Category Archives: LGBTQ

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

More Thoughts on the Bible and Gender

31118_000_005_05What are we missing in the Creation story as found in Genesis? What isn’t there that we might not realize isn’t there because we take it for granted that it is? The short answer is a lot. We fight tooth and nail over creation and evolution, for example, yet do we stop to consider whether or not what we’re advocating is supported by the text? We can make the same mistake with regards to gender in Genesis 1 and 2. Granted, the Bible contains many other passages dealing with gender in one form or another, but this is where it starts. There is a lot to go on here in the text, but as I realized the other day we’re actually missing a big piece of the puzzle.

What we like to advocate based on these passages is that God makes us as men or as women. Nothing else. Not transgender, not lesbian, not gay. Man or woman. But here’s the thing. Like I mentioned in a previous post, in Genesis 1:27 we get “male” and “female.” The Hebrew word from which we get “male” translates roughly as “remarkable,” which makes sense when you consider the male sex organs. Without being too graphic, they’re prominent. They stick up. You “remark” on them because you notice them. The Hebrew word for “female” here translates roughly as “pierced,” which when you consider the physical act of sex makes perfect sense.

That’s the only description of male and female that we get in Genesis 1. It’s a physical description, written as if one was standing there observing these two people. That being said, notice what it doesn’t include. It says nothing, for example, about what’s going on inside their heads. I also mentioned in a previous post that sex or gender (however you want to term it) is deeper than mere biology. There’s not a hint of that in these descriptions. What we get is the most basic physical description and little else.

The big piece of the puzzle I referred to earlier is something along the lines of what we’ve been discussing but which you might not even notice unless you were looking for it. Last week an article I stumbled across on Facebook pointed out that definitions of gender change from culture to culture. What constitutes a man in one culture is not necessarily the same as what constitutes a man in another culture. We learn to be men or women, at least initially, based largely on culturally established norms. These norms can and do change over time but we as children exist within them and learn from them even as we may question them. Our parents did the same before us, as did their parents before them and so on.

What I noticed when I looked in Genesis 1 is that there are no parents for Adam and Eve to learn cultural norms from. If you accept the biblical passage (and if you don’t that’s fine), Adam and Eve are the first. There is no established culture for them to learn from. It just doesn’t exist. They are, put simply, making it up as they go along. To be sure, they’re learning directly from God himself, but that doesn’t change the reality that culture as we understand it simply doesn’t exist.

Now why is that a problem? Simple. We like to read our own cultural understandings back into the text as if that is what the text was talking about and it’s not. We can’t read our own cultural concepts of what makes a man a man and a woman a woman back into Genesis 1 because culture as we understand it doesn’t exist. It’s not there.

How then can we justify using Genesis 1 to attack people who don’t fit in to our cultural norms? Maybe it’s time that we stopped twisting the text and instead tried to fit ourselves into its norms. If we don’t, we’re missing out on more than we realize.

 

So About Beauty and the Beast…

Beauty-Beast-2017-Movie-PostersCan we all just chill out? My wife and I saw the movie this past weekend and even now I’m still trying to figure out just what it is that Christians are so enraged about. The entire “gay agenda” in the movie comes down to maybe 12 seconds of screen time. And you know what? If there hadn’t been such a huge uproar about it, I wouldn’t have even known LeFou was gay. And this is why we called for a boycott of Disney? Give me a break. This is why no one takes us seriously anymore.

Transgender Day of Visiblity

tdov2017

So as I found out last night, yesterday was Transgender Day of Visibility. I hadn’t known this, and I wish I had. I think it’s a great idea. My own views on the LGBTQ community in general, and on trans people in particular, have changed largely through getting to know you on social media. Anything that gets you out there and gets your stories heard is a good thing.

There’s another aspect to it that also makes it a great idea, at least potentially. It’s an awesome opportunity for us as Christians to stand up and say to you as trans people, “We see you. You matter. You have value as you and for who you are.” Our God is the God who knows us fully. For us to show you that same love and affirmation is the least we can do.

That being said, when I found out how important yesterday was I went hunting through Facebook to see if we had done this at all. There were individuals here and there reachng out, with the odd church or two, but by and large we were silent. From my own denomination there were crickets. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and we couldn’t even say hi on a day like yesterday? (A quick Google search showed that this wasn’t just on Facebook, either.) That’s sad. It really is. We blew a huge opportunity to at least show a little respect.

This may be a day late and a dollar short, but from one Christian to any trans individuals reading this, I see you. You matter, you really do. You have value as you are right now. Period. Don’t let anyone else tell you different, especially those who claim the name of Christ.

A Question of Culture

I have to apologise. Starting this post on my laptop and then finishing it on my phone caused WordPress to lose the last third of it. I hope it’s not too convoluted; I failed to type it up in Word first like I sometimes do. Anyways, enjoy!

GodsNotDead2PosterSo we watched God’s Not Dead 2 last night, and I have to say that I think it shows more than anything that we as Christians are in the middle of a culture gap. One of the best scenes in the movie gets at the reality that Christianity is offensive and has been for the 2000 years of its history and why should we change who we are or be forced to change who we are just because people get offended. There’s a lot of truth in that, but it’s easy for us to forget that there’s a flip side to that. We can get offended just as easily as anyone else, and in attempting to protect our right to do so while at the same time avoiding any consequences of it we can be guilty of the very controlling approach that the movie portrays in such a negative light.

