And Know My Heart, I Pray

And Know My Heart, I Pray

Last week it was my privilege to present a workshop at the national PFLAG conference in Nashville, Tennessee. PFLAG is a non-profit created by parents and family members of lesbians, gays, and transgender people. PFLAG is story based. They believe if families tell their stories, friends and neighbors will listen and the world will change. I believe they are right.

When an enemy is “out there,” it is easy to vilify them. But when that person becomes human, all but the hardest hearts begin to reexamine their opposition. When I preached at Highlands Church in Denver in August, I looked out over an audience of several hundred people, a sizeable portion of whom were gay or lesbian. About sixty seconds into my message I almost had to stop and gather myself. I saw mothers and fathers holding their children, showing a powerful passion for Christ, filled to the brim with love for one another. I tried to imagine Jesus standing before that audience and saying, “I am so sorry. Satan has deceived you. You are all headed to the fires of hell.” There was not one tiny piece of my heart that could imagine such a Jesus.

I know some of you can, in fact, imagine that Jesus. I invite you to stand before that same audience and preach. Pick a favorite passage on a subject that does not address the sexual identity of the audience. Speak for 25 minutes, talk with the audience afterwards, and see if you do not find your own theology to be troubling.

Too often we act as though our theological positions are without real world consequences. Until you walk a mile in the shoes of another, your theological positions are just that, positions. Until they become people, they have not faced the litmus test of conscience. “Could it be there is nothing wrong with these people? Could it be my hermeneutic is askew, and not this dear person’s life.”

At the PFLAG workshop I spoke to dozens of moms and dads and other family members of LGBTQ individuals. Most in the room called themselves followers of Jesus. One after another, with tears in their eyes, they told their stories of rejection, of churches casting out their children. In the name of Jesus they had all been hurt.

I know many of you reading this blog are disappointed I have taken this stand. But I invite you to listen to the stories these people tell, and see if your conscience is not pricked to its core. Once your conscience begins to fight with your belief systems, feel the cognitive dissonance. Don’t run from it. Ponder it. This is how, over the centuries, the church changed its stance on slavery, women’s rights, interracial marriage, divorce and remarriage, and a plethora of other issues.

At the end of my talk a gentle 74-year-old man talked about his 32-year relationship with his husband. He asked if I knew about a megachurch in his city, one I do know well. He said, “There is a young man on the preaching team who is a marvelous communicator and seems like a good human being, but his arrogance is unbecoming.” I knew of whom he spoke and could not disagree. On this subject and others, his arrogance is unbecoming.

I would love for this sweet man and his husband to become friends with the young, gifted pastor, and sit back and watch what happens. That is how lives change, one relationship at a time, arrogance replaced with understanding, judgment replaced with love.

And, God willing, so it goes.

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A Welcome and an Expiration Date

A Welcome and an Expiration Date

I do not understand how Christianity went from a religion of love to one of conditional judgment. Rather than listen to the Jesus who talked about loving enemies, we somehow gravitate toward the desert religions and their economy of scarcity. Only a few can win. Everyone else must lose. The problem is no one wants to admit they see life that way. They want to project a different image, one that includes a warmer embrace. They know their judgment is a marketing problem and a public relations nightmare, so they feign acceptance. But in so many ways that embrace is disingenuous.

Christians often tell us God accepts us as we are, but we are also clearly informed if we do not change to become what the powers that be want us to become, we will ultimately be rejected. The window open for the required change may vary from one Evangelical camp to another, but in all of them it eventually closes with an ominous thud. We are left on the outside because we did not perform as expected. Love does not win. Judgment wins.

We have recently seen many Evangelical churches telling the LGBTQ community they are welcome just as they are. What is reserved for later is the more ominous message that unless they change their fundamental identity, their welcome has an expiration date. These churches have every right to hold their opinions, but I wish they would stop their bait and switch tactics. Put the expiration date in large letters on the outside of the package. Warning: Unless you stop your sinful behavior, God will not allow you into his heaven.

