Letter from Presiding Bishop, President of House of Deputies

'Jesus tells us to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves'

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael Curry and President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings have written the following letter to the Episcopal Church.


June 28, 2016

Dear People of God in the Episcopal Church:

We all know that some things in holy Scripture can be confusing, hard to understand, or open to various ways of understanding. But some essential teachings are clear and incontrovertible. Jesus tells us to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, and he tells us over and over again not to be afraid (Matthew 10:31, Mark 5:36, Luke 8:50, John 14:27).

There’s no confusion about what Jesus is telling us, but it often requires courage to embody it in the real world. Again and again, we become afraid, and mired in that fear, we turn against Jesus and one another.

This age-old cycle of fear and hatred plays out again and again in our broken world, in sickening and shocking events like the massacre targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Orlando, but also in the rules we make and the laws we pass. Most recently, we’ve seen fear at work in North Carolina, a state dear to both of our hearts, where a law called the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act” has decimated the civil rights and God-given dignity of transgender people and, by extension, drastically curtailed protections against discrimination for women, people of color, and many others. We are thankful for the prayerful and pastoral public leadership of the North Carolina bishops on this law, which is known as House Bill 2.

North Carolina is not the only place where fear has gotten the better of us. Lawmakers in other jurisdictions have also threatened to introduce legislation that would have us believe that protecting the rights of transgender people—even a right as basic as going to the bathroom—somehow puts the rest of us at risk.

This is not the first time that the segregation of bathrooms and public facilities has been used to discriminate unjustly against minority groups. And just as in our painful racial past, it is even being claimed that the “bathroom bills,” as they are sometimes called, ensure the safety of women and children—the same reason so often given to justify Jim Crow racial segregation.

But we believe that, as the New Testament says, “perfect love casts out fear.” On June 10, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church stood against fear and for God’s love by passing a resolution that reaffirms the Episcopal Church’s support of local, state and federal laws that prevent discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression and voices our opposition to all legislation that seeks to deny the God-given dignity, the legal equality, and the civil rights of transgender people.

The need is urgent, because laws like the one in North Carolina prey on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities—some of the very same people who were targeted in the Orlando attack. In a 2011 survey, 78 percent of transgender people said that they had been bullied or harassed in childhood; 41 percent said they had attempted suicide; 35 percent had been assaulted, and 12 percent had suffered a sexual assault. Almost half of transgender people who responded to the survey said they had suffered job discrimination, and almost a fifth had lost housing or been denied health care due to their gender identity or expression.

In keeping with Executive Council’s resolution, we are sending a letter to the governor and members of the North Carolina General Assembly calling on them to repeal the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act.” When legislation that discriminates against transgender people arises in other places, we will also voice our opposition and ask Episcopalians to join us. We will also support legislation, like a bill recently passed in the Massachusetts state legislature, that prevents discrimination of all kinds based on gender identity or gender expression.

As Christians, we bear a particular responsibility to speak out in these situations, because attempts to deny transgender people their dignity and humanity as children of God are too often being made in the name of God. This way of fear is not the way of Jesus Christ, and at these times, we have the opportunity to demonstrate our belief that Christianity is not a way of judgment, but a way of following Jesus in casting out fear.

In the face of the violence and injustice we see all around us, what can we do? We can start by choosing to get to know one another. TransEpiscopal, an organization of transgender Episcopalians and their allies, has posted on their website a video called “Voices of Witness:  Out of the Box” that can help you get to know some transgender Episcopalians and hear their stories. Integrity USA, which produced the video, and the Chicago Consultation are two other organizations working for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church. Their websites also have online materials that you can use to learn more about the stories of transgender Christians and our church’s long journey to understand that they are children of God and created in God’s image.

When we are born anew through baptism, we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. Today, transgender people and, indeed, the entire LGBT community, need us to keep that promise. By doing so, we can bear witness to the world that Jesus has shown us another way—the way of love.

Faithfully,

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry                              The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings

Presiding Bishop and Primate                                 President, House of Deputies

Comments

  1. Doug Desper says:

    North Carolina’s new privacy and security law validates the reality of the two sexes, as it makes a decent — and reasonable — accommodation for people who wish to change from one sex to the other.

    The law does declare that people must use the bathrooms that match their “biological sex.” That’s the part of the law that the media usually gets correct. That’s the starting place of the ax-grinding by TV-ready victims who want to push a case for discrimination.

    But here’s the part of HB2 that is often left out: The law carefully defines “biological sex” as “the physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate” AND the law also then allows people their freedom to choose identity and act as they wish — but they must go through their final medical procedure before fully identifying. This, apparently, galls some people to the point of their feeling insulted.

