Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Not all boys are boys; not all girls are girls


Last week, one of my fellow community columnists asked a question. On Oct. 25, Geri McCaleb wrote, “What’s extreme about recognizing that boys are boys and girls are girls?” While I doubt that McCaleb does not know how very loaded and problematic that statement is, I’d like to offer an answer. Whether or not McCaleb is interested in learning the answer to her question, though, I’m absolutely sure there are likely a good number of well-meaning and thoughtful folk out there who might ask the same question.

The question itself comes from one of the core commitments of the “Ottawa Impact” PAC, as every candidate they endorse has as one of their values the statement, “A boy is a boy. A girl is a girl.” The problem with this statement is that it seeks to erase the reality of any person who does not fit within the gender binary. It literally seeks to pretend that the trans community doesn’t exist – and thus only continues the marginalization and discrimination toward those who identify as anything other than cisgender (this is the term for those whose sense of gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth).

First, just from a scientific and realistic standpoint, the idea that “a boy is a boy and a girl is a girl” ignores the reality of people who are intersex. That is, the statement ignores the reality of those who are born with ambiguous genitals, or genitals that do not clearly match their chromosomal gender identity due to a variety of scientifically identified conditions. Most scientists believe that somewhere between 0.02 percent or as many as 1.7 percent of births fall under this identification.

Yes, these children are real. Yes, they attend schools in Grand Haven. And to pretend they do not exist is to participate in the culture of stigmatization and discrimination that has led to the high rates of infanticide and abandonment these people experience within their own families.

Second, the true attack of this claim, I imagine, is not on the intersex community (I’m willing to allow that people may be ignorant and unaware of this scientific reality). Rather, it is directed at those who might have a clear biological gender externally but who cannot identify with that gender internally. This could be someone born as a boy who identifies as a girl, someone born as a girl who identifies as a boy, or someone who is nonbinary and does not identify as either female or male.

The Mayo Clinic (clearly not a secret cabal of liberalism) even has a helpful article for parents titled “Children and Gender Identity: Supporting Your Child.” In that article, the staff of Mayo Clinic stress that it is common for children to go through periods of gender exploration when it comes to clothes and toys and even the roles they adopt in play. For some kids, however, as they get older this sense that they identify as a different gender persists. They encourage parents, “Listen to your child’s feelings about gender identity. Talk to your child and ask questions without judgment.”

People can become aware and able to articulate their transgender identity at any age. In a non-discriminatory environment, many adults who identify as transgender can point to an awareness of that reality as young as 7 years old. Some can identify it even younger. For others, they may live for years with a vague sense that they don’t really fit in and it’s not until later in life they realize it is because of their gender identity.

The reality of children and adolescents who don’t fall into the “boy/girl” categories of cisgender is an essential reality for educators and school board members to recognize.

The American Psychological Association advises: “Parents of gender-nonconforming children may need to work with schools and other institutions to address their children’s particular needs and ensure their children’s safety.” Data from the National Institute of Health indicates that 82 percent of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40 percent have attempted suicide – with rates of suicidality being highest among transgender youth.

As adults, these children will also face profound challenges. Most anti-discrimination laws do not protect transgender people from discrimination. They are often discriminated in housing, employment, health care, legal systems, along with their educational experience and their family of origin. In a recent study, about half of transgender participants reported they had experienced a transphobic hate crime at some point in their life. Half.

“A boy is a boy and a girl is a girl” – these are words that contribute to a culture that is literally killing trans people, literally killing trans kids. And ignorance cannot be an excuse anymore. It particularly cannot be an excuse among those who would like to be elected to our school board. Their denial of the reality of non gender-conforming kids is just one of the many reasons I voted for our current school board incumbents (Carl Treutler, Nichol Stack and Marc Eickholt) and against the transphobic platform of the Ottawa Impact candidates (Tommy Van Hill, Roger Williams and Thomas Hoekstra II). While Van Hill, Williams and Hoekstra certainly have the right to their transphobic views, they must be stopped from imposing them on the children of our school district.

One more word on this question, before I close. And that is to the loss. There is a loss when people deny the reality of trans people. You miss how wonderful, beautiful and strong these people are. In my work with the Lakeshore GSA Youth Group (http://sjegh.com/gsa), I’ve had the gift of meeting some kids in our schools who don’t identify as cisgender. They are smart, funny and amazing kids.

