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Walking with Integrity

"Walking With Integrity" is the official blog of Integrity USA. We regularly offer news and insights into issues related to our mission and organization.

  • Resisting Full Inclusion... Still An Issue

    September 21, 2018 - 12:43 pm

    Resisting Full Inclusion... Still An Issue 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



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  • Looking Back - Moving Forward

    September 14, 2018 - 8:19 am

    Looking Back - Moving Forward I recently learned about a church that had connections to Integrity and the LGBTQ+ community.

    The church is the old Grace Church on Canal Street in New Orleans.  Grace had weathered changing demographics and times over the years since its founding in the late 1800’s,  but was ultimately one of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It was closed a number of years ago and the property returned to secular use, i.e. deconsecrated.  (As somewhat of an aside, when churches are no longer going to be used as churches, they are deconsecrated.  So if you ever danced at the Limelight Nightclub in New York City, you were not dancing in a church!  You were dancing in a building that had been a church during its lifetime.)

    The link to a story about old Grace Church is: https://realestate.nola.com/realestate-news/2018/08/grace_church_sale_canal_street.html

    While the real estate story is interesting the picture gallery that you will see if you click on the “14” in the center of the page is fascinating.  This was a parish very involved in social justice issues over its lifetime.  You will see pictures of and read about well known names such as Joe Doss, Leo Frade, and Gene Robinson, all bishops in our church.  As I recall, our Founder, Dr. Louie Crew Clay also visited this parish. The parish even bought a salvage boat from the military to help get refugees into this country! Their ministries were quite remarkable. Clergy got arrested for their work.  Read the story to find out who they were.

    How many of the churches we attend maintain any form of archives?  Have any of us looked to see if our history as LGBTQ+ folks, our history as Integrity, are included?  If we are included, I would think it to be very interesting reading and quite an education for the younger queerfolk among us (and a reminder for the older).  If our story is not there, perhaps we can contribute stories, memorabilia and items from our personal collections, writings and recollections to fill in the blanks in some places and to create the awareness in others.

    The Archives of The Episcopal Church contains a wealth of information about both the church and our story in it.  We almost got “wiped out” during my first tenure as your President in the early 1990’s.  The archivist at the time had, shall we say an “issue” with who we are, and was about to destroy the materials that had been sent for safekeeping.  Luckily we were able to have someone intervene and preserve our legacy.

    If any of us have items about Integrity, especially from the early years I think the Archives might like to have them.  Our story needs to be maintained and told over and over again, no matter how fully included we find ourselves.  As generations come and go, the story must be shared for others to appreciate the struggles and to help prevent us from losing what we have gained.

    As we move forward both as the church and as LGBTQ+ people of faith we must always keep glancing backwards as well.  What we have accomplished, the gains for inclusion we have made, have not been ours alone.  They have been the work of many people over the years who often suffered for their beliefs and the actions they took.

    We do not stand on our own. We do stand on the shoulders of every person, every child of God, who has come before us in the quest for full inclusion and participation in The Episcopal Church.  If we ever forget that, we are doomed.  Someone has paid a price for where we are.  Let us always be grateful for the people and the places that have been our mainstay.



















    Bruce Garner, President
    Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow





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  • Duped? Misled? Lied to?

    September 7, 2018 - 5:33 pm

    Duped? Misled? Lied to? I have been in the process of reading a book entitled "No One Is Illegal." It was written by Justin Akers Chacón and Mike Davis about twelve years ago.  It remains relevant and much more so than I expected.

    The book simply tells part of the story of systemic racism in our nation. "Part" is also an understatement.  While the book focuses mostly on the issue in the western/southwestern part of our country, it also connects with the same issue throughout our nation, an issue that has been a national sin for more than a couple of hundred years.

    What ignites my anger and sends my blood pressure up is the fact that essentially all of the data in the book was somehow omitted from American History classes in high school and college.  What was included was glossed over very well.  Since it began in the 1800’s, it isn’t like it had not taken place by the time I was in school!

    The early sections deal with discrimination against Asians, especially in California, referred to as the "yellow peril."  It moves on from there.  I wonder how many of us are aware that the treaty that ended the Mexican American War, ceded over half of Mexico’s land to the United States which included three fourths of her natural resources?  The land included California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and parts of Wyoming and Oklahoma. It also ended any further claim Mexico might have on Texas.  That treaty was signed in 1848.

