Bruce Pagano is a devout Christian with strong principles. He respects those of his faith with whom he may disagree. He has a tough time, however, with those who deal in complete falsehoods. That is what he sees in today’s current discourse. He tells us why.
If you had to explain it to someone from another country, what would you tell them appears to be the biggest issues facing our country? Our economy? The millions of people who live in poverty? Our hard broken justice system? The fact that a crazy misogynist has grabbed the GOP nomination essentially unchallenged? Nope, nope, nope and nope. Oddly, you would likely be closer if you said our biggest issue, especially within the conservative Christian camp, is whether a person should be able to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. Realistically this has been a point of contention and debate in one form or another for quite a few years, with instances like bakers refusing to make cakes for same gender weddings, the push to legalize same gender marriage, local government officials refusing to execute their civic duty when it comes to issuing said marriage licenses and a myriad of other rights that members of the LGBTQ community are working toward gaining. And in all that, Christians have been some of the loudest voices of opposition.
Normally it does not bother me when a group, whether conservative or liberal, simply voice their opinion. Even though I am an evangelical Christian, I spent two decades in the military defending each American’s right to say what they want, whether I agree with it or not. But, as a Christian, I have what some would call, fairly liberal views when it comes to the issue of same gender marriage and this transgender bathroom issue. Ultimately, I believe that the bible was not given to Christians as a means to police others’ lives or behaviors. I think one of the intentions of the bible is that it used more like a mirror than a magnifying glass. Unfortunately, it is not difficult to look around and see that many Christians prefer to use the bible as a manual for policing others.
With that said, I still do not have an issue with Christians voicing their opinion as long as it is open and productive conversation. However, many Christians, are not sure what it is supposed to look like to live out the directive, “be in the world, but not of it.” Because of this lack of clarity it is often easier to grab hold of clichés like “hate the sin, love the sinner” and hope that it is a suitable mantra for navigating the precarious waters of our pluralistic society. Sadly, this “sin vs. sinner” mentality openly complicates the situation because it is often difficult to separate the perceived “sin” from the perceived “sinner.” And, because the LGBTQ community views their orientation as an identity and not a behavior, they feel attacked and alienated. Even still, there are a lot of Christians that sit in this “sin vs. sinner” paradigm and are really trying to mine out how it all fits together in a way that spells love to the person. Regrettably, with this view, most won’t get there in a way that communicates the Gospel message the manner that Jesus gave it to us, one with a focus on relationship and real, lived out, grace-directed love. But at least they’re trying.
Then there is the other side. The side that uses fear in an attempt to manipulate those that are trying to figure out what “hate the sin, love the sinner” should look like. The side that somehow convinces so many that bad things will happen, to you, your children, your spouse, if we allow the whatever they identify as the new “threat” to actually take place. The other side is a fear-monger. They twist and bend stories so that it proves their point. For those Christians trying to figure this stuff out, the other side makes the “sin” and the “sinner” the same thing and uses fear to convince them that if they do not fight it, they are inviting the demise of our “Christian nation.” There are plenty of examples of this, but one of the most recent that made me genuinely angry was published on May 14th by ChristianNews.net. The title of the article was, “Eight-Year-Old Girl Choked in Restroom by Man in City Pushing ‘Transgender’ Access Rights.” That article was shared on Facebook nearly 25K times.
The short version of the article is that a man walked into a Jason’s Deli, in Chicago, IL, and targeted a young girl and her mother as they went into the bathroom. The man then entered the bathroom, choked the girl unconscious, while her mother was in a stall next to her, and attempted to carry the girl into a stall. Thankfully, the mother heard her daughter scream and was able to alert the deli employees, who held the man until the police arrived. Pretty cut and dry right? Wrong. Nowhere in the article does the man, law enforcement, Jason’s Deli employees or the mother mention that the assailant identified as transgender. I was pretty shocked that the article, as Christian News reported it, didn’t mention this seemingly important detail, since they put it in the title. I thought maybe I missed something, so I looked up the story and found five different legitimate news outlets that reported on the incident and wouldn’t you know it, none of them mentioned the man identifying as transgender. In fact, as far as I could find, Jason’s Deli does not have a policy that allows the free use of public facilities, yet. What we have here is a case of a bad man doing something bad, regardless of the presence of a policy allowing him entry or not. This is also not the first instance of a heterosexual man walking into a women’s bathroom and assaulting a woman or girl. What we also have is a “Christian” “news” organization that took advantage of a horrible situation, which was not even connected to the transgender bathroom issue, and twisted it in order to invoke fear. And for what? Click-bait? At the very least, this is grossly irresponsible reporting and at its worst, this is fear-mongering aimed at disguising hate for people as loving rebuke of behavior.
As Christians, we are not supposed to operate in or be influenced by fear. In fact, because perfect love casts out fear, if we are genuinely following Jesus, who is Love, our response will be focused toward relationship and give a wide berth to anyone that attempts to invoke fear. I wonder sometimes what we would think of “hate the sin, love the sinner” if we honestly viewed ourselves through that lens. Would it be easy to believe that God loved us as a person, or would we constantly doubt? I am not saying that we, as Christians, should not hate sin. We should despise sin, but we should hate our own sin and let that drive us into the presence of God and back out to people that we know need His love.
I’m not sure how this conversation moves forward, but I do know what stalls it out. What alienates people from experiencing Jesus is garbage like this. I think one of the most important things is that we stop viewing others as “sinners” and start seeing them how God desires us to, as people. Real life, hurting and happy, messed up and awesome, wonderful people. People that want to be connected, accepted and do the same for others.
Maybe if we stop acting like we are having our rights taken from us and start realizing that we are simply being asked to share the privilege that we’ve had, uncontested, for a long time we will stop looking like we hate others and start to look more like Jesus intended us to.
Photo: Flickr/Peter K.Levy