Last week, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and I had an opportunity to relax in the home of Tim and Michael, two dear friends in Minnetonka, Minn. We had been on the road fighting for global equality for two weeks, so it was a time to do laundry, have lunch with my partner Mile (as he changed planes on his way to Europe to visit his family) and give some support to the local campaign for marriage equality.
We were interviewed by KFAI Radio and shared some of the background of the anti-LGBT campaign in Africa.
“The same forces that are fighting LGBT equality in Africa are also fighting marriage equality in Minnesota,” I said. “We can no longer isolate the local from the global issues. We have to fight both battles at the same time and by resourcing Bishop Christopher and his community, we strengthen our global movement for equality.
“What is important about connecting with our brothers and sisters in the Global South is to see how raw and violent homophobia can be and how the religious community in particular plays such a negative role in denying basic rights and freedom.”
The Ugandan Minister of Ethics, who is also a Roman Catholic priest, had shut down a gathering of human rights organizations and arrested 17 people while the Ugandan Joint Christian Council had urged parliament to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, aka “Kill The Gays” bill. So we had lots of material to talk about!
God bless the Lutherans!
The bishop preached at the historic church – St. Paul Reformation Lutheran in St. Paul, Minn. It was beautiful to see photographs of mixed race choirs decorating the wall in a church that had called the first openly lesbian pastor Anita Hill.
Now they were fighting for the global rights of the LGBT community. We had a service followed by a lunch of delicious Ethiopian food where the bishop and I moved around tables and talked to very well informed members of the congregation. They have been very supportive of the bishop’s work through their Wingspan ministry and plan to send someone over to Ugandan next year to find out more how the congregation can help.
Leo Treadway, a warm and jolly Santa Claus figure with a big white beard, arranged our visit and made us feel very welcome.
While the bishop was preparing his sermon, Leo and I booked the Parkway Theater for a showing of “Call Me Kuchu” (queer in Ugandan slang) with Nellie Oleson (Allison Arngrim) for Sunday, July 15. The fundraising event will begin at 6 pm with a VIP dinner with Nellie and the bishop and the film at 8 pm. The cost is only $15! You can get tickets HERE.
But what about the Episcopalians?
We set off in the middle of the night to get a 6:30 am flight to Indianapolis to attend the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Only Episcopalians are crazy enough to meet for nine days (including July 4th) in 100-degree heat in Indianapolis!
While you were eating burgers and watching fireworks (except in San Diego, where the Big Bay Boom fizzled), 10,000 of us were talking about everything from rites of blessing for gay and lesbian couples to conflicts in Sudan and Palestine.
The parliament of this very democratic church meets every three years and is elected by local congregations and dioceses. The last time they met, they voted for the full inclusion of LGBT people into the ministries of the church including consecrating opening gay and lesbian bishops.
Our old friend Bishop Gene Robinson was there to show his new movie “Love Free Or Die” – a powerful witness to how difficult it has been for him to be accepted fully in the Anglican Communion as a bishop while he takes on the pastoral care of the LGBT community and his diocese in New Hampshire. The film was shown by Integrity USA, which is working hard this year to ensure transgender issues are fully discussed and for example the ordination process is clearly opened to transgender members of the church. “All means ALL” is their slogan emphasizing that if all the sacraments are open to all the baptized members of the church, it needs to include transgender folk too.
Their movie “Out Of The Box” (watch the video below), produced by Louise Brooks, is a series of personal stories from transgender people of faith and is a very powerful and persuasive collection of accounts of both the challenges these extraordinary people had to face in their own lives, but how the church community is changing and embracing them and their gifts. Highly recommended!!
Passing church legislation
The real work of the convention is to pass legislation and a budget that takes the church into the next three years.
One of the issues of concern to the bishop and myself is our inability to access significant funding from the charitable arm of the Episcopal Church. We have a large fund called “Episcopal Relief and Development” and it supports lots of humanitarian projects in Africa, South America and Central America, but backers have been reluctant to support LGBT programs or Bishop Christopher.
I have written in this column before about the frustration of going into wealthy churches like Trinity Church, Wall Street and being turned away three times because the bishop does not have the support of his Archbishop. So as well-intentioned the Episcopal Church is, it is giving millions of dollars to African Anglicans who openly support the further criminalization of homosexuality while not giving us a dime. There is an inconsistency between the inclusive and affirmative message of Episcopalians in this country and what we are doing internationally.
The bishop and I talked about this in front of the World Mission Committee on Thursday, and the room was also full of visiting Archbishops from Canada, Wales and Brazil, plus some bishops from Sudan. People had no idea we were actually doing this. Our policy may have worked in the 20th century when all the 60 Primates and heads of national churches got along, but it does not work in the 21st century where the Religious Right has infiltrated and bribed Anglican leadership to lead the war against the LGBT community in Africa.
Colin Stewart picked up the story and you can read about what we said at the hearing on his blog Erasing 76 Crimes.
The bishop also spoke powerfully to the committee and one of the members thanked him for his courageous ministry. So we shall see what the Episcopal Church finally ends up deciding. There is a slow legislative process but if we are to open up money and resources for the emerging progressive faith voices in the Global South, we need to make sure these institutional disconnections are repaired.
Today is our final day in Indianapolis and we leave Saturday on an early flight for Washington, D.C. Tomorrow is another big day for Lutherans Concerned when several hundred of them will gather for their annual conference. Last year, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) also took the step of opening up all ministries to LGBT people so their Presiding Bishop (senior clerical leader) will be the keynote speaker at tomorrow’s opening celebrations. Our Lutheran friends have been so supportive of our work in Africa, so we have to be there to thank them!
RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.