In my neck of the woods, the senior pastor of one megachurch spoke from the pulpit about his acceptance of a transgender member, and even wrote about it in one of his books. Yet he later informed her she was living a sinful life. I have no idea whether the decision was his or was handed down from the church elders, but the bottom line is that a woman was horribly misled.

I was asked by a social service agency to vet an Evangelical pastor who wanted to provide services to the agency. I decided not to waste anyone’s time and forthrightly asked, “Do you believe all homosexual relationships are sinful?” The pastor said, “We judge no one.” I politely suggested he had not answered the question.

I asked again, “Do you believe all homosexual relationships are sinful?” After half an hour of evasive answers the pastor finally admitted, “Yes, I do.” I thanked him for his honesty. He expected me to argue that his church should be fully inclusive. I said, “You have every right to hold whatever position you want to hold. You are a smart guy and this is an independent church. But we cannot allow you to host meetings with gay teens in the agency office when we know eventually, some day, somewhere, you are going to tell them acting on their homosexuality is a sin.” I have not heard from the pastor since.

To all who want to show your “acceptance” of LGBTQ people, but know good and well your theology is not going to change on the subject, do everyone a favor. Please stop leading these people on. These souls want a church family who will love and accept them as they are. They do not need to hear you tell them about your struggle with being overweight, or your inability to eliminate your lusts or control your anger. They do not need your evasive metaphors. They need the truth. If you cannot accept their sexuality, let them go. Please.

Put Down the Fork

Put Down the Fork

I had a college professor who taught there was never a time for anger. A student from New Jersey challenged him with the Bible’s many passages about God’s anger. The student was dismissed with a quick, “That’s different.” The truth is anger is an important human emotion. If we deny our anger, all we do is turn it inward. Anger turned inward becomes depression.

I spent part of my childhood in the south, where people are not inclined to express much anger. I had to wait until I moved to New York to see a culture in which anger is readily visible. Initially I was taken aback. As time went on, however, I found people who expressed their anger were more likely to be honest with me. I liked that. I knew where they stood.

A few years ago a New York co-worker told a story about walking in Manhattan. My friend yelled at an aggressive cab driver, reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman’s famous line from Midnight Cowboy, “Hey, we’re walkin’ here!” The driver, unfazed, yelled back. Lots of blue words filled the air before my friend realized the cab did not have a fare. He asked, “Can you take me to LaGuardia?” The cabbie answered, “Sure, hop in.” Only in New York.

Another friend wrote to say he was glad my anger was dissipating after having been let go from the ministries I served. He said he had considered speaking with me about it. This particular friend is one of the truly good guys, and I would have been willing to receive his words, though I’m not sure he fully understood the necessity of my anger.

It caused me to reflect on why we Christians are uncomfortable expressing anger. Why was it only Christians who felt free to tell me they were pleased I had moved beyond my anger? None of my non-church friends said a word about my anger, other than to question if I was repressing it.

Sometimes we Christians are so focused on right thinking we relegate feelings and emotions to a back burner, as if they were lesser expressions of the human condition. As a child I was frequently admonished, “You can’t trust your feelings.” Seriously? When Cathy counsels people she often asks, “Where in your body do you feel that?” She asks in that way because if she simply asks, “How did you feel when that happened?” many people will have difficulty answering. They have been taught not to identify their feelings and never express their anger. When I am working with couples and there is no anger, I know there is probably significant denial and, more than likely, little passion in the relationship.

The problem with anger is not that we feel angry, but that sometimes we remain too long too angry. When we refuse to leave the table at the dinner of anger, we cannot see it is our own selves we begin to consume. After properly feeling and expressing our anger, we need to begin the hard work of examining the cause of our anger, often a deep hurt of some kind. But we won’t start healing the wound until we allow ourselves to feel the anger.

