All posts by mikeshewfelt

Are LGBTQ People Human or Not?

pa-equality-watch-rainbow-flag.pngSomething from my last post here has stayed with me. I’ve continued to speak out on Twitter against those who say that the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case isn’t about the gay couple involved but rather about the event or a message. What I’ve found is that not only are conservative evangelicals content to further marginalise LGBTQ people but they also view them as less than human.

If you don’t believe me then start by looking through the Twitter feed of organisations like the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Family Research Council. The ERLC, for example, has been very vocal lately about the right to life of the unborn. One of their recent posts on the subject is entitled, “Why human dignity shapes our public activism.” The FRC took the same stance by retweeting an article from Live Action News on December 8 entitled, “Tragic: 1 of every 3 babies is aborted in New York City.” What’s worth noting here is that they could have focused their position on the ideology behind pro-choice beliefs, or even the beliefs themselves, or the pro-choice “agenda” but they didn’t. They focused on the people. Contrast that with recent posts by the same organisations regarding the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. This one from the FRC is entitled, “The SCOTUS Sweet Stakes: Baker’s Freedom in the Balance,” while this one they retweeted refers to it as the “Case of the Christian Baker.” The ERLC took a similar stance with an article entitled, “Into the looking glass: Why the Impact of Masterpiece Cakeshop at the Supreme Court matters.” The focus in these article is on the baker and the impact the case will have on religious liberty, on the cake as a message, and on the gay wedding as an event. Notably absent is any recognition of the gay couple involved.

(Now before you go pointing out that those supporting Charlie Craig and David Mullins, the gay couple at the heart of this, may have done likewise in their treatment of Jack Phillips, let me say that as a minister my issue in this post is with those claiming to represent Christ in this case.)

How the gay couple are viewed by conservatives in this case doesn’t improve any when you look at the comments these posts have generated on Twitter. Gay people are “given over to a depraved mind.” Their rights are an agenda. Their wedding is just an event, one that is apparently so sinful that a baker would be justified in not selling a product only intended as a gift for the couple. You can’t help but conclude that to Christians gay people are somehow “other” and not fully human like the rest of us. If this case is truly about a message or an ideology then why hasn’t that same logic been applied to other cases like those described above?

To an extent I understand where this approach comes from. That does nomean I support or endorse it, just that I understand what lies behind it. Affirming the humanity of LGBTQ people in every sense of that word, or at the very least acknowledging it, would require conservative evangelicals to rethink much of their worldview and they are simply not willing to do it Doing so would raise too many questions and as contemporary evangelicalism revolves around being faithful to an increasingly narrow worldview those questions can’t be allowed. That’s where the Nashville Statement comes from. It’s a way of saying to the world, “Anything outside this position is wrong.” The lack of respect for the humanity of Charlie Craig and David Mullins is the natural outgrowth of that logic. And if you think I’m off the mark on this, go through those articles and count how many times the two men are referred to by name. Too often they’re just “the gay couple.” (Hell, I spoke out in their defence on Twitter for almost a week before I realised I didn’t even know their names.) Jack Phillips, in contrast, has own hashtag. Such an approach cannot, however, be justified when it seeks to reduce real people down to nothing more than an event or an agenda.

Affirming the full humanity of gay, lesbian, trans, and other gender-nonconforming people is something conservatives need to do. For many Christians out there this isn’t a problem. For them LGBTQ people are no different than anyone else. For those that do have a problem with it, ask yourself this. If your theology requires that you view someone as less than human, is it really worth holding onto? Is it really “Christian” theology? If you’re honest then those questions will answer themselves.


The Church is Dead

broken-down-churchYou’d have to have been living under a rock this past Tuesday not to have heard or seen something on social media regarding the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case and #JusticeforJack. As a vocal supporter of LGBTQ people in this country I spent most of the day on Twitter engaging with those who don’t see them as I have come to know them. I did so knowing what was going to come our way and I was still taken aback. I mean, the Nashville Statement and the DOJ’s guidance on religious liberty left no doubt as to what conservative evangelicals think of their place in this world and of those they disagree with. Tuesday on Twitter topped both of those.

