Saturday, December 28, 2013

Requiescat in Pace: The Right Rev. Edgar Otis Charles

St. Mark's Cathedral, Salt Lake City
PHOTO: Christian Paolino
The board and staff of Integrity sadly mark the passing of the Right Rev. Edgar Otis Charles, eighth Bishop of Utah, who died December 26th in San Francisco.  Bishop Charles came out as a gay man shortly after his retirement, the first Christian bishop to do so.

"As a bishop, I have been privileged to be with Otis as a fellow bishop, colleague and friend," said the Right Rev. Scott Hayashi, the present Bishop of Utah. "My prayers are being offered for Otis and all his family and friends who, like me, will always be grateful for his life and witness, and who will miss him terribly."

Born in April 24th, 1926 in Norristown, Penna., Bishop Charles grew up in New Jersey, attended General Theological Seminary in New York, and was ordained a priest in 1951. He worked in the Diocese of Connecticut from 1959-1971, founding two schools there.

In 1971, Charles stood for the episcopacy of both that diocese and Utah, ultimately being called to the latter. He served as Utah's eighth bishop but the first following its conversion into a diocese from a Mission Area, while also shepherding the neighboring Navajoland Mission Area and chairing the board of St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City.  "[Otis] carried the diocese forward during a time of great challenge and few resources," said Bishop Hayashi. "Where others might see scarcity, Bishop Charles saw an abundance of spiritual resources from God and in the hearts and wills of the people of the Diocese of Utah."Active in the peace movement, Bishop Charles helped organize resistance to the development of missile sites in Utah and Nevada.

Between 1968 and 1982, Bishop Charles also participated in the creation of the current Book of Common Prayer as a member of the Standing Liturgical Commission.  In 1985, he left Utah to become the Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Cambridge, Mass.  In 1997, the Otis Charles Chair of Applied Theology was created via a $1.7M grant, the largest single gift in the school's history.

The Right Rev. E. Otis Charles surrounded by members of the
El Camino Real chapter of Integrity at San Jose Pride in 2001
PHOTO CREDIT: Bart Bartosh
Bishop Charles was married for over 40 years and had five children.  He discussed his same-gender attraction with his wife Elvira in the 1970s, but they remained married until after his retirement 1993, when he made headlines by identifying publicly as a gay man.

"Otis' decision to come out, even though he was retired, changed the equation in the House of Bishops," said the Rev. Michael Hopkins, former President of Integrity.  "No longer could they talk about them."

Bishop Charles moved to the San Francisco Bay area and, in 1995, helped establish the California branch of The OASIS, a diocesan ministry to gay and lesbian (and now bisexual and transgender) people. "At whatever age you come out, you have to live through whatever you've missed," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Even though you're 67, you have to go through a process I associate with adolescence. Hopefully, you do it with a little more maturity and grace."

"Otis Charles was part of the bridge generation - those who dared to reach across the chasm of what was to what could be - building a bridge to somewhere. Those who had no examples of how to live authentically as LGBT people and so became examples for those who came after them. Examples of how to tell the truth about their lives - even after decades of denial to themselves and to others. Examples of how to claim the blessing of God's presence in their life and in their love as a witness to a work of healing, of hope, of wholeness," wrote the Rev. Canon Susan Russell, a fellow Californian who also served as Integrity's president.  Her memories of Bishop Charles were republished by The Episcopal Cafe.

Bishop Charles frequently lobbied the church on behalf of LGBT people, including at the 73rd General Convention in Denver in 2000, when he rallied with the Christian justice group Soulforce.
Otis Charles
Dr. Felipe Sanchez-Paris & Bishop Otis Charles
at the Castro Street Fair in 2009
PHOTO CREDIT: Robert Sokol

In 2001, he met Dr. Felipe Sanchez-Paris, who would become his new life partner.  Bishop Charles and Sanchez-Paris appear together in the documentary about The Right Rev. Gene Robinson Love Free or Die, in which Bishop Charles compared trying to living as a straight man to wearing a suit of the wrong size.  "With Felipe, the suit fits."

On April 29, 2004, Bishop Charles' 78th birthday, the two were united at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in a ceremony that lasted nearly three hours. They legally married in 2008, and testified together at the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim in favor of the rite for blessing same-sex relationships which was subsequently approved.  Just days before Bishop Charles' death, Utah became the 19th state with marriage equality.

Bishop Charles is preceded in death by his beloved Felipe. Dr. Sanchez-Paris died unexpectedly in his sleep on July 31st of this year.  In recent months, Bishop Charles struggled with a series of health setbacks, and he entered hospice care earlier this month.  Services will be held both at St. Gregory's in San Francisco and St. Mark's Cathedral in Salt Lake City, where Sanchez-Paris is interred.

Christian Paolino is Chair of the Stakeholders' Council of Integrity

Saturday, December 21, 2013

New Mexico Becomes 17th Marriage Equality State

On Thursday, December 17th, the Supreme Court of New Mexico ruled on the case of Griego v. Oliver, affirming that the state constitution allows same-gender couples to marry, and making it the 17th state where civil marriage is available to all couples statewide.  According to national advocacy group Freedom to Marry, with yesterday's ruling over 38% of the U.S. population now lives in jurisdictions with civil marriage equality.

New Mexico is unusual in that -- before yesterday -- it had no law either allowing or prohibiting same-gender couples to marry.  In their decision, the justices cited a 1972 amendment to the equal protection clause, which states "equality of rights under law shall not be denied on account of the sex of any person."  Civil marriages in the state actually began in August, when a district judge in the area including Santa Fe and Albuquerque ordered eight county clerks to begin issuing the licenses. This disparity prompted the call for a statewide case.

St. Michael & All Angels, a Believe Out Loud congregation, participated in the 2009 Albuquerque Pride parade.
Greg (Flickr user newmexico51)
Opponents claimed the state had an interest in preserving the status quo, citing the government's "overriding interest of responsible procreation and child-rearing."  In his decision, author Justice Edward L. Chavez addressed this directly, saying "Procreation has never been a condition of marriage under New Mexico law, as evidenced by the fact that the aged, the infertile and those who choose not to have children are not precluded from marrying."

The Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, which includes most of New Mexico and five counties in Texas, has been blessing same-gender relationships since January, when its bishop, the Right Rev Michael L. Vono, authorized an adapted version of the rite created by the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music and authorized by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church when it met in Indianapolis last year.

"This weekend we join with many people who celebrate the democratic process as it is exemplified in this ruling by the New Mexico Supreme Court," Bishop Vono said in a prepared statement Saturday. "It is of primary importance for our state and its leaders to address the issues of equality and justice. For far too long, our gay brothers and sisters have been denied equal rights. As we move forward as a democratic society we must continue to address all issues of inequality, discrimination and poverty. "

Bishop Vono has been careful to articulate the distinction between the blessing rite and a wedding, acknowledging that the Episcopal Church is in the process of studying its overall understanding of marriage, and implying that no immediate change to current diocesan policy would occur as result of Thursday's ruling.  He described the blessing rite in the Albuquerque Journal in January as "a recognition of a commitment, which is a covenant, of two people who vow to live their lives in a monogamous relationship."

