By Pastor Terri Stewart
I have read all the petitions to Annual Conference for legislative action. And I have to say that there was one that stopped me in my tracks and had me calling my friends. It is Petition # EE-10 | Gender Inclusive Buildings.
Resolved, the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference and the United Methodist Churches of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference make the public statement that our Churches and facilities (buildings, gathering spaces and restrooms) are safe places for all regardless of gender identity and that transgender persons may use the restroom consistent with the individual’s gender identity in our churches and affiliated buildings.
First, a few things about myself:
1. I am a provisional elder.
2. I am a mom.
3. I am deeply involved in and supportive of the LGBTQIA, etc., community.
4. My son is transgender.
5. His name is Colin Jon David Stewart and he is 18.
My first reaction to reading this statement was not one of joy, but one of concern. A public statement will not guarantee the safety of my son to go into a men’s restroom.
My second reaction, and tempered by discussion with my son, is that this is awesome. In high school, we waivered out of our school district into another school district because that most simplest of needs, the need to go to the bathroom, was very difficult to meet. After he transferred to the other school district, he advocated (along with other youth) for an inclusive bathroom policy. And actually, Washington State has a law for students in schools that guarantees non-discrimination. The state bathroom policy is:
Should school districts allow transgender students to use the restroom of their choice?
Yes. School districts should allow students to use the restroom that is consistent with their gender identity consistently asserted at school. (Source: Prohibiting Discrimination in Washington Public Schools Guidelines for school districts to implement Chapters 28A.640 and 28A.642 RCW and Chapter 392-190 WAC, page 30)
So the question arises, what will guarantee the safety of my son? The answer lies in that most simplest and most complex of questions:
What commandment is first of all?
“The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
If we acted with love towards all, then we would surely at least guarantee their safety. An expectation to be free from insult and harm is very simple.
I, as a mom, would like a guaranteed answer to the question, “Do you love my son?” And if the answer is, “I love him but…,” then we are done talking about safety because it cannot be guaranteed. I need the church to look this mother in the eye and say, “I love your son. He is welcome here. He will be safe.” Can a public statement on behalf of the entire conference do that on behalf of each individual church? No, it cannot. No more than the OSPI document makes a statement that all school bathrooms are free from bullying. But it is a step in the right direction. We intend for it to be safe, now, let us work to make it so.
Sometimes, we have to live like the Kingdom of God is here and now. This legislation does that. It makes a basic statement of safety. And while it is not a guarantee, there is little in life that is.
When we think about the rules we have (the Book of Discipline), the rules we have had (the 613 commandments found within Hebrew Scripture), the new rules created in Christian scripture, can we say that any of these rules has guaranteed the safety of anybody? What guarantees safety is seeing one another as beloved by God and as individuals of sacred worth. Truly loving each other so much that, as Wesley said, we do no harm.
Do No Harm.
Do Good of Every Possible Sort.
Stay in Love with God.
~The Three Simple Rules of John Wesley
I hope that we can find a way to elevate the conversation around gender identity in such a way that we become consistent with Wesleyan ideals and with the greatest commandment. Maybe this petition will start the conversation. But let’s be clear, it is only the beginning. Ideally, we would embark on a conference wide discussion of gender identity. Educating one another and becoming safe containers for the love that God has planted within each of our hearts.
My prayer for everyone is that they will consider these issues lovingly.
Shalom and Amen!
Pastor Terri is a provisional elder appointed to the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition and works with youth and their families affected by incarceration. She also has an online spiritual community at www.BeguineAgain.com where the focus is on daily spiritual practices with the context of daily life. Her avatar is “Cloakedmonk.”