We Must Harness the Energies of Love

Most of the life-changing discoveries I have made as a transgender woman have related to the differences between experiencing life as a man and as a woman.  Those differences have been the subject of my TED Talks and two chapters of my memoir,  As A Woman – What I Learned About Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy After I Transitioned.  But not all of the differences relate to gender. One of the biggest discoveries is something I did not anticipate.

Until I left, I had no idea how isolated evangelicalism had become from mainstream America. Almost all of my life as a man was spent within an evangelical bubble. Even when I was doing work not associated with the church, most of my co-workers were evangelical Christians. Until I transitioned, I had no idea just how insular that bubble is, or how small that bubble is becoming.

As I wrote in my last blog, the number of Americans who identify with a specific religion has dropped from 70 percent in 2000 to 47 percent today. One of the major reasons is the intolerance exhibited by the conservative forms of the desert religions. In the United States, the major conservative religious group is evangelical Christians, and they are very unaccepting of outsiders.

Only two groups have personally opposed me as a transgender woman.  They are evangelical Christians and right-wing extremists.  Unfortunately, they are often one and the same.  Most of the rest of the world basically shrugs when they learn I am transgender. It’s just not a big deal anymore. But don’t tell that to the legislators in Arkansas, who just voted to override a bill vetoed by their governor that stops healthcare providers from giving life-saving hormonal treatment to transgender adolescents, including the over 200 who were already receiving treatment.  The legislature passed the law on the grounds that hormonal therapy is not reversible.  Except that it is!  Puberty blockers are reversible.  Congratulations Arkansas!  You’ve just solved a problem that does not exist and replaced it with a problem that could cost vulnerable adolescents their lives.  At the very least it will require them to go out of state to continue the treatment they have already begun.

Similar legislation is pending in almost thirty states, almost all in the south or southwest.  Twelve bills restricting transgender rights are pending in Texas alone. Why are these bills so popular in these states?  Because that’s where the evangelicals live, and evangelicals feel threatened. As our nation becomes more diverse, evangelicals are becoming more marginalized. Concentrated in the south, southwest, and rural Midwest, they have joined together to fight for their particular brand of anti-LGBTQ+ bias.

Whenever I speak at a conference or corporation, we always end with a robust Q&A in which I encourage the audience to ask any question they want to ask.  Almost every time someone asks, “How can you be in the church when the church has treated you so horribly?”  I always answer by saying there are expressions of the Christian faith more generous than evangelicalism, and they are thriving.  They meet the needs of the oppressed, serve the poor, support immigrants, and work to right the wrongs of centuries of smug patriarchal Christianity.  I am thrilled to serve as a pastor at one such church – Left Hand Church, in Boulder County, Colorado.

As for the new law in Arkansas, it’s just one more reminder why I avoid spending much time in any of the states in which anti-transgender legislation is pending.  I have to think about these things.  They are places in which my life could be in danger. The fact that the danger comes from those who identify as evangelical Christians remains mind-boggling to me.  These people were once my friends and family.

I understand the fear that has created this environment.  Conservative White Americans are frightened of losing their influence.  But to pick on one of the most vulnerable people groups in the world, transgender children, is nothing but bullying, pure and simple.  It is leveraging what little power they have remaining to deny civil rights to vulnerable children.

I am angry, and I will do everything in my power to stop these proposals from being enacted into law.  Where they have already become laws, I will do whatever it takes to get them reversed. I still desperately hope the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin prove to be true, and I want to do everything in my power to make certain we get there before it is too late:

Someday, after mastering the wind, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.

Well, I Saw That Coming…

No surprise here, but Americans have stopped going to church.  For decades, religious affiliation was steady in the United States.  As recently as 2000, 70 percent of Americans were members of a church, synagogue, or mosque.  A study released by the Gallup organization found that since 2000, that number has dropped precipitously.  For the first time in the history of our nation, fewer than half (47 percent) of Americans identify as members of a religious body.

 

US Church membership was at 73 percent when the Gallup organization first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70 percent for six decades.  When you look at the numbers by age group, the downward trend is even more significant. Sixty-six percent of the Builder generation, those born before 1946, are members of a religious body.  Fifty-eight percent of Baby Boomers belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque.  Only 50 percent of Generation X go to church, and 36 percent of Millennials.  Gen Z is showing about the same rates as Millennials.

The decline is twice as bad among Catholics. People have had it with the Catholic church’s refusal to deal with clergy abuse, not allowing women into the priesthood, and their opposition to gay marriage. The Catholic Church still has a lot of power, but the decline of its influence is monumental.

As for Protestantism, the problems are varied.  For the mainline Protestant church, their style of liturgy is one problem.  Excessive layers of denominational hierarchy are another. Not many Americans like formal, liturgical worship.  And when it comes to hierarchy, I sometimes wonder if the mainline denominations don’t have a death wish. 

Rejection of the LGBTQ+ community is the main area in which the evangelical church has gone wrong.  They continue to take a hard stand against us, even though over two-thirds of Americans are supportive of gay rights. 

