On the Episcopal Church being sanctioned by the Anglican Primates

On January 14, the Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting in Lambeth, England, voted to sanction the Episcopal Church for allowing for same-sex marriage throughout the church.  You can see the specific language of the sanctions in paragraphs 7 & 8 of this document

Here is the statement I wrote for the January 14 edition of Trinity Cathedral's enews:

There is breaking news from England.  As many of you know, the worldwide Anglican Communion is made up of 38 different autonomous provinces.  Each province is led by a primate; ours is our presiding bishop, The Very Rev. Michael Curry.  The Primates are meeting in London this week.  There has been tension in the Anglican Communion over the move toward acceptance of people who are gay and lesbian in some provinces.  There are several provinces who have moved toward inclusion, but The Episcopal Church seems to draw the greatest attention.  The primates have just voted to place a minor sanction on the Episcopal Church for three years.  We can not represent the Anglican Communion on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, we cannot be appointed or elected to serve on committees internal to the Anglican Communion.  Episcopalians who are already serving on such committees are not to vote on issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.  Since these committees don't govern doctrine or polity, this last sanction doesn't mean much.

While I will likely write a reflection on this after I have a chance to study the situation more, I would like to offer a few initial thoughts. First, our move toward marriage equality was the result of 40 years of hard, painful, prayerful and careful engagement with scripture and one another. I, and others who worked on this issue, firmly believe this is God's call to us, and that we are called to be a witness to the full dignity and inclusion of people and couples who are gay or lesbian. If we have to pay a price for this stand, then it is a price we willingly pay. That said, it isn't much of a price to pay.  This is not a very big deal in terms of our relationships with Anglicans around the world. Our real connection with the worldwide Anglican Communion is in our partnerships in mission on the local level.  Those will continue unchanged.

When reading this statement sanctioning the Episcopal Church, it is easy to react out of anger or fear.  I sometimes need to remind myself that Christ's love casts out fear. Our call is to love.  Love those sanctioning us.  Love the gay and lesbian persons who continue to be subjected to hatred and violence, who will see this statement as another spear in their sides.  Love and pray for one another.  

The following day I received a phone call at 5:30 in the morning from a reporter from the Guardian newspaper in England.  She didn't realize I lived on the West Coast.  I am not one of those people who wakes up at 5:00am so I was sound asleep.  We had a little chat that I can't remember.  I was pleased that in the article she only quoted my coherent speech.  

The following week I had many, many members of the Cathedral come talk to me.  They were upset at the actions of the primates.  On Sunday, January 24, I had the opportunity to address their fears in a sermon.





General Convention 2015 - Marriage Committee

DSC_2059In June and July of 2015 I was a clergy deputy to the triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  At this Convention, we were going to be considering important resolutions related to same-sex marriage.  A special committee was formed to handle all marriage-related resolutions.  I was appointed as the chair of the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage for the House of Deputies.  My dear friend Brian Thom, Bishop of the Diocese of Idaho, was the chair of the committee for the House of Bishops.  Both Committees met together with Brian and I alternating the responsibility of chairing the meetings.

Unlike other committees, some of which had many, many resolutions to consider, we had only 10, and several of those were identical or similar.  We really had only three questions to consider: 1) should we change the church canons to allow for same-sex marriage, 2) should we adopt rites (liturgies) with gender neutral language to be used to wed same-sex couples and 3) should the Marriage Task Force continue its work.  Rather than speeding through a host of issues, we were able to spend time focusing on these three.   We knew our task was important, and potentially history making.  We also knew that there was a good chance the Supreme Court of the U.S. would announce its ruling on same-sex marriage while we were in session.

At General Convention a hearing must be held on every resolution before the committee can act on the resolution.  We held three hearings at heard moving testimony on both sides.  After the hearings, we wrestled with how to move forward.  Continuing the work of the Task Force was an easier issue.  There are so many questions still to be considered when talking about marriage and the church's role that we unanimously supported its continuation.  (For example, the report of the first task force pointed out the preponderance of couples that choose to cohabitate as a prelude to, or instead of marriage.  Consideration of that trend and the church's appropriate response was beyond the scope of the work of the first task force.)   The bigger question was about authorizing same-sex marriage.  Should we change the nature of marriage by authorizing  same-sex marriage?  If so, should such authorization be church-wide, or only for dioceses whose bishops support same-sex marriage?  If the answer to the first question is yes, how can we do it in a way that honors our constitution and canons?


