Reflections on Why Christian 2018

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Growing up, my sisters and I spent many long days at my grandparents’ house. We would bang out “important” letters on the old Underwood typewriter. We would play dress up with clothes Gram had, making up little plays to entertain the adults. We would swim in the pool in the summer, jump in piles of leaves in the fall, play “cars” in the spring (a game where each person picked a color car and we’d see who saw ten of their color first), make snow angels in the winter.

One of my favorite things we did was to hide under the steps to the basement with an old tape recorder and leave messages for each other. My sisters usually left shorter messages, but mine would be epic. Long and usually filled with a lot of religious speak. Because when I was a little girl, I really wanted to be a pastor when I grew up. I loved Jesus, I loved preaching, it made sense.

I don’t remember who told me I couldn’t be a pastor. Maybe a parent? Maybe my own pastor? Maybe I just gleaned it from the culture around me? I went to a denomination where women weren’t (and are still not) allowed to be ordained. Our particular church didn’t allow female members of the congregation to vote on issues put before the church. Women couldn’t lead mixed adult Bible studies. A man who cooked at the camp I went to every summer was chided by a visiting pastor for doing “women’s work.” So maybe no one had to tell me I couldn’t be in authority over men. Maybe it was just how things were and I figured it out.

When you don’t see women in positions of authority, you can start to think that women don’t deserve positions of authority.

By the time I reached young adulthood, I had fully embraced that world-view. Women shouldn’t be ordained. My first vows included the word “obey.” I don’t know if I was ever a model submissive wife, but I could spout the party line with conviction enough to make up for any misgivings I might have had.

The truth is, I had a lot of misgivings. I never could understand why our church thought the Bible was literal about women being silent, but didn’t require women to have long hair or wear head coverings. It struck me as odd, considering both were New Testament commands, authored by the same man. It didn’t seem very consistent. Why did some rules about women apply, but not others?

This tension between what I said I believed and what I actually believed gnawed at me. Gnawed at me until it had bored a hole in my soul where it could sit comfortably, where the cognitive dissonance was tolerable. Until one day when I said that it was stupid, that of course women were called to be pastors, that of course wives were equal to their husbands in every way, that of course we should burn down the patriarchy.

But in the midst of that personal spiritual revolution, I stayed in churches that taught the inferiority of women. Oh, they would never frame it that way. There would be talk of the value of everyone, and specific roles that men and women played. Talk about protection and covering. But it all boiled down to the same thing. Anatomy trumped equality. And so that little hole inside of me continued to exist, because even if I believed something different than what my church taught, I was still immersed in that theology. I was the one defying the rules. I was the one who was wrong, or rebellious, or heretical, or whatever. And since I was a woman in defiance of men, it still managed to ping that place in me that had half believed in male superiority and it left me with just a twinge of doubt. Just a dash of unease.

I am no longer in a church or denomination that teaches a gendered hierarchy. But my church still has two male pastors. Most of the people in front of the congregation on a given Sunday are men.

Please hear me. I love and appreciate these men. They have played a critical role in my ability to attend church at all. They are unabashed voices for justice for the oppressed of all kinds. They bring words of grace and mercy and compassion and truth and back them up with their actions. I am proud to be a part of this church.

But that little space for tension still exists. Despite the possibility for a female pastor in my denomination, my practical experience is still that of a male perspective, of male leadership.

Attending Why Christian forced me to face some of the discomfort to which I have grown accustomed. One after another, ordained women of all stripes – queer, straight, black, brown, indigenous, cis, trans – all gave sermons. All spoke words of truth and justice and equality. They showed, without equivocation, that women are called and ordained, not only by churches, but by God, to be bearers of the Good News.

And it was hard.

Not because I believed it was wrong, but because it forced me to believe it was right. The truth that combated the lies I had been told as a little girl, and that I later spewed from my own mouth, was directly in front of me. It forced me to repent of my unbelief in a God who truly calls ALL to serve in exactly the capacity to which they are equipped. It brought me face to face with the truth that women are not merely theoretically “allowed” to lead, but that they are doing the work, regardless of anyone’s permission-giving. It forced me to face head on that cognitive dissonance and really start to expel it in a meaningful way.

