If I had a big furry hat like Stephen Colbert and could make decrees, I would declare that fear could no longer be used in argumentation in the life of the church. At two different annual conferences I attended this year, the speeches against constitutional amendment two centered on the fear of an unknown future where the word gender might be more fluid than a binary understanding of female and male.
In these fear laden speeches, we were assured that they were all for equality in the life of the church as long as gender means female and male, but we need to worry about the future. With Facebook, states, and cities recognizing that gender might not be binary, we might regret including constitutional protections related to gender.
Using coded language, dog whistles, and fear, they wanted to scare folks about voting in the affirmative. Without stating outright their implicit belief that we should have the right to discriminate against some people because of how they understand their gender, they tried to create a sense of anxiety about voting yes instead. It sounds wrong to state outright what they mean. The part of the Book of Discipline we were voting to change contends “The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth” (Article IV of the Constitution). My l’esprit de l’escalier is “what person of sacred worth should we discriminate against?”
Folks who use fear in the life of the church should be ashamed. Fear is the opposite of faith. Instead of trusting in God and loving our neighbor, fear turns us inward and creates distrust between neighbors. Opponents of constitutional amendment two should just say outright what they think, that even though everyone is of sacred worth, they should have the right to discriminate against folks who do not fit into their narrow selection of categories. Any step towards ending discrimination now would be an infringement of their right to discriminate in the future. It would be one more step away from some glorious and golden past they wish we could return to.
If as a church, we are going to peddle fear, we might as well just stop being the church. We are not called to fear, we are called to faith. Faith in Jesus challenges us not to discriminate, especially against marginalized people. While the good religious folk of his day spent their time trying to be as pure as possible by avoiding the marginalized, Jesus spent his time with the folks no one else wanted to spend time with. The same people the good religious folks discriminated against. People complained about who Jesus spent his time with. Jesus did not critique the folks on the margins, but the good religious folk who had their priorities in the wrong place.
When we peddle fear in the life of the church – are we being Jesus for the world? Who exactly would Jesus encourage us to exclude from full participation in the life of the church because their understanding of their own gender was not binary? If we have to use fear to make our point, perhaps our point is not coming from a place of faith. If our point is not coming from our faith in Jesus the Christ then we probably should not be making it. Instead, we should be praying for more faith and less fear.