Friday, July 31, 2015


Nobody's theology trumps our democracy. That is a core truth enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution and the genius of our founding fathers who understood the need to provide both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. This is an incredibly important data point to have at the ready the next time someone confuses equal protection for LGBT Americans with an attack on religion.

 It. Is. Not. The First Amendment of our Constitution -- "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" -- means that the freedom of members of Any Church USA to believe whatever they choose to about anything whatsoever is absolutely protected.  That freedom, however, does not extend to the freedom to take away the constitutionally protected rights of other Americans because of what they believe.

 Freedom of religion. Freedom from religion. Simple to explain. Hard to understand. Or at least it seems to be hard to understand to some folks who are working overtime to try to paint themselves as victims of discrimination because their theology is being disagreed with.

 A recent case in point was a YouTube video making the rounds called "Not Alone." Produced by "CatholicVote" it offered the heartfelt stories of a series of folks who share their pain at being oppressed and marginalized because they believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. They feel so alone -- and we should feel so sad for them.

News Flash: There is a critical difference between feeling excluded because you're disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are. Nobody likes to be disagreed with -- that is absolutely true. But -- here's the thing -- confusing your imagined right to be agreed with with the actual right of LGBT Americans be equally protected by the Constitution -- that is absolutely bogus.

And making that point inspired a video response to the "Not Alone" folks: #TruthTrending -- posted above and the brainchild of Prop8 plaintiffs Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo and a project I was honored to be part of.

Freedom of religion. Freedom from religion. Simple to explain. And important to remember the next time someone confuses equal protection with an attack on religion. Remember that the First Amendment goes both ways -- and-then let's get busy making liberty and justice for all really mean "all."

Because at the end of the day, that is the #TruthTrending that will set us all free!

[Also posted on the Huffington Post]

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

TEC Response to Global Backlash Against LGBT People

The HuffPost piece is entitled:

The Global Backlash To America's Gay Rights Triumph: American evangelicals are taking their fight overseas.

You'll want to read it here.

It is nothing less than "Exhibit A" of why Resolution A051 -- Support LGBT African Advocacy -- adopted at ‪#‎gc78‬ is one to bookmark and keep on your radar. That resolutions read (in part:)
"Resolved, That the Office of Global Partnerships, Justice, and Advocacy Ministries; , the Office of the Presiding Bishop;, and other relevant church-wide offices be directed to work in partnership with African Anglicans who publicly oppose laws that criminalize homosexuality and incite violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex people."
Read the rest of the resolution here.

There is much work to do and we -- as The Episcopal Church -- have committed to be part of it.

QOTD from William Sloane Coffin

"It is not Scripture that creates hostility to homosexuality, but rather hostility to homosexuals that prompts some Christians to recite a few sentences from Paul and retain passages from an otherwise discarded Old Testament law code. In abolishing slavery and in ordaining women we’ve gone beyond that biblical literalism. It’s time we did the same with gays and lesbians.

The problem is not how to reconcile homosexuality with scriptural passages that condemn it, but rather how to reconcile the rejection and punishment of homosexuals with the love of Christ. It can’t be done."

"A Passion for the Possible" by William Sloane Coffin, 1993

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What Freedom of Religion Is and Isn't

So here's a response to yet-another story about a Kentucky County Clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples:

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.

As a priest and pastor, I am protected from being forced to marry anybody. Period. Roman Catholic priests cannot be forced to marry divorced couples. Orthodox Rabbis cannot be forced to marry interfaith couples. NOBODY can be compelled -- against their religion -- to marry anybody. Period.

That protection does NOT extend to carrying out your duties as an agent of the state as a county clerk to issue marriage licenses, drivers licenses or fishing licenses.

What if I'm a Muslim and my understanding of my religion is that women shouldn't drive. Can I refuse to issue drivers' licenses to women? Or if I'm a Hindu and a vegetarian -- can I refuse to issue fishing licenses because killing/eating fish is against my religion?

One More Time:
It's Freedom OF Religion -- as in believe whatever you choose or choose not to believe.
It is not Freedom TO IMPOSE Religion -- as in confuse your theology with our democracy.
Honest to Ethel, people -- Get a grip!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Breaking News from Western Louisiana

Yes, I'm still "recovering" from General Convention. No, I have not had time to either read or write everything about it I [a] want to and [b] plan to -- having launched directly back into everything I was going to worry about AFTER Salt Lake City in the arguably swirling vortex that is All Saints Church, Pasadena.