The fact that evangelicals have sold their souls to Donald Trump has damaged them in ways they have yet to realize.  Three-quarters of evangelicals voted for Trump in the 2020 election. The majority were Boomers and Builders. Their children and grandchildren do not share their politics, nor in increasing numbers, their religion.  Progressive evangelical pastors see the handwriting on the wall, but their money doesn’t.  If they come out as LGBTQ affirming, they will lose people and income.  

Many evangelical pastors have decided to take a middle path, telling LGBTQ+ people that they welcome them, while going to great lengths to avoid telling them the real truth – that they will never lead a kindergarten class, let alone preach a sermon or be in a leadership position in the church.  And to be clear, that is true of the 100 largest evangelical churches in America – every single one of them.

Humans are inherently spiritual. It is baked into our DNA.  We want to work out the meaning of life in community.  We want to worship. We need communities of faith. Most of the post-evangelical churches I know are growing. Without the encumbrances of right wing politics and LGBTQ+ opposition, these churches are thriving.  

The current decline in religious affiliation was inevitable. But it does not mean the end of organized religion.  The church will adapt, become more holistic, more responsive to the community, and more redemptive.  There is much work to be done, but I believe in the church, and I want to be a part of its renewal. 

I love the church I serve, Left Hand Church.  Though we are only three years old, I believe we are an example of what the church can become.  The majority of our people and staff are Gen X and younger.  We embrace the uncertainties of life and faith and make room for people with divergent opinions.  We are distinctly Christian, but it’s Jesus we worship, not the book about him.

I feel good about the future of the church, and I’m particularly excited about the future of churches like Left Hand. We look forward to writing the next chapter of religion rising in America. As for the Americans who’ve stopped going to church, I do understand.  After I was ostracized from evangelicalism, I stopped attending for a couple of years. But the spiritual journey is best experienced in community.  I’m just sayin’.  

Easter Sunday might be a good time to give the church a chance.  If you’re in the vicinity of Boulder County, we welcome you to join us for an outdoor service at 11:15 on Easter morning at 9th and Francis in Longmont.  We’d love to see you. Click on the link below for details:

https://fb.me/e/2tDQgvHIN

Boulder Strong

Unknown

Though I was in New York when the shootings in Boulder took place, within hours I posted a response from our church.  None of our friends had died, though one of our co-pastors grew up in the neighborhood, and was in the parking lot just two hours before the shooting began. Another friend was there barely an hour before.  Another acquaintance was a friend of the police officer who was killed. So many of these horrific tragedies have occurred that I don’t know what to write anymore, even when it hits close to home.  The feelings are almost too overwhelming to name – anger, fear, frustration, sadness, resolve, disbelief, fury, resignation.

When events like this take place, I tend to follow my feelings.  Strong feelings arose on the day after the shooting, when I was watching the debate on the Senate floor.  Ted Cruz, someone I already have a difficult time suffering, was railing in his full volume cadence, saying guns are not the problem.  Then he said he would not apologize for offering thoughts and prayers, because prayers are important.

Prayers are important.  I have been praying that the people of Texas would turn out Ted Cruz ever since he arrived in the Senate.  I have been praying for a clear majority in Congress who would enact a ban on assault weapons like the one used by yet another angry young man.  We are the only nation in the world that has to deal with regular mass shootings, and the pure and simple reason is because politicians are afraid of the NRA and its constituents.

I have been praying that people would believe the Democrats who say we have no intention of taking away your guns.  We just need to ban weapons of war.  We had a ban on assault weapons in Boulder, but just a few weeks before the shooting, a district judge overturned the law as unconstitutional, a decision celebrated by the NRA.  The vast majority of Americans want a ban on assault weapons. It’s enough to make me want to move to a right-leaning state and run for Congress. I want to do something that will actually make a difference.

That is one of the most frustrating parts of the shootings in Atlanta and Boulder.  The majority of us have been rendered powerless on this important subject, while people like Ted Cruz virtually guarantee that thousands more Americans will be killed by deranged men.

I did a TED Talk a year and a half ago in which one of the other speakers was a father whose son who was killed in the Aurora theater shooting.  His talk was simple.  Never mention the name of the killer, he said.  Refuse to give them the notoriety they crave.  If we can’t get rid of guns, maybe we can get rid of the endless news stories about the men who perpetrate such atrocities.

When the Parkland shooting occurred, Donald Trump had to be given a note prompting him to show empathy when he met with families who had lost children.  One of the students who spoke with Trump that day spoke eloquently of the need for gun reform.  Trump sat there emotionless.  That young man is now a college student, and in an interview on Monday evening he said when he marries and has children, he will not raise them in the United States.  He will go somewhere his children can be safe.

I am trying to find hope, for without hope we cannot move forward.  Despair is concrete to the soul.  After I returned home I went with a friend to the memorial set up against the temporary fencing that surrounds the King Sooper’s.  It was a gray and rainy day, pretty unusual for Colorado, but it felt appropriate.  I read the notes and posters and looked at the beautiful flowers covering every inch of the fence.  There were at least one hundred other people there.  I looked at the sad eyes above their facemasks, and noticed their knuckles, white as they held tightly to the hands of loved ones. In just four days, thousands of people had come to show solidarity and pay their respects.  One television reporter talked of two families who lost loved ones and were encouraged and soothed by the crowds and their expressions of love, respect, and devotion.

