Father William Barnwell, recently retired from Trinity and is a volunteer with Kairos Prison Ministry International and serves as Episcopal pastor at Angola. He spoke eloquently against House Bill 707:
As an Episcopal clergyman and one who believes strongly in religious liberty, I speak to oppose House Bill 707. In recent years, the national Episcopal Church, has moved forward in our strong support of gay and lesbian people. We have given our bishops the authority for our clergy to bless same-sex unions. Those who come to our church to have their marriage blessed must meet the same standards of heterosexuals in marriages– making a lifelong, caring and faithful commitment.
Recently, we have had such blessings in the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. (The primary function of an Episcopal priest in a marriage, I should say, is to bless the union. Our legal responsibility in a marriage is like that of a notary.)
Our church has come to believe in same-sex unions and marriage and full support of lesbian, gays, bisexual, and transgender persons for many reasons. First, there is a social justice issue. Recognizing same-sex marriages gives the couple legal rights that those in male-female marriages have—like sharing tax, retirement, and insurance benefits.
Second, our national church understands that the center of our faith is the love of Christ—how we give it to one another and how we receive it. That is what we strive for, when we are at our best. In St. Paul’s immortal words: “Faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” When we in our churches bless faithful, caring same sex unions, we are fulfilling our understanding of the New Testament meaning of love.
Third, in our church, we do not give the same value to all the words in Scripture. Those who hold up the destruction of Sodom in Genesis because of homosexuality may possibly be quoting the Bible correctly. But, in our church we focus on those things in the Bible that bring life and love to the world, not destruction. We pay close attention to what Jesus said and how he acted. Nowhere does he speak against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people or against same sex unions. Instead he welcomes all of us with open arms, those who agree with us and those who disagree with us.
Fourth, and finally, when we look back at history, we see that the various stages of inclusion brought strength to the universal church and strength to the world.
- It began, as we learn about in the Book of Acts, when Jewish Christians brought Gentiles into the full life of the Church.
- In our time, we know just how important it has been to bring people of all races not just into our churches but into the leadership of our churches.
- And we know—at least many Christians know—just how important it has been to bring women into the full leadership of the church. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori.
Now, we, as a national church, look forward to bringing lesbian and gay couples not only into the church, but more and more into the leadership of our individual churches and our national church. Blessing same-sex unions is part of our national and local agenda. So it comes as no surprise that the Bishop of Louisiana, Morris Thompson, and many of our church leaders have signed the statement of religious leaders who oppose House Bill 707.