Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Only to a certain point…..

When we baptize someone, whether infant, teenager or adult, we do not baptize them “only to a certain point.”  When we receive them into the household of God, we do not receive them “only to a certain point.” Baptism brings full membership in the Body of Christ.  It is complete and total and certainly not “only to a certain point.”

Yet we continue to see glass walls, ceilings and barriers placed before those of us who are LGBTQ+  We continue to see evidence of us being accepted only up to a certain point.

We have spent decades, yes decades, striving for full inclusion and equality for LGBTQ+ persons in The Episcopal Church.  We got where we are now incrementally and General Convention by General Convention. Our processes often seem cumbersome and overly complicated, yet we utilized those processes to show our commitment to our church and our willingness to follow the processes that are part of the polity of The Episcopal Church.

It has always been intriguing that we as queer folk have been included only to a certain point at the various milestones of our journey toward inclusion and equality.  The first accomplishment was the simple acknowledgement that LGBTQ+ were children of God. That may sound odd now but at the time it represented significant progress in our collective journeys within the life of our church. Over the decades, canon law was changed to embrace LGBTQ+ folks at increasingly more levels of the church.  The General Convention of 2018 tried to make it clear that we were full members of the portion of the Body of Christ that is The Episcopal Church, even including allowing us to be married in our church…..just like everyone else.

After General Convention 2015 eight bishops of The Episcopal Church refused to allow same sex marriages to take place in their dioceses.  The 2018 convention sought to address that issue when it gave rectors the authority to decide who to marry rather than bishops (except where there was a prior marriage).  

There is still resistance.  Some of the “resistant eight” have managed to find a way to address the pastoral needs of the LGBTQ+ members of their flocks.  One steadfastly refuses and is having to face the consequences of that position. Those who would include queer folks “only to a certain point” still exist.  I would offer to them now what I said years ago: If you do not intend to allow LGBTQ+ persons full membership in the church, then do not baptize us!

Now it also appears that our baptisms are acceptable only to a certain point with the Archbishop of Canterbury as well.  The spouses of duly and legally married same sex couples will not be invited to the Lambeth Conference next year. LGBTQ+ bishops are invited…...but not their husbands or wives.  This is progress over the last Lambeth when even LGBTQ+ bishops were excluded. Another glass barrier has been put in place. If the Archbishop of Canterbury wishes to be completely fair then NO spouses should be invited….none, period, end of sentence.  Would the pain of such exclusion register with the non-LGBTQ+ bishops and primates? To be honest, I have to wonder.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of “sins” identified in Scripture.  We seem to fixate only on those that might be related to sex or sexual orientation.   The others are explained or “forgiven” away usually by some convoluted mechanism that doesn’t have much connection to theology or salvation.  The concept of a loving, consensual, monogamous same sex relationship did not even exist when the books that became the Bible were finally put into writing.  

Same sex relationships between women were not discussed.  Same sex relationships between men were almost exclusively based on conquest, humiliation and degradation and centered upon the imbalance of power between the persons involved.  Is that model really how we want to judge those we know personally whose relationships embody the concept of love? If that is truly the case, we have a serious need for self-examination as to why we are so self-loathsome about the gift of sexuality God has given us.  Why should that be the “certain point” up to which we will go?

The Executive Council of our church passed a resolution at its last meeting that was described as providing the Archbishop of Canterbury with “wiggle room” that might enable him to change his mind and invite all spouses of bishops.  I feel obligated to pose one of those “hard questions:” Would we have provided “wiggle room” if the exclusion had been based on race or ethnicity or gender or differing ability or any other criteria than sexual orientation (or gender identity/expression)?  It is a valid question. I leave that question for others to answer.

Bruce Garner, Past President (And sometime contributor to the Friday Flash.)
Integrity USA:  The Episcopal Rainbow  

Friday, February 15, 2019

Fear of Defilement??

The reading from the Gospels for today’s Daily Office is the passage from Mark where Jesus calls out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes over how they practice some of the rituals of their faith.  The Pharisees have asked Jesus why his disciples don’t always wash their hands in the ritual fashion before meals. He uses their misinterpretation of the law to catch them in their hypocrisy. First it is their way of getting around the commandment to honor father and mother by giving money to the temple.  They can then claim they don’t have the resources needed to honor their father and their mother. Jesus then goes on to note that it is not what goes into a person that defiles that person. Instead it is what comes out of that person...whether from the mouth or their heart. What goes into a person enters the mouth, goes through the digestive system and out into the sewer.  Defilement is not from what you eat or touch. Defilement comes from the heart.