My trip to the site was cathartic.  I was reminded that most people are good, thoughtful, and kind.  They want to make a difference.  They want to make sure evil is not the final word.  They want compassion to prevail.  My friend and I went into a couple of shops on the perimeter of the fencing, and purchased a few items, wanting to support the business owners whose stores are in the shadow of the sadness.

You cannot remain silent in the presence of evil. I will speak about the senseless tragedy at the beginning of our church service tomorrow. I do not yet know what I will say, because words are never enough when your heart is worn and surrounded by sorrow.  But I will speak words of hope, because hope is the only thing stronger than fear.

A Failure of Courage

There is fear in the power of a mob.  With the Biden administration settling in, Republican conservatives are turning to a number of initiatives they believe to be achievable, at least at a state level.  One of them is the curtailment of transgender rights.  We need the Equality Act or my civil rights as a transgender person are going to be diminished.  And who is leading the way in these irrational fear-based initiatives?  Evangelicals.  Should I be surprised?  When I came out in 2014 I lost not one single non-evangelical friend.  On the other hand, I lost all but about five evangelical friends.  Thousands of people gone with one single blog post.

A lot has changed in evangelicalism since my departure, and most of it is not good.  According to the American Enterprise Institute, over 25 percent of evangelicals believe the basic premise of QAnon.  Over 75 percent believe, without a single shred of evidence ,that voter fraud stole the election from Donald Trump.  (Only 54 percent of non-evangelical Republicans believe that to be true.)  Sixty percent of evangelicals believe antifa was behind the 1/6 insurrection. (Only 42 percent of non-evangelical republicans believe the same thing.)  According to a Washington Post/ABC poll, 44 percent of evangelicals will not get a Covid vaccine.

These statistics indicate what I have already believed to be true – evangelicalism has become an anti-intellectual movement subject to manipulation by baseless conspiracy theories.  It is time for its leaders to speak up and stop the nonsense.  Unfortunately, their leaders are afraid of the power of the evangelical mob.

We learned this week, without surprise, that the British royal family is frightened of the power of the British tabloids.  The Republican Party is frightened of the power of one narcissistic ex-president who cost Republicans the Presidency, the House, and the Senate.  And evangelical leaders are frightened of their members.

I spent decades with evangelical megachurch pastors.  They were close friends and confidants.  I know a lot of these guys, and they were all guys.  They are smart, relatively well educated, and politically savvy.  And I am confident they do not believe any of these conspiracy theories.  They know this was a free and fair election.  They know Trump is a disaster, but they are as afraid of losing their power as moderate Republicans are afraid of losing theirs.

Lindsey Graham’s wild swings from Donald Trump’s loudest critic to his biggest supporter are a sign of what motivates Graham – power.  Whatever way the political wind blows is the way Lindsey Graham will rush.  He will do just about anything to stay away from any storm that could remove him from his coveted perch.  The same is true of many evangelical leaders.

I have been out of the evangelical world for seven years, but even back then, many of the megachurch lead pastors I knew were privately supportive of monogamous gay relationships and transgender rights.  Until the tide of public opinion turned, they routinely welcomed transgender members into their churches.  Jim Burgen, at Flatirons Church in Colorado, even told his entire congregation of his church’s embrace of one transgender woman.  In a private conversation I had with another influential megachurch pastor, he made a half-hearted argument about homosexuality being a sin.  When I said, “Come on, you know better than that.” he said, “Maybe, but my leadership doesn’t.”  I had no doubt he spoke the truth.

When Burgen received pushback for supporting the transgender woman in his church, he promptly called her in and read her a prepared statement telling her she needed to return to life as a man.  The statement included theological justification that a freshman Bible college student could refute.  I couldn’t even follow its logic.  The woman’s life was upended by Burgen’s swing from transgender support to rejection.

These guys know it is the conservatives who give disproportionately to their churches.  Conservatives make up their boards, and they are not about to risk their power by fighting for LGBTQ rights.  While that has been devastating to my community, their lack of courage does not stop there.  They do not speak out against systemic racism.  And now, they cannot even find the courage to tell their people that Donald J. Trump lost a free and fair election.  They cannot find the courage to tell them that there is no evil cabal of Democrats and Hollywood elites abusing children.  They cannot find the courage to tell them that Trump stands against everything for which Jesus gave his life. They cannot even find the courage to tell them that getting a vaccine could speed up herd immunity.  These leaders know every one of these things is true, yet they are afraid of the evangelical mob.

In the book of Romans, Paul talked more about corporate sin than individual sin.  He knew we have the tendency to behave in groups in ways in which we would never behave on our own.  This is sin as a cosmic malevolent force.  Evangelicalism’s embrace of QAnon and conspiracy theories about the election is an example of a cosmic malevolent force.  This radical evangelicalism could lead to the loss of our democracy.