HOWEVER ... this update from the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana just came across my FB feed and I had to take a time-out to post it here. So here you go -- The Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana on Marriage Equality. (And no -- I honestly did not think I'd live long enough to see this. ‪#‎Seriously‬)
"The canon we passed contains the provision that no clergy person can be coerced to preside at a same-sex marriage. At the same time, the new canon requires that each bishop make some provision for access to these liturgies for couples seeking them.

The congregations that already have permission to make use of the previous trial liturgies have permission to use the newly authorized ones. So, as a diocese we are in compliance with canon law, and no additional congregations are required to make use of these liturgies.

We do not all agree. Living together amid our differences is our vocation. We are one in our belief in the risen Christ and in the Triune God. On these two doctrines we do not and cannot waver. However, there are matters—weighty matters—on which we can disagree while retaining our unity."
Read it all here.

And now, back to my regularly scheduled Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bastille Day -- then and now!

Bastille Day. Fifteen years ago today I had dinner in a Denver restaurant with Michael Hopkins and John Clinton Bradley on the last day of 73rd General Convention of the Episcopal Church. We were toasting an incremental victory in the recognition by the church that same-sex unions existed. And then Michael raised his glass and to me and said "here's to the next President of Integrity" -- and I thought it was the altitude speaking because nothing was further from my mind or further off my radar. And my, my, my what a 15 years it has been!

Check out this excerpt from the 2000 L.A. Times article to see how far we've come ...
The resolution makes clear the church expects couples--whether gay or straight--to be faithful to each other. "We expect such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect," the resolution states, adding that "we denounce promiscuity, exploitation and abusiveness in the relationships of any of our members."

Because of the resolution, "the church is on official record saying that it recognizes same-sex couples are in the church. It has never said that before," said the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon Jr., rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, where priests have long officiated at gay and lesbian unions. The resolution will lead to an escalation of same-sex blessings "as never before," he predicted.

"It's not the whole enchilada, but there's enough guacamole here that I can go for it," added the Rev. Susan Russell, associate rector at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in San Pedro and a member of Integrity, an Episcopalian gay rights group. "This is a huge step forward."
... and give thanks with me for Michael and John ... and Louie and Kim and Elizabeth and Fred and Bruce and Ed and ALL those who helped pave the way from there to here. Vive la liberté -- Vive L'Amour!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Episcopal Church Say "We Do!" to Marriage Equality

Neglected to post this in the moment from Salt Lake City on this platform ... never too late to share good news!

The Episcopal Church took a giant step forward on July 1st by removing barriers for same-sex couples desiring to be married in the church. Meeting in Salt Lake City, the General Convention an overwhelming majority of the House of Deputies concurred with the actions of the House of Bishops earlier this week, adopting two resolutions: A054 (authorizing new marriage liturgies for trial use) and A036 (removing references to marriage as being between a man and a woman in the church's canons.)

Taken together, these actions make marriage -- which the Supreme Court ruled is a "fundamental right" for all Americans -- equally available for all Episcopalians. Carefully and prayerfully crafted, they provide as wide a tent as possible for the historic diversity that characterizes the Episcopal Church -- guaranteeing access to marriage liturgies to all couples while protecting the conscience of clergy and bishops who dissent theologically.

The genius of the Episcopal Church's action is that the conscience of a dissenting bishop is protected but not at the price of denying same-sex couples access to the sacramental rite of marriage. It will be a "bridge too far" for some and not far enough for others. But it is an exemplary illustration of the hard, faithful work of a church refusing to let the perfect be the enemy of the good as it strives to become a more expansive and inclusive church.

This journey has been long and the challenges have been great. We have worked, prayed, argued, debated and compromised to this moment. We have been on a 40-year journey in the Episcopal Church working to turn the 'full and equal claim' promised to LGBT Episcopalians in 1976 from a resolution to a reality.

There is still work to do to reach the audacious goal of a church where there are no barriers to full inclusion for any member of the Church but this is an important and incremental victory toward that goal. It is a proud day to be an Episcopalian as we journey together into God's future -- a diverse people united in our commitment to the Jesus Movement our Presiding Bishop-elect has called us to claim and to proclaim to a world hungry for love, justice and compassion.

When Justice Rolls Down -- a Post-General Convention Sermon

Sermon for Proper 10B at All Saints Church, Pasadena July 12, 2015 | Susan Russell

Can you hear it? Listen with me and maybe we can hear it together: beyond the buzz of city traffic, the hum of the air conditioning system the rustle of Sunday bulletins and the ping of a text message coming in on an iPhone …

There! Can you hear it? It is the sweet, sweet sound of the arc of history bending toward justice.

