By Their Fruit I Came to Trust Them

By Their Fruit I Came to Trust Them

Three weeks ago it was my privilege to be at the meeting of the Union of Affirming Christians – a Faithful Coalition for LGBTQ Equality at Union Seminary in New York City. The conference was under the capable leadership of Josh Dickson, Fred Davie and Derrick Harkins. For two days, 25 of us talked about the need for LGBTQ equality in the evangelical world.

The meeting was a reminder of how much my world has changed over the past few years. For most of my evangelical life I was in the company of leaders who were almost all straight white evangelical males. At the Union meeting straight white men were a decided minority.

Those attending the Union conference have had ample opportunities to spend time with people of varied backgrounds. That has been one of the most refreshing aspects of my new church world. For the most part, those with whom I worked in my previous life came from the same background. I did not encounter gay clergy. I did not interact with women who were pastors, seminary presidents or non-profit CEOs. I interacted with very few people of color.

The beginnings of my own interaction with warm, intelligent, loving non-evangelicals began in my childhood in Akron, Ohio. It continued after I moved to New York and was surrounded by people who did not know an evangelical from a kumquat. These people were intelligent, well educated and accepting. By their fruit I came to trust them. They loved well. Proximity promotes understanding.

I believe those with whom I worked in my previous ministries were good and devoted people. The majority also lived in silos. While being in close proximity promotes understanding, living in silos promotes prejudice. The world I now inhabit is much larger than my previous world. It has been enlightening.

As is most often the case in my new life, the people with whom I worked three weeks ago were not particularly interested in my gender. I am not the first transgender person in their lives. They were far more interested in my knowledge about the evangelical church. They are accustomed to being with people of varied backgrounds. They are not accustomed to spending time with evangelicals, primarily because evangelicals show little interest in spending time with them.

Occasionally I am asked to speak in evangelical environments. I am never invited to speak about the expertise I gained over four decades in ministry. They only want to know about my gender identity. If I am at an educational institution, monitors are in the classroom to pull me from the lectern, should they not like my comments. If I am at a church, the venue is chosen for the ease with which people can choose to make an unobtrusive exit.

I have chosen to place myself in those environments for the primary reason that proximity does promote tolerance. And I appreciate the opportunity. I know those institutions pay a price when they ask me to come. But invariably I must do so at my own expense, and my financial generosity has its limits. I cannot continue to self-fund a one-person campaign to educate evangelicals.

One of the harder lessons of the Union meeting was being reminded of my white privilege. Eighty percent of those in attendance were white, and we knew that was not all right. But I was grateful to at least be in an environment in which that was painfully acknowledged.

I still miss my old friends. Losing their friendship is one of the most painful losses of my life, devastating really. But there is nothing I can do about those losses. When they ask to meet with me, we meet. But not many ask. (The only time I refuse a meeting is when I am being invited to an interrogation, not a conversation. I have no interest in being ambushed.)

Difficult as those losses have been, I am grateful for my new world of wounded healers and faithful questioners. They are fresh air for my tired lungs. Those friendships remind me of the words that close David Whyte’s poem, Sweet Darkness:

The world was made to be free in

You must give up all worlds except the one to which you belong

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness

To learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive

Is too small for you

 

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We Shrug Our Shoulders and Move On

We Shrug Our Shoulders and Move On

It is a rare rainy day in the foothills of the Rockies. The clouds are at about 5600 feet, just a few hundred feet above the surface of the earth. I awoke to golden leaves gracing the outer branches of the cottonwoods along the St. Vrain. The river flowed yesterday. It flows today. It will flow again tomorrow, after the clouds have lifted and the sun has returned. But something will be different.

There are malevolent forces in our midst. We saw them at Sandy Hook, and again at Pulse. Sunday night we saw them in Las Vegas. Over the last 20 years more than half of the mass killings in the world have occurred in the United States.

We act as though we are powerless against these forces, but the truth is we have decided to be powerless. We have decided to gasp at the bulletin, offer prayers over the headlines, then shrug our shoulders and move on. That’s not okay.

Don’t spin anything. Don’t even start with the rhetoric. If assault rifles were banned, the Sunday night massacre would not have happened. It is that simple.

There are 250 million adults in the United States, and only five million members of the NRA, the combined population of Brooklyn and Queens. No one at the NRA believes they are powerless. So why do the other 245 million of us believe we are powerless? Because most of the other 245 million Americans are not politically engaged, that’s why. And when you are not politically engaged, you are powerless.

Why can’t a new pro-life (in favor of severely restricting assault rifles) lobby emerge? Can’t the rest of America agree on this one issue? Apparently the answer to that question is a sorry no. Some of us are too comfortable. Some of us assume the odds are low that our family will be shot, and that’s enough for our self-centered selves. I’m afraid the bottom line is that those who fight so hard for the right to own assault weapons are more frightened than the rest of us.

They are frightened of our federal government. They are frightened of Blacks, immigrants, Hispanics, LGBTQ individuals and pretty much everyone who does not look like them. Frightened people who are already in power are very dangerous.

If the election of Barack Obama showed we live in a nation in which a highly competent Black man can be elected president, they decided to show us they still had enough votes to elect a highly incompetent white man as president.

They also want us to know they still hold enough power to make sure a crazy white man can get an assault rifle and kill innocent people. They would rather accept that reality than lose their political clout.

ISIS tried to claim credit for the Vegas shooting. We don’t need ISIS to bring us down. The fear of angry white men and the families they control is enough to bring us down. Creating threats that do not exist is their stock in trade. It keeps their base frightened and loyal. They know we are not afraid enough to truly unite to end their reign. So we will mourn for a few days, complain for few more, and Vegas will happen again.  I do not mean to sound callous.  I am just reporting an undeniable trend.

Here is what bothers me the most. Many of the frightened Americans who continue to allow these assault rifles to be painfully easy to acquire, as well as those who continue to deny civil rights to people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants and refugees, are members of the fundamentalist and evangelical churches of which I was once a part. God forgive me for not speaking more strongly against their unjustified fears when I had the platform to do so.

And so it tragically goes.