Category Archives: LGBTQ

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Our Best Days Are Not Ahead of Us

AM17-logoThe 2017 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention ended a week ago, and it was the first time that I have been involved in such an event even from a distance via social media. It was also the first significant opportunity I had to advocate for the LGBTQ community with the very people who need to hear it the most. That being said, I have waited until now to give my thoughts on the event. LGBTQ rights can be an emotional subject for many people, myself included, and I wanted to let the dust settle in my own mind before commenting on the experience.

I have to say that I am amazed at how passionately Baptists tend to oppose any theological position that values gender non-conforming people for who they are. (I do realise that not all Baptists do so; it was just the general sense I got from #sbc17.) What also amazed me was the oft-repeated position that Baptists have compassion for all people but cannot and will not abandon God’s plan for human sexuality as laid out in Scripture. It is this sense of compassion, apparently, that leads Baptists to tell LGBTQ people that who they are is a sin, offensive in God’s sight, and something that must change. What I found incredulous was that no one sees the issue with such a stance. Putting it bluntly, if the best we can do to show compassion to these people is drive them farther away from Jesus than we have a seriously problem. That is not compassion. It’s discrimination hiding behind a veil of religious acceptability. If it really was compassion, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

I am becoming more and more convinced that our stance as Baptists in this country is turning us into the 21st century version of the New Testament Pharisees. Allow me to explain. One of the things I noticed when I studied the history of the Jewish people from the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC through the Intertestamental Period was that they progressively lost more and more of what it meant for them to be God’s people. The temple was destroyed (rebuilt, yes, but never to its formal glory). They were consistently subjugated by foreign peoples, and even during the brief period where they were able to rule themselves the office of High Priest, for example, became little more than a political pawn. Many of them lost the Promised Land as well when they were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. In the end, all they had left was the Word. The Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. This is the climate in which the Pharisees came to be. When all you have left is the Law, rigorous obedience to that Law becomes everything.

We see the ultimate expression of this in John 8 when the Pharisees bring the woman caught in adultery to Jesus and ask Him what they should do with her. As we’re told verses 3 and 4, the woman has been caught in the very act. She is obviously guilty, and the Pharisees are very much aware of the penalty given in Leviticus 20:10 for this situation. (Before you point out that Leviticus 20 applies to the man as well and that the Pharisees are just using this woman as bait to test Jesus, I am aware of that. I have another point to make here.) By the letter of the law, so to speak, the Pharisees are correct in what they say. That they can make the request, however, without any evidence of guilt, shows just how focused they are on obeying the Law. They actually think they’re doing the right thing.

Are contemporary Baptists that different? We have lost so much in this country of what made us who we are. We no longer have prayer in schools. We no longer really have the voice to speak to societal issues, and when we do speak, fewer and fewer people still listen. We are now but one voice in a sea of voices, many of which are given more respect than our own. All we really have left is morality. It’s the one area, as I see it, that we feel we can still speak to. We have, in Scripture, the reality of sin and judgement, of forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross, and of God’s moral law in the Old Testament. This is a basis that no other group has, at least as far as we’re concerned, which gives us the confidence to still speak out on moral issues. The problem is that when morality becomes all you have left it can easily become the whole point and it’s not supposed to be.

Many of those I spoke with through social media during #sbc17 were quick to point out that the Bible calls same-sex relationships a sin. And, technically, they’re right. Leviticus 18:22, amongst others, says as much. While I disagree with that interpretation (I believe there is plenty of room in Scripture for same-sex individuals the way they are without it being sinful or something “they have to repent from”), it is the interpretation held by many Baptists and by the Convention as a whole. Our focus on morality means that Baptists can share that stance with LGBTQ people, people who as I’ve written before have gone through so much and given up so much just to be who they are, and actually think they’re doing the right thing. Baptists tell them God rejects them, too, and like the Pharisees in John 8 they have no guilt about what they do. We actually have the gall to think we’re being compassionate.

(As an aside, I do still say “we” and “our” when referring to Baptists. Obviously I disagree with the Convention on a number of issues, and the voice of discrimination against LGBTQ people is not one I share. That being said, I was ordained in a Baptist church and I feel that I still have a voice within the Convention even as an ally of the LGBTQ community and an advocate for their rights. I have a foothold, so to speak, in both worlds, and I plan to use that position, and that voice, as much as I can in situations like this.)

