Friday, May 17, 2019

The Equality Act: In Celebration of Incremental Victories

This morning I got to watch some history happen.

By a vote of 236-173 the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 5 ... AKA "The Equality Act" ... which amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.

Basically it would move us forward as a nation to a place where the constitutional guarantee of equal protection for all Americans would finally equally protect LGBTQ Americans.

Of course we're not "there yet."

The Equality Act now heads to the Senate where in spite of evidence of some bipartisan support it faces an uncertain future in the hands of Majority Leader who will be loathe to bring it to a vote and a GOP majority hell-bent destroying whatever shred of integrity is left in the Republican Party. (The sound you hear is my GOP Daddy rolling in his grave.) Not to even mention the current resident of the White House who would never sign it.

Nevertheless ... this morning I got to watch some history happen.

I got to watch the House of Representatives prove that they can indeed both investigate and legislate. In the words of Representative Jerrold Nadler (NY) the chairman of the Judiciary Committee: “The question before us is not whether the LGBTQ community faces outrageous and immoral discrimination, for the record shows that it clearly does. The question is whether we, as Congress, are willing to take action to do something about it. The answer goes straight to the heart of who we want to be as a country — and today, that answer must be a resounding ‘yes.’”

And while there are many who have been in trenches far longer than I have been, I couldn't help remembering when we stood on Capitol Hill in 2005 opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment ... and carried baskets full of postcards from constituents as we made our "clergy calls" on Congress ... captured in this image on an HRC postcard: a time when a vote like today's was hard to even imagine.

In the years since then there have been countless other times we have suited up, shown up and spoken up as people of faith to offer a rebuttal to the rabid rhetoric of the religious right.

Because so much of the opposition to equality for LGBTQ people has come from Christians who confuse their right to believe with their right to impose their beliefs, the voices of Christians for Equality have been crucial in moving the needle forward an inch at a time -- a protest at a time -- a congressional visit at a time -- a vote at a time.

The point of our witness is not to change the hearts and minds of those who already have them made up because "the Bible said it, they believe it and that settles it." (Although that would be awesome.)

The point of our witness is to remind our legislators that good people of faith can and do come to different conclusions on a whole variety of questions about what God blesses or doesn't bless; approves of or doesn't approve of; sanctions or doesn't sanction.

The point of our witness is to make sure they know that there are Christians like us and our congregation members who support full equality for LGBTQ Americans -- not in spite of their faith but because of it.

Ultimately the point of our witness is to remind legislators that their job is not to decide what the Bible says about equality -- but to decide what the Constitution says about equality. And the Constitution is clear: equal protection is not equal protection unless it protects all Americans equally. Period.

In the days, weeks and months ahead there will be plenty of opportunities to suit up, speak up and show up as people of faith to continue the work of bending that arc of history toward justice. And we will do that. But today is a day to celebrate an incremental victory in the journey toward the audacious goal of liberty and justice for all.

And then we'll get back to work. La lucha continua ... the struggle continues!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

My Ontological Argument for Mike Pence & the Anti-Equality Act Crowd

So Mike Pence was in the news again -- this time for his address to the graduating class at Liberty University where USA Today reports he told them "Be prepared to be ridiculed for being Christian."

That report prompted my Bishop -- John Taylor -- to write this:
An astonishing spectacle, when you think about it. A powerful Christian politician telling a group of young American elites, recipients of four-year degrees, that they’re actually victims. ... Privileged people playing the victim to increase their political leverage has become an epidemic. But it’s literally the last thing a Christian should do.
Bravo. Amen. Alleluia!

Because here's the thing:

There is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you’re disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are.

To take that a step further, there is a difference between feeling persecuted because you don’t get to impose your beliefs on other people and being persecuted because other people both have and use their power to burn down your houses and murder your children.

And claiming the former makes you only a victim of your own unexamined privilege ... and of absolutely no use to actual victims who desperately need you to live out that liberate the captive, let the oppressed go free thing Jesus and Isaiah talked about.