Because I believe our God delights in diversity. After all, God created animals that can change their gender identity (particularly common among fish). Some birds can have the biological characteristics of both genders. People want to force God’s creation into a box, insisting that everything should live how God made them – and I agree. After all, fish should swim and birds should fly, right? But our God is a God who created some fish to break the norm and fly into the air and some birds to dive into the water and swim.

The wonderful diversity of God’s creation – and the wonderful gifts of all transgender individuals, whether kids or adults – should be cherished, celebrated and protected. It should never be denied.

About the writer: The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at www.sjegh.com. His opinions with regard to the candidates in the school board election are those of him alone as a resident of the community and do not necessarily reflect those of his church or congregation. However, his congregation and denomination enthusiastically support the rights and gifts of trans people everywhere.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Impact versus Integrity: A Correction

The following is a column I have submitted to the Grand Haven Tribune to correct a very unfortunate typo in the first paragraph of my column published yesterday

Yesterday, in my column on the attempts of far-right extremists to take over our school board and force their views upon all the education of all children in the district, there was a tremendously unfortunate typo in the first paragraph. 

I wrote how all this began two years ago with a group called “Grand Haven Conservative Parents” and their attempts to ban book with sexual content, particularly books that contain LGBTQ characters. I wrote how that group then became “Restoring Ottawa,” and then wrote how many of the individuals associated with this campaign are active in a local PAC.

However, in a slip of the keyboard I wrote that this local PAC was “Ottawa Integrity.” Clearly, though, “Ottawa Integrity” is not the PAC formed from these extremist individuals. And throughout the rest of the column, I referred to that PAC by their actual name “Ottawa Impact.” 

As soon as I was alerted to the typo in the first paragraph, I alerted the Tribune who promptly corrected the online version and issued a correction in the next print version. However, there may be a “felix culpa” here. That Latin phrase means “happy fault” and refers to the truth that goodness can flow even from mistakes and sins done wrong. The typo raises the importance of explaining why a distinction between Ottawa Impact and Ottawa Integrity is so very essential. 

Ottawa Impact is a PAC that has already successfully won primaries where their candidates will now run unchallenged to represent several districts on the Ottawa County Commission. Absent challengers in the General Election, those Ottawa Impact commissioners will likely be elected  in November and establish their own majority on the Commission. Presumably, they will proceed to do what they promised in the campaign. They will seek to dismantle the Ottawa County Health Department and to eliminate the Ottawa County Office of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. They will find any way they can to grind their axes from the restrictions of the pandemic and punish public health officials who were trying to keep us safe. 

This is the same group that is running extremist school board candidates in the Grand Haven Area Public Schools election: Roger Williams, Thomas Hoekstra, and Tommy Van Hill. Not only are these candidates running on a platform to ban books in the name of parental rights (they really are only interested in the rights of parents who agree with them, not other parents who want a free and professionally curated library for our kids), but they have all signed a contract with Ottawa Impact supporting its platform. That platform is based on not only on banning books in library, but is also opposed to LGBTQ content in sex education (erasing the existence of queer and trans kids, something that will only increases their pain and suffering), the rejection of healthcare policies for vaccinations to keep the public safe, and a platform statement that explicitly opposes attempts at racial justice and equity.

This group is so extreme that one of the candidates, Roger Williams, has regularly attended school board meetings and when he is told he has to keep to the same three-minute time limit as everyone else in public comment period, he says the board is racist for insisting upon that reasonable guideline.

And Ottawa Impact is not only active in Grand Haven. They are running candidates in school boards across the county. Right across the bridge in Spring Lake, they are running candidates who are disingenuously hiding their connections with Ottawa Impact, as our communities increasingly realize the danger of this group’s extremist views. Indeed, their fear to confront the public is evident in the refusal of any of their candidates for school board to attend the public forum hosted by the non-partisan League of Women Voters. Ottawa Impact, and candidates aligned with their views, are part of a larger effort nationwide to takeover local government and replace public servants with ideologues who support fascist control based on narrow puritanical and discriminatory beliefs over service to a diverse populace. 

Ottawa Impact is true to its name: they are seeking to punch through the policies and structures that seek to enable the freedom and flourishing of the whole community, insisting everyone else must follow their own views on these questions. Theirs is a platform that would violently disrupt our community.

