violence. Two young men attacked patrons of the Stonewall Inn, legendary birth place of the LGBT rights movement in the United States, locking them in the restroom and beating them while hurling anti-gay epithets. Men on a Chelsea street, saying goodnight after an evening out, were attacked by a group of teens and young adults, again hurling anti-gay slogans and hurting one person badly enough to require emergency treatment. And nine young men in the Bronx went on a two-day rampage beating, burning, torturing and sodomizing two teenage boys and their gay male adult friend for allegedly having a sexual relationship. "It's nothing personal," one of the now arrested said. "You just broke the rules."
What are the "rules" of human engagement and interaction that we, as people of faith, want to teach our congregants, children and adults alike, to live by?

Many have responded from within and beyond the faith community offering comfort and support to the families and friends of Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase and Aiyisha Hasan. Our hearts, too, are broken by the too soon losses of these young and promising lives, and we join our voices to those who have sought to speak words of comfort and healing.

Many others, however, have responded by adding insult to injury, citing social myths and long-held prejudices that only fuel division, hatred and violence – and sometimes even death.

We, as leaders of faith, write today to say we must hold ourselves accountable, and we must hold our colleagues in the ministry, accountable for the times, whether by our silence or our proclamations, our inaction or our action, we have fueled the kinds of beliefs that make it possible for people to justify violence in the name of faith. Condemning and judging people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity can have deadly consequences, both for the victims of hate crimes and those who commit them.

There is no excuse for inspiring or condoning violence against any of our human family. We may not all agree on what the Bible says or doesn't say about sexuality, including homosexuality, but this we do agree on: The Bible says, "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them." Abiding in love – together – is the rule we must all preach, teach, and seek to live by.

People of faith must realize that if teens feel they will be judged by their church, rejected by their families and bullied by their peers, they may have nowhere to turn.   

Too many things go unspoken in our communities. It's time to talk openly and honestly about the diversity of God's creation and the gift of various sexual orientations and gender identities – and to do that in a way that makes it safe for people to disagree and still abide in love.

It's time to talk openly and honestly about the use and misuse of power and authority by those we entrust with our spiritual well-being.  It's time to make it safe for our clergy colleagues who are struggling to live what they preach, to get the help and support we all sometimes need.

The young people who took their lives a few weeks ago died because the voices of people who believe in the love of God for all the people of God were faint and few in the face of those who did the bullying, harassing and condemning. Today we write to say we will never again be silent about the value of each and every life.

To that end, we pledge to urge our churches, our individual parishes or offices, our schools and religious establishments to create safe space for each and every child of God, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. And we ask you to join us in that pledge.

Today, we personally pledge to be LGBT and straight people of faith standing together for the shared values of decency and civility, compassion and care in all interactions. We ask you, our colleagues, to join us in this pledge.

We want our children and the children of the communities we serve to grow up knowing that God loves all of us and that without exception, bullying and harassment, making fun of someone for perceived differences, and taunting and harming others is wrong. The Golden Rule is still the rule we want to live by.

We pray today that you will join us in being the faces of a faith that preaches and demonstrates God's universal acceptance and offers to one and all safe space to live, to learn, and to love and be loved.

In faith and solidarity,

The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches
The Rev. Geoffrey Black, United Church of Christ General Minister and President
Elder Cynthia J. Bolbach, Moderator, 219th General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
The Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, 219th General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator, 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary, Reformed Church in America
The Rev. Peter Morales, President, Unitarian Universalist Association
Bishop Yvette Flunder, Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship
The Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches
Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls, Vice President of the National Board and Regional Prelate, Unity Fellowship Church
Archbishop Carl Bean, Founder and Presiding Prelate, Unity Fellowship Church Movement
Carol Blythe, Alliance of Baptists President
Paula Clayton Dempsey, Minister for Partnership Relations, Alliance of Baptists

The Rev. Harry Knox, Director of Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign Foundation 
The Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Director of Institute for Welcoming Resources, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
Dr. Sylvia Rhue, Director of Religious Affairs, National Black Justice Coalition
Ann Craig, Director of Religion, Faith and Values, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, Executive Director of UCAN, Inc., United Church of Christ
The Rev. Robert Chase, Founding Director, Intersections International
Macky Alston, Director, Auburn Media, Auburn Theological Seminary
The Rev. Mark Hostetter, Chair of the Board, Auburn Seminary
Sung Park, Program Director, Believe Out Loud
The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of The Interfaith Alliance
The Reverend Debra W. Haffner, Executive Director, Religious Institute
Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, Executive Coordinator, National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN)
The Rev. Neal Christie, Assistant General Secretary of the United Methodist Board of Church & Society
The Rev. Cynthia Abrams , Program Director, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church , 
Linda Bales Todd, Director, General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church
The Rev. Dr. Cindi Love, Executive Director, Soulforce, Inc.

Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned/North America
Lisa Larges, Minister Coordinator, That All May Freely Serve, Presbyterian
Dr. Michael Adee, Executive Director, More Light Presbyterians
Troy Plummer, Reconciling Ministries Network, United Methodist
Marilyn Paarlberg, National Coordinator, Room for All, Reformed Church in America
Rev. Thomas C. Goodhart, Co-president, Room for All, Reformed Church in America
Phil Attey, Acting Executive Director - Catholics for Equality
George W. Cole, Senior Vice President, Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons
David Melson, President, Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons
Dr. Joseph Palacios, Board Member, Catholics for Equality
Phil Attey, Executive Director, Catholics for Equality 
Yolanda Elliott, President, Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International  
Pastor Dave Ferguson, Church Relations Director, Adventist Kinship International
Rev. Marvin M. Ellison, Ph.D., Co-Convener,  Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, Maine
Anne Underwood, Catholics for Equality
Max Niedzwiecki, Ph.D., Executive Director, Integrity USA

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University.
Mary E. Hunt & Diana Neu, Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)

Friday, October 15, 2010

How Religion Is Killing Our Most Vulnerable Youth – Bishop Gene Robinson

From today’s Huffington Post:

An increasingly popular bumper sticker reads, "Guns Don't Kill People -- RELIGION Kills People!" In light of recent events I would add religion kills young people: gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender young people.

Perhaps not directly, though. And religion is certainly not the only source of anti-gay sentiment in the culture. But it's hard to deny that religious voices denouncing LGBT people contribute to the atmosphere in which violence against LGBT people and bullying of LGBT youth can flourish.

The news is filled with the tragedies of teenaged boys who were gay and decided to end their living hell by committing suicide. Maybe they weren't even gay, but merely perceived to be by their peers, who harassed, taunted, and threatened them unmercifully.

These were real kids with real names. Asher Brown, an eighth grader in Texas, shot himself in the head after endless bullying by classmates and despite attempts by his parents to get school authorities to take his harassment seriously. Seth Walsh hung himself from a tree in his California backyard after relentless bullying by classmates. Asher and Seth were 13-years-old.

Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old high school freshman from Indiana, was only perceived to be gay. But the unrelenting bullying ended with him taking his own life. Seven students in one Minnesota school district have taken their own lives, including three teens.

With the exception of Brown in Texas these suicides are not happening in Bible Belt regions of the country, where we might predict a greater-than-usual regard for religious thought. Instead, they are occurring in states perceived to be more liberal on LGBT issues: California, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

The case of Tyler Clementi is especially instructive about how far we have to go in accepting our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children. Clementi was an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University whose roommate secretly filmed a sexual encounter he had with another male student and then posted it on the internet.

Think about it. If Tyler had been heterosexual and instead filmed having sex with his girlfriend, it would still be an inappropriate invasion of his privacy and tasteless to post the video online. And it certainly would have been embarrassing for Tyler and the girl. But chances are he would have been the recipient of some congratulatory remarks from friends about what a stud he was. And if he was straight he likely wouldn't have contemplated -- not to mention successfully accomplished -- his own suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

No, Tyler was a victim -- not of an inner disturbance of depression or mental illness--but of an external and in part religiously inspired disdain and hatred of gay people.

Despite the progress we're making on achieving equality under the law and acceptance in society for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, why this rash of bullying, paired with self-loathing, ending in suicide? With humility and heartfelt repentance I assert that religion -- and its general rejection of homosexuality -- plays a crucial role in this crisis.

On the one hand, Religious Right hatemongers and crazies are spewing all sorts of venom and condemnation, all in the name of a loving God. The second-highest-ranking Mormon leader, Boyd K. Packer, recently called same-sex attraction "impure and unnatural" in an act of unspeakable insensitivity at the height of this rash of teen suicides. He declared that it can be cured, and that same-sex unions are morally repugnant and "against God's law and nature."

Just as many gay kids grow up in these conservative denominations as any other. They are told day in and day out that they are an abomination before God. Just consider the sheer numbers of LGBT kids growing up right now in Roman Catholic, Mormon, and other conservative religious households. The pain and self-loathing caused by such a distortion of God's will is undeniable and tragic, causing scars and indescribable self-alienation in these young victims.