    After the signing of the treaty, upwards of 125,000 Mexican people found themselves on the other side of a new border that made them foreigners in their ancestral homeland.  In 1848 that represented a very large number of people.  Their new nation continued to discriminate against them and mistreat them. State and Federal legislation at various time decreed that they were inferior as a race of people and deprived them of their rights. They were considered almost exclusively in the terms of their value as cheap labor.  Sound familiar?  Where would construction and the harvesting of crops be even now were it not for that distinction?  The role played by management to subjugate them was deplorable. Parts of the labor movement were complicit as well. The bottom line was keeping cheap labor as cheap as possible. Ironic for this Labor Day week, isn’t it?

    All of this specter of racism fed into that already in existence with other people whose skin color was not white.  The systemic, deliberate and planned discrimination is frightening.  Even more frightening is the role state and federal laws played into the entire process. According to the "nativist" movement, there was a need to keep the nation’s make up in line with the founders of our country: white and Anglo.

    This book is an eye opener for anyone who cannot conceive of racism as an ongoing systemic problem that goes way beyond individuals and their respective biases.  Unearned privilege also makes itself known.  We have been taught racism and discrimination, period.

    Think about how us queer folks fit into this and similar scenarios.  We are just another category that so many deem to be less than the "ideal" of being white and straight.  The difference?  Our sexual orientation is not always known and certainly not always visible.  Skin color is generally obvious.  Those who would treat others less than worthy of their full dignity as children of God can’t always "see" us, particularly when we hide in plain sight.

    I urge you to read this book as we continue to struggle through some very difficult days in our nation.  We need to know ALL of our history as a country, not just the "pretty and patriotic" parts. Who might we have devalued lately just because they don’t look quite enough like us?


















    Bruce Garner, President
    Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow


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  • The Bible Says...

    August 31, 2018 - 2:42 pm

    The Bible Says... "The Bible Says..."
    Oh, Really?  What else does it say?

    Growing up in and continuing to live in "Southern Baptist-Land" the phrase "the Bible says" is one I have endured my entire life.  The vast majority of the times I heard those words spoken, they were followed with some justification for denigrating, disenfranchising or just denouncing another child of God invariably because of race, gender, gender identity/expression or sexual orientation. (There were also more subtle denunciations due to class, economic standing and the like but it was not considered polite to note such.) Rarely did I hear anything loving and caring after I heard "the Bible says."

    One of my heros, John Pavlovitz, has penned one of the best articles about the misuse of what the Bible says that I have ever read.  I urge you to go to Christian, Stop Blaming God for Your LGBTQ-Hatred and read it.

    The Bible was used to justify racial segregation... still is, I suspect, if we are honest about it. The proponents of such a position often noted that the Bible did not forbid slavery, for example and was filled with stories about people who were enslaved.  Little if anything negative was associated with being enslaved.  There was little noted in modern usage of the cultural context of slavery in ancient days. The few times I ventured into the alleged Biblical justifications, I could only shake my head and note: “That’s not what that says!”

    We finally came to our senses, at least in appearances, when we ended the practice of slavery in the United States.  Yet reality has shown that overt slavery was replaced with a more covert version of the entity in the form of Jim Crow Laws, voter suppression, disenfranchisement and discrimination whether de facto or de jure.  We have not yet redeemed our collective soul over how we continue to treat all racial minorities  in this country.  (If you want your eyes pried wide open, read the book “No One Is Illegal.”  Some salient points seemed to have been left out of the history books when I was taught American History a few decades ago.)

    The Bible was also used to justify the subjugation, disenfranchisement and denigration of women.  Vestiges of that remain in some faith communities, namely those that do not allow women to teach males older than a certain age or participate in ordained ministry. I can’t find anything Jesus said or taught that would justify a woman being treated any less in the eyes of God (or humankind) than a man would be treated.  It is clear that Jesus did involve women in His ministry and that much of his financial support came from women.

    The closest I could find to Biblical references about the place of women were in writings attributed to Paul.  Yet again, we might want to consider the cultural context of when those "references" were written.  Women were property... the property of men.  Ponder that for a moment.  Ponder the notion that a woman was property not much differently than a slave was property.  It is helpful to also note that these narratives were initially from men who most likely treated women as property.

    It has been a very long time since I heard anything in a marriage ceremony about a father "giving" his daughter to her future husband.  I hope we have finally understood that a man's daughter (or son) is not his property to give to anyone, including a future spouse.

    Now comes the most recent group to continue to be subjected by some to "what the Bible says" thinking.  It is, sadly, not unusual to hear “the Bible says” to justify discrimination, disenfranchisement, and degradation of LGBTQ+ folks, both in the church and in secular society.  (Ironic that secular society might embrace a bad idea in support of discrimination based on the writings of a particular religious faith.)

    I would certainly hope by now that those reading this would know that the "clobber" passages from the Bible are meaningless from having been separated from the culture in which they were written and the full narrative in which they are found.  Knowing intellectually and embracing that within are two different concepts.  Many of us have been so abused by the incorrect use of Scripture that we still, deep, deep down inside still believe some of the garbage to which we have been subjected. I pray for the day when we all truly understand that the God who created us loves us exactly the way we were created.