 "We live in an age where there is still a lot of judgment, still a lot of discrimination that happens within Christianity. We exclude people that are not like ourselves, he told the El Paso Times.  
"So this may be the Jesus thing to do in our age because Jesus forced the issue that no one is rejected by God and that all people are loved. And if you have two responsible people, whether heterosexual or gay, who love in a Christian way -- which is responsibly and exclusively monogamous and help each other and forgive each other -- what more can we ask for?"

"This may be the Jesus thing to do in our age"

The Right Rev. Michael Vono,
Bishop of the Rio Grande
Bishop Vono acknowledged that some clergy may not be comfortable blessing same-gender relationships, and said in his pastoral letter that no priest would be forced to do so.  "My prayer is that as a loving, compassionate and wonderfully diverse diocese, we remain bound together in Christ, and, as we grow faithfully, to respect the various theological and ecclesial differences and interpretation of Scripture, tradition and reason, which model the best of our inherited Anglican polity."

The Navajoland
Area Mission , part of which is in New Mexico, has not published an official statement on use of the blessings rite, although its bishop, the Right Rev. David Bailey, voted in favor of its adoption.  The self-governing Navajo Nation passed the Diné Marriage Act prohibiting same-gender marriages in 2005, and Deswood Tome, an advisor to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, told the Farmington, N.M., Daily Times that tribal law trumps the state ruling and no changes are currently planned.  However both Jared Touchin, who is spokesman for Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize; and Alray Nelson, founder of the Coalition for Navajo Equality, expressed to the Daily Times the possibility that the state ruling could cause tribal leaders to rethink their positions.

Utah Becomes 18th State Offering Marriage Equality

Rt Rev. Scott Hayashi participating with Integrity Utah members in this year's Pride celebration. Photo by Integrity Utah

Utah became the 18th state offering marriage equality on Friday, December 20, 2013, when a federal judge on Friday struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. "The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason. Accordingly the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional," wrote U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby of Utah in the 53-page decision.

Shelby enjoined the state from enforcing two statutes that ban same-sex marriage. Also included was Amendment 3, added to the state’s constitution in 2004. This appellate court handles the cases for Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma. It arrived one day after the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality.

According to the Rt. Rev. Scott B Hayashi of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah:
"I rejoice that U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby has struck down Utah's Amendment 3. All people should have the right to due process and equal protection enshrined in the 14th Amendment. Gay and lesbian people are human beings with hopes, dreams, and the need for love. I celebrate that now they will have access to the same fulfillment enjoyed by heterosexual people. They are people made in the image of God."
Hundreds descended on county clerk offices to receive their marriage licenses. First Baptist Church Pastor Curtis Price, dressed in his black vestments and rainbow-colored stole, was among the officials who were marrying couples in Salt Lake City. Michael Ferguson, 32, and Seth Anderson, 31, were the first to receive a license in Salt Lake City and marry. Cheers rang as Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker married State Sen. Jim Dabakis, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, to his longtime partner, Stephen Justesen.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Utah Acting Attorney General Brian L. Tarbet are planning ways to overturn this decision. Hours after the ruling, the Utah attorney general’s office appealed the decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. It also filed a motion asking Shelby to stay the ruling while the office seeks to defend Utah’s Amendment 3.

The ruling is striking given the state's long activist stand against marriage equality. The state's citizens predominantly belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many Mormons expressed disappointment in the decision. The county of Provo, known as the conservative heartland of the conservative state, as of the evening was still not granting licenses as the decision was reviewed by the county clerk office. A group called Mormons for Equality, however, applauded the ruling, saying it was particularly sweet coming in "the heartland of our faith."

In the spirit of reconciliation and care for all, Bishop Hayashi added:
"Many people will find this ruling difficult. The change that this represents will cause them heartache, frustration, and a feeling that our country is going in the wrong direction. Understanding, compassion and prayer for people who deplore this decision is important. They are people made in the image of God. I will be offering my prayers for them.
We are one people. We are one state. We can and must work to make Utah into the place where all people are treated with respect and dignity, and where God is seen in the face of each and every person. As the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, I will continue to welcome all people into The Episcopal Church."
The number of states moving towards marriage equality has risen to eighteen in the past year. Said Jon Davidson, director of Lambda Legal, said that should this ruling stand it will be"up from six before the U.S. Supreme Court last summer struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The District of Columbia also allows same-sex marriage."

Friday, December 20, 2013

When Employment Laws Aren't Just Ducky...

The past 24 hours have seen a flurry of activity around the continued employment of one man, a Phil Robertson, who is employed by the network A&E in the state of Louisiana. Mr. Robertson, in a very high-profile venue, made personal statements that are inherently contradictory to the established statements of his employer. In relatively short order he was suspended from his position indefinitely. I have seen Internet petitions that he be suspended, countering ones that he retain his job; posts praising A&E for their decision, and posts disavowing any future relationship with the network. In the midst of all this, I have found myself somewhere between mystified and flabbergasted. This is the case of employment injustice that scandalizes America?

Mr. Robertson lives in Louisiana. A&E could walk into his office (or equivalent) any day and fire him, for any number of reasons. Louisiana is a "right to work" state; employers do not need any reason to suspend a person's employment in that state. However, in light of the fact that Mr. Robertson's statements were in regard to the LGBTQ community, let's be clear on the case of the employer's rights in regards to sexuality and gender definition in Louisiana.

An employer in Louisiana has the right to fire an individual solely because of his or her sexuality. A&E has the legal right to tell Mr. Robertson, "On account of your heterosexuality, and your inability to keep it an appropriately private matter, we are terminating your employment." A&E also has the legal right to tell Mr. Robertson, "On account of your cis-gender expression (that you define your gender with the one you were assigned at birth), we are terminating your employment." That in Louisiana, and across the nation, employers have the ability to terminate an employment based on a person's sexuality or gender definition is a true travesty of justice.

Everyone deserves gainful employment, Mr. Robertson included. Everyone deserves advocates to ensure a termination is a just and appropriate action. In the eyes of the law of Louisiana, A&E has more than sufficient legal right to suspend Mr. Robertson's employment. Advocates for Mr. Robertson's continued employment and advocates for LGBTQ equality should find equal issue with the current employment laws which are inherently unjust to all the citizens of Louisiana.

Let us pray that our country's current fascination with the debatable viability of one man's suspension of employment will bring about a deeper understanding of the systematic injustice all employees face in light of our current laws.

Benjamin Garren is a seminarian at Bexley Hall and a candidate for ordination in the Diocese of Maine.  A native of North Carolina, he did his undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He blogs at

Thursday, December 19, 2013




Boston, MA - December 19, 2013 -  Integrity stands with those supporting the Rev. Frank Schaefer in his courageous witness to LGBT inclusion. On Thursday, United Methodist Church officials defrocked the central Pennsylvania pastor who officiated his son's gay wedding and, after being suspended, defiantly refused to resign.

