For The Greater Good

For The Greater Good

The time surrounding my departure from Christian employment was not pleasant. I had to call board members on Christmas Eve and tell them the reason I was being let go. For several more months I remained unavoidably immersed in a world in which my gender identity was seen as sin. Very few people saw my transition as the calling it was.

That was four years ago. It feels like another life, because it was another life. A real death occurs when you have lived within the evangelical tribe and choose to depart from it. Throughout my life I had noticed that those who departed were stricken from the record, as if they no longer existed.

Yet here I am, four years later, alive and well. On the fourth anniversary of being let go from my work of 35 years, I was contemplating how much my life had changed when an email arrived telling me the video of my TEDxMileHigh Wonder talk had just been posted online. The timing did not seem random.

How could so much redemption occur in such a short period of time? I believe we have a God who makes crooked ways straight. I believe we live in a world tilted in favor of redemption. And I believe the forces of love are greater than the forces of condemnation.

A handful of friends crossed over with me. Those old friends, plus many new friends and co-workers are wonderful people, with hearts intent on the ministry of reconciliation. They are kind, articulate, intelligent, thoughtful, loving and accepting. When you know you are unconditionally loved by God, you are free to love recklessly and abundantly. I have been the recipient of that kind of love.

The night before my TED talk, I changed one line of the script. I had planned to say, “Would I do it all again? Of course I would, because the authentic life is worth living.” I changed the line to say, “Would I do it all again? Of course I would, because the call toward authenticity is sacred, it is holy, and it is for the greater good.

The world I now inhabit is a world that knows there is one best way to live, and it is for the greater good. It is to do whatever you must to embrace equality, create equity, and work for justice.

In four short years I have moved from a place of almost complete rejection to receiving the most meaningful applause I have ever known. I have gone from friendships that were conditional, based on tribal loyalty, to friendships that cross all kinds of barriers, including race, gender, socioeconomics and religion.

I am living abundantly because I have been abundantly blessed. God is good. She does make crooked ways straight, and she is forever busy drawing all things to herself.

And so it goes.

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The Grinch and the Gospel

The Grinch and the Gospel

The Grinch

Not gonna lie; it’s been a rough year. With a president who promises the moon but delivers only lies, we have a problem. With Charlottesville and increasing hate-filled rhetoric that evangelical churches ignore instead of confront, we have a problem. With Congressional Republicans willing to sell their souls to wealthy donors, we have a problem. With a television news network serving as a right wing propaganda arm, we have a problem.  On a national level, it has been a hard year.

It’s also been a tough year on a personal level.  Since coming out as transgender, I have received thousands of blog comments, emails, messages, letters and phone calls whose words are carefully chosen to wound me as much as possible. Many have come from family and friends. While the correspondence slowed down for a couple of years, it escalated in 2017.

Part of the reason is because of the positive national media exposure I received this year.  A second reason has been the anti-LGBTQ alliances of right wing evangelicals who have been empowered by this administration. I hear from those troubled souls several times a week. As far as I can discern, every single piece of hate mail I received in 2017 was sent by an evangelical. It is what it is.

The Gospel

From a public and professional perspective, 2017 has been a wonderul year. I have preached the Gospel and talked to audiences in 15 states about the realities of being transgender. Countless people thanked me for the difference I made in their lives by helping them understand their child, parent, friend, co-worker, neighbor or fellow church member. Every single day I am thanked for my courage, transparency, honesty, character and inspiration. Every. Single. Day.

During 2017 I had an incredibly satisfying three months as an interim pastor at Highlands Church in Denver. During the summer I was hired as Pastor of Preaching and Worship Ministries at Left Hand Community Church. I became the co-director of Open Launch, a new national church planting ministry. Cathy and I grew our joint counseling practice, RLT Pathways, providing therapy to an increasing number of people, whether or not they had the ability to pay.

A long feature article in the Sunday New York Times about my son, the church he leads, and our relationship, (Faith and Family in Transition) was a well-written and accurate look at the life of a family in which a member has transitioned. The positive response was life affirming.