I’m still processing a lot of it. I’m thinking about that little girl with the tape recorder and wondering who she might be today if she hadn’t been told that women didn’t mean as much to God as men did.

I guess to find out, this 43 year old woman needs to work on believing it.

 

 

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

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I Can’t Agree to Disagree on the Nashville Statement

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Another day, another back and forth between Christians about LGBTQ people.

Yesterday, a group of evangelicals released a statement about sexuality called the Nashville Statement. It has everything you’d expect. Condemnation upon condemnation for LGBTQ people and those who affirm them laid out in 14 neat articles.

And it was met with strong words. Nadia Bolz-Weber’s church released The Denver Statement. The folks over at The Liturgists released a response. GCN posted a reflection. LGBTQ Christians and allies have been vocal about their opposition to this way of thinking.

In the midst of all of this tête-à-tête, I saw someone who sides with the Nashville Statement ask a Denver Statement person if there was a way the Nashville folks could disagree about this issue that was acceptable to the Denver folks.

That’s the crux of it, I think. Can we, as people of faith, have an “agree to disagree” view on sexuality and gender expression?

I’ve thought about this question for years. And the more stories I hear from LGBTQ people, the more I think the answer is, “No.”

I haven’t always felt this way. When I center the thoughts on my own journey toward affirmation, I want to find grace for the intolerant. I know at least a little of what they believe because there was a time when I believed it too. And honestly, I don’t love condemning past me, because I know that I was trying to be loving.

Here’s the thing. I wasn’t loving.

No, I wasn’t spewing hate. I wasn’t shouting epithets and slurs. I wasn’t banning folks from churches or even pushing to deny equal rights. I probably didn’t directly contribute to LGBTQ suicide or homelessness.

But I was okay saying that it was sinful to want to be with someone of the same sex. I was okay saying that gay people should probably not marry, but just choose to be alone. I was okay suggesting that love wasn’t really love and that some kinds of love were more righteous than others. I was okay suggesting that there was an inherent flaw in LGBTQ people that made them less valuable, less deserving of love, less important to the Church.

When I focus on the way those actions impact the LGBTQ community at large and the LGBTQ Christian community specifically, how can I find a way to just brush that off? How can I see that as a mere difference of opinion? How do I just shake my head and move on to something else?

The question behind the need to agree to disagree is, “What is an acceptable level of homophobia I’m allowed to display without making you think I’m a bad person?”

We see it with racism. We see it with sexism. We see it with islamophobia.

We want to keep thinking and teaching what we already think and teach, and we don’t want people to tell us that what we’re thinking and teaching hurts people. We want to approach these as simply theological issues and ignore that at the heart of every issue is a person.

But I’ve sat with my child in an emergency room after a suicide threat. I’ve watched people lose their kids to suicide. I’ve watched friends struggle with significant bouts of depression. Things like the Nashville Statement aren’t simply theological positions, they’re words that wound, words that kill.

If you agree with the Nashville Statement, I don’t think you’re a monster. I don’t think you’re out actively abusing LGBTQ people. I know that you probably have a gay cousin or co-worker or friend who you get along with just fine.

I know, because I was you.

At some point, though, we have to look hard at people, not theology. We have to engage empathy. We have to decide if hurting people is okay in the pursuit of theological correctness. We have to decide if we are okay with the fallout from our positions. We have to decide if we want to feed the hungry or heal the wounded on the Sabbath. We have to decide if we want to pluck out eyeballs or forgive.

But I’m here to tell you, I’m not going to just agree to disagree if you support words that harm the LGBTQ community. I won’t stay silent when you relegate LGBTQ people to a theological position. I won’t back down when you embrace ideology that casts LGBTQ people as sinners and second-rate humans.

I won’t agree to disagree, not because I think you’re bad, but because I think my LGBTQ friends and family are good.

 

Ming Jun Tan

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There is no “but…”

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I spent much of the weekend glued to my phone, watching what was happening in Charlottesville, VA. From the torch wielding march on Friday night, to the murder of Heather Heyer on Saturday, to the original lackluster response from the president, the events of the weekend consumed me.

 

The naked, unmasked hatred on display shocked me. What upset me eve more, however, was the intense amount of hedging I saw from other white people. Taking a cue from the highest office in the country, I saw instance after instance of “on many sides” being spoken.