We extend our heartfelt prayers to Schaefer and his family, and to all faithful United Methodists around the world who have been injured by these events. Integrity decries the church action. Moreover, we are grateful for the sacrifices made by Schaefer and by all in our own denomination and beyond who have risked their hopes, dreams, and livelihood rather than betray their own LGBT sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters.

Integrity's Vice President of National Affairs, the Rev. Jon M. Richardson said, "I am humbled and inspired by the witness of Frank Schaefer. As a former United Methodist and the gay son of a United Methodist clergy person, I feel acutely the pain we share with our sisters and brothers in the UMC as they continue to wait for the day when they can live more fully into their Open hearts, open minds, open doors mantra. As the Episcopal Church continues to live more deeply into our calling to collaborative ministry with the United Methodist Church, I pray that we will continue to support those stepping forward to seize the opportunities for evangelism and to join the growing ecumenical movement that are a part of welcoming and celebrating all of God's people in the church."

We at Integrity recommit ourselves to work with our allies across denominations to “Believe Out Loud” that the full inclusion of LGBT people in our churches becomes not just a slogan but a welcoming reality.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bishops' Forum on LGBT Inclusion in Kansas City

In June of this year, the Greater Kansas City Integrity chapter hosted a "Believe Out Loud" workshop. The Integrity members and other participants left that workshop all fired up about the opportunities that have been generated by the approval of same-sex blessings and the greater awareness of LGBT participation in our Episcopal parishes. We were introduced to evangelism techniques customized to reach out to a community that had been ignored and, worse yet, abused by Christian churches for a very long time.

The Right Rev. Martin Field, the Right Rev. Dean Wolfe
Although there were a few parishes in our two-state metropolitan area that had embraced the new reality and were celebrating blessings, the vast majority of our congregations were silent and slow to react. We spoke with the bishops of the two dioceses that cover the Kansas City area. The Right Rev. Dean E. Wolfe, D.D., of the Diocese of Kansas, and the Right Rev. Martin Field of the Diocese of West Missouri were supportive of our efforts and they agreed to sponsor a forum for clergy and lay leadership. They asked us to develop the agenda for this unique two bishop forum and we went to work.

We began by interviewing parish priests and asking them how Integrity could help them develop a welcoming environment for LGBT persons in their congregation. We told them about the techniques that we had experienced at the Believe Out Loud workshop. The members who had these conversations with the priests knew them well and were surprised by the apparent lack of interest in what we were offering.

Integrity Greater Kansas City Chapter Convener Scott Schaefer
with the Right Rev. Martin Field & the Right Rev. Dean Wolfe
The more that we probed in our preparation for the forum, we discovered that it was not a lack of interest – it was conscious foot dragging and a fear of adverse reactions in their congregations. We heard comments like, "My congregation is OK with this issue and we don’t need to do anything special." When asked how they might have prepared the parish for the approval of blessings by General Convention, the response was usually the same – "We didn’t need to do anything special." We were pretty sure that was not a valid assessment. After all, the states of Kansas and Missouri are not exactly hotbeds of liberalism. Both States adopted constitutional amendments banning anything other than traditional marriages.

Other priests were frank in saying that they did not want to stir up the sexuality debate and they feared the loss of valued parishioners, especially in the older generation. It was becoming clear to us that the parishes were not ready for our Believe Out Loud excitement. We needed to double back and deal with the anxiety among parish leadership over the topic of overt inclusion of LGBT persons. In other words, the passage of legislation by General Convention did not resolve the underlying issues.

The Right Rev. Martin Field, The Right Rev. Dean Wolfe
With this knowledge, we changed the theme of the forum and advertised it as an opportunity for clergy and lay leadership to have an open and honest conversation with their bishops and fellow leaders with respect to the opportunities and challenges arising from increased LGBT participation in their congregations. Apparently this struck a responsive chord and we were pleased to have an attendance of 65 persons representing 16 parishes. And this was on a Thursday night in early September – not prime time!

Bishop Field opened the forum with a reminder that the full inclusion of LGBT brothers and sisters was a "Gospel imperative" and that we as leaders in the Church needed to move forward on this initiative in the name of Christ. Bishop Wolfe, in his opening remarks, spoke about the "missed opportunity cost" that would be incurred if we were reluctant to take hold of this opportunity to make major strides in establishing our parishes as places that practice radical hospitality – especially in the context of the cultural conflicts that exist in our Midwest environment.

Following the encouraging remarks from the Bishops, the microphones were opened for brief responses from those in attendance. There next followed a very active small group discussion period among the attendees as they shared their individual parish experiences. The Forum closed with reports from the table discussions to the plenary session.

The Right Rev. Martin Field, The Right Rev. Dean Wolfe
The exchanges that occurred during this two-hour Forum were very encouraging. The participants were all supportive of the effort, but were also very frank and open in sharing their concerns. One of the conclusions stated during the discussions was that silence within the congregation cannot be taken as consensus. Bishop Wolfe suggested an analogy to our history with racism. In the 1940s and 1950s it was not uncommon for church members to openly engage in racist remarks and humor. It is difficult to comprehend now that some Episcopal congregations were openly opposed to civil rights initiatives. As the prevailing secular culture changed, the opponents of racial equality became silent but they did not go away; they merely went underground and racism is still with us today. Congregations need to be aware of this same tendency in today’s issues of sexuality and find creative ways to engage the silent members who still have unresolved concerns. However, we cannot let those silent concerns stand in the way of the opportunity that is before us.

Integrity, as a sponsor and participant in the forum, was able to express our desire to join with the individual parishes to give them whatever support and assistance we can to help them move forward with their desire to gather and incorporate new LGBT members. We are hopeful that the communication lines that have been established from this forum will give our chapter a new focus for our ministry in the Dioceses of Kansas and Missouri.
Larry J. Bingham is a member of the Greater Kansas City chapter of Integrity. He served as a Lay Deputy to seven consecutive General Conventions from 1994 through 2012. In 2012, he was a member of the Legislative Committee on Liturgy, Prayer Book and Church Music and served on the Subcommittee for Same-Sex Blessings. 

Photo credit: Melodie Woerman, Communications Officer for the Diocese of Kansas

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Transfaith and Trusting in God

Professor H. Ackley served for 15 years as Professor of Theology and Chair of the Diversity Council, a council of the Faculty Senate, at Azusa Pacific University (APU). He inspired students in a faith that wasn't just esoteric and distant, but tangible, with real world actions and practices. At this evangelical Christian university located in the suburbs of Los Angeles, he recently helped clarify and affirm the inclusion of LGBTQ students in the school's anti-hate policies.
Prof H Adam Ackley during at All Saints Pasadena (Nov 24, 2013)
The video of this talk can be found on YouTube

Unfortunately, in October, Dr. Ackley informed the administration that he was going to formally change his name to H. Adam Ackley, revealing a long-due transition that the university was not expecting. The students and colleagues were incensed when they discovered that Dr. Ackley was being asked to resign. Social media lit up and soon traditional media was camped out in front of Dr. Ackley's home, a concern given his two minor children living at home.

