By the time I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be fired, I had already cycled through all five stages of grief in rapid succession, the majority of my time being stuck in the bargaining phase: “Please, God. If you let me stay, I promise to conquer my apathy and start that office prayer group I’ve been avoiding” or “But, God, this place needs more Christians, and I’m a single mom. Surely you don’t want me to leave.”
Deep in my gut, my conscience was stirring, wrestling the ultimate bargain that seemed to somehow have become my life’s theme: Could I afford to speak up, knowing I would pay for it, or could I bite my tongue and keep my job? It should have been a relatively easy answer, but emotion and uncertainty plagued me.
I spent more than one night face-down on the bathroom floor, throwing my dramatic self before God and begging him for the direction he had already provided in spades. I just couldn’t still my anxiety long enough to hear it until one night while tucking my kids into bed and singing them to sleep. There, in the darkness, with chubby silhouetted arms stretched out toward heaven, their little voices sang out my marching orders with breathtaking clarity: “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”
The choice was clear. I could live without my job, but not without a clean conscience. I was fired a few days later but quickly found myself employed as communications director for a statewide campaign to repeal the open locker room rule that had led to my termination in the first place. Having just lost my job of 17 years for defending females’ safety and privacy, it seemed fitting I’d win my new job for the very same reason.
A Few Against Many
I was thrilled. And overwhelmed. Our campaign staff team was comprised of just three people and an impressive group of fiercely loyal volunteers. What we lacked in resources, we made up for in enthusiasm and camaraderie. Our opposition was well-funded, organized, and intense, backed by heavyweight companies like Google and Microsoft, Vulcan, and Amazon. To put it bluntly, we were David; the trans agenda was Goliath.
The comfort in this scenario, of course, was the knowledge of what happened to Goliath at the end of the story. So we set out to gather our stones. We knew the mainstream media was not our friend on this issue. Our op-ed submissions were routinely rejected, the print space instead dedicated to articles comparing our work to Jim Crow and promising financial ruin to any who dared to support us. With just two months to gather enough signatures to get our initiative on the ballot, the media blackout presented a challenge. We quickly realized the only way to get this done was to rely on the one entity with access to the kind of power necessary to defeat this kind of evil: the church.
What we found next was eye-opening, to say the least. A few faithful churches rose boldly to the challenge, especially minority churches like the Eastern European ones who knew firsthand the meaning of persecution and were readily willing to fight it here in the United States. The contributions of the faithful few cannot be overstated. They worked hard, and we are grateful.
But the overwhelming majority of the churches in our state declined to participate in our efforts. Our requests met a few routine responses, the primary ones being “We don’t get involved in politics” and “We don’t want to be unwelcoming to the broken. We like what you’re doing, but I’m sorry, we can’t help you.” A few referenced concern about potentially losing their 501(c)(3) status.
Some churches overtly opposed our work, with one pastor even responding to one of our emails with a subject line reading “Cease and desist.” Another pastor came out to the public sidewalk in front of his church where petitioners were gathering signatures, and asked them to leave. One of our volunteers called more than 170 churches to ask for their help. Seven of these said yes. Seven churches. (As if the current state of affairs didn’t feel enough like Revelation already.)
Just Who Are the Voiceless Here?
Let me clarify: I do not stand in condemnation. I firmly believe in every individual’s right to make choices in accordance with one’s own conscience, and it’s not my place to judge that. But if the reason for declining participation is a fear of being perceived as “unwelcoming,” I can’t help but offer another perspective.
If being welcoming to the transgender population means remaining silent when the president decrees that teenage girls must now share their showers with anatomical males, then there’s a problem. If the church is called to speak out on behalf of the voiceless, then it is well worth remembering that 68 percent of sexual abuse survivors have been conditioned to never speak of their trauma. It’s well and good to want to welcome the broken, but what about the broken already silently lining church pews every week, looking for guidance and protection? What message is a church’s action (or inaction) communicating to them?
Transgender people aren’t the only ones with an identity crisis. Too many women in our country identify as worthless. It’s a message that’s painfully perpetuated every time the people who should speak in their defense say nothing.
The sheep need their shepherds to lead them in boldness and truth, however unpopular. Jesus said “Come as you are,” but never said “Stay as you are.” He said “Go and sin no more.” For the church to be salt and light will require pastors who are prepared to contend with the brutal reality that salt stings wounds, and light blinds those who are committed to darkness. Some people just aren’t going to appreciate the truth that would liberate them if they’d only surrender to the discomfort of it. Jesus loved so fiercely that he got killed for it.
The true litmus test of the faithfulness of any church is not how many people fill the sanctuary each week but how many of those people are in the throne room come judgment day.
Church Isn’t a Comfy Social Club
The bathroom battle? It’s not primarily a political issue; it’s a spiritual one, and as such, I don’t think Christians can afford to sit on the sidelines in the name of compassion. Good shepherds not only lead their flocks, they protect them, too. Forcing innocent little girls to share their showers with grown men is just about the least compassionate thing I can imagine. And if these girls can’t go to the church for help, where in God’s green earth are they supposed to go?
I received a handful of emails throughout the campaign from people who, through watching the current state of affairs in our nation, felt convicted to return to church. “I really think it’s time for me to bite the bullet and go back to church,” read one message. “But I want to make sure to pick one that isn’t afraid to stand for the truth on this issue. Can you tell me if there are any churches close to me that are involved with your campaign?” I felt a lump well up in my throat at the realization that the nearest one was more than 30 miles from this person’s home.
Discouraged by the barrage of rejection from local churches, another one of our volunteers contacted the neighborhood mosque to ask for help. The imam immediately agreed to enlist not only the support of his own mosque but also all the other mosques in the region. When thanked, he looked a bit incredulously at us before responding, “It is my duty.”
So close to midnight, in the middle of Ramadan, our volunteer teams filed quietly into local mosques to fulfill their own duties. Truth be told, it was something of a beautiful moment, frozen in time. In what other context would these people have been brought together? I find it tragically ironic that the bold truth much of the church dismisses as “political” or “unloving” has actually proven to be the very thing that draws people into the fold.
Politics are always spiritual in some capacity, and there is no exemption clause for Christians. If we aren’t defining the truth of our culture according to the Word of God, then the culture will define the Word of God according to its own depravity. As my friend put it, “If John the Baptist lost his head for angering the king’s wife, then the church has no excuse for remaining silent in things that matter for fear of losing a tax exemption. It all belongs to God anyway.”
Church, we need to be bold. We need to fear God more than man. If we hide our light under a bushel, then Satan will surely blow it out. Until we can recognize that engaging cultural and political battles “is our duty,” the consequences of our apathy will be our shame.
The good news is that there has never been a better time to rise up and let it shine. The world is waiting.