    Isn’t it time that we recaptured the concept of what the Bible says?  The next time someone tries to subject us to "the Bible says..." how about we smile and inquire:  Have you forgotten that Jesus reminded us that the first and great commandment was to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength?  Have you forgotten that Jesus then reminded us that the second commandment was like it, that we were to love our neighbor as we love ourselves?  He followed that with a statement that on these two commandments hung all the law and the prophets.  The Bible really says to us to love... not to hate.  So you were about to tell me what the Bible says?



















    Bruce Garner, President
    Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow



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  • The Virus of Privilege

    August 24, 2018 - 11:21 am

    The Virus of Privilege The initial audience for this posting will be pretty close to “all white” in composition, obviously including me. We share what can be termed a virus. It’s called privilege, white privilege. The majority are probably male. We share a variant of that virus. It’s called white male privilege. Most of the initial readers are also queer. That diminishes the aspects of privilege to some degree, but only when someone knows our sexual orientation. Those among us who are female, whether cisgender or transgender, enjoy a degree of privilege ... if white, of course. More on that later.

    As a nation and perhaps somewhat less as a church, we are suffering from the infection by this virus of privilege. The symptoms include the great divisions we are experiencing. Other symptoms include the use of language and terminology that demeans and denigrates those who do not happen to be white. Our immigration policies reflect this virus. We would not have nearly the hand wringing and angst (or nasty language) if those seeking refuge among us had lighter skin tones. We, of course, do not talk much about these issues, but it doesn’t take much to discern that from the words that get used.

    Privilege makes us think we are entitled to more than we are based on our skin color and our gender. We have been conditioned (brainwashed?) into thinking that there is some inherent superiority in being white and male. It makes me wonder how much of that type of thinking went into the pictorial depictions of Jesus as having blond hair and blue eyes. Did some folks have a problem relating to a Savior who had the olive skin, brown eyes and black hair of an ethnic Jew from the Middle East? I suspect so. Why else would be create such fantasies?

    Is our notion of white privilege what prompts so many to say with some bitterness “ALL lives matter” when brought face to face with the necessity of someone else simply stating that “Black Lives Matter?” Why would we jump to such an impulsive and poorly thought out response if we didn’t somehow believe in such privilege? When a Black woman comes to tears when considering bringing a child into this world, we should open our eyes and take notice. I do not think I have ever heard a white parent speak about having to warn a son about what to wear, how to drive, how to speak, how to carry themselves for fear of being arrested, shot at or even killed because they came across as some racist stereotype of people of color. Dirt poor white parents do not feel a need to have those conversations. Very wealthy Black parents know how necessary such conversations are to survival.

    I am painfully aware of how the color of my skin has benefited me in my life. I know that God has indeed blessed my life. At the same time I am keenly aware that some of what I might mistakenly call a blessing are more evidence of the ingrained nature of white (male) privilege.

    I am trying to learn how to respond in a Christ like manner when a straight white male tells me how I should or should not feel or react or handle something. The stark reality is that however well intentioned such “advice” might be, it comes from those who have absolutely no clue what being queer is all about AND who have absolutely no authority to tell a queer person anything at all about responding to prejudice, bias, homophobia or the like. At times the best response is to just walk away. Then I have to remind myself that walking away does nothing to correct the ignorance that warranted such “advice” in the first place.

    Even though most of my comments have been about males, females are not immune to the virus of white privilege or straight white privilege. My suspicion is that the observations I have made about women is that they are more prone to think before creating a situation where they might find their foot in their mouth up to the knee. However, I’ve also had more than ample evidence to the contrary as well. I have been sorely disappointed when straight white women exhibit the same or similar infection with the virus of white privilege.

    We are called to responsibilities in helping insure the creation of the beloved community. We are also called to try and bring some bridges to place across the divides among us. That is the Gospel message. The unfortunate, dare I say tragic, circumstances in our nation make this a more difficult task than it has been in many decades in our nation. Bubbling below the surface has always been the spectre of slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK and all sorts of incarnations of hatred and racism. We find ourselves facing a daunting task, a task for which we are equipped by our faith if we will only speak out. In my part of the country the standard response to these issues has often been: “We don’t talk about such things.” Well it is now time to talk about “such things.” How much further must our moral compass drift before we do engage in such discussions?

    What has our privilege done for us today? Hopefully we used it to benefit someone else.


















    Bruce Garner, President
    Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow





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Older posts from Walking with Integrity can be found at http://walkingwithintegrity.blogspot.com