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Violating 'Christian Values?' What Did Jesus Say?

10/02/2013 04:12 pm 16:12:04 | Updated Jan 23, 2014

I have recently been informed that I am being asked to leave my university teaching post of 15 years for "violating Christian values" as a Christian theology professor and ordained minister who identifies as transgender. I am trying to figure out which Christian values I've violated and sought guidance on Christian values and how to avoid violating them from Jesus' own teachings in the Gospel of Matthew, my favorite of the four gospels, where He is quoted as having said, "If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire" (Mt 18.8-9).

In other words, Jesus taught that if our bodies cause us to stumble, to break fellowship with God and each other, it is better for us to alter that body than to live in sin, which theologian Paul Tillich defined as "alienation" from oneself, from others and from God. Though I haven't done it myself, by Jesus' own standards then, altering the body to live more authentically with greater integrity rather than living a false life presenting a false self is NOT a violation of Christian values.

Jesus goes on to ask, "If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish" (Matthew 18.12-14).

The CDC, FBI, and Department of Justice tell us that 47 percent of all transgender persons attempt to kill themselves and that transgender persons are murdered at a higher rate than all other groups targeted for hate crimes put together, but Jesus teaches that it is NOT God's will that any of God's children should perish. Jesus also teaches that the one percent, in this case those gendered differently than the 99 percent majority of gender-conforming or cisgendered people, are not to be cast out -- nor even left out -- of God's flock but that our Shepherd seeks them out and rejoices to have them restored to the flock. Seeking the healing of division in the Body of Christ over gender identity is NOT a violation of Christian values.

So what DOES violate "Christian values"? Let us consider Jesus' teaching on how Christian relationships and communities are to deal with conflict (Mt 18.15-19). He said, "If your brother sins against you, tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother." If I have violated Christian values as a person who is merely gendered differently and has had no medical nor legal procedures to address that, I am still waiting for the individual who will privately tell me my what my sin is so that I may hear and regain my Christian family. Perhaps there has been some misunderstanding, in which case Jesus' next instruction might be in play? "If he will not hear, take with you one or two more... witnesses." I am still waiting for even a small group of two or three fellow Christians to tell me what my sin is. Perhaps I have misunderstood an attempt to do this, and Jesus' third instruction is at hand? "If he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church." If this is where we are, then my sin should be named and addressed within our Christian community internally, again with the goal of restoration of fellowship, regaining a brother. Yet somehow, without any of these previous direct instructions of Jesus having been followed, we seem to be at the fourth and final step: "If he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."

That is what I am, a person cast out of fellowship as if in egregious breach with my community as an unrepentant sinner. Yet have I refused to hear the Church? Have I refused to hear a group of two or three? Have I refused to listen even to one who came to me in private? What is my sin? Those who willfully ignore the teachings of Jesus to destroy Christian community without ever speaking directly to help someone see how they've alienated themselves from themselves, from others and from God (sinned) are those who violate Christian values.

Yet we are called to forgiveness even when treated this way. The apostle Peter followed this teaching of Jesus by asking how often he should forgive those who sinned against him, and Jesus answered, "up to seventy times seven," implying that forgiveness essentially should have no limits (Mt 18.21-22). Jesus illustrated this command to forgive with the parable of the unforgiving servant, a man whom the king had compassionately forgiven a large financial debt that he couldn't pay. This forgiven man then immediately demanded repayment of far smaller debts from his own household servants, physically assaulting and imprisoning one of them who couldn't repay immediately. When the forgiving king found out what this forgiven debtor had done, Jesus tells us he asked, "Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?" (Mt 18.23-35)

By the boundless grace of God may we live into Jesus' teaching to welcome His presence among us through the practices of reconciliation and forgiveness: "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Mt 18.20).