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Gay in Ghana

A few weeks after the Supreme Court of the United States made marriage equality a reality throughout the U.S. and the Episcopal Church changed the marriage canons to allow for gender neutral marriage rites, I joined other Episcopal priests, bishops, and laypersons and went to Ghana to meet with gay rights advocates, bishops and other clergy advocates from Sub-Saharan Africa.  This was the third African consultation in four years sponsored by the Chicago Consultation.  While there are countries in Africa that make accommodations for gay and lesbian couples, others criminalize gay and lesbian relationships and advocacy.  In some countries being gay is punishable by death.  Sadly, some of this animus toward people who are lesbian and gay is fueled by Anglican clergy.  

For four years the Chicago Consultation has been facilitating consultations in which clergy and advocates come together to pray, study scripture, tell their stories and talk about how they can be mutually supportive.  After the consultation in 2013, we endeavored to create a Bible study resource that will be published soon.  

We were hosted by Bishop Victor Atta-Baffoe, of the Diocese of Cape Coast.  His staff provided extensive support and the Bishop participated fully.  

Our time alternated between meeting as one large group, beginning of course, with ice breakers, and meeting in category groups (clergy, bishops, advocates) and Bible study groups.  In the large group we heard a variety of people's stories.  Each day our Bible study group met to read and discuss scripture and pray together.  We also met daily in our category groups so we could talk about issues that related to our particular vocations.

This consultation was held in Elmina, Ghana, just a mile or so away from Elmina Castle - a fortress used by Europeans in the slave trade.  During the consultation, we took a trip to Cape Coast Castle, another slave fort.  The trip was a sobering reminder of our ability to be horribly cruel.  We walked through the dark dungeons where Africans where held for weeks or months while they awaited the next slave ship.  The rooms that held hundreds of slaves had no bathroom and only one tiny window.

A Cape Coast Castle, we couldn't help but be shocked by the location of the chapel, established and supported by the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, right above the first male slave dungeon.  So Anglican Christians gathered to sing their hymns and pray their prayers while Africans were held in torturous conditions immediately below them.

For me, the trip to Cape Coast Castle helped me see the importance of our work - creating greater acceptance and lessening hatred. It was an invitation to be sensitive to cruelties we don’t even see. Upon returning from the Castle, one of the African participants said, "These were Christians who thought they were doing the right thing, they were just blind to their cruelty.  I wonder in what way we are blindly harming others and our world."  

One of the enlightening insights from the consultation was that in much of Africa, gay and lesbian relationships had been tolerated if not accepted.  We heard of one culture in which a woman can choose to be with another woman as a life partner.  They can choose a man to sire a child, and after birth, the child is part of the family of the women.  In that culture it is completely accepted.  Much of the hatred that now exists toward same-sex relationships was imported to Africa from the U.S. culture wars in the past decades.  

The consultation was a great opportunity to make and deepen friendships across the Anglican Communion. These friendships are essential as we strive to strengthen communities as they organize against violence directed toward people who are lesbian, gay or transgender.

You can see our official statement from the conference here.

Here are some of my pictures:



Ghana Consultation 2015


 And the sermon I preached after I returned:

After Ghana, Sermon 9/20/15 from Trinity Cathedral on Vimeo.

Video of General Convention Marriage Debate

The 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church authorized two rites for marriage that can be used for same-sex couples and changed the canons of the church to support their use.  These resolutions were handled as a special order of business with a presentation of the resolutions, Q&A and debate on each of the two resolutions. 



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Jesus and the Gays Video Clips

Many people in our culture believe the Bible condemns people who are gay or lesbian.  People believe this condemnation is obvious, and even central to Christianity.  I believed it as well.  It took years of serious study and praying as a Christian for me to discover that it isn't true.  The Bible does not clearly condemn people who are gay or lesbian.   It doesn't unequivocally teach that gay sexuality is a sin.  

If you believe being gay or lesbian is a sin, you can interpret passages in scripture to support your belief.  You can take passages with vague meanings and insist they support your agenda.  But the "condemnations" are not as clear as some would suggest and are not central to the message of the Bible. After years of study and struggle I believe the Bible does not condemn people who are gay or lesbian.

In the following videos I talk about how I ,  as a disciple of Jesus and a student of the Bible, am compelled to support Marriage Equality.  This class was given at Zuda Yoga Studio in Sacramento.  Beneath each video is the pertinent portion of the class notes.  The complete handout I used is here.