Those on both coasts do not understand the power of evangelicalism in the South and Midwest.  But our system of government does.  The Senate and Electoral College, by their very nature, give greater power to smaller more rural states, where evangelicals influence the outcome of elections.  The embrace of conspiracy theories by evangelicals is not benign.  It is a malignancy on our democracy.  And there is only one group that can stop it – evangelical pastors and denominational leaders.  They know the truth.  The question is whether or not they have the courage to speak it.

Fear Mongering

I live a blessed and privileged life.  I interact daily with people from all over the world who respect the journey on which I have embarked and treat me accordingly.  I am rewarded for the authentic way in which I live my life.  I have a wonderful church, deep friendships, and a large audience interested in what I have to say about gender equity and religious tolerance.  My life is so blessed that I forget how difficult it is for so many other transgender people.

Dr. Rachel Levine’s Senate hearing this past week was a lesson in fear mongering.  Rand Paul’s line of questioning was infuriating.  He kept saying, “Let the record show that the candidate refuses to answer my question.”  He was referring to his question that equated genital mutilation, a horrible practice condemned by the United Nations, with gender confirmation surgery.  Rand Paul is a physician.  He knew exactly what he was saying.  He knows the difference between genital mutilation and gender confirmation surgery.  Dr. Levine answered his horribly inappropriate question with grace and mercy, and she answered it accurately.  She said, “Transgender medicine is a complex and nuanced field” composed of “robust research” and standards of care.  She offered to come to his office and talk about it.  But Paul had no interest in a serious conversation about gender dysphoria.  He just wanted to drive fear into the minds of his constituents.  What he did was unconscionable.

I am frequently the target of that kind of hateful behavior, but rarely to my face.  Most often it is in written form, usually comments made online about speeches I have given.  There are thousands of pejorative comments out there, but I don’t have to read any of them.  Dr. Levine did not have that privilege. She had to listen to Rand Paul’s offensive line of questioning and respond with grace.  Dr. Levine was very dignified.  It was obvious that if there was a person in the room of whom we should be afraid, it was Rand Paul.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, we saw similar behavior from two female members of Congress, as they stirred up hate and fear in opposition to the Equality Act, passed later that day along partisan lines.  One of those members of Congress is from my state, Lauren Boebert, who serves a district on the western slope of Colorado.  I live in Boulder County, one of the most liberal counties in the nation.  Weld County, to our east, is a bastion of conservatism.  Some in Weld County have even suggested that they should secede from Colorado to become a part of Wyoming, which they border to the north.  Colorado is a microcosm of our nation, very divided.

I do not spend much time in Weld County, just as I do not spend much time in the commonwealth Rand Paul represents, Kentucky.  I lived in Kentucky through my high school and college years.  After I transitioned, I was planning to attend one of my high school reunions.  Though I had been voted most likely to succeed in my class, I was informed that if I attended, there might be trouble.  I did not attend the reunion, though I did visit with my cousins and a few other good friends from my hometown who have been staunch supporters of mine.  For the most part, however, I avoid Kentucky.

My privileged life allows me to avoid the haters, or at least direct contact with them.  It’s enough to make me think things are truly getting better.  Then I see Rand Paul, and Representatives Greene and Boebert, and I am reminded just how far we have to go.  We desperately need the Equality Act to pass the Senate and be signed into law. There is absolutely nothing about being transgender that should strike fear into any rational person.  The Bible has nothing to say about it, and no, your argument based on one Genesis passage is not convincing.  It does not take much of a theologian to dismantle it. Not one of us has ever been accused, arrested, or convicted of being in a restroom for nefarious purposes.  On the other hand, you might consider the fact that over one 20 year period, the three largest insurance companies representing Protestant churches in America paid out over 7,000 claims for clergy sexual abuse.

Fear mongering is deplorable.  I knew someone who worked for Dr. Levine when she directed a program in adolescent medicine in Pennsylvania.  This person and her husband spoke of Dr. Levine in very pejorative terms.  When Dr. Levine was nominated for her position, it took me a while to realize she was the same physician about whom my acquaintances had spoken.  The person I saw being interviewed in the Senate was nothing like what I had been told by these evangelical leaders, who described her as being a threat to her young patients.

The aggravating truth is that these are good people for whom I have a lot of respect.  They have done good work throughout their lives, and pre-transition, they loved me well.  I have not heard from them since I transitioned.  We all have our blind spots, but blind spots can be dangerous when they lead to fear mongering.  I hope my acquaintances have educated themselves about transgender people.  I hope they now understand that we are good people who have struggled mightily to live authentically.  We are a threat to no one.

I am grateful for Rachel Levine’s grace and composure under pressure.  I do my best when I am in similar circumstances.  Those of us who are able to do so have little choice but to boldly speak the truth and show the world who we are.  I know of no other way to assure others that they have nothing to fear.

Accumulating Wisdom

When I am reading a book, I make notes in the back – by page number.  Most of what I write are words of the author that I want to remember, but I also write my own thoughts and reactions about what I have read.  Should some soul pick up the book after I’m gone, they’ll have no idea what I’m talking about, because I write my thoughts in code that makes sense only to me.  For instance, I might write “E. Becker” and a page number, which would mean the author’s words made me think of Ernest Becker and his book, The Denial of Death. The notes I write make their way into conversations.

