Friday, December 9, 2016

We Celebrate Louie Crew Clay's 80th Birthday with a Surprise

On December 9, 1936, exactly 80 years ago today, in Anniston, Alabama, God dropped a blessing into the lives of Erman Louie Crew, Sr. and Lula Gaines Hagin Crew. That same blessing would impact this world and would shake many foundations and rattle many cages over the course of the next 80 years. The child born that day would help reshape The Episcopal Church and secular society in ways never imagined at the time. Today is the 80th birthday of Erman Louie Crew, Jr., better known to us as Louie Crew Clay.
Happy Birthday, Louie!!
Integrity USA has chosen to honor Louie’s milestone birthday by creating the Louie Crew Clay Fund for Lifelong Learning. Louie’s life has been devoted to teaching and learning. He has learned where the Holy Spirit has been leading him. In turn Louie has sought to teach others. His gentle spirit and cheerful demeanor has educated and inspired thousands about how it is possible for any LGBTQ person to be a true follower of Jesus Christ.
If you would like to make a contribution to this fund in Louie’s honor, please go to this link.
Early in 2017, the Board of Directors of Integrity USA will send your contributions and a resolution to the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church requesting that a special trust fund be created bearing the title of “The Louie Crew Clay Fund for Lifelong Learning.” That trust fund will become a source of income to Trust Fund (TF) 514.00 (Marie Louise Constable) aka “The Constable Fund” created in 1939 to be used for the purposes of The Episcopal Church, preferably for work of religious education not provided for within the budget of the church. After the creation of that trust fund, contributions may be made directly to it through the Church Center.

Louie founded Integrity in 1974 and thus began a long journey toward bringing the full inclusion and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons into the life of The Episcopal Church at all levels of ministry, both lay and ordained. The journey was never an easy one. It faced opposition from many who could not conceive of LGBT folks ever having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Even more inconceivable to some was the idea that LGBTQ folks would ever be ordained deacons, priests and bishops in the church. Still further beyond even the imagination of many was the possibility that same gender couples would be married by The Episcopal Church, in the church, using liturgies approved by the church.

Yet, today, despite some pockets of resistance, these milestones in ministry have been achieved. What Louie began continues to gather into the church those who are among the outcast and marginalized of both society and church. It was through both learning and teaching that issues were peeled away to reveal the faces of the children of God. The human face is infinitely more difficult to dismiss than an issue.
Louie’s ministry has been supported by his beloved husband Ernest. Without that support, without that partnership, the journey would have been too difficult to imagine. Integrity USA asks God’s blessing on Louie and Ernest as they celebrate the 80th anniversary of Louie’s arrival into this realm.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Post-election Action

Kindred in Christ,

The next four years will be decided by how hard we prepare right now. Acts of homophobia, transphobia, racism, religious oppression, and misogyny have exploded: over 400 hate crimes were filed in the days after the election. Churches are experiencing acts of vandalism and graffiti.

We are launching an emergency campaign to stop efforts to derail everything we've achieved. Monthly giving is the best way to support our fight. Please be the lamp of hope, the Light of Christ, and donate $1/day ($30 a month) to protect what we've gained and further protect those in harm’s way. Click here to donate online now. .

On behalf of the Board of Directors of Integrity USA

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Monday, November 14, 2016

Smiling Faces

There is a pop song from the early ‘70’s called “Smiling Faces.”  The lyrics include: Smiling faces….pretend to be your friend.  Smiling faces...don’t tell the truth!  (Google it for the full effect of the lyrics.)

How much more apropos could those lyrics be after Tuesday’s elections?  I saw a lot of smiling faces….that weren’t telling the truth…..that I don’t trust…..that I can’t imagine being my/our friend.  I’m still reeling from the shock of how so many embraced misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia….and pretty much any other way one could think of to denigrate the children of God.  And apparently being crude and vulgar is no longer inappropriate for elected officials either.  To top that off, there seems to be a new definition of what is acceptable to some Christians as well… least to those who cling to right end of the spectrum. So much hatred and hypocrisy hiding behind smiling faces.  

Sadly, “smiling faces” are not limited to politicians.  I know a number of folks who sport clerical collars, purple shirts and miters who have plastic smiles pasted on their faces as they smugly hide behind "scripture, tradition and reason” to support their own prejudices, particularly against LGBTQ folks.  And as much as they might want us to think otherwise, a significant number still have "issues” with women clergy too.  We all know how much work remains for us in addressing the sin of  racism, in church and in society.  All of our "isms” bubbled up and boiled over on Tuesday and we all got soiled by them.

There were some bright spots.  We have an openly LGBT state governor now… out of 50...guess that isn’t too bad??   In my home state of Georgia we actually have an openly gay man who was elected to our legislature.  (We had been able to elect lesbians for several years, but never a gay man.) The bright spots are difficult to see through the dense fog of prejudice and bigotry, but we should give thanks to God for them anyway.