On the other side of the world from them is Ottawa Integrity. While it is clear that Ottawa Impact only supports far-right candidates who align with Trump’s “America First” worldview, Ottawa Integrity is a non-partisan PAC that “is driven by a desire to protect, promote, and uphold integrity for the people in our community.” Rather than attack the health department and school boards, they have explicitly expressed appreciation for the work they (and so many other publics servants) did, trying to keep us safe in the worst health-crisis we’ve seen in a century. Instead of dismantling government, or running on national partisan issues for local elections, Ottawa Integrity believes that “the primary responsibility of local governments is to assess and meet the needs of the community; through the functional administration of municipal services and infrastructures.”

And, yes, they are non-partisan. When you go to the website of Ottawa Integrity, you can see that they have endorsed both Republican and Democratic candidates who follow the principles of integrity they have outlined. None of these candidates are required to sign a contract with Ottawa Integrity. 

So, I want to express my apology to Ottawa Integrity for anyone who may have been confused by the typo in the first paragraph of last week’s column Ottawa Integrity is striving to create a non-partisan response to far-right extremists like Ottawa Impact. Please, whether you live in Grand Haven or elsewhere, be very attentive to who is running in this year’s election and who supports them. It will take every resident standing up and rejecting this takeover for it to be stopped. It might be too late for this year’s Ottawa County Commissioners, but it’s not too late to protect the kids in our schools. 

The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at www.sjegh.com. These opinions are those of him alone as a resident of the community and do not necessarily reflect those of his church or congregation. 


Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Vote for the Interest of All Kids and Against Censorship

Below is my column in this week's edition of the Grand Haven Tribune. 

It’s been around two years since I first wrote in this newspaper, expressing concerns of the efforts of some individuals in our community to ban books, particularly books with LGBTQ content. Originally, that group was “Grand Haven Conservative Parents.” Then it became “Restoring Ottawa.” Now many of the individuals associated with this campaign against our schools are active in the local PAC “Ottawa Impact.”

Ottawa Impact has now released the names of their “vetted” candidates for school board, and you can tell that there is a direct connection between the efforts to ban books in our schools and the candidacies of Roger Williams, Thomas Hoekstra, and Tommy Van Hill. 

Williams states on his campaign site that he began attending board meetings when this effort began bank in 2022 and that, as a board member, a major focus “will be to protect children and defend their innocence, allowing them to enjoy their childhood, free of divisive and obscene materials. He believes children should not be bombarded with adult themed books and subjects, or made to feel like oppressors or oppressed, based on skin color or ideology.” Similarly, on Hoekstra’s website, it says, “Thomas decided to run for school board after viewing pornographic material in the school libraries and attending board meetings where there was disregard for parent comment and school policy.” Finally, Van Hill’s website shares his concern for “recent government overreach into individual freedoms, parental rights, and American values.”

So, let’s clarify a few things right off the bat. There are no pornographic books in our school libraries. Are there books with some sexual content at age-appropriate levels? Yes. That’s not the same as pornography. These parents continue to attend board meetings, reading selections from books without attention to the overall literary quality of the work or how that section of content fits into the larger narrative. It is parents like this who have sought to ban some of the greatest pieces of literature from our school libraries, including: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Brave New World  by Aldous Huxley, Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin, Rabbit, Run by John Updike, and And Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. 

These candidates, and the individuals in our community who are still waging a war to ban books, say that they support parental rights in education. They don’t let anyone question them about what that means, though, and so they refuse to participate in open events like the one recently hosted by the non-partisan League of Women Voters. Regardless, let’s be clear, these candidates do not support the rights of every parent. Instead, they believe all children and teenagers in our school should only have access to literature they deem acceptable. They believe they should be the arbiters of age-appropriate content. 

These are candidates with a solution in search of a problem. Parents already have access to the books their kids check out. There is already a system for determining appropriate content, a professional program at the Library of Congress that uses experts in the field and identifies the proper age of the audience. Our school librarians are then trained to use this system when curating content that is age-appropriate for libraries. Furthermore, if a parent thinks a mistake in categorization has been made, that parent can raise the issue with the librarian who can investigate the book and what library it is most appropriate for. 

It's of note that many of the books they disagree with contain LGBTQ characters or content. However, as I’ve written before, the Journal of Adolescent Health published a study that found that 24% of suicides between the ages of 12 and 14 were completed by LGBTQ kids. Data from the United States Department of Health and Human Services indicates that LGBTQ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth. Another study from the National Center for Transgender Equity found that LGBTQ youth are almost five times more likely to have actually attempted suicide. A study published in Pediatrics found that 40% of transgender adults have reported attempting suicide with 92% of those adults attempting before the age of 25.

