American Christians Should Stop Hoarding Liberty

HB2Rally

A year ago I attended a rally in downtown Raleigh, in protest of North Carolina House Bill Two and of the discrimination it manufactures and nurtures in our state.

It was a moving, life-affirming, hope-giving experience, but what stood out most was the incredible diversity of those gathered: of race, religion, gender identity, age, sexual orientation—noticeably more diverse than the houses of worship most Americans will visit this weekend. It was a gathering that reflected not just the vast population of our country, but I believe, the kaleidoscopic complexity of Heaven.

Standing in this extraordinary space, it occurred to me that this wasn’t at all an anti-Christian or anti-religion gathering, as many would probably like to frame it in the public discourse, where the politics of fear is priority one for some sharing my faith tradition. This was a deeply spiritual gathering, with ministers and public servants all sharing their strong religious convictions, and why those convictions have led them to this place of passionately defending the rights of all people.

I realized then just how far so much American Christianity has drifted from Jesus in its message and manner, but I caught a fresh breeze of hope too. I looked around yesterday and recognized the faith that I first was drawn to.

This is where Christians are supposed to be. They are supposed to be standing with the oppressed and the marginalized. They are supposed to be defending the rights of those without power or numbers or a voice. Wherever any people made in the image of God are being treated as less-than, Christians should be the most visible, the most vocal, the most present in condemning it. Instead we are so many times, either silent in the face of injustice or perpetuating it.

We American Christians love to invoke the ideas of Freedom and Liberty, but usually only when they suit our preferences and our plans. We will rail and rally with ferocity and boldness when we feel we are being denied such things in the most inconsequential ways. But when it comes to affording the same fundamental personal liberty to others, especially those we don’t understand or approve of, we become alarmingly tight-lipped and closed-fisted. Then we withhold both Justice and Grace with little remorse.

Far too many American Christians desire all the spoils of both Christianity and America, and yet seek to deny them to the LGBTQ community, to people of color, to low-income families, to non-Christians.

In short, we want to be Jesus to ourselves and Pharaoh to everybody else; abundantly blessed but hard-hearted and unwilling to share the wealth.

Ironically, many of the same Christian people who claim to love and respect the Constitution, seem fairly passionate about preventing other people their “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness”; marriage, equal employment opportunity, healthcare access, church participation, use of the bathroom—things like that.

It’s a bad look for a Christian.

It’s a bad look for an American.

It betrays both the very heart of Jesus and the foundations of our country: the idea that there is inherent worth and dignity in every person, and that each should be able to live unrestrained into the fullness of this truth.  

The ideals of Equality and Freedom on which America were built are indeed fairly beautiful, but only if all people get to benefit from them identically.

And the barrier-breaking, expectation-defying, peace-making, least-loving message of Jesus is such very good news, but only when it is allowed to come to full fruition in the people and in the Church that bears his name.

We need to set Freedom free, because when we do, America is the best of itself and Christianity better reflects the image of Jesus.

Right now, neither is happening and we have only ourselves to blame.

There is a far better way.

Stop hoarding Liberty, Christians.

It belongs to everyone.

Why Keeping Bad Guys Out of Girl’s Bathrooms, isn’t What’s Going on Here

unique-bathroom-stalls

How did I become the bad guy because I don’t want guys in the bathroom with my daughters and their friends. Just pee in the damn bathroom your supposed to!

This Facebook post showed up in my news feed this morning from a friend, who I absolutely do consider a good guy. It was liked and commented on favorably by many Christian folks I currently or once considered friends. I think it is indicative of sentiments I see shared frequently in the Church and by those sharing my faith these days. 

Here was my response to the folks on that thread and those reading this who have similar feelings:

1) No sane, decent, loving fathers want guys in the bathroom with their daughters. Making these claims is setting up battle lines that don’t exist and creating a false good vs. evil delineation to make ourselves feel better. It’s claiming some manufactured moral high ground that simply isn’t present.

2) We straight folk have all been using the public bathroom with LGBTQ people for our entire lives and most of us have never had an issue, (and definitely not one this bill addresses). We will all continue to use the bathroom with LGBTQ people going forward. The idea that we now won’t, or that this will somehow keep our daughters safer is simply misinformation and fear-peddling to justify a conclusion. It’s a false victory based on a nonexistent threat, which the Church and politicians specialize in.

3) HB2 and similar legislation have nothing to do with keeping men out of women’s restroom facilities and so much to do with businesses being allowed to discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The heart of these bills is about giving license to refuse service to individuals and to keep those individuals from legally disputing this refusal. Heterosexual men who disobey laws to assault women won’t have any more grounds to do so regardless whether or not these laws are passed.

