By Rachel Held Evans
For those who believe in the dignity and value of gay and lesbian people and who support LGBT equality both in the U.S. and abroad, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.
Coverage of the Olympic Winter Games brought Russia’s anti-gay laws back into the conversation and exposed some of that country’s cultural prejudice against LGBT people.
And in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that makes homosexuality punishable by life in prison. The following day, the front page headline of a popular Ugandan newspaper read, “EXPOSED: Uganda’s 200 Top Homos Named” with several photographs next to the headline. (When similar articles were released in 2011, a gay rights activist was found beaten to death in his home.) It has been said that the Ugandan government was influenced by evangelical Christians from the U.S., and indeed Museveni’s argument that gay and lesbian people are “disgusting” has been echoed by Thabiti Anyabwile of the Gospel Coalition, who has spoken positively about similar legislation in Liberia and Russia.
Here in the U.S., several states—most recently Kansas and Arizona— have been considering bills that would ensure the protection of businesses that refuse service to gay and lesbian people.
While these bills may have originally been proposed in response to a few isolated incidents in other states (in which, for example, a baker refused to bake a cake for a wedding between two men), the language is broad enough and vague enough to empower individuals or businesses to refuse to serve anyone whose presence violates “deeply-held religious beliefs.” It would allow a restaurant owner to hang a “NO GAYS ALLOWED” sign in his window, or a hotel manager to turn away a gay couple, or a doctor to insist on only treating straight people.
This is a serious overreaction to the wedding cake scenario, and at least in Arizona, totally unnecessary, as the state already allows discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
It has been disheartening to see evangelical Christians remain silent on the injustices in Russia and Uganda and then rally in support of these discrimination bills in the name of religious freedom.
Religious freedom is the banner under which this decade’s culture wars are being waged, and so, while there are many angles to this story we could discus, I’d like to focus on this one.
Evangelical Christians in America enjoy incredible religious freedom, perhaps more than any other group in this country. Christians remain the religious majority in the U.S. Every American president has identified himself as a Christian, and Christians make up the overwhelming majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate. If you are a white evangelical Christian in the U.S. you are unlikely to be “randomly” screened by the T.S.A. every time you try to board an airplane. It is unlikely that you will face protests and governmental obstruction when you attempt build a new place of worship, which is a reality faced by many of our Muslim citizens.
And yet despite enjoying majority status, significant privilege, and unchallenged religious freedom in this country, we evangelical Christians have become known as a group of people who cry “persecution!” upon being wished “Happy Holidays" by a store clerk.
We have become known as a group of people who sees themselves perpetually under attack, perpetually victimized, and perpetually entitled, a group who, ironically, often responds to these imagined disadvantages by advancing legislation that restricts the civil liberties of other people.
But living in a pluralistic society that also grants freedom and civil rights protection to those with whom one disagrees is not the same as religious persecution. And crying persecution every time one doesn’t get one’s way is an insult to the very real religious persecution happening in the world today. It's no way to be a good citizen and certainly no way to advance the gospel in the world.
Now, one could argue all day, from a strictly civic perspective, about whether a person should be allowed to deny services to another person on account of religious differences. Maybe they should; maybe they shouldn’t. I don’t know. It's a complex issue and I can see both sides. (Most gay folks I know wouldn't sue a vendor for refusing to provide wedding services, but would choose someone else. Suing, I think, is a bad idea for everyone.)
But what I want to address here is whether followers of Jesus should devote their time and efforts to rallying in support of legislation that would empower business owners to deny services to gay and lesbian people (many of whom are fellow Christians, by the way) or whether, as Andy Stanely puts it, “serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn’t see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business. Literally. But leave Jesus out of it.”
I'm with Andy on this, because I can’t help but think of the words of Jesus:
“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
You know who was actually persecuted for their religious beliefs?
Jews under Roman occupation in the first century.
And you know what Jesus told those Jews to do?
Pay your taxes. Obey the law. Give to those who ask. Do not turn people away. Love your neighbors. Love even your enemies.
When Jesus spoke of “walking the second mile,” he was referring to an oppressive Roman law that allowed a traveling Roman solider to demand that a stranger carry his pack for up to one mile. No doubt some of Jesus’ first listeners had been forced to do just that, to drop their farming equipment, fishing nets, or carpentry tools and carry a heavy pack, losing hours of work in the process.
The law allowed the soldier to demand from them a mile, no more. Jesus told his followers to walk two.
As Christians, our most “deeply held religious belief” is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinful people, and that in imitation of that, we are called to love God, to love our neighbors, and to love even our enemies to the point of death.