History — both modern and ancient — is tragically full of examples of times and places where religious discrimination has been the source of persecution, death and destruction. The perversion of religion into a weapon of mass destruction is antithetical to the core beliefs of all the world’s great religions. And yet none of those religions have escaped the sad reality that human beings — given the power to do so — will use God as an excuse to inflict pain and suffering on other human beings.

Our forefathers knew that. And they brought that knowledge — that wisdom — into our Bill of Rights with a First Amendment that begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...”

The First Amendment both prevents the government of the United States from privileging one religion over another and protects each and every one of us — as American citizens — to believe whatever we choose — or choose not — to believe about what God thinks, approves of or blesses. It is what protects our democracy from becoming a theocracy.

And, as we watch with sadness and horror the nightly news stories of religious wars and sectarian violence, this guarantee of religious freedom is something Americans of all religions — and no religion — should rejoice and be glad in. It is not something to be taken lightly -- and it is not something to be distorted and weaponized against other Americans ... which is precisely what is happening as the fight for the Equality Act heats up.

Hot on the heels of Mike Pence's effort to convince a stadium full of Liberty University graduates they are victims because not everyone agrees with their theology,  today the CBN headline screamed "Warning: Christians Will Be 'Forced to Violate Their Beliefs' if Equality Act Passes" and Pat Robertson called it " a devastating blow to religious freedom and to the sanctity of America."

One more time:

The First Amendment protects your right as an American to the free exercise of your religion. It does not protect your right to use your religion as an excuse to discriminate against other Americans. And the Equality Act will make that clear: once and for all.

And in the days and weeks ahead it is going to be especially important for people of faith to raise their voices in support of the Equality Act to neutralize the rabid rhetoric of Mike Pence, Pat Robertson and the rest of the Religious Right who continue to confuse their right to believe whatever they choose with their right to impose those beliefs on the rest of us.

Because there is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you’re disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are. And it is time to end the epidemic of privileged people playing the victim to increase their political leverage. Make some noise!

Thursday, May 02, 2019

What Religious Liberty Is and Isn't

Religious liberty is trending on Twitter today — and not in a good way.

This morning the White House – on the National Day of Prayer – announced a new rule allowing health providers, insurers and employers to refuse to provide or pay for services that they say violate their religious beliefs.

It is yet another a battle in the war we have been fighting for decades – and whether the debate was about achieving marriage equality or ending employment discrimination … whether the issue was LGBTQ equality or women’s reproductive rights … it has seemed that someone, somewhere has been giving impassioned testimony about how their religious liberty is under attack.

So here’s a little reality check: Religious liberty is the liberty to exercise your religion; not to impose your religion.

The First Amendment protects us from any laws “impeding the free exercise of religion” thus guaranteeing that each and every American has the liberty to believe — or not believe — absolutely anything he or she chooses about what God wills or intends, blesses or condemns. It also — thank God — protects the rest of us from any other American imposing those beliefs on us.

So when our elected representatives are making decisions about equal protection the question isn’t what the Bible says but what the Constitution says. And what the Constitution says is that equal protection isn’t equal protection unless it equally protects everybody equally.

And when it comes to providing medical treatment, no American should be denied access to the services or procedures they need because another American has their theology confused with our democracy.

“Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it doesn’t include the right to discriminate or harm others,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. “This rule threatens to prevent people from accessing critical medical care and may endanger people’s lives. … Medical standards, not religious belief, should guide medical care.”

The First Amendment is already doing its job protecting our religious liberty. This morning’s action from the White House is yet-another step down the slippery slope from democracy to theocracy having nothing to do with increasing freedom and everything to do with paving the way to discrimination. It must be challenged.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Easter Vigil 2019: "I have called you by name and you are mine."

This is the night ...

Tonight at All Saints Church we will gather as countless Christians do around the world to kindle the first fire of Easter, to light the Paschal Candle representing the light of Christ in the world, tell the stories of our scriptural ancestors and then -- with a joyful cacophony of ringing bells and all-the-stops-out organ music -- proclaim "Alleluia, Christ is Risen ... Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!"