4) If said straight men could be trusted not to do bad things to women, we wouldn’t be having any of these conversations. As a Christian I’m disappointed that we aren’t talking about that in our churches and on campaign trails, or making bold public statements about that. I’m profoundly saddened that high-profile evangelists and pastors aren’t facing this real monster with the same sustained ferocity they attack an imagined one with.

Women are in exponentially higher danger of being sexually assaulted by a boyfriend, spouse, or a classmate, and children at home by a relative or family friend, than by a stranger in a bathroom—and it isn’t even close.

5) A cisgender white male saying to a Transgender person, “Just pee in the damn bathroom your supposed to”, is one of the least helpful and least compassionate responses one can utter, and exposes a startling lack of knowledge on that matter. These individuals feel an internal brain disconnection with their physical anatomy. To be Transgender is to not feel accurately represented in the gender you were assigned at birth. It is about someone’s personal sense of being, so “peeing where they are supposed to” is exactly what they are trying to do here.

Google the phrase “white privilege” and you’ll see why this statement is an issue in itself.

6) Unless we’re all going to show our birth certificates at public restrooms, nothing about HB2 or similar legislation has any relevance at all with regard to public safety in the bathroom—not to mention completely unenforceable. This is a non-issue. It’s Don Quixote’s windmills. It’s the worst kind of distraction because it pretends to solve nonexistent problems that it wouldn’t address even if they did exist.

7) I don’t want bad guys in the bathroom with my daughter either. I’ve just researched enough to know that nothing about this legislation has any bearing on that desire. I’ve realized that the greatest danger to her isn’t the LGBTQ community or public restroom use, it’s cisgender guys who can’t control themselves wherever they are.

I know I can’t legislate the world so that she has no contact with these men at school, out shopping, at fraternities, at church, on band trips, at work, in relationships—those places where she is most in danger of being assaulted. All I can do is teach her, guide her, and try to create a less horrible world for her to walk into.

Like minded people on my friend’s thread shared a frustration that they are wrongly called “intolerant” by expressing the above views. It’s not intolerance that is the problem here, it’s education. It’s a lack of knowledge that we’re OK living with.

I think we’re always looking for a clear enemy and an easy solution. There just isn’t one here, and definitely not within these bills. HB2 is a bad decision made for the wrong reasons to solve a problem that didn’t exist. Too many people are all too willing to take the lazy hate bait because they’d rather not do the difficult work of reading and reflecting and wrestling with complex issues, and addressing matters if they become too complicated or time-consuming than is required to read a divisive meme. This is especially true when we believe our faith is somehow under attack.

If we want women to feel safe in the bathroom or anywhere else, we can’t legislate it so. We’ve got to ask more difficult questions and to face much more troublesome realities about who we are as a (predominantly heteronormative) society. 

This isn’t a battle for the safety of stalls for our young women, it’s a battle for the souls of our young men.

I told my friend that he’s not the bad guy and he’s not. The bad guys are straight guys who want to force their way upon women wherever they do this, those who stay silent in the face of them, and those who shut down efforts to call them out as the real problem—a problem a “bathroom bill” does absolutely nothing to address.

Unless we make this the main thing in these conversations, especially in the Church, I think we’re missing the point—and often times on purpose.

Trying really hard to be a good guy…

All the Gay Things (A Letter From a Tired, Defiant LGBTQ Ally)

RainbowMosaic

All you post about is gay things… Is there something that we need to know about you? Damn, enough is enough. We get it!!! Not everyone hates gay people!!!   – Tammy (a straight Christian, posted on my Facebook timeline)

Some days someone just crystallizes everything that you feel is wrong, in a neat, tidy little package. Tammy gave me such a gift yesterday.

In a small, compacted space, she managed to cram it all in: rudeness, privilege, arrogance, apathy, exaggeration—and a good old-fashioned cheap shot involving my sexuality.

Sadly, the content of Tammy’s message isn’t anything new to me. Two years ago a blog post called If I Have Gay Children went viral, and though I’d been a gay-affirming pastor for many years, by that afternoon I’d unexpectedly become an official, globally visible LGBTQ ally, with all that accompanies such a title:

Since then I’ve been attacked and berated daily by snarling Conservative Evangelicals, continually assuring me with great joy of my waiting, extra crispy little corner of Hell.

After losing my job, I’ve since lost a few hundred friends from my former churches, who have either unfriended or unfollowed me, or more often simply gone silent and disconnected from my life.

I’ve been perceived by some members of the extreme Left as using the gay community and having ulterior motives in my ministry.

I’ve been passed over by privately supportive but frightened mainstream Christian publishers for being too vocal on LGBTQ issues, and excluded from Progressive events by those questioning my heart for marginalized people.

And while I can’t honestly say that I love it all, I do gladly welcome it all because it helps me understand in even the smallest of ways what LGBTQ people face every single day and it daily clarifies my calling. It keeps me learning and keeps me focused.

