It has taken me a long time to write this post because I don’t want to offend anyone. I like to think of myself as a peacekeeper. So, I took my time with it and chose my words carefully. Also, as we got closer to Thanksgiving, I wanted to be sensitive to the timing of this message. Let me just say that this is written in the spirit of me trying to think things through. Let’s work this out together.
I had originally planned to write this post as a one-sided bashing of the church for its failure to include and minister to transgender people and the people that love them. But, a few weekends ago I went on a retreat with some of the most godly women I know. While there, God showed me a few things that softened my heart. I still feel “the church” needs to change but the church is made up of people. Some of those people, like the women I joined on the retreat, are individuals who radiate Jesus’ love so brightly. Some people are just like me, who love the Lord and are questioning things. If you wonder how you might better serve the LGBTQ community, this message is for you. If you have been rallying against “the church” this message is for you too.
I have so much love and respect for the women who were coming to the retreat so I went despite some fear and even a little bit of anger. Having worked through my thoughts on the issue of transgender and the Bible in my last two blog posts, I felt prepared to defend my position. Before leaving home, I mentioned to my husband how I was feeling. He asked why I was apprehensive and I replied, because they believe in “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Now, those of you who can’t stand to hear that phrase, consider what happened next. My husband asked what they would then have me do with MJ. I said, “I think that means they think we can pray it away.” When I heard myself say that it made me squirm a little, no doubt a grumbling from the Holy Spirit.
As the weekend went on, I witnessed and felt such compassion and empathy, and experienced no judgment. I heard only only truths spoken in love. Through the teaching and the prayers, I was reminded over and over again that we serve a God who is sovereign and we see His miracles all the time. As I meditated on my emotions, I realized that the reason for my fear and anger had nothing to do with them and everything to do with my own doubts that God can and will bring healing to our family. I knew in the depths of my soul, that this was the truth of it. I don’t know what exactly that healing will look like or when it will come, but I do believe in miracles. I asked for forgiveness for my anger towards the group and for prayers to be healed from my unbelief.
In my last post I concluded that I can’t know the truth of what God plans for transgender individuals. And though I’m tending to believe the arguments that claim that transgender is not a sin, I’m not ready to fight for that. I believe that when we follow what God tells us through the Bible our lives can be better than we can imagine. I am open to the possibility that gender dysphoria is one of those thorns that if people can find freedom from it, God would reward them with something better, beyond their realm of understanding. But yeah, I admit I still have doubts about that.
My research teaches me that theologians are arguing about every word and detail about what the Bible says. We need to allow for the possibility that we are all wrong. I think it is arrogant of people to think that their theology is the only correct version. Only God knows what He intends for LGBTQ people. Maybe people are exactly as God intended them to be. And in that case, it is nobody’s place but God’s to say that being transgender is a sin. Our opinion, our human interpretation of the scriptures, should not hinder anyone in any way from pursuing their relationship with Jesus.
In an interview with Lisa Salazar, a transgender Christian, she says, “Do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit by declaring their (LGBTQ) experiences as counterfeits and invalid. As was the case for the early church, when the Holy Spirit was poured out among the uncircumcised gentile believers and the church had to change its theology to accommodate this new God experience, we need to be careful today that our theology is not so inflexible that we run the risk of putting God, the Holy Spirit in a box of our own design.”
I see a lot of anger directed towards churches from LGBTQ supporters who are convinced that homosexuality and being transgender is not a sin. They are rightfully hurt by the lack of compassion and the inability of the church to create a safe place for them and their families to exist. And I applaud them for their advocacy work, but I have at times felt uncomfortable with the degree of disgust they display for a church that won’t agree with their opposing point of view. I wonder if they can appreciate that, while some people may not change their mind about what they believe about what the Bible says, they absolutely can love them anyway. I’ve seen that love in action. Unfortunately, I’ve read far too many stories where this was and is not the case.
God calls us to love and not to judge. I’ve heard it said many times, we need to get out of the way and let God be God. We need to focus on praying that people turn their eyes on Jesus without judging or condemnation. It is not up to us to point out sin. Embrace them and let the Holy Spirit do a work in them. That applies to all people, no matter who they are or what their burdens are.
One of the women who attended the retreat ministers to prostitutes and the underprivileged, and broken people in the inner city of Cincinnati. She lives where they live and loves them where they are. Does she still believe that prostitution is a sin? Sure. But, she doesn’t condemn them, doesn’t judge them, she provides the love and compassion that Jesus commands. She is letting the Holy Spirit do the work.
Shame researcher, author and public speaker, Brené Brown says that love is experienced by a sense of worthiness and belonging. I believe that when we tell the LGBTQ community that we “love the sinner, hate the sin” we are shaming them because they don’t believe they are sinning, they believe that that is just who they are. “When you shame people, they feel like a broken toy that can’t be fixed. So, you don’t want people to feel shamed because that leaves no room for them to change.” (from The Power of Vulnerability ) But we can love people and not focus on any of their sins. I think it all comes down to how we interact with people one on one. So, I think that fundamentally, we can agree to disagree and love and accept each other anyway.
