I've never been big on the concept of "spiritual warfare”. It rubs my pacifist spirit the wrong way. If we follow the Lord of Love, why would we engage in battle? Doesn't such language fuel the very attitudes and behaviors we are opposing? Yet this vocabulary has often been employed by my evangelical and fundamentalist Christian family members to describe the tension they experience with evil/the world/themselves. In the Episcopal tradition at our baptism we renounce these powers. We don't vow to go to war against them. Instead we turn to Jesus and accept him as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace and love, and promise to follow and obey him as our Lord. Conversion is what we’re after…over the course of all of our lives.
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.
A bit later outside, hundreds of citizens gathered to denounce the ordinance as a ‘sexual predator protection act’. Bearing hate-filled signs, the crowds sang “Alleluia,” as ministers of the Gospel insisted that race was not like sexual orientation—one you are born with, the other is a sinful choice. They also proclaimed that Christians would suffer prosecution under the ordinance for refusing to serve people whose conduct they could not accept for religious reasons. Bathrooms would be places of fear for women and children, more than they are now.
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