Rashomon of the bathroom bill: Were Abbott’s calls to the pastors really the pastors’ calls to Abbott?

 

Good day Austin:

In journalism, objectivity is to be desired, subjectivity is inevitable, and the Rashomon effect is everywhere in evidence.

A definition:

Noun (plural Rashomon effects)

(psychology) The effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.
OriginAfter Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon (1950), in which a crime witnessed by four individuals is described in four mutually contradictory ways.

I experienced the Rashomon effect yesterday as I tracked a story about Gov. Greg Abbott speaking Friday with ten pastors of Texas megachurches, with at least a couple of those pastors – two of the most influential charismatic preachers in America – passing on to their congregations this weekend that the governor wanted them to contact their state representatives in support of the latest permutation of what is commonly called the bathroom bill.

Here’s the story from AP on Monday afternoon:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A pastor at a Dallas-area megachurch says Texas Gov. Greg Abbott contacted him and leaders at nine other churches, urging them to drum up support for a hotly debated “bathroom bill” currently bottled up in the Legislature.

Robert Morris, of Gateway Church in Southlake, instructed his congregation over the weekend to pressure state lawmakers to advance a bill prohibiting schools and local communities from creating ordinances designed to protect transgender Texans using public bathrooms.

Morris said the measure is “being held up right now” by Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, who opposes it.

Senators passed a bill requiring transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to their birth-certificate sex. A separate House version hasn’t reached a floor vote.

Morris was part of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign’s evangelical advisory board.

And, from Scott Braddock at Quorum Report:

Abbott asks megachurch pastors to pressure Texas House to pass bathroom bill, pastor says.

“It’s being held up right now by the leader of the House,” says megachurch pastor Robert Morris, who added “the governor said ‘please ask your people to call their state rep by Monday.’”

Apparently taking a page from the playbook of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott has called on the pastors of megachurches across the state asking for their help in passing the bathroom bill, according to the sermon of a pastor with nearly 40,000 people in his congregation in North Texas.

Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Southlake, said “Governor Abbott called me yesterday” asking for help.

“He’s calling 10 megachurches,” Pastor Morris said, then put the blame for the delay in passing the bathroom bill squarely at the feet of Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“There’s a house bill right now we need to let our representatives know about and bring it to the floor for a vote,” Morris said, adding “It’s being held up right now by the leader of the House.”

“It’s being held up right now by the Speaker of the House and I’m saying that, the leader of the house. That is in the state of Texas, not in Washington. This is in Austin,” Morris said.

There was no immediate comment from Abbott’s office about what appears to be an attempt to undermine the speaker by using faith leaders around the state to carry the message.  

This seemed a little odd to me.

Why would the governor, who had hesitated to weigh in on the legislation for so long, get so deeply involved so late in the game?

Sure, if the effort led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick were to come up short, he might want to avoid blame for not doing more. But wouldn’t this late entry into an arena so well-tended by Patrick appear nakedly cynical, and, in any case, wouldn’t it seem untoward for the governor to be calling these pastors and calling out the Speaker of the House by name?

And why would these conservative church leaders require a call from the governor on the issue to begin with. Couldn’t they tell their parishioners what they ought to do with regard to this legislation on their own say-so?

Thanks to Warren Throckmorton, I have video of two of those pastors addressing their church on the matter this weekend.

Throckmorton blogs at Patheos, which describes itself as hosting the conversation on faith, and where he keeps a critical eye on the political machinations  of the Christian right.

Throckmorton teaches at Grove City College, an evangelical liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. From Throckmorton:

I am Professor of Psychology at Grove City College and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at the Center for Vision and Values which is a part of Grove City College. I have a BA in psychology from Cedarville University, a MA in clinical psychology from Central Michigan University, and a PhD from Ohio University in community counseling/counselor education.

My most recent project is Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, which is a book with GCC colleague Michael Coulter.  In the book, we fact-check claims often made by Christian Nationalists about Thomas Jefferson. The book was triggered by the publication of David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies, a book which brings most of the faulty Jefferson claims together. Reviews and more information can be found at GettingJeffersonRight.com.

Here is Robert Morris at Gateway Church in Southlake – one of the most mega megachurches in the country – followed by a transcript.

