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I'm Standing Right Here

posted Jul 12, 2012, 8:14 AM by Mel Soriano   [ updated Jul 12, 2012, 8:19 AM ]

I testified about my life experience at the July 8th hearing on resolution A049, the blessing of same gender couples. I followed the eloquent Duke University sophomore, Jonathan York, as the second person to rise in its favor. I was sandwiched between two people who opposed the legislation itself and who clearly opposed any kind of blessing of same-gender couples. The collect read by the chaplain of the committee prior to testimony called for that which is cast down to rise up and for that which is old to be made new. It was mindful of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time to be born and a time to die…”
First, let me say that I embrace a church that allows for respectful dissent to be shared freely before our assembly. Voicing opinion is vital to arriving at a place of right conduct. The person who spoke ahead of me said that we are moving too fast. I couldn’t agree more that we are moving. But it feels like a snail’s pace to me and my partner. Linda and I have been together since 1982. How long would the speaker have us and the millions of our fellow lesbian and gay sisters and brothers wait – people who have stories like ours? How long is enough? What right does she have, by virtue of merely her heterosexuality, to impinge so blithely on our personal experience? It is not like it is a secret that lesbian and gay couples exist and live in loving and committed relationships all over the country, and indeed the world. 

The speaker after me, a woman priest, shocked me with her words. She warned that if we passed A049 that there would be bloodshed in other countries against Christians; therefore we should not endanger their lives — it is too risky a business. I had been seated about 5 feet from her, in flesh and blood. I think she did not hear a single word I had just said about my shared life with Linda of nearly 30 years.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that she is not involved in direct ministry with the endangered Christians she is so concerned about. Violence against LGBT Christians in Uganda is a reality. Homosexuality is a crime in 76 countries. The truth is that Christians are in danger all over the world for various reasons, and while I do not want to endanger anyone, I think this was an act of manipulation and emotional abuse. I thought about what Jesus’ response might be and realized that for the most part, Jesus healed and helped those in his midst, in his immediate presence. There were distance healings, but mostly he responded to immediate needs that were closest to him.

And so, someone feeling threatened resorted to fear-mongering and deflection. She ignored the compelling story unfolding right in front of her face by a woman breathing the same air as she. I wanted to say, “I’m standing right in front of you — I’m right here.” I was in her presence seeking a healing and a rising up, and again LGBT people were cast down by such maneuvering.

What is most halting about this experience is that these same old tactics were used to block the ordination of women in the early 70’s. They were used in the 60’s to derail the African-American civil rights movement, and against the women suffragists led by the intrepid Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They were employed to quiet the oratory prowess of abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

I stand on the shoulders of these courageous change agents. We all stand on the shoulders of someone who bravely opened a door that had been locked tightly. We are now charged to knock and open doors, so that those who come after us may also rise up and walk through them. And may we come through those doors with the blessings of God Almighty.

By Marcia Ledford

I’m Standing Right Here

Response to the Dissenting "Indianapolis Statement"

posted Jul 12, 2012, 6:09 AM by Mel Soriano

July 11, 2012
To the Signers of the "Indianapolis Statement,"

Rt. Rev. Sirs,

I have read your statement and I respect your choosing to state your positions. I understand they are strongly held. I wish to state my positions and ask that you respect my choice to do so as my positions are also strongly held.
Rev. Deacon Carolyn Woodall

I am a recently ordained deacon. I am a lawyer, currently working as a Public Defender, almost a cradle Episcopalian, and no spring chicken. I am also transgender. Depending on where I live, A049 may apply to me as well. This gives me a somewhat different perspective on what it means to be a Christian, as well as on being Episcopal clergy.

I very recently took the same oath to which you refer. I took it with a clear conscience and with a firm belief that the relationships of faithful, monogamous, loving same-sex couples are worthy of recognition and blessing by the church. I also believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God and to contain all things necessary to salvation. The sexual intimacy to which you refer, however, presupposes something else - that the relationship must be between a man and a woman so that they may procreate. We all know that procreation was of paramount importance. Yet we will, as a church, perform marriage rites, or blessings of a civil marriage, for couples who are not capable of procreation - be it because of age or medical reasons. We recognize the legitimacy of non-procreative relationships between men and women without qualm. Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation, but it clearly was never intended to contain all things necessary to meet every situation in life for time eternal. Hence we rest our beliefs on Scripture, Tradition and Reason. To do otherwise leaves us crippled as to our ability to respond to changes in attitudes, society, technology and our knowledge of our universe and ourselves.