I spoke with Dr. Ackley about the events and found much that informs our own journeys in the Episcopal Church. Rather than stoke the flames of outrage and possible violence, Dr. Ackley - an ordained minister and serving on the Spiritual Life and Nurture Commission at the La Verne Church of the Brethren - tempered student and faculty anger and focused it into channels of reconciliation, mediation, and peace. Coming from an Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition of peace, his desire for mutual respect and dialogue seems a far cry from the media storm raging around the campus.

Although Dr. Ackley is no longer at APU, his impact, driven by deeply rooted spiritual practices and faith-guided words, continues to resonate on campus. Several students and allies, including a star athlete LGBTQ ally, quit school because they found the school's actions inconsistent with truth and the fair treatment of all. Lessons of tolerance gained in the Diversity Council are questioned in their authenticity and use. And yet, every Friday night, Dr. Ackley leads a peaceful, candle-lit dinner and prayer at his home; this "shabbat" is open to all, and many former students come to heal.

I asked Dr. Ackley if his story would be of interest to the Episcopal Church. As it turns out, the Rev. Cameron Partridge, Episcopal Chaplain at Boston University, was one of the first to reach out to Dr. Ackley when the news broke. Rev Partridge, along with Soulforce and GLAAD, stepped in to advise Dr. Ackley on how to take self-care and protect his family from the media intrusion. According to Rev. Partridge, "My heart just immediately went out to him. I reached out to him in solidarity-- so that he might know he's not alone-- and have really appreciated not only his witness but also his friendship. My students also heard about him (separately from me) and wanted him to know they stood with him too. We happened to do a unit on the Genesis creation stories, and looked at just the passages and interpretations that helped give Adam his name. It was moving to come across that aspect of his story after having explored similar connections around our table here in Massachusetts."

I compared the almost forty years of Integrity work with the Episcopal Church to the developments at places like APU and other evangelical universities. Dr. Ackley pointed out how the groundwork for change and acceptance may take some time, but truth, honesty, and the overpowering love of Christ bends and turns the body, mind, and heart. "Think of it like yoga. Yoga doesn't suddenly allow the human body to magically bend in ways it never has before. With practice and patience, though, you surprise yourself with what you one day are able to achieve

As I drove away from my coffee with Dr. Ackley, I was struck by the similarity of Dr. Ackley's yoga metaphor and the journey of the Episcopal Church in issues of LGBTQ inclusion, marriage equality, and respect for our Trans* brothers and sisters. It has taken some time, but change eventually comes and can catch many off guard. In this Advent season of watching and waiting, we all must be ready for the Joy that is to be. Dr Ackley may face the challenges of job hunting, relocation, and sudden fame all at once, but with a profound faith and trust in God's plans, he seems ready for the journey before him.

Mel Soriano
Integrity Board of Directors (Director of Communications, Secretary)
Vestry/Coventry Choir/Taizé/Labyrinth All Saints Pasadena

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like... St. Aelred's Day!

Whether you are prone to embrace the hushed expectation of Advent or fill your month with shopping, caroling and decking-of-halls, the Integrity Stakeholders' Council would like to remind you that our patronal feast, St. Aelred's Day, is coming up in just about five weeks' time on January 12th.

Born in 1110 in Hexham, Northumbria, England, Aelred attended school in Scotland and subsequently became the household manager of the Scottish King, David I.  Unsatisfied with this life, he entered the monastery at Rievaulx in Yorkshire, and subsequently became its abbot.

Window depicting the Abbey at Rievaulx,
by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.
Used under Creative Commons License
Aelred published several books, the most popular of which, De spiritali amicitia (Spiritual Friendship) written between 1164-1167 is what drew Integrity to him.  As abbot, Aelred disagreed with the idea that monastics should artificially have the same level of companionship with everyone in the community, arguing instead that people are naturally drawn to those with whom they are most compatible.

Integrity chapters, Proud Parish Partners and anyone who wishes to give thanks for the work of LGBT inclusion in the church are encouraged to observe his feast day with celebration and prayer.  Last year, the Connecticut Chapter developed a series of resources for the observance, including an anthem with words by our founder, Dr. Louie Crew, and music by Bert Landman.

The St. Aelred resources are the first of a planned year-round cycle of liturgies and other programming to be published on our web site.  The Stakeholders are looking for chapters, congregations and individuals interested in contributing or developing materials for the calendar.  Please consider sharing with us service leaflets, prayers of the people or other resources that others could utilize to further our communal life in the spirit.

Christian Paolino is Chair of the Integrity Stakeholders' Council

Diocese of Los Angeles Urges Action on ENDA

by the Reverend Canon Susan Russell

As Diocese of Los Angeles Episcopalians prepare to gather for their 118th Annual Diocesan Convention (December 6-7) the Diocesan LGBT Ministry is preparing to gather signatures from convention delegates on this letter urging Speaker Boehner to bring ENDA -- the Employment Non-Discrimination Act – to a vote in the House.
The Honorable John Boehner
United States House of Representatives
H-232 The Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Speaker:

We are Episcopalians gathered in Ontario, California for the 118th
Annual Convention of the Diocese of Los Angeles. We represent over 70,000 Episcopalians in 147 neighborhood congregations located in six Southern California counties – and we write to urge you to act swiftly and bring up S. 815, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) for a vote in the House of Representatives.

As you know, the Senate passed S. 815 on November 7 in a bipartisan vote of 64-32. ENDA provides a commonsense solution to the problem of workplace discrimination by extending critical employment protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers. The version of ENDA introduced in the House of Representatives, H.R. 1755, currently has 193 bipartisan cosponsors. ENDA has engendered such widespread support because it embodies the American ideal of fairness: employees should be judged on their skills and abilities in the workplace, not on their sexual orientation or gender identity. All U.S. workers deserve to be judged on the quality of the job they do, nothing more, nothing less.

In 2009 at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, we adopted a resolution supporting "the extension of existing federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination to include discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression along with those prohibitions based on race, gender, religion, national origin, age and disability." And now it is 2013 and -- with bipartisan support in both chambers – the time has come to give ENDA what it deserves: an up or down vote in the House.

We urge you to allow a vote on ENDA on the House floor before the end of the year. Thank you for your consideration of our views on this important matter.


Our three Los Angeles bishops – Jon Bruno, Diane Bruce and Mary Glasspool – have agreed to be the first three signers of the letter we hope will add to the increasing pressure on House leadership to bring this important bill to the floor.

