[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal Church leaders are making clear their objections to President Donald Trump’s announcement on Twitter of his plan to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said July 28 that he opposes Trump’s effort and “affirm[s] the moral principle of equal rights for all persons, including the LGBTQ communities.”
Curry said his 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.” He said he objected “as a follower of Jesus Christ, as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and as a citizen who loves this country.”
Citing the Declaration of Independence’s claim of equal and inalienable rights of all, Curry said: “discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation is a violation of the fundamental ideal of equality in America.”
The presiding bishop thanked transgender individuals now serving in the armed forces. “We are grateful for your service and for your sacrifices. We support you and all service members and veterans,” he said. “You are our neighbors, brothers and sisters in God’s human family, and fellow citizens of this country we love.”
Trump’s July 26 early morning tweets about banning transgender people from the military caught the Department of Defense and Congress by surprise.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said July 27 that the military had not yet been notified by the secretary of defense, who he said must issue “implementation guidance.” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was on vacation when Trump tweeted.
Later on July 26, the Justice Department, announced it would wade into a private employment lawsuit to argue that federal law banning sex discrimination did not include protection for workers based on sexual orientation.
Also on July 26, Trump announced the nomination of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Brownback is well-known for his opposition to gay rights.
Trump’s actions come as Curry and House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings are closely monitoring the Texas legislature’s consideration of a bill requiring transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on what the bill calls their “biological sex” as stated on their birth certificate.
The General Convention is scheduled to meet July 5-13, 2018, in Austin, Texas. Curry and Jennings have said that they must be able to ensure that “all Episcopalians and visitors to our convention, including transgender people, are treated with respect, kept safe, and provided appropriate public accommodation consistent with their gender identities.”
The Rt. Rev. Carl Wright, Episcopal Church bishop suffragan for the armed forces and federal ministries, said in an emailed statement July 28 that “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.”
Wright said that the Christian faith teaches that God loves all people equally and unconditionally. “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,” Wright wrote. “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 Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, said July 27 that he too was disappointed by Trump’s 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,” Hollerith said. “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.”
The dean said, “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.”
Washington National Cathedral stands with transgender people, Hollerith said. “You will always be welcome in our house.”
Diocese of Virginia Bishop Shannon S. Johnston, Virginia Bishop Suffragan Susan E. Goff and Assistant Bishop Edwin F. Gulick said July 28 that they concur with Curry’s statement. They also noted the diocese’s recently released guidelines for the inclusion of transgender persons in the diocese’s camps and schools.
“Be assured of our unwavering support for God’s beloved children, no matter their gender, gender identity or sexual orientation,” they wrote in a statement.
Integrity USA President Bruce Garner wrote July 27 that his organization, which advocates for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the Episcopal Church, “stands in support of transgender women and men serving in our military.”
Garner noted in a blog post that Integrity’s position is backed by Episcopal Church canon law including transgender persons in its anti-discrimination stance.
General Convention in 2012 added gender expression and identity to two canons that prevent discrimination in the church. One makes clear that the ordination discernment process is open to them, and another guarantees their equal place in the life, worship and governance of the church.
Those moves drew protests from some Episcopalians and prompted the Diocese of South Carolina’s deputies and then-Bishop Mark Lawrence to leave the convention.
Three years later, General Convention passed a resolution calling for a liturgical rite for people claiming new names. It also passed a resolution asking for recommendations to the 2018 meeting of convention on requests to amend church records and registries, and to reissue church certificates to match the legal name changes of members of the church.
Garner urged Integrity members to continue their advocacy.
“Remember that when the civil and human rights of any begin to be chipped away by prejudice, bigotry, meanness and nastiness, there is nothing to prevent those same bigots from going after the other civil and human rights we have,” Garner wrote. “Speak out. Silence will still equal death.”
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is senior editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.