During 2017 I was able to provide assistance to Denver Community Church, a large and dynamic congregation with two campuses in Denver. My work with DCC resulted in two feature appearances on Colorado Public Radio, which led to the public highlight of my year, an invitation to speak at TEDxMileHigh.

Speaking to a sold out crowd of 5200 at the Bellco Theater was quite an experience. It was the most responsive audience to which I have ever spoken. The TEDxMileHigh staff and my co-speakers were wonderful people who are making a huge difference in the world. The video of the event will be released sometime next year.

Across America I found plenty of good news in 2017.  Amazing Americans rose to the challenge to stop the nonsense and bring change to our world. It began with the Women’s March in January, and continued with the courageous work of reliable media outlets like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and from a Christian perspective, Sojourners.

Great female leaders arose from within the post-evangelical world to boldly call for change, including Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans and Lisa Sharon Harper. The women leading She Is Called, an outreach of the Open Network, have been powerful in their proclamation of the Gospel. Carla Ewert, Jess Kast, Tina Schermer Sellers, Rachael McClair, Jennifer Fisher, Jen Jepsen and Kate Martin have led us in new directions of activism.

The truth is that as frustrating as it is to wake up to the headlines each morning, when I look at the cloud of witnesses fighting for racial justice, LGBTQ inclusion, gender equity, nuclear disarmament and other efforts to bring peace to our planet, I find hope.

Evil is being recognized and defeated. With every election that says no to self-serving bigotry, I find hope. With every speaker at every TED conference who shares a Big Idea that will make this world a better place, I find hope.  With every abuser brought down by #MeToo, I find hope.

In the Millennials who are rejecting self-serving forms of capitalism and embracing concern for their neighbors, I find hope. With every friend who stands behind me and takes my call late in the evening, I find hope.

God is busy reconciling the creation to the Creator, through our hands, our feet, our bodies and our voices.  We will not rest until that reconciliation has touched every single human.

May you and your family find peace this holiday season, and may hope rise in your soul.

Hope on a Slippery Slope

Hope on a Slippery Slope

I was given an article from a conservative Christian magazine that spoke about a former evangelical that no longer believes in the existence of God. The author suggested that when the person rejected the inerrancy of scripture, he stepped onto the infamous “slippery slope.” The inference was that if the reader, too, steps onto the slippery slope, he or she can expect the same tragic result.

The person who sent the magazine article said he was concerned “for my mortal soul.” The truth is, I am concerned about the sender. I am afraid there is more than a little bit of projection going on. I know the young man, and he is too smart to be held captive by a tribe whose DNA is rooted in fear. I am afraid he will lose his faith.

I have found far more people who have lost their faith by staying too long within the evangelical camp, than those who lost their faith because they departed from it. My faith is the strongest it has ever been. The same is true for every progressive evangelical I know. For the first time in our lives, we are resting securely in the loving arms of Jesus. Our faith is not fear based; it is rooted in God’s unconditional love. It is truly good news, hence our reluctance to give up the term “evangelical.”

It was only over the last 500 years that Western man became fixated with rational thought and the notion of absolute truth. There was a false belief life could be logically understood and uncertainty could be made certain.

In that rational world, Christians made the Bible the capstone of absolute truth. Words on a page were to be trusted more than the messy machinations of churches of humans. It was difficult to tell whether they were worshipping Jesus or the Bible.

In a world in which propositional truth is seen as the ultimate ground of being, all it takes is a single chink in the armor to bring the entire metanarrative down. It was the reason the evangelical world insisted on the inerrancy of Scripture, a concept not birthed until the modern age. Inerrancy was the belief that the original autographs (copies) of Scripture were without error. Scripture claimed no such thing for itself. The fact that we did not have original copies of Scripture was not seen as relevant. It was the idea of inerrancy that was important.