"Seeds of Hope" is the theme of this year’s convention. And I believe our signatures on this letter will be outward and visible signs of the seeds of hope the Diocese of Los Angeles continues to sow – hope that together we can end discrimination, heal homophobia and truly respect the dignity of every human being.

The Rev. Canon Susan Russell has served as Integrity's President and is currently the convener of Claiming the Blessing, a national collaborative ministry focused on the full inclusion of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender baptized into the Episcopal Church. A senior associate at All Saints Church in Pasadena CA, she is also a founding member of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion Council and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post's religion forum. Her personal blog may be found at An Inch at a Time.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Times, They Are a Changin'

Just one week after the Scottish Parliament took the first step to allow same-gender couples to marry, the Church of England has published a report which recommends that "clergy, with the agreement of their Church Council, should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship."

In other words, it should be considered okay for clergy to offer the kind of private, pastoral response that we Episcopalians have enjoyed in some congregations and dioceses since the 1960s. Of course there have been quiet (and not so quiet) blessings in English churches too – the change here is that they would no longer have a cloak of secrecy. Unlike the plan in Scotland, parishes in the Church of England and the Church of Wales are not legally allowed to offer marriage to gay couples, so that is completely off the agenda, but the suggestion that blessings might be legitimate is a significant change.

The Church of England has made it very clear that the Pilling report is just for discussion and debate; the Church leadership has been falling over its feet to make sure we all understand that this is not a change in policy, just a good idea for more study. Once again, we LGBT Christians are the subject of endless meetings, reports and recommendations as though we are a strange phenomenon to be studied and analyzed.

Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral
The Pilling report calls for yet more talking and listening, stating that "The subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views, would best be addressed by facilitated conversations or a similar process to which the Church of England needs to commit itself at national and diocesan level. This should continue to involve profound reflection on the interpretation of scripture." It adds that consultation should be conducted "without undue haste, but with a sense of urgency, perhaps over a period of two years." For how many years have we been promised that gay and lesbian Christians will be listened to?

Gay Episcopalians will be forgiven a sense of déjà vu – been there and done that. This report echoes so many that we have read over the past forty years. Change here has been slow in coming, but now it seems to be coming faster every day. Our deepest sympathy goes to our friends who are living and working in the trenches of the Church of England where it seems that acceptance comes at snail’s pace and every failure to fully accept is another slap in the face.

But change does creep in. Although the Pilling report is still looking over its shoulder to the rest of the Anglican Communion, it is not afraid to say that, "We do not differ from each other in our desire to welcome the presence and ministry of gay and lesbian people within the Church." (para.73)

The other team has already declared that the "Pilling Report recommends breach of Lambeth Resolution 1:10, and Windsor Report recommendations, and Scripture; [and thus] places position of Archbishop of Canterbury and Church of England in Anglican Communion in doubt." No longer is the Episcopal Church alone out on a limb: the Church of England has officially joined us.

Yes there is a long way to go. As Rev. Dr. Jessica Martin says in the Prologue, "Culturally the whole issue is being made to bear more freight than it can or should possibly carry." Gay, lesbian and transgender equity carries the weight of a global cultural debate and we can unfortunately expect it to take quite a while longer. But the Pilling report takes us a step closer to the tipping point. And for that we thank God.

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall is the President of Integrity and author of A Thorn in the Flesh: How Gay Sexuality is Changing the Episcopal Church.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Requiescat in Pace: The Rev. David A. Dingwall

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
   and its people as a delight.
 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
   or the cry of distress. 
 ISAIAH 65: 17-19

On November 24th, the Rev. David A. Dingwall sat down at his computer and posted in his blog the schedule for the week at St. Paul's-by-the-Sea in Ocean City, Md., where he was the Rector.

"On Tuesday from 10am-12pm, the Shepherd's Crook food bank & clothing store is open on the ground floor of the Parish House...."

Fr. David was assisting with this ministry on Tuesday, the day some in the church remember hymn-writer Isaac Watts, when the fire began.  Various news sources are reporting that a man named John Sterner, a client of the ministry, ran into the basement of the facility with his clothes on fire.  According to witnesses, he embraced a volunteer, causing the flames to spread to her.  She remains in a burn unit at a Baltimore hospital. Another volunteer tried to "stop, drop and roll" Sterner to extinguish the flames, but was unsuccessful. Sterner died at the scene, and Fr. David, who had gone upstairs and was overcome by smoke, was taken to Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin, Md., where he later also succumbed.

St. Paul's is not, to my knowledge, affiliated with Integrity or a Believe Out Loud congregation.  Neither I nor any member of the Integrity Board of Directors ever met him, or knew of him before this week. But Fr. David was a friend of ours. 

He was our friend because of the kind of work that happens at St. Paul's.  Hungry people who need food could find it there.  There was clothing to be had if you needed it.  And the Internet and phone were available to help you stay connected to the world if a computer or an iPhone or even a permanent address were more than you could swing right now.  LGBT youth are twice as likely as their straight or cisgender friends to be homeless, so when folks help them, we are grateful.

He was our friend because St. Paul's has a welcoming statement that reaches out towards everybody, and mentions gay people specifically.  Something tells me if we talked with him a bit about it, he'd see to it to expand that statement even wider, or at least hear us out.  This is at the core of our work: in the wake of sweeping statements about fairness and inclusion, we are striving to make them reality, one congregation at a time.  St. Pauls is -- it would appear -- a congregation that gets it.

He was our friend because he read the story about a New Jersey waitress, a lesbian and a former Marine, who reportedly received a condemnation about her "lifestyle" instead of a tip*, and was so bothered by that idea that on November 17th, he preached about it, saying in part:
"When it comes to the connection between religion and sex…what we hear most often from the Christian community is rule based. What behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are not. Who can do what with whom in the eyes of God…or at least what someone has decided is acceptable in God’s eyes. No less a figure than Pope Francis has pointed out that Christians need to get over our obsession with sexual orientation saying that 'If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?'"
He was our friend because, when the State of Maryland made marriage equality the law of the land and the Right Rev. James J. Shand authorized clergy in the Diocese of Easton to offer the authorized blessing rite to same-sex couples along with witnessing their civil marriage if they wished, Fr. David said yes, he would.

Later in the same sermon, Fr. David paraphrased a Gospel story thusly:
"When the disciples reported that the crowds of people who had come to hear him were hungry, and hoped that Jesus would send them away, instead said to the disciples 'You feed them.' Not … 'find out if they deserve it…and only then feed them;' but 'You feed them.'"
This was a lesson Fr. David and the people of St. Paul's clearly took to heart, and it was what he was doing when he died. We in the church mourn his loss, but we must celebrate his example, and go now and do likewise.

The Rev. David A. Dingwall was born in British Columbia. He received his M. Div. at the College of Emmanuel and Saint Chad in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He was ordained a deacon of the Anglican Church of Canada in May of 1988, and as priest in December of that same year.  His first parish was Christ Church: Alert Bay where he was serving as Rector and also Priest-In-Charge of Saint George’s: Kingcome Inlet, on Cormorant Island off the British Columbia coast.