So I think we can handle making pastries for gay people.
And I think that refusing to serve gay and lesbian people, and advancing legislation that denies others their civil liberties in response to perceived threats to our own, does irreparable damage to our witness as Christians and leaves a whole group of people feeling like second-class citizens, not only in our country, but also in the Kingdom. There may be second-class citizens in the U.S. and in Uganda and in Russia, but there should be no second-class citizens in the Kingdom.
As I’ve made it clear in the past, I support marriage equality and affirm my gay and lesbian friends who want to commit themselves to another person for life. But even if I didn’t, even if I believed same-sex marriage was a sin, I could never, in good conscience, throw my support behind a law that would put my gay and lesbian neighbors behind bars for being gay or allow businesses free range to discriminate against them because of their orientation.
Because over and beyond my beliefs regarding homosexuality is my most deeply-held conviction that I am called to love my neighbor as myself…even if it costs me something, even if it means walking a second mile.
I've been watching people with golden crosses around their necks and on their lapels shout at the TV about how serving gay and lesbian people is a violation of their “sincerely-held religious beliefs.”
And I can't help but laugh at the sad irony of it.
Two-thousand years ago, Jesus hung from that cross, looked out on the people who put him there and said, "Father, forgive them." Jesus served sinners all the way to the cross.
The truth is, evangelical Christians have already "lost" the culture wars.And it's not because the "other side" won or because evangelicals have failed to protect our own religious liberties. Evangelicals lost the culture wars the moment they committed to fighting them, the moment they decided to stop washing feet and start waging war.
And I fear that we've lost not only the culture wars, but also our Christian identity, when the "right to refuse" service has become a more sincerely-held and widely-known Christian belief than the impulse to give it.
An Open Pastoral Letter to the Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgendered, Gay and Questioning Communities of Michigan
Rev. Deborah Dean-Ware,
Pastor, The Church of the Good Shepherd, United Church of Christ
Washtenaw County, Michigan
I am a local church pastor and this is my letter of apology to the people of the LBTGQQ communities in Michigan. I apologize for the harm that has been and continues to be done in the name of Christ. I apologize for your deep pain inflicted upon you by the weaponizing of the Bible. I apologize for the political and theological rhetoric that gives subtle (and not-so subtle) permission for violence. I apologize for the years, the decades, of warfare that Christianity has waged against you. Most importantly, I apologize for choosing silence much too often while you and the people you love have been demonized and marginalized.
I don’t blame you if you are hesitant to trust my apology. I don’t blame you if you can’t help but anticipate the inevitable “love the sinner, hate the sin.” No one pastor can make up for the oppression you have endured—the pain runs too deep, the wounds are too numerous. One Christian voice cannot silence this mean-spirited rhetoric completely. But I hope that this letter might offer, even if only to one person, the tiniest bit of healing.
It is time for another Christian perspective.
I am an ordained pastor in a “traditional” marriage. I am a follower of Jesus. I hold the Bible as sacred and foundational. I cherish Christian community. And I deeply, fully, passionately believe:
By Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards
"…in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27)
I was recently with a friend who also identifies as bisexual, and we began talking about the widely-held presumption that bisexuals "become" straight or gay depending on the gender of our partner.
For instance, since I am faithful in marriage with a man, it is assumed that I am living what is "straight" in me.
It is as if being bisexual means that there are distinct facets to my identity—gay or straight—and my partner determines which "side" I'm living out. For my friend, who is married to a woman, this means that many people assume she is living out the "gay" side of her bisexuality and forsaking her "straight" side.
My friend confessed that, when she was young and identified as lesbian, she deeply resented bisexual people who were in a relationship with the other gender. She took offense at what she saw as hiding behind a "straight life," which led her to strongly object to bisexuals participating in LGBT political activity.
At one meeting, she became especially vocal about this topic. After the meeting, someone pulled my friend aside and told her how offensive her words were. This person shared with my friend that she identified as bisexual, and she did not become gay when she was with her female partner.
She explained she was bisexual whether she was with a man or a woman.
There were no bifurcated sides of her sexual orientation, and she did not switch between aspects of herself in her loving relationships. If she were with a man, she would not be living a “straight” life. She was herself: bisexual in sexual identification, everywhere and all the time.
This assumption that a bisexual person morphs into being straight or gay depending on the sex of the partner is unfortunately common in both LGBT and straight communities. I have also encountered it among Christians I have talked with about my experience.
One commented that what I do in my marriage is exercise my "heterosexual tendencies." I confess, I had not thought about this very much until the conversation with my friend.
Am I bisexual everywhere, and all the time? As far as I know myself, I am.
