As leaders of faith communities, we want what’s best for our state.
We are committed — on spiritual as well as civic grounds — to the virtues of decency, hard work, fairness and respect for faith that have made the Lone Star State a global leader.
Sadly, the lieutenant governor and a small group of Texas legislators are pursuing an agenda during the special session that would spell moral and potentially economic disaster for our state. Under the banner of “faith,” these elected officials are relentlessly advancing an agenda built on intimidation and exploitation of the vulnerable in the service of political rhetoric.
We cannot stand by and allow these individuals and their agenda to divide us and make “others” of those who, like each of us, are created in the image of God.
So let us be clear: Pastors who support restrictive “bathroom bill” legislation and other attempts to diminish the safety of marginalized Texans do not speak for us. And they do not, we believe, speak for the majority of the Texas faith community.
Without question, as faith leaders, we prioritize the safety of women and children. Proponents of the bathroom bills say they are only working to protect women and children from assault in public restrooms and school locker rooms. But in reality, these bills would strip transgender children and adults of just such protections.
This rhetoric is not backed by facts. There is no evidence, and there are no cases on record, of transgender children or adults assaulting anyone in a public restroom or locker room. On the other hand, more than half of transgender people report that they have been harassed in public places because of their gender identity. These are facts, and this information is well known to legislative leaders and well supported by readily available law-enforcement data. The statistics would suggest that, if anything, the transgender community needs protection.
Without question, as a faith leader, I understand the tensions in our communities surrounding issues of human sexuality. We are not of one mind on these issues, and I pray for our church members and all who wrestle with these hard questions. But proposed bathroom bills have little to do with human sexuality. They are instead attempts to legislate blatant discrimination against a particular gender-identified minority.
Bathroom bills are not proposed to address real threats to public safety. Moreover, recent polling by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that the majority of Texans — like the majority of other Americans — do not support such discriminatory bathroom legislation.
Yet despite its complete lack of merit or urgency, Texas bathroom legislation clearly is proving useful to its proponents. It does so by creating a divisive narrative of “us” vs. “them” appealing to portions of the majority party in Texas and leaves many people of faith too dispirited to mount a robust opposition. This manufacturing of a faux issue for the purpose of sowing political discord creates a cynicism about Texas government and a callous disregard for Texans that is decidedly not in keeping with our deeply held religious beliefs.
Faith should not be used a weapon. Instead, it should inspire us to see the humanity in every person, and remind us that we are commanded to love and care for our neighbor. Whether intended or not, the consequence of the proposed bathroom legislation will be to imperil and ostracize some of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, shining a light on their “otherness.”
Worse, legislators’ pandering emboldens partisan political operatives, who see the opportunity to raise money by peddling fear-laced fiction. We, like many Texans, are weary of frequent, crass emails asking for donations that will be spent to “protect” us from moderate lawmakers of the same party who are working to keep Texas economically strong and culturally diverse.
Our Texas is better than this. Our faith teaches us to be better than this. We are to love and serve all our neighbors. We beseech Texas lawmakers to abandon the politics of fear and division that the proposed bathroom legislation embodies.
Bishop Erik K.J. Gronberg was elected by the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod/Mission Area of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in April of 2016. Before his election, he had served as senior pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Worth since 2010.
He lives in Fort Worth with his wife and family.