After Tuesday, can there possibly be anyone who doesn’t see how much work we have left to accomplish in our church and in our society?   Equality is not yet there for us and it is still a nationwide, churchwide issue.  How much larger a rock has to fall on us for us to grasp the fact that we still have work to do?   How many more hate crimes have to be committed because of sexual orientation, race, gender expression/identity before we wake up and smell the proverbial coffee? How many more LGBTQ teens and young people have to get kicked out of their homes by their "good Christian parents” (sarcasm intended!) because they have come out of the closet to them?  How many more Matthew Shepherds do we have to witness?  How many more Travon’s have to die?  How many more Charleston’s must we see?   How many more times must we witness another Pulse Nightclub?   How many more of our parishes must be the victims of vicious attacks and notes like the one left on a priest's car windshield?  Are we really that dense?  Are we that unaware?  Are we, God help us, that uncaring?  Are we still that afraid?

It is indeed time, my kindred in Christ, to speak out, to step up, to be seen, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to drown out the gospel of hate!  Yes it is time… is long past time for us to do all of these things.  Could there be any doubt now of the continued need for Integrity?  Could there be any doubt now of the continued need for GLAAD or HRC or Lambda Legal or any and every organization that is working toward securing an equal place for us in both the American Dream and the Household of God?

It has been said that "all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”  While that is indeed true, I would add that evil will also triumph if we stick our heads in the sand and/or hide in our closets.   Jesus told Lazarus to "come out” of the tomb and he told the community to "unbind him and let him go.”  It’s time we also heeded the call to "come out.”  But….our community needs to bind ourselves to each other and strive toward reaching the beloved community where all of God’s children are free to be who God created them to be.  We can achieve that in our church if we bind ourselves together in Integrity.  We can achieve that in society by witnessing to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and binding ourselves to those groups who will help insure that we are as equal in the site of all the citizens of this nation as we are in the eyes of the One who created us.
I challenge each of you to insure that your membership is up to date.  I further challenge each of you to bring at least one new member into Integrity during the next few weeks.  I challenge each of you to donate your money as well as your time and talent to Integrity and secular organizations working for equality and justice.   This ain’t going away folks unless we make it go away.   
I also challenge us to remember the One we follow.  We must not return the hatred and venom we receive with the same.  We must deflect nastiness with love, no matter how difficult that may be.  We must be examples of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  May we always remember to ask God, the living and loving God, to make us instruments of God’s own peace:
Where there is hatred, let us sow love.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Monday, November 7, 2016

Scripture, Tradition, and Reason

One of the hallmarks of Anglican theology is the concept of “scripture, tradition, and reason.”  Over the centuries, we have looked at various issues through this three part lens.  Such a view has given us different understanding of issues that have affected us in our common life as part of the Body of Christ.

Scripture influenced the tradition of keeping other human beings in slavery until reason - usually through experience - began to turn our hearts and our minds away from that heinous and dehumanizing practice.  In retrospect, it seems almost impossible to think that God ever had any intentions of any part of humanity owning any other part.

Scripture influenced the tradition of keeping women “in their place” of being subservient to men and without authority in faith communities as well as in secular society.  Again, reason through experience turned hearts and minds away from a system that rendered women as less than men, despite the fact that in creation God created both male and female in God’s image.  

Scripture influenced by tradition was also the basis for denying lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of faith a place at God’s table that was equal to all others.  Yet again, at least for a growing segment of Christ’s Body, reason influenced by experience taught us that there is no sound theological basis for creating outcasts of any of God’s children.

It was the misuse of Scripture in this case, as before, that allowed some to perpetuate the concept that there have been different classes of sinful behavior that could be used to create divisions among God’s children.  Removing passages of Scripture from the context of the culture in which they were written and from the context of the entire narrative of which they are an integral part, continues to provide ways for us to divide ourselves from one another and from God through the mistaken notion that God created some of us more acceptable than others of us.  Do we truly believe that God created some of us “more equal” than others?

I am always amazed at how those “learned in Scripture” can continue to perpetuate a system that discriminates in the name of God.  Duly ordained clergy have told me with certainty that they and their congregations welcome “all” fully, even LGBT folks.  Yet when they then tell me with their next breath that they will neither perform nor permit the marriage of a same gender couple AND base that decision on “Scripture, tradition, and reason,” I am forced to both scratch my head and shake my head in disbelief.  Yet…..such continues to happen….and it happens in too many dioceses of our church and even in congregations in dioceses where full inclusion is the norm.  Apparently the “glass wall” they place between the altar and the pastoral needs of their LGBT members is too clear for even them to see.

My “broken record” continues to play:  Is there still a need for the ministry of Integrity?  Read the above again and I think your answer will be a resounding “Yes!!!”