Fr. David moved to Maryland with his wife, Brenda, their three sons, and their dogs in 2003.  He served in a non-stipendiary capacity at a number of congregations until completing the naturalization process.  He served as rector at St. Paul's-by-the-Sea since 2005.

Plans for a memorial service to be held next week are in formation.  We will share them when they are known.

Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
To fairer worlds on high,
To fairer worlds on high.

NOTE: There is some uncertainty about the waitress's story Fr. David cites.  Its value may be purely apocryphal.

Christian Paolino is Chair of the Integrity Stakeholders' Council 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bishop of Pittsburgh Authorizes Use of Blessings Rite

The Right Rev. Dorsey McConnell, Bishop of Pittsburgh, issused a pastoral letter on November 25th which authorized clergy in the diocese to use the provisional rite for blessing same-gender relationships authorized by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2012.
"As I have listened to you, I have heard many passionate, and sometimes contradictory, hopes and fears," he wrote in a pastoral letter released Monday. "Some have insisted they will not tolerate any permitted use of a blessing liturgy in this diocese, while others have insisted they will accept nothing less than sacramental marriage for same-sex couples. Between these poles I have heard a host of nuanced positions, usually accompanied by the sincere desire for the unity of the Church."

McConnell, who told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he will not perform the services himself, cited a need to be "the Bishop of the whole diocese" in extending the option to those priests who wish to provide pastoral care to same-sex couples.

"I think this is a fabulous step forward, and I look forward to the day when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania offers equality to all," said Susan Pederson, Integrity's Province III Coordinator.

Integrity Pittsburgh issued a measured response on its web site, which read in part:
"We appreciate this announcement as a first step. We’ve patiently waited for this first step, and we thank the bishop for it. We feel this is only the beginning of full inclusion of LBGTQA people into the life and ministry of the church."
Chapter Co-Convener Dianne Watson told the Post-Gazette: "Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and asexual persons should have access to all of the rites of the Episcopal Church, no matter which local church they go to."

From across the Commonwealth, Integrity's Vice President for National Affairs, the Rev. Jon M. Richardson, responded joyfully to the news.  He is rector of the Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd in Philadelphia.
"I echo the praise of the leaders of Integrity Pittsburgh in celebrating this step on the journey to real equality being offered by Bishop McConnell. The General Convention in 2012 made space for bishops to offer blessing rites to Episcopalians in loving, same-sex relationships as a part of a 'generous pastoral response' to the needs of gay and lesbian people, and it is encouraging to see that pastoral need being met for faithful Episcopalians in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. While it's true that there are miles to go before we achieve real equality, Bishop McConnell's generosity is a very welcome development. I share in the joy of Integrity Pittsburgh and offer my gratitude to their bishop. I pray that their diocese and our whole church will shine as a beacon of welcome to all people on the margins of society."
The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall, Integrity's President, sums up the situation:
"The Diocese of Pittsburgh has been through a careful process to discern its way forward, and Bishop McConnell's decision to allow each parish to make its own choice shows a respect and pastoral concern for the diversity of opinion which exists. However, in his comments on the rite of blessing he seems be condemning it as an inadequate rite for the sacrament of marriage. He is -- of course -- correct, because General Convention did not authorize a rite of marriage. Integrity is committed to working for the day when a rite of marriage will be available for same-gender couples in every church, and gives thanks for each small step along the way."
The Diocese of Pittsburgh split in 2008, in part over differences of opinion on human sexuality issues.  About 40 parishes and 10,000 people make up the continuing Episcopal diocese.

Christian Paolino is Chair of the Stakeholders' Council of IntegrityUSA

Reflections at the Dawn of Advent: World AIDS Day 2013

by Sean R. Glenn, Integrity blogger

Sean R. Glenn
I make it a point to try to avoid focusing or writing too heavily on my status as an HIV positive individual, lest it come to define me. There are two times throughout the year, however, where I make it a practice to reflect on the virus. One occurs around the early weeks of Epiphany, the season when I received my diagnosis in January of 2011. The other is around December 1, or World AIDS Day. This year, in an odd peculiarity of the liturgical cycle, World AIDS Day happens to fall on the first Sunday in Advent: the beginning of a new liturgical year, and a season that awaits the embodied, incarnate love of God. Needless to say, I’m not going to allow this unique opportunity for reflection to slip past me. 

But, there is a host of challenges here, not least of which is the reality that, as the anniversary of my diagnosis looms on the yearly horizon, I am routinely thrust back into a place of almost unbearable vulnerability. It’s a place to which I would rather not venture. The day-in and day-out matter of living with the virus is, in some ways, easily escapable these days; unlike other wounds that mark our lives, this one is invisible, inscribed inside of me, rather than etched into my flesh. (The only tangible reminder I have of it comes to me every evening at 10:30 when I take my antiretroviral medication.)

We read that resurrection does not undo those wounds we acquire in life — the signs of Jesus’s execution were not erased in his risen form. Yet, they were changed, at least conceptually. Signs of shame — warnings about the consequences of resisting the imperial imagination — became signs of love, triumph in humility. I have to wonder what my own wound, a stigma shared with many across three decades, will look like in the age to come. Surely it is impossible to erase something invisible? But does that also mean the nature of its transformation will be equally undetectable?

That is the word we throw around these days, isn’t it? “It’s okay, I’m undetectable.” This is the parlance we use to describe a state of treatment when the HIV virus reaches such low levels in the blood stream that it becomes almost impossible to detect, and, therefore, exponentially more difficult to transmit — it indicates that antiretroviral treatments are doing their job, sending the virus into a form of retreat, though not permanent elimination. This is, in my own estimation, a real point of progress in HIV treatment and prevention. I have been at an undetectable status for just over two years now, and this gives me solace, knowing that the chances of transmitting the virus are now infinitesimally small, and that my life will be greatly extended to near “normal” expectancy.

Being undetectable, however, has not erased the other ways the virus is present in my life, and in the lives of others living with it. Despite treatments, education, and highly effective prevention methods (when used correctly), a looming specter of stigmatization hangs over those living with the virus. I had been, for the most part, rather immune to this reality until, that is, my long-term relationship took on a new shape. Suddenly, I find myself having to disclose to potential partners, and the results have been revealing. The physical wound is now giving way to the spiritual wounds of rejection and devaluation. Words like “clean” and “dirty” begin to confront me in a way that I imagine has been the daily reality for most positive individuals; “dirty,” “unclean,” “tainted,” “poisonous.” Suddenly, I’m dangerous, and while I am objectively aware that these value-judgments bear no scientific validity, the judgments still subjectively inflict and incise. Will this new dimension of the wound be as equally undetectable? What will be the manner of its transformation?

