Integrity Eucharist celebrates church's diversity

July 10, 2009

"What right does anyone have to draw lines beyond to whom God's grace, care and favor extend? asked Bishop Barbara Harris in her July 10 sermon celebrating God's grace on all the baptized, including the Episcopal Church's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered members.

Harris, retired suffragan of Massachusetts and the first female bishop ordained in the Anglican Communion, preached to more than 1,200 people gathered for a Eucharist service hosted by Integrity USA, a support group for gay and lesbian Episcopalians. New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, who lives in a long-term relationship with a male partner, celebrated. (A transcription of Harris' sermon is available here.)

As illustrated in the lesson taken from Acts of the Apostles, God has no favorites, Harris said: "Yet again we gather at convention to debate and resolve who should and shouldn't, who can and can't receive God's blessing."

Harris described Resolution B033 [see related story, page 2] as not just a "grudging response" to the Windsor Report, but the ticket for active members of the House of Bishops – Robinson excluded – to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and to make some false peace with others in the communion.

It's unlikely that B033 will be revoked or rescinded, especially given that the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told the church: "'Don't make another unilateral move on the communion chessboard,'" Harris said, adding that rather B033 needs to be superseded by something positive that recognizes the dignity of all God's humans.

In regard to questioning a person's manner of life, Harris went on to say that if the church doesn't see a person fit for election consecration to bishop, then it shouldn't ordain them to the sacred order of deacons.

"If you don't want GLBT folks as bishops, don't ordain them as deacons, better yet, be honest and say 'we don't want you, you don't belong here' and don't bestow on them the sacrament of baptism to begin with," said Harris to applause. "How can you initiate someone and treat them like they are half-assed baptized."

From there Harris moved on to the sacrament of marriage: marriage is a civil contract to which the church adds a blessing. It is the firm belief of many that the church should get out of the business of marriage. Let same- and-opposite sex couples get married, where it is legal; it's now legal in six states. "Let the church then administer the sacrament of blessing on all such couples and their lives," she said.

Rather than speculating about the suitability or unsuitability of a person's manner of life, Harris said she would prefer the church to work to protect people from hate crimes. Although the frequency of hate crimes has decreased, the crimes have become more brutal, she said.

Harris concluded where she began with Peter's bold assertion: "God has no favorites. Whoever fears God and does what is right, is acceptable to God ... all of us the baptized let us honor the sacrament of our baptism and our baptismal covenant, the only covenant we need."

Earlier in the service Integrity founder Louie Crew, a deputy from the Diocese of Newark, read the invocation, in what became a service live with drums accompanying a traditional South African chant "Amen sia-kudu-misa! Amen sia-kudu-misa! Amen, ba-wo. Amen, ba-wo. Amen sia-kudu-misa!"

During the Prayers of the People all those who have led the fight against injustice toward lesbian and gay people, all families present and clergy were invited to gather in front of the baptismal font.

John Bradley, Integrity's acting executive director, presented outgoing president, the Rev. Susan Russell, with a plaque commemorating her time as president. It read: "...with thanks to God for your gift of leadership." (Russell's second three-year-term ends in September.)

"There will be no outcasts," said Russell.