Michelle Dugger left me a voice message the other day. I was sorry to not be home in person to take the call. Her goal was simple. As a resident of Tontitown, she was worried about Fayetteville passing an anti-discrimination ordinance. She wanted me to be aware that, in her interpretation of the ordinance, soon men would be going to the bathroom in the same space with my daughter.
Let me be clear. I do not have any doubts about the authenticity of Michelle Dugger's convictions, or her faith as a Christian. She is probably an upstanding member of the community and a good citizen. Nevertheless, as a Lutheran pastor who is committed to ending discrimination in every form, I do believe she is wrong, both in her interpretation of the implications of the ordinance, and in her opposition to it.
I would like to argue that Michelle has forgotten the proper role of Christians in the world. Whenever Christians start defending their own version of morality rather than defending the weak or marginalized, they have stopped modeling themselves after their Lord and the early Christian community.
Let me back up and tell you a little bit about Lutherans, in case you don't know us very well. Lutherans came to the United States as immigrant groups somewhat late in the trans-Atlantic migration of Europeans to North America. Because they were late-comers, many of them experienced discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity.
As a result, many of the ministries Lutherans have committed themselves to today work to combat discrimination in all its forms. One of our largest organizations, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, is focused on providing refuge for refugees, and creating safe havens for new immigrants coming to the United States.
Recently, in 2013, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at its churchwide assembly in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania passed a Gender Identity Discrimination resolution. The resolution came to the churchwide assembly from synods of our denomination across the country, including Eastern North Dakota, Northern Texas, Northern Louisiana, Eastern Washington, Idaho, South Central Synod of Wisconsin, Southwestern Texas, Saint Paul Area, Sierra Pacific, Northwest Washington, Greater Milwaukee, Southwest California, Minneapolis Area, Metropolitan New York, Northwestern Minnesota, Upstate New York, Northeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Southwestern Minnesota, Southwestern Pennsylvania, Metropolitan Washington, D.C., and Indiana-Kentucky.
Each of these synods wrote regarding their concern for the important issue of employment non-discrimination and their common cause in memorializing the 2013 Churchwide Assembly to acknowledge the continued lack of state and federal anti-discrimination workplace laws addressing the categories of sexual identity and gender identity. They wrote to recommit our church to principles of non-discrimination in employment and to call for other employers to engage in similar practices. To affirm the work by the ELCA advocacy ministries in supporting employment non-discrimination legislation, and request that they continue to support legislation that opposes workplace discrimination. To request that the presiding bishop of our denomination, Elizabeth Eaton, communicate to members of Congress the support of the ELCA for legislation that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and to encourage all ELCA synods, congregations, and members to add their voices in support of legislation that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
All of this means our church and denomination stands clearly on the side of supporting the anti-discrimination ordinance passed by the city council this fall. Our denomination is unequivocal on this. We stand with one voice. We are on the side of those who are discriminated against, in the same way Jesus Christ regularly stood with those who were about to be stoned, those who were ostracized, those who were discriminated against and alone.
Discrimination in our community is very real. The Human Rights Coalition, in a survey they conducted of communities the anti-discrimination ordinance would protect, report that twenty-five percent experienced employment discrimination, 37 percent experienced harassment at work, 39 percent experienced harassment from family, and 45 percent experienced harassment at school.
I feel bad that sometimes the Christian church has contributed to this kind of discrimination. But one of the great things about Christian faith is we believe we can repent, turn from our past failures, and recommit ourselves to justice. Whenever the church has been on the wrong side of something, it is the proper Christian response to repent, change, and get to work.
I am thankful for the bravery of our city council, who sat through long meetings and endured a lot to pass this anti-discrimination ordinance. I stand with my denomination in favor of passing such ordinances. And I hope and pray that others who share faith with me will see that to live in faith is not to defend one's own moral high ground, but rather to look for and watch for the vulnerable in our communities, and then stand in solidarity with them.