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

No Outcasts

The Most Reverend Edmond Lee Browning, 24th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church died today. His death is a loss to Integrity USA as an organization and to me personally. Bishop Browning’s stance that there would be no outcasts in The Episcopal Church was a costly position for him to take. He was criticized by those in our church who considered themselves to be of a more traditional bent. His ministry is summarized here: RIP: Bishop Edmond Lee Browning, 24th Presiding Bishop He made room in The Episcopal Church for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who found their way to a faith community where they could be who God created them to be.
Presiding Bishop Edmond Lee Browning with Integrity leaders
L to R: The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, The Most Reverend Edmond Lee Browning, The Rev. Michael Hopkins, The Rev. Canon Susan Russell

Bishop Browning’s vision of no outcasts was a broad vision. In addition to including those who were LGBT, he also embraced those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS. He was the chief consecrator of the first woman bishop in the entire Anglican Communion, The Right Reverend Barbara Harris. As an African-American, Bishop Harris would break even more boundaries to the full inclusion of all in our church.

I met Bishop Browning during the General Convention of 1991, held in Phoenix, Arizona. Ours was an "official/unofficial" meeting brought about by some of the nastiness being directed at LGBT folks at that convention. My “poker face” proved to be more revealing than I thought at one of the morning Eucharist’s and a bishop at our “table church table” shared his concerns about me with my bishop who got in touch with me. Out of all of that I found myself in a meeting with Presiding Bishop Browning, my bishop, and the officers of the House of Bishops. When asked what was wrong and what we wanted, I had a few simple requests on behalf of my kindred LGBT souls. We were weary of the nastiness being directed at us by clergy and laity alike who really did not want us included in the life of The Episcopal Church. The world and the church were very different then. We wanted to be treated with the respect accorded us in the vows of our baptismal covenant. Progress had begun and with it came some of the first positive legislation about LGBT issues, not to mention the fact that the first openly LGBT Deputy to General Convention came out on the floor of the House of Deputies. This was also the General Convention where the first true public hearing on LGBT issues was held. We had as a church begun talking about who we were. The speakers were The Reverend Sam Candler and The Rev. Kendall Harmon. Sam was our champion.

Some months later I would become the first President of Integrity to meet with a Presiding Bishop. I traveled to New York and proceeded to 815 Second Avenue and was escorted to the Offices of the Presiding Bishop. I was a little nervous, but I need not have been. Bishop Browning embraced me with his loving aura and sat with me on a sofa in his office as we talked. It was not unlike carrying on a conversation with one’s grandfather. (Although I realized later that he was only twenty years older than I….it must have been the trappings of his office that made me think he was older than he was.)

Subsequent to that meeting would happen the first and historic meeting of an Integrity Board of Directors with The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He was, at least at first, a bit hesitant to have the meeting publicized, but we were clear that it would be documented in "The Voice of Integrity" which was our official publication at the time.

Another first and an expression of his vision of no outcasts was his acceptance to be our speaker and guest at our next Integrity Convention (yes, we used to have those regularly!). When he stated from the pulpit at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, that he really didn’t care what the press thought, we got a glimpse of his ardent support for us and his refusal for us to be outcast by the church.

We (and I) have lost a great friend and ally with the death of Bishop Browning. The Episcopal Church has lost one of its giants. Edmond L. Browning now rests in the bosom of the God who created, redeemed and sustained him throughout a long and productive ministry. By now he has heard the words “well done, good and faithful servant.” May he rest in peace and rise in glory. May we ponder our loss even as we celebrate a ministry from which we received innumerable benefits.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Sunday, June 12, 2016

In Response to the tragedy in Orlando:

“We pray for our enemies and those who wish us harm.  Deliver them AND US from hatred, cruelty and revenge.”

I am having a difficult time praying this prayer right now.  This morning I was in the chapel at Kanuga Conference Center near Hendersonville, North Carolina.  I was getting ready to deliver the sermon for the close of the 25th Annual HIV/AIDS Retreat, sponsored by the Province IV Network of AIDS Ministries when I learned of the terrorist attack at a large gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which left 52 dead and 50 wounded.

The entire weekend had been about HIV/AIDS including the impact of those deaths from the early days and still today.  Now we were to deal with impact of 52 sudden deaths – deaths of ordinary people who were enjoying a social evening….thinking that they were safe at a nightclub many frequented on a regular basis.  Some of you reading this now may have been there – or a place like it at one time.

It is clear that, while it is being investigated as a terrorist attack and is the largest mass shooting in our nation’s history, this is a hate crime.  And the hate that prompts such actions on the part of this killer and others is the hatred of those who are different.  Being different should never result in losing one’s life.

Yet it has and continues to be so.  “Being different” is why working toward finding a cure for and funding prevention against infection for HIV/AIDS was delayed, turning an epidemic into a worldwide pandemic.  “Being different” is what caused the tangential epidemic of “Afraids,” causing so many tragic, senseless deaths.  Too soon.  So young.

Apparently the hatred was directed at people who were either LGBT or were friends and colleagues of folks who were LGBT.  We seem to have become obsessed with acts of hatred against people who are somehow different, whether it is because of sexual orientation, race, religion, gender, gender expression, gender identity or any other difference that for some is beyond what they will allow to simply exist.

Integrity USA decries these murders.  Integrity USA decries all acts of violence that are directed at any of God’s children but particularly those that are directed against those children of God who are different, no matter what reason they might be seen as different.