When I am puzzling over a concept, I have to talk about it; to bounce it off someone who understands the basic nature of the notion about which I am puzzling. My favorite people with whom to bounce around intellectual ideas are my son, Jonathan, my friends David and Michael, and a handful of colleagues.  When I am puzzling about life itself, I tend to talk with Cathy or my daughters or close female friends who are verbal processors.

I also process difficult information out loud.  If I have a medical symptom that frightens me, I have to talk it out with a friend.  That worked pretty well when my close friends were physicians.  It doesn’t work so well nowadays.  I feel sorry for Cathy and my other close female friends.  They bear the brunt of my health obsessions and the need to talk about them – endlessly.

I am reaching that age in which a person starts thinking about their mortality.  I have good genes.  My parents both lived well into their 90s, but that doesn’t stop me from fretting about my own health.  Some of it is unique to my circumstances.  I lived for six decades before I transitioned.  It will not be possible for me to spend half of my life as a woman.  I may not even spend a third of my life as a female.  I want to stay healthy, because I am enjoying life as a woman.  I am so much happier now.  Hence the desire to stretch out this part of my life as long as possible.

Which brings me back to Ernest Becker’s book, The Denial of Death.  Game 6 of the 1986 World Series was not going well.  If the Red Sox won, they would win the World Series.  It was the bottom of the 10th inning with two outs, and my beloved New York Mets were behind 5 to 3.  Confident it was over, I headed upstairs to my bedroom, where I opened Becker’s book to the page where I had stopped reading the day before.  I had just started on a section in which he wrote about Freud’s inability to deal with death when Cathy let out a squeal from downstairs.  The Mets had miraculously tied the game.  We watched together as Mookie Wilson hit the single that dribbled through Bill Buckner’s legs and secured the Mets win, 6-5.  The Mets came from behind the next night to win the seventh game and the Series.  That was almost 35 years ago.  It was the last World Series won by the Mets.

I have never forgotten what book I was reading that night, after I had given up on any hope of the Mets winning game six.  It seemed fitting to read about death. Our culture does all it can to deny the reality of death, because death is our greatest fear. If we dare to love another, we will eventually lose the one we love, either through their death or our own. And of course, we will all eventually lose ourselves before we’ve ever really found ourselves.  In light of that truth, no wonder we try to deny the reality of aging and death.

As I get older, my physical power diminishes.  I can no longer escape the fact that I cannot run or bike or hike as fast as I once did.  These bodies we inhabit wear out. On the other hand, I am discovering that not everything wears out.

Wisdom does not wear out.  At least to this point in my life, I would say that wisdom only increases with age.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know plenty of people who have not grown in wisdom as they have aged.  They stopped growing a long time ago.  Many people shut down their curiosity about life.  They settle into their ways and await the inevitable. But if you keep growing through every stage of life, wisdom accumulates. You see life through the long lens.  You learn to look deep within for your sense of self-worth, instead of seeking it from the outside.  You find you are more interested in being in relationship than being right. You realize we overestimate what we can accomplish in one year, but underestimate what we can accomplish in twenty.  And you learn that when a call comes, you decline that call at your own peril.

I frequently return to the notes I write in the back of a book, both the thoughts of the author and my own reflections. One of the notes I wrote the other day in the back of Parker Palmer’s little book, Let Your Life Speak, were these words: “The movements that transform the world emerge from people who decide to care for their authentic selfhood.”  Below it is another quote: “One dwells with God by being faithful to one’s nature.”  I like reading those whose wisdom exceeds my own.  They are good guides on this journey through time.

Caring for my authentic selfhood, while tolerating my stubborn predispositions, is an ongoing practice in grace and wisdom.  We are always becoming, and if we persevere, our wisdom is always increasing.

All In a Name

When you’ve met one transgender person, you’ve met exactly one transgender person.  None of us can speak for anyone but ourselves.  It is important to mention that, because I have a number of transgender brothers and sisters who talk about being “dead named.” What they are referring to is when someone calls them by their birth name. It is not language I choose to use.

A couple of years ago a lead pastor of a large church was planning to preach about what God thinks about gender dysphoria.  When he wrote to ask if I would speak with him, he wrote the letter to Paul.  I do not open mail written to Paul.  Since his return address was on the letter, I wrote back and said if he wanted to address me by my legal name, I would open his letter.  He did write back using my legal name, but I still chose not to speak with him. He had already reached his conclusions.

It was the first time in about five years someone had addressed me as Paul. I did not feel I had been dead named. I just felt I had been treated disrespectfully. The truth is that I am comfortable talking about my life as Paul.  It is not my “dead name.”  It is the name by which I was known for exactly 90 percent of my life.  It is the name my parents gave me when I was born, the name my wife called me for 40 years, the name by which all of my friends knew me.  Paul was my name.  The person who was Paul is still me.  I am that person.

