Category Archives: Kingdom of God

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.

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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?

 

It’s Time for Conservative Evangelicals to Drop the Pretense

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my computer has been on the fritz the last couple of weeks leaving me without any real means of writing here. (I shudder at the thought of typing out one of these posts using my smartphone or tablet keypad.) Now that it’s fixed we’re back in business. With all that’s been going on in this country over the past few weeks not having my voice here has been maddening but it’s also, I think, been healthy. It’s given me the opportunity to process and to think, to try to word what I feel needs said in a way that does as little hurt as possible. I ran across a tweet from Nadia Bolz-Weber last week about “seeing the humanity in your ideological other” and it’s true. (If you don’t know who she is, you should really look her up on social media.) No matter how strongly we may disagree, people are people and they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. It was an especially relevant reminder for me here with Church for Misfits. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating that this place was never about attacking anyone. All are welcome here, regardless of background. That being the case, there is still much that needs to be said regarding those in this country who claim to be followers of Christ.

Too many Christians, especially conservative evangelicals, are fighting the wrong damn battle in trying to remake this country in their own image. This isn’t the promised land or Christ’s Kingdom and trying to make it those things only hurts those who disagree. Just when I think they’re done, that they’ve taken it as far as they’re going to and they actually recognise that others in this country have rights, too, they go and do something really stupid. On October 6, 2017, the Department of Justice issued guidance regarding religious liberty in the U.S. On the surface of it, this isn’t that unusual. Freedom of religion, as the document points out, is “enshrined in the text of our Constitution and in numerous federal statutes.” I, for one, don’t have a problem with that. The problem comes as you read deeper into the government’s position as expressed in this document.

The problem, in short, is that the government’s guidance privileges certain religious beliefs above all other views. This can be seen clearly in Points 5 and 9. Point 5 reads, “Government may not restrict acts or abstentions because of the beliefs they display,” while Point 9 states, “Government may not interfere with the autonomy of a religious organisation.” Religious organisations and groups can therefore now exercise their beliefs as they see fit without fear of government reprisal. The government has, in essence, placed itself in a position where it cannot interfere. And while the DOJ guidance goes on to state that “government may not officially favor or disfavor particular religious groups,” the reality that President Trump’s religious advisers are almost entirely evangelical shows the government is already doing exactly that.

Conservative evangelical leaders proceeded to make a bad situation worse when they not only accepted this new reality but went on to defend it (that’s the part where they do something really stupid). Outcry from civil rights groups filled social media in the days that followed, yet no one on the conservative side seemed to care. Many saw this as a “license to discriminate” and rightly so. Yet in responding to those concerns, Andrew T. Walker, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, simply swept them under the rug. He stated the purpose of this was “to give space to good-faith consciences that do not see the same religious or ethical convictions as majorities do.” Given that under the Trump administration people of faith are now the majority, Walker’s response rings incredibly hollow. Indeed, the DOJ has already sided with the Colorado baker under fire for not providing the cake for a gay wedding. Given the DOJ’s guidance, how could the government do anything else? How can they be expected to do anything else in the future? It is nothing less than a license to discriminate, one that conservative evangelicals not only helped bring about but also now defend.

When will conservative evangelicals open their eyes? If your God is who He says He is, your right to be who you are doesn’t need to be protected by a mortal government and setting that up only hurts those who don’t see things the way you do. How can you honestly tell a gay or lesbian couple that you love them when you’ve set it up so that the government always supports you and never them? The hypocrisy in that is stunning. No longer can they keep up the pretense that they care about anybody other than themselves.

If you’re pissed off at how I’m painting conservative evangelicals in the U.S. all I have to say is, “Good.” The Southern Baptist Convention alone has something like 15 million members and yet nowhere on social media have I seen anyone, Baptist or evangelical, standing up to these leaders and saying, “This is wrong. This isn’t who we are. You represent us and you need to fix this.” If even a small percentage of 15 million people actually did so maybe this crap would stop.

And lest you think I’m just anti-religious liberty, these people have shown the same lack of regard for opposing views in other ways as well in recent weeks. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, for example, which was responsible for the infamous Nashville Statement back in August, announced on October 11, 2017, that it had translated the Statement into multiple languages. As far as I can tell they have absolutely refused to engage with those who disagree with it (at least through social media) yet they have the time to focus on ensuring even more people will be able to read it for themselves. A second noteworthy example is that of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary which, on October 10, 2017, “unanimously approved a recommendation to adopt ‘The Nashville Statement’ as an official part of the school’s confessional documents.” This is the “flagship” school of the Southern Baptist Convention and it is ensuring that future leaders of the Convention, at least those who come through this school, will have no choice but to support this Statement just as current leaders do. This makes it highly likely that current discriminatory practices will continue. Both groups have thus shown the same lack of care for the concerns of others that the ERLC showed in its support of religious liberty.

It’s time for conservative evangelicals to drop the pretense. Your actions don’t back up who you say you are. In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If that really is your God and if you really are His kids, that is how you show it. That is who you are supposed to be.

What you’re doing right now is the exact opposite of that. It’s not about religious liberty. It’s about control that stems from fear. Fear of what’s different and fear that someone is going to do to you what you’re doing to marginalised people in this country right now. And you know what? They will. Your actions right here have given them the precedent. And if you say that if you hadn’t done so they would have taken your rights already, the answer to that is a few verses prior to the above passage. In Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” That’s how you love people who are different from you. I mean, hell, that’s what Christ did for us on the cross. It’s telling that you can’t do it for those around you here today. (For the record, I’m not calling LGBTQ people evil. I do not believe that and I would never state that. I am simply speaking to the concerns of evangelical Christians.)

If you’re going to continue to be people of faith then let your actions back up your words. Show it.

I know that what I’ve said here will seem harsh to some and I’m sorry for that. I’m not trying to attack anyone, Baptist, evangelical, or otherwise, but too many members of those groups are doing their best to attack others, LGBTQ people included, and that has got to stop. If posts like this can get their attention, or even yours if you’re a Baptist and you haven’t spoken up yet, then it’s worth it.

Time to Think for Yourself Again

di45peXBTI’ve been engaging a lot on social media over the last few weeks regarding the Nashville Statement and I’ve noticed a few things. One of these is how few Baptists there are speaking out against it. This might come as a surprise given that Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was one of those who initially signed the document but hear me out. Dr. Moore’s Twitter has 131 000 followers. The Twitter feed for the ERLC has 26 400. The Twitter of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which is not distinctly Baptist but still definitely conservative, has 9 765 followers. That’s more than 160 000 people and yet, while all 3 feeds have continued to publish articles and support for the Nashville Statement, the number of people directly engaging with these posts is minuscule. Granted social media is not the only place for interactions regarding this issue to take place. Still, the silence is troubling.

Take the Southern Baptist Convention just by itself for a moment. By its own reckoning, there are more than 50 000 churches in the convention which as of 2016 included some 15.2 million people. I find it hard to believe that many people have a solid consensus on this issue. I was ordained in the SBC and I’ve been around it long enough to know that Southern Baptists have a wide variety of positions on a number of issues. Getting a clash over the wrong one in any given congregation can even lead to a split within that congregation. Therefore, if there’s anything the silence doesn’t indicate it’s that everyone in the SBC is in agreement on the Nashville Statement.

So why then are Southern Baptists so quiet on this? I mean, they pride themselves on being able to read the Bible and understand it for themselves. There is no centralised leadership in the Convention the way there is in the Roman Catholic church. They’re not bound to one voice and one position. And yet what we see here is essentially that. One voice speaking for 15 million people.

The only reason I can see for those 15 million people allowing that voice speak for them is fear. Fear of ripping congregations apart over this issue. Fear of losing your place in the church. Fear of destroying relationships. I mean, the Nashville Statement itself says that this isn’t an issue Christians can agree to disagree on. The Convention’s own leadership has said there is no longer any middle ground.

If I may speak directly to those people for a moment, are you that afraid of the consequences of speaking your mind? Would it be that terrible to search the Scriptures for yourselves and find that oops, the position the denomination has taken here might not be right? To question your pastor over this? And as for you, pastors, I have to say I get it. To speak your mind on this means running the risk of upsetting that one portion of your congregation that can have you out of a job within a week. I am not disparaging that in the least. What I am saying is that the Nashville Statement is pushing LGBTQ people away from Christ and maybe that’s enough reason to run that risk.

Southern Baptists have lost the ability to think for themselves. They’ve become so dependent on what church leadership says, or to afraid to rock the boat, that they don’t question it anymore. In Acts 17:11, the Bereans took what they heard and “searched the scriptures daily, [to see] whether these things were so.” Too many don’t even do that anymore, and if it does happen it’s not much more than looking up passage like Leviticus 20:13 to see that, “Yep, the Bible calls being gay a sin,” and leaving it at that. (Please hear me when I say that I don’t say these things to attack you. I was in the same position until a year and a half ago.) What needs to happen is for people to really grapple with Scripture, to dig into it and look at the contexts and original languages to see what’s really going on and then having the courage to allow your own views to be shaped by what you find. And if you do all that and still disagree with me on the Nashville Statement, that’s fine. That, at least, I can respect.

Too many people are being hurt by bad theology to let things continue as they are right now in the Southern Baptist Convention. If you’re one of those who looks at the theology and figures it makes sense on paper so it must be true just remember, the Pharisees thought they had it all figured out, too, and they completely missed the boat. Don’t let that be you.

Thoughts from a Recovering Baptist

Much of this post has to do with fallout from the Nashville Statement which, by now, is old news but for me at least is something I am still working through. I hadn’t expected to be doing so at this point but I am. And I apologise in advance if it is a little rambling or disjointed. My feelings regarding my fellow Baptists are still more than a little mixed.

We spent most of today at our local Sam’s Club getting new tires for our car. While we were walking around the store just killing time I came across a 3-in-1 volume of works by A.W. Tozer. His Pursuit of God was one of my favourite theological books when I first read it years ago and having not read any of his other works my curiosity was piqued. As it turned out, that was only for a moment. Before going on I should probably explain that I have always cherished any older theological work that I’ve had the chance to read. Even the ones I didn’t agree with were deeper and richer works than many of their contemporaries. Too many contemporary authors only convey information. Older authors knew how to speak to the heart as well as to the head. Anyways, as I flipped through this volume it hit me. There’s no life in it anymore, at least not for me.

I’ve known since I moved to the South full-time three years ago that I’m a bit of an odd duck in the Baptist church. From my long, purple hair to my earrings to my positions on a variety of subjects, I just don’t fit in all that well. To be honest, knowing this didn’t bother me all that much. I grew up in a Baptist church in Ontario (which as it turns out is the same word but a very different experience). In that church, at least, what mattered was who you were and not how old you were or whether or not you fit some predefined mould. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t perfect. I can still remember having a conversation with one lady on the church staff about how in focusing on a Sunday morning “production” (for that’s what it was) we were missing the point of this whole church thing. She agreed right before she went back to organising the following week’s production. That being said, if you were different you were still welcome. I was an odd duck in general through most of my high school years and that church was the one place in the world where I did feel welcome.

When I first came to the South almost 7 years ago (commuting back and forth while on leave from the Canadian Forces), the Southern Baptists I met were the most welcoming people I had ever met. They say us Canadians are polite but Southerners can really give us a run for our money when they want to. Even as my oddities became apparent no one really said anything negative. I belonged, at least to a point.

About a year and a half ago we had moved back to my wife’s home church (the same people I met back in 2010) and were teaching a Sunday School class for young girls. The pastor had also taken me under his wing in an effort to provide me the exposure I needed to get a pastorate of my own. We had been asked to reach out to the girls where they were at in life, to try to connect above all else, and we did just that. As things quickly turned out, we ran afoul of the pastor for not using the proscribed Sunday School curriculum and when we pointed out that using this material (calling it boring was an understatement) would likely turn off the girls on church altogether we were quickly run off ourselves. (Getting called a demon in the church is a sure-fire way to want to find the exit door in a hurry.) Even then I still thought of myself as a Baptist. There was still life in it for me. That’s not to say that I put being a Baptist before God but just that my own views had to more or less line up with somebody’s and I felt at home there. Even as I’ve reached out to the LGBTQ community over the last year or so I’ve still felt at home as a Baptist. I don’t agree with a number of things the Southern Baptist Convention lists in its Statement of Faith (things which largely define one as a Baptist) but I’ve still thought of myself as a member of that community with a voice within that community.

And then came the Nashville Statement which, as I’ve written about already, was nothing less than abuse masquerading as love. The people behind it used this place where intellectually I’ve come to feel at home to say “This is who we are,” and furthermore, “This is what defines who we are.” It took the life out of it for me. I don’t belong here anymore. Hell, I’m not even welcome here anymore.

I understand that there are other Baptist denominations out there, and even individual churches, who do not support the beliefs embodied in the Nashville Statement. They, at least, can do so and still call themselves Baptists. I’m not sure I can.

And so I feel lost. I want my faith and I want Jesus and yet saying those things sounds so much like what they have and I want no part of that and so I’m not sure what I want or even what I should want. I’m not sure where I fit as a Christian anymore, and that’s at the same time incredibly freeing and incredibly lonely, too.

What does it mean to be a Christian? Intellectually I know the answer to that, and in my heart I know as well. But as to what it looks like lived out? I’m not sure. Too much of what comes to mind and of what I know is too close to how they look for comfort.

I usually try to have something to offer at the end of each post but all I have to offer here are questions. What does it mean to have a faith with room for everyone? Where and how does it exist free of the influence of those who want nothing but control? In many ways it feels like I’m starting over with my faith, seeking something but I don’t know what exactly. So all I have to offer is that, and I hope it’s enough.

Winning the Culture War, but at what cost?

culturewarI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Christians in this country are, by and large, fighting the wrong damn battle. We’ve made this world the goal and so we spend a lot of time and effort trying to remake this country into something resembling the Promised Land we take it to be. We make laws to influence what is and is not permitted in our culture and if our rights to religious liberty and freedom of conscience are ever hindered we push back hard. The end result is always, sadly, the same. We alienate the very people who should matter to us the most.

Case in point. As I found out two days ago, the Justice Department of the Federal Government has sided with a Colorado baker who is in legal trouble because he refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2012 due to his Christian faith. The case will soon go before the Supreme Court and it turns out in favour of the baker it will establish a precedent for resolving future cases of this kind.

What bothers me about this case isn’t just that the baker decided to act the way he did. Does he have the right to operate his business as he wants? Much as I hate to say it I’d have to say yes. That’s not because I’m condoning or defending his bigotry. Rather it is his business and his choice (although making the cake is a far better example of Christ’s love than slamming the door shut ever will be). What bothers me in particular about this is that there are many conservatives out there, as I’ve seen through social media, who are ecstatic that the government is “finally on our side” in the culture war. This is even more worrisome when you realise that thanks to the actions of Jerry Falwell, Jr., and others, the line between “conservative” and “Christian” has become incredibly blurry in this country. We are the ones behind this and we are, yet again, alienating those we are supposed to care about the most.

Like it or not the message that we send in cases like this is simple. “Our rights matter more than you do.” If the Trump Administration’s support remains as it does then we are likely to win those rights, too. I suspect we will win the culture war, at least for the next few years, but we will win that victory at the cost not just of everything we are supposed to be but of sacrificing those we are supposed to be caring for the most. The saddest part is that we don’t even see it.

DACA and the Nashville Statement

“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” James 3:10-12 (ESV)

DACAIf you haven’t heard the news yet, the Trump administration is moving forward with plans to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). Because I think this is a bad idea, I found yesterday an online petition which evangelicals could use to send letters to the President, their congressional leaders, etc., urging them to stop this and protect those who are vulnerable to the end of this program. As I was reading through and about to sign my name to it I had to stop. Not because I agree with what the administration is doing (I don’t) and not because I don’t believe in taking a public stand (I do). What made me stop was looking at a list of those individuals and organizations who have already thrown their support behind this petition. The SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was near the top of the list. I signed the petition, and in doing so I now stand with one of the very organisations that myself and many others stood against only last week over the Nashville Statement.

It’s telling that both situations involve minority groups, both of which exist on the margins of society and both of which are vulnerable. And yet the ERLC publicly supports one while it publicly condemned the other. (The Nashville Statement itself, and the follow-on articles from those who support it, are nothing short of abusive towards the LGBTQ community.) Less than a week later, the president of this same organisation, Dr. Russell Moore, has gone on record publicly that “churches will be here to speak hope to children now thrown into fear and insecurity about their families and their futures.” (You can see that particular tweet here because I haven’t figured out how to embed it into this page yet.)

To be blunt, you can’t do both. You can’t stand in support of one marginalised group while you directly assist in furthering the marginalisation of a second. You can’t love one group and hate the other, or in the spirit of James 3, you can’t bless one and curse the other. You’re either loving or you’re hateful. You’re either salt water or you’re fresh water. This is not to say that the ERLC’s support of the children and families directly affected by the end of DACA isn’t sincere. What it does say is that such support is sincerely hypocritical. It is a perfect example of Jesus’ accusation to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” The abundance of the heart shows through very clearly through the actions of Dr. Moore and the ERLC and it is anything but loving.

To make matters worse the world is watching us as Christians now more than normal. If the Nashville Statement accomplished anything it was to turn the spotlight on those who support it even as it showed there is no longer reason to take them seriously. Those who claim to follow Christ in this country must now show the world that that’s not true of all of us.

A Former Evangelical Responds to the Nashville Statement

Nashville StatementI had thought of doing this as an open letter, intended for you who have signed and/or who support the Nashville Statement, but according to Article 10 of that statement I am a sinner for loving and accepting transgender people. In all likelihood that means you will never read this and that’s sad. Many of you I have never heard of before but some of you I grew up listening to. My call to ministry has its roots in your own ministries. You were, in a sense, my mentors. And now I have walked away from “Christian faithfulness and witness” just because I love a group of people you don’t. But that’s fine. This post is more for those you hurt and pissed off than it is for you anyways.

That being said, in writing this now I am a little late to the party. Part of that was just due to my schedule over the last few days and part of that was deliberate. To see such a harsh and un-Christlike statement come from a group of people I used to have tremendous respect for takes more than a little time to process. It also gave me the opportunity to view other responses from those just as outraged as I am over this. Some I found quite helpful while others not so much. For example, I don’t think it’s helpful to assert that those behind this statement lost their moral authority when they voted for Trump. I don’t know how each person who signed the statement voted in the last election and, more importantly, I know that there are those on the conservative side of the church who will take issue with that assertion. We will, if we’re not careful, spend our time defending that assertion rather than challenging the Nashville Statement. Besides, given the list of what Hillary Clinton was claimed to have done the same could be said of those who voted for her. Regardless, it’s an argument that doesn’t help our case here.

I see that loss of authority stemming from fear. As I have found out in the last couple of days there are many organisations and individuals out there who have been trying to engage conservative evangelical leaders on the issue of gender identity and sexual orientation. This statement is, I think, a response to that effort and it’s the response that you make when you’re afraid. Those who signed the Nashville Statement are afraid of where the conservation might lead. They’re afraid of the questions it will raise about their faith. They’re afraid of having to say they were wrong. And so they shut the conversation down and label their opponents as un-Christian. It’s a cute move, too. If we’ve walked away from what it means to be Christian then they don’t have to listen to us anymore. That, more than anything, is why they have lost the authority to define what “biblical” truth is. (As an aside, it’s an authority that no single group should ever really have over another. Even given my own seminary background and my efforts at keeping my posts here as close to biblical truth as possible, for example, there’s always the possibility that I can be wrong.) It’s in trying to control the conversation, rather than being honest and vulnerable, that they lost their moral authority.

So what is my response to the Nashville Statement? I have spent the last few days sorting through my outrage and disgust with my fellow Christians and trying to figure that out. My own efforts over the last 8 months or so have been aimed at trying to spark a dialogue with the Southern Baptist Convention in order to begin to change views regarding the LGBTQ community. I have been priveleged to get to know many from that community on social media and through those relationships my own views have been changed. I want to see other Christians have that same experience and so I have sought an open door to bring that about. The leadership of the SBC, and Dr. Moore and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in particular, have with this statement seemingly locked that door, thrown away the key, and then cemented it shut for good measure. I have honestly wondered what the point is in continued efforts at dialogue. And yet there is still reason to hope.

While the ideas expressed in this statement are nothing new, the outrage the Nashville Statement has sparked is apparently abnormal. My apologies for not remembering the exact tweet that made me aware of this (I’ve read through more in the last few days than I typically do in a month) but one Twitter user pointed out that Christians as a whole are more pissed at the Nashville Statement than they have been over similar statements in the past. That means people are getting it. Attitudes are changing. (I can attest to this personally. Even just a few years ago I would not have been that outraged over something like this.) That in itself is cause for hope.

In an ironic way, the Nashville Statement itself is also cause for hope. I get that this seems unlikely but hear me out. In the past the conversation the SBC was willing to have on this issue was apparently more open than it is now. My own attempts at starting a dialogue earlier this year were met with nothing but the party line. Their position is what it is and it’s not open for debate. I saw other attempts meet with similar results. No concrete response at all. The Nashville Statement, in its own twisted way, is a response of sorts. And like I said, it’s the response that you give when somebody has struck a nerve. Our efforts have, I think, hit far closer to home than we realise. If conservative evangelical leadership has to go to this length in an attempt to control their members and churches then then we who love and support LGBTQ people must be doing something right.

So what now? Is it time to give up on dialogue and on supporting LGBTQ people? No. I promised once that I would be a voice within Christian circles for those who don’t have such a voice. Someone out there is listening and that means this job is not done. I will continue to be that voice. Once you get that first response then more responses will come. That door is not sealed as tightly as they think it is. There’s a crack in it, and I intend to go on cracking it.

Those who are behind the Nashville Statement have responded to the outrage over the statement by claiming that such responses prove just how wrong we are for not accepting their biblical truth. That is a narrative that must be challenged, and challenged loudly, in the days ahead. Their Pharisaical statement means they are not in a position to define that truth anymore

If by chance you signed the Nashville Statement and you are still reading this, know this. You can disagree with us all you want but you do not get to dismiss us. You do not get to say who is and who is not a real Christian. And you do not get to hurt LGBTQ people. Those of us who speak for them in Christian circles are still here and we are not going away.

A Place for Transgender People in Christianity

m0ab83l4m94yI have been meaning for the last couple of weeks to put forward some kind of response to Andrew T. Walker’s God and the Transgender Debate. I have not yet read the book but in emailing the author earlier this year I became familiar with the ideas at the heart of it and I believe it to be, at the very least, a dangerous book and one that does not represent the best of who we are as Christians or who trans people really are. I believe there is, in fact, room for transgender people as they are within Christian theology (despite the negative and incredibly harsh responses this idea has received lately on Twitter).

I had planned an entire post laying out the Scriptural evidence in support of transgender people but I haven’t done that yet. It’s not because the evidence isn’t there and it’s not because I don’t believe in it anymore. It’s for two reasons. First of all, our theology as conservative Christians is hurting trans people and we can’t even acknowledge that. What we’re doing is offensive and I don’t mean in the sense of 1 Corinthians 1:18. We are causing real pain to real people and the fact that we can’t acknowledge that or even be bothered to examine our theology to see if we might have gotten things wrong is repulsive. We need to examine our theology, we need to ask the hard questions, and we need to take a long look at what we claim to believe. The second reason is something I was reminded of earlier this week. We can debate the merits of transgenderism all day long, but at the end of the day there are real people at the heart of this. Real, hurting people, who do not exist solely to fuel our discussions and debates. They are who they are and they matter. We can’t lose sight of that as we debate amongst ourselves as to whether or not we have room for them. (I’ll give you a hint. We do.)

If God and the Transgender Debate is the best voice we have for trans people then that’s not good. If we refuse to even allow other voices because they’re “deluded” or “deceived” then that’s even worse. We need to get our heads out of the sand.

 

Discrimination Based on Fear is Still Wrong

hidden-figures-desktop-all-platforms-front-main-stageWe watched the movie Hidden Figures recently and there was a lot more to it than I thought there would be. I’m an avid space enthusiast (fits with being a Trekkie) and I enjoyed seeing the early days of Project Mercury portrayed on film. It’s something I’ve read about in great detail but never seen in this way.

What really caught my attention, though, was seeing the reality of living in a segregated society. I didn’t live through the 1960’s (I’m too young to have been around then) and I have never experienced something like that firsthand. There’s one scene in the movie, for example, where one of the main characters has to go into the “white” section of the city library because the book she’s after can’t be found in the “coloured” section. When the staff find her there she’s escorted out by police.

In another scene, one of the other main characters has to walk half a mile to use the bathroom because there’s no “coloured” one in the building she’s assigned to work in. I can’t imagine having to live like that, nor can I imagine how the society of that time thought this was OK. When this comes to the attention of her supervisor, he takes a crowbar to all the “coloured women’s restroom” signs on the campus and tells her to “pee wherever she pleases,” and that “at NASA we all pee the same colour.”

I think that most of us who see this movie, or any other dealing with similar subject matter, can’t help but be touched by seeing scenes like that. Offended, even. I mean, how could society justify treating people like that?

What I really don’t understand, and what bothers me still even now several weeks after seeing the film, is how we can be offended by such beliefs when they apply to one group and yet look the other way (or even endorse them) when they apply to a different group. You’d have to be living under a rock the last few months not to have at least heard of the different “bathroom bills” that have popped up across this country and the controversy they are causing. We are as a society again trying to regulate where people can pee. Simply put, if it was wrong to do so with black people then why is it OK to do so with trans people?

I realise that for many this is a very complex and touchy subject and I’m not even going to try to examine all angles of it here. We’d be here all day and then some, and it’s not really my point. All I really wanted to do with this post was pose the question I raised above. If it’s wrong to isolate one group within our society and discriminate against them on the basis of one or two characteristics then how do we justify doing it to another?

In James 2 the characteristic in question is wealth. James was concerned his audience was honouring wealthy visitors at the expense of poorer ones. As the English Standard Version puts it, they were showing “partiality,” and James’ instructions were simple. Don’t show partiality. Love your neighbour as yourself, no matter who your “neighbour” is. Treat everyone the same.

When we discriminate against people, no matter what the characteristic is we’re going by, it says more about us than it does about them. When you favour a wealthy person over a poorer one you either want something from the wealthy person or you believe money is more important than people themselves. In the case of discrimination based on race or gender identity, the likely cause is fear. Fear of what’s different. Fear of what we don’t understand. And I understand that fear. I’ve felt it myself.

The thing is, when we’re faced with that fear we have a choice. We can choose to give in to our fear and use it to justify hurting others or we can choose to set it aside, reach out in love, and work to understand. No matter how great our fears may be, discriminating based on those fears is still wrong.