This Is Why I Speak
I was featured in an article in last Sunday’s Denver Post. (There is a link at the end of this post.) For the most part, I was pleased with the article. The reporter captured the essence of our conversation. But as with most newspaper articles, there were mistakes. The reporter wrote “anthrobiologist” instead of “sociobiologist.” She wrote that I had said change would come to the church on LGBTQ issues within two years. I said 10 years. Two years would be great, but it’s way too optimistic. There were a couple other mistakes, but I’m not complaining.
As for the picture, that was a different story. They probably took 50 pictures. I remember when the photographer took that particular picture. I thought, “Well that’s gonna show every pore. Watch, that’s the picture they’ll use.” Uh huh.
As the Post article was being read in coffee shops, I was preaching at Highlands Church in Denver, where a New York Times photographer was taking pictures for an article that will go to press later this month. Why am I willing to be profiled in the Denver Post and the New York Times? Why do I take every newspaper and television interview I am offered? Why do I accept every invitation to speak at Christian universities, even though I pay my own expenses? Why do I travel the country to speak at GCN, PFLAG and Pride events, often for remuneration that does not cover half of my expenses?
I have already spent decades building kingdoms and slaying dragons. I am not building a brand. I do not need attention. I do not relish the emails, Facebook messages and newspaper comments that arrive every day from an assortment of naysayers. Nor do I have a masochistic spirit that requires regular doses of sarcasm and vitriol. So, why do I choose to live such a public life?
The reason is simple. Lives are at stake.
I will never forget the transgender teen who talked with me after I spoke at my first public event, a PFLAG conference in Boulder. The boy’s name was Nicholas, and we realized we had been in court on the same day, when our names were legally changed. His parents were incredibly supportive, unlike the parents of Leelah Alcorn, who ended her life on the very same day Nicholas and I changed our names. Leelah’s unsupportive parents attended a church that taught them not to accept their daughter’s gender. It cost them their daughter.
Transgender teens with unsupportive parents have a suicide rate 13 times higher than their peers. They are the most at risk group in the nation. Most of those unsupportive parents are Evangelicals.
Nicholas and Leelah are why I live a public life. Since transitioning I have spoken in 18 states. I have been in personal contact with thousands of LGBTQ individuals and their families from seven countries on four continents. Almost without exception these souls are Christians who have been ostracized from their churches and/or families. They always ask the same painful question, “What do I do now?”
I feel the weight of the responsibility. In my previous work, I hoped to save people from spiritual suffering. In my current work, I hope to save people from dying.
The pain experienced by these precious souls comes from a church more interested in abstract truth than in the incarnational truth before their eyes – embodied souls who have been driven to the edge of despair by people who use an abstract idea as a very real and dangerous sword.
The truth is, I do not care about their brand of orthodoxy. I have no interest in debating it. It is of little interest to me. However, I do care about their orthopraxy, how they practice the Christian faith. I find it lacking. I find any religion lacking that leads with judgment instead of leading with acceptance and love.
I do believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. But it is a Gospel not based on exclusion and judgment. It is good news based on the earthly journey of a member of the Trinity. It is based on the Jesus who came to assure us that God loves us, just as we are. Did you read that? I meant what I wrote. God loves us just as we are.
This is why I speak.