Let me speak without equivocation. There is no “but” that can follow a condemnation of white nationalism. There is no “but” that can follow a censure of Nazi slogans being chanted. There is no “but” that can follow a denouncement of “Jews are not welcome here.”

You don’t get to say, “But Black Lives Matter is just as bad.” BLM stands for equality, neo-Nazis stand for white superiority. BLM stands for peace, neo-Nazis stand for violence. BLM is not to blame for white supremacy.

You don’t get to blame say, “But they shouldn’t have removed the statue of the Robert E. Lee because of possible repercussions.” This isn’t “removing history,” it’s removing a celebration of someone who fought against the United States in favor of slavery. Those statues are traitorous and racist. Statue removal is not to blame for white supremacy.

You don’t get to say, “But what about reverse racism.” First of all, reverse racism is not a thing. But even if there are instances where a person of color has something that a white person doesn’t, that doesn’t excuse hundreds of young white men marching around screaming “blood and soil!” Reverse racism is not to blame for white supremacy.

You don’t get to say, “But the antifa activists are just as violent!” If you’ve ever suggested that students need to arm themselves against Muslims so you can end them because you see them as a threat, you have already stated that you think violence is an acceptable response to a threat. If you support the NRA’s violent rhetoric, you have stated that you believe force is acceptable when dealing with threats. We can certainly have conversations about the use of force to take down a threat, but unless you consider yourself a pacifist, you can’t talk about how the antifa are responsible for violence. Antifa is not to blame for white supremacy.

You don’t get to say, “But I need time to process what all of this means.” While it’s true that knee-jerk reactions aren’t generally advisable, we can safely condemn overt, blatant racist behavior without the passage of time. We may take time to craft a more nuanced condemnation, but when we see something deserving of our ire, we can voice our disdain immediately. Calls for a quick response are not to blame for white supremacy.

What allows white supremacy to flourish is when we make excuses for it. Every time we add a “but” to our condemnations, we give white supremacy more power. Every time we add a “but” to our disapproval, we give white supremacy more room to grow.

Every time we add a “but” in our conversations about white supremacy, we make ourselves an ass.

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Transgender Lives are not a Burden

Content warning: suicide

Finn & Mom
The ban on transgender people serving in the military has been weighing on my mind since I saw it yesterday morning. My kids have not indicated an interest to serve in the military, so it’s not really about that, but rather the language used.

“Burden.” 

“Disruption.”

These words keep turning over in my head.

I’m in several groups for parents of transgender kids. Last month, one of the moms lost her son to suicide. Their dinner conversation had been about ways to afford his medication after their insurance claim had been denied and they were told that their income was a bit too high to receive patient assistance. This was a fully supportive family, but when they were talking about ways to afford a $1400 monthly shot, Finn might have felt like he was a burden, a disruption. In the middle of the night, he laid himself down on the train tracks. His mom found out the following morning that her son was dead.

Many of us have sat in a hospital room with our trans kids with threats of suicide, or suicide attempts. We’ve sat there, grateful that we have our children, wondering how we can keep them safe, wondering how we can ease their pain in a way that allows them to stay with us. Suicide statistics for transgender people decrease dramatically with the support of their family, but we are reminded regularly that there is no way to eliminate them. Finn’s death haunts me because it reminds me that our children’s lives are fragile.

But a burden? A disruption? No.

We create burdens and disruptions in the lives of transgender people all the time, and then have the audacity to say that they are somehow bringing it on themselves. Or worse, that their mere existence is a burden and disruption for us.

We have to change our thinking. 

There is disruption in the life of a trans person every time the wrong name is used.

There is disruption in the life of a trans person every time the wrong pronouns are used.

There is disruption in the life of a trans person every time there is a hint that they can be made cis if they’d just pray harder.

There is a burden placed on the life of a trans person every time someone votes to restrict where they can use the bathroom.

There is a burden placed on the life of a trans person every time they are called “confused” or “perverted” or “abomination.”

There is a burden placed on the life of a trans person every time they are denied a place in a church simply because of their gender identity.