The Book of Common Prayer does state as you have said - marriage was established in creation and it references a man and a woman. We have, over time, changed the Book of Common Prayer. It is not immutable nor is it Holy Writ. It is written by people for the purpose of setting forth our beliefs and our liturgy. The current BCP even recognizes that priests and bishops might be women. The drafters of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer did not conceive of this. When the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was drafted we had not yet reached the point in our society where same-sex relationships were acknowledged as being anything but short term, promiscuous, and devoid of love. Those who were in loving, long-term, faithful, monogamous relationships knew better, but society did not. Most people believed it to be a voluntary lifestyle, not innate. The concept of innate sexual attraction which was anything other than heterosexual was unknown in the time of Jesus. It was largely unknown until approximately one hundred fifty years ago.

The provisional liturgy does resemble a marriage ceremony, and it should. The relationships being blessed are as wholesome, strong and of a character of holiness as those we consider appropriate for marriage. This liturgy will, in many cases, be used to bless civil marriages between same-sex couples. But it does not take the final step of solemnizing a marriage because it cannot by the laws of most states and the current state of the canons. I pray those will, in time, change.

In your paragraph six you state, "We are committed to the gay and lesbian Christians who are members of our dioceses. Our Baptismal Covenant pledges us to 'respect the dignity of every human being' (BCP, p. 305), and we will continue to journey with them as together we seek to follow Jesus." Forgive my bluntness, but I can not see in what way you are committed to the gay and lesbian Christians who are members of your dioceses. I find myself unable to see how you respect their dignity. Marriage, as you know and understand it, is so very important to you that you are compelled to put your objections in writing. Marriage recognizes the legitimacy of a relationship. Many of those gay and lesbian Christians in your dioceses are in relationships with someone they dearly love and to whom they are faithful. Your statement seems vehemently to say that their relationships, and by implication, they themselves, are not worthy of recognition by the Church and the Church must view them as strangers to each other. Are the needs for love and companionship of the gay and lesbian Christians not worthy of recognition by the church? Are those same gays and lesbians to be considered members of an unworthy class of human being? If this is the case, please just say so rather than insult them in this manner.

Our sexuality is a major part of our identity - both as individuals and as members of the Church. I chair the Commission on Equality in the Diocese of San Joaquin, and it was once suggested to me that people should leave their sexuality at the door when they come to church. The suggestion is, of course, impossible of realization. Those of you who are married come to church as part of a married couple. People know you are married and put the two of you together in their minds. If for some reason any one of you is not serving at the altar then you will probably sit with your wife. Your relationship is accepted and respected and you do not, when you walk in the door, suddenly become a stranger to each other. If you are not willing to treat the relationships of your gay and lesbian members with the same respect and recognition - or as closely as can be done in places where they may not legally marry - then you run the risk of being seen as being committed to the preservation of things as you know and like them. Do these gay and lesbian couples not quite rise to a level of humanity equal to that of a heterosexual couple? Perhaps they rate a bit less respect than heterosexual human beings?

Not so very long ago, at a diaconal ordination, the ordinands were told that the job of a deacon is to be "a holy pain in the ass." I pray I have done my job and presented an alternate perspective on this issue.

The Rev. Dcn. Carolyn Woodall

Deacon Carolyn Woodall from the Diocese of San Joaquin responds to the Bishops who signed the dissenting Indianapolis Statement.

Response to the Dissenting "Indianapolis Statement"

Blessed Anglicans

posted Jul 12, 2012, 5:12 AM by Mel Soriano

by The Rev. Dr. Caroline J.A. Hall
President of Integrity USA

Yesterday afternoon the deputation from South Carolina went home. Not just because they were tired and the Exhibition Hall has been closed and the Convention Center cafes are hardly open, but:
"Due to the actions of General Convention, the South Carolina Deputation has concluded that we cannot continue with business as usual. We all agree that we cannot and will not remain on the floor of the House and act as if all is normal. John Burwell and Lonnie Hamilton have agreed to remain at Convention to monitor further developments and by their presence demonstrate that our action is not to be construed as a departure from the Episcopal Church. Please pray for those of us who will be traveling early and for those who remain."
They didn’t explain why, but most pundits assume that it is in response to the authorization of rites for same-gender blessings. That’s probably correct because their Canon Theologian, Kendal Harmon had this to say about the Same-Sex Blessing decision:
"This General Convention action is unbiblical, unchristian, unanglican and unseemly. It will further wreak havoc among Anglicans, and indeed Christians, in North America and around the world.