    A 2005 state law allows people to change the sex on their birth certificates once they’ve undergone medical procedures, reading,

    (b) A new certificate of birth shall be made by the State Registrar when …

    (4) A written request from an individual is received by the State Registrar to change the sex on that individual’s birth record because of sex reassignment surgery, if the request is accompanied by a notarized statement from the physician who performed the sex reassignment surgery or from a physician licensed to practice medicine who has examined the individual and can certify that the person has undergone sex reassignment surgery.

    So, the law sets up a process that allows transgenders to use their preferred bathrooms.

    The supposedly anti-transgender law is actually a compromise law that allows the few transgenders in the state to use bathrooms reserved for people of the other sex — once they’ve gone through the medical procedures to actually become transgender. And it also protects sexual privacy for everyone else — a subject mainly left out of any consideration. It IS a reality that disturbed and predatory people are going to take advantage of this situation. Some store owners and employees now watch fully bearded men walk into multi-stalled Women’s Restrooms – and are afraid to confront due to being labeled as a bigot.

    If your 10 year old daughter slipped away from shopping to go to a multi-stalled Women’s Room wouldn’t common sense prevail to be alarmed at a bearded male following behind?

    Societal re-engineering is re-creating common sense to be viewed as bigotry.

    We need to stop letting TV-ready victims do our thinking for us.

  2. Frank Rggio-Preston says:

    Maybe Doug would like to pay for the surgeries for all those who can’t yet afford it or for the teens who are not yet ready for the actual sex change.

    • Doug Desper says:

      This law was a response to an over-reaching local ordinance that would have required an unnecessary burden on businesses — and public civility — which established how one perceives themselves (“identity”) as the permission to use any bathroom facility that one chooses. In the end, people will go where they have always gone — but to advocate for ordinances that permit one to “go where you identify” is ludicrous. The loopholes and consequences are potentially devastating. If we can remove the grid of liberal sensibilities for a moment and think about those consequences we would instantly see that the real ones being discriminated against are families and children who must use multi-stall restrooms.

      Until this brouhaha people have gone to the bathroom for decades without having to be affirmed for their choice of the door. The law isn’t going to be enforced based on surgeries, birth certificate checks, or physicals at the door of a multi-stall restroom. The Transgendered community is safe in that regard, so they are liberty to move about freely without fear of checks — which has never happened. It is an honor system without teeth — but it does accomplish a legal restraint of predatory opportunists who will claim a false identity in order to break the law and invade personal space to abuse or attack others.

      The loophole has been found and is being exploited — hence the law based on “gender” rather than “identity”.

      • Channing Smith says:

        I find North Carolina’s law to be incredibly legalistic and unkind. Who wants to have to prosecute someone who broke this law? Is this the best use of tax dollars? There are stalls in the Women’s Bathrooms anyway. It seems like this is such an over-reaction. What would Jesus do? He broke most of the cultural laws of his day that were barriers to inclusion: eating with prostitutes and tax collectors; healing and eating on the sabbath; and his regard for the laws of the temple. When he healed the leper in Mark 1:41 the original text says that he was “moved with anger” and then healed him. The anger wasn’t at the leper, but the Temple laws which labeled him as unclean and kept him out of the community. In my own mind, I can’t justify North Carolina’s law. It just doesn’t line up with the faith that I know.

      • Helen Bell says:

        Doug, you obviously have never spoken with a transgender person about the fear they deal with every day when using public restrooms. I have. To say that they are just fine despite this law proves that you don’t know the fear of still having female genitalia but otherwise living as a man and expecting to be beaten up by the men in the men’s room or by the spouses of the women in the ladies’ room if you use either one of those.

        And many transgender people chose not to have sexual reassignment surgery for a variety of reasons. This is especially true for those who are in a stable, loving relationship. One transgender person I know lives as a male, has had a double mastectomy and takes hormones, but chooses not to have a penis created. All of his current IDs list him as male, but the state of his birth will not change his gender on his birth certificate unless he has the genital surgery. He’s lived as a male for many years, is happily employed and happily married, but his birth certificate still says female because of government stupidity. Which bathroom should he use?

        • Doug Desper says:

          Please don’t assume that I don’t relate with transgender folks and am somehow blind to the issue. I have those connections and know the issue at hand.

  3. Davis Dassori says:

    We’ve been letting our 10-year-old sons go into men’s rooms since the invention of plumbing. Why does equal access put our daughters at greater risk?

    • Doug Desper says:

      There is no problem if one uses a single person, any-gender restroom. The issue is larger multi-stall restrooms. Is it OK for your daughters to be alone in there and be met by someone who is obviously male? How about 4 men in the bathroom with a 10 year old girl? A quick Google search shows that such is happening because a loophole has been found. The sensibility grid didn’t catch on to that possibility. How on earth did people use public restrooms until they were recently given an option to pick the one that they identify with?

  4. The Rev. Susan G. Astarita says:

    Thank you for standing up and speaking out.