What I have come to see is that the heart of the matter resides in the "and" of the verse from Genesis.
For me, the beauty of bisexuality is in the both/and experience. Identifying as bi allows me to further explore the reality that the Divine and the human are comprised of male AND female. Being sensitive to both/and allows me to encounter the immensely complex nature of God and of humans, who are made in God's image.
Inside every human is a mix of male and female dimensions. For my friend, and myself, intimacy means choosing one person, bringing our love of more than one gender into the relationship as a way of loving the male and female richness inside each of us.
God knit me together as bisexual in my mother’s womb.
It took me a long time to grasp this complexity, and I am still discovering what it means for me. I am grateful for those who help me know I dwell in a place of both/and, not either/or, where I can appreciate the wholeness of God and every human being.
I am bisexual everywhere and all the time. I so hope you can see that.
- See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/beyond-eitheror-how-i-am-bisexual-everywhere-all-time#sthash.is24fdNS.dpuf
By Alison Amyx
This Valentine’s Day, I pledge to love my queer identity.
I pledge to honor the truth I hid for ten years—the door that remained unopened, the secret I was too afraid to face.
Today, I pledge to love the part of myself I was told to hate.
I pledge to remember the relationships I never had, the teenage romance and heartbeats lost in in the darkness of the closet—the love I didn’t know I was missing.
I pledge to tell my teenaged self that it is ok to share her secret—that we can find love, and be loved, even in the midst of our own devastation.
And today, I pledge to make those lost years count. To never forget what once was hidden, celebrating my coming out as a vital step on my journey toward wholeness, in myself, in my relationships, and in my community.
This Valentine’s Day, I pledge to share the light of my truth so others may shine.
I pledge to find beauty in difference, living with eyes open to see love the world refuses to embrace.
I pledge to honor the gift of my perspective, my queerness, in a world too quick to extinguish our flames.
Today, I pledge to find beauty and strength in the broken and healing places, and to share the love of God for all creation.
This Valentine’s Day, I pledge to love beyond expectation.
I pledge to share this love with others, spreading the good news to all God’s children that each of us, blessed and beloved, is worthy of love unending.
- See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/loving-my-queer-identity#sthash.wHhO0xVT.dpuf
Posted on January 30, 2014 by sacredtensionstephen
This post and many more excellent post can be found at http://sacredtension.com/
As a gay man, one question more than any other has kept me up at night – the question that draws all other questions into its gravitational pull: what if I’m wrong?
If I believe God blesses gay marriage, and I condone gay marriages among my friends, and I eventually get married to a man myself, what if I’m wrong?
Does that mean I am in grave error, condoning a sin that has very serious consequences on souls, hearts, communities and families? Does that mean I will be held accountable before God as a teacher of sin? Does that mean I am leading people into sin, death, and decay instead of redemption, goodness, and love?
If I’m traditional regarding homosexuality and marriage, what if I’m wrong?
If I’m wrong, I am guilty of condemning an entire people group to never experiencing something central to human life and stability: marriage. I am guilty of standing in defiance to 2000 years of Christian tradition that affirms that marriage is good and that celibacy must never, ever be forced upon anyone, because celibacy is a gift.
I might be guilty of encouraging the culture of promiscuity within the gay community by not believing marriage is a viable route for them. I might be bringing greater instability to the gay community because of my conviction. I am guilty of saying that self-sacrificing, long-suffering, mutually giving, monogamous love is wrong, while serving a God of love, thereby damaging the witness of my faith.
If I am traditional and wrong, I am guilty of perpetuating a ferocious and evil injustice against a vulnerable people group that deserve equality and love.
If I am wrong (or right), if I am misguided (or totally on track), if my convictions fail me, (or if they prove to be true) there is one – and only one – thing I have left, and that is the Gospel.
There is only one thing that will not fail, one thing that stands no matter what else may fall, one thing that never changes, no matter how subject to change we are, and that is Christ himself.
In the face of such terrible consequences of being wrong, and in the face of my own intellectual shortcomings that are so prone to error, the only thing I have is Christ’s grace: his Cross and His resurrection, the conviction that He is the way, the truth, and the life. All I have is the assurance that He is good, and that His grace is sufficient, even when our own minds fail. All I have, when all words are written and all questions answered, is the cross.
My mind – frail and human and prone to delusion – cannot carry me to salvation, or even total rightness. It will shift and grow with time, and will never be fully correct at any given moment, no matter how close I may get. As I’ve prayed and meditated, I’ve realized the depth of the truth that only something beyond myself and my own mind could ever truly save me.
