As the last week of 2013 started, I went to church to worship with my community of faith as I do each week, only to find that my youngest child was not there, prevented (again) from attending by her other parent, who has lost faith in God and especially the Christian church as a result of the homophobic, transphobic reactions of "Christians" that have cost me my career and our family its home, led to death threats that required police squad cars patrolling the schools of our children, and social ostracism particularly directed at our youngest child. Without exception, the people assaulting our family -- including a young elementary age child -- in this way are evangelical Christians. As the week and year itself ended, one of my most beloved allies, Seventh-Day Adventist pastor and Huffington Post blogger Ryan Bell announced publicly that he intends to live at least the next year as an atheist, having long ago lost any desire to practice consistent congregational worship, scripture reading and even prayer, especially after being driven out of the pulpit for advocating LGBTQ inclusion -- though he himself is cisgendered and heterosexual. My aching heart longs for my family of allies and especially my children to share spiritual community with me, not to be bullied away from our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, the true Lover of our souls, by a vocal minority unrepresentative of God, Jesus, or their own scriptures.
I myself remain committed not only to faith in Jesus Christ (whom I believe to have taught peace and grace), but in spite of my own personal witness and constant invitations to share time of prayer with them, I understand why many of those closest to me have been driven out of the Church by the self-righteous "religious" hatred directed at me and my family in response to the public revelation of my transgender identity and the way that transformed my lifelong love of men from seeming socially acceptable to now being clearly identifiably "gay." Some of my former students have left not only their worship and education at religious-based institutions but have lost even their very faith. Many of my readers have commented that they see God as personally to blame for this religious hatred, bigotry and violence -- either for causing it directly or by condoning it by not intervening to prevent it.
I have been trying since my gender and sexual orientation became a matter of public discussion to witness consistently as best I can to an alternative way of being a follower of Jesus Christ -- a way of peace, unconditional love, forgiveness and grace, an active life seeking justice and equality for all that is preached not only by the Hebrew prophets and Jesus but also by the apostles (Galatians 3.28 and 5.1 for example). In this spirit, I offer two responses to the loss of faith and abandonment of religious community by my beloved friends and family.
First, I share their concern for the bullies and so address this word to those who would "purify" the Church and "Christian" institutions by casting out those of us who are LGBTQ: Please remember that Jesus warned that if anyone caused those who believe in him to stumble in faith, "it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea" (Mark 9.42 also Matthew 18.7-9 and Luke 17:1-4). Driving away those Jesus calls his "little ones," those who need him and seek him like children, is completely contrary to the will of God. Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of his own day who constantly criticized his followers' lack of purity, "I have come not to call and heal the righteous and healthy but the sick," the "sinners" (Mark 2.17 and Matthew 9.11-13). According to the Christian scriptures themselves, all people are sinners, and all need healing, without exception (Romans 3.23). There is no special sin unique to people of gender or sexual minorities that ever caused Jesus to exclude anyone from God's Kingdom, from his Church, or from following him, at least not that is recorded in canonical Christian scriptures.
In fact, according to Jesus himself, the only unforgivable sin is "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit," which he described as attributing the Holy Spirit's work to Satan or evil (Matthew 12.22-32). What is actually "sin" in this conflict is not LGBTQ identity or behavior but rather the self-righteous, self-serving lie that being born with a minority expression of gender or sexual orientation is in itself sinful. The scientific and medical knowledge of human neurology, genetics, and endocrinology that we have gained through God's gifts of reason, intelligence and empirical observation clearly demonstrate (and have for decades) that God made some of us trans* and some of us gay or lesbian. To live as ourselves, to celebrate God's creativity and love in making us as we are, is NOT sin but FAITH. To call the creative and loving work of God "evil" is sin. To deny its full expression in Godly covenant within the community of the faithful (marriage equality) is sin. To drive those who need Jesus AWAY from Jesus, contrary to the invitation to ALL, especially those most despised and marginalized, that he himself issued in the parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:12-24) is a sin he expressly forbade (Mark 9.42).
Second and most importantly, however, I need to share with my allies and friends who are being driven away from their faith by such conflicts what members of the most zealous religious hate groups revealed to me about themselves in 2013. I started the last new year (2012) by finally admitting my addiction to alcohol, psych meds, and self-starvation as ways to self-medicate my shame and guilt over my transgender identity. Without those chemical buffers, I couldn't make myself live as a woman, and so with the help of a new psychologist, psychiatrist, family practitioner, and recovery mentor, I began trying to embrace and live into my transgender masculine identity. Without the numbing effects of alcohol and pills, my fears and anxieties about others' to the secret I had so deeply hidden for thirty years overwhelmed me. I well knew that as a transgender gay man I faced the loss of the life I'd tried to build for myself and my children, particularly the career through which I expressed my training, gifts, and faith, and I was paralyzed with fear and guilt. Shortly after Easter, my then-mentor in addiction recovery strongly suggested I manage these anxieties by throwing myself harder into life as a woman in private and public for at least a year and my counselor agreed with her. Unable to face this option sober, I bought and started to consume a bottle of bourbon fully intending to end my life. Since I had removed all means of suicide from my home as part of my recovery from addiction and was triggered by my internalized transphobic and homophobic guilt, I tried something new: I found and contacted the top ten religious groups most notorious for their violence and persecution against gays and transgender people, informed them of my identity and location as a gay transgender Christian pastor and theologian, and asked them to please come kill me.
My dear friends and allies who are leaving the Christian faith because of religious bigots, I am so ashamed of that low moment in my life that I have never told you about it before. But you see I am still here today to write this. Not only did not a one of the members or leaders of those groups come to murder me as I'd then hoped, they changed my life entirely by responding with compassion. Within 48 hours, each email or web post had been answered with prayers offered, suggestions to seek supportive counseling, and reminders of God's unconditional love. Though a couple of those responses understandably expressed confusion and disagreement, ALL expressed loving concern. Here I am. No one killed me, even when I begged them to do so. Yes, we do have disagreements with our Christian brothers and sisters who interpret three verses of badly-translated English out of context and misunderstand our place in the Church. But they ARE our brothers and sisters. I love you all, and I hope we can come - whether from a distance or with greater presence -- to love one another (John 13.34, 15.12).
This post has been modified since its original publication.