Then we will do what we always do at the Great Vigil of Easter: to baptize some folks, to welcome some new members and to come to the table to receive the bread and wine made holy.

And this year we will so something else. We will affirm the new name of a beloved member of our parish family ... asking God to continue to bless and guide her as she continues the journey of living fully into her gender identity and claims her name as part of that journey.

We will do that after we kindle that first fire of Easter out on our quad lawn where the sign hanging under the venerable All Saints Oak Tree reads "Transgender Rights are Human Rights." And we will do that with deep gratitude that we are part of the branch of the Jesus Movement that is living ever more fully into its high calling to be a church where all God's beloved are welcomed, embraced, and included in the Body of Christ.

I love these words from the liturgy adapted from "Affirmation of a New Name" by friend and colleague Cameron Partridge ...
We honor the other names you have lived by. We release them into your history and acknowledge that the time has come to declare a new name. This name is the culmination of a journey of discovery and, at the same time, its beginning.
You can see our Great Vigil liturgy here ... and you can find out more about the journey the Episcopal Church has been on toward fuller inclusion of our transgender and non-binary siblings in our liturgical life in this blog post by TransEpiscopal.

And I want to celebrate that the "Rite for Receiving or Claiming a New Name" is (as of General Convention 2018) included in our Episcopal Book of Occasional Services and authorized for use in the whole church. From the notes on the liturgy:
When an event or experience leads a baptized person to take or to be given a new name, the following rite may be used to mark this transition in the parish community. This new beginning is distinct from the new life begun in Holy Baptism, which conveys regeneration and the responsibilities of Christian discipleship. Throughout the rite, the pronouns “they,” “their,” and “them” are used, with corresponding verb forms. These pronouns should be adapted to the preference of the person receiving or claiming the new name, with appropriate adjustment to the accompanying verbs.
No, we are not "there yet." There is still work to do and I pray that we will continue to raise up leaders and activists and agitators to do the work ahead of us. And ...

This is the night when we celebrate how far we have come on our own journey as a church -- a journey of discovery that continues to call us beyond binary boundaries and into God's future.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

The Abduction of the Holy Innocents

Watching the ongoing crisis at our border where refugee families fleeing the terror in their home countries are being terrorized by order of our President made me re-think the Collect for The Holy Innocents as this prayer for The Abduction of the Holy Innocents:
We remember today, O God, the abduction of the holy innocents at our border by the Trump Administration. Pour out your mercy, we pray, on all innocent victims of racism and nativism; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

We are here ... on the way to there.

Catching up on the news this morning I came across this article in the Greenville News on Pete Buttigieg (pictured above with his husband Chasten Glezman) and his presidential campaign --- an article which included this quote:
"Buttigieg, an openly gay man who is married, told The Greenville News and Anderson Independent Mail that his Episcopalian faith has grown stronger through marriage because his marriage has made him a better person. "My marriage and my faith go well together," he said. "We live in a country that is committed to the idea that people of any faith or no faith all have an equal claim on the blessings of life in our country. He said more people are accepting LGBTQ equality today, including in South Carolina.”
Just take a minute to breathe this in. We are not “there yet” on full inclusion in our church by any means, but we are here.

We are in a place where a married gay Episcopalian can talk about his faith and marriage on a national platform because of the hard work we have done in the Episcopal Church to be the church of Ed Browning where there are no outcasts; the church of Barbara Harris where there are no half-assed baptized; the church of Louie Crew Clay where there is Joy Anyway; the church of Michael Curry where love is the way; and the church of the persistent widow in Luke’s gospel who keeps coming back again and again until justice rolls down for absolutely everybody.

We are not “there yet” but we are here.

So let us take a moment to rejoice and be glad in that. And then let us get back to work.

