Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow has begun to return its focus to the local level, and for good reason: There is still strong resistance to the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ folks in a number of parishes and dioceses. Two clear examples came to my attention over the last couple of weeks and a third is most likely the result of non-inclusive attitudes.
The first very obvious example of resistance to inclusion involves St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. Remember that this parish is located in one of the dioceses that thought they could leave The Episcopal Church and take church property with them. The court cases involved in this are still in progress to some degree.
A long time friend, Wayne Helmly
, wrote a letter to Ms. Penn Hagood
, Senior Warden of St. Philip’s in response to a very unwelcoming letter she wrote to the parish and posted on its website. (It was soon taken down, but about 99% of it is in the two links below.) Wayne shared his letter
and also some other resources
. He has yet to get a response. I also wrote to Ms. Hagood in my capacity as Integrity’s President. I haven’t received a response either. My letter is below.
It continues to be a source of sadness that so many in this part of the State of South Carolina remain so unwelcoming of queerfolk... which I suspect might just be the tip of the real issues that could take days to discuss.
The second example has been the Bishop of Florida’s “response” to Resolution B012 passed at General Convention 2018, which p ut the decision about performing same sex marriages in the hands of the local rector rather than the diocesan bishop. This followed three years of eight bishops refusing to allow same sex marriages in their dioceses.
The Right Rev. Samuel Howard
has created a number of hoops for any same sex couple to jump through to be married...in direct contradiction to the intent of B012. He harps on the “Biblical standard of marriage being between one man and one woman” when he knows it is between one man and as many women as the man could afford. He further plans to have his clergy acknowledge that they will violate their ordination vows by performing a same sex marriage… because he is against such marriages. I’m sorry folks, but holding an opinion that is different from your bishop’s opinion is not violating ordination vows! The doctrine and discipline of the church now includes same sex marriage. So how could it be a violation if a priest marries a same sex couple? Bishop Howard is certainly not a standard for hospitality to the marginalized and outcast. Sadly, my own Godson lives in his diocese and I don’t want him attending an Episcopal Church at the moment. Blessedly his parents are handling his upbringing in the church themselves and have access to loving and caring clergy who don’t hold to the bishop’s biases.
Another most likely example of not being inclusive is the closing of St. David’s parish in Lakeland, Florida. The story
was included in the daily email of press items of interest from the Episcopal Church Center.
The name rang a bell in the back of my mind when I read the story. My aunt and uncle and their children lived in Lakeland and I recalled them attending that parish. (This is the same aunt and uncle who introduced me to The Episcopal Church in the early 1960’s.) I checked with my cousins and indeed that had been their church and one of them had been confirmed there.
Lakeland is in the Diocese of Central Florida, another of the eight dioceses where the bishop has not allowed same sex marriage. The diocese has a long history of not being welcoming to LGBTQ+ folks that goes back a couple of decades, including a literal purge of LGBTQ+ folks from serving in leadership roles at its cathedral at one point.
Inhospitality does not bring people into our churches. Why we don’t seem to grasp that concept continues to baffle me. The state of Florida’s population continues to increase. Part of that increase is young people, many unchurched, often the result of them not finding churches to be welcoming places in general and more so for anyone who is queer. I can only imagine the growth we could achieve if there was a change of heart that overtook the dioceses of Florida and Central Florida that began to welcome the outcast… you know… the way Jesus did with the movement He began.
It isn’t my intention to “pick on” on Florida, but two of the five dioceses in that state have a history of being unwelcoming to LGBTQ+ folks. That is an observation more than a condemnation.
How much longer will we wring our hands over declining membership when part of the solution to reversing that trend stares us squarely in the face: welcome the outcast.
September 13, 2018
Dear Ms. Hagood,
I have read your letter and related materials and I am trying to determine if you have been misled or given incorrect information or exactly what might lead you to the position you have taken with The Episcopal Church.
By way of some background, I’ve been active for many years at the parish, diocesan, provincial and church-wide levels of The Episcopal Church. I’ve served on vestries, on staff, chaired committees and commissions and served a term on the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church and attended ten General Conventions. It is my service on Executive Council that causes me to question the basis for your position.
During my tenure on Executive Council, we were dealing with the situations created when several bishops decided that they had the right to take Episcopal Church property and congregations out of The Episcopal Church. Among those were the bishops of San Joaquin, Ft. Worth, Pittsburg and Quincy.