Today we know better. We know we can get close to objective truth, but as long as humans are the ones doing the observing, we can never be truly objective. Knowing, of any kind, is a risky and non-exact business.  Therefore, those whose faith is rooted in inerrant original copies of scripture live in perilous territory.  Their faith demands a certainty that does not exist.

The truth is that life is a slippery slope, but it is not something to be feared. It is to be embraced. Certainty is a myth. Once we accept that all truth and knowledge is slippery, we can look for the ample handholds along the way.

Those handholds are not propositions; they are people. They are incarnate humans who love well, and pursue the ministry of reconciling the creation to the creator. They come in all colors, shapes and sizes. What they hold in common is a belief in the inherent goodness of man, and the important work of bringing about the kingdom of God here on earth. Some are even Christian.

I find great hope in these people who love well and never give up hope. They bring me through my dark days and hold space for my pain. They bring joy, often in the form of a shared tear or a reassuring hug. They love well.

This is an uncertain and capricious world, but there is hope. It is not in the idea of an inerrant book.  It is in the truth that God is busy reconciling all things to herself, and doing it through those who are created in God’s own image – fallible, flawed, marvelous and miraculous human beings.

And so it goes.

#ChurchToo

#ChurchToo

The church has never dealt well with sexuality, and it has dealt particularly poorly with male sexuality. From Roman Catholicism to evangelicalism, we are now reaping the rewards of that failure.  #MeToo is a game changer.  Now, #ChurchToo is popping up across the Internet.

Recent events in Alabama form the awful backdrop of this narrative.  Nine women came forward to say Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore used his positional power to assault females.  Yet an article in the November 19  Washington Post noted that of the large Alabama evangelical churches it followed after the allegations against Moore, almost none of the pastors have mentioned Moore or sexual abuse in their sermons.  I am not surprised.  The evangelical church has been silent about sexual abuse for centuries.

Last year Sojourners magazine published a study entitled, “I Believe You:  Sexual Violence and the Church.”  The study found that 65 percent of pastors have spoken one or fewer times about sexual and domestic violence.  They just don’t see it as a problem worth addressing.  When was the last time you heard a sermon against sexual abuse?  Ask any therapist.  Sexual assault is rampant within the evangelical community, but churches want to keep their heads in the sand.

Dr. Benjamin Kees, with Regent University’s Center for Trauma Studies, said Christian marriages have a much greater frequency of domestic assault that what is seen in non-Christian homes.  He believes much of this is because of the traditional teaching that the man is the “head” of the household, a theological position that enables sexual abusers.

The problem of sexual abuse is not just within the church; it is also rampant in the halls of some of the most conservative Christian universities, including Bob Jones University, Patrick Henry College, Pensacola Christian College and Cedarville University.  All have been guilty of allowing sexual assault on campus.  In many cases the victim was blamed.

When I was a student, I was sexually assaulted by a Christian college professor.  It was a decade before I discovered I was not alone.  Many others had been assaulted by the same professor.  My abuser eventually lost his job.  But  because the school did not share their knowledge with others, he was able to get a teaching position at another Christian college.

Since I transitioned I have had former classmates tell me about other professors who assaulted them at the same institution.  I have no reason to question the accuracy of their stories.

That people question the credible stories of the nine women in Alabama tells you just how resistant the evangelical world is to the cancer in its midst.  These women are courageous and credible voices.  Yet for their honesty and integrity they have been mercilessly attacked by Alabama evangelicals.  Furthermore, just yesterday the Republican National Committee restored its support for Moore, and the president endorsed him.  This, from the party so warmly embraced by evangelicals.

No wonder victims are still reluctant to come forward when they live within the evangelical subculture.  They know there is a likelihood they will be blamed.  For them, the Roy Moore story remains a cautionary tale.  But the tide will turn, just as it did for the sexual abusers whose crimes have been brought to life since the Harvey Weinstein story broke.

The #MeToo phenomenon is acknowledging deep wounds in the soul of our nation.  In the same way, #ChurchToo will bring to light a dark chapter in the history of the evangelical church.  It is not coming a moment too soon.

And so it goes.