Also I want to let you know something that um, I’m gonna ask you to do something. Governor Abbott called me yesterday, uh, he’s calling-he called ten churches, um, that are megachurches here in the, in Texas, the state of Texas. Uh, and there’s a House Bill right now, that we need to let our representatives know about, and bring it to the floor for a vote. It’s being held up right now by the Speaker of the House, and I’m saying that, uh, the leader of the House, um, I’m saying that– that is, in the state of Texas, okay, this isn’t Washington, this is Austin. Uh, but, it is 2899, HB2899.

You can go to our website, and find out how to contact your representative. Uh, it is being referred to as the bathroom bill, but please understand, this is to protect our children. We need to stand up, and as adults, that’s why we say no, you don’t drive a car when you’re 11, you don’t get to drive a car until you’re 16. Adults need to make laws and rules for children who don’t know how to make those decisions at that time.

And we don’t want to be disrespectful to anyone, but this is so that boys do not go into girls’ locker rooms, and girls do not go into boys locker rooms. And the governor said, “Please, ask your people to call their state representative by Monday. And so you can go on our website, and it says, find your representative, or whatever it is, locate, somethin’ like that, somethin’ like that.

There it is, find your local state representative click here. You just find out who your representative is, and call and say, we support, uh, and you can read about the bill, too, you can read the bill, but we want you to at least bring it to a vote. At least get it out of the committee. And this one representative, um, y’know, is holding it up. And so we-we really do need to protect our children. And I want to ask you to, so I’m asking every member of Gateway church to do that, all right.

And here is John Hagee, among the most politically powerful evangelical ministers in the country, who is pastor at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio.

 

I have a very urgent announcement I want every person in this building to hear. And those of you who are watching on television, especially in the state of Texas. I received a personal call from the governor of Texas Friday night, asking for the help of the people of faith in protecting our children in the Texas public schools. The governor’s asking for people of faith to call the members of the House of Representatives to pass House Bill 2899. I want you to get a piece of paper, and write this down. Pass House Bill 2899. To insure the safety and security for our children in our public school bathrooms. I want you to call Joe Strauss, if you can’t write that, take a — take your cell phone out, I know you have it, take a photo of that [pointing to screen with contact information of House State Affairs Committee Chairs]

Call Joe Strauss, call Brian Cook, Helen Giddings, the co-chairs of the committee, that are not allowing this bill to be voted on. Many Texans assume that this is going to be accomplished, because we are a conservative state–but let me tell you very candidly, we are losing this effort right now, because your elected officials have not heard from people of faith.

They have certainly heard from the opponents, they need to hear from us. And if you really want to put feet to your faith, then I encourage you to start calling, and start calling today, uh, because it will go into a computer, call tomorrow, call every day until you feel like you’ve covered the waterfront, but I want you to call those three people, and then, uh, there, you can call your-your representative, if you know that person by name. It’s VERY VERY important. Uh, how many of you understand what I’m talking about here? Very good, thank you.

There are, of course, those who frown on this kind of politics from the pulpit.

 

But, there was a very different view from Charisma News, where the headline was, John Hagee, Robert Morris Part of Massive Effort to Stand Against Perversion

With an overwhelming majority of Texans—roughly 80 percent, according to one poll—determined to provide protections for women and children in public bathrooms, a group of pastors in that state has been trying to motivate a group of obstinate politicians to advance a bill that would do exactly that.

It’s not the Democrats they’re trying to convince, though, but rather the Republican leadership of the state House of Representatives.

In the 2016 election last November, Texans sent 96 Republicans to Austin to fill the 150-seat House. With that kind of supermajority, many assumed a bill like Senate Bill 6 or even House Bill 2899 would sail through the legislature like a breeze.

But it hasn’t.

Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) refused to assign SB 6 to a committee, where it will die at the end of the current legislative session, despite passing overwhelmingly in the state Senate. HB 2899 is stuck in the committee to which it was assigned, as well, likely at Straus’ direction.

“Pastors around Texas are asking themselves how they sent 96 Republicans to the House and yet they can’t get a bill passed to keep men out of women’s bathrooms,” Texas Pastor Council President Dave Welch said in an exclusive interview with Charisma Caucus. “They now realize they can’t take for granted the letter behind someone’s name means they will reflect the values of that party. We need to know who we send. And does their record indicate they’re willing to stand and vote and advocate for our values?”

The Texas Pastor Council got a promise before Easter from Gov. Greg Abbott, who is also a Republican, that a bill would soon move out of the House to protect women and children. They patiently waited for two weeks beyond Easter, only to see no action whatsoever as the clock winds down on the legislative session.