Someone, and I can’t remember who, tweeted out during the Annual Meeting that our best days as a denomination are before us. I could not disagree more. As long as we can justify marginalising an entire group of people then our best days are definitely not still to come. Even a brief look through the Gospels shows that Jesus reached out and identified with the outcasts of His society. And what do we do? We make gender non-conforming people into the outcasts of ours. If as a Convention we can’t see that then we have a very big problem indeed.

A Year After Pulse

1-40I almost wasn’t going to write this. I mean, my own life has changed a great deal because of this tragedy, more so than I ever thought it would, and I love the people I’ve had the chance to meet and get to know, but… I wasn’t there. I wasn’t directly affected by it. And I don’t want this anniversary to be an excuse to prop myself up. Too many of us as Christians did that a year ago.

Still, I wouldn’t be who I am today without having made the decision to reach out and engage with LGBTQ people in the wake of the shootings. And I am well aware that in many ways this wonderful community is worse off now than it was then (it’s not lost on me that we as Christians are to blame for much of that).

So with that in mind, this is the open letter I wrote a year ago in the week following the shootings. I bring it up here just to say that what I said then still stands. You are always welcome here. This is one minister who will never judge and never condemn. You are beautiful, wonderful people and my voice will always be one of support  for you as I engage with my denomination. Over the last year I’ve found different ways to use that voice on your behalf. I’ve also learned that you don’t need anyone to speak on your behalf, least of all me. That being said, as a Christian and a Baptist I have inside access, to so speak, and I will continue to use that access and that voice. On that you have my word.

For what it’s worth my prayers are with you all today.

Let’s Discuss a Few Things

AM17-logoWith the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting starting this week I’ve been more active than usual on social media recently in an effort to raise awareness regarding the negative impact that the Convention’s position on LGBTQ issues has on LGBTQ people. While I am pleased to see organisations like Faith in America taking a very bold approach to directly engaging the Convention on this problem, I have also seen concerns raised by Christians as to just what those of us who support the LGBTQ community are trying to accomplish in raising these issues with the Convention. I wanted to take a few moments to address those areas in hopes of clarifying a few misunderstandings.

Area # 1 – We Want to Rewrite Scripture

The issue here, as I understand it, is that as the Bible calls homosexuality sin (see Leviticus 18 and 20) and we want the Convention to treat LGBTQ people in general, and LGBTQ youth in particular, with the same openness and respect they show to everyone else, we must therefore want to rewrite Scripture in order to remove these passages and any others similar to them.

Speaking for myself, I have no desire to rewrite Scripture and I would not support anyone who does. I have spent the last year praying and searching through the Scriptures in order to find room there for LGBTQ people as they are and for who they are and in a positive light. We have room in a “Christian” worldview for everyone else, so why not them, too? It’s a sad commentary on our Christian culture today that I had to do that, but I am grateful for the experience because it’s given me the confidence I need at times like this to speak out. I wanted to be able to love them for who they are and as they are without trying to force them to change anything (because I strongly believe they don’t have to) but at the same time I wanted to remain rooted in the core tenants of my own beliefs (such as respect for the authority of Scripture). For me, it was Romans 1 and 2 and Genesis 1 that opened my eyes. In addition, there are interpretations of Scripture, valid interpretations, that provide positive room in the Christian worldview for LGBTQ people. Again, it’s sad that we even need to be told this, but there you have it.

I’ve heard it said many times in church, “Come as you are.” We even have worship songs along that line. All we’re asking is that the Convention take LGBTQ people as they are, no strings attached, without trying to force them to change or trying to convey the idea that they even need to.

Area # 2 – God Said It So It’s Binding

I’ve heard this one repeated often in the last few days, and it honestly pisses me off. The gist of it is that God has said in His Word that same-sex attraction is a sin and sorry but if we’re going to obey Him than we have to tell LGBTQ people that who they are is sinful in God’s eyes and they need to repent of it.

If you ever have the privilege of meeting and getting to know members of the LGBTQ community, you’ll find very quickly that they have been through hell. Many of them have spent years coming to terms with who they are and how they feel. Some have spent most of their lives doing so. And once they have come to terms with it, they’ve given up everything to live as who they are.