    • Maureen Megowan says:

      Susan, did you use to live in Palos Verdes? Please send me an email to mmegowan@cox.net to Maureen Megowan who lives across the street from where you lived. I need to speak with you

  5. Anthony Price says:

    Wouldn’t it be simpler to just carry on using restrooms that were designed for your particular personal plumbing, regardless of how you identify yourself to the world outside the bathroom? I must be missing something.

  6. Jane Tillman says:

    Thank you Bishop Curry for this courageous pastoral letter and response to the deplorable situation in North Carolina. I am not aware of reports of dangerous behavior in bathrooms from transgender people using the bathroom in which they feel most comfortable. I am so thankful to have a Presiding Bishop who boldly speaks to the fear that gets mobilized in people in a ways that lead us to act in hateful ways to our neighbors, and who encourages us not to surrender to such fear. You remind us that Jesus calls us to love—even that which we do not understand and those whom we may fear because of difference. We need all the help we can get overcoming our fear and acting in loving ways toward our neighbors, and your letter provides such help.

  7. Helen Bell says:

    While we are at it, the bathroom laws are only one part of HB2. HB2 doesn’t just repeal the existing civil-rights ordinances protecting the LGBT community; it bars any locality or agency from enacting new ones. It also limits how people pursue claims of discrimination because of race, religion, color, national origin, biological sex or handicap in state courts. The law also means a city or county cannot set a minimum wage standard for private employers. What many people don’t realize is that this law takes away the self-determination of local communities (something that has been a major trend with the current NC legislature). This includes a town’s ability to declare anti-discrimination laws in, say, the hiring of Mexican immigrants of which there are many in my area. It is not just about LGBT bathroom rights, though I object to that provision as much as I object to the other ones.

  8. Kerry Nesbit says:

    How anyone can read this letter and respond at length with commentary about bathrooms and human anatomy is beyond me. The letter is about the teachings of Jesus Christ and what those of us who are members of the Episcopal Church are to make of those teachings in how we treat others.

    • Doug Desper says:

      Kerry — From the Letter:
      “Most recently, we’ve seen fear at work in North Carolina, a state dear to both of our hearts, where a law called the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act” has decimated the civil rights and God-given dignity of transgender people and, by extension, drastically curtailed protections against discrimination for women, people of color, and many others”.

      “This is not the first time that the segregation of bathrooms and public facilities has been used to discriminate unjustly against minority groups”.

      The door to discuss the law was opened by the authors of this Letter. The Letter places accusations implying injustice because a law was created to try to make sense of this situation. It also dredges up every type of injustice and conflates those to this issue which is by itself unique — and along the way accuses the lawmakers of reviving Jim Crow. That is baseless and ridiculous.

      It would be nice to address issues without such accusations, conflations, and without larding every abuse of the past onto the issue. Accusing others of bigotry and racism is an effective way of shutting down a reasoned argument.

  9. Nina Smith says:

    Thank you, Bishop Curry, for being firm in your faith in the totality of God’s love. My cradle church in Columbia, South Carolina, continues to preach and act as if God’s love was limited and selective. I have members of my family who are gay and have asked the church to welcome them in the fullness of God’s love. The Dean has refused. I have found three other churches in Saluda, NC; Edisto Island, SC and even Columbia SC who understand God’s love and who do not discriminate on the base of sexual orientation, and I am enjoying supporting those loving churches in all ways I can.

  10. Steve Colburn and Rod Smith, Faithful Servants says:

    Dear Bishop Curry,
    Thank your words of witness to Christ Jesus message. What can we do to remove the impediment of our own Bishops Diocesan who refuse to extend God’s love, through the body of the Church, to our LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ. Still waiting for the acceptance and acknowledgment of our 2011 Civil marriage in the Diocese here in SW Florida! Praise be to the most high.

  11. Wayne Helmly says:

    Thank you PB Curry and HOD President Jennings for reminding us that NC’s “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act” is not about bathrooms. It is not about privacy. It is not about security.

    This law is about discrimination. It is not “decent and reasonable” in any way, as has been asserted in earlier comments. I believe it is antithetical to the Gospel that Jesus preached. He came to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

  12. Ann Ely says:

    Thank you for your courage and commitment, Bishop Curry. You are one of the people, through your actions, who give me hope. Blessings on you

  13. Ronald Davin says:

    So why does the Church still allow separate bathrooms in the parishes ?

  14. Kathy Gray says:

    We have never allowed our young children or grandchildren (male or female) to go to a restroom alone. It has nothing to do with the biological gender and/or gender identification of others, & the possibility of the children being sexually abused by them. It has to do with placing vulnerable children in an unsupervised situation with adults who are strangers. So to my way of thinking, following this example would shoot down the expressed concern for “the safety of women & children”. And as a woman, I feel I am more vulnerable to violence in the parking lot of any mall or large box store than I am in a bathroom inside a store, library, etc. In terms of safety, I think this complaint is a non-issue.

