Over the past ccouple of weeks I’ve had some interesting conversations with evangelical leaders who wanted to glean information about the transgender experience. Before the conversations ended, both either subtly or directly let it be known that their “belief about Scripture” stops them from accepting LGBTQ people as they are. Both were confident I would understand.
I do understand. I believe it is also very important for them to understand. When they say, “I hope you respect that my reading of scripture demands that I not accept gay relationships or people who transition genders,” they are saying, “My system of beliefs is actually more important than the flesh and blood humans I encounter who exhibit in their lives not one bit of measurable evidence that they are living anything other than whole and good lives.”
Gay relationships are every bit as healthy and strong as straight relationships. Transgender people are every bit as healthy as their cisgender counterparts. Both have been confirmed by a plethora of peer reviewed studies.
So if you choose to reject LGBTQ people, you are doing so not because of any evidence-based empirical data. You are doing so because of your interpretation of a particular set of 2,000 year-old instructions that you are choosing to accept over flesh and blood humans.
You have every right to do this. But it is important to be honest about what you are doing. You are accepting a specific hermeneutic that has been rejected by half of the world’s Christians, and you are following a specific exegetical understanding of a handful of passages that is disputed by many who hold to your own hermeneutic.
I really don’t think this is about the Bible. This is about an unfortunate tendency of our species to create enemies that don’t exist. The Pulitzer-Prize winning sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson and anthropologist and philosopher René Girard have written extensively about this. Humans create scapegoats who must be driven from the tribe, and enemies who must be defeated for the supposed welfare of the tribe. The scapegoats and enemies do not have to be a genuine threat. They just have to be named as a threat.
Consider today’s landscape. Evangelicals are heavily involved in a number of initiatives to stop transgender people from using the appropriate restroom. Even after North Carolina’s HB2 law was rescinded, they keep introducing similar bills in additional state legislatures, mostly in the south.
It is important to note that not a single transgender person has ever been arrested or convicted for being in a women’s restroom for nefarious purposes. On the other hand, the facts are clear about a very real threat that does very much exist.
Between 1987 and 2007 the three largest companies that insure Protestant churches paid out 7,095 claims for sexual assault by church leaders, one assault for every 24 churches in America. Over 99 percent of the offenders were male.
Again, to be perfectly clear, no transgender person has ever been arrested or convicted of assault in a women’s restroom, but thousands of pastors and church leaders have been guilty of assaulting their own parishioners. These are the facts.
But none of this is about facts. It never has been. The evangelical tribe believes it needs an enemy, and at the moment transgender people are the enemy du jour. Before the LGBTQ population, it was the divorced, Roman Catholics, the Irish, the Italians, the Scots-Irish, those who opposed slavery, those who believed the earth revolves around the sun, and so on and so on, back to the prejudice against first century believers who had not been circumcised. This is what tribes do.
So one more time, just to be clear. When you choose to say to a perfectly healthy and whole LGBTQ person, “I’m sorry, but my Christian faith stops me from accepting you as you are,” you are choosing a tribal belief system over a living and breathing human being. You have chosen an idea, and a vague one at that, over a person.
I enjoyed my meetings with you. You seem like fine people. I do appreciate your interest in meeting with me, and your desire to understand the transgender experience. I would also like you to understand how puzzlingly dehumanizing your words are to me, the person you have chosen to judge unfavorably out of loyalty to your belief system.
16 thoughts on “I Understand, Do You?”
Dear Paula , I attend Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Long Beach Ca The episcopalian’s have always been with LGQBT I am m2f they have ministries for all. use the men’s room or women’s it makes no difference here. I was a Jehovah Witness Minister for 23 years. They tout about being so straight long story short some are not I dressed in the closet for years carried on affairs with women both in the religion and not. And at the same time acted as holy as the next one. Preached their brainwash. I never could conform in my soul . We are all GOD’S children he made us in his image As for those who feel the way they do so be it. Best Wishes My dear Paula Agape’ Olivia’ Celine Pheonix ( I have risen from the ashes of a hate crime)
Colby Martin was just interviewed by Michael Hildago for Our Changing Faith podcast (#18) and he said what you are saying here in a memorable way. “The Bible is tricky and complex but loving people should not be.” Love to love and love reading your messages.
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Love to you….not love to love.
Thanks so much Charlie. I miss seeing you!
A hate crime that the authorities refuse to believe. perpetuated by my sexually abusive older sister and the people that posed as FBI said I would never be believed same thing Linda Turner said But then I give it to God in my male form all life was lust I didn’t like myself , Now in my present form I have respect and gratitude . Everything happens for a reason. One thing I learned was trust in myself and others. Some can’t get past life’s challenge’s Agape’ , Olivia’ Celine Pheonix
Excellent article! Those conversations can be huge triggers for me because of my personal experiences and many of my friends have shared stories where someone in the Christian community has reached out, out of “concern” or “curiosity” and then used it as an excuse to mask verbal abuse and that is NOT ok. When people start using the Bible to call someone “evil” and an “abomination” for having a different set of beliefs I draw the line, but again usually it’s masked with “love” and concern. What if I asked someone to dinner to discuss why I think they should not believe what they believe because they’re wrong? I don’t need an intervention masked as a conversation and the conversation is over before it begins. “I’m sorry but my Christian faith stops me from accepting you,” is the most painful sentence ever, but it never ends there, the “why” is what needs to be discussed. The pointing to the scriptures need to be discussed. It breaks my heart and crushes my soul to hear about friends listening silently to their Baptist relatives explain with their highlighter and bible why they’re no longer worthy of their love. No one deserves to be verbally abused.
So true Amber!
I enjoyed this post and think you raise some relevant points. As I started to think about real vs. perceived threats outside the context of religion, it got me thinking to some current hot topics including the perceived threat of immigrants on national security versus the very real threat of gun violence in America whether at schools, night clubs, movie theaters, etc. The government seems to focus so much of its efforts on immigration (the travel ban, building a wall, etc.) while we seem to ignore the real threat of gun violence, despite the recurring nature and increasing frequency of these tragedies.
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It’s maddening, Dane, this creation of enemies that don’t exist, while ignoring the enemies that do exist.
I so loved your brilliant response. I soured on the “church” years ago for my own reasons, so I appreciate reading your posts. How can these people possibly say they follow Jesus? It’s like they don’t “get” him at all!
SUCH a good post: well-written, and clearly articulated from both a ‘lived experience’ and a philosophical perspective, well done. I bet you are a kick-ass awesome speaker! Respect to you from Australia, G 🙂
Thank you so much!
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Paula thanks for your article! I’ve been trying to do some of the same kind of work as well (helping conservative thinking Christians to be more compassionate and understanding toward LGBTQ people). I figured that if I could change my thinking that others can as well. And at first I just thought they needed more evidence. Now, I realize it’s much more nuanced than that. And right now it’s difficult — but important work. So thank you for continuing those difficult discussions.
I do think an important part of it is remaining in conversation. There are those that are afraid of even having the conversation — and there’s no possibility for change in that situation. I think another point is that even if you can’t move someone all the way over to affirming, if you can move them over a bit, to just be more compassionate — that can make a difference in the LGBTQ people that person interacts with. And of course a big part of becoming more compassionate and understanding is finding out that you know some great LGBTQ people. It’s easier for people to have hardened stances when they think they don’t know anyone that’s LGBTQ. And it’s easier to demonize a group of people that you know nothing about.
I am so glad you are involved in this work, Erik. You are such an important ally.
Dear Paula, I wrote this one regarding the draconian anti-LGBTQ rights law in India, trying to draw a parallel with our history.
Thank you so much Divya.
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