Welch said he reached out to the governor’s office to arrange phone calls with nine of the state’s most influential pastors, hoping that by hearing from them, Abbott would be emboldened to push Straus to change his mind. The pastors are also trying to convince the governor to call a special session if the House continues to sit on SB 6 and HB 2899.

They’re not overly confident that he will.

“I would love to say I have confidence that he will,” Welch said. “But, we’re doing everything we can do, and trusting God will open their hearts to do the right thing. We serve a big God.”

Ah. This changed things more than a little bit.

I talked to Welch and he confirmed that this was not Abbott initiating the calls to press the pastors into action, but the pastors initiating the calls to press Abbott into action, something that was effectively accomplished, to at least some degree, with the headlines about Abbott urging the pastors to lobby Straus and the House.

Nicely done. These pastors aren’t leading megachurches for nothing.

Abbott has tread a careful path on the bathroom bill.

From Texas Monthly’s  R.G. Ratcliffe on a reporters’ roundtable the governor did in December:

On Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s demand for a bill to prohibit transgender men from using a women’s restroom, Abbott ducked and weaved. Before the 2015 voter on Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance, Abbott had said he wanted to keep men out of women’s rooms. But that was before Texas businesses said a statewide bill could cost up to $8.5 billion in lost revenue from sporting events moved elsewhere, corporations deciding not to relocate into Texas, and declining national employee recruitment. Today Abbott said his office is studying the issue to see what current laws say and if there are problems that need to be addressed. He said his top priority is the safety of all Texans, but declined to say whether a transgender person who undergoes a sex change is a man or a woman.

From an interview I had with the governor. Amid legislative discord, Abbott predicts success:

It is on the transgender bathroom bill that the daggers between Patrick and Straus are most fiercely drawn.

Patrick has cast Straus as “out of touch with the voters” for opposing the Senate bill that would prohibit transgender-friendly bathroom policies in public schools, universities and government buildings. Straus has characterized the legislation as a “contrived” answer to a “manufactured” problem that could, for no good purpose, undermine Texas’ extraordinary success as a magnet for job creators.

“I think I have been at least clear about the need for something to be done, the reality that there are valid concerns that need to be addressed,” Abbott said. “And I think it’s important that the governor not be a dictator saying, ‘it’s my way or the highway on this,’ that we give those who are elected the opportunity to come up with proposals that are honed by their fellow legislators and honed by their constituents.”

To some, those are weasel words. To others, Abbott’s approach is strategic.

“On the bathroom bill, he’s leaving it to its own devices, and if you leave it to its own devices, it’s going to die in the House,” Jones, the Rice University political scientist, said. “So why would it make sense for him to intervene on one side or the other?”

Straus has been steadfast in his opposition.

From my story in March on his interview with Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas: Straus calls bathroom bill ‘contrived’ answer to ‘manufactured’ problem

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said that Senate Bill 6, the transgender bathroom bill, is a “contrived” answer to a “manufactured” problem that could, for no good purpose, undermine Texas’ extraordinary success as a magnet for job creators. The speaker said he sees “no fervor” in the House to bring the legislation to the floor.

“I‘m not saying that it wouldn’t pass if it were pushed on them, the members,” Straus, a Republican, said in a live-streamed interview Friday with Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

Henson noted that the bill, championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, isn’t a priority for Straus.

“I’ve gone further than saying it’s not a priority,” Straus said. “I oppose it.”

But then, from Chuck Lindell on April 18, Gov. Abbott says he wants to sign a transgender bathroom bill

No longer silent on an issue that has roiled the Legislature for months, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday that he wants to work with the House and Senate to approve a transgender bathroom bill.

“I support the principles of both the Senate and House to protect privacy in bathrooms. We will work to get a bill to my desk,” Abbott said via Twitter.

Abbott’s statement of support came one day before a House committee was to begin debate on a new measure that would block cities, counties and school districts from enacting or enforcing transgender-friendly restroom policies.

House Bill 2899 by state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, would nullify local anti-discrimination protections that regulate access to multiple-occupancy bathrooms, showers and changing rooms.

“It’s really targeted at making sure that a city or a political subdivision doesn’t set up a new protected class,” Simmons told the American-Statesman. “My opinion is those issues should be handled at the state level so it’s the same everywhere across the state.”

Abbott called Simmons’ bill “a thoughtful proposal to make sure our children maintain privacy in our school bathrooms and locker rooms.”

“I applaud the House and Senate for tackling an issue that is of growing concern to parents and communities across Texas who are now looking to the Legislature for solutions,” Abbott said in the statement.