When we come across a person like this, who’s quite likely been rejected by everyone close to them, the best, most-loving response we have is, “I’m sorry, but I’m bound by obeying God to tell you that He hates who you are?” (Or something to that effect.) I mean, really, that’s the best we’ve got? Not an ounce of compassion or understanding or even the slightest effort to see life through their eyes? Not even the tiniest attempt at respecting them enough to say hey, maybe you are born this way? If that’s the best we have then I fear we’ve become no better than the Pharisees of old, who “load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46 NLT) The really sad part is that we actually think we’re being loving when we do this.

In Conclusion

If we really want to be loving, if we want to really represent this Jesus we claim to know, then we need to change the Convention’s policies to let these people into our churches as they are and without trying to force them to change. Talk to them. Get to know them. See life through their eyes. They are truly beautiful people, made in God’s image just the same as you and me. Any response we make that values the legalities of Scripture more so than the heart of the person in front of us only makes us more into Pharisees (the one group in the New Testament, remember, that Jesus opposed more than any other; not a group I want to be a part of).

Now that we’ve clarified a few things, what’s stopping us from loving and accepting these people as they are?

What are we known for?

MV5BMTYyMTcxNzc5M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTg2ODE2MTI@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_We saw Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales this past weekend and without giving away too much in spoilers let me just say it was the emotional, fun-filled adventure we’ve come to expect from these movies. There’s this one scene in particular that got me right in the gut. If you remember from the end of the third Pirates movie, Jack Sparrow lost the Black Pearl (again). And if you remember from the fourth one, Blackbeard shrank the Pearl and stuck it in a bottle. Well, there’s a scene early on in this one where Jack is on the beach with no ship and no crew and he stares out towards his beloved horizon and holds up the Pearl, still in the bottle, to make it look as though she’s sailing through the waves once more. It’s heartbreaking to watch. I mean, here is what he wants more than anything else in the world, the very thing that makes him who he is, and it’s the one thing he just can’t have. And in the very next scene he gets fall-down drunk and barters away the last real piece of his identity as a pirate for one more drink.

Haven’t we all been there? There’s something that we want, or need even, to make life work and for whatever reason it’s the one thing we just can’t get. And so we lock the desire away somewhere down deep and try to get on with life as it is. We get so busy we tell ourselves we haven’t got time for whatever it is, or we don’t really need it after all, thank you very much. Anything to avoid the pain inside. And who could blame us, really? There are times when I feel this way more often than I care to admit and in all honesty I simply don’t know what to do with the way I feel. It’s far easier to just try to get on with life than to face up to something I don’t even know how to begin to deal with. What exactly is at the root of all this may differ for everyone, but it’s a reality I’m convinced we all face. Black, white, gay, lesbian, trans, straight, it makes no difference. We all want more.

In Ecclesiastes 3:11 we’re told that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” We all feel like there should be something more because there actually should be something more. We’re all missing something. The crazy hope of the Bible is that there is actually something out there, some object or person of desire, which makes this whole damn thing actually make sense.

When I first had the idea for this post I was going to leave it at that. If you feel Jesus tugging on your heart through your desires then I would definitely encourage you to be open to it and respond. That being said, it hit me that this hope is supposed to be largely what defines us as Christians. In 1 Peter 3:15, the Apostle Peter tells us to “always [be] prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The implication is that Christians are by nature such a hopeful people that those around them can’t help but notice and be intrigued by it.

Is this still true today, I wonder? I remember preaching on this text a couple of years ago and asking those in the audience when the last time was that someone had come up to them and asked why they were so hopeful. For many of those present, myself included, we couldn’t remember when this had happened, if ever. There are, of course, many reasons for that. Hope can be the last thing on your mind when your head hits the pillow after a long day at work and you know when the alarm goes off you have to get up to do it all over again. My point here is not to shame us for this but rather to point out that if we’re not known for being hopeful than we’re probably known for being something else.

If you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian you can probably think of many things Christians are known for, especially here in the U.S. (and not all of them positive). All I have to do is peruse my Facebook or my Twitter feed to know that perhaps more than anything else right now Christians in this country are known for trying to take away the rights of those we disagree with. We’re connected to the Republican party and by God we’re going to use that connection to see this country remade the way God wants it to be. It would be laughable if only it didn’t cause so much pain.