"By making this decision, The Episcopal Church moves further away from Jesus Christ and his teaching. It thereby makes it necessary for the diocese of South Carolina to take further decisive and dramatic action to distance itself from this false step.

"We in South Carolina must differentiate to stay loyal to Christ, but also to keep our own parish members and not hinder the mission of Jesus Christ who loves all and transforms all by the power of the Holy Spirit to holiness of life, a holiness which has a clear shape agreed by Christians East and West throughout 20 centuries."

Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall
I am sorry that he sees it that way. It goes without saying that I don’t.

Harmon’s comment on holiness is surprising given the recent admission of Alan Chambers, president of Exodus international, that they cannot “cure” homosexuality after all. If I understand Harmon correctly he is saying that Jesus Christ transforms us to a holiness which is defined by the norms of the last two thousand years of Christianity.  The problem with that statement is that the Holy Spirit hasn’t done that for me. And I know an awful lot of other people who haven’t been transformed into the shape defined by two thousand years of history; twenty centuries that have been wrought with conflict, war and oppression (I’m thinking Crusades, Inquisition, Thirty Years war, slavery).  I have stopped trying to be heterosexual, I have stopped trying to be changed into that restrictive shape of holiness.  Instead I look for the fruits of the Spirit in my life and ministry. And I see them.

So does the Episcopal Church.  “To Set Our Hope on Christ”, an important theological statement written for the Nottingham meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in 2005, says, “we note that members of our Church have begun to discern genuine holiness in the lives of persons of same-sex affection”. How much more so now we have experienced the gifts of ministry in the life and person of two bishops, as well as in the lives of the LGBT people we know and love.

We cannot and will not go back into the cookie-cutter holiness that demands that we conform to the social norms of a bygone era. Wasn’t that why Jesus constantly challenged the Pharisees? Wasn’t that why Paul was so opposed to circumcision and a return to the Jewish law?

In Christ we are free. Free to live in a new way, and free to disagree. I am grateful for a Church that includes both Kendal Harmon and me. We have much to learn from one another. But I have to disagree that blessing same-gender relationships is “unbiblical, unchristian, unanglican and unseemly”.

Harmon knows my position even better than I know his, so I won’t rehearse once again the argument against unbiblical and unchristian. I suspect that “seemly” or “unseemly” is in the eye of the beholder, or at least in the gut of the onlooker.  Recent ethical theory suggests that we often have a gut response to something for which we then construct a rationale. “Seemliness” is surely a matter of the gut – was it seemly for David to dance naked before the ark? Was it seemly for Jesus to overturn the tables of the moneychangers?

But unanglican (sic) I will push back against. The Church of England was born in the middle of social upheaval and political controversy. “Anglicanism” has been contextualized wherever it has gone and has generated new understandings of God, humanity and the work of the Trinity. We are a thoughtful, passionate people. We have major disputes regularly. It is probably more normal for us to be disagreeing than to be peacefully in sync with one another.

There are many Anglicans who agree with our siblings in South Carolina. There are many other Anglicans who agree with me. (Some of them may live in South Carolina and may need the resources Integrity can offer.) There are even more Anglicans who don’t need to take a position. I’m sorry that you “need to differentiate to stay loyal to Christ” but I understand it. “We” also need to differentiate to stay loyal to Christ. We need to differentiate ourselves from those who preach religious oppression, from those who would put LGBTQ people out of the church, those who would put people like me in prison, or even to death. Their voices resonate loudly in the ears of LGBTQ people and their allies.

Our world needs to hear loud and clear that God loves everyone, no exceptions, and that God doesn’t expect or even want, cookie-cutter holiness.

Blessed Anglicans

IntegriTV Day 7 - Highlights and insights at General Convention 2012

posted Jul 12, 2012, 5:00 AM by Mel Soriano

The highlights and insights of Wednesday (day 7) from the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis are here at IntegriTV.

