I’ve been in Christian circles since the days when my years were numbered in the single digits. I’ve been through spiritual formation guided by the church and by the religious texts (the “Scriptures,” to use our church language) and that has built me up to be the person that I am.
I’ve been through many changes in my religious experiences and understandings, some which have happened through careful meditation and analysis, some as a result of a personal crisis where what I believed turned out to be wrong on certain essential points.
And I’m working through now how a Christ-follower who believes that the Scriptures hold truth for us and provide insight into God’s thinking handles the reality of the world around us, especially as it applies to the context of gender conformity and expression.
I know that a lot of my friends who follow Christ are also trying to grapple with this issue because this can be something that rattles our cages and loosens the intersections of our emotional and rational grids.
Many of us are going to our religious constructions and Scriptures to help us interpret what we see and how we can deal with gender non-conformity and non-binary gender expressions when for a long time this hasn’t been something we’ve had to consider.
And some of us are reacting in ways that are attempting to use what we understand, right now, as a weapon to demand that change and revision stop.
I think we’re wrong in doing this. When we use religion as a club to harm the least among us, we are doing it wrong. We as the American church been in this situation before over Civil Rights, and the conservative church had similar responses.
Let me explain where I am about this using the experiences I am having with a wider fellowship of Christ-followers . . .
I was in a group meeting the other night comprising people from around the world, many Christian, some Christian adjacent, and some simply curious. We have some strict rules about participation using the principle of “the first are last, and the last, first,” so white males are asked to step aside and let Black participants, People of Color, and women have the first place in speaking and commenting. And in the principle of those whose “backs are against the wall,” to use Thurman’s phrase, we made room for and gave place to people who come from the non-binary/non-gender conforming world to talk with us in community about their life experiences. Because we’ve been meeting in community for a while, there was some trust built up to where some of our community were able to share of their lived experiences within — and often now without — the church.
It was a time of grief for me, to hear such pain and anger and fear by people who have done nothing wrong but not fit in, to be told that who they are has made them unfit for grace and love and fellowship.
I have participated in enabling that pain and anger and fear, and I repent of it.
For my view, I have not been giving Holy Spirit any space at all to work in the lives of people whose orientations do not fit my expectations. I have been loveless and judgmental based not upon the heart of a man but upon their ability to conform to gender expectations.
I have been willing to participate in recovery groups for years where I’ve heard some desperate stories by people struggling with addictions who have personal formations unlike mine. I’m not addicted to alcohol or drugs, not because I’m “good,” but just because it’s not part of my formation. But among my groupmates, many were. My own addictions were for other things, and I was able, over time, to express them to the men whom I had grown to trust and who had grown to trust me. I was accepted and loved not because I had made promises to be “better,” or was even better, but because I was treasured and valued and loved for being there. For being the person bearing the Imago Dei like the rest of them. I was beloved, and I was brought into the Beloved Community.
If I’m going to say to our friends in the Beloved Community who have their struggles with their orientation or with the expressions of their orientation that they cannot “be” this way — then what and who are they to be if they cannot be themselves? Where do they find their community that will love them and trust them and treat them as divinely created beings bearing the fingerprint of God? If they cannot get it in the church — and from the witness borne that night they cannot — then where do they go to find what is not findable anywhere else? We have set before them flaming swords forbidding their entry into paradise and at the same time demanded that they enter.
I can understand the struggle of us, the people inside the church, with balancing what we think the Word of God says with what the lived experiences are of the people around us. I don’t have the answers to where the balance is. I get it that we have fixed, certain, validated beliefs based upon where we see Scripture lands, and that’s a good place to be.
I’d just caution us to approach these topics not only with grace for those who are cut off from the church but also with grace for ourselves. Our own history of the church has been one of misunderstanding Scripture or misapplying it, and all the while being very certain of our Biblical understanding. We were certain, that is, until eventually we figured out that our certainties were wrong, and we had gotten some very important things about the human condition entirely wrong.
I think it’s important that we understand what we believe and hold to it. That’s faith and that’s strength. I believe the Scriptures are sufficient to bring us to Jesus & salvation, and to guide us in all truth. I’m just making a plea for us to be willing to be wrong, not with the idea that Scripture is deficient or that God can “change his mind,” but with the idea that perhaps we might have built up a way of looking at the world that doesn’t jive with the way the world has been created.
If we don’t have clear understanding right now, let us at least remember to love those among us who are the least, the lost, the lonely, and the last.