Before going on I should point out that I am not a legal expert. The ins and outs of what the Constitution protects are not something I am familiar with, although I don’t think it’s that hard to see that giving a religious group the right to discriminate against those who don’t share their beliefs is the start of a very slippery slope. (I also understand that back in the 1960s similar religious arguments were made over the issue of racial discrimination; the Supreme Court shot those down, too.) What I am is a minister and a theologian and and my take on this whole thing is along those lines.

As I’ve learned over the past year, LGBTQ people in the United States often exist on the margins of society. They are, if you look at the Gospels, the very same people that Jesus spent most of his time with. Every argument that I saw in support of #JusticeforJack, whether it was from average people with opinions or from pastors and church leaders, ignored those people entirely. For them it was about the message the cake represents or about the celebration itself (conveniently forgetting that without the people involved neither the cake or the celebration would be an issue). Not only did the conservative church overlook these people on the margins but it is more than content to let them stay there. If the verdict goes against the gay couple then the church will have succeeded in turning LGBTQ people into second class citizens. You are harming the very people Jesus cared about most.

And what about Jack Phillips’ rights? As a minister and a Christian I have to admit that I don’t understand the question or the arguments behind it. For all the focus on “religious liberty” these last few months it’s a concept I don’t find in Scripture. Where is it written that our rights as Christians are to be protected above those of everyone else? That our conscience, and our right to be offended, matters more than loving people? Instead I find passages like John 16:33 (ESV), which reads, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Or Hebrews 11:36-38 (ESV), “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” This world is not our home and it’s not a safe place and yet you fight to so at the cost of the very people you’re supposed to love. Ultimately, which is the better Christian witness, to turn away the gay couple or to love them and serve them as best you can? As Christians we don’t have rights in this world and the ones we do have stand on a foundation far more durable than the Supreme Court.

I almost didn’t title this post “The Church is Dead.” Maybe I’m just being too dramatic, you know? All the Supreme Court did on Tuesday was hear oral arguments. They did not rule on the issue and they are not expected to do so for sometime. The thing is I keep coming back to one place. If the ruling comes in favour of Jack Phillips then someday an LGBTQ person will leave an establishment where they are not welcome, turn to the church and say, “This is because of YOU.” This is not who we are supposed to be, and if it is who you as a conservative evangelical church have become, if you’re OK with that and even celebrate it, then there is no life left in you.

And if that pisses you off, don’t come at me for twisting Scripture. Search the Scripture yourself. See who Jesus loves and how he shows it. And then tell me that the church’s behaviour these past months has shown the same love. You won’t be able to. The institutional, evangelical church is about many things in this world but being Christ’s representatives on earth isn’t one of them. The church is dead.

A Not-so-Hallmark Christmas

Hallmark-Countdown-Christmas-2017It’s only December 1st but if you’re like me you probably didn’t even notice until you happened to glance at a calendar. The “Merry Christmas” war is already in full swing, local radio stations have been playing nonstop Christmas music going on two weeks now, and the Hallmark channel has been playing Christmas movies for at least that long. This year there’s been much focus on the symbolism of Christmas that it’s easy to forget how difficult it is for many. LGBTQ people in particular don’t always have a home to go to and if they do it’s not always a safe place. Keeping that in mind I took a look at the story of the event that started all this, the birth of Jesus, and what I found is that there wasn’t a lot of safety to be had then, either.

The story starts with Mary, who has a child dropped on her unexpectedly and which, in all honesty, she may not even have wanted (Luke 1:26-38). It’s too easy to gloss over Mary’s willingness to go along with this as given in Luke 1:38 that we can miss the emotions she had to be feeling. I’ve never been in that situation but it cannot have been an easy one or her. Did she have plans for her life? That’s all over with now. And when Joseph  finds out that the woman he is engaged to is pregnant and not by him (Matthew 1:18-19) things get more difficult still. Even though God shows up in a dream to fill Joseph in on what’s going on, the explanation is hard to believe and would likely have been so for those in their community. They would have known the child Mary was carrying was not Joseph’s and it’s not hard to imagine the reality they had to live with from then on out.