Our cultural ineptness actually doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me. As a Canadian living in the South, for example, I know firsthand how easy it is for a given culture to be painted in a specific light that may or may not be true. When I first came down here to visit my wife 7 years ago now, it came as a shock to find that most of the people in this neighbourhood own at least one firearm. I suppose it shouldn’t have, given the reputation that Americans have back in Canada for having a “gun culture,” but it did. Over time, however, I found that gun culture really had little to do with it. We live out in the country, away from the big cities, and it makes sense to have something to defend yourself with if the need arises. It may be an oversimplification but there’s a lot more to gun ownership down here than simple love of firearms or a legacy of the Old West, but that’s something you only come to learn through living in a culture and interacting with it.

As Christians, we’re not always big on doing that. We’d rather preach than converse and learn. I’ve touched on the subject before, but throughout history our approach to other cultures has sadly been that it’s not enough just to be like Christ; you have to be like me, too. There’s one case study from my Global Ministries course in seminary that I’ll never forget. It had to do with missionaries from a Western country reaching out with the message of Christ to a tribal culture in Africa. The gist of it was that the Western missionaries approached the issue from their own philosophical background. It’s probably another oversimplification, but we in the West tend to base much of our thinking on Descartes’ maxim “I think, therefore I am.” I think, I make decisions, and I have a life. In short, we value the individual. There are cultures around the world, including this hypothetical one in Africa, where the maxim is not that but rather “I participate, therefore I am.” The culture depends on the group for survival, and therefore the individual matters only so much as they contribute to that end. It thus came as a surprise to the missionaries to find that their efforts yielded not a number of individual responses to the gospel but rather the group leader deciding to accept Christ on behalf of the community, and this left the missionaries at an impasse.

Salvation being an individual thing, how were they to respond? Given the size of the community, it’s likely that not everyone present agreed with the leader’s decision and may therefore think they have responded to the gospel when really they haven’t. Should the missionaries push the issue on an individual level, knowing full well that doing so will likely alienate the entire community and prevent any further possibility of relationship? Or should they leave it as is, trusting that their respect of the culture will keep the door open for the relationship to continue?

Which would you have chosen? I know what we tend to go with, and it’s not really respectful. My own inclination is to go with the latter option. Meeting people where they are at means delivering the message in a way that they will actually hear. The Apostle Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 9 when he talks about “becoming all things to all men.” He came across in a way that people could relate to and understand and this changed depending on who he was dealing with at the time.

Our cultural ineptness colours our relationship with the LGBTQ community perhaps more than it does with any other group at present. We tend to think that because they live in the same country as we do that they are simply an extension of our own culture and as such they can be preached to as ones who, even if they don’t understand where we’re coming from, will at least respond to it as we did. In doing so, we forget that there are multiple cultural groups within this country and that not all of them see things as we do. (If you’re reading this as an LGBTQ individual, I am not for a moment trying to suggest that what makes you who you are is something as subjective as a cultural difference. I am simply trying to point out to my fellow Christians that in projecting our own preconceptions onto others we can alienate the very ones we’re supposed to care about the most.) In my interactions with the LGBTQ community over the last year, I have found that by and large they just want to be who they are. Many of them have spent years trying to sort out just who they are and coming to terms with that, and then they’ve had to fight for the right just to be that person. Every time that we as evangelical Christians have interacted with them, as far as I can tell, we have completely and utterly failed to acknowledge that. In doing so, we have alienated them as surely as our fictional missionaries would have done so had they pushed their own views on that African culture. What they want from us is the freedom to come to Christ as LGBTQ individuals if they so choose, and then to not have to change that just because they’re not a follower of Christ.

I know that last paragraph made some of my readers cringe a little. Let me explain. I am aware that there are those who will point out that respecting where LGBTQ individuals are coming from is not something we as Christians can do. Cultural differences are one thing, but the Bible calls same-sex relationships sin and we should, too, and that’s that. As a minister and a student of theology, I am very much aware that there are passages in the Bible which call it a sin. Now despite being a minister and a student of theology, I have to admit that I have no idea what to do with these passages. On the one hand, my respect for Scripture and my own research into biblical history means that I can’t dismiss these passages as some have recommended, seeing them as translation errors or as a modern concept read back into an older text. On the other, I am not about to go to someone who has struggled for years to figure out who they are, and dealt with all the fallout that goes with that, and say sorry, that part of you isn’t good. It has to go. I have too much respect for people who struggle to do that. And where’s the love in that? Paul’s example in 1 Corinthians 9 is to be “all things to all people,” not have all people be what I think they should be. (That also leads to a host of other questions, like is it possible for people “to be born that way”. Speaking again as a minister and student of theology I believe that it is, although I cannot yet defend that position from a scriptural background as well as I would like. The bottom line is that they’re people, too, and worthy of our respect. Too often we forget that.)

Having said all of that, I am aware that there are also those who will object that even if a gay, or lesbian, or trans person can become a Christian (and there’s absolutely no reason why that’s not possible), that part of them still has to change once they know Jesus. My response to that is simply to ask, why? It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin (John 16:8), and if he doesn’t do that with these people then who the hell are we to take up that task on our own? He works with each of us in different ways on different levels, and if he can show his glory through a trans Christian, or a lesbian Christian, or a gay Christian, why can’t we just let that be?

One of the lessons that my Global Ministries course emphasised again and again is that the gospel message transcends culture. No one culture has a claim to it, and you don’t need to belong to a certain culture in order to be acceptable to God. That being said, we are guilty, I think, of equating “American” culture with “Christian” culture. How much of what we as Christians share with differing groups is the gospel itself and how much of it is our own cultural baggage? “You have to be like me, too.” It is well past the point where we need to look hard at our beliefs and work to separate the one from the other. Only in answering that question of culture will we be able to see that those we call different really aren’t all that different at all.