The frightening reality is that Advent peers into the complexity of this condition. While the liturgical narrative waits expectantly on the Incarnation of Jesus, you and I already know the rest of the story. Advent invariably points to Good Friday and, thereafter, Easter. The miracle of the Word made flesh realizes its own destiny: the incarnate Word is poised to share our wounds with us, and in so doing alters their nature. There is hope in Advent, to be sure. This hope, however, is also aware of its own struggles.

It is, therefore, not unfitting that at the beginning of Advent we should pause to consider how we are wounded, how we wound others, and how our daily resurrection — our daily participation in the wounded Body of Christ — has the potential to transform what might be an otherwise bleak narrative. Each year I spend with the virus is a continued gift. I do not say this to make light of the continued loss and pain suffered by those who have come before me and those with whom I am now marked; rather, I say it to celebrate the meanings that go beyond an otherwise one dimensional reading of life with HIV. There is hope in our woundedness, just as there was hope on both Christmas and Easter morning: this hope is transformation, not erasure. It signals to us that, in the midst of our deepest theodicy, we cannot ask why God would seemingly allow the fractures which distress and distort our vision of ourselves. God, instead, is best seen in these fractures and how we continually transform them into those sites at which we are visited by the divine. Erasure is too simple, perhaps too human and answer.

God, however, is seldom this simple, and seldom this clear cut. Perhaps this is one of the authentic lessons of the Advent season of God’s own fleshy manifestation in a backwater Roman province, amid the wounds and fractures inflicted by those worldly powers that so often cause us to peer up, rather than down amid our own endless transformative possibilities.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Eyebrows, Up! EDS Courts African Bishop Spurned by Dartmouth

In July of this year, the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, Anglican Bishop of Southern Malawi, was offered an appointment as Dean of the William Jewett Tucker Foundation at Dartmouth College. A month later, the offer was rescinded. On November 15, Episcopal Divinity School, with the support of the Episcopal Dioceses of Connecticut and Massachusetts, announced that Bishop Tengatenga had been offered a six-month presidential fellowship. It’s enough to give LGBTQ activists whiplash, since the withdrawal of Dartmouth’s offer was due to protests by campus LGBTQ activists, and Episcopal Divinity School is the most progressive, pro-LGBTQ seminary of the Episcopal Church.

On August 15, the Boston Globe reported on the rescinding of the offer from Dartmouth:
"His [Bishop Tengatenga’s] appointment had sparked a campus controversy as word spread that he had sharply criticized the election of the Right Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion, and that he had asserted in 2011 that the Anglican dioceses in Malawi remained 'totally against homosexuality.'" 
These two statements are technically true, and are surrounded by some very complicated context.

The withdrawal of the offer to Bishop Tengatenga sparked a letter of support with 14 signatories, including the Most. Rev. Desmond Tutu, Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa; the Right Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut; and the Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School. The letter, which was published in The Living Church, reads, in part:
"The President’s decision brought applause from some in the Dartmouth community. Others were appalled, as are we. The action represents a gross injustice to an individual who would have made an ideal person to provide moral and ethical leadership at the College. It casts serious doubts on what is being learned in American universities when members of those communities fail to distinguish between public positions of institutions and the views of individuals who participate in those institutions. It reflects badly on western human rights advocates who consciously or unconsciously engage in forms of cultural imperialism that undermine their own success and credibility by demanding proofs identical to their own kind and, in this instance, by also ignoring the voices of Africans and church leaders who have known and worked with Tengatenga in some cases for decades."
Andrew Longhi, a junior at Dartmouth, is among those who were not convinced of Bishop Tengatenga’s support of LGBTQ rights. In an article in the Huffington Post, he states, "Tengatenga's appointment is deeply disrespectful to the Dartmouth LGBT community and its allies, who need leaders whom they can trust and learn from."

The withdrawal of Bishop Tengatenga’s appointment as Dean of the Tucker Foundation left the bishop without a job (he had already resigned his episcopate in Southern Malawi) and his public statements in favor of LGBT rights (after his appointment but before the controversy surfaced) left him in a difficult position should he try to return to Malawi.

Episcopal Divinity School stepped into the breach by offering Bishop Tengatenga a six-month Presidential Fellowship. EDS’ press release gives examples of the Bishop’s support of LGBTQ rights in his context:
"Bishop Tengatenga’s long record of support for LGBTQ rights in his native Malawi and across Africa was a decisive factor in inviting him to EDS as a Presidential Fellow. In 2007, Bishop Tengatenga opposed a move by church leaders in Africa to cut ties with the U.S. Episcopal Church because of its support of LGBTQ clergy, and in 2010, together with bishops from Central and Southern Africa, wrote a strong counter-statement to an anti-LGBTQ communique from church leaders at the All-African Anglican Bishops' Conference."
So, what are we to conclude about Bishop Tengatenga’s support for LGBTQ rights? Personally, I am persuaded by the testimony of those who know him; people whom I know personally and whose LGBTQ activist credentials I trust. Thanks to EDS, we will have opportunities to hear more from Bishop Tengatenga himself. I look forward to learning more.

Marie Alford-Harkey is Province I Coordinator of Integrity and Deputy Director of the Religious Institute. She holds a Masters of Divinity from Episcopal Divinity School.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

IntegrityUSA Appoints Mel Soriano as Secretary and Communications Director

At its November meeting in Salt Lake City, the Integrity USA Board of Directors on November 23rd appointed Melvin Soriano as Secretary and Director of Communications, filling a vacancy created by the untimely death of Louise Emerson Brooks last year.

An Illinois native, Mel is a resident of southern California. He holds a MBA from the University of Southern California and also spent a year at Oxford University in England.  He is the principal at Eagle Rock Information Systems, an information technology consulting firm.

Mel Soriano
Mel is a parishioner at All Saints: Pasadena in the Diocese of Los Angeles, where he serves on the vestry, sings in the Coventry Choir, leads Taizé Worship, and serves as Labyrinth Ministry Leader, Lay Eucharistic Minister, Greeting Ministry Co-Facilitator, and New Members Group Leader.  Curing the issue of homelessness is a particular passion of Mel's; he is also a planning volunteer for Union Station Homeless Services.

Mel supported Integrity's communications efforts at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis, in July of 2012.  He is an active participant in social media and maintains several personal web sites.

Part of Mel's responsibility will be to help strengthen the channels of communication at all levels of our growing local and national structure.  Another facet is to work with the Executive Director to manage our relationship with the media.
Find Mel on Facebook at
or scan the code above!

"As more and more of our interaction with the LGBT community and the wider church takes place online, Mel's gifts will be essential to keep us relevant and connected to ever-evolving technology," said the Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall, Integrity's president.

"Having gotten to know Mel primarily through cyberspace, I am extremely impressed with his capabilities and look forward to working with him to modernize and enhance our communications strategy," said Christian Paolino, Chair of the Stakeholders' Council. 