The first Christmas was not a safe place to be and it didn’t get any more so when they left for Bethlehem. Luke’s statement in 2:5 that Mary “was with child” is an understatement. That Jesus is born on this trip means that by this point Mary isn’t just pregnant, she’s very pregnant, and on the road is probably the last place she wanted to be. Whatever support system she had was in Nazareth not Bethlehem. Again, I have no idea what that feels like but it reminds me of the first episode of This is Us where Rebecca finds out the doctor who’s going to be delivering her kids isn’t the one she thought it would be. She is decidedly not happy and I can’t imagine Mary was, either.

When they finally got to Bethlehem their situation didn’t improve much, either. What is Joseph supposed to do now that they’ve arrived but the inn is full? Where will they go? Where will they stay? Several years ago my wife lost her job and we had to move out of the company housing that went with it. Those same thoughts went through my mind. Where were we going to live? What would we do? Our situation was made easier by having family close by but, as far as we know, Joseph didn’t have that luxury. He was on his own to look after Mary. I still wonder who suggested the stable first, Joseph or the inn keeper. Was it an act of generosity on the keeper’s part or an act of desperation on Joseph’s? Either way it would not have been Mary’s ideal place to give birth.

There’s one more detail from this story that jumped out at me and that’s in Matthew 2. Contrary to a lot of Christmas cards and nativity scenes, the wise men don’t actually show up the night Mary gives birth. According to Matthew 2:16 they actually arrive some two years after the fact. What’s interesting here is that by this time the census that brought them to Bethlehem in the first place should be done and over with. Aside from the fulfilment of the prophecy as described in 2:6 there is no reason given in the text for them to still be in Bethlehem. That raises the question as to why the family is still there two years after Jesus was born. As we said, whatever support and family they have is in Nazareth (as far as we know), so why stay if you don’t have to? The only conclusion I’m left with is that they had to stay. My guess is someone got sick and wasn’t up to travelling back. That, in turn, means they had to deal with the uncertainties of settling in Bethlehem and, as most of us probably know, moving is never fun.

The story of the first Christmas isn’t one with a happy ending or a kiss under the mistletoe. Instead it’s full of uncertainty, questions, and no real place to call home. This is how God chooses to come into this world, not as a king on a throne but as a baby, and a baby in a family facing all of life’s uncertainties. If you don’t have a safe home to go to this Christmas you’re in good company. Jesus is not indifferent to it (even though his church might be). He’s been through it all himself.

Grace and Christmas

christmas1When did we stop giving each other grace?

I guess it’s almost a cliche that on Black Friday and the day before Christmas (or on Boxing Day if you’re Canadian) that people out shopping go a little squirrelly trying to get the best deal or that “must have” item. What I didn’t expect was to see the same behaviour over yogurt and buttermilk. I work in the dairy department of a major retailer and as we lead up to Thanksgiving I’ve seen customers walk around each other like they’re not even there, darting in and reaching over each other to get milk of all things. The phrase “Excuse me” seems to be dead. And when someone does get in their way, as tends to happen at this time of year, instead of laughing it off and going about their business many people give looks that could best be described as annoyed.

Have we become that self-centred that we no longer even make the effort to notice and respect those around us?

And it’s not just in grocery stores, either. Evangelicals are now more aware than ever before that there are those in this country whose very existence goes against how they view the world. At best they scratch their heads over it. At worse they cry, “It’s a sin!” every chance they get. But you know what? These people are people, too, and fully deserving of all the dignity and love and respect that goes along with that. Would it kill you to show them that? Respecting a trans person for who they are doesn’t negate your right to believe whatever it is you want to believe. It means no more than being a decent human being (and, I think, a decent Christian, too).

Not too long ago conservatives were ecstatic over President Trump’s promise that “We’re going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” Evangelicals were finally going to turn the tide in the culture war. “Make Christmas great again!” was the joke. Here’s a tip. If you really want to make Christmas great again, stop fighting the culture war. Stop demanding your own rights and put the other person first for a change. As Christians, at this time of year we celebrate God coming to earth and I don’t think we fully realize the depth of that anymore. Christ had every right to come as a King in glory but he didn’t. In the words of Paul, Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-9) Jesus set everything aside to love us. Paul starts out this passage by saying in verse 4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We are to love others as Christ loved us, and yet the church in America has got this backwards. We demand that others look to our interests before their own and we call it religious liberty. We claim the right to say whatever we want in the name of “God’s truth,” regardless of the cost to others, and then argue that anything less places limits on our freedom of speech.

