Talking about Transgenderism

Talking about Transgenderism

I had a first-in-a-lifetime experience this week. I got together with a circle of other pastors and we talked about transgenderism and the church’s approach to people who experience gender dysphoria, the experience of being uncomfortable with one’s own gender. I have things to share on the topic, but not in this post. In this post, I want to talk about talking about it.

I sat in a circle of other pastors who don’t necessarily agree on the issue, what it means, what the Bible says about it, and how churches should address it. We questioned each other, debated a bit, talked about what Jesus said and would say. We prayed together. We weren’t trying to come to a final agreement between ourselves; we were trying to understand each other. We agreed that the church historically has been horrible to minority groups, outsiders, people whose lives were held questionable by society at large – basically everyone Jesus associated with. We agreed that we don’t want to contribute to that horror. There was no risk that any of us were going to stop talking to each other when it was over. We weren’t going to rule anyone a heretic or begin an excommunication trial. I’m so deeply thankful for these committed leaders who were willing to think, pray, and be gracious together. I cherish them. I hope that the tone we set together grows increasingly normative for conversations of its kind.

One thing I noted when we were done, after more that 90 minutes of talk, was that if a small group of theologically-trained friends took a lot of work to simply begin a conversation on such a weighty topic, it’s hardly imaginable what that conversation is going to look like spread over a congregation, much less a society, much less a globe.

While Christians continue to stumble along trying to talk about ethics in the abstract, minority groups continue to live lives of isolation and silence, abuse and suicide. Before we even get to sorting out the hard subjects, should it not be quickly obvious that the only way for Christians to talk to each other, and anyone else, is from a deep reservoir of love for all of God’s children? Shouldn’t that come first? When you follow the one who taught that we should not only love our neighbors, but love our enemies, not only our own kin, but prostitutes, adulterers, traitors, diverse ethnicities, and people who hurt us, how can you approach people with anything but love? There should be no question from the public that the last place you would find someone eager to throw rocks at you would be church. And yet, that’s exactly what people have come to expect from churches. And aren’t they often right?

For all of the panicked declarations echoing out of the stained glass windows about what a flaming dumpster society has become, it might be time for Christians to realize that a significant contribution to the public’s disinterest in the church’s prescription for a better world is the demeaning tone in which it has been preached. The world would be better off with more of Jesus, and a primary obstacle to that is his followers’ callous misrepresentation of him.

I remember talking to a self-declared atheist who nonetheless attended church events. I asked her why. She replied, “They’re Christians. They like you anyway.” The day could come when everyone thinks the same.

Three, Two, One

A snow-capped couple used to sit next to me in a café, clucking away with each other and passing friends. The first time I noticed them, I was trying to read Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation,” but couldn’t pay attention. I was privately amused at the way they loved each other, giggling as they finished each other’s sentences and offering to get up one for another, because at their age, it was too much of a commitment for them both to stand up.

I was conscious of my eavesdropping, but not of the effect they were having on me. They became part of the aesthetic of the café – the warm, sun-filled widows, the robust, walnut-toned coffee, and the happy old couple as familiar as the furniture. They were always there.

Until one day I saw her alone. When I stopped to ask, I withered to hear of his passing. She was thereafter different than she had been before, as was the café.

cloverThat couple for me is a better metaphor for the Trinitarian God than most of the go-to illustrations. St. Patrick notably used the three leaf clover to explain the Trinity to the pagan Irish, but his metaphor was flawed, because if you pull a leaf off of it, you still have a deformed clover, but a clover nonetheless. A widow is something fundamentally different than a spouse. One does not merely lose a spouse, one loses spousehood. When we love and are beloved, to lose love changes our identity.

Imagine the Trinity not as a mechanical philosophical concept requiring technical definitions of “substance” and “nature,” but rather a being who is so infused with and exuding love that the Father, Son, and Spirit are giddy at finishing each other’s sentences, that within the nature of the one God is a love so overwhelming that it must be reciprocated. Trinity is love immune the frailties of human love. It’s love made perfect, love like the first time a baby laughs, love like a wedding, love like a hero dying to save someone else. Imagine a love so urgent it can’t resist exposing itself to the risk of betrayal and brutality. It will pay the cost if only to love one more. Imagine a kind of love that promises a day when inseparable lovers are reunited, because that’s how a good story is supposed to end.

A friend of mine who is a missionary in a Muslim country tells me that she sometimes tells Muslims that there is “love if,” “love because,” and “love despite” – you can love someone if they will do something for you, because they have done something for you, or despite anything that they do for you. She has been told more than once by the people to whom she ministers that “love despite” isn’t real.

Imagine love despite. That’s a better description of Trinity that most of our metaphors.

Wedding Details

My sense is that the rising generation is afraid of marriage.  I don’t blame them.  It’s not primarily for selfish reasons (though those are a factor).  It’s because they’re shell shocked after a childhood of divorce and dysfunction.  And then there are the selfish reasons.  Or I talk to young couples who don’t want to have kids, because, for however they word it, they are anxious about moving from a position of independence to a position of vulnerability.

Image

There are a few things that I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t get married and have kids, and they’re captured in this picture of a couple getting married during flood season in the Philippines.  If I had to pick a picture that pretty much summarizes what life is like, it would be this one.  And part of the reason why I like being married is because it has made me a realist.  Marriage is a good microcosm of all of life.  There’s just no other way to learn these things than to make one’s self vulnerable to relationships.  And my sense for what life is all about comes out in the advice I give to young couples about their weddings before they get married.  I tell them:

  • There’s always a glitch.
  • It’s not about the details, it’s about the relationship you’re building.
  • Whether or not it’s a happy occasion has more to do with your insides than your outsides.
  • How you respond will tell your friends who you are.
  • Life is a mess.  Learn to deal with it.
  • Are their smiles better or worse because of the rain?
  • Why are you complaining about the rain?
  • You can tell a couple is healthy because you know they will one day laugh about the disasters.
  • On the day you die, the few days of your life that counted will not have been sunny; they will be days when you laughed at and loved despite the rain.

hw

My new book is

Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know

(Abingdon Press, 2013).