It would be easy to be “the same” and return hate and violence with equal levels of hatred and violence.  Let us be of the same mind as Christ and choose love and peace.  Let us not be intimidated into isolation and shame but let us stand together in pride.  Now, more than ever, we need to continue to let our light so shine that the truth will have won out and love will win.

Pray for the victims of this mass shooting my kindred in Christ.  Pray for the families and loved ones who now grieve. Pray for the recovery of the wounded.  Pray for our nation that the hatred which infects us will be taken from our hearts and minds.  Pray most of all that God’s infinite and indiscriminate love will ultimately prevail over the evil that has caused the deaths of dozens….in Orlando, in Charleston, in Columbine, and everywhere that innocent blood has been shed in the name of hate.

May the dead rest in peace and rise in glory.  May the wounded experience healing of body, mind and soul.  May the living strive for an end to such senseless violence.

Bruce Garner, President

Integrity USA

Monday, May 23, 2016

Is the ministry of Integrity still needed?

Is the ministry of Integrity still needed?

You are probably aware that I have been posing a series of questions on the Friday Flash each week for the last few weeks. All of them focused on the way or lens with which you view your circumstances as an LGBTQ person where you live as well as how you view the situation for where others live. My point was to get us all to try and see that the rest of the world may not be the same as our own when it comes to being able to live the lives with which God blessed us.

My methodology – and yes there has been one – was to prepare for critical questions about the future of Integrity USA as an organization. I frequently hear the following or an equivalent: “Why do we still need Integrity?” “Is there still a reason for Integrity’s mission?” “Do we still need Integrity?”

I think the best way to respond to those questions is to share a few observations with you about “LGBTQ life” in this country. (And be forewarned that this is a longer than usual column, but I ask you to keep reading.) Please consider the following:

There are still dioceses in The Episcopal Church where priests are forbidden to marry same gender couples. The Diocese of Central Florida comes to mind, but there are some in Province II and other provinces as well.

In my own diocese there is a rector who refuses to officiate at same gender marriages, which is his prerogative under our polity, but he also refuses to allow same gender marriages to be performed at all in “his” church. Dear friends of mine have finally left after serving there for 25 years because they could not be married in their own church.

Openly LGBT clergy have greater difficulty finding employment that fulfils their calling as ordained persons in many dioceses in our church. Deployment is not bias free in our church.

In some jurisdictions of the secular world, a same gender couple who marries on Saturday can be terminated from employment on Monday just because they identified as LGBT, despite the likelihood they were model employees. We may now have an openly gay man as Secretary of the Army (Eric Fanning: An Openly Gay Man Runs the Army ) but that doesn’t suddenly make life good for all of us.

One need only look to the State of North Carolina to see that the quest for full equality as LGBTQ persons is alive and well. Mississippi has tried to enact similar legislation. We would have had the most discriminatory laws in the nation in my home state of Georgia had not the Governor vetoed the bill. (Supporters of the bigoted legislation have vowed to bring it up again next year.)

As much as we might stereotypically believe, such attitudes are NOT limited to the southern portion of the United States! Consider the story of a Vermont teen who is a transgender male and what he had to contend with in his high school. The following link takes you to the story in the NY Times: Transgender Bathroom Debate Turns Personal at a Vermont High School

Consider also how things differ based on just being in a particular city in a state. In a large city, LGBTQ folks can often be themselves without fear of harassment. They can also get involved in the political process and express themselves accordingly. Such is not the case in smaller towns, even in the same state.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would allow for discriminatory practices based on one’s sincerely held religious beliefs. It is the First Amendment Defense Act, also known as FADA, but is in fact a thinly veiled means to allow discrimination.

If you have followed LOGO TV’s show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” you have witnessed the pain some contestants have suffered because they are LGBT. The creator of the show has made it clear that he intended to show how life was in different places and highlight the pain contestants had borne. (There is more than one way to educate people…..even subliminally!) Take this link to RuPaul’s own comments about the socially enlightening nature of the show and how it highlights the vast differences in where people live: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Highlights the Struggle for Acceptance

Where one lives, works and worships has a direct influence on how or if that person can be the person God created them to be.

The forces behind these discriminatory actions, at least in the South, are faith communities and how they influence the political processes in their respective jurisdictions. This is clearly so in Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi. The loudest voices of discrimination come from churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelically oriented faith communities. This does not always mean those faith communities have the largest numbers in terms of support, but it does mean that they are being the “loudest” about the issues.

How many among us are equipped to, willing and able to share our own faith community’s perspective on LGBTQ issues? Do we know how to witness to our own faith in one-on-one settings much less in a legislative committee hearing? When was the last time any of us gave witness to the power of Jesus Christ in our own lives? It isn’t easy, but it is something God has asked of us. It’s time to get “quietly loud” about our own faith.

If we live in certain places, the issues of being discriminated against may never cross our radar screens. Most of us do not live in those certain places. Most of us live in a place of uncertainty about how much of who we really are can be shown to the world at large and even to our own faith communities. It is all a result of the lens through which you see your own life and the life of others, especially those who do not live where you live.

The answer to the questions about a continued need for the ministry of Integrity might be coming more clear by now. From my own perspective, there absolutely remains a strong need for our ministry…..perhaps more so than other times in our history. I would ask you to ponder the question yourselves.