Paul is no longer the name that best defines me.  That name is Paula.  And oh my, what a difference that one little letter makes.  I am comfortable as Paula.  Paula is who I am.  Paula is me.  But I am also Paul.  Paul lives within me and informs my life on a daily basis.  Sometimes I am not particularly crazy about how Paul informs my life, like when I am feeling entitled and bring my privilege with me.  But most of the time I am comfortable with the wisdom Paul brings into my life.  I am grateful for what he knew and imparted to me.

Integrating Paul into Paula is one of the most difficult parts of my transgender journey.  There is a chapter in my memoir entitled Dying Before Dying.  It defines my dilemma.  To be sure, a part of me has died.  But that part also lives on, not just in my memories, but in my heart and head and soul and yes, even my body. If someone calls me Paul, it would be wrong to say I was “dead named.”  If it’s done respectfully, or forgetfully, I usually ignore it, at least the first time.

It does not help to complicate my journey by denying the reality of my life as Paul.  When I first transitioned I said to Jonathan, “I’m the same person I have always been.”  He strongly disagreed: “No, you most certainly are not!”  My daughters had seen the bodily and personality changes take place slowly.  Jonathan only saw me every few months, and for him, the differences were jarring.

Jonathan was right. I am a fundamentally different person. Testosterone is a powerful substance that affects every part of your being. When it is gone, you experience life differently. I would describe it as seeing life more holistically.  For me, testosterone made me feel like I was a hammer and the whole world was a nail. It narrowed my focus.  I never experienced testosterone as a positive substance.  From the day of its arrival until the day of its departure, it was a problem.

Estrogen is the opposite.  From the day of its arrival, I experienced it as a blessing, a wonderful substance that makes me feel the way I always should have felt.  Some of the changes in me are because of the loss of testosterone and the addition of estrogen. Some are from the different experience a woman has on earth, as compared to the experience of a man. As a woman, it doesn’t take long for you to begin to see yourself as a second-class citizen.

All of these things make the integration of Paul into Paula difficult. However, of one thing I am certain. Integration will never happen if I think of Paul as my dead name. It is already difficult enough to integrate the two halves of my life without exacerbating the problem by deciding that I was living with a dead name for all those decades.

In the Book of Exodus, God told Moses that his name was Yahweh.  It is a marvelous thing to be given a name, to tell people your name, and to have people call you by your name. Names are who we are. We turn around when our name is called. We step to the front of the line with satisfaction when our name is called while waiting for a table at a busy restaurant. We react with anxiety when it is called in a doctor’s waiting room.

Paula is my name. Paul exists within Paula.  Of that, I am certain.  As for the rest, I’ll just have to ask Yahweh. I imagine integrating God, Jesus and Spirit is no easy task either.

And so it goes.

Honor & Responsibility

It was my honor to speak for the 59th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service.  The service, virtual this year, is usually held at the National Cathedral the morning after the inauguration.

When I first saw the list of participants, I was humbled.  Who am I to be in the company of leaders who have fought for civil rights throughout their lives, while I, a privileged White man, was clueless about my entitlement?  Fortunately, life should not be judged by our failures. The question is not whether we have failed, but whether we allowed those blessed defeats to shape and form us into better vessels for service.

There are times I still feel like a privileged White evangelical male leader, even though that world has completely rejected me.  But that sense of entitlement is difficult to shake.  It grips its claws into your needy ego.  But I have learned much over the last seven years, including how to let the past be the past.  I remain an alpha personality, and I do not apologize for that.  Interestingly, however, virtually every opportunity that has come to me since transitioning is not something I went looking for.  I did not reach out to TEDxMileHigh or TED.  Both came to me.  The same is true of my speaker’s agency, my book agent, the publishing house releasing my memoir, the movie studio making a film about my life, the Biden campaign for which I was privileged to serve, and every church at which I have preached.  Every single opportunity came to me.

I said in a sermon not long ago that hope usually arrives from the outside.  Whether as a result of hard work, fate or just good fortune, opportunities come our way.  But it’s not that we have no agency in the matter.  We must say yes to those opportunities.  You have to say yes to hope, though it is almost always terrifying to do so.  “What if my TED talk isn’t very good and no one watches it?” ” What if no one reads my book?” ” What if I say something wrong in the Inaugural Prayer Service?”  I am always terrified when I say yes, but in the past I learned how awful it feels when you dare to say no.  I only said no once, but it took me years to get over that decision.  You do not say no to hope.

Of course, though saying yes is the first step in responding to hope, the call of hope always includes a period of time on the road of trials.  Therefore, yes without perseverance, guarantees that a journey will end before it ever really begins.  If you persevere, however, your yes eventually leads to the prize of great price, the Holy Grail, as you experience the joy of doing good work.

I believe that hope, plus yes, plus perseverance, equals destiny.  Saying yes to an opportunity that comes your way, and persevering through the journey that arrives with that yes, is what creates your destiny.  Achieving your destiny includes both external and internal elements.  Being in the right place at the right time is certainly a part of it, but how you respond to that external opportunity means everything.

Saying yes is difficult for most of us, because someplace deep within, shame stalks our better angels and tells us we are not worthy.  I find that a lot of people who are jealous of the good things that have come my way actually have nothing against me personally.  They just have not wrestled their own shame demons to the ground.  They think, “I know I’m not worthy of honor, so what makes her think she’s worthy?”  The truth is that we are all worthy.

