Episcopal Church leaders oppose Trump’s ban on transgender people in military

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jul 28, 2017

Editor’s note: This story is being updated as Episcopal News Service recevies additional statements. See below.

[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.”

The presiding bishop’s complete statement is here.

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.

Meanwhile, Christian conservatives applauded Trump’s announcement.

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.”

Other Episcopal leaders are  making their views known, including:

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is senior editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (22)

  1. Father Mike Waverly-Shank says:

    I agree with Bishop Curry and Bishop Wright.

  2. John Miller says:

    The Church goes through these heart-wrenching spasms about every 500 years, so we are witnessing a new spasm. I pray we come through it and more in keeping with Jesus’s teachings. All persons are children of God and we need to embrace that Gospel truth.

  3. Ralph Davis says:

    I respectfully disagree. I would like to know how we get from Genesis 5:2 “He created them male and female and blessed them,” to, 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.” ? As a life-long Episcopalian, I have no idea how we can say this is a product of our biblical and theological tradition? I also fail to understand Bishop Wright’s statement, “…the Christian faith teaches that God loves all people equally and unconditionally.” The Bible is full of examples that God’s love is unequal and conditional on everything from belief in Christ Jesus to obedience to His will. One example is when Jesus stops the stoning of the woman accused of adultery – He tells her to “go and sin no more,” implying a condition to His forgiveness. Before the haters begin bashing me, let me be clear that I have no issue with individual rights. What I have issue with is the Episcopal church, my church, taking public positions that are absolutely progressive political positions and trying to wrap them up in contrived theology. If Bishop Curry and others want to express their personal political opinions (which have no basis in theology or Episcopal tradition), as citizens they are welcome to do so, but please do not speak as representing the political views of all Episcopalians.

  4. From the press release… “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.’ Interesting but fallacious.” The PB is promulgating a reinterpretation and violation of understanding of the historic and apostolic teachings of the Church. The Roman and Orthodox understanding is contrary to TEC’s supposed newly-found sexual identity truth. What say he regarding those expressions of the Faith? TEC is but a speck in the history of the Christian Faith.

  5. Donald Heacock says:

    As a veteran this is a matter of Military Readiness. I don’t give a tinkers dam what Jesus thought. Trump should say out of the matter unless ask. Obama imposed this on the military in the last 6 months. The Chiefs have postponed the enlistment of Transgender for 6 months. The personal now interested the service without declaring there endenity. They have not been removed nor is there plan to do so.

  6. Lurline jennings says:

    Ralph Davis: Thank you for expressing what many of us believe. I have only one thought on this and that is how many elective surgeries does the military do for everyone. How about years of follow up care. Since changing the appearance of one’s sexual identity is elective I see no reason what-so-ever that we the people must pay for this. You are not born with the need for sexual correction unless you happen to be a hermaphrodite. This is rare. You are what you were born with. Check the DNA prior to the surgery and post surgical procedures or pharmaceutical changes. One will find that the identity is still that found at the time of birth. “Those who want to become something else please do so at your expense. We need weapons and medicine for real men who serve in this military. Women do NOT belong in our army or real men.

    1. Ralph Davis says:

      Thank you, Lurline.

    2. M.E. Eccles says:

      Wow! Women do not belong in the army?! Perhaps we should go back to a literal interpretation of the Constitution and revoke voting rights for anyone other than white Christian men?

      1. M.E. Eccles says:

        I must apologize and correct myself – not the Constitution, but the Declaration of Independence is what is being interpreted by many in these comments.

  7. Ronald Davin says:

    So, just what is Bishop Curry’s experience with the needs and mission of the Military ? Does he know that people are discriminated on a basis of age, hearing, height, sight, and a host of other issues? Does he realize the jeopardy that such a person would be in if taken prisoner ? The purpose of the military is to defend us, and if necessary break things, not to run a social agency. We have a crisis with Korea, we have high military suicide rates, non of which I have heard effectively address by the Church. We have seen so many vets, (including most of the WW2 generation go on to the next world without a care about if they were right with Jesus, and now the sudden interest on how Jesus of Nazareth would feel about their inclusion in the military ? Balderdash !