I also agree with Rachel Held Evans, “But if Jesus started with the outliers, why we shouldn’t we? If Jesus started with the poor, the sick, the marginalized, and the minorities then why would we dismiss them as irrelevant to our theology of gender and sexuality? I can’t help but think of the Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8. He was a sexual and ethnic minority, and it was considered “unbiblical” for him to even enter the assembly of God, much less be baptized (Leviticus 21:20; Deuteronomy 23:1). But when the eunuch learned about the gospel through his reading of Isaiah and the witness of Philip, his response is profound: “Look! There is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Philip could easily have responded by quoting Bible verses and appealing to tradition. He could have dismissed the eunuch as an anomaly, not worth the time and effort to fight for his inclusion in this new family of God. But instead, Philip baptized the eunuch in the first body of water the two could find. He remembered that what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in… starting with you and me.”
In his blog, Chris Kratzer wrote this:
“But, what if you’re wrong? What if it’s not so clear, the studies not so definitive, the unnatural not so unnatural.
What if you’re wrong, like Paul in Scripture, who actually believed it was “unnatural” for the Gentiles to accept Christ and be included in the fellowship of believers? By the way, you know who the Gentiles are? You.
What if you’re wrong, like countless Christians throughout history who read your same Bible and vehemently concluded its support for racism and slavery?
What if you’re wrong, like court reporters and clerks in the 1960’s who, citing Biblical grounds, refused to document and issue interracial marriage certificates because they believed them to be committing sin?
What if you are wrong, like the Southern Baptist denomination, who finally in 1995, apologized to the black community for its role in using the Bible to endorse racism and slavery?
What if you are wrong, like the Pharisees, who believed they knew and lived the Scriptures better than anyone, but were shown out by Jesus to not only be in biblical error, but completing absent of understanding in regards to His heart and essence?…
What if mistranslation, proof texting, and a lack of proper contextualization has rendered the Scripture as saying that which God never meant it to?
What if your unyielding grip on inerrancy has become in fact, your own spiritual death hold?
What if your fear of being wrong and therefore having to deconstruct and rebuild one’s heart, mind, and faith is preventing you from the guidance of the Spirit?
What if peer pressure and the gravity to conform to the prevailing Christian “norm” is squelching the wind of Jesus from His revelation in and transformation of your life?..
If I am wrong, the Holy Spirit will simply pursue me with correction, go around and ahead me to thwart the misleading, and work in the lives of homosexuals (all LGBTQ people) to lead them to “repentance.”
However, if you’re wrong…
You have condemned, marginalized, persecuted, and falsely judged an entire group of God-imaged people.
You have been a contributor to the depression, the isolation, the terror, the suicide, and the living hell of countless people.
You have participated in nothing less than the new racism of the 21st Century.
And worst of all, you have joined the choir of the False Accuser, singing songs of pure evil, believing them to be hymns of the Savior that reflect His heart and mind.
You have partnered with Satan in the stealing, killing, and destroying of an entire population of God’s beloved.
…all, in the name of Jesus and biblical faithfulness.
There are so many Christians whose hearts and minds have changed. One of the stories that impacted me is this one from Alan Chambers, one of the founders of Exodus, the well-known anti-gay ministry which he left in 2008. They closed down in 2013. In an article from the Washington Post, he said,
“And then I repented. I changed my mind. I chose to believe the truth about God—that he is indeed a God of love and grace. I chose to be free. I chose to love without reserve, starting with myself, and then others. I chose to embrace rather than to push away. I chose to listen first — always.”
At the very least, pay attention to this compelling argument for loving and inviting the LGBTQ community in, the one I talked about in my last post… that is that it is the healthiest way forward. It is what we need to do to address and prevent the high rates of suicide.
Another truth that I took from the retreat was that all of our knowledge and the actions we take will only get us so far when the battles are not of this world. We can do and say all the right things, but some things, like this issue of LGBTQ, is way bigger than any of us and will never be solved in our own power.
I guess the message I want to get across is that we should bring it down to an individual level. If we want hearts to change and people to examine their beliefs, we need to talk with each other and really listen to each other. Satan will use whatever tactics he can to destroy our relationships. And clearly, having just celebrated Thanksgiving, we see that family relationships are what most of us value the most. So wouldn’t it make sense that he would attack us there? Don’t let satan use this issue to get a foothold in your relationships. Let us never forget who the real enemy is. I pray we could all stop fighting about it and give it up to God. I pray that He will direct the paths of each of us, that He will protect us from each other and not let us believe the lies of the enemy. I think that if people truly love the way Jesus loved, the church will be changed. People are the church.
While I continue to study the issues, I can be at peace with not ever knowing what God planned. I have to trust that love is enough. So, I pray for miracles and know that God is able to redeem MJ’s situation. Redemption might come in the way of a change in her dysphoria, but it might also come in the way of her story being used to change hearts and minds, or even change the culture and/or the church in a way God had always planned for, but it might also be way beyond my human ability to comprehend.
The truth is that on a daily basis, MJ’s dysphoria is not as pressing an issue for me as it is for her right now. The thing that troubles me the most is that she sleeps all day. Nothing I do seems to work to get her out of bed. I’m so tired of fighting with her about it. We finally had our planning meeting with Pathways last week, which went well. MJ was quite poised and represented herself very well. I’m praying that things will change once she has an internship and that she’ll get up when she has to. I also pray that she’ll be energized by her work and knowing that her gifts are appreciated. And I continue to pray that she will turn her eyes to Jesus and begin to understand the depths of God’s love for her. And, I pray that one day she might even come to church again.
I still feel energized by the retreat and feel so blessed to count such godly women as my friends. And I am incredibly grateful that so far, we have been protected from any hate or ridicule. I pray for all of the people in the LGBTQ community who have experienced hurt and shaming and have had relationships destroyed. I pray for your protection and for reconciliations. I believe that God can and will bring healing.