When I finished my reading in the 59th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service, I wept. I wept because of the privilege and honor of participating in the service.  I wept because it was a very moving service, a fitting end to the two days of the inaugural festivities, the collective sigh of relief we all so desperately wanted for the last four years.

To those who invited me to be a part of such an inspirational service, I offer my thanks.  I owe a debt of gratitude to Josh Dickson from the Biden Inaugural team and Michael Vazquez from the HRC and everyone else involved in planning the service in which more than two dozen people from a plethora of faith perspectives came together to produce one amazing hour of conviction that we can work together to heal our nation.

It was just seven years ago this week that I was at the lowest point in my transition from Paul to Paula.  I had lost all of my jobs and almost all of my friends. I didn’t know if I would survive. But I believed the call toward authenticity is sacred, and holy, and for the greater good, and I persevered. And since that time, I have been wonderfully blessed, far beyond anything I could have imagined.

When we are placed on this earth we are given the responsibility to shape our lives to fit the challenges of our times.  The faith, conviction, and determination with which we approach those challenges is what will be remembered.  How much suffering did we ameliorate?  How well did we love?  How many times did we say yes when hope came knocking on our door.  Did we persevere through the challenges?

I have no idea what hope is yet to come, but I do know I will keep saying yes, and I will persevere.  It is the only decent way to live.

Christian Nationalism and Me

I understand White Christian Nationalism and White Christian men.  I grew up immersed in the first group and was a member of the second. I served as a leader in a religious movement of over 6,000 churches with origins on the American frontier. These churches are overwhelmingly White and 100 percent male-led. The same is true for almost all evangelical denominations.  Evangelicals make up about one quarter of the American population – our largest religious group.

My own theological education was from an evangelical perspective, but in my twenties I was introduced to a more liberal expression of evangelicalism, primarily through one seminary in our denomination, a place where I later taught as an instructor.  I was also influenced by The Wittenburg Door, an irreverent satirical journal of the period that appealed to an entire generation of terminally curious young theologians. Although my theology became much broader, I did not leave evangelicalism. I was comfortable. I liked the people and the camaraderie. I did not understand the damage I was doing by remaining.

I did push and cajole, particularly on the subject of women in leadership, something frowned upon in almost all corners of evangelicalism, and certainly within the movement of churches of which I was a part. When I wrote a magazine column on adding women to the eldership of churches and placing them in lead ministry positions, I received letters from leaders within our denomination who reminded me that “God placed men in charge of the church.” Uh, okay, that’s actually not true. But that view has a deep history in the church, and has dominated evangelicalism.

So much of White Christian Nationalism is rooted in White Christian men who were taught that God intended for things to be this way, not just for the church, but for all of society. I don’t know how many times I heard professors and evangelical thought leaders say, “America was founded as a Christian nation.” Except that it wasn’t. When America was founded, a lot of its citizens were Christians, but our Founding Fathers protected our nation by not establishing a government-sanctioned religion.

White Christian Nationalism tries to gloss over this truth and make our Founding Fathers more Christian than they were.  They try to make us believe that it was a conservative form of Protestantism that created the core values of the United States.

I suppose you could say that the core values of this nation can be found in the Magna Carta, written in England in 1215.  You could also say that the Magna Carta finds its core values in Judeo-Christian teaching. But to go from that to saying America was started as a Christian nation is quite a leap. To say it was begun as an evangelical nation is an even wider chasm. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Monroe, George Washington and John Adams were all Christians, but they were also all Deists, believing that none of the supernatural events depicted in scripture were factual.

The influence of evangelicalism on American government is actually quite recent, dating back to the 1980s and the Moral Majority. Since the time of Ronald Reagan, evangelicalism has gained greater and greater influence in the halls of government.  Many of the top lieutenants of George W. Bush and Donald Trump were evangelicals.

I was invited to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in 2002, and was surprised at how many members of Bush’s cabinet identified themselves as evangelical.  Eight members of Donald Trump’s cabinet identified as evangelical, including Betsy DeVos, a member of the Christian Reformed Church, and Mike Pompeo, a member of a very conservative Presbyterian denomination.

This relatively recent evangelical influence on American government is the product of White Christian Nationalists, who believe evangelical teachings should be the rule of our nation.  I say “White Christian Nationalists” because they are almost all White.  There are very flew Black and Brown people among their ranks. They believe LGBTQ support is anti-Christian, though that perspective comes from a narrow evangelical interpretation of scripture.  They believe our laws should ban gay marriage, transgender rights, and other basic civil rights.  Simply put, they want to impose their narrow interpretation of the Bible on the entire American population.

Beneath their desire for an evangelical-based rule of law is their desire for current power structures to remain in place.  Not only are they opposed to LGBTQ rights, they are also opposed to a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body.  That is consistent with a worldview that says men should be in charge of women at home, at church, and by extrapolation, in every other area of society.  It is the major religious teaching on gender roles in 28 states of the United States.  Who drives this teaching?  Men. Of the 100 largest churches in the nation, all 100 are led by men, and 93 of them are White.