And this is why, over time, I am becoming less concerned with “sides” and more concerned with the Gospel. Because, regardless of which Side of the gay debate is right, and regardless of how grave the other side’s wrongness might be, its rightness or wrongness cannot save us or condemn us. Only Christ can.
By Ryan Struyk
Calvin College Chimes Editor 2013-14
I’ve spent most of the last 18 months here at Chimes trying to get the full story: asking the tough questions, sending writers back for another interview and doing whatever it takes to get the “full story.”
And regrettably, I don’t think I’ve succeeded once.
There is so much behind every story that it’s impossible to capture the full behind-the-scenes angle that personifies and allows us to completely understand.
Because behind every decision, every action and every change, there’s a person making that decision, performing the action and leading through the change.
Chaplain Mary Hulst spent the first half of Saturday’s rivalry basketball game comforting the wife of a man who collapsed during the national anthem and later died, only to enthusiastically run the Calvin flag around the court less than an hour later.
Student body president David Kuenzi explained to me the hardship of sacrificing many hours of his finals week to represent the student body on the committee that was making difficult, last-minute decisions about budget cuts last semester.
Provost Claudia Beversluis teared up when she told faculty senate that she has read every word of letter after letter from alumni, pleading with her not to cut certain departments — but she still needs to make tough decisions.
And just like in journalism, life is full of conversations and situations where we don’t know the full story.
While I was struggling to come out to close friends last fall, a wise friend told me: “Everyone’s got their stuff.” (He didn’t actually say stuff, but I’m not going to print an expletive, even if it is my last editorial.)
Many of us are wrestling with depression, especially now during the winter. Some of us regularly get crippling migraine headaches. Some of us struggle with eating disorders. Others of us come from broken families. And as this paper pointed out this fall, some of us are enveloped in fear over our sexual identity.
And you can’t tell any of this when you shake someone’s hand.
So I offer the same simple thought that one of my role models, former U.S. senator Olympia Snowe, told us at lunch after the January Series last Thursday: “Be kinder.”
Theologian Ian Maclaren expanded that thought a bit more: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
My own experience being closeted on Calvin’s campus has taught me this: you never know what’s going on in a person’s life behind-the-scenes.
So give hugs a little more often, smile a little more and give the benefit of the doubt more than you probably should.
Why? It’s this kind of grace – lavished on other people without condition or reservation – that God gives us.
But while we don’t know the “stuff” in the lives of other people, we know that God sees all the “stuff” in us — the brokenness, the pain, the shame and the insecurities.
And we don’t have to worry about the judgment or betrayal or gossip we might expect from other people, because the Father sees Christ in our place.
Pastor Mary said it beautifully in LOFT on Sunday night: in the world, our very acceptance depends on covering our blemishes. But as Christians, our acceptance depends on us having blemishes — and bringing them to the cross.
So be kinder. Love freely. And remember that accepting God’s grace and sharing it with others is what God’s “full story” for us is all about.
Posted online in Chimes, January 16, 2014
We have a saying in Christianity that “you will know them by their fruit.” Drawn from Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 7, the expression means that the true test of faithfulness to Christ is not in simply believing or saying the right things, but in displaying the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,” said Jesus, “and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
I spent this past weekend with Christians bearing very good fruit.
I went to the Gay Christian Network’s “Live It Out” conference in Chicago a little unsure of what to expect, a little perplexed that someone like me would be invited, and a little freaked out about what to say as a straight woman to a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians—many of whom have been severely wounded by the Church.
But within a few hours of arriving, it became apparent to me that I had little to teach these brothers and sisters and everything to learn from them.
I speak at dozens of Christian conferences in a given year, and I can say without hesitation that I’ve never attended a Christian conference so energized by the Spirit, so devoid of empty showmanship or preoccupation with image, so grounded in love and abounding in grace.
As one attendee put it, “This is an unapologetically Christian conference.”
Indeed. There was communion, confession, powerful worship, and fellowship. There was deep concern for the Word. (The breakout sessions about the Bible and same sex relationships were by far the most popular, with Matthew Vines’ session so packed there wasn’t even standing room!) There was lots of hugging and praying and tears…and argyle.
I spoke with attendees from a multitude of denominational backgrounds—Catholic, Southern Baptist, Nazarene, Churches of Christ, Pentecostal, Mennonite, you name it. I met gay Christians who felt compelled by Scripture and tradition to commit their lives to celibacy (Side B) and gay Christians who felt fee in Christ to pursue same-sex relationships (Side A). And I heard story after story of getting kicked out of church, of being disowned by parents, of losing friends, of moving from despair to hope.