  15. Stuart Lauters says:

    I’m sure Jesus said something confirming seperate but equal…hmmm, can’t seem to find it anywhere.

  16. Melinda Sykes says:

    The HB2 bill/law is perceived to be discriminatory and in violation of certain LGBT rights by many. However, as people try to be sensitive to LGBT people, the heterosexual community suffers discrimination and violation of the very same certain rights. Now that certain transgenders have insisted on being allowed to use the ladies public restroom, perverts and predators of women and young girls are gaining access, unquestioned, under the guise of being transgender. To which I would think appall the LGBT community and would generate an out cry from them equally as loud as their out cry of HB2. There have been many reports, documented and accessible via internet search, of men accessing the ladies room under the guise of transgender to either do harm or violate the privacy of the women and young girls within. For many, it truly is a matter of safety not phobia or discrimination. For crying out loud, non-heterosexuals are more accepted today than 5-20 years ago. There has to be a better solution that protects and accommodates both non-heterosexuals and heterosexuals. I personally know non-heterosexuals that would never want another to possibly be put in potential danger because of their sexual preference or sexual identity. Too often our society gets caught up in trying to make sure no one suffers from discrimination that we wind up jeopardizing the safety of all. I hope and pray God will help us all to reach a solution that respects everyone and protects everyone.

    • Wayne Helmly says:

      “For crying out loud, non-heterosexuals are more accepted today than 5-20 years ago.”

      Wow… In other words, transgender citizens, be happy with what heterosexuals have condescended to give you and be quiet.

      Thanks be to God for church leadership that will not be quiet. For leadership that really does take our Baptismal Covenant seriously by striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.

      I encourage everyone to watch the video “Voices of Witness: Out of the Box,” which the letter recommends.

  17. Richard Bidwell says:

    So, does that mean in N. C. we need to carry our birth certificate? I also wonder who is going to check?

  18. Catherine Cheek says:

    Thank you, Presiding Bishop Curry. About children in the bathroom, there have been a few incidents of child molestation in our area branch of the library. The perpetrators were heterosexual.

    At our Vigil for the Orlando victims, a transgender girl spoke on this matter. After the Vigil, I talked with this woman, and she was so nice, even though ‘God-fearing’ bigots were abusive to her.

  19. Kelly Rabin says:

    Melinda, you reference search results discussing bathroom molestations by transgender people. Can you please provide these cites? Can you please also provide statistics showing that molestation is perpetrated more frequently by transgender people than by cisgender people? I’m not buying it.

    As for why this matters – there are lots of situations of people who are biologically male but dressing and identifying as female being assaulted in the men’s room.

  20. Thank you, Bishop Curry, for your leadership in turning our attention Christ-ward, as uncomfortable as that can be for us sometimes. I am the rector of a suburban church south of Seattle that is rapidly becoming more urban. I had ordered a rainbow flag for Pride weekend but it arrived too late so I have been wondering when might be the best time to add it to our flag-pole. You have helped me make up my mind. The flag will flying on Sunday morning!

  21. beverly johnson says:

    I would like someone in some church, especially a very liberal one, to come out in force against the discrimination against fat people, esp. fat women. I scan all articles to see if they are fat positive. The answer is usually no. There is a caste system regarding obesity.

  22. Dr. Erna Lund says:

    In Reflection and Respect for All, I must recall during my/our family visit to Europe(1958) and to Paris the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in unisex bathrooms as I was leaving my stall I saw my father leaving the end stall–and we both smiled in this unique/unusual encounter/experience—when are Americans going to grow up/mature to our worldly/global social dynamics rather than being still caught in arrogant,superpower politics?? Yes as Episcopalians we consider ourselves as progressive and perhaps more intellectual than some other denominations … but then one can start to wonder… at the other end of our selective compassionate mode(according to political demands) when will we acknowledge the cruel Israel/U.S. occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel Military supported by US Taxpayers $Billions/annually and sophisticated weaponry!! God Help Us All.

    • Doug Desper says:

      Dr Lund: It seems that the modern definition of Episcopalian Progressiveness is to meld and conflate every social issue onto the grid of Jim Crow (or some other injustice), white privilege, or worse, equating the Baptismal Covenant’s injunction to “respect the dignity of all” as being the same as giving whatever another demands. So, no not all of us — maybe not even most of us really – care to be associated as “progressive”. As for our Church being more intellectual, my sense is that such pride goes before a fall. We, as a denomination, are microscopic in America. Other Christians are intellectual, and one could even argue, perhaps more so. Scriptural illiteracy is far too common among us – which is odd among a Church that used to value the Reformation.

  23. Kenneth Knapp says:

    I am very grateful for indoor plumbing and content to use whichever bathroom secular culture assigns me regardless of my sex or gender.

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