However, when LGBTQ students have access to literature which accurately reflects their experience, it helps them as they grow and develop a healthy understanding of self. Studies have shown that LGBTQ students who have access to themes related to their identity have higher attendance, GPAs, and a stronger sense of safety in the classroom. Rates of suicidality decrease. 

Furthermore, as children grow up into teenagers and then young adults, it is important that they have access to age-appropriate literature—including literature with sexual content that is appropriate to their ages. Studies have shown that this literature helps kids explore what is going on in their bodies safely. And many of these books help adolescents begin to understand the importance of questions like consent as well as providing an avenue for finding language around trauma or abuse they may have endured. 

Will one parent have different ideas about the content they want their child or teenager to read? Of course! That’s why it is so important to cultivate an open relationship with your child, to ask them questions about what they are reading and what they think about it. Education should be a partnership between parents, students, and educators—not a war where some parents try to force their own narrow views on all children in our schools. 

As author Laurie Halse Anderson, whose young adult books are frequently challenged, argues, “By attacking these books, by attacking the authors, by attacking the subject matter, what they are doing is removing the possibility for conversation. You are laying the groundwork for increasing bullying, disrespect, violence and attacks.”

Grand Haven can do better than this. Grand Haven is better than this. And the only way this small group of parents will succeed in their attempt to take over the education of our children will be if we don’t stand up and tell them no. 

So, I urge you, vote in the election on November 8. You can already even request an absentee ballot if you need to. Vote for GHAPS Board of Education incumbents Carl Treutler, Nichol Stack, and Marc Eickholt, and send a message that Grand Haven does not support book banning, puritanical views on sexuality, the shaming of LGBTQ students, or efforts to stop our children from engaging challenging content about race and history. Let’s keep professionals and librarians in charge of our schools, not far-right extremists. 

The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at www.sjegh.com. These opinions are those of him alone as a resident of the community and do not necessarily reflect those of his church or congregation. 


Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Call of Labor Day for the Christian

Below is my column from the September 7 edition of the Grand Haven Tribune. 

I know many of you, similar to me, likely enjoyed the traditional three-day weekend which ends summer each year. I’m always struck, though, that despite the common (and important!) refrain to “remember the reason” for the Memorial Day holiday each year, there is rarely a similar call for Labor Day.

Many of the roots of the labor movement can be found in Christianity itself. Beginning in the late 18th century and running to the mid 19th century, the Clapham sect in the Church of England (the mother church of my own denomination) was active in calls for social reform. The best-known member of the group was the evangelical Anglican, William Wilberforce. Their denunciations against the slave trade were one of the strongest forces that led to its end.

With the rise of industrialization in the 19th century, there was a corresponding rise of a formal Labor Movement which advocated for workers in the new industrialized world. Whether their politics were conservative or liberal, many Christian theologians and pastors found themselves aligned with the concerns of the labor movement.

In an early 20th-century edition of Biblical World (one of the earlier names of the Journal of Religion, which is still published today by the University of Chicago Press), a theologian wrote, “The ‘workingman’ is first of all just a man, and his power to produce commodities is not the object of his existence.” A person’s value cannot be determined by the goods they produce – their existence has much deeper meaning than this. Christian virtues, like the importance of the Sabbath in Judaism, began to be brought to bear on an increasingly industrialized world, with Christians insisting that every person should have a day of rest.

Around the same time, in the early 20th century, the Federal Council of Churches – which included the Anglican, Baptist, Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, Catholic, Presbyterian and Reformed traditions of Christianity – adopted something called the Social Creed of the Churches, giving their own support and commitment to responding to these issues. The Social Creed they adopted expressed these convictions:

  • For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.
  • For the principles of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions.
  • For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational diseases, injuries and mortality.
  • For the abolition of child labor.
  • For such regulation of the conditions of labor for women as shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the community.
  • For the suppression of the “sweating system.”
  • For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practical point, with work for all; and for that degree of leisure for all which is the condition of the highest human life.
  • For a release from employment one day in seven.
  • For a living wage in every industry.
  • For the highest wage that each industry can afford, and for the most equitable division of the products of industry that can ultimately be devised.
  • For the recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society and the sure remedy for all social ills.