Senate Bill 6

By targeting local anti-discrimination policies, such as Austin’s protections based on gender identity, Simmons’ bill takes a different approach than Senate Bill 6, which would require government buildings and public schools and universities to limit bathroom use to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.

SB 6, approved largely along party lines last month in the Senate, also would block cities and counties from requiring businesses to adopt transgender-friendly restrooms.

But while SB 6 has yet to be referred to a House committee — the first step in the process — HB 2899 will have a public hearing Wednesday before the House State Affairs Committee.

The committee chairman, Rep. Byron Cook, has expressed reservations about SB 6, saying he saw no compelling need for the bill and questioning its potential impact on the state’s economy. On Tuesday, he said he scheduled HB 2899 for a hearing so House members and the public can gain a better understanding of the bill.

“What I’m trying to do is take the issue through a thoughtful committee process,” he said.

House Speaker Joe Straus has also questioned the need for legislation aimed at bathroom use by transgender people.

Broad opposition

Opponents of SB 6 are lining up against Simmons’ bill, saying it also would discriminate against transgender Texans.

“I would suggest that it’s worse than SB 6, which was limited to government buildings and schools, while this applies to everywhere in the state, all restroom facilities anywhere in the state,” said Chuck Smith with Equality Texas.

Smith said HB 2899’s ban on bathroom-related protections for what the legislation broadly calls “a class of persons” was one-sided and unfair.

“It says you cannot protect a class of people, but it would allow any of those jurisdictions to pass ordinances that would specifically discriminate against those people,” Smith said.

“Keep in mind that a number of Texas cities, including Austin, have had these nondiscrimination protections on the books for years without any problem at all,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network. “Stripping away these protections and barring cities from enacting any others is just as reckless and offensive as the Senate’s bill.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Simmons’ bill, like SB 6, was a potential “self-inflicted” wound that would damage the state’s reputation as open and welcoming.

“Bottom line: It’s still a wrong solution to a nonexistent problem,” Adler said.

The Texas Association of Business, one of the most vocal opponents of SB 6, also opposes Simmons’ bill.

Simmons said HB 2899 was intended “to protect privacy like it’s been done for the last 100 and something years.”

“If this is the big issue that some people say it is, then it needs to be handled at the state level. It needs to be passed by this body and the (Senate) and signed by the governor,” Simmons said.

As originally filed, HB 2899 would have voided any local ordinance that extended protection to classes of people not already protected under state law — such as protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The original bill was a little broader than we were intending,” Simmons said, adding that a new version — focusing on the effect nondiscrimination policies have on restroom use — will be formally unveiled at Wednesday’s committee hearing.

Texas Values, a leading supporter of SB 6, has been pressing House leaders to take action on the bill and had little to say about Simmons’ measure beyond a Facebook post that said its leaders “look forward to a productive House.

Throckmorton was critical on his blog of the way Morris and Hagee described the legislation to their people.

Even though Morris and Hagee framed the bill as an effort to protect children, the bill actually would prevent Texas counties and cities from enacting ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination in jobs, housing and other public services. Worse, the bill would render existing ordinances in place in cities like Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Austin “null and void.”

The bill is linked on the Gateway Church website and leads to this one page bill.

As you can see, the word bathroom isn’t in this bill. This bill is far more encompassing than a bill about who can use what public bathroom. Currently, Texas has no statewide protections against discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity. According to this bill, if a class of people is not now protected by state law, then a city or county will not be able to enact protections for that class. Some cities do protect LGBT people, but these ordinances would be declared “null and void” by this bill.

While churches have always been able to opine on issues in the culture, I think this situation demonstrates one problem with churches becoming an arm of a political party. Morris and Hagee misled their congregations into thinking that a call to the legislature will keep boys out of girls’ showers. However, this bill has a much broader application. Some of the LGBT relatives of Gateway Church and Cornerstone members could lose their jobs or housing if this bill passes since the existing protections in large Texas cities will be invalidated.

The governor’s nod of approval for Simmons’ bill, helped it gain co-authors, even as its chances for approval slid.