Like most things in life, the healthy place is in the middle, allowing ourselves a seat at the table of anger, but knowing when its time to put down the fork and begin the hard work of healing our wound.

My non-church friends knew they could trust me to put down the fork when the time was right. They did not feel compelled to tell me they were glad I had moved on any more than they would have told me after two hours of mountain biking that they were glad I was back in my living room. Anger is just a part of the journey, and an important part at that.

Finding the balance between repressing anger, expressing anger, and moving on is tricky business. Most of us need a little help determining when it is time to push way from the table. And it is not particularly helpful when people push us too fast in either direction.

(As I often do before posting, I sent this column to a couple friends and asked for their comments. I sent it to an Evangelical and to a non-church friend. The Evangelical had a suggestion or two, but for the most part thought it was ready to publish. The non-church friend asked, “Are you sure you have really dealt with your anger?” And so it goes…)

 

Moving On

Moving On

There are certain passages on this journey that take us from one world to another. The change is always bittersweet. Today’s post is for the friends who were a part of the movement of which I was a part for so very long.

Friends,

I want to thank you for nurturing me, caring for me, and giving me a place in which to grow and serve. The egalitarian nature of our movement was unique and well suited for someone with an entrepreneurial bent like me. Through its structure I got to rub shoulders with others with similar ideas, desires and abilities. And we all got to work together to make a difference.

I was particularly blessed to spend time with fellow workers in church planting, and with a host of church and megachurch leaders. It was life giving. I will always be grateful for what you brought to me.

Working with Christian Standard was a delight. So many of my friends thought the magazine was irrelevant and dated. But we worked hard to make it strong, and people took notice. I have great respect for Mark Taylor, the contributing editors and staff.

Working with the Orchard Group was the highlight of my career. I got to serve with amazing people and great church planters, all hard-working servants who made me look good. Brent Storms is a very good leader with a heart that always wants to do what is best for the ministry and the people involved with it. The staff and board struggled greatly when I told them I was trans, and they did the best they knew to do. They are good people, all.

I still believe in our tribe, the one with no name. Restoration movement seems dated. Independent Christian churches seems the most descriptive, because, God knows, we are pretty independent. I miss our tribe. I have returned to the church, but I know I will not be able to return to the movement. It is what it is.

There has also been another side to my departure, also difficult. Cathy is a psychotherapist and was talking the other day about how often conversations stop far too early and people act based on inaccurate assumptions.

There have been assumptions made regarding my transition. Some were inaccurate. When you consider transitioning, you are encouraged (and wisely so) to “try out” your new persona in a safe environment. I chose to do that in a blog (not this one) that is no longer online, though much of its content was incorporated into this blog. When people looked at the timeline of that blog, some used that information to “prove” I knew I was going to transition long before I made it public. The truth is I went back and forth on the issue for a long time, and did not make a final decision until the summer of 2014. Those close to me are well aware of the timeline. Why others felt the need to “prove” my supposed duplicity, I’m not sure. Like I said, it is dangerous to make assumptions about people’s motives.

Did I make mistakes? I did. I have made amends in those cases in which I was aware of my errors. I intended no harm, but if you are human you can’t avoid saying or doing some unfortunate things. It’s all a part of the journey.

Do I have anger that remains? Periodically I do. It is difficult to be ostracized from your church family because of who you are. It is even more difficult when people attack your motives and tell close friends that I “was not the friend I claimed to be.” Those folks also acted on inaccurate assumptions.

On the whole, however, my positive memories of the movement far outweigh those difficult moments. There are thousands of good people I came to know and love, and I miss them.

Time moves on, and I move forward in a world that is able to accept me as I am. These people are no better or worse than those I leave. They have their own assumptions, some correct, some not.  But hopefully, all of us can stumble our way toward the goal we share, the reconciliation of the creation to the Creator. I pray we can be effective in that great endeavor, even if occasionally it is in spite of ourselves.