In our own time, including right here in our community of Grand Haven, we are seeing once more the need for strong advocates for labor. While corporations and executives take in significant profits, they also complain about the difficulty in hiring workers. Something about the experience of the past two years has made many people unwilling to work for wages that cannot produce a reasonable standard of living. It’s not that there is a shortage of labor – it is that companies and businesses have not caught up to the fact that workers will no longer put up with inadequate pay nor the constant demands for work created by technology, where your office is always hidden right there in your mobile device, 24/7.

We can set partisan politics aside, I hope, and agree as Christians that the inherent dignity of every human being means we should be concerned with the wages people are being asked to live with, even as corporate funding continues to go up to those at the top.

In our church’s nighttime office of prayers called Compline, there is one prayer that particularly highlights this concern to me and is a meaningful end to the day. It says, “O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Indeed, our common life does depend upon each other’s toil. May we learn, not just on Labor Day but always, to respect and honor that more fully.

About the writer: The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at www.sjegh.com.


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Giving thanks for the history and service of the Coast Guard

Below is my column in today's edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

Growing up in Grand Haven, I remember regularly hearing complaints about the crowds of people descending upon our city for the Coast Guard Festival. However, in the 12 years I have been back home, I’ve come to enjoy watching our small city fill up with people who want to enjoy this place we can so often take for granted.

Part of what we can take for granted is the rather extraordinary history and place of the United States Coast Guard in our country’s history. Now if, as a resident of Grand Haven, you already know the history of the Coast Guard, feel free to skip the rest of this column. But if you are curious to learn some more about this uniformed service, then read on.

When the Coast Guard was created by Congress in 1790, it was originally known as the “Revenue Marine” or “Revenue Cutter Service,” and was an idea from Alexander Hamilton. (The lack of a song featuring the Coast Guard in the “Hamilton” musical is a true oversight that I hope Lin Manual Miranda will at some point correct – though they do get a shoutout in the song “The Adams Administration” if you listen closely.) The focus of the group was collecting customs duties at our nation’s seaports (hence “revenue” in the name). However, in 1915, the group was merged with the United States Life-Saving Service and became the modern Coast Guard we know today.

The United States Coast Guard is now one of the eight uniformed services (and one of the six armed services) in our country, with maritime law enforcement jurisdiction in both domestic and international waters, and also serving with a federal regulatory agency mission. One of the hallmarks of the Coast Guard is that it has both the security service mission above, but also a distinct humanitarian service.

Even though the Coast Guard is the second smallest of the military service branches in our country, in terms of membership, ours is still the largest and most powerful coast guard in the world. It surpasses the capabilities and size of most navies other countries might have. Indeed, it is the 12th-largest naval force in the world.

When it was created, it operated under the Department of Treasury (hence the connection to Hamilton and the original mission as a revenue service. After the second world war, the Coast Guard operated under the Department of Transportation from 1967 to 2003. Then, in 2003, it was transferred to Homeland Security as part of a massive reorganization of federal agencies.

During times of war, the Coast Guard can be transferred directly into the United States Department of the Navy – something that happened in both world wars. That said, the Coast Guard has actually been involved in every war from 1890 through the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. It not only protects the borders of our country, but safeguards sea lines of communication and commerce across territorial waters.

Each year, the Coast Guard saves tens of thousands of lives at sea and in bodies of water here in the U.S. It also brings emergency response and disaster relief for both man-made and natural disasters both domestically and around the world. Organizationally, authority is remarkably decentralized compared with other armed services, and significant responsibility can fall on the shoulders of even junior personnel. This is one of the reasons the Coast Guard is often praised for its ability to respond quickly in times of distress and disaster.

In a 2005 article in Time magazine, after the work of the Coast Guard in responding to Hurricane Katrina, Wil Milam, a rescue swimmer from Alaska, told the magazine, “In the Navy, it was all about the mission. Practicing for war, training for war. In the Coast Guard, it was, take care of our people and the mission will take care of itself.”

The lifesaving work of the Coast Guard after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon mobile drilling platform was featured in the film of the same name. Base Kodiak, the major Coast Guard shore installation in Kodiak, Alaska, was featured in a Weather Channel series and works closely with the film crew of the Discovery show “Deadliest Catch.”