Primary Author Date Filed
Simmons 03/06/2017
Coauthors (76) Date Signed On
Anderson, Charles “Doc” 04/21/2017
Anderson, Rodney 04/27/2017
Ashby 05/01/2017
Bailes 05/05/2017
Bell 04/27/2017
Biedermann 05/02/2017
Bohac 05/04/2017
Bonnen, Dennis 05/05/2017
Bonnen, Greg 04/21/2017
Burkett 04/25/2017
Burns 04/27/2017
Burrows 03/20/2017
Button 04/21/2017
Cain 04/27/2017
Capriglione 05/01/2017
Clardy 04/27/2017
Cosper 05/08/2017
Craddick 05/05/2017
Cyrier 05/05/2017
Dale 05/08/2017
Darby 05/08/2017
Dean 04/17/2017
Elkins 05/04/2017
Faircloth 04/27/2017
Fallon 04/21/2017
Flynn 05/05/2017
Frank 04/21/2017
Frullo 04/21/2017
Goldman 04/27/2017
Hefner 03/29/2017
Holland 04/27/2017
Huberty 05/09/2017
Kacal 05/05/2017
Keough 04/27/2017
King, Phil 04/27/2017
Klick 04/27/2017
Krause 04/21/2017
Landgraf 05/05/2017
Lang 04/27/2017
Larson 05/09/2017
Laubenberg 03/27/2017
Leach 04/21/2017
Lozano 05/05/2017
Metcalf 04/25/2017
Miller 04/21/2017
Murphy 04/21/2017
Murr 05/05/2017
Oliverson 04/12/2017
Parker 04/21/2017
Paul 05/02/2017
Phelan 04/21/2017
Phillips 04/21/2017
Price 05/08/2017
Raney 04/27/2017
Rinaldi 05/05/2017
Roberts 04/27/2017
Sanford 05/01/2017
Schaefer 04/21/2017
Schofield 05/04/2017
Shaheen 04/21/2017
Shine 05/08/2017
Smithee 05/05/2017
Springer 04/21/2017
Stephenson 04/21/2017
Stickland 05/08/2017
Stucky 04/27/2017
Swanson 03/23/2017
Thompson, Ed 05/04/2017
Tinderholt 05/04/2017
VanDeaver 05/05/2017
White 04/27/2017
Wilson 03/28/2017
Workman 05/04/2017
Wray 04/27/2017
Zedler 04/27/2017
Zerwas 05/08/2017

 

 

 

Meanwhile, Abbott, in a radio interview with Chris Salcedo, described his conversations with the pastors in a way that confirmed that he hadn’t necessarily initiated the calls and that, in all likelihood, he didn’t mention Straus by name, only by implication.

 

 

Salcedo: I am perfectly OK with this governor because I think it’s you reaching out to a constituency that you need to reach out to and individuals on the left have been utilizing the faith community to push their left-wing agenda without consequence, but the Democrat Morning News, that’s my not-so-affectionate name for the Dallas Morning News, the Democrat Morning News is  taking issue Governor with you reaching out to these megachurches and saying, `Hey folks, just want to make sure you tell your congregations what’s at stake with SB 6.’ I have no problems with it but would you explain to some of your critics who do have a problem with you doing it.

Abbott: Well I think as governor my job is to talk with my constituents. These pastors were concerned about the possibility of no law passing that would protect the safety of women and children in bathrooms, so they asked me if I would weigh in and make sure we got something passed and I said, “Well, of course,” and they said, “What is the best thing to do?” And I said, “If you really want to have something pass you need to make sure you make contact with the members of the House because this is where this is being held up. It’s being held up in the House of Representatives, and the people who are going to make the decision over here are the members. If you really want to know what needs to be done, you need to contact the members of the Texas House of Representatives.

Salcedo: Yeah, if I had a dollar for every single time I said to conservatives, if you want to see your conservative values advanced, you need to call the Texas House and prompt them to do something.

And then last night, the governor tweeted a very upbeat take on a story by Peggy Fikac in the San Antonio Express News, that the bathroom bill might be “gasping” its last breath this session.

From Fikac’s story:

Simmons said he is “very optimistic” that House members “will have some opportunity to have a floor discussion and vote on something in an amendment format.”

If that fails, he said, they might get another chance this summer.

“If something happens and the budget doesn’t go through and we have to have a special session for the budget, I’d be pretty confident that this issue in some form would be on that call,” he said, referring to the special session agenda, which would be set by the governor.

And there it is. A special session. Something that Welch said his group has pressed the governor to call for, as leverage on Straus to let a bill get to the floor for a vote during the regular session, lest it become the topic of a  special session to follow.

The governor, so far, has given no inkling that he would support a special session for this or any other reason. But that, said Welch, quoting Matthew 7:16-20 – you shall know them by their fruits – is how the governor will be judged on the matter.

“We’ll know when we see a call for a special session,” Welch said.

 

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