White Christian Nationalism is a threat to the core values of American democracy.    That I used to be a part of that power structure, barely lifting a finger from within to challenge its dominance, is a great regret.  Fortunately, none of us should be judged by the worst thing we’ve ever done.

When I was a leader in the evangelical world, I am sorry I did little more than write an editorial or two on women in leadership.  When I see the power evangelicalism has today, and the rabid fervor with which they wield that power, I am frightened. I am afraid of White Christian Nationalism.  You should be afraid too.

Character Counts

Character is destiny.  Anyone can fake integrity for a while, but without character, it is not sustainable.  Basic building blocks must be in place to become a person of character.  Early in life you need to have been given a sense of self-worth and confidence in the safety of your existence.  You also need parents who have enough character to delay their own gratification to meet your needs. It is obvious Donald Trump did not have the building blocks necessary to become a fully functioning adult. He never had a chance. More than likely, his narcissism can be placed at the feet of his harsh and demanding father.

With Josh Hawley, it might be a different story.  In Friday’s New York Times, David Brooks wrote a scathing op-ed in which he said, “Hawley didn’t just own the libs, he gave permission to dark forces he is too childish, privileged, and self-absorbed to understand.”  Ouch.  Hawley’s mentor, the venerable Missouri Republican John Danforth, said mentoring Hawley was “the biggest mistake I have ever made in my life.”  This has not been a good week for Josh Hawley. There is nothing wrong with ambition.  I have always been a person of ambition, though I have noticed the world was far more accepting of my ambition when I was a man than it is now that I am a woman.  But ambition without character will sooner or later lead to a great fall.

Cancel culture defines a person by the worst thing he or she has ever done or said.  None of us should be defined by the worst thing we have ever done or said. We all screw up.  There were times when my own ambition was blind.  I cringe when I think of those occasions. They are never apparent in real time. Only in the rearview mirror do you see that we all have the capacity for self-absorbed, privileged, and childish behavior. I hope this is a tipping point for Hawley. Will he experience the kind of blessed and necessary defeat that forges character, or will he be more like Ted Cruz, who has already demonstrated his true and abiding nature?  Time will tell.

One of the most damaging realities about Hawley, Cruz, and many of the others who have bowed down to Trump, is that they identify as evangelical Christians. During my last 25 years in the evangelical camp, I lectured frequently across the nation on the subject of postmodernism. Evangelicals thought postmodernism was evil and that we needed to return to the modern age, as if the modern age had been with us since the time of Christ. In reality, the modern age was about 500 years old.

I was attacked for saying postmodernism is a good corrective to the modern age. One of the biggest complaints that evangelicals made against postmodernism was that it created a world in which truth was nothing but a social construct. At the extremes of postmodernism, I actually shared their concerns.  But in my lectures I said that truth has always been slippery.  There is no such thing as objective truth, because humans always bring their own bias to any observation.  But I also said that through rigorous inter-subjective discipline, we can get very, very close to something resembling objective truth. My friend Phil Kenneson at Milligan University helped me understand that in an excellent chapter he wrote for the book Christian Apologetics in a Postmodern World entitled, “There’s No Such Thing as Objective Truth, and It’s a Good Thing Too.”

At its extremes, postmodernism has ushered in a confusing world that says all truth is social construct, what a group of people arbitrarily decide is true. I frequently get in trouble with some in the world of sociology because I do not believe gender is purely a social construct.  I believe we have a pre-disposition, before experience, to specific gendered behaviors. That is not a popular viewpoint among those who believe everything is a social construct, including gender.  I believe there is something close to objective truth. Which brings me back to the election.

What Hawley and Cruz did on Wednesday was capitulate to the notion of truth as anything but social construct.  They made their objections based on no actual facts, but only on the reality that people believe the election was stolen.  That’s all it took for them to object.  There was no examination of the veracity of those beliefs, or their source. Their source is clearly a president pedaling lies to bolster his sagging ego, and television networks like Fox and Newsmax pedaling lies for profit and power. Hawley is extremely well educated.  He should know exactly what is going on. I must assume that blind ambition has made him, well, blind.

When it comes to the nature of truth, the very evangelicals who demonized postmodernism have embraced it in the most damaging of ways.  They have embraced a president who has made over 20,000 false or misleading claims.  With Trump’s extreme narcissism, I would expect nothing different from him. It takes a lot of lies to prop up an extremely fragile ego. With media titans Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, and Christopher Ruddy, and their desire for power and profit, I would expect nothing different. With Ted Cruz’s previous behavior, I would not expect anything different. With Josh Hawley, however, I am surprised. I mean, this guy clerked for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  A lot of damage can be done by blind ambition.

My mother’s extreme narcissism made me question the safety of the universe and question my own self-worth. My father’s love and grandmother’s devotion saved me from the worst effects of that unstable environment. Still, I am aware of my flaws. I can be too ambitious. I can be self-referential and self-serving. Thank goodness I have surrounded myself with people who will tell me the truth. I hope Josh Hawley listens to John Danforth. It is not too late for him to yoke his ambition to a higher cause than his own self-aggrandizement. We will see what happens. Character is destiny.