A New Year and Another Tipping Point

A New Year and Another Tipping Point

I’ve spent the better part of 25 years following the massive paradigm shift within Christianity. As the modern age has given way to postmodernism, the church is reeling.

Cultural tipping points are interesting phenomena. Divorce and remarriage were huge issues in the church until suddenly, they were not. Divorce was no longer the scandal it once had been. America had reached a tipping point. Today you still might find a few fundamentalist churches that frown on divorced people, but for the most part the church has moved on.

Throughout the history of the church, when a culture reaches a tipping point, the church is the last cultural institution to change. It was true of the notion of a geocentric universe. Though the church put Galileo under house arrest for believing the earth revolved around the sun, it finally accepted the obvious. We see the same phenomenon today when it comes to belief in a literal six-day creation. Just a few years ago it was anathema for evangelicals to believe in evolution. Now, many accept the findings of science.

It took longer for our nation to reach a tipping point on slavery, but it finally came in the middle of the 19th century. Unfortunately, since our nation was built on slavery, undoing the damage will take centuries. We are nowhere near becoming a nation of equity for people of color.

In the last decade America reached the tipping point on marriage equality. Most Americans came to realize gay couples make great parents and good citizens.  But the church lags behind.  A recent study by churchclarity.org indicated, quite accurately, that of the 100 largest churches in America listed by Outreach magazine, none affirm LGBTQ individuals.  (It might also be noted that 99 percent of those churches are led by males, and 93 percent are led by white males, another area in which the church lags behind.)

I am the beneficiary of American culture having reached another tipping point. Outside of evangelicalism, most Americans are accepting of transgender people. Pretty much everyone except the religious right responded negatively when Trump tweeted that transgender people would not be allowed to serve in the military. The generals ignored him, and just yesterday it became law that transgender people can serve in the military.  The evangelical world is the only environment in which I am rejected for being me.

The church eventually changed its position on a geocentric universe and slavery because the church was wrong. The church was also wrong on gay marriage and the acceptance of transgender people. LGBTQ people are not a threat to anyone, anywhere. Sooner or later, common sense defeats irrational fear.

Now we find ourselves at another tipping point.  #MeToo is the tipping point on sexual assault.  But as usual, the church is slow to respond.  We need look no further than Alabama to understand that difficult truth.  Evangelicals preferred to believe the claims of one white male over the claims of nine females.  To the rest of the nation, the evangelical church in Alabama seems woefully out of touch.  They are right.  When it comes to sexual assault, the evangelical church in much of America is out of touch.

I do have hope.  Though late to the party, the church usually does eventually come to its senses. Religious people do not like change.  But given enough time and information, history tells us they do eventually embrace the truth against which they initially railed.

At the moment, we are in a dark season. The tide has turned on LGBTQ issues and now it is turning on sexual assault.   And while we have barely begun the work needed on America’s greatest problem, racial injustice, we can be pleased that the voices calling us to action are being empowered as they have never been empowered before.  Those in power don’t get it, but as we saw in Alabama last month, the people do.

And so it goes.

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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.

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.

A Transgender Woman Looks at Male Sexuality

A Transgender Woman Looks at Male Sexuality

With lightning speed the #MeToo phenomenon has become a cultural turning point. Like all major tipping points, this change has been bubbling beneath the surface a long time. What makes #MeToo so unique is that sexual misconduct knows no racial or socioeconomic boundaries. It is a problem for rich and poor, black and white, liberal and conservative. The only common thread is gender. Sexual abuse is a male problem.

That males struggle with sexuality is not a new revelation. It wasn’t the quiet, holistic, heartfelt sexuality of Oedipus that caused him to murder his father and marry his mother.

When Jocasta, the mother of Oedipus, discovered what had happened, she hanged herself. When Oedipus realized what he had done, he took two pins from his mother’s dress and blinded himself. This is the complicated and difficult reality of male sexuality. There’s a reason we’re still talking about Oedipus millennia after the story was first told. As the myth of Oedipus shows, whether then or now, it is women who are destroyed.

A U.S. Department of Justice study showed 99 percent of sexual abusers are male and 91 percent of victims are female.  Male libido is a problem.  It has always been a problem and it will always be a problem.

When I lecture about my transition from male to female, there are more questions about the differences in how I experience my sexuality than any other topic. I am not surprised. It is not difficult answering the questions.  Of all the changes I have experienced, by far the most powerful have been the differences in sexual drive and desire.

As a male, from the time I was 15 my sexuality was all consuming. All day, every day, it demanded my attention. I never had an inappropriate relationship. I never touched a woman in a sexual way or made a crude remark. But that does not mean I did not struggle.

Male anatomy is all about thrusting and power. Males are constructed to function that way all day every day. Counselors know that many thoughtful males come to therapy concerned they might be sexually addicted. Most are not. But you don’t have to be sexually addicted to spend an inordinate amount of time focused on your sexual impulses. You just have to be male.

In my relationships with women I always had to work not to sexualize the relationship. My male libido was difficult to manage. It takes great internal energy and external consequences for a man to stay out of trouble.

Everything changed when l became Paula. Testosterone is a powerful substance. So is estrogen. To lose one and gain the other is no small matter. One of the main reasons transgender men (those born female) enter psychotherapy is because they are struggling with the effects of testosterone on their libido. Conversely, transgender women (those born male) are relieved beyond measure when testosterone departs and estrogen arrives.

I have a number of female relationships that would have been problematic when I was a male. I would have enjoyed the friendships, but I would have been working to keep male sexual power dynamics out of the relationship. As a female, that is far less of a struggle. My sexuality is more balanced.

As I said in my TEDxMileHigh talk, I now experience my sexuality as more holistic.  It is less of a body experience and more of a being experience. That is not to say my female sexuality is not powerful, because it is. Humans are sexual creatures, and desire is one of the great pleasures of our human experience. But my sexuality is not nearly as overpowering as it once was. It does not have dark undertones that demand external controls. It does not occupy my every waking moment. It is integrated into my being.

Of course, I am but one transgender person, with one unique perspective. Maybe others feel differently. I only know what I know.

What does all of this mean? It means the line between desire and action is a line that men struggle not to cross. It is a problem faced by all males, crossing educational, geographical, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic lines. To be certain, taking away testosterone and replacing it with estrogen would solve the problem , but I have a feeling the vast majority of men would not be crazy about that idea. 😉

So what must happen? Men must recognize male sexuality is all about power and pleasure, and cannot be trusted. Feeling shame about having crossed a line and apologizing for it is not a solution. Not crossing the line in the first place is the solution. And that will not happen until two things take place.

First, men must realize healthy sexuality will never occur in conditions in which men and women do not have equality and equity. Without a level playing field, nothing will change.

Second, men are going to have to admit they have a problem and do what they have never done before, talk with other men about it. When I was a male, knowing I would lose my job for straying, and having other well-known pastors as accountability partners, made life easier. Though we didn’t talk in any depth about the difficult nature of our sexual desires, our conversations provided more help than most men receive.

Unfortunately, I do not see any sign that either one of these solutions is imminent.  But at least a problem is being confronted and a conversation has begun.  For that, I am grateful.

And so it goes.