If you really want to make Christmas great again then it’s time to turn things around. Stop demanding to be protected and treated as the most important people in this country and start following Christ’s example. I know it’s scary to give your rights and put others first but in that place is where Christ is and the bottom line is we either trust him or we don’t. Which is it going to be?

The Trouble With Narratives

In my last post I pointed out that prayer, while a valid Christian response in any situation, doesn’t really go far enough in responding to physical, material needs. A quick search of Twitter will show that I’m not the only one who holds to that view. Many on social media have been extremely vocal in their criticism of the “thoughts and prayers” offered by conservatives. Not surprisingly, conservatives took notice and have responded.

What I find alarming is the tone of the responses that have come out. The Family Research Council, for example, published an article entitled, “The Left’s Politics of Preying.” In it the FRC asserts, “The party that thought calling voters “deplorable” was a winning strategy is back at it, shaming leaders for suggesting something as unsophisticated as prayer after Sunday’s horrific massacre. From governors to sitting senators, the Left lashed out at Republicans for daring to suggest that faith might help a community that died for it.” They then interpret various requests for more than just prayer as a request to “keep your religion in church where it belongs and let government be our God.” As the FRC goes on to observe, “The secular Left’s gospel of condescension is the same today as it was in 2008 and 2016. Only the ignorant and unenlightened believe in a power higher than government.” They finally conclude, “Gun control, knife control, truck rental control, pressure cooker control — they’re never going to stop evil. Only a faithful people, with hearts turned toward what’s right, can do that.” From what I’ve seen, this is the general conclusion among many conservatives (although by no means all of them).

Here’s the thing. As I mentioned in the last post, the FRC’s conclusion is correct, at least to a degree. As Matthew 5:21-22 makes clear, from a Christian perspective murder starts in the heart. The problem isn’t with that conclusion, nor is it with those who are calling for more than just prayer. The problem lies in the narrative that conservatives have bought into. To them, Christians in this country are the ones whose rights are threatened by those on the left of the political spectrum. Calls for more than just prayer become, therefore, a desire to do away with it entirely. Now before you think this is just another “bash the conservatives” thread, let me say that I do realise many of the comments on social media against prayer were somewhat less than civil. We also all have our narratives through which we view the world and there is nothing wrong with that. The issue comes when we can’t see outside those narratives, even for just a moment.

I would go so far as to presume that those defending “thoughts and prayers” don’t rely solely on prayer in other areas of their lives. How many Christians, when a family member is seriously ill, pray while rushing that person to the hospital? It’s happened to me several times over the last few years and each time I did ask for prayer from friends and family but the person in question also received appropriate medical treatment. Those on the “Left,” as the FRC calls them, are simply asking for a similar response in this situation. Prayer and concrete action. Their anger comes from the seeming inability of conservatives to grasp that.

Prayer has its place but so do concrete responses. It’s time for conservatives to set aside the narrative, listen to those who disagree with them, and maybe, just maybe, find a way to prevent more gun violence in this country.

The Need for More Than Just Prayer

In the wake of the horrific shootings in Texas, I can’t help but notice the flood of people on social media, Twitter especially, offering “thoughts and prayers” for the people affected by it. As a minister I get it. Prayer is a valid response in really any situation in life. The problem here is that it’s not the only possible response. As many on Twitter have pointed out, prayers by themselves do nothing to address the circumstances that made this tragedy possible. Conservative evangelicals seem to be, for some reason, absolutely against stricter gun control measures of any kind. Instead, they are quick to point out that incidents like this are a “sin issue” or a “heart issue”. That is certainly correct, at least from a Christian standpoint, but at the same time murder is a physical act using physical tools that requires some sort of physical response.

Our own Scripture even shows us this. In James 2, the author takes up the relationship between faith and works. In verses 15-17 he says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” One of the points he makes here is that if you respond to a physical need in a purely spiritual manner then you haven’t really done much. 