I. Apartheid, the Bible and Cultural Bias

II. Sodom

III. Leviticus

IV. I Timothy & I Corinthians

V. Romans

VI. The Natural Order of Things

VII. Adam and Eve

VIII. The Bible as our Guide

Marriage Equality as the Will of God in the Sacramento Bee

This article appeared on the front page of the Sunday Sacramento Bee after the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, and the Episcopal Church authorized marriage for all couples throughout the church.

Gay marriage decision does little to sway views of local clergy


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Just days after the U.S. Supreme Court decision authorizing same-sex marriage nationwide, the Very Rev. Brian Baker of Sacramento presided over another momentous decision on the topic.

At the Episcopal General Convention in Salt Lake City last week, Baker chaired a committee charged with crafting a new position on marriage for the church. On Wednesday, the church’s governing body overwhelmingly gave its official blessing to same-sex unions and adopted new marriage rites with gender-neutral language.

“I believe marriage equality is the will of God and brings us closer to the kingdom of heaven,” said Baker, who leads Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in midtown, and has been performing same-sex marriages for years.

The message at Sierra Baptist Church in Newcastle was very different last week. Guest speaker Jim Dowling urged the congregants to stand fast against pressure from the mainstream culture. “Did you watch the news on Friday? Did you see the rainbow on the White House?” Dowling said. “It just lets us know where the battle is. … We are living in a hostile environment.”

The U.S. Supreme Court may have made gay marriage the law of the land, but it didn’t change the minds of Sacramento-area religious leaders, some of whom have long supported gay marriage but most of whom remain opposed to the idea of marriage for anyone other than a man and a woman. The court ruling applies to civil marriage and does not require churches to perform weddings for same-sex couples.

“My sense is everybody’s drawn their line and knows where they stand,” said Jon Fish, president of the Interfaith Council of Greater Sacramento, which represents 300 groups and individuals spanning the religious spectrum.

With same-sex marriage, he added, “there’s no middle of the road.”

The area’s largest denominations – including Roman Catholics and Mormons – remain institutionally opposed to gay marriage. At the same time, mainline Protestant denominations have been shifting toward acceptance of same-sex marriage for the past decade. There are now 30 Sacramento congregations – including Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Quakers and Catholics – who self-identify as gay-affirming, meaning they welcome gay congregants, according to the nonprofit GALIP Foundation. Reform Jewish temples also perform same-sex unions.

“Most United Methodists are quite pro gay marriage, and so are many Episcopal churches,” Fish said.

Baker began performing gay weddings as far back as 2008, Fish said. The church held four gay weddings since 2012, said the Rev. Deacon Steve Skiffington, who married his partner of 42 years there. Baker once performed a gay marriage in the middle of a Sunday morning service.

“I have been working on this in the Episcopal Church for 15 years, and I am thrilled by this action and the decision of the Supreme Court,” Baker said in an email message from Salt Lake City. “I believe God’s Spirit has been moving in our church and our culture to open our hearts to the holiness available in same-sex relationships.”

For other religious leaders, the idea of sanctioning same-sex marriages remains a nonstarter, despite sympathy they may have for gay people. Even the Episcopal Church, whose leaders overwhelmingly supported it, included language allowing individual clergy members to decline to perform same-sex unions.

Evangelical Christians – who comprise 20 percent of California adults – are among those most likely to oppose gay marriage, national surveys have shown. Bayside, an evangelical, Bible-based church with four campuses across the Sacramento region, continues to assert that marriage is only between a man and a woman, said spokesman Mark Miller.

At the same time, however, Bayside seeks to send a message of acceptance. “I don’t believe the ruling’s changed anything: We’re going to continue to be open and inviting anyone to attend,” Miller said.

Islam also remains firmly opposed to same-sex unions. “I cannot stop it, but we are totally in disagreement with it,” said Imam Mumtaz Qasmi, an immigrant from India who has led the Sacramento Downtown Mosque – the oldest in the West – for the past 30 years. “This is a very shameful thing,” he said of the justices’ ruling. “They want to fight against our human nature.”

Qasmi’s views are rooted in the story, found both in the Bible and the Quran, of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They are in line with the overwhelming majority of Islamic theologians, said Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez, a Sacramento Muslim scholar and founder of the nonprofit Tarbiya Institute.

“Generally speaking, sex outside of marriage is prohibited, and only sex between married men and women is permitted,” Azeez said. “As a man of faith, while I fully acknowledge the right of others to practice whatever they see fit, I must pronounce that a union that is not between man and woman is not one that the Creator intended for us to have.”

Azeez acknowledged that he and some other Muslim Americans are conflicted. In their own struggle for acceptance and civil rights in the American mainstream, some of their greatest allies have been members of the LGBT community. “They have stood by us in our plight over the last few decades, and it’s been very difficult for us to balance our religious principles and at the same time be sensitive, open-minded and compassionate,” Azeez said.