Please join us in congratulating and thanking Mel for agreeing to assume this responsibility.  We look forward to interacting with you in new and exciting ways in the days ahead.  You may reach him at or @melsoriano on Twitter.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Trans Day of Remembrance: A Message from Our Executive Director

It's Trans Day of Remembrance. As I've said before, this is a day that I find very difficult. There are two temptations here: One is to use TDoR as an opportunity to talk about how trans women have been, are now, and will always be poor, pathetic, pitiful victims. That's horrifyingly wrong. Trans people are strong, complete human beings. I recently had someone come up to be at an event I was speaking and say, "I'm so sorry this happened to you," about my being trans, as if it were a disease or a terrible accident that had befallen me. It is wrong to treat transness like a curse.  If we treat transness like something that will always be inseparable from violence and discrimination, it suggests that it is normal and natural for trans people (especially trans women of color) to face violence and discrimination, that it's just how things are.

The other temptation is to shift the focus to trans folks (usually white, middle-class trans folks) who are doing okay. It's wonderful that some trans people are thriving; it's beautiful and good. Still, the success of some people in a community doesn't make up for the violence against the rest of it.

So, how do we find the middle place between treating being trans like having cancer and ignoring the challenges that trans people face?

It will require a lot of work, but I believe that one of the first steps is to accept the simple fact that trans and gender non-conforming people are a normal, natural, and healthy part of the human species, that we always have been and always will be. It is simply nonsensical that people would be mistreated over being trans or gender non-conforming. We need to recognize that no one is an acceptable victim, that violence against trans people is nothing more than an ugly abnormality which we need to end.

Vivian Taylor is the Executive Director of Integrity USA

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Witch Trials Continue

It’s a searing reminder that even though we have nearly achieved full inclusion in the life and all the rites of the Episcopal Church, there are still many Christians who have to keep quiet about their identity and their loved ones or lose their faith community. Frank Shaefer, a Methodist minister, today stands trial in Pennsylvania for marrying his gay son.

Seventeen years ago, my sister, a lay reader in the Church of England, preached not at our wedding but at an MCC church the day after our holy union and returned to England to find she was no longer welcome in the parish she served. So many allies like Shaefer and my sister Sue have had their lives devastated because of their acts of courage on our behalf. I am reminded of Jesus’ words, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."

We are grateful for the nearly forty years of prayer and activism that has made the Episcopal Church a (relatively) safe place and in many places an openly welcoming one. It has not been an easy journey, as I discuss in my book A Thorn in the Flesh, and this trial will make many of us remember the Trial of Bishop Righter in 1996. At that point the court decided that there was no "core" doctrine that prevented the ordination of gay or lesbian individuals.

But the Methodist Church does have specific rules, and "Conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies" are still chargeable offences. Any optimism that things might be changing seems to have been demolished by Friday’s statement from the Methodist Council of Bishops actually urging two of their members to take action against Bishop Melvin Talbert for celebrating the wedding of two gay men. 
There are many more within the Methodist Church who are taking the risk, who are engaging in civil disobedience in order to create a church where all people are welcome. You can read some of their stories here. Last Saturday, November 9, Bill Gatewood, and Rich Taylor had their union blessed by 36 Methodist ministers in Philadelphia – the city of brotherly love. Will their bishop take action against all of them?
We salute the courage of our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church and hope that our journey will be a source of hope for them. Please pray for Pastor Frank Shaefer, on trial today, that his witness and the witness of so many more may bear great fruit.
The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall is the President of Board of Directors, Integrity USA

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

... And Hawai Makes it Sweet Sixteen!

The Hawaii state legislature today placed a marriage equality bill on the desk of Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who has pledged he will sign it, making Hawaii the sixteenth state to legalize same-gender marriage.

However, the question of which state will actually be the next to offer such licenses is in flux. Illinois, which passed a marriage equality bill last week, was originally going to start recognizing the nuptials in June of next year, while Hawaii's weddings are expected to start in December.  Sen. Don Harmon has introduced a bill which may make it happen sooner, however.

The Bishop of Hawaii, the Right Rev. Robert L. Fitzpatrick, is squarely in favor of the ruling.  On September 2nd (the birthday of Queen Liliuokalani, the last Hawaiian monarch), he sent Gov. Abercrombie and all members of the legislature a letter endorsing the bill as it was being debated.  When the Diocese met in convention on September 27th, delegates passed a resolution endorsing marriage equality, making the Episcopal Church the largest denomination in Hawaii to do so.

"We have been moving toward full inclusion as a diocese and a church for a very long time. So for us, once civil unions were allowed in the state, we allowed the blessing of civil unions as one of the realities of our diocese," Bishop Fitzpatrick told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, "So the next move toward civil marriage is just the natural consequence."

Mohalo to Integrity Hawaii, Bishop Fitzpatrick, and all who work for justice and equality!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Requiescat in Pace: The Right Rev. Douglas Edwin Theuner

The Integrity board and staff are saddened to share news of the death of the Right Rev. Douglas Edwin Theuner, eighth Bishop of New Hampshire, on November 8th, 2013.  He was 74. Bishop Theuner was receiving hospice care in Concord, N.H., when he died peacefully in his sleep.

Bishop Theuner's death was announced on the diocesan pages of the current bishop, the Right Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld. He recalled for the Concord Monitor a voice mail which Theuner left him shortly after his consecration. "He said, 'Number 10, this is Number 8. I’m not going to give you any advice, but don’t be timid. If there’s one thing I regret from my time as bishop, it was that I was too timid.' Of course, everyone will say the words 'timid' and 'Theuner' don’t belong in the same sentence. He was never afraid. He embodied this kind of fearlessness that can only come when you’ve become soaked in the love of God."  Theuner was instrumental in getting the Episcopal Church and his peers in the African church to face the AIDS crisis.

The Right Rev. Gene Robinson, who came out as a gay man while serving as Theuner's Canon to the Ordinary and succeeded him as Bishop in 2003, told the Monitor, "Doug Theuner is the reason I have a life in ministry. He was one of the boldest defenders of justice I’ve ever known."

Born in New York, Bishop Theuner graduated from Bexley Hall and served congregations in Ohio and Connecticut before being consecrated bishop in 1986.  He continued to work after retirement, despite facing a number of physical ailments.

Despite his passion for his work, he had an irreverent side. "He was always poking fun at the pretentiousness at the church in general, and at the bishops specifically," Robinson told the Monitor. "When people asked what they should call him, he would always say, 'Why don’t you call me Doug, because that’s what God will call me when I go to heaven.'"

God called, and Doug answered.

The Burial Office was read this morning at St. Paul's: Concord, and a requiem Eucharist was held this afternoon at the Church of the Epiphany in Newport.

Bishop Theuner is survived by his wife Jane "Sue"; his two children Elizabeth Susan DiTommaso (Frank), Nicholas Frederick Kipp Theuner and his wife Charlotte Driver; his grandchildren Amy Carmela DiTommaso and her husband Jarrod Manzer, Alexandra Marie and Mariana Teresa DiTommaso, Dakota Jean and Megan Nicole Theuner; and great-granddaughter Ophelia Manzer DiTommaso. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.