There are 29 cities in our country that are designated as Coast Guard Cities, but Grand Haven, Michigan, was the first when we were designated “Coast Guard City, USA” by an act of Congress that was signed by President Bill Clinton on Nov. 13, 1998.

So, as the crowds descend on our city during this week, I hope you’ll join them in enjoying the amazing festival that our community has hosted since 1937. Remember that these crowds can be a hassle for year-round residents, but they are the lifeblood to many of our small businesses who rely on festival business to make it through the slower winter months. And if you see someone in uniform, thank them for their willingness to serve.

If you’re interested, you’re welcome to join our members at St. John’s Episcopal Church at 10 a.m. this Saturday, before the parade starts, for a service of Morning Prayer. We will begin with a patriotic hymn sing and then move into that time of Scripture and prayer together as we give thanks and pray for the well-being of those who serve in the Coast Guard. After morning prayer, our church will be selling pulled pork, hot dogs, snacks and drinks all to benefit the Unity School, a small school our church supports in Kaberomaido, Uganda. All are truly welcome.

About the writer: The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at www.sjegh.com.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Let's look at abortion from a position of all faiths

Below is my column in today's edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

I read with interest the column from my colleague, Pastor John Koedyker, on “Looking at abortion from a position of faith” (July 13). I was disappointed, however, to see that it was only his own perspective on faith on this issue that was presented.

I was disappointed, but not surprised. Because increasingly in our country, and in our own local elections, one segment of Christianity is privileging their own personal view over the views of other Christians – not to mention those from other faith traditions or those who do not choose to belong to a faith tradition. And the idea that one particular view in one particular religion should govern the law of the entire country runs counter, not only to Christian charity but also to the First Amendment to our Constitution, which insists that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

My own religion, Christianity, as it is understood in the Episcopal tradition, would disagree strenuously with the claims that Pastor Koedyker has made. In our most recent General Convention, just concluded in Baltimore, our church passed a resolution which states that our church, “Recognizes that pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous undertakings that risk permanent disability and death for those who bear children” and also that “access to abortion is a key element in preserving the health, independence and autonomy of those who can bear children.” This resolution is based upon the stance our church has maintained since 1967, our “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions (about the termination of pregnancy) and to act upon them.” (You can read a summary of all our church’s statements on abortion and women’s reproductive health online at http://sjegh.com/abortion).

But it is not only the Episcopal Church that maintains this stance. Our own view is similar to the stance of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ. Our view, however, is not respected by the law, given the Supreme Court decision, even though we hold these views as people of faith. Indeed, two-thirds of non-evangelical protestants disagree with the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Even 55 percent of Catholics in America believe it should not have been overturned, despite the official stance of their church.

And, of course, it is not just Christians who disagree with this view. Most Islamic scholars believe that it is only after four months in the womb that a fetus becomes a living soul, before that they would not characterize abortion as murder (as Pastor Koedyker so unfortunately phrases it). Traditional Judaism sanctions abortion when it safeguards the life or well-being of the mother, and Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Judaism are all clear that abortion should be safe and accessible to women.

Indeed, the majority of Jewish texts assert that a fetus is not the same thing as a person until it draws its first breath at birth (drawing upon Genesis 1). Pastor Koedyker conveniently ignores the biblical view of Exodus 21, where if men fighting injure a pregnant woman to the point of causing a miscarriage, there is a fine – but it is not treated as murder. The Mishnah, one of the earliest and most authoritative rabbinic texts, actually requires an abortion if a woman’s life is at risk.

The tyranny of a particular Christian religious view being imposed upon all women in our country is one of the greatest constitutional and religious crises of our time. And it is actually an action that is profoundly contrary to the sanctity of life. It will result in more unsafe abortions for women who do not have the resources to travel to a place where they can safely access the procedure. It will increase maternal mortality rates as women are forced to have children despite their health concerns. The advocacy against abortion will also continue to traumatize women who have experienced miscarriage or struggled with infertility, telling them that an eight-week fetus was the same thing as a baby and telling parents who do IVF that their babies are dying when an embryo does not implant.

An article in Forbes magazine was clear that the broad and imprecise language in many of the laws going into effect after the Supreme Court decision will very likely impair access to many forms of assisted reproductive technology.

Pastor Koedyker quoted one Catholic thinker, and I’d like to quote another. Sister Joan Chittester, the famed and well-respected Benedictine nun, said in an interview with Bill Moyers in 2004: “I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth.”