Now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, he said, all Americans must respect that law. “But upholding the law and singing its praises are two different things,” Azeez said.

Supporters of gay rights have been encouraged by statements from Pope Francis that seemed to indicate a softening of the Roman Catholic Church on the issue. “Who am I to judge?” the pope once said when asked about gay priests.

But Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto, leader of the region’s nearly 1 million Catholics, said the pope’s utterances should not be interpreted as any shift in the church’s stance. While all human beings deserve to have their dignity respected, he said, the church believes that marriage is “the unique relationship between a man and a woman.”

“The Catholic community will continue to address the more stubborn and cruel forms of inequity in our country: enduring forms of racism such as witnessed last week in Charleston, a broken immigration system that helps no one and widening economic disparity that robs people of hope,” Soto said, adding that none of those deep inequities were touched by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.

The region’s more than 60,000 Mormons also weren’t moved by the high court, said LDS spokeswoman Sue Ramsden. “We do have members that are gay and do all the things we do; we just ask that they not marry or have a physical relationship with someone of the same sex.”

Ramsden said she visited Mormon congregations in Rancho Cordova, North Sacramento and Elk Grove last Sunday, and there was zero discussion of the Supreme Court ruling.

That was not the case at Sacramento’s Mosaic Law Congregation, Sacramento’s leading conservative Jewish synagogue. On the Saturday after the ruling, Rabbi Reuven Taff tackled the topic in an address to his 500-member congregation. He said Jewish tradition “reminds us that we were all created equally, b’tzelem Elohim, in the ‘image of God’ (Genesis 1:27), and also shows us that marriage is a sacred responsibility, not only between the partners, but also between the couple and the larger community.”

A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 83 percent of American Jews – by far the highest of any religious group – support marriage equality, Taff said, and the Anti-Defamation League called the historic court ruling “one of the most significant civil rights decisions in recent memory.”

Taff said his own views on same-sex marriage have evolved over the years, and called the Supreme Court ruling “a positive step for those who advocate equal rights for all human beings.”

Taff described himself as a “work in progress,” and told The Bee he’s now open to performing same-sex marriages, which are already performed in Reform Jewish temples. “If two Jewish people of the same sex want to sanctify their union in the eyes of the community, then they ought to be afforded that opportunity,” he said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misidentified the country from which Imam Mumtaz Qasmi emigrated to the United States. He came from India.

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072@StephenMagagnini. Phillip Reese contributed to this story.

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Jesus and the Gays I: Our Apartheid?

Many people in our culture believe the Bible condemns people who are gay or lesbian.  People believe this condemnation is obvious, and even central to Christianity.  I believed it as well.  It took years of serious study and praying as a Christian for me to discover that it isn't true.  The Bible does not condemn people who are gay or lesbian.   It doesn't teach that gay sexuality is a sin.  It doesn't.

If you believe being gay or lesbian is a sin, you can misinterpret passages in scripture to support your belief.  You can take passages with vague meanings and insist they support your agenda.  But if you read the Bible on its own terms, there is no condemnation there. None.

I would like to present, in as succinct a fashion as I can, why as a disciple of Jesus and a student of the Bible, I am compelled to support Marriage Equality.

But first, let me talk about a similar situation in South Africa.  In South Africa, in the time of Apartheid, people thought it was obvious that the Bible supported Apartheid - that the separation of black and white South Africans and the superiority of the whites was God's will.  There were two stories that were used to set up this belief: Babel showed that God separated us into different cultures and races, and the cursing of Canaan showed that the black races were cursed by God.  Those were primary stories through which everything else was filtered.  For example, Jesus' command to love neighbor would be filtered through the notion that this love needed to be carried out in a world where God wills the white South Africans rule the black South Africans.  Aparthied was foundational; everything else had to fall under the rubric of white supremecy.

It is obvious to us now that this reading was a twisting of what is actually in the Bible.  The Bible was read through the lens of an anti-black bias.   But at the time, people actually believed that Apartheid was in the Bible, and not only that, but the Biblical mandate for Apartheid was clear and obvious.

In the same way, people in our time think the Bible obviously condemns people who are gay or lesbian.  But what if it doesn’t?  What if the condemnation we see is only a result of the anti-gay bias we bring to the text?

In my next post, I will look at the story of Sodom to show how it does not condemn people who are gay, but rather has been misused in a way similar to how the story of Canaan and Babel were misused in South Africa.