My thoughts turned to the eight bishops who have tried to refuse to allow same sex couples to be married in their dioceses.  The question came to mind wondering what the source of their fear might be. I think they are afraid of being “defiled” by allowing same sex marriages!  How on earth allowing a marriage can defile someone falls into the category of what Jesus said to the Pharisees and scribes. How could ANY marriage defile the officiant or her/his bishop?  It can’t.

Those who have made arrangements for another bishop to oversee parishes that wish to allow same sex marriages are not off the hook with that maneuver either.  They have just found another route to avoid being “defiled” themselves.

Regardless of the arrangements or lack thereof, all eight of these bishops are playing the same game.  In that process, they are failing to meet the pastoral needs of people for whom they have vowed to provide pastoral care.  

Look at the ministry of Jesus.  He dismissed defilement as ludicrous in the sense that was being played out in His day.  He touched those deemed ritually unclean such as dead bodies and lepers. He upended the “rules” used to avoid caring for those who needed care.  It did not matter to Jesus.

It seems to me that the attitude of these eight bishops is as ludicrous as the issues of ritual purity were in Jesus’ day.  Do they honestly think that allowing same sex marriages in their dioceses can defile them in any way? If that is how they think, I question both their theology and the seminaries that taught them to believe such nonsense.  

Gentle bishops:  Your vocation is to be a pastor to ALL within your diocesan flock.  You do not get to “hand off” those with whom you do not want to engage, however much you disagree with them.  Our canon law provides for certain rites to be available to all. It is not your discretion to create exceptions.  Open your hearts. Defilement comes FROM the heart not from touching another either figuratively or literally. What, gentlemen, do you fear?  Could your fear be of yourselves? Only you can answer that.

Bruce Garner, Past President
Integrity USA:  The Episcopal Rainbow  

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Presiding Bishop Seeks To Enforce Resolution B012

The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church has issued a Partial Restriction on the ministry of The Right Reverend William Love, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany (New York).

This is the link to the entire document containing the restrictions:    https://tinyurl.com/Bishop-Love-Restriction

Here is the gist of the restrictions placed by Presiding Bishop Curry:

“Accordingly, in order to protect the integrity of the Church’s polity and disciplinary process and, thereby, the good order and welfare of the Church, and pursuant to Canons IV.7(3), (4), and IV.17(2), I hereby place the following partial restriction on the exercise of Bishop Love’s ministry:

         During the period of this restriction, Bishop Love, acting individually, or as
         Bishop Diocesan, or in any other capacity, is forbidden from participating in any
         manner in the Church’s disciplinary process in the Diocese of Albany in any
         matter regarding any member of the clergy that involves the issue of same-sex

         Nor shall he participate in any other matter that has or may have the effect of
         penalizing in any way any member of the clergy or laity or worshipping
         congregation of his Diocese for their participation in the arrangements for or
         participation in a same-sex marriage in his Diocese or elsewhere.”

The Diocese of Albany is one of eight dioceses that initially refused to abide by Resolution B012 regarding same sex marriages.  Said resolution was passed at the General Convention of The Episcopal Church during the summer of 2018.

The responses to B012 by the bishops of those dioceses have ranged from the outright refusal to comply in Albany to the US Virgin Islands now allowing same sex marriages.  Most of the other bishops have responded with a variety of ways to discourage same sex marriages in their dioceses. Some are considering ways to permit such marriages in accord with the spirit of the resolution.

The refusal of bishops to allow same sex marriages has been based on the same worn out justifications that have impeded the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in The Episcopal Church.  Scripture is cited as a justification but without the recognition that the alleged proscriptions in Scripture are taken out of the context of the time and culture of their writing and out of the context of the full narratives of which they are a part.  Tradition is also cited, yet fails to consider how much the institution of marriage has changed over the centuries. It remains a puzzle as to how these bishops can reach such conclusions even if they have had a minimal seminary education. It would seem reasonable that those who studied or should have studied ancient texts should understand the contextual nature of Scripture as well as the issues related to authorship.