That’s what we’re known for and that’s sad. If you’ve been around a church much at all you may have heard it said of someone that they’re “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” This is usually not a compliment of the person in question. They may, for example, be so focused on being “spiritual” that they don’t have  the time or the inclination to help out their fellow man. Having observed the church in this country over the last few years, and having experienced first hand the pain we inflict on those we marginalise, I have to wonder if maybe the reverse is true of Christianity as a whole in the U.S. today. Are we so focused on this world that we’ve forgotten it isn’t our home? Once we make this world the point, anything’s justified as long as it keeps us in power. We’re the ones who have God’s authority (or at least that’s what we tell ourselves), so why shouldn’t we be in power? And have we become so wedded to our own worldview that we’ve forgotten we’re not the only voice in this culture? Are we so convinced of our hold on the truth that we’ve forgotten the need to treat others with basic dignity and respect?

I would answer yes to all of those questions. We have forgotten so much and gotten so far off track that we think the most loving thing we can do for someone is share our own worldview with them without showing even an ounce of respect for theirs.

People need hope. We all do. If the Bible is to be believed, Christians are the ones who know where to find hope, for this world as well as for the next. If we want to start bringing hope again then it’s time for us to remember just who we are and just what we’re supposed to be about as Christians.

 

 

An Open Letter to All Those Attending the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting

AM17-logoMy name is Mike Shewfelt. I am an ordained minister with the Southern Baptist Convention, and I work with Church for Misfits, a small online community dedicated to reaching out to those marginalised by mainstream Christianity in this country. Through this ministry I have been privileged to get to know many members of the LGBTQ community. I am also aware that the Convention as a whole does not view these people in a favourable light and, furthermore, that much of what is discussed and decided upon by you at the Annual Meeting will have an impact on these people. For all of those reasons, we need to talk.

Let me begin by saying that I understand both the Convention’s general position on matters relating to the LGBTQ community and the logic behind it. To summarize as I understand it, we think they’re living in sin and for that reason being at all charitable towards them would be blasphemous on our part. We don’t accept their position on who they are. We don’t accept that they have rights just as we do. To do so would put us in a position we’re not going to get into and force us to answer questions we don’t necessarily have answers to. And I fully understand that for us these are not easy questions with easy answers. I have spent the last 18 months praying through these questions trying to find a position that both respects the authority of Scripture and respects the position of the LGBTQ community. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There is no condition put on that offer, and yet we can’t seem to stop putting one on the Gospel as far as the LGBTQ community is concerned. They are people, too, just the same as you and me, and the fact that I’ve had to spend 18 months praying through issues just to be able to treat them with basic respect and human dignity is pathetic. The reality that we as a Convention continue to refuse to do this is even more so. We are marginalising an entire group of people in this country because we can’t entertain, even for a moment, the thought that they might be people to, just as they are and without having to change to be accepted by God. (It should go without saying that no one should feel they have to change to be accepted by God because no one can be accepted by God on the basis of their own efforts.)

So here’s the deal. As messengers attending the Convention’s annual meeting, you have the opportunity to change that. Southern Baptist churches are largely autonomous, yes, but on an issue like this they will not act without the support of the Convention. Change our policies. Let these people into fellowship in our churches, just as they are and without any conditions. Stop pursuing religious liberty at their expense. Stop trying to take away their rights. The Church is now largely irrelevant in today’s culture. You want to change that? There’s how. And I am not asking you to go against Scripture. I am simply asking you to treat your fellow human beings, created in the image of God just like you and me, with the respect and love they deserve. You can chose to act in a way that gives hope to this community.

You can also choose to double down on our traditional positions. Our stance is such that for many of us the questions raised by the LGBTQ community are ones we’ve never even had to consider. This can be a scary thing, one that keeps us from engaging with those we’re supposed to love the most. I would plead with you not to let that fear continue to drive our actions. If our God is who He says He is, what do we really have to be afraid of? If you choose this route, however, be aware that you will not only shatter whatever little credibility we have left in this country but you will also inflict even more hurt on those who have already endured far too much suffering at our hands.

The choice is yours. I can only hope and pray you will make the right one.

In Christ,

Reverend Mike Shewfelt