  8. mike geibel says:

    The political agenda of the TEC really is not about voicing a religious based opposition to transgender persons in the military, threatening a boycott over theTexas bathroom bill, or by filing an amicus curie brief with the Supreme Court supporting the right to “gender choice” (rather than anatomy) in using school locker rooms and showers. The “social justice” movement is all about t tying to change society by promoting acceptance of alternative lifestyles, wrapped in the robe of the Baptismal Covenant.

    The Declaration of Independence does indeed proclaim equality and the right of all people to pursue happiness, and I believe that is true for transgender people. But the Declaration of Independence was a political document justifying a declaration of war—it was not a religious document. It proclaimed equality in the eyes of God and natural law, but it did not declare the individual right to pursue happiness is more important than the rights of other people or the welfare of the nation. The Armed Forces is not a social club and is not and cannot be a reflection of our free society. By necessity, the Armed Forces are inherently unequal and discriminatory. Only adults are allowed to serve in the Military, and age limits are imposed. People with physical or mental disabilities are precluded from service. Once in the military, basic freedoms are forfeited due to the need for discipline and a regimented life in what is essentially a violent profession. Choice of dress is not an option. Private bathrooms and showers are not provided for GI’s. Orders are not polite requests that can be ignored. The Military’s mission is to deter attacks on our nation, and to kill and destroy others if necessary to protect our freedoms. The Military is a dictatorial organization based upon strict Rules and inequality—Privates are not the equals of Generals.

    My objection is not that the TEC and Bishop Curry are wrong to teach support for equal rights and dignity for those with different lifestyles. Others may challenge whether the politics of alternative lifestyles find support in the Bible or Jesus’ teaching, but I am not a Biblical scholar. My objection is that the TEC has become the religious branch of the ACLU and uses religion as a justification for political activism. The social justice movement, now relabeled the “Jesus Movement” to make it sound non-political, is in fact mixing politics and religion.

    I missed the chapter in the New Testament where Jesus condemned Caesar, wrote protest letters to the Roman Rulers, or encouraged boycotts. I was taught that Jesus spoke to the individual, never to government or government policy, and he preached that reaching God’s Kingdom was based upon humility, mutual respect and personal responsibility and not on governmental control or intervention. By teaching how we should live our lives and setting an example, Jesus profoundly changed history without protest marches, religious slogans or boycotts. Perhaps he understood better than we do, that most politicians and emperors are corrupt and temporal, and that our lives are but nanoseconds in in God’s plan.

    In April 2016, the TEC was one of 99 faith groups that sent a letter to congressional leaders opposing Trump’s campaign promise to weaken the prohibition against churches endorsing political candidates. The Bishop has forgotten his own words:

    “People of faith do not want partisan political fights infiltrating their houses of worship. . . . Houses of worship are spaces for members of religious communities to come together, not be divided along political lines; faith ought to be a source of connection and community, not division and discord.”

    As stated by CS Lewis, “The grand point is not to wear the garb, nor use the brogue of religion, but to process the life of God within, and feel and think as Jesus would have done because of that inner life.” I believe that the means for changing the hearts and minds of people to accept our differences will come by preaching the Word and not from Bishops standing in clerical garb holding signs or issuing a threat to boycott Texas. Such actions only sow “division and discord” in a membership with diverse political views.

    Pounding your fist on the Altar is not teaching the Word. Trust in the Wisdom that created the Word as the means to change hearts and minds. Be humble, not prideful, and never presume that your politics are God’s politics.

    1. Leila Lou Baldwin says:

      Having just come from morning worship at my Episcopal Church, shaking and feeling violated by the highly political and anti-conservative “sermon” delivered by a visiting priest, I am deeply appreciative of not only your sentiments but also your articulate “calling out” of the hypocrisy of many of our Episcopal priests today. The utter hypocrisy of Bishop Curry and others in the national church is astounding–thank you for putting the glare of sunshine on that. I am deeply grateful that our church has two outstanding Episcopal priests who preach the Gospel and who never allow their own leftist views to become the focus of their sermons–showing that they sincerely respect diversity of views. Bishop Curry could use a lesson in that respect for diversity.

  9. Catherine Cheek says:

    I believe that each individual is responsible for his/her own soul. We are all God’s children. If a person wants to serve his/her country, he/she should be allowed to do so. For me, I am a pacifist. I abhor war, but not everyone feels as I do. It is a choice. And that man in the White House should understand this, although he understands nothing but hate and vanity.