You can also subscribe to the IntegriTV channel by going to http://youtube.com/IntegriTV. If you subscribe to our channel, you'll be notified by email when a new video release has been added.

IntegriTV Day 7 - Highlights

Stay tuned every day for news, highlights, and more from IntegriTV!

“TransAction” of Inclusion: Gender Neutral Restroom at GC12

posted Jul 11, 2012, 10:35 PM by Mel Soriano

Another “TransAction” of Inclusion:
Gender Neutral Restroom Facility Added at GC 2012

By Marcia Ledford

A “Neutral Gender Bathroom” is located on the way to the Integrity headquarters, aka the Nerve Center. Now my attorney-brain would prefer the sign said, “Gender Neutral Bathroom,” but aside from issues of syntax and semantics, I’m very pleased to see it. This designation for a restroom facility was requested at the 2009 GC and was denied, so progress has definitely occurred. This is especially important as Resolution D002 (inclusion of transpeople in the ordination discernment process) and D019 (inclusion of transpeople in lay leadership roles) have been passed as Acts of Convention (see IntegriTV Day 6 on YouTube.com for more info on the legislation process). That was a red letter day in the history of our beloved church.

I had some fun photographing this sign. I wanted it to be abstract and strange to look at, because for many, the idea of a range of gender identities and expressions is completely new. I have been interested to see people’s reactions to the sign. Some double-takes are occurring. This is all a bit mysterious to a lot of people. In the House of Bishops, someone asked, “What is gender expression?” It seems that many are grappling with questions and trying to understand. That’s a good thing. As Bishop Gene Robinson preached at the Integrity Eucharist on Monday, the learning curve is great, and much has yet to be done to ensure the full inclusion of transgender people.

It feels unsettling because we are all placed in a box when we are born. I was put in a pink box, and my brother was put in a blue box. He fits his box quite well. He is a male, is masculine and heterosexual, and identifies as a man. I’m female and identify as a woman, but as a lesbian, and I have a more androgynous gender expression. I never wear skirts. I don’t carry a purse. I wear a man’s watch.

The four axes of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and gender expression are all in play for each of us whether we can articulate them formally or not. You can learn more about these concepts by watching a wonderful documentary about the experiences of transpeople in “Out of the Box.” Copies are available from Integrity USA, and it’s on YouTube.

The Gender Neutral Bathroom provides safe space for transpeople because, culturally, our restroom facilities demand a dichotomy of male and female gender/expression. Consequently, such a definition fails to recognize the varying gender identity components of who we are as people. Sexual orientation may or may not be a factor. For example, I have used the women’s restroom all of my life without an issue because I am recognized as a woman and presumed (maybe) to be heterosexual. I do not express “maleness” when in the restroom. In other words, I can “pass” as “normal” or heterosexual. Public restrooms can quickly become hostile places for transpeople if the strict and unstated rules of appearance and conduct are perceived to have been breached.

I have been using this Gender Neutral restroom whenever possible as a show of solidarity with my sisters and brothers in the transgendered community. It hasn’t been easy for me to live in this society as a lesbian, to be sure. But I think that transgender people have a much more difficult experience because gender roles and expression are intrinsically embedded in us from birth.

As a woman, I am constantly assessing the safety of a given location because of the possibility of rape or physical attack such as a mugging. I like the idea of designated safe space for attending to personal matters and applaud the General Convention planners for this vital first step in true inclusion of our transgender people.

Marcia Ledford has worked as a civil rights attorney for 25 years and is an Integrity Volunteer on the Communications Team at GC12. She is a seminarian studying for the Episcopal priesthood.

IntegriTV Day 6 - General Convention 2012

posted Jul 11, 2012, 4:04 PM by Mel Soriano

History was made on Tuesday and the highlights from the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis are here at IntegriTV.

You can also subscribe to the IntegriTV channel by going to http://youtube.com/IntegriTV. If you subscribe to our channel, you'll be notified by email when a new video release has been added.

IntegriTV Day 6 - Highlights of a historic day

Stay tuned every day for news, highlights, and more from IntegriTV!

