Franklin Graham is wrong again — and, once again, giving a bad name to my religion and my church.
We could hope that if a Christian minister with a worldwide voice (often mistaken for “the” Christian voice), was going to err, he would at least stand with Jesus and err on the side of protecting the outcast and the innocent, the last and “least of these” in our society.
But Graham recently said on Facebook that a proposed non-discrimination ordinance in Charlotte, N.C., “literally opens the doors — the bathroom doors — to predators and sexually perverted people.”
Graham’s stereotyping belies his fundamental ignorance on the subject. So much for “Judge not ….”
While even the terms of this debate are complicated, and the findings of medical research and social science are always contested by anti-gay organizations, there is agreement among neutral observers that no necessary correlation exists between predatory behavior and sexual orientation or gender expression. In the many cities across the country that have passed non-discrimination policies, there are no reported cases of Mr. Graham’s fear being realized.
The fact that white, heterosexual males are statistically proven the most prevalent molesters of children does not indict all of us who meet those criteria.
Thank God not everyone judges as unfairly as Mr. Graham.
Graham’s characterization is, more disturbingly, a shameful breach of the Christian ethic of love for neighbor. “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus was asked, and he equated our “neighbor” with our most hated enemy, who does not look like us and who shares neither our religious or cultural worldview. Beyond teaching this in parables, Jesus lived his ethic, dining regularly with all the known “outcasts” of his day: prostitutes, lepers (untouchables), “sinners,” Gentiles, foreigners.
How many of the people thoughtlessly and hurtfully derided by Mr. Graham does he actually know? How much of their pain has he embraced by sitting with them to hear their stories — the intimate struggles with self-identity that are heartbreakingly difficult to listen to, and the experiences of rejection, humiliation and violence too many have faced? Some of that violence is perpetrated by the wicked, and some is the result of misguided passion, good hearts that have just been fueled by talk of our “righteousness” and their “perversion”?
The biblical witness, from start to finish, speaks for those who are the outsiders, the vulnerable, the weak, the marginalized and the hated, and Jesus demonstrates the inclusion of God’s love in first person. Mr. Graham sides with the ill-informed, the haters, the purveyors of conventional wisdom and common ignorance.
All Christian churches suffer when someone with such a visible “Christian” presence acts so Christ-less.
The non-discrimination ordinance in Charlotte is not, despite many loud voices misconstruing the issue, a “bathroom” issue. The ordinance would provide protections for the last classes of our citizens who can still be legally denied a taxi cab ride or a hotel room just because someone else disapproves of the way they look. We outlawed that principle years ago. Or so I thought. It is, however, still legal in Charlotte to deny basic, public services to someone just because you simply disapprove of them.
For hundreds of years we used misreadings of the Bible to discriminate against people whose skin color and gender made them “less than” — “the Bible said so.” Well, it still says all those things. Thank God we have learned to read differently.
Narrow judgmentalism often comes down to “proof texting” scripture, so I would like to know what texts Mr. Graham cites to justify his contempt of the transgender person. Jesus is as silent about this issue as he is about homosexuality. There is not a single word about gender identity or gender expression from Genesis to Revelation.
Also misconstrued by the detractors of this ordinance is the idea of religious liberty. This is not a breach of religious freedom — unless you are willing to reconsider legal discriminations against African Americans and women. There are still people in this country whose religious views teach the superiority of the white race. Blessedly, we do not allow them an exemption to discriminate against people of color on the grounds of their religious bigotry.
As to the so-called “bathroom issue”…
The ordinance recommends no changes to building codes concerning bathrooms, in either new or existing facilities. The provision says, simply, that transgender persons will be allowed to use the restroom of choice. So, let’s think clearly about this.
It is against the law today for a man to dress as a woman for the purpose of molesting a child. If the ordinance passes, that will still be against the law. Molesting children will always be an egregious crime — no matter how you are dressed. So, unless we fall into Mr. Graham’s dangerous trap of stereotyping all transgender persons as pedophiles, which is morally repugnant, we have to admit that the issue is not a concern for children’s welfare.
We are all concerned about children’s welfare, but any reasonable reading of the evidence shows that our children would not be in increased danger if the ordinance passes.
The issue, then, is simply the treatment of the homosexual or transgender person. The issue for people of faith is Mr. Graham’s contempt and condemnation of the transgender person — based on such unchristian stereotyping. While this area of human sexuality is new to many of us, we cannot ignore these human beings. And Christians cannot treat them as a class of “predators” and “perverts.” The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates .3 percent of the U.S. population is transgender — that’s 700,000 of God’s children, in this country alone!
I must confess that I am as challenged by this as most people — Charlotte is certainly not the quiet, small South Carolina town in which I was raised. Today’s best medical and scientific evidence, however, now makes it clear that the diversity of these expressions of humanity have always been with us. And this culture we have inherited — a culture freed for expression by our amazing democratic experiment — is not going away.
Faced with the reality of homosexuality and the transgender experience, we must ask: where do we actually want the people targeted by this discrimination to use the restroom?
As the father of two, now teenaged, sons, I am certain I would prefer transgender women to use the privacy of a stall in the women’s room (and how is anyone’s biological gender actually known in that room?), rather than to have had to explain to two young boys why there was a woman in their restroom. She is no danger to my sons, nor is she or the transgender male a danger to our daughters. However, forcing this woman to use a men’s room may very well endanger her own safety — and if we have any degree of Christian compassion, we have to care about that.
It is not a simple world. It never has been — and we’re not going back to any supposed “good old days.”
Christians in this complex world have a basic choice. We can condemn those who are different from us, castigate those we don’t understand; we can label them and heap humiliation and shame on them; we can stereotype and blame and judge and, clinging to narrow, literalistic readings of our ancient scripture, we can proclaim ourselves, alone, righteous.
Or we can side with Jesus, who welcomed the outcasts — and died as one, too.
Our children are no more in danger today than they have always been — but the Christian church is. We must speak a more compassionate voice, or no ordinance will be able to save us from our own hypocritical demise.