The hypocrisy, the lack of respect for different religious and Christian views, the lack of concern for the health of women and children (along with trans or non-binary people with wombs), it is all shocking and deeply upsetting to me, as a person of faith.

Sadly, however, one particular view in Christianity will continue to insist that their view is the only correct view and that other views must be shut down with the full force of government law. More people will die. More children will struggle in poverty. And more and more people will give up on Christianity entirely, disgusted and outraged.

And none of it has anything to do with the teachings of Jesus, no matter what any pastor might claim.

About the writer: The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at www.sjegh.com.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Proudly Free – A Sermon for Pride

Below is the transcription of my sermon from our parish's 2022 Community PRIDE Worship on the Waterfront in Grand Haven, MI, on Sunday, June 26, 2022. The sermon may also be viewed on YouTube here. Our parish offers this community service each year, on the final Sunday in June. Any Christian or church in the community who wants to join is warmly welcomed. 

A reading from the Letter to the Galatians (5:1, 13-25), as appointed for Proper 8, Year C:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

In the epistle reading chosen for today, the third Sunday of Pentecost and also the day we gather for this community pride worship service, we hear St. Paul remind us that it is "for freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Freedom is not only a central theological concept to Paul but central, of course, as well to the great American experiment. We live in a country founded on the importance of freedom from tyranny, with many of those who founded it being those who were fleeing religious oppression. We live in the land of the free, or at least we want to believe we do.

You may have noticed lately an increase in banners and yard signs, all across Ottawa County, proclaiming a set of political candidates all united by one organization. On their signs, it says freedom and family. Well, who can disagree with that? If you go to the website of the group running these signs and candidates, you'll see what sort of freedom they believe in, the freedom to tell other people how to live their lives. They believe in their freedom to insist that their particular religious views should control what kind of books children have access to in the library. They believe in the freedom to dismantle the Ottawa County Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion because it runs counter to their personal beliefs. They want the freedom to do these things.

Groups like this, people who believe in this particular brand of Christian freedom, also believe, of course, in the freedom to tell women what to do with their bodies. A freedom that found its fulfillment just this past week when the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade. Now a woman cannot make her own conscious decision because our government has taken it from her. I want to be clear. This is, of course, the opposite of freedom. This is the tyranny of a particular religious view, and it has no place in our country. It has no place in the church.

The candidate running from this group for county commissioner in Grand Haven township, where I live, has on his flyers commitments to his beliefs about freedom. On his flyers, he insists that he believes "A boy is a boy and a girl is a girl." He proclaims his freedom to declare the gender identity of children for them, to erase the biological reality of intersex people whose gender could not clearly be identified at birth, and also his freedom to erase the reality of children who do not yet know, who have not yet claimed their own gender identity. This once more is the opposite of freedom. This is the tyranny of a particular far right religious view, and it has no place in our country. It has no place in the church.

Now, I'm not here to tell you how to vote in the upcoming August 2nd primary election in Ottawa County, though I do hope you will vote regardless of whether you agree with me. I am, after all, a lowly parish priest. But I am here to talk to you about what Christian freedom actually means because the word freedom has been twisted out of its original meaning in scripture, twisted into a reality where supposedly Christian freedom looks an awful lot more like a theocratic version of America, a reality that more closely resembles Margaret Atwood's nightmare The Handmaid's Tale than the reality Jesus Christ sought to bring about by his death and resurrection. We desperately need to understand anew what freedom means for the Christian.

The Apostle Paul, the author of the Letter from the Galatians, which we read from just a few minutes ago, gets kind of a bad rap in this regard. Partly, this is because people tend to go to Paul to find reasons to tell everyone else why they're wrong. Which is, of course, ironic because as we heard in the epistle reading for today, Christian freedom, as Paul says, is not biting and devouring one another. It's not using scripture to bind up and dehumanize others. 

Paul is clear, right here in this reading, that the whole of the law can be summed up in a single commandment, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is the heart of Christian freedom: love of neighbor. A love of neighbor that is so profound, Paul says for the Christian, you are actually enslaved to one another. It is not about my freedom to have what I want. It is about my commitment to serve what is best for you.

Freedom is willing to be constrained by the good of the other, to seek the best of your neighbor ahead of your own personal privilege. That's why Paul then sketches out kind of two different ways a person can live, a life lived to gratify the desires of the flesh versus a life living to make manifest the fruits of the spirit. 