Integrity has a role in equipping the saints to share a different faith story about LGBTQ issues than lawmakers and policy makers in the secular realm have heard before. We can help provide the resources LGBTQ folks need to go into a hearing room and speak about a potentially discriminatory piece of legislation and do so from their own faith based perspective. We are blessed to have non-LGBTQ allies who stand up for and speak for us. But it is time we used our own voices to combat discrimination.

Integrity has a role in working with parishes and dioceses to help others understand first and fore most that LGBTQ members of our church are not very different from themselves…..we are all blessed by the same God, feel the rain from the same sky, enjoy the warmth from the same sun…..we have lives often just as boring as their own!!

Being able to marry the person we wish has not resolved all of the ills of discrimination and bigotry in the church or wider society.

Integrity has a role in helping create safe spaces for our own LGBTQ youth to exit their various closets and take their places in the warmth of the God who created and loves them…..exactly as they are. Those of us who are in leadership roles in our parishes do well to remember that young people are always observing us and that they are likely aware that we are LGBTQ ourselves. We teach when we do not always know we are teaching.

So, in response to the questions about whether there is still a need and purpose for Integrity, I must profess a very loud and firm YES!

I hope you agree….even if you live in the most LGBTQ friendly and safe space on the planet. I hope you agree and will join Integrity if you are not a member. I hope you will be even more supportive if you are a member by sharing your time and financial resources. I hope you will be an advocate in seeking new members of Integrity to join you/us in what is an important and lifesaving ministry.

We all pray and hope that there will be a time when there is no need for Integrity or any other organization seeking justice for all of God’s children. That time has not arrived. We continue to pray and work with the resources God has blessed us to use in the form of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Friday, April 22, 2016

Mission and Vision of Integrity USA

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We greet you in the name of our Risen Lord and hope that these fifty days of Easter are times of joy for you.

At our most recent meeting of Integrity USA’s Board of Directors, we looked at the mission statement and vision statement for Integrity USA.  We felt that they needed to be updated, refined somewhat and better reflect where Integrity’s mission is directed for the foreseeable future.

We redirected the focus of Integrity USA in a more outward direction and less introspective.  The Good News of the Gospel is to be carried forth into the world….not pondered!  We wanted the organizational mission and vision to help guide and direct us toward where we and those we seek to reach should be in a world where there is still injustice and prejudice towards LGBTQ people. We created what we think will provide new energy toward addressing the still-present issues of discrimination and exclusion in our own nation and still, even in some parts of our church.

Mission Statement
As an Episcopal LGBTQ organization, Integrity USA proclaims and embodies
the all-inclusive love of God through worship, education, and advocacy.

Vision Statement
Integrity envisions a church where people
of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions
are welcomed and affirmed.

We invite you to join us in both mission and vision as we seek to bring the fully inclusive Good News of Jesus Christ to all.

Integrity USA Board of Directors: (l to r) The Rev. Carolyn Woodall, The Rev. Gwen Fry,
S.Wayne Mathis, DeAnna Bosch, Bruce Garner, Mel Soriano
Photo taken at All Saints Church, Atlanta.

Bruce Garner
President, Integrity USA

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Anti-LGBTQ legislation masquerading as “religious freedom” legislation

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A reflection on the Statement by the Anglican Church of Canada House of Bishops

This blog post refers to the statement by the Anglican Church of Canada House of Bishops. 

There is great irony in the last paragraph of the statement. "Despite the pain and distress we feel at our own differences, yet we strongly affirm that we are united in striving for the highest degree of communion possible in the spirit of St Paul’s teaching of the nature of the body of Christ and our need for one another in Christ, where no one can say, ‘I have no need of you’ (1 Corinthians 12.21)."

Yet the statement issued by the bishops sends the message to same gender couples and to LBGTQ people:  We have no need of you.

Blaming the situation on a failure of enough people to continue to study the issue is ludicrous.  There are and always will be some who steadfastly refuse to engage in discussion and who will try and prevent others from doing so as well.  I've seen the same situation in The Episcopal Church for years.  Failure on the part of someone to learn more about their sisters and brothers in Christ is not an excuse for treating those same sisters and brothers as "less than."  Jesus provided no exceptions when he required us to love God and love each other as we love ourselves.

How much longer will this charade about changing the teaching on marriage go on anyway?  It's not like we have not seen changes in the past....remarriage after divorce comes to mind.  Jesus mentions marriage twice in the Gospels. Once is part of a discussion about adultery and the other in a discussion about divorce.  I don't find that a ringing endorsement of what we call marriage.  If He had greater concerns, I would have thought it would have been mentioned.  Jesus greatest concern was right relationship with God and with each other.   Marriage, regardless of the gender of the parties involved does not always represent a "right relationship."

If these bishops want to actually learn, why do they not just look at the lifelong, committed, monogamous and faithful relationships of hundreds of same gender couples over the years?   What better model could they have?  And remember, these couples have remained faithful despite continuing to be treated as second class citizens.