“I think we connect with your work because you write so much about Jesus,” a man who came all the way from Australia said. “For a lot of us, everything about religion has been taken away. All we have left is Jesus. So we love to talk about Jesus.”
The event wasn’t perfect, of course. As with any conference, there were tensions and disagreements, a few awkward moments and misunderstandings. But these were handled with such profound patience and grace I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Many of these folks have every right to walk around with permanent chips on their shoulders, but over and over again I encountered nothing but grace….big, wide, unstoppable, unexplainable grace.
I suppose this is what happens when a bunch of Christians get together an actually tell one another the truth.
About our pain.
About our sin.
About our fear.
About our questions.
About our sexuality.
Telling the truth has a liberating effect on everyone else in the room, and this was evident in the final night of the conference when we listened to one another’s stories:
From the young woman who had been called vicious names since grade school and who told us that this was the first time in her life she felt safe among other Christians.
From the brave mom who, choking down tears, told us that before this weekend she had been ashamed of her son, afraid to tell her Christian friends and family that he was gay. Now she had the courage to tell the truth and love him better.
From the man who, after twenty years of trying desperately to force himself to speak differently, dress differently, move his hands differently, and love differently decided to finally tell himself the truth.
From the conservative pastor who used to be an apologist against homosexuality, but whose friendship with a lesbian woman slowly, over many years, changed his mind. “Her life was her greatest apologetic,” he said, before openly weeping. “I was wrong. And when I hear about the pain many of you have experienced, I know that I was the cause of some of that pain. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry. Please forgive me.”
From the man in the wheelchair who, with words he struggled to form, declared, “I’m black. I’m disabled. I’m gay. And I live in Mississippi. What was God thinking?!”
From the lesbian couple whose conservative church chose to break with its denomination rather than deny them membership.
From the young man who said that when he finally worked up the courage to come out to his parents “it didn’t go as well as I hoped,” and in the painful silence that followed, far too many understood.
From the denominational leader whose peers wanted him to “see what these people are so angry about" and who choked up as he said, “I’m going to go back and tell them you’re not angry. You weren’t anything like I expected you to be. I’m going to go back and tell them you’ve been hurt and it’s our denomination that needs to change, not you.”
From the parents who said they learned, too late, to love their gay son “just because he breathes.”
It was church if I’ve ever experienced it. And as I wiped tears from my eyes, I became as convinced as ever that if the Church continues to marginalize and stigmatize LGBT Christians, then the Church as a whole will suffer. It will miss out on all this energy, all this wisdom, all this truth, all this fruit. It will miss out on these beautiful people, these beautiful families, these beautiful relationships.
I was in a conversation with someone the other day who said he wondered if perhaps LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the Church how to engage thoughtfully around issues about sexuality.
I think he’s wrong. After this conference, I’m convinced LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the Church what it means to be Christian.
After all, movements of the spirit have never started with the “right” people. The gospel has never made as much sense among the powerful and religious as it makes among the marginalized. As I said in my keynote, what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in.
…And who it calls to lead.
I realize that standing with and affirming LGBT Christians—both those who identify as Side A and those who identify as Side B (though, for reasons I can explain later, I'm personally inclined toward A)— puts some of my work in jeopardy. I realize that this post will be used to discredit me and that I may lose readers and opportunities as a result. But here I stand—not to lead, but to follow; not as a mere “ally,” but as a sister; not because I have it all figured out or have all my questions answered, but because I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do.
I’m so grateful to GCN for welcoming me into your family last weekend. You told the truth. You extended grace. You let me ask dumb questions. You loved me well.
And as long as you are part of the Church, I think her future is bright.
Dear family & friends,
Especially friends from my childhood and high school years who have found me for whatever reasons on Facebook, and family with whom I’m not particularly close, and coworkers from previous jobs who I have perhaps never had this chat with:
THE “GENDERQUEER COMING OUT” PART
I have something to tell you: I’m genderqueer. That means I live my day-to-day life somewhere between “man” and “woman,” often facing all sorts of daily interactions where the general public doesn’t “get” my gender, from kids in the grocery store asking, “are you a boy or a girl?” and their mom hushing them and turning away, to little old ladies in the women’s room staring wide-eyed and backing out of the restroom slowly, only to then return with a confused and self-protective look on their face, to service industry folks saying, “Can I help you, sir? Uh, ma’am? Uh … ?”
That confusion, that in-between state, is precisely it. That’s who I am. I’m neither, and both. I’m in-between.
You may already know this about me, just from following me on Facebook and doing whatever sleuthing you’ve done about my projects. You probably know I’m queer. But, if you want to know, I’m going to explain a few more things about my gender for a minute.