 It is the sound of these words from the United States Supreme Court decision on civil marriage equality: “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” 

It is the sound of these words from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church on sacramental marriage equality: “… will make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to these liturgies.”

It is the sound of the ovation that greeted the election of Bishop Michael Curry as the 27th and 1st African American Presiding Bishop and CEO – Chief Evangelism Officer – of the Episcopal Church.
It is the sound of 1500 Episcopalians led by 60 bishops singing, praying and marching in the streets of Salt Lake City to stand against gun violence. It is the sound of the President of the United States singing “Amazing Grace” in tribute to the Charleston Martyrs.

And it is the sound of a Confederate battle flag being lowered from the flagpole on the South Carolina Capitol grounds in what has been named “a signal of good will and healing, and a meaningful step towards a better future.”

My brothers and sisters, it has been an amazing couple of weeks with some sweet, sweet sounds of that arc of history bending toward justice. And so -- for all the work there is yet to do in this beautiful and broken world -- this morning we claim the words famously said and frequently quoted about the justice journey from our rector emeritus, George Regas: Our job is to set audacious goals and to celebrate incremental victories. 

It is true without question that there are many audacious goals yet to be achieved in our work of turning the human race into the human family. But it is also true without question that this morning we have incremental victories worthy of celebration. And – because I had the privilege of being in the middle of some of those at our just completed General Convention I want to dwell a little on some of that work with you this morning.

The Episcopal Church was in a history making mood. Meeting in Salt Lake City from June 25 – July 3 the triennial gathering of bishops, clergy and laity was charged with making decisions for the whole church -- and the decisions it made included: The historic election North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry to succeed Katharine Jefferts Schori as our next Presiding Bishop and the adoption of resolutions making the sacrament of marriage equally available to same and opposite gender couples. 

Bishop Curry – known for his powerful preaching, prophetic leadership and commitment to evangelism and social justice – was elected on June 27th by a land-slide on the first ballot by the bishops of the Episcopal Church – and that election was enthusiastically affirmed by an overwhelming majority of the clergy and laity meeting in the House of Deputies.

A few days later on July 1st – the seventh day of its nine day legislative calendar – the House of Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops’ approval of a canonical change eliminating language limiting the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman and authorizing two new marriage rites with language equally applicable to same-sex or opposite-sex couples.

It was – quite simply – stunning.

Instead of lines of people to testify “pro & con” there were a handful of opposing voices. Instead of threats to leave the church, there were compromises that kept virtually everyone at the table. One picture stands out for me – a ballroom full of empty chairs for an Open Hearing – an icon of “what if they gave a controversy and nobody came.” 

Almost exactly thirteen years ago – on August 1, 2002 – I took up residence here at All Saints Church in the corner office of the “temporary building” to launch the Churchwide initiative we named “Claiming the Blessing” with the audacious goal of the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments.

In 2002, Michael Hopkins – a founding member of Claiming the Blessing – wrote these words in his “Message to the Church:”

“This movement is not about getting our way or else. This movement is a means to further the healthy debate within the Church, to deepen it on a theological level, to begin to articulate how we see the blessing of same-sex unions as a part of the Church’s moving forward in mission rather than hindering mission. We believe that it is time for the church to claim the blessing found in the lives of its faithful lesbian and gay members and to further empower them for the mission of the Church. We are trying to find a way forward in this endeavor that holds as much of this church we love together as possible.”

Thirteen years later, with many incremental victories and set-backs along the way, our 2015 mantra leading up to this General Convention was a biblical one: Matthew 5:37 “Let your yes be yes.”

And thirteen years later, with overwhelming votes of support in both houses – and with an extraordinary spirit of compassion, inclusion and cohesion in the debate, discourse and decision making -- the Episcopal Church “let its yes be yes” arguably ending decades of what have come to known as “The Inclusion Wars” and inarguably achieving the audacious goal Claiming the Blessing set before the church in 2002.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is something to rejoice and be glad in.

It also bears noting on this day of celebrating incremental victories that the Episcopal Church made these historic decisions on marriage just days after the historic Supreme Court decision -- creating a truly an unprecedented opportunity for evangelism.

Many of you have heard me get on this particular soapbox many times over the years, but as we sit here this morning, I guarantee you that we are surrounded by a city full of those yearning for a spiritual home, not knowing that All Saints would welcome them with open arms; those starving for spiritual sustenance yet bypassing this banquet we offer every Sunday morning, not knowing that the table is set for them; those rejecting the Christian Gospel because what they hear described in the media as Christian Moral Values sound neither moral nor valuable; convinced that they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one. And who would blame them.