You don't have to grow up in a religious household, though, to absorb these religious messages. Not long ago I had a conversation with six gay teens, not one of whom had ever had any formal religious training or influence. Every one of them knew the word "abomination," and every one of them thought that was what God thought of them. They couldn't have located the Book of Leviticus in the Bible if their lives depended on it yet they had absorbed this message from the antigay air they breathe every day.

Add to that the Minnesota Family Council's Tom Prichard recently saying that the real cause of the suicides is "homosexual indoctrination," not antigay bullying, and that the students died because they adopted an "unhealthy lifestyle."

Susan Russell from All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, points out how ludicrous these statements are in her "An Inch at a Time" blog:

Thirteen and fifteen year olds are not 'adopting a lifestyle,' they're trying to have a life! They're trying to figure out who they are, who God created them to be and what on earth to do with this confusing bunch of sexual feelings that they're trying to get a handle on. They need role models for healthy relationships -- not judgment and the message that they're condemned to a life of loneliness, isolation and despair.

On the other hand, what's the role of more mainline, more progressive denominations such as mainstream Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in these recent tragedies? Mostly silence. And just like in the days of the AIDS organization Act Up, "silence equals death."

It is not enough for good people -- religious or otherwise -- to simply be feeling more positive toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Tolerance and a live-and-let-live attitude beats discrimination and abuse by a mile. But it's not enough. Tolerant people, especially tolerant religious people, need to get over their squeamishness about being vocal advocates and unapologetic supporters of LGBT people. It really is a matter of life and death, as we've seen.

I learned this in my dealing with racism. It's not enough to be tolerant of other races. I benefit from a racist society just by being white. I don't ever have to use the "n" word, treat any person of color with discourtesy, or even think ill of anyone. But as long as I am not working to dismantle the systemic racism that benefits me, a white man, at the expense of people of color, I am a racist. And my faith calls me to become an anti-racist -- pro-active, vocal, and committed.

Some progressive religious groups -- the United Church of Christ, Unitarians, Metropolitan Community Church -- have long been advocates for LGBT people. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has recently made great strides in welcoming gay clergy. And my own Episcopal Church has put itself at great risk on behalf of full inclusion of LGBT people in electing two openly gay priests to be bishops.

Still, even in these progressive churches, there is much to be done.

Cody J. Sanders, a Baptist minister and Ph.D. student in pastoral theology and counseling at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, recently wrote on the Religion Dispatches website about how important it is for churches to act:

Ministers who remain in comfortable silence on sexuality must speak out. Churches that have silently embraced gay and lesbian members for years must publicly hang the welcome banner. How long will we continue to limit and qualify our messages of acceptance, inclusion and embrace for the most vulnerable in order to maintain the comfort of those in our communities of faith who are well served by the status quo? In the current climate, equivocating messages of affirmation are overpowered by the religious rhetoric of hatred. Silence only serves to support the toleration of bullying, violence and exclusion. In the face of what has already become the common occurrence of LGBT teen suicide, how long can we wait to respond?

As good Christians and Jews we must work to change the religious thinking, rhetoric, and practice that communicates to our LGBT children that they are despised by their Creator. We must learn to object to anti-gay jokes the way we learned to tell our friends that we would not tolerate racist jokes. We must demand that our schools not only have antibullying policies, but that they follow through on stopping the practice of bullying. We need to lobby our congressional representatives for the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA, H.R. 4530, S. 3390). And we must proclaim openly, loudly, and often that we love our children unconditionally in the way that God does -- always wanting the best and most healthy lives for them.

These bullying behaviors would not exist without the undergirding and the patina of respect provided by religious fervor against LGBT people. It's time for "tolerant" religious people to acknowledge the straight line between the official anti-gay theologies of their denominations and the deaths of these young people. Nothing short of changing our theology of human sexuality will save these young and precious lives.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

“I call you in righteousness…to believe out loud.”

Meditation for the Holy Eucharist
Stakeholders’ Council Meeting at the Believe Out Loud Power Summit
10 October 2010
Orlando, Florida

The Rev. David Norgard
Integrity USA

It is amazing that we are here in a way. Episcopalians are not typically the type to say they go to church, much less really “believe out loud.”

We have an inclination for subtler, more classical expressions of our theology. We know the four cardinal virtues, for instance: prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude or courage. To our way of thinking, these are not “believe out loud” kinds of virtues. “Out loud” has an urgent, proactive ring to it. “Out loud” is the way those secular activists operate.