If you want to delve a little deeper into my particular gender, I consider myself butch, I identify as masculine, and I consider genderqueer part of the “trans*” communities, using trans-asterisk as the umbrella term to encompass, well, anybody who feels in-between. I’ve been identifying as “butch” for a long time—perhaps you’ve heard me use this word, an identity I consider to mean a masculine-identified person who was assigned female at birth. I consider myself masculine, but as I delve further into gender politics and theory and communities, the boxes of “woman” and “man” feel too constricting and limiting for me to occupy them comfortably.
I have for years thought that it was extremely important for people like me—masculine people with a fluid sense of gender and personality traits, who don’t feel limited by gender roles or restricted by gender policing--should continue to identify as women as a political act, as a way to increase the possibilities of what “woman” can be. That’s really important. And I still believe that is true, and heavily support that category.
Problem is, “woman” has never fit me. I had bottomless depression as a teenager (perhaps some of you remember I was sent to the principal’s office once for “wearing too much black”), plagued often by the idea of “woman” and adult womanhood. I could not understand who I would be in that context. And honestly, I still can’t.
But—even though it is in some ways harder, living outside of the gender norms—this in-between makes so much sense to me.
ON PRONOUNS (This part is important.)
For a few years now, I’ve been stating, when asked, that I prefer the third-person pronouns they and them when referring to me. That means, if you’re speaking of me in a sentence, you’d say, “They are about to walk the entire Pacific Crest Trail, it’s true,” or “Did you hear they just published another book?” or, “I really like spending time with them.”
Lately, when people ask what my preferred pronoun is, I have been saying, “I prefer they and them, but all of them are fine and I don’t correct anybody.” I don’t mind the other pronouns. They don’t irk me. But when someone “gets” it, and honors the they/them request, it makes me feel seen and understood.
There are other options for third-person pronouns which are gender neutral—or rather, not he or she. “They” is the one that I think, as a writer, is the easiest for me to integrate into sentences. I completely believe in calling people what they want to be called (that has always been one of my mom’s great mom-isms), so I always do my best to respect pronouns, but I still struggle with the conjugations and the way those words fit in a sentence.
Some people—particularly those (ahem like me) who were English majors and for whom grammar rules are exciting—think the “singular they,” as it’s called, is grammatically incorrect. But it’s not. It’s actually been used in literature for hundreds of years. Here’s one particular article on the Singular They and the Many Reasons Why It Is Correct. Read up, if that intrigues you.
WHY THE BIG DEAL?
I haven’t sat any of my family—immediate or extended—down and said, Hi, I’d like you to use they/them pronouns for me. I don’t generally tell people that unless they ask. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whyI haven’t told you, what I’m afraid of, and what is keeping me from this conversation.
I’m not particularly afraid that you won’t “get it” or that you won’t honor it. If you don’t, that’s actually okay. I am part of some amazing trans* and genderqueer and gender-forward communities full of activism, respect, advocacy, and understanding, and I’m very lucky to feel whole and respected in that work.
And really, I believe that the very vast majority of you actually really wants to know, wants to honor my choices. I think you are probably curious about this. But for whatever reason, my (and probably your) west coast sensibilities are keeping us from having a direct conversation.
So, here ya go. It’s not particularly personal, but it’s the beginnings of something, and it’s my offering to you to talk about this, if you want to.
See the thing is, by not having this conversation with you, by not giving you the opportunity to respect my gender and pronouns (even if you think it’s weird-ass and strange and don’t get it), I’m limiting our intimacy. I’m not giving you all the chance to really know me. And maybe … you want to. Maybe this will open up something new between us.
Or maybe you’ll just go, “Huh. Okay. Whatever.” That’s fine too.
If you have questions, or want to talk about all this gender stuff, I am open to that. Ask away. (You don’t always get a free pass to ask weird questions, so you might want to utilize this opportunity.) But before you do, you might want to check out The Gender Book for some basic terminology, concepts, and ideas.
Sorry I haven’t told you yet. I’ve been telling myself that it “isn’t that important,” but actually it’s been a barrier between us, in some minor big ways.
That kid who was in English class with you in high school,
Your former coworker,
Your nibling (did you know that’s the gender neutral term for neice or nephew??),
The older sibling of your childhood friend,
Your best friend from 6th grade,
That queer who was crushed on you before they knew they were queer,
PS: Feel free to steal this idea for your own Facebook pages.
Reprinted from the Believe Out Loud Blog page
Debates over California's AB 1266, which is scheduled to go into effect in California in January 2014, are bringing out troubling arguments against transgender students in California.