I laughed to myself recently when the daily office readings were from Genesis and included the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Leah, Jacob and the children born to him from three different wives.  We look to Scripture for models of marriage for today and we see nothing like even secular models.

Will we ever get over our fear and ignorance of what we don't know enough to learn from those who can teach us?  I'm not convinced.

May God continue to bless those couples who are forced to remain on the sidelines as others determine their marital fates.  May God give them the patience to endure.

Bruce Garner
President, Integrity USA

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Diocese of Texas Opens the Door to Equality for All

This past weekend marked a monumental shift in the Diocese of Texas in terms of equality for ALL. It also opened the doors for unlimited opportunities to advance the mission of the Church. With a vote of 499 in favor and 144 against the reordering and restructuring of the Diocesan Canons, a 19 year battle for the soul of the diocese has drawn to a close.

While there have been many on both sides of this battle, two progressives who deserve to be singled out are Muffie Moroney and The Rev. Jim Stockton. Both Moroney and Rev. Stockton can be described as tenaciously loyal to the ideal of justice and to the church that they love and serve. In the end it was current Bishop C Andrew Doyle who forged a new unity - a unity that will allow the diocese to finally put divisions on marriage and LGBTQ rights behind us as we are given the opportunity to move into mission without bringing along nearly two decades of harmful political baggage. Ultimately, this vote was more about mission and less about marriage.

There are several key points that highlight the effect of this council action.

1. This restructuring and reordering of the canons, treats all marriages equally. No longer will married LGBTQ clergy be automatically disqualified from serving in this diocese.

2. Parishes will be able to call the priests of their own choosing. Hiring can now be based on a person's abilities, skill and job performance.

3. The responsibility for moral discipline as it pertains to the breaking of the marriage vows within the ranks of the clergy is returned to the office of the bishop.

Even more wide sweeping than these direct effects, this council action changes the political tone for councils yet to convene. No more will there be a need to strategize, plot, and plan how one side will win against the other. Months of gathering support on either side will cease. No more political posturing over the sexual mores of an entire diocese.

This action also signals to every LGBTQ Christian that they indeed have a home in the Episcopal Church. The opportunities to serve Christ are open to all without limitations.

The road forward may be rocky but Episcopalians throughout the Diocese can hold fast to the idea of being unified in mission as they seek to engage the communities in which they serve.

S Wayne Mathis
VP of Local Affairs Integrity USA
Co Convener Integrity Houston

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Way We Were

"The way we were" is more than just the title of a hit movie and hit song.  It reflects the way things were, or at least the way we remember things were, during a specific period of time.  I have thought about that frequently during our discussions about the communique from the Primates.

I look back to “the way we were" 70, 60, 50 years ago.  I wasn’t around 70 years ago.  I was a child 60 years ago.  And I was a teenager 50 years ago.  One issue I remember about the way we were is that there were no discussions about human sexuality and certainly none about lesbian and gay issues.  I recall bisexuality being an “exotic” topic.  Christine Jorgenson introduced the world to transgender issues, even though the term itself would not come along for several more decades.

When we recite the creeds, we include phrases about believing in things seen and unseen.  Now that is usually in reference to our Creator, the Holy Spirit or one of the multitude of holy and mysterious things beyond human sight.  Yet I can also see it at work in earthly issues as well.  But, in some cases it works the opposite way: we don’t believe because we can’t or haven’t seen.  Such is the case with human sexuality issues and LGBTQ issues in particular.  Not seeing us is an excuse for thinking we do not exist.  Not seeing us provides justification for exercising bigotry and prejudice… even to the point of torture and execution.

I’ve recalled numerous ordained persons state with all seriousness that there were no "homosexuals" in their parish/diocese/province.  Such is an easy stance to take if that population is not visible, remains fully closeted, lives in fear of discovery or just cannot be public about their existence.  I have even had folks say that they did not know anyone who was "homosexual."  I have to admit that my thoughts, not my words, my thoughts were:  Doesn’t this dimwit know what is standing right in front of him (yes it is usually a male!)  Being able to "pass" has some advantages, especially having people reveal their true thoughts and feelings right in front of you!  Of course it then becomes an educational tool and opportunity as well.

The issue here is visibility. It is not, I repeat not, about whether an area of the world has "progressed" more or less than any other area.  It is not a measure of development as a country or region.  It is certainly not an issue of whether one group of God’s children is more "civilized" than another.  It is simply an issue of visibility.  Again, it is simply an issue of visibility.

So now, let’s turn to the situations that gave birth to the recent statement of the Primates of the Anglican Communion.  Aside from the expressed levels of disdain, judgment, and posturing, there is the issue of visibility, more accurately, the lack of visibility.

We know that there are LGBTQ members of every province in the Anglican Communion.  We also know that many live closeted lives….lives filled with the fear of being found out…..lives immersed in a marinade of hate, bigotry and prejudice.  Ignorance gives birth to hatred, bigotry and prejudice…and it creates an atmosphere of fear on all impacted by the situation.  These sisters and brothers in Christ are not even seen by the very people who denigrate them.

