A firestorm is burning in Jasper, a small east Texas town 130 miles northeast of Houston, because a gay man, Max Griffin, is running for mayor.
Jasper is the place where three white men beat James Byrd Jr., a black man, and chained him to a pickup truck, dragging him through rural roads, which tore his body apart and eventually decapitated him. It is also the place where two years ago Rodney Pearson, a former state trooper of 20 years, was appointed Jasper's first black police chief and was then fired 16 months later allegedly due to racism. Two city council members, both black, were ousted in a recall election associated with his hiring and Pearson was fired by a 4-to-1 majority of white city council members. A recall election was called for Jasper's mayor, Mike Lout, who is allegedly linked to the Pearson fiasco, but Lout won. Racial tensions were at an all-time high as a result.
Griffin is running against Lout for mayor. Early voting begins on April 29; Election Day is May 11.
It's easy to run for reelection if the radio station Lout owns, KJAS, frames the race primarily around Griffin's sexual orientation.
In a recent KJAS radio interview, host Jay Sharp relentlessly focused on Griffin's sexual orientation. Sharp asked: "How do you think people will feel about that? How do you think as a gay man you will bring racial harmony to the city? I understand you have a son? Does that mean you've been married before? How and why were you married if you were gay? Do you plan to promote the gay agenda of equality? Are you a supporter of gay marriage and gay rights in general? How gay are you?"
Griffin repeatedly had to explain why he was gay and what that meant. He told me that, "I had no intention of discussing my sexual orientation. But since he asked the question I wasn't going to lie about it. If a voter is not going to vote for me because I'm gay, then they may not as well vote for me if I'm a woman, a Hispanic, or black for that matter. Discrimination is discrimination."
The following week, KJAS hosted another show, promoting it this way:
"I hope you ALL are ready for THURSDAY NIGHT!!! It's time to COCK the HAMMER on the Gay Agenda, American Christian vs Jesus' Example and Max Griffin vs Mike Lout! If you haven't heard of Max Griffin...go to www.notonthepayroll.com." On this show the hosts talked about the Griffin interview again, the gay agenda, and Christianity.
To those in the gay community and non-Christians it's important to understand that this kind of rhetoric is not Christ-like at all.
Like myself, conservative evangelical Christians disapprove of the gay lifestyle, but still choose to love gays. People who are really Christians will obey what Jesus said were the two most important commandments to follow: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Luke 10:26-28).
Jesus also told a parable about what it means to be a neighbor -- to love and take care of anyone who comes across your path (Luke 10:25-37). He was quite clear: show mercy to strangers no matter what the social or financial cost may be. If this is how Christians are supposed to treat strangers, the imperative for how they are to treat people they know is far greater.
When it comes to his neighbors who mock him for being gay, Griffin says, "I still choose to love them and want to make Jasper a better place for all of us to live. I love Jesus. Jesus loves me and the rest is between him and me."
Jesus's witness and message was clear: his followers must proclaim His love, forgive those who offend them, and reconcile if possible -- even with enemies (Matt. 5:38-48). This isn't an option.
It is impossible to both love and hate someone at the same time. One must choose between the two. No matter what the issue or circumstance may be, Jesus commanded his followers to love. He also said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matt. 7:1).
Rather than obsessing about Griffin's sexual orientation, voters should consider Griffin's desire to serve the very people who despise him. Griffin is the most qualified for the job, having been responsible at one point in his career for managing nearly 6,000 operational airline employees. He plans to use this managerial experience to expedite the process of recruiting and hiring a new police chief (Jasper still does not have one after nearly one year, which is against Texas law), reviewing the city's administrative processes, and providing government transparency -- all of which the current mayor has not done.
When it comes to character, Griffin is an upstanding member of the community who has never been arrested. Lout, on the other hand has been arrested for public intoxication and drunken and disorderly conduct after he crashed into a Sonic and left the scene shirtless. He also lives with his girlfriend to whom he is not married. How can he or any of his supporters honestly criticize anyone else's moral behavior?
The kind of hatred being expressed towards Griffin is no different than that which fueled the killing of Byrd, or of that which killed Marco McMillian, a gay mayoral candidate found dead in Mississippi. Hateful words always lead to violence.
The only thing voters should care about is who is the most qualified to be mayor. After all, as most of Jasper's residents know, they've had a gay mayor before; he just wasn't openly gay.
Jasper's real Christians will be known by the measure by which they love their neighbor and how they vote on Election Day.