So by all means pray at times like these. Call it the heart issue that it is and minister to that end. But don’t let prayer and calling it a heart issue be justifications for doing nothing more. There are real, tangible steps that can be taken to prevent tragedies like this in the future. What that looks like I’m honestly not sure. I am a Canadian and living here in the U.S. and still relatively new to this country. There are others out there better prepared to answer those questions than I am. What I do know is that prayer alone is not enough. It never has been.

Who gets to tell the church no?

noOver the last few weeks I have seen both conservative organisations and leaders within the church rejoice that they finally have a government that is putting their priorities first. Whether or not those priorities are good for the country as a whole, or even shared by the rest of the country, is beside the point. That’s what conservatives want and that’s what the government is going to deliver. The problem with this is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone with the authority to step in and say, “Yes, you have the right to your beliefs but pursuing this goal is hurting other people.” There is no one, in short, to tell the church no.

As Christians it’s foundational to our faith that we don’t ultimately answer to men. When push comes to shove we don’t answer to elected governments (or any other government, for that matter). We follow the example of Peter and John in Acts 5, for example, or we point to Christ as the head of the church as our ultimate authority. And if you’ve been following the religious liberty arguments on social media lately, you’ll know that there is a very vocal group out there which believes that the government has no authority whatsoever to interfere with the church anyways. To an extent, such views are correct. When the government gets in the way of the church doing what it is supposed to be doing then the church has a higher authority to which it answers.

That being said, what about when the church isn’t necessarily up to what it’s supposed to be up to? The evangelical church in particular is, arguably, pursuing its own interests right now in trying to take the culture of this country back to something of which they would approve. As I’ve written about before, and as I see all the time, in doing so they are hurting people. And yet when I see people engage with them on social media, trying to get them to understand that, the conservatives won’t have it. They are the ones who understand Scripture correctly. They are the ones following God’s plan. Those who disagree with them, and who have a scriptural basis for their objections, are simply “selectively quoting Scripture.” As we’ve already touched on, conservatives also don’t have to listen to government concerns, either. There is, at the risk of overstating it, no one to tell the church no. As admirable as that may be under certain circumstances, when it becomes a justification for putting your fingers in your ears and saying, “I don’t care. You don’t get to tell me what to do,” then it’s a problem.

Such an attitude is also a problem in that, even after chewing on this for a while now, there is no easy solution to it that I can articulate. I am not, as you might expect from this article, in favour of government control of the church. Nor am I in favour of a hierarchical system of church government for all denominations. Such actions won’t stop the harm. It will just take different forms. (That being said, I am not in favour of repealing the Johnson Amendment. Church and politics never mix well.) Unfortunately there is only one answer to this question that I see. If, as 1 Peter 2:5-9 says, all believers are priests before God, then the only ones who can tell Christians no are other Christians. The irony is not lost on me that these are the very people conservatives refuse to listen to right now.

I am not saying that those of us who disagree with conservative evangelicals have more authority than they do. I am also not saying that they are required to agree with us. Free speech exists for a reason. What I am saying is that if it comes down to choosing between “doctrinal purity” and real purple hurt by the consequences of what you’re doing, which is really more important? In the last year the evangelical church has lost all credibility in this country and its actions mean a backlash is coming that will not be pretty. That alone is cause for alarm. I also understand that there are many out there who are afraid of having to do something as simple as respect another human being whose very existence goes against your beliefs but if you’re operating out of fear then you’re not in a good place biblically. Maybe, just maybe, the rest of us are on to something. How much would it cost you to listen?

You ARE better than this

Family_Research_Council_logoI came across yet another article from the Family Research Council on Twitter yesterday entitled “We Got Your Back, Jack.” And it’s just sad. The gist of the article is that “church and civic leaders,” including several prominent African American leaders, are “Tired of hearing the LGBT community compare its experience to the real suffering of the civil rights movement.” One such leader is quoted as pointing out how “insulting it is to hear LGBT activists equate their ‘persecution’ to generations of African Americans.” Now I am not for a moment trying to diminish the discrimination and the pain that black people have experienced in this country and which they continue to experience. That being said, as a conservative, faith-based organisation, that’s the best you have for LGBTQ people? “We’re tired of hearing you complain. Go away and let us deal with real pain and suffering.”