We know from the experiences of others around the globe, secular and faith based, that visibility will change the way our LGBTQ sisters and brothers are perceived and treated.  Right now, many Primates see issues of human sexuality as nothing but an issue.  When that issue gains a human face, the face of a child of God, the conversation begins to change.  It is easy for any of us to just dismiss an issue.  We have a much more difficult time, at least I hope we do, dismissing a human being.

What should we do to assist without being perceived as interfering or continuing to impose some type of colonial view upon those with whom we so vehemently disagree?  Among the first involves educating people, particularly some of the Primates, on the very existence of some of "us" among "them" and having been there for a long time.  We need to find a way to create relationships with those who are so different from us in their thinking and help them see the face of Christ even in a queer.  If they begin to see the face of Christ in us, we can further the process of helping them see the face of Christ among their own flocks.  This will neither be easy nor quick.

I hope and pray that the parishes and dioceses in The Episcopal Church will maintain ties and companion relationships with their counterparts around the communion who seek to walk apart from us. (Despite what some may hope, this issue is not going away.  It will only get more critical over time.)  Those ties and relationships provide an opportunity for us to witness to the presence of Christ in our lives as LGBTQ Christians. They allow us to help make it more safe for others by our own visibility.

I challenge us all, members of Integrity, lay and clergy leaders, all who claim The Episcopal Church as their part of the Body of Christ, to seek out ways locally, church-wide, worldwide to help those who would act out of hatred, cruelty and prejudice begin to see the face of Christ in all…..even those toward whom they would use vile and offensive labels.  Jesus Christ taught us to love and never provided any exceptions as to whom we were to love.  Let us not create what He did not.  Let us be the hands and feet, eyes and ears, heart and soul of the One who loved us and gave His life ransom for all.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

An Open Letter

An open letter to those concerned about the impact of the decisions reached at the recent meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion at Canterbury England.

So, let’s talk amongst ourselves.  What does the statement of the Primates call on us to do?  Aside from our response to their statement, there is more for us to do as members of Integrity, as members of The Episcopal Church, and as followers of Jesus Christ.

The Primates issued their statement with its “consequences” outlined therein.  As you are aware, we, Integrity USA, responded with what was, for all practical purposes, a somewhat “political” response/portion of the discussion.  Yet we have a more important discussion:  the pastoral implications and needs for ourselves and others.

What will we do to provide pastoral support to each other and to our sisters and brothers in less hospitable provinces of the Anglican Communion?

We will continue to "Love one another as I have loved you."

We will continue to "Forgive your enemies and those who hate you."

We will continue to "Forgive 70 times 7."

Why will we do these things?  These are the words Jesus spoke to His followers.  Jesus calls us over this tumult.

Jesus calls us to forgive those who hurt us, those who hate us and seek to injure us whether in body or mind or soul.  If we claim any authenticity as followers of Jesus we must confess that forgiveness is central to our identity as Christians.  These are some of the things we must do if we are to be Jesus people in a Jesus movement.

This calling is now even more important to us as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people as the result of the release of the statement by the Primates. Their words are painful to all LGBTQ people everywhere who know ourselves as beloved children of God. Their words are also painful to The Episcopal Church which has taken the risk of the Gospel in the full inclusion of all God’s children in the sacramental life of the church.

This is not the first time the Primates have inflicted pain on LGBTQ people and The Episcopal Church. I doubt it will be their last attempt. And yet, we will persevere.  We have been to the foot of the cross before and we will be there again.  That is where we find the strength to endure being there. It is where we find redemption, release and healing and the ability to forgive.

We will find forgiveness – 70 times 7. Such is the cost of discipleship.

We will find healing for our broken hearts, for there is a balm in Gilead.

We will find hope for our weary spirits. Such is the promise of the resurrection.  And, like the first disciples, we will find the courage to open the eyes of our hearts to see the fullness of love in the empty tomb.

More importantly, we will share that hope and continue to be a beacon of the unconditional love of God in Christ to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers in the very provinces where these Primates continue to oppress and persecute them.

The decades of discussion, debate, and attempts to exclude, have given both The Episcopal Church and its LGBTQ members a level of spiritual maturity that allows us to be clear about where we are, who we are, and whose we are.

Our own Primate, the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry has and I suspect will continue to remind us that we are Jesus people and part of a Jesus movement.  The President of our House of Deputies, the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, has been clear that we will continue to be part of the Anglican Communion and will fulfill our responsibilities on the Anglican Consultative Council, the more legislative of the instruments of communion.  Integrity USA is in full support of the work and the statements of the two individuals who are the presiding officers and the chief pastors of The Episcopal Church.

So, we have and will continue to endure the cost of discipleship that comes with following what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do.  We can take no other stance if we claim to follow Jesus.  It is a price we have paid and are willing to continue to pay.

The struggle continues. We do not struggle alone.