    1. Bill Louis says:

      Cathrine, obviously you have never served. Read Ronald Davin’s comments above.

  10. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    I agree completely with the criticism of Bishops Curry and Wright. Much of what the Presiding Bishop is saying on this and other issues amounts to absolute sacrilege and suggests a woeful ignorance of church doctrine and church history. But perhaps that is to be expected of someone whose election to his present position was in the opinion of many Episcopalians clearly a political choice. That can of course be said of many of his fellow bishops as well including our own in Massachusetts.

  11. mike geibel says:

    The decisions as to who can and should serve in the military should be based upon personal merit and left to those who have to lead the troops into battle—not to politicians or religious leaders demanding “political correctness.” In the modern world there may indeed be a place for persons with computer and technology skills where gender identity is irrelevant. But the Bishop’s “moral principle” of Equality in the abstract has no pace in military decisions. The Armed Forces are discriminatory, dictatorial organizations, and war is inherently immoral but unfortunately, a necessary evil if we are to protect the principles of equality and freedom.

    No doubt Bishop Curry and Rev. Gay Clark Jennings are compassionate and faithful followers of Christ. But they have jumped into the political arena and have called out the President, have threatened an economic boycott of Texas over its Legislature’s reactionary bathroom bill, have submitted amicus curie briefs to the Supreme Court in support of “gender choice” locker rooms and showers in our schools, and have supported “Sanctuary Dioceses” which encourage disobedience to Federal Laws prohibiting “harboring” of illegal aliens. Maybe it is time to call for an economic boycott of the Episcopal Church.

    1. Ralph Davis says:

      Well said, Mike!

    2. Lewis Rayburn says:

      Thank You Mike!

  12. John Miller says:

    I would hope that those who object to the Bishop’s stance, should read some Biblical commentaries that remind us that to proof text the Bible (picking out verses that justify one’s position without regard to the context or history of the text) are using it to defend their positions rather than allowing the scripture to speak to them. Of course, Jesus didn’t call for boycotts or pickets, he didn’t live in a democracy or even a culture that allowed protest of any kind. The Bible is not the word of God, Jesus is the Word (St. John)’ it contains God’s word and needs to address the issues of the time. After all, one could make a case for slavery by picking and choosing passages…an we know how that turned out. The biblical times had no knowledge of genetics, geology, modern biology; it spoke in myths (myths are not fairy tales in case anyone thinks I do not appreciate them and know they are describing their understanding of the mysteries of God). I am more concerned about “patriotic correctness: more than “political correctness.” It tries to connect God and patriotism together, forgetting that God is not to be tied down to one country, one political system, one group of people. Are people are God’s children. The prophets need to be intensely read and studied to understand how Go acts in history.

  13. mike geibel says:

    So I guess only those elite few who “intensely read and study the prophets” know how God acts and thinks. I don’t qualify as a biblical expert, and I agree that the prophets probably did not have the advantage of knowing genetics, geology, modern biology or much in the way of science at all. But I assume that God did. I must also assume from your support Bishop’s Curry’s foray into the political arena, that you believe that his politics are the politics of God.

    “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. 2:11)

    My argument is not that the Bishop is biblically wrong in his compassion for transgender rights. I do say that politics and religion are a lethal mix for the Church. Upon the rise of Hitler in 1934, a far better biblical scholar than I, Eberhard Arnold, commented to the Bruderhof in “The Church and Its Dangerous Politics”: (these are his citations to the biblical text, not mine)

    “It is a widespread error to mix this specific task of the church [to live simply] with public affairs. As Paul shows very clearly, the church, with its task of being the embodiment of Christ, is thrust in among the nations as a unique anticipatory presence which points forward to the coming of the kingdom on earth (Col. 3:1–4; Eph. 1:9–14). Accordingly, it is not the task of the body of Christ to attain prominence in the political power structure of this world (1 Cor. 1:26–29; 2:6–8; 2 Cor. 4:7–10). Thus, according to the apostolic teaching, there is no such thing as a Christian state. A Christian church fights neither for the interests of the state nor against them. No head of a state can legitimately wield the sword in the name of Christ, and no church is permitted to bless any attempts to do so.”