The good thing is that we can remove some of these burdens and disruptions. We can use chosen names and correct pronouns. We can educate ourselves on the damage inflicted by reparative therapy. We can let our lawmakers know that we support laws that protect transgender people rather than punishing them. We can affirm the gender identities of all people we meet, rather than just those that we feel comfortable around. We can embrace all genders as a part of God’s family.

Let’s work together to unburden our trans brothers and sisters. Let’s disrupt their lives in the best possible way, by showing them our love and support.

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4 Ways to Overcome Choosing Sin when it comes to Homosexuality

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Hey there. We need to talk about homosexuality and the sin that you keep choosing.

I imagine you’re feeling pretty worn out by the fight over your lifestyle choice. I get it. Urges are hard to overcome. Sometimes even when we know the right thing to do, the thing we want to do feels way better, at least in the moment. But in the long term, you have to admit, it hurts you and the people around you. There are lots of stories that prove that, if you’re willing to look past your feelings.

I get that it’s hard not to react when an organization like World Vision or a pastor like Eugene Peterson change their minds about this. We like to know that the people we’ve trusted are on our side, and it feels pretty gross when it turns out that they’re not. It makes us want to fly our flag even higher and shout even louder. It makes us want to double down on our sin. But we must fight those impulses. We must not allow our sin natures to get the best of us. We can choose a better way.

I know what you want to say. It’s not just feelings, the Bible says it’s okay! And sure, if you just look at a couple of passages out of context, it certainly might seem like the Bible wants you to just do what feels good. But we can’t just pick and choose what passages we want to follow. And the overarching theme of the Bible tells us that what you’re choosing is a sin.

Maybe you don’t even believe that it’s a choice. Maybe you think that this is just how God wants you to behave. But I can tell you, it’s not. Your choices are just that – choices. You can choose something different. I’m going to tell you a few ways you can choose something better for you, and better for the world by choosing something other than your fear and prejudice against LGBTQ people.

  1. Read something that challenges your beliefs. I recommend Torn by Justin Lee, God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines, or  Changing Our Mind by David Gushee. If we’re not open to hearing from the people we are sinning against, sometimes it can be hard to see our sin. Listening to the words of those who are calling out our sin can be a big step toward confessing and making a change.
  2. Pray about it. Really take time to examine your heart before God about your fear and prejudice against LGBTQ people. God promises to forgive our sin when we pray.
  3. Go to church. Not just any church – look for an affirming church. Go and see how God uses LGBTQ people in the Body. Listen to a gay pastor preach. Take communion with a transgender woman. Discover the ways that the LGBTQ community is enriching the Church and join with them.
  4. Repent. It’s hard to admit that we hold prejudice and fear in our hearts, but when we believe that we can determine who is really a Christian based on their gender identity or who they fall in love with, that’s what we’re holding onto. The Bible tells us the perfect love casts out fear. When we repent of our fear, we can love. Jesus said that people will know we are disciples by our love. Repent and turn to love.

It may be a lot to take in. Maybe it wasn’t even what you were expecting. Know this, choosing not to sin in this way will cost you. You may lose friends and family, you may lose prestige, in some circumstances, you may even lose a job. But we can make that choice. We can turn away from our sin, and turn toward freedom. We can turn away from fear, and run toward love.

It’s your choice.

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My First Pride

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Yesterday I attended my first Pride. Two of my kids, one of my step-kids, and a girlfriend drove up to Pittsburgh, battling traffic in a triangle-shaped city with two major events happening at the same time and with me forgetting my wallet so I had no cash to help us through the day. But even with some minor set-backs at the beginning of the day (we all managed to find parking and my son has a job that primarily pays in cash so he could afford lunch for everyone), we had a really phenomenal time.

In the days leading up to Pride, I read a story about a Pulse victim whose father had refused to claim his son’s body. I thought about the massive LGBTQ homeless population. I thought about the mother who wrote about giving her child over to the Devil on his wedding day. I thought about Ruth Coker Burks and the hundreds of gay men who were abandoned by their families when they contracted AIDS.

My heart broke with the weight of pain and abandonment that so many LGBTQ people are forced to endure.

I had crocheted up nearly 200 hearts and with some help, had them all pinned onto a giant heart that said “Love is Love.” As we walked up and down the festival, we would approach groups of people and offer them a heart pin. I gave hugs, shared a little of my story, met some other parents there to support their LGBTQ kids, blinked back tears more than a few times. I was nervous that giving out these tokens might be seen as an act of condescension, but over and over, it was perceived as I had hoped – a little gift of love from me to them.

