Scripture: Revelation 21:10; 21:22-22:5
Listen here or read below:
By Rev. Ashley Harness
This week, I have been SO proud to be a part of Lyndale United Church of Christ. That meme that is on the front of your bulletins is something I wrote on last Tuesday when I was scrolling on Facebook through post after post of bathroom bill craziness and feeling heartsick and angry. Trans* and genderqueer people are made in the image of God, it says – not exactly the rocket science of progressive theology. It’s just a theological version of what we at Lyndale have claimed for years now in our LGBTQ open and affirming statement.
But apparently the world still needs to hear it – still needs to hear US. Because that image went viral. We reached about 70,000 people through almost 400 shares. Over 3000 people liked the post or commented on it. The national office of the United Church of Christ picked it up and shared it too. If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around these numbers, picture the new Twins Stadium. I basically had the chance to preach at that stadium, filled to capacity, two nights in a row. How crazy cool is that?!
But it’s also entirely depressing. How is it that in 2016 a statement so simple is apparently so radical that it takes off like wildfire through the wild west of the world wide web? What is that about? I’ve been wracking my brain and talking with people about this all week. How is that that we at Lyndale know in our bones that the New Jerusalem, the utopic city of God described in our text from that anti-imperial, sci-fi –esque book of the bible called Revelation, will be filled with people expressing all their fabulous gender diversity and others would call our trans* and genderqueer beloveds abominations not even allowed in? Why have bathrooms become false idols, signifiers of our society’s deepest fears?
The brilliant Rev. Dr. William Barber in North Carolina has some ideas. Barber is the president of NAACP in North Carolina and the prophetic voice of the Moral Monday movement. Since 2013, he has been mobilizing people of faith across historic divisions of race, class, sexuality, gender identity, physical ability and religion to stand together for the soul of his state. They have worked on issues of health care access, wage theft, educational opportunity, union busting, voter disenfranchisement and now they are working together to repeal the infamous HB2, what he now calls “Hate Bill 2” instead of House Bill 2.
Rev. Barber is a staunch ally to LGBTQ folks. But that’s not the only reason he’s focusing on this bill. You see, the bill is getting the most attention for its bathroom gender policing. But as the Charlotte Observer notes, “The law limits how people pursue claims of discrimination because of race, religion, color, national origin, biological sex or handicap in state courts. The law also means a city or county cannot set a minimum wage standard for private employers.” In other words, trans* and genderqueer folks are the lightning rod, but this is really about something so much bigger. This is about thrwarting the realization of the New Jerusalem, the city of God among us. This is about all of us on the margins being kept on the margins.
Rev. Barber also gives us a history lesson, a lesson that as a white woman, makes me deeply and profoundly sad and angry. The message from those in support of HB2 and other so-called bathroom bills is all about the safety of women and girls. We shouldn’t to allow “men,” aka, transwomen, into the bathroom alongside women and girls because they are a threat to female safety. I want to rage when I hear that claim. As a cisgendered woman, I feel a profound sense of solidarity with my transwomen sisters. A transwoman is murdered every 29 hours, and yet they only make up 1% of the global population. Transwomen are sexually assaulted at insanely high rates too. Every day, trans* and genderqueer folks face embarrassment, harassment, and real physical danger trying to use bathrooms that match their gender identities. We should be struggling together against our lived experience of patriarchy, misogyny and sexism. Instead, we are being divided and conquered. It’s a strategy as old as Babylon.
We are swimming upstream against history – ancient and modern. Rev. Barbar takes us back to the 1800s in America to understand these so-called bathroom bills. After the Civil War during the Reconstruction period, the religious “Redemption Movement” began among white churches that preached on and “portrayed black men as ravishing beasts eager to rape white women.” Then Rev. Barber speeds forward to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. How many of you have seen the movie Selma? Well, the week after that march happened, Sheriff Jim Clark who lead the crackdown on the protestors called it the “raping of Selma” and stirred fear that there would be a boom of interracial babies soon born to white women. Sound familiar?
Well, I don’t want to be used anymore to hurt my black brothers or my trans* siblings. This white cisgendered woman standing before you is not worried about being attacked in a public bathroom by a transwoman. This is what I have to say to the voices of today’s fear-mongering Babylon, of North Carolina and even of Minnesota where we have a very similar bill sitting in our House of Representatives – HF3396:
Not in my name. Not in my name will you make it impossible for my beloved trans* and genderqueer friends to get through their day – at work, at school, at the doctor’s office, at the grocery story, at the bus station, at the airport, at the gas station and all the other places public restrooms are essential. Not in my name. Not in the name of my protection will I allow you to discriminate.
If you really want to take the dangers facing my body seriously, then let’s stop talking about public bathrooms. Let’s talk instead about the bathrooms in our own homes where we are far more likely to face sexual abuse and attack from our own family members or trusted family friends. Let’s talk about that harassment, sexual abuse and rape as matters of social justice.
If you want to take the dangers facing my body seriously, then let’s back up and talk about how you are defunding Planned Parenthood, and health care access and sex education curriculums that could save my life.
If you want to take the dangers facing my body seriously, then listen to me, a white cisgendered woman Christian pastor calling you to listen to me AND the Gospel: Let’s teach our children about the sacredness of their bodies, that their sexuality and gender expression are a divine gifts for them to explore and enjoy, that their boundaries are theirs to set and their community’s responsibility to help enforce. Let’s teach adults about their bodies too and make up for what we deprived them of as children with horrible or non-existent sex ed curriculums. Let’s empower men – cis and trans – to discover a vast array of expressions of masculinity that allow them to be their full selves – vulnerable, real, strong and joyful all at once. Let’s empower some sex-positive lady fierceness, some genderqueer self-love. Let’s teach everyone about power too – what constitutes a healthy use of it and what is abuse.
Let’s build an uprising of churches that are communities of healthy incarnation, of sex-positive, gender-full embodiment instead of the deadly silence about bodies and sex too many of our churches perpetuate while obsessing instead about trans* and genderqueer bodies in public bathrooms. As Spotlight, the movie we screened at church on Friday night about the Catholic church sex abuse epidemic says, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse a child.” I will not scapegoat my trans* and genderqueer siblings in Christ, I will not be a pawn of discrimination, I will not be silent because I don’t want to live in that village. I don’t want to live in Babylon. I want to be free in the New Jerusalem, dancing along the river of life with all my trans* and genderqueer friends.
Trans* and genderqueer people are made in the image of God. So are each of us. Dear Mr. Babylon spokesman, dear sponsors of HB2 and HF3396 – the divine in me, the divine in my beloved trans* and genderqueer community, greets the divine in you. We will meet you on the streets of the New Jerusalem someday. And until then, we will meet you on our streets in protest.
Not in my name.