And so it is our job – all of our jobs – to let them know they have a choice. To let them know that if they’re looking for spiritual community we’re here. And that if they think they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one the good news is they just might be wrong and we’d love them to come learn more here at All Saints Church.

And that good news is NOT just for LGBT couples – or even for LGBT people hoping someday to be part of a couple – but for people like blogger Olivia Jewel Sage whose July 8th Open Letter on Why We are Breaking Up (Or Why I Am Leaving the Church I Grew Up In) has gone viral.

It begins:

Dear Church 
If I told you: “It’s not you, it’s me,” I would be lying to the both of us. 
It is you. 

And goes on to say:

“This new church I met (It’s the Episcopal Church) loves all of my friends equally. When I told my priest that my best friend was gay, he was totally cool with it. In fact, as of last week, my best friend can get married in my new church – full on married, with all the sacraments. You, on the other hand, told me he was going to hell. So don’t call me selfish for abandoning you, and don’t tell me that my soul is in danger when it isn’t. I have never felt more sure about anything since I decided to move. I see an inclusive church, one I can understand and one that, in turn, understands humanity. I see a place where I can actually make a difference for Christ, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality. I can make a difference because I am human.” 

I can make a difference because I am human.

These words of Olivia Jewel Sage are nothing less than a four alarm glory attack for those of us who have been at work in the fields of inclusion for lo these many years.

Because the truth is this struggle has never been about inclusion for inclusion’s sake – but for the fullest possible participation of all God’s beloved human family into the gospel work and witness of making God’s love tangible to absolutely everyone. Full on love. #Period

I got involved in an exchange on Facebook this week in response to a colleague who wrote asking for answers for a seven year old who came to her church for the first time asking two really basic questions.

Why do you go to church? and
Is God magic?

Drawing on my mother-of-two and seven-years-as-day-school-chaplain credentials, I responded:

• Because being in church on Sunday helps me remember how much God loves me so I can remember to love everybody else all week long … and
• Love is magic and since love comes from God it is a kind of magic we call "mystery." Not the kind of magic in cartoons or on "Frozen" ... but the kind of magic that heals broken hearts and makes you feel safe when you're feeling scared and alone.

And later I thought whether they come from a seven year old or a seventy year old, those are two of the questions the Episcopal Church is better able to answer for those who come asking now that we are on the other side of the Inclusion Wars; and our energy is focused not on who might leave if we include everyone but on who will come if we welcome, include and empower everyone.

Because if it is true – and I believe it is – what Richard Rohr and Ed Bacon have been telling us; if it is true that healed people heal people then it is not too much to believe this morning that a healed church can heal the world and that the healing of division in the Episcopal Church is fitting us for exactly that purpose.

It is not too much to trust that it is nothing less than the magic and mystery of God’s love that heals, transforms and then sends us out to be vehicles of healing and transformation – to make justice roll down for absolutely everybody. Absolutely. Everybody.

Because the justice the psalmist proclaimed in Psalm 85 – “Justice will lean down from heaven … justice and peace have embraced” is the same justice Former Presiding Bishop John Hines famously named as “the corporate face of God’s love.”

Justice is not some disembodied political or ethical idea – it is nothing less than God’s love made tangible in our lives as we go out into the world empowered to live our lives aligned with God’s values of love, justice and compassion.

Our Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry framed it this way in his closing sermon in Salt Lake City last week:

“God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to change the world, to change it from the nightmare it often can be into the dream that God intends. We are the Jesus Movement now. Jesus came to change the world, and we have been summoned as followers of this Jesus; to participate in God’s work, God’s mission of changing and transforming this world.” 

That is the audacious goal we have been given – a changed and transformed world. And the challenges between us and that goal are great – make no mistake about that.

And so my prayer for all of us this morning is that we be given the grace to claim the incremental victories of these past couple of weeks as strength for the journey ahead.

That the experience of the power of justice rolling down in a Supreme Court decision, in a General Convention resolution, in a Presiding Bishop election, in a Presidential eulogy, in a flag coming down will empower us to keep on keepin’ on until that kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven. 

To keep on changing and transforming the world a decision at a time, a resolution at a time, an election at a time, an inch at a time … a bend of the arc of history at a time.

Can you hear it? Listen with me -- and maybe we can hear it together. And if you know it, sing it … Let justice roll;
Roll down like waters.
And righteousness
Like a flowing stream.