I began last week’s blog wondering how we might have gotten to this place in our nation and the news this last week hasn’t made me feel much better to be sure! I hope you found comfort, as I did, in our reading from Romans this morning: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38, NRSV). We can face the all the turmoil assured of God’s amazing love for all of us.
Of course, that’s good news – and I also am comforted by the actions and words of those who are walking this walk with us right here. After president Trump tweeted his ban on transgender individuals serving in any capacity in the military, I was heartened to read the statement by our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry which reminded us of our call to love all people as created in the image of our God and to treat each person with the dignity and respect that our inherent God-likeness requires. Bishop Curry also pointed out that our own Declaration of Independence affirms that all are created equal – there is no room for discrimination. Here are Bishop Curry’s words for us:
In light of President Trump‘s tweet banning transgender individuals from serving in the military and the Department of Justice’s argument that employers can legally discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation, I am compelled to oppose these actions and to affirm the moral principle of equal rights for all persons, including the LGBTQ communities. I do so as a follower of Jesus Christ, as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and as a citizen who loves this country.
This conviction is not born primarily of a social ideal, but of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and the witness of our biblical and theological tradition.
Genesis 1:26-27 teaches us that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. This is a divine declaration of the inherent sanctity, dignity and equality of every person.
Further, the sanctity of every human person and the principle of human equality before God are deeply imbedded in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. In Mark 22:26 and Luke 13:10-17, Jesus teaches the inherent worth and dignity of the human person. In Matthew 5:43-38, he tells us of God’s love for all people equally. In Luke 10:25-37, he commands us to love God and to love every person. Above all, Jesus teaches that we are to treat all others as we ourselves would want to be treated (see Luke 6:31-36).
As followers of Jesus Christ we believe the inherent sanctity, dignity, and equality of every human being as a child of God is part of the moral foundation of our faith. In the Episcopal Church we promise in Holy Baptism to “respect the dignity of every person,” and to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.”
As Americans, we believe in civil and human equality, as one of the foundational ideals of our country. Discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation is a violation of the fundamental ideal of equality in America. The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
Those rights – and the protection from discrimination – apply equally to all Americans.
I truly believe that the overwhelming goodness and kindness and sense of justice of the American people are summed up in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, which says that we are “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Therein is the soul of America!
So, to the transgender individuals currently serving in the armed forces: thank you. We are grateful for your service and for your sacrifices. We support you and all service members and veterans. You are our neighbors, brothers and sisters in God‘s human family, and fellow citizens of this country we love.
Others in our Household have also spoken out. According to the Episcopal News Service (ENS), the Rt. Rev. Carl Wright, bishop suffragan for the armed forces ministries, wrote in an email:
As chief pastor to Episcopal clergy who minister to all military members, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation, I am troubled by the President’s recently tweeted remarks disrespectful of transgender military members….While it could be true that there are atypical costs associated with the healthcare of troops who are transgender, surely such costs would be no different than those of medical conditions incurred by other distinct groups….We can’t retreat on the issue of full inclusion of all Americans in the defense of our great nation. I pray the President will reconsider.
He also encouraged “any LGBT personnel, who might be experiencing discrimination, feeling unsupported, or questioning this latest announcement to feel free to seek an Episcopal chaplain in their area” or to contact him directly.
The bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia have posted a copy of their statement on full inclusion of transgender persons in church schools and Episcopal camps on their webpage. You can find their policy here.
The Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral published his comments on July 27th:
I am deeply disappointed by the decision to exclude the transgender community from military service. We are stronger as a nation when we respect the identities of all and allow people to serve their country based solely on their ability.
To those that believe this decision advances Christian values, it does not. Rather, it is a gift to those who seek to misuse religion to justify discrimination against the transgender community.
Transgender people across the country should know they are beloved by God and respected citizens of this country – principles that should be reflected in our laws, and in the teachings of the church. Whoever you are, wherever you are, Washington National Cathedral stands with you. You will always be welcome in our house.
The strong voices coming from our Church give me hope. Since the President sent his tweet, the leadership in the Pentagon has been trying to consider what the actual policy will ultimately say. For now, we hold our breath knowing that we can be proud of the position our leadership has taken and ready ourselves to be allies for our trans neighbors and friends.
I also want to take the time in this issue of the blog to let you know of an opportunity to get the latest information on the travel ban, refugee funding and how to engage in advocacy and outreach for refugee resettlement. Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) is hosting a webinar on August 15th at 4:00 pm: “Welcome in Action: Education, Advocacy and Outreach” with Episcopal Church Refugee and Immigration Public Policy Analyst, Lucy Broemel. I have participated in many of EMM’s webinars and always found them to be stimulating and informative. We need to continue to make our voices heard for refugees, too. You can register for the webinar here.
There’s been so many twists and turns to all the news lately that it might be easy to “check out” a bit to avoid the chaos and yet we need to remain vigilant to speak out for those whose voices are not heard. We can do that together.
Let us pray –
Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it:
a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor;
a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them;
a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect;
a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.
Give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council