Bruce Garner
Integrity USA

Friday, January 15, 2016

Integrity Response to the 2016 Anglican Primate Meeting

The Episcopal Church (TEC) is and has been an integral part of the Anglican Communion from beginning of the communion.  Throughout our history we have gathered, debated, and made decisions on what we have believed and have faith in as being the work of the Holy Spirit among us, as being true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Integrity USA has been part of The Episcopal Church for over 40 years and we have also been participants in the gatherings, debates and decisions reached by The Episcopal Church over those 40 years.  In fact, we have worked to initiate the discussions that have led to many decisions made that affected lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) members of our church and our society.  In the early days, our members and supporters put themselves at considerable personal risk to engage in discussions around human sexuality.

We believe in the work of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot do otherwise if we are to be true to the Gospel, particularly the account provided to us by John: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." John 16: 12-13a

The work of the Holy Spirit did not cease with its coming on the Day of Pentecost.  Rather, the work continued and continues, as many will testify from personal experiences.  God continues to work and speak in our world today.  We believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, continues to guide us into all truth even as history continues to unfold before us.

The statement from the 2016 Primates meeting is not seen by Integrity USA as bringing the good news of Jesus Christ.  Our own Primate, the Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, has called on us as TEC to be part of the “Jesus movement” and to be “Jesus people.”  Jesus’ ministry was one of building relationships, right relationships.  He was not guided or restricted by any human precept that might divide the children of God.  He was not one to make distinctions unless it was to shine the light of justice on a situation.  It was clear that He abhorred relationships that were based on coercion, abuse or exploitation.  Unfortunately, we see glimpses of such in the statement of the Primates and the actions proposed.

To be as clear as possible in our response to that statement, we offer our response to each of the paragraphs of the Primates’ statement below:

1. We gathered as Anglican Primates to pray and consider how we may preserve our unity in Christ given the ongoing deep differences that exist among us concerning our understanding of marriage.

Response:  The “understanding” of marriage has changed significantly over history.  What was initially an exchange of property, i.e., the woman, has moved closer to being the formalization of a loving, caring, committed and monogamous relationship between a man and a woman.  We find it interesting to note that the only references made by Jesus to marriage were in the context of discussions about divorce and adultery.  TEC’s understanding of marriage has not changed; rather it has broadened to include loving, caring, committed and monogamous relationships between couples of the same gender.

2. Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.

Response:  TEC has engaged in lengthy study, prayer and discussion about marriage at both the faith and teaching level and at the personal relationship level.  Marriage is not a definition to be taught but a relationship to be lived out in faith the partners have in each other and the faith they have in the God of their creation.  We put into canon law what we believe and practice before God.

3. All of us acknowledge that these developments have caused further deep pain throughout our Communion.

Response:  Opening the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all has almost always caused similar developments in the history of the church.  Even in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was greeted by dissension when God made it clear to him through a dream that all foods were clean and that he should not call anything profane that God had made.  James the brother of Jesus was also met with dissension when he declared that it was not necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised to become followers of Jesus.  He ended centuries of tradition with a single decision.  We have been engaged in the discussions of marriage for decades.

4. The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.

Response:  A truly critical view of the teaching of Scripture is that marriage was not just between a man and a woman but could also be between a man and as many women as he chose to have as his wives.  Again, Acts tells us that the only men who were restricted to one wife were bishops and deacons.  It seems disingenuous to cite something that has not always been true and that is still not true in some provinces of the Anglican Communion. The most important issue seems to be that of faithful, lifelong union and we still uphold that value.

5. In keeping with the consistent position of previous Primates’ meetings such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion.

Response:  This seems only a recent view of our relationships.  Books of Common Prayer, Canons, liturgical materials, etc. have been revised and utilized throughout our common history by the provinces as they found the need to do so.  None of the provinces have sought the approval or even input from their sister provinces on such matters.

6. Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us and places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships.

Response:  Yet this has only become the case with regard to issues of gender and human sexuality. Otherwise, we have all given each other considerable leeway in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as was best for us in our respective situations.

7. It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

Response: Whatever distance has been created between provinces will not be lessened by excluding any other provinces from full participation in the life of the Anglican Communion.  We do not learn from each other when we are apart from each other, regardless of the mechanism.  We do not allow room for the Holy Spirit to speak collectively to us when we exclude each other.

8. We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.

Response:  We fully support the appointment of such a Task Group.  However, that Task Group must also address the injustices, torture, imprisonment and killing of LGBTQ people taking place in several provinces of the Anglican Communion.  It must also include forthright discussions about human trafficking, a scourge on all of society.  It must also include discussions about hunger, poverty, illness and all that impacts the lives of God’s children.  Our Scriptural tradition clearly focuses far more attention on our responsibilities to others and the human condition than it does on any issue of human sexuality.  

If we believe the faith we seek to practice, we have no basis for abusing, exploiting or coercing any child of God into a particular way of living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Each of us has been created by Love for love, by God for love.  Jesus Christ came that all might be saved.  His was a ministry to the excluded, the marginalized, the outcasts, the poor, the neglected and all whom the powers of His day would ignore.  Whom shall we follow?  Jesus Christ or those who would seek power at the expense of other children of God.  We follow Jesus as Jesus people in a Jesus movement.

Bruce Garner
Integrity USA