This week’s events at City Hall in Houston brought this contrast back to mind vividly. Inside the rotunda, a press conference was called to proclaim the support of Houston faith and business leaders for an ordinance protecting the civil rights of all manner of classes of citizens from the pregnant to the disabled, from those of various ethnic origins to those of various sexual orientations, from veterans to transgendered individuals. The ordinance was viewed by these leaders as a way to make Houston a more just place, with a legal process which would protect the most vulnerable among us, using a conciliation process as the primary means of change.
Difference does not require war.
Here are some facts. Religious institutions are exempt from this ordinance. In no other city has the incidence of sexual assault increased with the passage of civil rights protection. Women and girls are more at risk of sexual abuse by a heterosexual man they know or are related to than by strangers or transgender women. Transgender individuals are protected to go to the bathroom of their choice with this ordinance. It is a violation of their civil rights, under the ordinance, to be denied access and they would now have legal recourse to file a complaint against a business which would deny them use of rest room facilities.
As Episcopalians we know that we do not have to do battle with sin because the victory has already been won by Jesus Christ. Our calling is to live this truth of our baptism. By prayer, resisting evil and returning to the Lord, proclaiming Good News, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and striving for justice and peace among all people we help to reveal God’s rule of this world. We do not expect everyone to agree with us.
We must not be perpetrators of spiritual violence in the name of Jesus. Nor should we ignore the violence done by our sisters and brothers in their misappropriation of the Gospel of Christ or allow them to be seen as the only voice of Christians. There is real division in the Church in the United States over our honest difference in Scriptural interpretation regarding sexuality. As people of faith, we will need to do our part to mend the Body of Christ.
However, now is a time to work for justice and peace for the weakest and the “different” in our society. The members of the City Council and the Mayor are being deluged with calls from citizens outside of Houston voicing their opposition to the ordinance. Let them hear your voice. The work of our city is to ensure that all of our citizens are protected from discrimination and hate, whether it is done in ignorance, malice, or misguidedly in the name of the Lord