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Maundy Thursday 2016: North Carolina and the Politics of Death

by LeDayne McLeese Polaski


March 24, 2016

I’m sitting in the Des Moines airport. Having finished two days of workshops at Graceland University, I am headed home to Charlotte, my beloved home of twenty-plus years. I call my husband to let him know the flight is on time, that I think I’ll be able to make the Maundy Thursday communion service at church tonight. With a heavy sigh he says, “It was a bad day in North Carolina yesterday.” I ignore him.

I know. Of course, I know. Being in Iowa has not cut off the steady flow of news, but I ignore his comment and talk to him instead about my day, the sessions I led, the students  and faculty I met, the fact that eating at one of the state’s famed Pizza Shack franchises might qualify me to declare my candidacy for President of the United States. I talk to him about anything, anything other than yesterday’s vote to legalize hate, fear, and discrimination.

Hanging up the phone, I continue my efforts at self-distraction. I plunge myself into a book. The story is compelling, but I find myself thinking of my friend Robin Tanner’s call for a Twitter storm of support for LGBTQ young people, especially transgender youth, after Charlotte’s passage of an expanded nondiscrimination ordinance. She was worried about their psychic health and emotional well-being having heard reports of increasing “despair and depression” as they listened to the rhetoric surrounding the debate. And that was when we won.

So what now? What are they hearing and feeling now? What do they hear now after the legislature spent an estimated $42,000 to meet in special session because transgender people using the restroom of their choice is apparently the greatest threat to public safety that the elected officials of North Carolina can imagine? What do they feel now that they are publicly and officially described as so frightening, so threatening as to make grown men and women from Murphy to Manteo get into their cars and get themselves to Raleigh for an emergency legislative session? What do they think now that the law of the state says they are without rights, that recognizing their rights is illegal, that they are, in fact, enemies to be opposed at all costs and not citizens deserving of protection?

The thoughts are distracting, but I read another chapter of my book. I don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to think about it. I have no words.

And then I remember – what is it I am hoping to get home to?

Oh, yes. An annual reenactment of a night that began in community and ended in arrest, betrayal and abandonment. A memory of emergency meetings of religious leaders and hastily-arranged special sessions of government officials, a series of meetings and discussions and rulings that end in Crucifixion. The Church’s yearly retelling of the machinations of the politics of death.

On Sunday, we will speak of Resurrection, of renewal, of hope, of life, of triumph. But tonight we remember that triumph comes only after an extended encounter with suffering and sorrow.

And so how can I call myself a Christian pastor if today of all days I cannot find words to speak?

Make no mistake. Yesterday’s vote is no insignificant example of political posturing. It is not even merely an infuriating referendum for discrimination. North Carolina is dealing in the politics of death.

The statistics on transgender suicide are beyond frightening.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention published a report entitled “Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults” in January 2014. The report says that 41 percent of the respondents reported a suicide attempt (compared to 4.6 percent of the general population and 10-20 percent of lesbian, gay, and bi adults).

How many shattered lives is that? How many people too weary of holding our hatred to keep living? How many grieving mothers and fathers? How many bewildered brothers and sisters? How many shell-shocked classmates and teachers?

How many traumatized friends left thinking “That could be my way out too.”?

How wide is this circle of trauma? How many EMTs picking up lifeless bodies? How many doctors and nurses attending to a body that will never live again? How many chaplains walking into a family room to say, “I’m so sorry. She didn’t make it.”?

How many families live knowing that no matter how warm and loving a womb of safety they work to create for beloved daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, it may not be enough? What does it mean to know that your child may be taken from you because what they hear is, “You are not wanted here. You do not matter. We will not protect you. Other people’s possible discomfort in the bathroom is more important than your actual safety in that bathroom.” And how much more is that message multiplied when it comes not from a playground bully but from the state itself?

I believe in Resurrection. I believe in hope. I believe in life. But we aren’t there yet.

And so tonight I will work to stay awake with Jesus in the darkness of a threatening night. With the echoes of the politics of death ringing in my ears, hoping to be faithful enough to walk with him, knowing that I am not and so praying that he will stay with me, I will remember those who will not make it through this valley. Tonight as a Christian and a North Carolinian, my only faithful choice is mourning. 

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