What was even more lovely was seeing how my kids reacted as I handed them out. It meant so much to me that my kids know without question that I support them and love them. That they don’t have to walk this path alone. That they have an advocate right in their own home.

A year ago today our country was rocked as the news of a shooting in a gay nightclub murdered 49 people and injured 58 more. My kids had made plans to attend Pride, and a part of me wanted to keep them home. Maybe the shooting would encourage more hate. Maybe it was part of a larger, more coordinated effort to murder LGBTQ people. Maybe I was sending my kids into danger.

But that’s what Pride is. It’s a reminder of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, when LGBTQ people revolted against a system that refused to allow them even the dignity of being themselves in bars. It’s a reminder that there is danger in being openly LGBTQ, even nearly 50 years later. It’s a reminder that when the community bands together, they have a strength that they don’t have individually.

That was what was beautiful about attending Pride yesterday. Seeing thousands of people who, despite the risks, were there to celebrate their lives. Not merely to celebrate being gay or trans or non-binary or queer, though that was part of it, but to celebrate being alive. To celebrate overcoming potential abandonment by their families, overcoming rejection from the Church, overcoming fear of violence and even death. Each person I met was brimming with that life, with that celebratory spirit.

The world can be hard and cruel. People who should love us will let us down. We may even lose our lives. But should learn from our LGBTQ friends – every day we’re alive is a day to be proud. 

And every day one of our LGBTQ friends survive, we should be proud of them. 

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Wild Flowers and Maternity Clothes

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The day we came home from the hospital after Elliott’s birth, everything was gone. We were still a month out from his due date, so there wasn’t a lot of baby stuff accumulated yet, but we’d picked up a few items. One couple had given us a car seat. Another friend of mine from high school had mailed us a huge package of cloth diapers and covers. Rich asked a friend to get them and take them away for us. I’m still not sure where they were donated.

My maternity clothes, however, were still there, folded on the shelf.

For the past three years, they have stayed in my closet. I’ve pulled them out, intending to get rid of them a few times, but I could never quite bring myself to actually load them into my car and drop them off at a clothing donation site.

Stillbirth leaves you with so little of the child. I have about a dozen pictures of our son that I look at from time to time. I have a box of the clothes he wore for those pictures. I have a mold of his hands and feet. I have a towel that a friend had sewn for him.  That’s it.

My time with Elliott when he was alive was confined to my pregnancy. And so much of that time was filled with fear and regret. A child conceived outside of marriage. The product of an affair. A late in life, “don’t you know how that happens” baby. An infant who wasn’t going to get a baby shower because of the sins of his parents.

But there were flashes of kindness. The car seat. The diapers. The towel. And the maternity clothes. Someone I knew online had seen a post I put up asking local friends where I could find cheap maternity clothes, and a few days later, a package filled with tops and shorts and dresses arrived at my door. A few days later, I wore my favorite, a black and white polka-dot dress with an orange bow to my son’s trumpet recital, grateful that I had something pretty and new.

The clothes reminded me of the passage in Luke where Jesus encouraged his followers not to worry, that they had more value than birds and grass. Those maternity clothes were the wild flowers clothing the grass.  They reminded me that I was more than my wrong choices. The clothes represented forgiveness, provision, acceptance. For me, for my yet unborn son.

So held onto the clothes. For three years.

A few days ago, another plea went out on my social media feed asking if anyone had any maternity clothes they would be willing to part with. And while there was a moment of hesitation – how could I give away one of my few remaining links with my son? – it was short-lived.

We met this morning, and I hugged her as her husband loaded the box into their minivan. I cried tears of grief as I drove back home, thinking about Elliott, who would be three on Sunday, if that day had gone differently. I cried tears of longing thinking about what it was like to feel him rolling and stretching inside of me and how I don’t get to hold that squirming, writhing little boy. I cried tears of regret for the time I spent fearing my pregnancy rather than reveling in it.

I cried tears of joy because sometimes wild flowers are a black and white polka-dot maternity dress with an orange bow that remind us that we are loved.

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