Tag Archives: LGBTQ

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.

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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.

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?

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

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.

When will we learn?

In taking the time to reach out to the LGBTQ community over the last few months, I’ve learned that we as Christians can often have a skewed idea of what those who disagree with us are trying to achieve when they disagree with us. We tend to look closely at what we stand to lose if they were to gain a more dominant voice in society than we have, and then we combine that analysis with our own fears and conclude that these people are the enemy and must be opposed no matter the cost. The end result is that we come off looking kinda stupid given what we profess to believe.

I was reminded of this last week when I stumbled into a Facebook discussion of whether or not Christians in the U.S. are actually being persecuted for their faith at present. The general consensus was that it can and does happen but that more often than not what we term persecution is simply those we disagree with responding in kind to how we’ve treated them. Buried in that discussion was what prompted me to write this post. One gay man made a statement that stopped me in my tracks. I’ve heard many different perspectives from other Christians as to what, in general, LGBTQ people want. There have been some who honestly say it’s about civil rights, others who say they’re trying to force their agenda on us, and still others who say that it’s about indoctrinating everyone who disagrees with them. What no one has said before was what this man pointed out, that all he really wanted was for those who disagreed with him to respect his right to live as he sees fit. He was aware that people out there may never actually see gay marriage in a positive light. While that did hurt, he said the important thing was not necessarily to change their minds but rather for them to respect his right to hold the views that he does and to live by them. In turn, he would treat them based on whether or not they did.

As a Christian, that made me think. It’s such a simple thing. As we believe in a God who gave us free will we should be the first to show respect when others exercise that free will even if we don’t agree with how they’re doing it. And yet we’re not. Too often we’re the least respectful people involved. Why is that? Are we afraid? Have we forgotten the God we claim to know? How hard is it really to do something as simple as respecting the choices of others? And when will we learn that doing so will be a far greater testimony to Jesus than any impassioned defense of traditional marriage will ever be? What saddens me even more is that we can’t even see that this is in our best interest as well. If we can legislate in discriminatory ways based on our beliefs, the LGBTQ community can do likewise when the political winds shift. And yet we can’t even see that.

In Luke 6:31, Jesus says, “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” We’re sending a hell of a message by our example right now. We treat others like crap,  I then cry persecution when they treat us as we treated them. When will we learn? Not, I’m afraid, before it’s too late for those we are supposed to care about the most (and quite possibly for ourselves, too). In the end, what they are trying to achieve is nothing more than to have the very respect we already owe them.

A Call for Civility and a Little Good Faith

Common Ground Venn Diagram Shared Interest Agreement Compromise

It’s been longer than I planned on since I posted last. Part of that was accidental and part, I have to admit, was deliberate. With all the controversy surrounding LGBTQ issues I wanted to step back and take a breather. Clear my head, and try to understand where this whole reaching out thing is supposed to go from here.

Social media being what it is, that’s been easier said than done. I follow a number of both conservative and LGBTQ sites on Facebook, for example, and with the Trump administration removing guidance on the Title IX protections, the Supreme Court sending the Gavin Grimm case back down to a lower federal appeals court, the increase in states pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation, and the gay character in the new Beauty and the Beast movie, my Facebook feed has been fairly full. I’ve also had a front row seat to the hostility both sides have directed towards each other, and it is to this hostility that I want to speak.

Reading through the comments on a number of different LGBTQ posts, you quickly get the sense that everyone who disagrees with them is a hateful, homophobic bigot that needs to accept reality and get with the times. Conversely, on Christian and conservative sites, you quickly get the impression that the LGBTQ community is trying to shove their beliefs down our throats, normalize behavior that isn’t normal, and put their feelings above the rights of the rest of the country. (Franklin Graham called for a boycott of Disney, for crying out loud.)

Here’s the thing. Once you get past the emotions tied up in all of this (and I’ll grant you there’s a lot of that on both sides), much of what each side accuses the other of just isn’t true. I know a number of Christians, for example, who are good, loving people yet who oppose same-sex rights. Are they intentionally bigoted and hateful? From what I can tell, no. They’re just coming to terms with an issue that they’ve never had to address in their worldview before. Sometimes in thinking through these things we say and do hurtful things without realizing it and sometimes we may come across as hurtful without meaning to. I know a number of of people, for example, who have expressed anger at Disney for the gay character in Beauty and the Beast not because they are ardent homophobes but rather because Disney has gone and changed a character they’ve known and loved for years. Now I am definitely not defending the actions we have taken that have been deliberately hurtful and in which I am very much convinced we know exactly what we’re doing (see my letter from January for more on that). All I am saying is that there are many Christians out there who are simply trying to come to terms with LGBTQ rights. I can tell you from experience that this is not an easy thing to do. I’m a Christian and as ardent a supporter of LGBTQ rights as you’re likely to find in the South, yet it’s taken me almost a year of reflection on my beliefs to get to this point. Many of these people I’m referring to have have held these views for years, in some cases far longer than I had, and such things are not always simply changed.

On the other side, as I’ve interacted with members of the LGBTQ community through social media I’ve come to realize that the vast majority aren’t guilty of the things we accuse them of. They’re not trying to shove their beliefs down our throats and neither are they trying to put their feelings above the rights of the rest of the country. (Even if they were, the rights that currently exist in this country wouldn’t exist at all unless someone had felt strongly enough to ensure they were protected.) They simply want to live their lives the same as you and me. They want to exist. They’ve fought for years to have the same rights we do and they are understandably hurt and pissed off that we try so hard to take those away.

What, I wonder, would happen if each side simply set aside the fear and emotions and simply took the other side in good faith? I’m not denying the hurt that does exist. All I’m saying is that a little understanding and civility might go a long way towards opening up the lines of communication that we so badly need. We’re all human, after all, and all deserving of the dignity and respect that goes with that. Furthermore, as Christians it might be the only way to share Christ’s love in this whole mess, which is the very thing we’re supposed to be about as God’s people in this world. We ask for faith as part of our dealings with others around us. Maybe it’s time we showed a little, too.