For those in a church that holds a deep respect and appreciation for tradition, prudence often translates into caution. Temperance means not rocking the boat – being “fair and balanced” (just like Fox News). To work for justice is to work for incremental progress. And fortitude is demonstrated by not complaining in the face of adversity.

…But then comes the news, fresh new lines in an all too long litany of lament. There are the stories of suicide, of murder, of torture, of harassment, of bullying. It did not end with Matthew Sheppard. It did not end with the Stonewall Riots.

And we know this news could have hit close to home. It could have been our brother, our son, our daughter, our mother. In West Hollywood, where I live today, a gay mecca, a friend of mine from school was beaten right on Santa Monica Boulevard, the “gay strip,” just last year. In Minneapolis, the city of the country’s very first municipal gay rights ordinance, I was attacked by a man with a knife just for walking down Hennepin Avenue.

In the face of danger and conflict, frankly it is tempting not to believe out loud…especially when we have settled into churches and neighborhoods and livelihoods where we can be comfortable most if not all of the time. It is tempting, as LGBT folk, not to be out loud.

Yet, I also believe we know in our hearts that the times do call for new expressions of old virtues…before it is too late. Could it be that prudence is about knowing when to stand up as much as when to back down? Could it be that temperance is as much about holding firm as it is about holding back? Could it be that courage is about speaking up and not letting the moment pass? Could it be that justice is not about improvement of the status quo but rather about creating a new status altogether?

I believe that is why we are here. We are called to new expressions of old virtues…not for the sake of individual halos but for the sake of moving toward a horizon shining brightly with the light of the dignity of every human being.

Believe out loud.


Good Cop, Bad Cop

It’s unusual these days to find an Anglican American conservative leader saying anything outrageously anti-gay. Perhaps it’s because recent polls have shown it’s no longer so cool to be homophobic in the US, or because liberals are standing up to them and no-one wants to be lambasted across the internet. (As happened to Carl Paladino, Republican hopeful for governor of New York, this week.) Fortunately for them, the ACNA etc. have already passed the anti-gay baton firmly to the Africans.

At the All Africa Bishops’ meeting in August, Archbishop Orombi of Uganda reiterated his position, “Homosexuality is evil, abnormal and unnatural as per the Bible. It is a culturally unacceptable practice”. At the same event, Archbishop Okoh, the new Primate of Nigeria pledged allegiance to the anti-gay crusade, and also made the startling claim, “The Church in the West had vowed to use their money to spread the homosexual lifestyle in African societies and Churches; after all Africa is poor. They are pursuing this agenda vigorously and what is more, they now have the support of the United Nations.” Now the Archbishop-elect of Rwanda, Onesphore Rwaje, has confirmed that he and Rwanda are still onboard, "Anything that is contrary to God's family set-up is not acceptable; there is nowhere in the Bible where same-sex marriage is encouraged. God created a man and woman to be the basis of a family".

Given that the anti-gay standard is being carried high by Africans, the good people at home can be seen to be compassionate. If you can bear it, watch Phil Ashey of the American Anglican Council giving the “Anglican Perspective” on the “Tragedy at Rutgers”. It’s mercifully short, but to spare you the trouble of watching it, here’s the gist: quoting from the Rite 1 eucharistic prayer, Ashey explains that Tyler Clementi’s death was a tragedy. Homosexuality is a sin but we all sin. The good news we can share is that Jesus died for our sins.

His statement completely ignores the question of why Tyler was so devastated at being exposed that he took his own life. Suppose for a minute that everyone who was recorded saying disrespectful things about their parents committed suicide. We’d have people dropping like flies. Yet honoring your parents is one of the Big Ten, and homosexuality isn’t.

One can argue that our understanding of relationships between parents and children today is very different from it was 4,000 years ago. But that’s even truer of homosexuality. Four thousand years ago (even two thousand years ago) there weren’t gay or lesbian people, just people who made “bad” sexual choices.

It is the social and religious prejudice of our day that made Tyler feel his “sin” exposed was more than he could live with. If Phil Ashey really wanted to offer a compassionate response to the tragedy at Rutgers, he would be asking his constituents to reach out to the gay people around them without expecting that they would change. He would be begging the African triumvirate to find something else to use as a symbol of American depravity, not encouraging them to play the “bad cop” so American conservatives can appear to be the gentle and compassionate “good cop”.

The Rev. Carolyn Hall is a frequent contributor to Walking With Integrity. She is the former VP of International Affairs for Integrity USA and she serves as priest-in-charge at St. Benedict's Episcopal Church in Los Osos, California.