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.


More Problems with “God and the Transgender Debate”

41U4s9JARAL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_In my last post I mentioned that there is room within the Christian worldview for trans people. In probably goes without saying that in God and the Transgender Debate Andrew Walker disagrees. Chapter 4 of the book is entitled “Making a Decision,” and the gist of it is that in the transgender “debate” there are two worldviews present. The one, in which we as trans people live, is based on “feelings and reason.” The other is based on the authority of the God of the Bible. What Walker sees as God’s view on trans people isn’t actually biblical at all (he’s using this “authority” to shore up his own position) but that’s a topic for another post. My problem with Walker’s argument here is that he makes a distinction where none exists.

To Walker, God’s authority is a better foundation for living than our own feelings and reason. Indeed, he seems to have a very strong distrust for the latter. On page 42 of God and the Transgender Debate he says, “Dig a little deeper though, and the idea of looking to our feelings or reason – to our selves – to make decisions and decide what is right starts to unravel. First, we all live in community. Every decision affects those around us, often in ways we cannot predict or do not see … Second, do I really know myself that well? I have never lived before … Third, and perhaps most surprisingly, I have to ask myself, ‘Am I really to be trust to want what’s best for me?'” Walker is just as strongly in favour of trusting God’s authority. On page 45 he writes, “[God] may not always agree with our feelings or our reason – but he can be trusted, and he knows what he’s talking about, and he has the right to tell us how to live.” The problem here is twofold. First of all, what Walker is setting up is the premise that even as Christians we are not to trust our “self” or our “heart.” This premise is not biblical. In Ezekiel 36 the Old Testament tells us that in the new covenant, referring to what Jesus does for us, God “will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Our heart, our deepest self, can be trusted. The second problem here is that Walker uses this faulty premise to set himself up as one who speaks in God’s authority. As he writes on page 45, “So when we say to ourselves, or to others, ‘You should obey God,’ what we mean is, We want what God deserves (your obedience) and we want what is best for you (your obedience).‘” In short, Walker is in the right on this and if we truly want what is best for us we’ll listen to him.

As I mentioned earlier the distinction that Walker makes between God’s authority and our “self” isn’t necessary. Whether you believe the Bible or not, there is room inside both for the authority of God and for our own feelings and desires and hopes and dreams. Everything that makes us who we are as trans people can exist there, too. And I don’t say that as a pitch to get you to “become a Christian.” Walker makes his argument as a Christian and many in the church are, unfortunately, listening to him. Any counterargument I make has to be made not just as a trans woman but as a minister and a Christian as well. You need look no farther than the Psalms for proof of what I speak. In Psalm 139:14, David writes, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Our feelings and our ability to reason are both a part of who we are. They matter. We are not complete without them. As a Christian I trust both my feelings and my reasoning and my God. The gap that Walker uses to discredit trans people doesn’t exist. 

I can also speak to this on a personal level. If you go back through my posts here from late 2016 through 2017 you’ll find that my views on LGBTQ people in general evolved. I spent that time prayerfully pondering and reasoning on how to accept these people as they are (which I believe Jesus does for all of us) in light of what my worldview, which I try to base in Scripture, taught me. Ultimately I realized that my worldview was in error and not long after that I realized that I was transgender. I wouldn’t be who I am without both my faith and my feelings and reason.

The distinction that Walker makes between our feelings and reason and God’s authority serves only one purpose. It props him up as one who speaks with God’s own voice. That is a position he does not have. Jesus says in Matthew 15:16 that “you will recognize them by their fruit.” The fruit of Walker’s position is the dismissal of our humanity as trans people, which is something that the Bible does not support.

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.

How cracked are your eggs?

Cracked eggsThis being the holiday season the dairy department has been insanely busy and one of the things we have sold a small mountain of is eggs. Now eggs are by and large one of the most expendable items we carry. They come in packs of 6, 12, and 18 and if just one gets cracked the pack is no good. The other eggs in it can be the most incredible, perfect specimens of eggs you’ve ever seen, but the pack itself is no longer worth selling if one is cracked.

I think we can treat ourselves that way sometimes. I don’t know about you but I have, in my mind, 1 or 2 “flaws” or things I just in general don’t like about myself that are always prominent in how I see myself. I’ll write myself off in social situations, for example, because there are times I legit suck at navigating social situations or because my laugh is too loud or because I just don’t look the people think I should. I treat myself like the eggs. I think I’m no longer worth getting to know or being around because of 1 or 2 “flaws.”

Our worth goes beyond that. As I’m learning, what I consider “flaws” are things those around me often don’t even notice. They see my other eggs or they see that the ones I thought were cracked really aren’t. I believe that’s true for all of us. In Psalm 139:14, David writes, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” That’s true whether you’re trans, gay, lesbian, bi, or whatever else you may identify as. You are valuable in who you are. As we start a new year, remember that. Don’t sell yourself short and don’t let others treat you as less valuable than you 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.

A Not-so-Hallmark Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Christmas

christmas1When did we stop giving each other grace?

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

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

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

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

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

The Trouble With Narratives

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

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

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

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

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