There was a common theme among the things that those who remained part of The Episcopal Church told us: They had been isolated by the bishop from the wider church. They had been provided inaccurate information by him. A “silo effect” had been created where there was little communication between congregations and people. One bishop even insisted on “silent retreats” with the clergy. How can there be any communication in such situations? Obviously there cannot be. In other words, the bishop controlled as much as he could of information flowing into and within the diocese.
Contrary to what you state, these actions were not really about issues of human sexuality, the consecration of Gene Robinson as a bishop, prayer book and Bible interpretation or even the ordination of women. All of those issues were either diversions, smoke screens, scape goats, or secondary issues. The primary issue at work in all of these situations, later including the one in your diocese, was very simple: power and control. These male bishops all had serious problems with the idea that someone other than straight, white men were in control of anything including the church. If they were honest, most also had issues with those of other races….at least if there were other races in their dioceses. They could not be as blatant about that. It would be unacceptable. Sadly, all of their other biases didn’t bother them about being blatant.
Has it not occurred to you that with the attitudes of these men, including Mark Lawrence, you would never have been Senior Warden, much less a vestry member of your parish? It has not been all that long that women were not allowed to hold such positions. It was only in the early 1970’s that women were allowed to be Deputies to General Conventions.
At one point in the not too distant past, you would not even been allowed to serve communion because of your gender. My late mother was the first woman in our parish to be licensed as what was then called a Chalice Bearer. There was an uproar over that…mostly by men of course. There were threats to boycott the rail and not take communion from a woman. In the end, that did not happen. My mother had become a respected leader in the parish and her character and commitment to the church overcame the petty biases behind the uproar. She would later become Senior Warden. At the time of her death she was truly the matriarch of the parish.
I have to wonder why you would support a stance that would denigrate you because of your gender. That is the offshoot of all of this strutting and posturing by bishops and other male clergy. They just cannot deal with the fact that they no longer “run the show” and that women (not to mention LGBTQ folks) are equal to them in their vocations. If these folks are honest, they would also admit that they have a problem with you being in such a primary leadership role as Senior Warden.
I served on a commission of the church with the Rt. Rev. Edward Salmon, your former bishop. We had an excellent relationship. I would even say we had become friends. We discussed such issues as a bishop trying to take a diocese out of the church. Sadly, he could have put an end to such talk in South Carolina but he did not. Had he exercised what I truly believe he thought was right, things would have turned out differently.
It’s interesting that you support Mark Lawrence’s positions. There was no concurrence with his election as bishop the first time. He subsequently made promises that he would NOT try and take the Diocese of South Carolina out of The Episcopal Church. He then received concurrence on the second election. Obviously, he lied. Can you in good conscience support someone who does not tell the truth and lies to the entire church?
You may wonder why I would bother to write to you. I have a number of friends in South Carolina who have experienced great pain at the hands of those you support. As a gay man, I am angry that you choose to dump all of the problem on my tribe when we were never the problem at all. I also serve as the national President of Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow. There are members of Integrity and parishes that have publicly stated their support and affirmation of LGBTQ+ folks in South Carolina and all over the country. I have an obligation to defend them against what are false accusations used to further ongoing biases and discrimination.
In all of the myriad of discussions about these issues, which boil down to who is “in” and who is “out” there is little discussion about a very important conversation that conveyed Jesus’ position. When asked what the greatest commandment was, he responded thusly: You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart and soul and mind and strength. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
There has never been as asterisk anywhere that listed exclusions of who we are to love as our neighbor. That is because there are no such exclusions. One need only turn to the story of the Good Samaritan to see how broadly Jesus intended love to be between and among us. There were no limits or exclusions.
I sincerely hope that you might reconsider what you told your congregation and perhaps even apologize to them. Consider this: There was at least one or two young people who were coming to terms with the fact that they were LGBTQ when you trashed them as a group. Consider the damage you inflicted upon them. Could you truly be proud of doing that? Are you aware that the attempted suicide and suicides among LGBTQ+ young people are considerably higher than their straight counterparts and that much of it is attributable to oppression by religious organizations? Do you support that oppression? If you do not, then an apology is certainly in order.
Regardless of our differences, I do wish you the Peace of Christ.
Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow