Category Archives: Kingdom of God

The Tension Between Who We Are and Who You Want Us To Be

Cooperative_Baptist_Fellowship_logoDespite my exit from the Southern Baptist Convention I still follow a number of Baptist organisations and individuals on Twitter (given what evangelicals have been up to lately it makes good sense to stay informed), and in that context I picked up on this issue last month. On February 9, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) announced that it would change its hiring policies to open certain positions to LGBTQ people of faith. Well it doesn’t apply to every position (leadership positions in ministry are still limited to those “who exhibit the ideals set forth in our hiring policy, have gifts appropriate to the particular position and who practice a traditional Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in marriage between a woman and a man”), it is definitely a step in the right direction and thus something I welcomed.

This move by the CBF has, not unsurprisingly, not gone over well with other Baptists. The Baptist General Assembly of Virginia (BGAV) part of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced earlier this week that in response to the CBF’s decision “it will stop channeling churches’ contributions to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship,” in effect breaking ties with the organization. This move in and of itself is not really worthy of a post here. There is, however, a statement made by the BGAV in that linked article that caught my eye and which warrants further discussion.

bgavlogoThe BGAV defends their move in part by asserting  that they remain “committed to respecting, welcoming, and loving all persons in the name of Christ while affirming an orthodox view of marriage between a man and a woman.” The problem with their position is that you can’t do both of those things at the same time. As a minister who came up in the SBC I understand why they hold to that view (even as I disagree with it) so what I’m saying may seem harsh but think about it. If, for example, I’m not welcome in your fellowship as a trans woman then are you really “respecting, welcoming, and loving all persons”? There is a tension here, between who we are and how your theology views us, and it is a tension that for many, including the BGAV, does not go away easily.

I can personally attest to that difficulty because I spent more than a year trying to make it go away myself. Go back a year or so through my posts here and you’ll see. I tried to find a way to bridge the gap between that “orthodox view” and what I saw in the LGBTQ people I was getting to know and eventually in myself. If I’m being totally honest I tried many ways, many frameworks and many views, but in the end it was a tension I could not resolve if I was to continue to hold to that “orthodox view.”

In trying to resolve that tension I found that there are ultimately only really two ways to do so. You can question your theology and allow it to evolve and grow as you love and value the people or you can write the people off and defend your theology. As much as the BGAV wants to be loving and respectful of all people they have taken the latter approach which, in valuing theology over people, isn’t really loving at all. Like I said, you can’t do both things at once.

I know from my own experience that working through this tension can be a challenging, time-consuming, and often painful process but it is so worth it. If you’re in the BGAV, or any other group that holds to an “orthodox view,” and you have questions or doubts of your own, listen to them. Follow them. And get to know the people. You won’t regret it.


The Bible and Trans People Part 2

41U4s9JARAL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_I closed off my last post with the observation that it’s not enough simply to critique the flaws in Walker’s methodology, and the conclusions he draws as a result, without offering a substantial response of my own. I don’t have comments on “trans ideology” or “transgenderism.” From talking to other other trans people I’m not even sure such things exist. What I do have is my own journey to accepting myself as a trans woman and my own exploration of Scripture and what terms like gender and sex mean in light of the biblical record. Now before you assume that as one who identifies as trans my bias is such that I’ll simply see in Scripture what I want to in order to justify who I am, let me say that I completed my Master’s degree through Liberty University and the hermeneutical tools I gained there are the ones I have used here. I have done my best to let Scripture speak for itself and I have then drawn my own conclusions in light of what I found.

The defining moment for me in my coming out journey was realizing that our gender really is a separate concept from our biological sex. I had come across an article (which for the life of me I can’t remember where I found it online), the gist of which was that when you call someone “Sir” or “Ma’am” while out in pubic you are not doing so based on their genetics. You may not even know what their genetic make-up. You are, rather, going off “secondary sex characteristics,” things like the presence or absence of facial hair or breasts, body shape, and hair length. These characteristics get their start in our genes, sure, but thanks to today’s science each of them can now be altered to a degree depending on how much you want to spend and what exactly you want to change. If our standard, so to speak, for determining gender is so maleable, is it really objective and should we continue to use it a means of defining one’s gender? The answer is no. And if that standard no longer holds, what then do we look to as a means of determining gender? The only answer left, really, is the individual inside the body in question. My challenge as a minister and student of theology was to see if this reality squared with the reality presented in Scripture.

There are any number of passages concerning gender in the Bible but the logical place to start is with the first one. As Walker does in God and the Transgender Debate, I went to Genesis. There are details in Genesis 1 that shed light on what it means to be a gendered being in light of Scripture, details that Walker overlooks. The key passage for our purposes is Genesis 1:27, which in the English Standard Version (ESV) reads, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Before digging into this verse it’s worth noting a couple of things. First, this is the first instance of “male” and “female” in Scripture. That makes this passage important. Second, look at the sentence structure here. We are created male and female “in the image of God.” The sentence connects the two ideas. (Yes this is an English translation of a Hebrew text, meaning one could argue that the connection isn’t necessarily there in the original, but this connection does carry over into other translations. The New American Standard Bible and the New International Version, for example, have almost the same wording as the ESV.) The theological question now becomes what does that connection show us about gender in this passage and what does that have to do with the question of gender and biological sex.

When we think of an image of something we may think of a photo or a snapshot of it but that’s not the sense here in the biblical text. According to The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word from which we get “image” means “image in the sense of essential nature,” referring more specifically in this case to “human nature in its internal and external characteristics rather than an exact duplicate.”[1] For our purposes here it’s worth noting that this text specifically ties together image and gender: “Being created in God’s image meant being created male and female, in a loving unity of more than one person.”[2] As the observations imply, being made in the image of God does not refer to a physical likeness. It goes deeper than that and refers more specifically to the elements of humanity that we may not be able to physically see. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament summarises this when it concludes that “God’s image obviously does not consist in man’s body which was formed from earthly matter.”[3] One side of the connection under examination in Genesis 1 is thus decidedly not physical in nature.

But what of the other side of the connection? “Male” and “female” have, at least for us, very physical connotations at times. Is that the case here in Genesis 1? According to Strong’s Dictionary, the Hebrew word for “male” in Genesis 1:27 belongs to a family of words which collectively refer to remembering or being remembered.[4] The male is “the most noteworthy sex.” The Theological Wordbook takes this a step further by observing that this word is “used for the male sex when sexual distinctions are in view.”[5] The male is worth remembering, in a sexual sense, because he “stands out.” The Hebrew for “female,” in contrast, comes from a root word which means “to puncture” or “to pierce.”[6] Such a description makes sense, again, when viewed in terms of sexual distinctions.[7] When viewing a naked man and naked woman side by side, which is the case here in Genesis, the man stands out while the woman is pierced. What we have here then, absent varying cultural interpretations, is what an observer would see were they standing right in front of Adam and Eve. What we have on this side of the connection is, at first glance, thus entirely physical in nature.

Such an observation may appear to be a damning problem for trans identities but it’s actually not. So much of who we are in a gendered sense comes from the culture around us. It is from our parents and from society as a whole that we learn what is and is not OK for us as men and women. If you’ll notice in Genesis 1, all of that baggage doesn’t exist yet. Adam and Eve have no parents to learn gender roles from and no society to tell them who to be. What the Hebrew record provides is exactly what we would expect it to provide in light of this.

Now that our observations have yielded a connection between something physical and something not physical, what are we left to conclude? Are gender and biological sex one and the same in view of Genesis 1? “Male” and “female” have their basis in the image of God which, as we’ve observed, is not a physical concept. They may be represented physically in our biological sex but they are not dependent on it. There is simply too much going on in this text to conclude that Christianity does not separate gender and sex. As such, there is room in a Christian worldview for trans identities.

Having said that, I realise this will not be a popular conclusion with evangelicals and therefore a word about methodology is in order. I have done my best to not twist the meaning of the passages under examination just as I have done my best not to see evidence in these passages that isn’t there. Rather, my methodology has been similar to that used by Prof. John S. Feinberg in his No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. In defending his analysis of various theories of creation, he says, “The tension [here] arises when we try to match the teachings of Scripture with science. Since evangelical theology must give greatest weight to Scripture, if science contradicts what Scripture clearly teaches, the conclusions of science must be rejected. Of course, the way I have stated this requires us to be sure about what Scripture really teaches, and we must also make a judgement about what the scientific data really require.”[8] What I have done here, I hope, is to show that when one compares the reality that underscores trans identities with the foundation of biblical views on gender there is no contradiction between the two. The tension can be resolved without rejecting either side.

The real danger here is that evangelicals reject one side to save the other for in doing so they reveal a hole in their worldview. The reality that underscores trans identities, that biology is not a definite indicator of gender and therefore gender and sex are not one in the same, is an objective, observable fact. Take away the moral implications that evangelicals like to attach to it and it still exists. Changing one’s secondary sex characteristics can and does occur. If the only response evangelicals have to this reality is that it shouldn’t occur then that’s a problem. Christianity at its heart is a worldview, an overarching story within which the world is supposed to fit and make sense. By saying this shouldn’t happen you indicate that your worldview is not strong enough to support it and if you’re not careful that can bring down the entire worldview. What I have tried to do here, ultimately, is to show that a Christian worldview is strong enough to support this reality and as such does have room for trans people. Assuming otherwise also leads to problems in methodology. As in Walker’s book, you’re forced to pick and choose evidence from Scripture to support a conclusion you’ve already arrived at. In doing so, you ultimately compromise a worldview in order to defend it and if as Christians we are to give Scripture the respect it deserves that is not an acceptable result.

One final word is necessary here. This post has been a response to the conclusion drawn by Andrew T. Walker in his God and the Transgender Debate but the Scriptural evidence discussed here also serves as a criticism of the Nashville Statement. If you’re not familiar with this document, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released it last year to show their position on what they view as God’s design for human sexuality. In Article VII of the Statement they say, “We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” I am not familiar with their methodology, simply because I haven’t seen a discussion of it yet, so I am uncertain as to whether they followed Walker’s flawed approach or not. I also have to say that the “homosexual” portion of their statement is beyond the scope of this post not because I believe they are correct in that regard (I don’t) but rather because if I tackled that issue as well this post would go on forever. It is a discussion for another time. That being said, regardless of their methodology their conclusion regarding trans people is too narrow for what Scripture actually shows regarding gender and sex. They may not have willingly excluded evidence that does not support their position but they have drawn a conclusion that does just that. They distort their worldview in order to defend it and thus compromise just as effectively as Walker has.

There is room for trans identities within a biblical worldview if you’re willing to ask the questions of Scripture and allow that worldview to evolve based on the answers you find. As students of theology and of Scripture we can do no less.

                [1] James Strong, The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible with their Renderings in the King James Version and with Additional Definitions Adapted from W.E. Vine and Cross-references to Other Word Study Resources, in James Strong, The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Red Letter Edition (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2010), 6754.

                [2] Ibid.

                [3] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1988), 1923.

                [4] Strong, 2145.

                [5] Harris et al., 551.

                [6] Strong, 5347.

                [7] Harris et al., 1409.

                [8] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 580.

Evangelicals for Life?

2018 march for lifeMy twitter feed lately has been full of advertisements and articles for the 2018 March for Life, a series of protests and rallies to be held in Washington, D.C. late next week. As this event is intended to speak up for the unborn in the face of threats like abortion, the narrative surrounding it is what one would expect: “We stand for the most vulnerable among us!” There is, however, a contradiction here, one that hints at hypocrisy and which needs to be explored.

As those in the church who are pro-life, you fight for the rights of unborn children. You care for them enough to speak up in a very public way. What if, however, one of those same children you care so much about now comes out at age 4 as transgender? Will you still care for him or her (or they) then? That child will be incredibly vulnerable much as they are right now. Sadly, if your actions over the last year are any indication, you won’t help to make them less so. You’ll probably say that the child in question is confused. You might even call it child abuse for the parents of the child to accept him or her or they the way they are. Any attempt to have their peers be more accepting of who they are will be an “aggressive homosexual agenda.” In short, your words and your actions will take this child, the same one you were so passionate about standing up for in their vulnerability, and make them even more vulnerable now.

The term “pro-life,” by definition, implies that these children matter throughout their lives and not just before they are born. And yet the love and concern you show will stop the instant they become something you don’t like, something that doesn’t fit your worldview. Oh you’ll say it hasn’t, that you’re still acting out of love, but if I’ve learned one thing from books like Andrew T. Walker’s God and the Transgender Debate it’s that when fear takes over you can justify any action as loving if you try hard enough. Trans people are a threat to the evangelical status quo and trans children most of all. For too many of you that’s all we’ll ever be.

I know that this post is likely to fall on deaf ears. After all, I’m asking you love people, trans people, lesbians, gay people, and any other gender non-conforming people whose very existence is something you don’t accept. If you really want to stand for the most vulnerable in society then you have to do it for all of us. Just as James 3 tells us that blessing and cursing should not come from the same mouth, that the same spring cannot bring forth both fresh and salt water, neither can you love and support one vulnerable group while at the same time you actively work to make another such group even more vulnerable. You do it for both or not at all.

Framing the Narrative on Discussing the Church and Trans People

41U4s9JARAL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_For Christmas I got a copy of Andrew T. Walker’s book God and the Transgender Debate. Now I love to read, and I could burn through it in a couple of days if I wanted to, but I really want to engage with this book on a critical level and so I have been forcing myself to take it slow. After a week I’m still in the Forward (which tells you just how slowly I’m taking this). The Forward here is written by Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr., and how he frames the “transgender debate” is something I feel the need to respond to. To Dr. Mohler, the issues raised by the transgender “revolution” are “comparable to the sort of theological challenges posed by the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the early church, the Pelagian controversy faced by Augustine, or even the theological challenges faced by the Reformes themselves.” He goes on to observe that “in each of these controversies, the true church understood that it could not embrace any theological conviction which might undermine the central truths of the gospel.” I haven’t even got into Walker’s book as a whole yet but that right there is a problem.

When you frame the narrative here in the manner that Dr. Mohler has chosen to do so the end result is determined well before the debate even begins. The only conclusion you’re allowed to come to is the status quo. Anyone who disagrees with that is not part of the “true church”. That also means that as a good Christian you can’t take trans people at face value. Their views are in error and they have to be shown as much. The problem here is further illustrated by Dr. Mohler’s view that “the reasons why Christians must confront the transgender revolution and why we must faithfully preach the gospel to transgender persons are because we love God and we love our neighbor.” The only love shown by framing the “debate” in this way is for Christians made uncomfortable by a perceived threat to the status quo.

What would happen instead if Christians saw trans people not as a threat but as simply people to listen to and to love? The questions involved in this “debate” are ones that I have prayerfully engaged with at length over the last year and what I have found is that they really come down to two issues. First of all, what are trans people saying? The heart of what we are saying is that biological sex and gender are not the same thing. They are unique and can be the same or separate depending on the person involved. The second point of contention, then, is whether or not that reality fits with what the Bible says. Conservatives love to quote Genesis 1 as evidence that we are created biologically male and female and that’s the end of the story. In exploring the text I have found that such an interpretation is too narrow for what is actually presented there. It overlooks deeper aspects of the text in order to (surprise, surprise) shore up the status quo and feeds the perception that trans people have a problem that needs to be fixed.

There is room for trans people within the Christian worldview. This worldview is, ultimately, the main casualty when as Christians we frame this “debate” as Dr. Mohler does. If you can set aside your views for even a moment on whether people should identify as trans or not you find that these people are who they are for a reason. What finally opened my eyes to see trans people as we are was understanding that every outward biological indicator of gender can be altered. This is a reality that exists whether conservative Christians think it should or not and if the best response you have to it is “Well, it can’t exist within our worldview,” then your worldview has a major flaw within it. The cost of viewing trans people as a threat and not as people to get to know and to love and to listen to is simply too high.

Trans people exist. We are not going away. We’re not a threat, either. We just want to be loved and accepted for who we are.

Welcome to the Wilderness

wildernessI began this year with an open letter to the Southern Baptist Convention so I suppose it’s fitting that I end it with another one of sorts. This year has been a hell of a ride for many people, myself included. When I wrote that letter (you can find it here if you’re interested) I was in a very different place than I am now. Even though the views it contained were not welcome in the Convention (the leadership made that very clear) I still spoke as one who belonged to the Convention. There were things we still agreed on and it was very much my theological home.

And now? Now I am not sure where I belong. In the end the Convention is just a group of people, and words like “evangelical” and “conservative” are just labels, but for me they represented more than that. To see these things which I held dear used to treat others as less than human just because they’re different, and then to see my theology used as justification for doing so, has been a betrayal of the first degree. Maybe I should have seen this coming. I don’t know. I did see some of it coming, I guess. I mean I wrote about it following the election, that Christians would use this opportunity to push hard in the “culture war,” but I never saw it getting this bad. Growing up in Canada as I did religion occupied a very different place in society. I don’t remember any talk of Canada being a “Christian” nation, for example, and for all the concern regarding persecution of clergy over same-sex marriage or trans people I can’t remember off the top of my head one instance in which they faced legal consequences for their beliefs. It was very much live and let live, not like it is in the U.S. Evangelicals here are concerned solely with transforming this country as they see fit and they don’t give a damn about anybody who doesn’t fit with those ideals. Even worse, the President has aligned himself with them. There’s nobody to tell them no.

I have read from other “former” evangelicals who still identify with that label and still see value in it, enough so that they are willing to fight to redeem it. While I applaud them I also have to admit that I’m not them. I have seen too much in this past year to view evangelicalism as redeemable. And it hasn’t just been the leadership. In so many conversations on social media regarding LGBTQ people, for example, I have tried to help others see them as human and there’s always been a lengthy and well-grounded theological list of reasons why they’re not. And no one has been willing to think outside the box or, for that matter, to question evangelical leadership on this. Leadership, I might add, has consistently refused to even listen to opposing views on this subject and others. To them there is nothing wrong with that they are doing and anyone who disagrees is in error. If there were those willing to speak up from within, or if leadership was willing to at least dialogue, then I might feel differently but they’re not and so here I am.

My own ministry here has shifted over the last year in response to all that’s been going on. I used to search Scripture for insights to share with those who were hurting. Now I search Scripture in response to the attacks conservative evangelicals make, and in response to those who view my position as heretical. I spend my days defending the humanity of people to those for whom it should be a given and doing my best not to lose heart at the responses I get.

All that is to say that there will be some changes coming to Church for Misfits in the new year. My ministry here cannot continue in the format it has followed so far. That is not to see I no longer care about encouraging those who are hurting, but rather that I feel I need to do more to speak up on behalf of LGBTQ people at this moment in time. I can’t just sit back and let evangelicals continue to do what they are doing even if that means I no longer have a theological home. I do wonder sometimes how the hell you can justify theology that requires treating others as evangelicals have done in the last year but then I realise I do know how. That theology was my theology once, until the Pulse shootings set me on the road I’m on now. It took me almost a year to realise that any theology which doesn’t value people as they are, which requires them to change to come to Jesus, isn’t worthy of the name “Christian.” Too many today love their theological integrity more than they love the people around them. If I can help them see otherwise, I will. Welcome to the wilderness.

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.

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?

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.