Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
1Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Chapter 4 Suffering as a Christian, verses 12-14
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
Chapter 5 Tending the Flock of God, verses 6-11
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
I heard some good news on Thursday evening. As I shared in the Newsy Note, the New Hampshire state legislature began debate on Senate Bill 272, a bill that would require school staff to out kids to their guardians if the kids ask for different pronouns or a different name to be used at school. While the homophobic and transphobic lawmakers who sponsored the bill claimed to grant teachers the right to not share that information with parents or guardians if they had “clear and convincing evidence” that the child would be abused or neglected as a result of the outing, it was clear to anyone who has actually worked with children or who has had the experience of being outed to unsafe adults that the bill put vulnerable children in harm's way.
A group of faith leaders, 80 in total, penned a letter explaining the risk this way:
“[W]e are deeply concerned that this legislation targets our transgender youth for increased monitoring and surveillance at school. This legislation, while perhaps well intended, puts an already vulnerable group of youth at extraordinary risk of further harm. Statistics from the Trevor Project tell us that LGBTQ+ youth with one safe adult are 40% less likely to commit suicide. To quote our colleague, The Hon. Mo Baxley, if legislation puts even one child in NH at higher risk of suicide, then we must ITL (declare it inexpedient to legislate). It is the moral, and ethical choice.”
The faith leaders go on to say that LGBTQ+ people are created in the image of God. Youth, especially, deserve to be seen as reflections of God in this world. LGBTQ+ people, including youth, deserve to have their civil rights protected. New Hampshire also has a long cultural tradition of respecting personal freedom. This bill, which requires increased surveillance of children suspected of being in a minority group, explicitly runs counter to that impulse. And, this law would enshrine one narrow religious belief that sees being transgender as immoral, unhealthy, or dangerous as the official legal position of the state.
The letter was signed by executive director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches and United Church of Christ, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopal, Baptist, and other Protestant pastors, rabbis and cantors from a several synagogues, and several some Catholic nuns. I count among the signees several friends and at least one UCC minister who retired from the Maine Conference and now lives in New Hampshire. Of course, these religious leaders were not the only people standing in opposition to this bill. People across New Hampshire, from all kinds of religious backgrounds and no religious affiliation at all, also were clear that this bill was targeting kids who are already vulnerable. From what I have heard, people from all over New Hampshire called and wrote to and met with legislators, making it clear that this bill did not represent the best interests of the kids or the will of the people.
The vote was expected to be very close. And, it was. At the end of the day, though, enough legislators chose to protect transgender kids. The New Hampshire Legislature voted to indefinitely postpone SB 272 195 to 190. This means that the bill cannot come back around to be voted on any time soon. What is clear from my colleagues who were involved in fighting against this bill is that the work was not done by one person or one individual or even one faith community. It took a lot of people with a lot of different skills working together to keep this cruel bill from becoming law. They had to keep working, giving their hope legs, and succumbing to fear just because they knew that the work would be hard and the opposition was well-organized. They had to work confident that what they had to say would matter and that they could move legislators to do the right thing. They organized and they prayed and they called, and, thank God, they won.
Organizers in others states have not been so fortunate. There are now bills signed into law in Florida that allow the state to take transgender children from supportive parents if those parents pursue getting medication like puberty blockers for their adolescent children. I know that transgender people and their allies have worked hard in Florida and other states to protect the religious freedom and civil rights of transgender people. They organized and prayed and called, too, and, unfortunately lost their votes. They haven’t stopped fighting, though. They can’t. The alternative is live in oppression or leave. With these major losses, it is good to see that a coalition of people in New Hampshire was able to fight for and win the protection of the civil rights of transgender youth.
A couple of weeks ago, I preached on another text from 1 Peter. You might remember that I shared some of the work of the scholar Eugene Boring who, in his introduction to the book, that1 Peter is a letter to a church that was in a time and place where people who joined the church were understood to be immoral, untrustworthy, or even dangerous. They were targeted for ridicule and shut out of relationships in the community where they had once been welcomed before they joined the church. The author of the letter, who tradition says was Peter, but probably wasn’t actually Peter, wanted to offer the people in the church a word that would buoy them in the midst of an unfriendly broader community.
So, the author said that just because you are suffering, that doesn’t mean God has forgotten you. Remember, Jesus suffered, too. Suffering does not mean you are separate from God. Instead, remember that Christ is with you in the midst of that suffering. Remember, the powers of evil and hatred will seek to devour you.... will gobble you up as a lion consumes a gazelle. The author says you must resist despair. Remain steadfast. Know that you are not alone in your suffering or in your faithfulness. Know that the God of all grace, who called you to eternal glory in Christ, will restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.
This week, I believe we have witnessed some of that restoration in New Hampshire. We have seen a glimpse of what is possible with fierce compassion, strong organizing, and disciplined love. Lions continue to attempt to devour. The organizers in New Hampshire will undoubtedly have to work on another homophobic and transphobic bill. We, here in Maine, will likely be called on to do the same. Our neighbors have shown us that the lions don’t have to win. May we be inspired and strengthened by this bit of restoration so close to home. And, may we support each other, share our bit of grace, with all of those who also created in the image of God.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
M. Eugene Boring's, intro to 1 Peter in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: The New Revised Standard Version with Apocryphya, ed. Michael Coogan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)
The letter signed by more than 80 faith leaders: https://nhchurches.org/an-open-letter-on-sb272-from-nhs-clergy-and-faith-leaders/
An article about the letter: https://newhampshirebulletin.com/2023/05/16/new-hampshire-church-leaders-speak-out-against-parental-bill-of-rights/?fbclid=IwAR1g6WGdaIjufUyzK8lklhK0mK_DuT877eYKOYY6NMP9Z7kDqu7dqjX524g&mibextid=Zxz2cZ
Article describing the anti-trans organizers that created the model legislation that anti-trans legislators have been using across the country: https://apnews.com/article/transgender-health-model-legislation-5cc4a7cb4ab69150f670d06fd0f361ab
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.