Early voting continues for the Virginia Democrats for state executive offices and things are heating up. Of course, that means conservatives are out to fan flames on culture war issues to turn out voters now and heading into the 2022 midterms. So for this past week, it’s been transgender pronouns.
Last Tuesday, Byron Tanner Cross, a PE Teacher made the following statement at a Loudoun County School Board Meeting during the public comment session:
I am a teacher, but I serve God first, and I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it’s against my religion. It’s lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child, and it’s sinning against our God.
Here’s a video that got widely circulated of that segment from Twitter, but I take issue with Michael S. Miller’s description of Cross’ situation.
Miller tweets, “Loudoun County School Board just put a school teacher on administrative leave for stating he would not teach LGBTQ because it violates his Christian principles.” But the Loudoun Times-Mirror reports Public Information Officer Wayde Byard of Loudoun County issuing an email later that week with no mention of these allegations and “would not confirm whether LCPS placed Cross on leave because he was found to be in violation of school system policy.”
Fox News similarly reported, “It's unclear why exactly Cross was put on leave,” but quoted Cross’ principal who sent out school emails using similar language to Byard informing parents that Cross was on leave with pay beginning Thursday and that no more could be discussed because of privacy issues for personnel.
Whether or not Cross was placed on leave for religiously held beliefs expressed at a public meeting is an important question. But what Cross was objecting to in his “I will not” statement is exactly what the Virginia Department of Education has ordered all schools in the state to require for the upcoming academic year because of the passage of HB 145 and SB 161. So, in expressing his religious belief, Cross also was expressing his intent to defy school policies and state law which were crafted using “evidenced-based best-practices” and “in compliance with applicable nondiscrimination laws” per the Loudoun Times-Mirror.
Cross belongs to Cornerstone Chapel, a non-denominational Christian church affiliated with Calvary Chapel Association of Churches. Its Senior Pastor, Gary Hamrick is described on their website as follows:
Pastoring in the shadow of the Nation’s Capital has allowed Pastor Gary on different occasions to meet and pray with Cabinet Secretaries, Supreme Court Justices, members of Congress, and the Israeli Ambassador. Pastor Gary is on the Advisory Board for The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. He also serves as the Chief Chaplain for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (the largest Sheriff’s Office in Virginia with 600 sworn deputies and 200 civilian personnel). His radio broadcast “Cornerstone Connection” can be heard weekdays across the country in 27 states and the District of Columbia.
Before his Sunday, May 30 sermon available here, Pastor Gary used some of his time to wade into this same issue. Ten days prior, he was contacted by parents and teachers who were members of the church and wanted to collect signatures to remove certain school board members. The most likely reason for this was a recent vote on issuing a Pride Month proclamation. Last year, the vote was 7-1 with one absent. This year the School Board was split with 5 yes, 1 no, and 3 abstaining.
Originally hesitant about being involved with recalling School Board members, Cross’ speech seemed to tip the scale for Pastor Gary. He mentioned that several attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy group, were members and its President and CEO was an Elder at the church. After playing the clip of Cross’ statement at the School Board meeting, Pastor Gary concludes by saying, “Tanner [Cross] and his wife Angela go to Cornerstone. So it’s personal. So guess what my decision is concerning recalling school board members? We got to take back our schools.” (See full video clip below).
Additionally, he informed the congregation that there were people in the vestibule of the church. These people could help parents to identify their School Board members and to sign a petition for their removal if that member is “problematic.”
It should be noted that School Board members cannot actually be removed by petition. So, before we even wade into whether the separation of Church and State or an abuse of power has taken place, it’s clear that this is simply all just whipping up heat. But look at how and where they are organizing.
They claim to be standing up for biblical justice. People have to be ready to point out that what would happen as a result would be the exclusion of a certain portion of the school’s population, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination and worse, in violation of state and school policy.
H/T to AlexanderGRoberts in the comments who notes that the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (SPLC)