Now, once more, hold lightly to what you think Paul is talking about and consider his actual words because, for Paul, living according to the flesh means living a life enslaved to yourself. As one scholar notes, Paul's problem with the flesh is not that it desires, but that its desires become disordered. It wants good things, but in the wrong way. And so, Paul gives a list of ways that epitomize living according to the flesh, living enslaved to yourself instead of living with a concern for the good of your neighbor. In each of these items, you can see how a desire that is good becomes twisted, turned inward and misused.

Paul begins with three words related to sexual sin, fornication and purity and licentiousness. Ooh. Now, rather than get into the original Greek of each of these terms and run the risk of you falling asleep on this lovely Sunday morning, remember the context Paul is talking about. Paul is using each of these as examples of living with a sole concern for yourself instead of a true concern for the good of your neighbor. Yes, that is absolutely a risk in sexual intimacy. It can become turned inward, willfully blind to the good of the other. All of these examples of desires of the flesh are instances when you refuse to see the other as a person, instead when they become only an end to your own desire.

As much as so-called American Christianity wants to talk about the first three sins, Paul names, Ooh boy, they tend to ignore the rest of the list. Because Paul also describes enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions factions, envy, and Lord knows that straight white American Christianity is filled with those sins as well, just as much as it is filled with views of sexuality that dehumanize people... views of sexuality that refuse to see the other.

As one scholar puts it, for Paul, disordered desire enslaves us to our passions and it destroys community. And the appropriate response to disordered desire is neither rejection of desire (desire is not bad), nor blind surrender to it (you've got to think about what you desire). Instead, the answer is to desire properly, something we do through the gift of God and the grace of the Holy Spirit. What does desire well and faithfully ordered look like? Well, it would be a desire that always seeks the best of your neighbor or, in Paul's word, it is desire that produces the alternative to living according to the flesh, a desire that produces the fruits of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and self control.

Back in the '80s, my denomination, the Episcopal Church, started trying to be very intentional about listening to the experience of our LGBTQIA+ siblings. The more the straight cisgender parts of the church listened to the other parts of the church, they discovered that their love, their relationships, were not relationships that resembled the first path Paul laid out, the path of being concerned only for fulfilling your own desires and pleasure. No, queer relationships had all the evidence of the fruits of the spirit because they were filled with love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. In many ways, we discovered queer relationships were even more committed to the good of the other than many straight relationships. Perhaps that's because of the discrimination they'd faced... so they'd had to work even harder to crucify a concern for self alone so that they could live entirely for the person they loved for their good, their wholeness. We learned and the church got a little more whole because of that.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, but far too many people today live under a yoke of slavery. Make no mistake, any form of Christianity that enslaves another human is false. That was true not that long ago, when most Christians thought it was okay to own human beings and they used the Bible to justify it. But any form of Christianity that enslaves another person is false, whether it is enslaving the undocumented immigrant to a system that doesn't recognize their humanity and worth, that is false. When it is enslaving a woman so that a small group of religious men can control her body, that is false Christianity. When it is enslaving the queer person by telling them that they need to be celibate or they need to hide who they are or be anything else, anything other than who God created them to be, this is false Christianity. These systems of slavery have nothing to do with the gospel of freedom found in Jesus Christ. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

You can teach us, oh beloved and fabulous children of God, particularly those of you who have different gender identities and sexual orientations. You can teach the rest of us so much about what it means to love when it's difficult and hard, when you're not seen or honored. You could teach us what it means to love when it's vulnerable and even dangerous. Queer Christians can teach all the straight cisgender Christians here what it means to value the good of your neighbor more than your own comfort, because it's a very comfortable place to sit quietly on the side while other people's lives and freedoms are eroded away.

In light of the very anti-freedom agenda right now in this country of so many people who claim the name of Jesus, it is far past time for all Christians, gay and straight, cis and trans, to stand up and demand the just protections of freedom for all people to be who God created them to be and to live lives of autonomy and goodness that they choose for themselves. 

Because it is only by working to increase love in this world, all the fruits of the spirit to increase kindness and generosity and gentleness, only by asking what you could do to protect your neighbor who is at risk of being marginalized, trapped or killed by the powers of this world, only by doing this will we find what truly Christian freedom looks like. A freedom that should be available to each and every person.

Be free beloved of God. Be proudly free. Amen.