There is nothing about any of the above that I don’t treasure, embrace, and fully rejoice in—and the reason is a response like Tammy’s. 

Her brazen, unsolicited, uninformed salvo saddened me greatly for a number of reasons:

Tammy was a member of a church where I served as a pastor for nearly a decade and knows my heart and my family. I’d considered her a friend. This was the first communication I’d ever received from her on social media. Tammy and I both live in North Carolina, which right now is ground zero for the battle over LGBTQ rights. She is a Christian and in my experience, a very nice person.

Given all that, what’s so sad about Tammy’s comments is that she should know better but she doesn’t,
that she should have more compassion and empathy for hurting folks but she doesn’t,
that she should be using her voice to defend the incessant attacks on the LGBTQ community right now but she isn’t,
that the way she does speak into the fray is to tell me that she’s sick of all my “gay things”.

And this, is why I am an LGBTQ ally; a consistent, loud, unapologetic, unrelenting ally.

I do what I do, not because it’s easy or because I enjoy conflict or to anger former friends or to win the praise of any group of people. I do what I do because I despise inequality, because inequality is being openly championed in the Church and in the courts, because I am so weary of Christian people who are OK with that or simply silent. I do this because my faith compels me to.

Anyone paying attention to the 400+ posts here knows that I talk about far more than simply LGBTQ issues, but the exaggeration is itself illuminating. White, straight, middle class, Christian privilege creates a very low threshold on compassion for the gay community, a quick saturation point after which interest quickly dries up, a short time before “enough is enough.” When you have privilege, any move toward balance is threatening, every word of affirmation seems louder, each victory feels magnified.

In Tammy’s eyes we should be finished with this issue, and people like me should move on to other pressing matters.

But Tammy doesn’t get to choose the matters that are pressing upon my heart. No one does. Not even me.

In areas of equality you don’t stop speaking when people grow weary of hearing you or when adversity comes or even when some progress comes.

You stop speaking when the work is done.

Until the LGBTQ community have every civil right that is afforded to all citizens of the United States, the work is not yet done.
While business are allowed to terminate or refuse service to people for their gender identity and sexual orientation, the work is not yet done.
While LGBTQ people are not welcomed fully into the life of our churches, the work is not yet done.
Until LGBTQ teens are not bullied by peers and families to the point that their only option feels like suicide, the work is not yet done.

I’ll admit it friends, I’m tired right now.

I’m tired of standing in the center of a swirling sh*t storm ever single day.

I’m tired of hateful followers of Jesus claiming that Christ compels them to be horrible to people in the name of loving them.

I’m tired of the same badly interpreted Bible verses being tossed out again and again to justify discrimination.

I’m tired from the heart-wrenching stories LGBTQ people send to me and share with me, because the pastors around them won’t listen or don’t care, or because their Christian parents have shut or kicked them out.

I’m tired of loving families of faith being forced by their churches to choose God or their children.

I’m tired of social media Christian tirades that trivialize the lives, families, loves, and inherent value of people made fully in the image of God.

I’m tired of celebrity evangelists, high-profile pastors, and opportunistic politicians brokering in lazy theology and willingly damaging the people they are charged with protecting.

I’m tired of religious extremists on either side seeing a small fragment of me and thinking they know my totality.

And I’m tired of seeing people like Tammy trying to police someone else’s burden, who want to make people feel guilty for their convictions, and who act as though silence is an option while there is so much work to be done and while so many people still hurting.

I have disappointing news for Tammy and for anyone else who is tired of my many “gay things”:

I’m going to continue to write and share and speak on the topics and in the manner and with the frequency I feel called to, because for me being an ally isn’t a fad or a trend or some cozy, little niche I’m temporarily filling until something else comes along.

It isn’t even voluntary. It’s the authentic response of my heart in real-time to what God has placed there.

To my fellow straight allies and those who are quietly amen-ing right now: Keep going. Speak loudly and repeatedly in your circles of influence. It matters. Share the work of LGBTQ writers who are speaking their truth.

To my friends who are LGBTQ and to their families: I love and respect you, and because I do I will keep speaking, despite any small difficulties I may encounter. I know they all greatly pale in comparison to those you’ve endured and still endure. My allyship is about you.

It’s an honor to know you, to stand beside you and when I can, to take some of the slings and arrows so you don’t have to.

This is what friends do.

Stay tuned social media family:

Many more gay things on the way…

 

 

 

Christians, We Need to Get Out of People’s Bathrooms (and Bedrooms)

Unisex restroom sign

Surveying my news feed lately, I can’t help but think that most people doing the same thing would be hard pressed not to come away with the conclusion that all Christians are preoccupied with plumbing—both personal and public.