Because someday we will be there. And it will be because of the work every single one of us committed to the full inclusion of all God’s beloved in all the sacraments persisting for as long as it takes. La lucha continúa.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Thoughts on "Communion Across Difference"

I am writing this on a plane somewhere between LAX and ORD bound for the first meeting of the Episcopal Church's Communion Across Difference Task Force.

The group -- called together by Resolution 2018-A227 adopted at our 79th General Convention -- consists of equal numbers of  those holding that marriage is a “covenant between a man and a woman” and those holding that marriage is a “covenant between two people” -- and our job is to seek a pathway toward mutual flourishing in the Episcopal Church.

I know.

But wait. There's more.

We are charged to seek that  lasting path forward for mutual flourishing "consistent with this Church’s polity and the 2015 'Communion across Difference' statement of the House of Bishops affirming:"
(1) The clear decision of General Convention that Christian marriage is a covenant between two people, of the same sex or of the opposite sex;
(2) General Convention’s firm commitment to make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to authorized liturgies;
(3) The indispensable place that the minority who hold to this Church’s historic teaching on marriage have in our common life, whose witness the Church needs.

Needless to say, we covet your prayers as we gather for this first meeting and work together to imagine how we will respond to this arguably daunting task and high calling. I am privileged to be co-convening the task force with John Bauerschmidt -- Bishop of Tennessee -- and although our work is just beginning today, we stand on the shoulders of a great cloud of witnesses who been striving to figure out just how to manage mutual flourishing across deep divides for generations.

It is a cloud of witnesses I would argue dates back to the original architects of the "Elizabethan Settlement" -- those who dared to imagine mutual flourishing across the seemingly intractable divide of whether we Anglicans would be protestant or catholic in the 16th century. Rather than continuing to burn each other at the stake over real presence vs. transubstantiation, our forebears found a way forward. And the reason I signed up for this gig is I am convinced that if they could find a way where there was no way in the 16th century we can find one in the 21st.

This is not say I am convinced it will be easy. My email inbox is full of missives from folks around the church about equally divided between "you are an intuitionalist sellout perpetuating toxic homophobia and patriarchy" and "you are an apostate heretic leading sheep astray to burn in the Lake of Fire."

The jury is still out -- but it is fair to say I hope the truth is somewhere in the middle.

I hope what I am is someone who loves this church enough to challenge it to live up to its full potential and revolutionary roots of being a particular people of God with the DNA of Anglican Comprehensiveness still coursing in its veins.
I hope I am someone who knows our history well enough to know that from the get-go we have been a people of God who came to the communion rail every Sunday knowing that half the people sharing the pews with us thought we were as wrong as we thought they were.

And I hope I am someone who can trust that if we started out doing that around different theologies of how the Holy Spirit made holy the bread and wine we received in the sacrament of Communion we can continue doing that around different theologies of how the Holy Spirit blesses and sanctifies those who come seeking the sacrament of marriage.

What I know is that there is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you're disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are. And so in order for us to continue to live out our Anglican ethos with Integrity there absolutely must be a place in this church for those who hold the minority theological position that my marriage doesn't exist. And -- equally essential to living out our Anglican ethos with Integrity -- is that place is not and cannot be between any couple seeking the sacrament of marriage in this church. All the sacraments must be available to all the baptized, period, full stop. [See (2) above.]

Yes, the challenge of finding the place of "mutual flourishing" is a daunting one ... but it is the challenge the Holy Spirit has put on our plate and it is the challenge we will be striving to mutually address in the days, weeks and months ahead.

To say we live in polarized and divided times is to damn by faint adjectives the times in which we live.

And so it is my deepest hope and most fervent prayer that whatever the Holy Spirit has in mind for us as we engage in this work over these next weeks and months, She will equip and inspire us to bear fruit that transcends the issue that has brought us to the table. I hope our history will equip and empower us to live into our future and model a way forward that is both an antidote to the many challenges that threaten to divide us and an inspiration to others who look for ways beyond the challenges that divide them.

I believe this is good and holy work to which we have been called. And I pray that the God who has given us the will to attempt these things give each and every one of us the grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.