AB 1266 restates existing state and federal laws that ensure transgender students can fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities that match their gender identity.
Katherine Svenson, a Delta County, Colorado, school board member, recently made her stand against transgender students at a school board meeting:
I would like to pass out something that shows people what is going on in the rest of the country. Massachusetts and California have passed laws relating to calling a student, irrespective of his biological gender, letting him perform as the gender he thinks he is, or she is, and I want to emphasize, and they're actually talking about joining girls sports teams going in the girls locker rooms and bathrooms, and I just want to emphasize not in this district. Not until the plumbing's changed. There would have to be castration in order to pass something like that around here.
Sadly, this sort of statement is not uncommon lately. Such arguments stem from the efforts of Privacy For All Students, a political organization working to overturn the new California law.
Arguments from opponents like Svenson are troubling for a number of reasons. First, they demonstrate and work to instill an ugly anger at and fear of transgender people. "They're coming to get us," this argument says: "They're going to try to let some transsexual urinate near you beloved children." Feel the horror.
These arguments tap into every toxic narrative about trans people, especially trans women.
They say that we're either confused or deceptive, and they claim there is something inherently threatening about trans people. Just look at what Svenson's comment about castration—that's a violent word right there.
When asked about her comment, Svenson said, "I don't have a problem if some boys think they are girls, I'm just saying as long as they can impregnate a woman, they're not going to go in girls locker-room.”
Her arguments imply trans girls should be treated as rapists and sterilized as children. These arguments keep making appearances in discussions of trans people's rights: “How do we know that trans people are really what they say they are?” “How do we know that trans people aren't just predators pretending to be someone they are not?”
As a trans woman, I often don't know quite what to say in these situations.
How exactly can I prove I'm not a dangerous pervert? I can try to be charming, I can tell my story about always knowing I was a girl while I was growing up, or I can talk about being an Iraq War veteran or Christian or a small business person to tout my “nice, normal person” credentials.
Still, at the end of the day, I'm trans, and how does the world know if being trans is ok or not? I do not have some sort of certificate signed by God saying, “I do avow that S. Vivian Taylor is, in fact, a woman—so stop going on about it.”
As Christians we are called to love all people as ourselves. Part of loving people is to give them a chance, to value their personal experience even when it's something you have trouble fully grasping. If someone has an experience, and lives into that experience fully, who are any of us to tell them they are false?
Bills like AB 1266 do incredible work to protect young trans people, to stop bullying and other violence against young trans people. There is no evidence to support that transgender inclusion puts anyone else at risk, when in fact, not protecting trans students leaves them in harm's way. As followers of Christ, we must protect and support all people.
We must seek the truth and reject dishonest horror stories about people that are so often misunderstood.
If you are a Christian, I am asking you as your sister in Christ to listen to trans people instead of the people who fear us as you consider our rights and our place in the world.
- See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/loving-trans-people-ourselves#sthash.qpLw6NMq.dpuf
A Time to Stay and a Time to Leave: An Open Letter to The UMC
- by Autumn Dennis -
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”
With all due respect to Ecclesiastes 3, I feel there is one line missing that I would like to add: “There is a time to stay, and a time to leave.” I was not raised in The United Methodist Church, or in any church for that matter. My interest in the Divine emerged at the same time I was realizing I was gay, at the ripe age of twelve. My first experience with church was at a Baptist megachurch in Tennessee, where I have vivid memories of crying in the pews as I was told I was going to hell. The next few years were marked with me trying to pretend I wasn’t interested in God, because clearly this God hated people like me! These feelings drove me into an intense depression with strong suicidal thoughts. I admit that when I came to the United Methodist Church at sixteen, it was only because the girl I had a crush on invited me. However, the reason I stayed was because this particular church contained the first Christians I had ever met who didn’t immediately tell me I was going to hell. Instead, I found a safe space in their youth group where I was free to be who I was and to ask questions about God. Through my involvement in this church, I got a full scholarship to a great Methodist college.
As I was welcomed into the Methodist church, my campus ministry and local Tennessee Conference connection fostered my gifts and my budding call to homeless and prison ministry. However, I wouldn’t allow myself to consider a call to ordination, even though I felt one—I knew what the church said about people like me, so why even try? Whenever I had pastor friends affirming my gifts, graces, and fruits for ministry, I heard the institutional church say, “You are incompatible with Christian teaching” (Paragraph 161F). When my campus minister suggested I consider ordination as a deacon, I heard the institutional church say, “You will not be accepted as minister” (Paragraph 304.3). However, God’s calling soon overwhelmed the dirge of condemnation from the institutional church: “Yes, I am already ordaining you, you are not incompatible with me, and I will accept you as a minister.” When the Church reduced me to a faceless “homosexual,” I knew God saw me as more.