The situation created by these bishops has resulted in the failure of LGBTQ+ members of our church to be treated as full members of the church and due the same level of pastoral care so easily offered to non-LGBTQ+ members.  Our canon law explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression (along with a number of other criteria). It is sad that it seems to take filing legal actions to get bishops to simply comply with those canon laws.  Yet, if that is what it takes for our kindred in Christ to access all of the rites of our church, then that is what needs to be done. Perhaps this action by the Presiding Bishop will at least nudge the other non-compliant bishops to rethink their positions. All are due proper pastoral care from their bishops in all areas of their lives.  There are no exceptions that I have found.

Let us continue to pray for a change of heart for the non-compliant bishops and let us hold our kindred who suffer discrimination in our thoughts and prayers.  Justice will eventually roll down like water…...

Bruce Garner, Past President
Integrity USA:  The Episcopal Rainbow  

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What Are You Planning To Do This Year?

A few days ago, the year 2019 arrived. Despite this being a brand new year, there is still work to be accomplished that is left over from 2018.  I’m wondering what you and I planning to do this year in light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves as queerfolk?

There are still eight dioceses in The Episcopal Church where same sex couples cannot get married by a priest of or in property belonging to those dioceses.  Some of the eight bishops involved have moved about a quarter inch on the issue….others will still cite Scripture out of context to support their entrenched attitudes.  I wonder at times where these guys went to seminary. Did they not learn the origin of Scripture? Did they not learn the ancient languages of Scripture and see how some concepts do not translate into modern English and other concepts didn’t even exist?  At what points will these men start being pastors and stop being Pharisees? (Read the Gospels and see how Jesus regarded Pharisees.)

The General Convention of 2018 made it abundantly clear by huge margins that this church, The Episcopal Church, allowed same sex couples to be married in and by the church.  There was some weak spined way for some to wiggle out of it…..bishops have problems holding each other accountable. That’s old news….same stunt they tried with the ordination of women.  

Turning to the secular for a moment, we are living under a Presidential administration where one hardly knows which end is up at any given moment in time.  There are so many distractions and scandals that one wonders if some are not deliberate attempts to focus attention away from real problems and on to an issue or something just for the sake of diversion.  How many more days will a substantial part of the Federal Government remain shut down because of a temper tantrum about a wall…..of all things?

Some will immediately say I have gotten political.  The reality is that I have not gotten political. I have gotten personal.  When the present administration literally tries to erase transgender folks, that isn’t political, it is personal.  We all have siblings who will/would be impacted by such a discriminatory action. Trying to ban HIV+ people from the military is equally personal.  Wanting to allow discrimination due to sexual orientation because of someone’s “religious beliefs” is equally personal. No, these are not political issues. They are personal issues that impact us directly or impact and harm people we know and love.  The majority population, i.e., straight folks, see issues such as these as merely political. They fail to see that the impact is personal and always has been.
So I ask you what you are going to do this year?  Will you make your voice heard by the bishops who continue to discriminate against us?  Will you point out to them that they are both violating canon law AND violating the baptismal covenant vows they have taken to respect the dignity of every human being?  Will you stand with your siblings in Christ as they continue to strive for full inclusion in our church or will you just stand there?

Will you write to those in Congress and/or your state legislatures expressing your thoughts about discrimination and how wrong it is?  Will you call or email or go meet with those who would treat us as less than full members of society, paying the same types of taxes as everyone else?  Will you remind them that all are to enjoy the full benefit of being a resident of this nation regardless of whether we agree with each other or not? Will you remind them that the rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights apply to us all?  Will you remind them that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”should be enjoyed by all and not just those who fit a predefined mold or expression?

What will you do?  As Weeza noted to one of her colleagues in “Steel Magnolias” these are NOT difficult questions!

Bruce Garner, Past President
Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow

Friday, January 4, 2019

Transitioning never is easy

Dear Integrity members and friends:

In October 2018 Integrity started with a new Board, a group of people who decided to collaborate with our group. Any beginning could be hard and sometimes, the most experienced people need to give a hand. For this reason, we are delighted to welcome our former President Bruce Garner to help us writing for our Friday Flash. Thank you, Bruce, for this awesome contribution.