IntegriTV Day 5 - Integrity Eucharist with Bishop Gene Robinson preaching

posted Jul 11, 2012, 4:00 PM by Mel Soriano

Monday's highlights from the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis are entirely devoted to the sermon by Rt Rev Gene Robinson at the Integrity Eucharist.

You can also subscribe to the IntegriTV channel by going to http://youtube.com/IntegriTV. If you subscribe to our channel, you'll be notified by email when a new video release has been added.

Bishop Gene Robinson 2012 Integrity Eucharist - Part 1 of 2

Bishop Gene Robinson 2012 Integrity Eucharist - Part 2 of 2

Stay tuned every day for news, highlights, and more from IntegriTV!

Episcopal Church Authorizes Same-Sex Blessings

posted Jul 10, 2012, 4:32 PM by Mel Soriano

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — The Episcopal Church at its 77th General Convention, meeting in Indianapolis, decided today, by a large majority, to authorize a service for same-sex couples. Starting on December 2, 2012, Episcopal clergy, with the agreement of their bishop, will be able to bless same-sex unions using the  provisional liturgy authorized today by the Convention, the Church’s governing body.

Integrity USA has been working for thirty five years towards the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Church. Same-gender unions have been blessed in Episcopal churches all over the country for decades, but this is the first time a church-wide public service has been agreed. It is a milestone in the journey toward achieving full inclusion, and being able to truly declare that “all means all” in the worship life of the denomination. It will enable Integrity to reach out to LGBT persons who have been rejected by the churches they were raised in, as well as those who were raised without any connection to Christianity.

The new blessing liturgy is not a marriage service. It does not use the language of marriage, but emphasizes the lifelong, monogamous, committed nature of the relationship being blessed. Integrity will continue to work for full marriage equality in The Episcopal Church.  The president of Integrity, The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall, said “This is a hugely important moment in the history of this church. The Episcopal Church does not have statement of belief other than the ancient creeds. We say that if you want to know what we believe, you can look at the words of our worship. So a liturgy for blessing same-sex relationships brings gay and lesbian couples fully into the life of the Church and proclaims that the Episcopal Church considers that their lives can be holy and blessed by God.”

This permission for same-sex blessings follows the addition of “gender identity and expression” to the non-discrimination laws of The Episcopal Church yesterday. This change makes it unlawful for transgender persons to be excluded from leadership positions, either lay or ordained, based solely on their status as transgender.

For further information, please contact Louise Emerson Brooks, at communication@integrityusa.org.

Episcopal Church Authorizes Same-Sex Blessings

It’s Official: Episcopal Church Welcomes Transgender People

posted Jul 10, 2012, 4:31 PM by Mel Soriano

It’s Official: Episcopal Church Welcomes Transgender People

July 9 was a historic day for the Episcopal Church as it declared that gender identity and gender expression are not reasons for excluding someone from the discernment process for ordination, nor from any other activity or lay position in the Church.

In 1994, the Episcopal Church expanded its non-discrimination rules to include “sexual orientation,” but it has taken a great deal of patient work from transgender people and their allies to bring the Church to this point. Integrity's President, Caroline Hall explained, “just as the Church began to accept gay and lesbian members and clergy as fellow members of the Church with just as real a relationship with God, so over the past five years, trans-men and -women have become visible. Their ministry among us has been exemplary and they have worked tirelessly to help the Church understand that to be transgender is as valid a human experience and as acceptable to God as to be happily heterosexual.”

A few months before General Convention, Integrity released a new video in the acclaimed “Voices of Witness” series. Called “Out of the Box,” this video tells the story of transgender Episcopalians, both ordained and lay, in their own words. It was sent to all deputies and bishops before the Convention began, but demand has been high. Matt Haines, Integrity Vice-President for Local Affairs, said, “They’ve been going like hotcakes. People really love Out of the Box and want to take it home to share with their friends and parishes.” It is also available on YouTube.

For more information contact:
Louise Brooks, Director of Communications
Integrity USA

It’s Official: Episcopal Church Welcomes Transgender People

Bishop Robinson rises for a point of personal privilege in the House of Bishops, July 9, 2012.

posted Jul 9, 2012, 3:49 PM by Mel Soriano   [ updated Jul 10, 2012, 2:49 PM ]

Audio of Bishop Gene Robinson's comments

You can also read the full text.

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