    “There are two distinct and separate spheres of life: one is the state and the other is the church. National or international politics are not the Christian’s politics. The apostle says that our politics is in heaven, from where we expect our Lord Jesus Christ to come (Phil. 3:20). Our politics is that of the kingdom of God.”

    “Paul says that we are ambassadors of God, representing Christ, the Messiah King, the regent of that last kingdom – a kingdom represented not by any state or government of this world, but rather by the church. We are ambassadors of the reign of God. This is something enormous. It means that we do nothing at all except what the king of God’s kingdom would himself do for his kingdom. And the will of this king is to unite. This is why the apostle says we are God’s ambassadors on behalf of Christ, appealing to all people, ‘Be reconciled to God.’ Our task is reconciliation and uniting, and nothing else. There is nothing else we have to do in this world.”

    Diving into the political arena is divisive, not unifying. Admittedly, there are probably times and issues in which clergy should not sit back in silence. I just do not agree that the Armed Forces is a proper testing ground for clerics to try to re-engineer society.

    As to your definition of “patriotic correctness,” it sounds eerily like “one world order” ideology. I always thought that joining the U.S. Armed Forces requires unwavering allegiance to our country. I guess I was wrong about that, too.

  14. Doug Desper says:

    There are false equivalencies being drawn in issues such as this. The liberal social justice mindset has its orientation in the Civil Rights struggle of the last century, or other aggrieved status struggles, and tends to bring those illustrations to nearly every argument. However, one cannot bring those unique circumstances to every issue to use as a blanket indictment about what is perceived to be a wrong to be corrected. So, shelve the Jim Crow comparisons. The issue is this: transgender people typically have unresolved issues that require working through as they pursue what they sense to be their fullest gender expression. Dr. Paul R. McHugh, the former psychiatrist-in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital and its current Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry, said that transgenderism is a “mental disorder” that merits treatment. Even if you don’t agree with that nearly anyone will recognize that there are major psychological issues going on that need to be resolved. The military is not the forum to recruit people who are “working through” such major psychological issues. It is not the forum to experiment and question oneself since unit cohesion is a requirement for survival. The military is not a common workplace defined by office workers around a water cooler, or National Church office holders who email each other their most eloquent thoughts throughout a day. Nor is the military “our house” (to quote from the National Cathedral). The military is designed to to be a mentally fit, psychologically fit, and physically fit cohesive unit designed to repel aggression with greater aggression and to unreservedly follow all rightly conceived orders to kill others. Throwing people who are already struggling with their own identity, psychologically and, in their minds, physically, into a combative, war-torn, physically-demanding, mentally-exhausting environment risks units falling apart. Those who have never lived in such a reality do well to learn about it and stop comparing it to just any other workplace.
    And, stop with the tired comparisons of discrimination from another era with different issues. Add to the body of required knowledge about each unique circumstance. That’s truly “respecting the dignity of all persons.”

    1. M.E. Eccles says:

      Mr. Desper, I believe you might need to do more research on “mental disorders”. Think of all the military personnel who have been unfortunate enough to do a tour or more in combat situations. Nearly all of them could be diagnosed with PTSD – a mental disorder. Should they be honorably discharged upon their return? What about those who are suffering from depression or anxiety (also mental disorders)?
      With regard to whether or not being transgender is a mental disorder, perhaps the following by Robin Rosenberg written 4 years ago will clarify (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/04/gender-dysphoria-dsm-5_n_3385287.html)
      “the drafters of the new DSM-5 wanted to emphasize the importance of distress about the incongruity for a diagnosis.
      This shift reflects recognition that the disagreement between birth gender and identity may not necessarily be pathological if it does not cause the individual distress, said Robin Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist and co-author of the psychology textbook “Abnormal Psychology” (Worth Publishers, 2009). For instance, many transgender people — those who identify with a gender different than the one they were assigned at birth — are not distressed by their cross-gender identification and should not be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, Rosenberg said.”
      No diagnosis – no mental disorder.
      While I believe the military is definitely not the platform or arena to debate transgender issues, “respecting the dignity of all persons” means remembering our history, including discrimination from other eras with different issues – otherwise, we are likely to repeat history.

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