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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Bullies in the bathroom

by John Brummett | March 21, 2021 at 8:37 a.m.

The meanness of the pseudo-religious right-wing extremism of the state legislative session makes me think about the preacher Jim Wallis.

He's the founder of Sojourners, a national Christian group advancing social justice.

They call him liberal. He tries to explain the nuance that renders invalid such overly restrictive and divisive labeling. Any political labeling actually defies the true transcendent essence of Christian principle.

Wallis has written books contending that the problem with religion in American politics is not that it's there, but that bad religion is there. He contends Christianity properly applied to public policy falls between secular liberalism and right-wing politics, or outside of them, or as a bridge for those willing to cross.

He catches it from the liberals as well as the "Christian right," which means he is doing something probably right and surely constructive.

Wallis believes the real value of religion in American public life is not found through mixing church and state with narrowly focused legislation.

He believes that the real value, and in fact the point, rests in "prophetic preaching" in the public square about great moral imperatives. He believes such preaching seeks to change or inspire hearts and minds, because the politicians will always follow when the people lead.

Here's the best example, or at least a very good one: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached in the public square to advocate nonviolent protest for a more just nation socially and racially. The politicians came in with their civil rights law only after the real Lord's work had been done.

To the contrary, our state legislative agents of a newly energized "white Christian nationalist" movement have been working not in the public square, but inside the state Capitol, and not to change and inspire hearts and minds on expansive moral imperatives, but to make narrow and seemingly petty laws bullying and punishing relatively small groups of people they don't like or disapprove of.

One of their main concerns seems to be that boys will start calling themselves girls so they can win foot races and get blue ribbons at track and field meets.

There have been no reports of such gender conspiracy in any Arkansas schoolgirl athletic competition. But there was a case in Connecticut. The aggrieved champion girl sprinter ended up beating the two transgender girls who had emerged to rival her.

(I might declare as a woman for purposes of competing in senior adult team tennis except that I'm pretty sure I'd lose about as many matches that way as I've lost over the decades to men. But the state Legislature may need to stop me by statute just in case, now that I've planted their disapproving fear that I or others might try such a dastardly switcheroo. You'd best not leave such things to the U.S. Tennis Association. It's based in New York, and you know how those people are.)

There is a bill to deny transgender-related medical care to youths. That could include the counseling that many transgender youths well need, especially now that the bullying disdain for them has been shown to exist all the way to the powerful corridors of the state Capitol.

How would you like to be alienated by your difference and then hate-targeted by your state legislature?

There is a bill saying that, in public schools, teachers will call students by the names on their birth certificates and identify them by the gender on their birth certificates, regardless of what they identify and declare.

They might call Bruce Caitlyn in California, but, in an Arkansas school classroom, she's forever Bruce.

Is that a burning issue in Arkansas? Are there young Bruces calling themselves Caitlyn to win decathlons? Is it all heaping great burdens on teachers when they call their rolls?

Then there is the matter of our usually reasonable conservative governor, Asa Hutchinson, proposing to have the state join the national mainstream with a law authorizing prosecutors to seek post-conviction sentencing add-ons if they can show that the crimes were committed from hate of a group.

The bill seems dead, or at least comatose.

For our state lawmakers representing right-wing "religion," violence from hate apparently presents less a problem than a 100-meter foot race.

The word is that any hope of reviving the bill would require removing hate protections for transgender persons. In other words: Arkansas might oppose hate generally as long as it could preserve hate specifically. And this is religion?

It all reminds me of when I was in the seventh grade in late 1965 or early 1966. I walked into the junior-high boys' bathroom to find several of my schoolmates surrounding and taunting another of my schoolmates, calling him "queer."

Even then, as young and undeveloped in sensibilities as I was, I felt the ugliness.

So, here we are, 54 or 55 years later, and the bullies have evolved all the way from the children's bathroom to the lawmaking chambers.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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