I decided to enroll in the candidacy process anyway. I began skating through the requirements set by my Tennessee Conference, believing that being ordained through The United Methodist Church could give me a greater voice for change in the church. I was proud to be a representative of The UMC. I felt that I was giving my church an opportunity to recognize what God was already doing in my life, ordaining me as a minister to the margins. However, over time, the pressure I felt from The UMC to hide who I was grew and grew. I began to be paranoid about who was a “safe” Methodist and who was an “unsafe” Methodist. I watched many of the Methodists that had first welcomed me into the church fight to uphold the same discriminatory passages of theBook of Discipline that were ruining my life. I watched cases like Amy DeLong’s, Mary Ann Barclay’s, and Frank Schaefer’s, wondering, “Who will rat me out?” Living a half life, I was stressed over whether or not the conference physicians and psychologists would ask me about my sexuality, worried about if I was dressing feminine enough for when I visited the Conference offices, and wondered if my voice was high-pitched enough for when I visited the head of the Board of Ordained Ministry. Pretty soon, I couldn’t focus on my call from God at all anymore; instead, I felt like I was in a perpetual den of Methodist lions.
The stress of this paranoia compared with the indescribable pain of recent events in the life of the Church became too much for me to handle: seeing the inflammatory language against me from the Book of Discipline in my candidacy guidebooks, witnessing General Conference refuse to even “agree to disagree,” observing the Council of Bishops condemn Bishop Melvin Talbert’s presiding over the marriage of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince, having my classmates and professors speaking insensitively about “the gay issue in The UMC” as if I weren’t in the room, and others. One of the most harmful things to me was seeing the open letter from my own Bishop Bill McAlilly condemning Bishop Talbert, upholding an idolatrous clergy covenant over God’s truth of inclusion. I began to think about leaving the ordination process.
I decided to postpone my decision until I attended Exploration, the biannual event for United Methodist young adults considering ordination. During this event, the Council of Bishops sent us a video with President Bishop Rosemarie Wenner saying, “The Church needs you!” In my head I finished her sentence: “…unless you’re gay.” More than ever, I felt like the church was repeating over and over a hollow lie. I felt like the church needed me to support its broken bureaucracy, but when I needed the Church, it wasn’t there for me. It threw me the bone of “Sacred Worth” and threw me away. As soon as I returned home, I saw the Internet explode with new stories of how Rev. Frank Schaefer was given a guilty verdict for presiding over his son’s wedding to his partner of the same sex. I felt like I could no longer go on rationalizing the state of The United Methodist Church; this was the last straw.
When I began the ordination process, I figured I would “see how far I got before the church kicked me out.” Never did I expect that the church would push me out before my District Committee even had the chance to expel me from the process. It is with immense pain in my heart that I confess to you, my beloved United Methodist Church, that I have to leave the ordination process in order to follow God. I cannot represent an institution whose idol is the Book of Discipline. I cannot pledge to uphold that abusive Book which has long since stopped being a source of illumination in how we connect with each other and God, but now is a glorified bludgeoning tool. I cannot join an order of ministry that is complicit in injustice. I cannot lie my way into an abusive clergy covenant or lie my way through the Historic Questions. I cannot pretend that my church has “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” when it does not. I cannot lie about who I am or what the Church is any longer.
However, there are “Reasons I Stay.” For all the ways that The United Methodist Church is incredibly broken, you are my dysfunctional family that I cannot leave. I still believe in the Church that welcomed me when no one else did, and I believe much more in thatChurch than I do in the same Church that is pushing me away. I still believe that our Methodist connection is something mystical and holy—something I wouldn’t exchange for the world. If I left this church totally, I would just be a Methodist sitting in another denomination. I need to be here to see this Church change. I need to be one of the people joining hands with all the other Reconcilers as we proclaim, “Love Prevails! Draw the circle wider still!” My liberation is bound up with yours, UMC.
(Oh, and one last thing—I’m still being ordained by God and I will find another church to recognize it. If you’re serious about getting more young clergy, make this is a church where we don’t have to lie about who we are in order to serve God. You’re better than that.)
The Lord be with you, and I’ll see you at the open table.
Autumn Dennis is a native of Nashville, Tennessee and is a senior at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee. She studies religion, is passionate about social justice, and is engaged in ministry with the children of Go on streets and in prisons. She is a freelance writer.
From time to time a member of All One Body will post to this blog. We will also have guest commentary. Stay tuned!