I’ve said recently that Christians need to do better with regards to LGBTQ people and this article is a prime example of why. I see it everyday, the struggle and, yes, the discrimination, that they deal with. Whether it’s in trying to accept themselves when no one else will, or in holding down a job while dealing with people who reject them for who they are, or in just having the freedom to pee where they feel safe enough to do so, the pain is very real. And conservative Christians can’t see it. Forget the biblical admonition to “mourn with those who mourn.” This is, “Go away. You bother me.” At the risk of putting it too bluntly, that’s pathetic.

Behind positions like this is the view that gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same things as skin colour. The latter is a scientific fact while the former are choices and therefore not to be considered on the same level as “civil rights.” It’s actually not a new position. The Southern Baptist Convention holds this view and has for some time now. I called them out for it earlier this year in an open letter and what I had to say then still applies. “The term ‘civil rights,’ by definition, refers to having the freedom to live your life as you see fit. The members of the LGBTQ community should have, by that right, the same freedom to be themselves that you and I enjoy in this country.” Gender identity and sexual orientation, for that reason, are civil rights issues whether or not conservatives want to view them as such. In holding the view that they are not civil rights issues, conservatives are merely stating that they don’t care about these issues. All the church cares about are its own rights and that is a big problem.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the article takes things further. Jack Phillips, the man at the centre of the Masterpiece Cakes Supreme Court case, is the only one “who can identify with what African Americans went through.” In other words, the Christian is the one facing legitimate discrimination here. He is the one whose “free exercise and expression of religion, convictions and conscience” is being infringed upon, not the LGBTQ community. While he certainly does have the right to his beliefs, the LGBTQ community has rights just the same, rights that conservative groups like the FRC are all too eager to overlook. Equating the Christian in this case with the discrimination faced by African Americans is little more than a cute attempt to further marginalise LGBTQ people. (If conscience is truly the “currency” in situations like this, and a currency “for everyone,” then why doesn’t that apply to LGBTQ people?)

Christians are supposed to be better than this. As 2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us, we’re supposed to be “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” The appeal that conservatives are making right now is, “Go away. Our God hates you and so do we.” As I’ve said before, I understand that it can be difficult to wrap your mind around just who LGBTQ people are and why they are who they are, but that is no excuse whatsoever for responses like this. This behaviour is nothing short of appalling. I said in my last post that Christians need to do better in how they treat the LGBTQ community but this is past that. As Christians, you are better than this. You need to show it.

You Need to do Better

41U4s9JARAL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_Let me start out by saying that I get it. The idea that a trans person can legitimately be in the wrong body, so to speak, is one that can take a while to wrap your head around. The same goes for the idea that they are not crazy for feeling that way. If that’s not something you’ve ever thought about much it can take a while to process it and try to understand who these people are. Hopefully along the way you’ll get to know at least some of them. Speaking from my own experience if you skip that part then you really have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. The whole “trans debate” is so much more than just a debate. There are real people involved here. So yeah, I understand that it can take a while, even as a Christian, to wrap your head around this but, that being said, it’s no excuse for not treating fellow human beings like, well, human beings.

Case in point is this article I came across yesterday on Twitter, “Transgender and children: Responding in the local church,” which is an adapted excerpt from Andrew T. Walker’s book God and the Transgender Debate. The “response” in question here is whether or not a local church should accommodate a parent’s request that their child be referred to by pronouns that do not line up with their biological sex. While Walker does acknowledge that “each situation is unique because each child is unique,” his conclusion is ultimately that “whatever the situation in the home may be, pastors and elders should say they’ll be unable to comply with this parent’s request, or to ask anyone else in the church to do this, because it goes against what the Bible teaches about who this child is.” Furthermore, “If the parent is opposed to the Bible’s teaching (rather than in agreement with it, but struggling to know how best to love their suffering child), and refuses to change their mind, I’d see this as an issue of church discipline, because the parent is publicly living in rejection of God’s Word.” This conclusion, coming from someone relatively senior in the Southern Baptist Convention, carries a great deal of weight but that does little to deflect from the issues inherent in it.

Setting aside that the Bible’s teaching on this is not as clear as Walker believes it to be, his conclusion here is problematic for two main reasons. First of all, it asserts that the leadership of a congregation are better placed to know who a child is than the parents of that child are. I’ve been in churches where the leadership was lucky to know a child’s first name. I’ve also been in one church in particular where the best interests of the children were sacrificed in the best interests of the direction the pastor wanted to take the congregation. Finally as Ephesians 6:1-4 shows, how children turn out is not the church’s responsibility. It is, rather, the responsibility of the parents. Walker is encouraging the local church to take on a responsibility it has no right to take on and that sets a very dangerous precedent.

Walker’s conclusion is also problematic in how it treats trans children. From my own experience I have learned that trans youth of all ages struggle not only with accepting themselves but also with being accepted by those around them. They are, in a word, vulnerable because of that. In making the issue of trans youth a matter of “church discipline” Walker is in essence telling those who likely already feel rejected by the world around them that God rejects them, too, and they are not welcome in God’s house the way that they are. It should go without saying that you will do far more harm to these young people with that response than you ever will through simply using whatever pronouns they prefer. In Matthew 19:13-14, we are told, “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.'” The church is supposed to be representing Jesus to the world but Walker does the exact opposite here. 

As I said at the beginning, I understand that this issue can be a tough one to wrap your head around. (Please hear me when I say that I don’t make that observation with a negative view towards trans people. I know trans people can get frustrated as hell with cis people. That being said, some cis people have a hard time with this and pretending otherwise doesn’t really help.) As I illustrated above there are a number of healthy responses towards trans people even while you’re trying to understand who they are. Mr. Walker’s response is not one of them and the evangelical church as a whole can do far better. It needs to do better for the sake of these people who I have come to love very much.

An Evangelical Legacy of Fear

headerI’ve said it before many times that I try to stay the hell out of politics. It’s just too easy to hurt people and the whole point of Church for Misfits is that it’s a place for people of all backgrounds. That being said, every now and then I come across something so incredulous from Christians in this country that I just have to speak out. Case in point is this article I found earlier this week by the Family Research Council regarding last week’s Values Voter Summit. The gist of the article is that “liberals are terrified” because “conservatives finally have a president who doesn’t just make them political promises, he acts on their policy priorities.” From what I’ve seen myself this is true. Many in this country right now are terrified both of the Trump administration and of the Religious Right. That a conservative faith-based organisation is ecstatic over this is nothing short of appalling.

The problem with conservatives in this current adaptation of the culture war is not, as the article claims, that “they appreciate a leader who will finally go to bat [for the] church.” The problem is that “going to bat” for the church right now means infringing upon the rights of those who are not the church. The Family Research Council, among others, wants to see the restoration of a “pro-family, pro-faith culture” in America, yet what they don’t understand is that the culture of this country as a whole has moved on. Times have changed. And you can’t force a cultural view on someone without sacrificing their right to disagree with that view. That is what people are afraid of and it’s already happening. From the DOJ’s recent guidance on religious liberty to the roleback of Title IX protections, legal protections are disappearing for those who do not see things the church’s way. These people have every reason to be afraid.

The FRC article asserts that evangelical support for Trump is not just “blind allegiance” and that may be true. What I do know is that evangelicals are, by and large, utterly blind to the impact their policies are having on others. The hurt they are causing is such that those outside the church are genuinely afraid and yet when conservatives see that fear all they can do is rejoice that it’s there. You don’t have to be a minister to know how twisted and wrong it is for the world to fear Christians. At the risk of stating the obvious, that’s not how it’s supposed to be.

Thanks to the Trump administration’s support for evangelicals those outside the church are now a minority in this country. They lack the influence evangelicals currently enjoy and the government as a whole is largely deaf to the voice they do have. As such they are very much the “least of these” Jesus refers to in Matthew 25. Christ’s warning in that passage should be sobering to all those who rejoice at fear of the church. In Matthew 25:45, he says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Ask yourself, if you were treating Christ the way that you treat LGBTQ people, or anyone at all who disagrees with you, would you still be rejoicing? I should hope not. 

Evangelicals are fighting the culture war and losing the battle where it really counts. And unless things turn around soon, this fear will be your legacy. I know evangelicals can be very loving people when they want to be, but this treatment of others, this rejoicing at their downfall, is how you will be remembered. Is that what you really want?