God help us, we just cannot stay out of people’s bathrooms and bedrooms.

Whenever a pastor, church, denomination, or Christian politician makes headlines these days, invariably it’s to champion or defend some horrible piece of discriminatory, anti-LGBT “bathroom bill” legislation, or to block someone from ministry based on their gender identity/sexual orientation, or to once again boil down all the ills of our society to what gay people do with their naughty parts.

Seriously Church, we haven’t just the lost the plot—we’ve literally flushed it down the toilet.

And the worst part is that we’ve done it on purpose.

Somewhere along the way, so much of Evangelical Christianity began to fixate on sex for the same reason the porn industry does: it gets people excited and it generates lots of money.

As church attendance has continued to decline, nervous pastors, worried high-profile evangelists, and terrified politicians have realized that they need to continually manufacture urgency to stoke the ever-dwindling fires of the faithful. And they learned fairly quickly that nothing, but nothing stimulates their shrinking bases like talk of sodomy and fornication.

The topic of gender identity/sexual orientation is a cheap, effective aphrodisiac for bored, self-righteous people needing a reason to feel religious. It’s spiritual Viagra for people who can’t sustain passion naturally.

The blueprint for these shenanigans was sketched out over the last few decades by the Evangelical Right, and has since been hewn to perfection: violently rip a few Bible verses completely out of context, offer some homegrown supportive propaganda disguised as objective Science, create and promote the most horribly distorted caricature of the LGBTQ community, and voila: full-blown panic in the pews.

And into this sweaty orgy of church sanctioned paranoia and religiously fueled fear, Christian leaders jump gleefully in to save God’s people from the writhing monster of runaway libido that they themselves have created. Brilliant really—if not at all Biblical.

Thank God Jesus rose from the dead or he’d be rolling in his grave watching what these folks have done to the Gospel; how they’ve appropriated his name and likeness to give cachet to the kind of hateful, myopic endeavors that he’d never ever have been a part of while he walked the planet.

Read the Gospel stories of Jesus and hold those up against what organized Christianity is passing off as faithfulness these days and you’ll see it clearly—there’s virtually no shared resemblance.

Jesus never would have wasted time with denominational splits or withheld wedding cakes or policing bathrooms (at least not on the side many Christians suspect). He was about the far greater, far more pressing, far more costly work of love and justice.

What you see in the sum total of Christ’s’ life and ministry was the lowering of the powerful and a lifting of the marginalized. You see a leveling of humanity that called people to give to those with less, to care for those in need, to bless others as they were able, so that earth might resemble Heaven. You see a call to personal repentance, to counterintuitive compassion, to radical forgiveness, to the making of peace, to the giving of mercy.

The only time Jesus ever mentioned sex in any capacity was to personally challenge people’s hearts, not to sanction them to impose their own preferences upon anyone else. It’s as simple as that.

In the Gospel accounts of his three-year ministry Jesus never utters a single word regarding gender identity or sexual orientation. Not one. These kind of public crusades about people’s body parts or private sexual conduct that are now so commonplace in modern Evangelical Christianity would have been foreign to him. (In fact, the only such times Jesus singles out a group of people, it’s the hypocritical religious leaders for misusing their position and power.)

Professed Christians can continue to do what they’re doing to the LGBTQ community, but they can’t rightly pass the buck to Jesus.

That the Church is still preoccupied with waging war on these folks and claiming that Christ compels them to do so, is one of the greatest and most sustained sins in our history—and it needs to stop.

Real followers of Jesus don’t need to be aroused by manufactured culture battles and non-existent boogeymen in public toilets.

They don’t need to be frightened into phony holy wars with imagined gay agenda armies or to be threatened with doomsday scenarios about Transgender restroom misdeeds.

They don’t require a distraction to stimulate their spirituality.

Followers of Jesus simply live, and they do so passionately burdened by the things that burdened him: poverty, injustice, inequality, excess, greed, abused power, perverted religion. The world sees plenty of those things every single day—and they’re wondering why so few Christians seem to care about any of it.

And this is the heart of these matters.

The more Christians fixate on trivial crusades about sex and sexuality, the more we cheapen the Gospel, the more we distort the life-giving message of Christ, and the more we alienate the watching world who sees this all too clearly.

Just once they’d like to see us claim “religious liberty” compelling us to feed children or curb gun violence or combat Cancer—or anything remotely life affirming. Instead we use it to withhold wedding cakes and police public toilets.

When the Church has its eyes squarely on Jesus it will find itself seeking the hurting and the needy and the forgotten, and abandoning its lazy battles and desperate witch hunts.

When the Church has its eyes squarely on Jesus it will follow him straight out into the streets to bring the good news to the world—leaving bathrooms and bedrooms far behind.

May that day come soon.