Crossing the T

Life at the intersection of Church and Trans with Rev. Allyson Robinson

Can I Quote You? Tobias Haller on true interpretations of scripture

Just as the Son, the living Word of God, does nothing on his own (John 5:19,30; 8:28), so too the Scripture, the written Word of God, can not and does not stand or work alone, but is interpreted and put into effect under the caring stewardship of the church by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in its many members. The Word is meant to be productive as seed, and is thus inseparable from the mission of the church. The truth of the interpretation will be found in the fruit and harvest it bears. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Tobias Haller’s “Thought for the Day,” June 18, 2008

And a comment from me: Why is it that so many of us cling to barren interpretations without ever stopping to evaluate them in the way Tobias suggests? What are we afraid of?

Can I Quote You? Renee DeMusiak on voting your conscience

From last Saturday’s Fresno Bee, via Box Turtle Bulletin, comes this little snippet about a straight religious woman, Renee, and her boss Michael, a gay man planning to wed his partner of 16 years.  The money quote is at the end.

DeMusiak, 52, the florist shop employee, grew up with the idea that marriage meant only a man and a woman.

“I just always went by the Bible. Mom is mom and dad is dad. I was never really for gays getting married,” she says.

But in November, she plans to vote against the ban and for same-sex marriage.

She had only worked at Chase Flower Shop for two months when her dog got sick and needed expensive medical care.

“Michael gave me his credit card and told me to take care of her,” she says. “I’d never vote against him.”

She says her own search for a mate has been the stuff of blues songs: cheating men, hurt, and true love never arriving.

“I’m struggling to find someone. I see gay couples come in here all the time who have had better luck than me. It’s so important to have someone love you for who and what you truly are,” she says.

“I know religion is really going to come down on this one, but I just don’t think I can be opposed any more. I vote for people to be happy.”

“I love you as much today as I did the day you were born.”

My Dad was the last to know.

I knew it would be hard for him. The most important responsibility our culture assigns its fathers is the transmission of masculinity to their sons, and so I worried that he would blame himself for my choice to drop the masculine mask I wore for so long. I worried that he would agonize over all the ways my transition might affect me adversely and wouldn’t be able to see how healthy and happy I was finally becoming. I worried that he would feel like he was losing a friend, and that he might never recover from his grief enough to give our new friendship a chance to begin.

I never worried, though, that my father would reject me. It’s hard to put my finger on precisely why. He just wasn’t that kind of person. Maybe my intuition was based in my experience of his love as absolutely without conditions. Maybe it grew from the value I knew he placed on loyalty. I think sometimes you just know who you can count on in this world, and I knew I could count on my Dad.

I wanted to tell him in person, face to face. I hoped to sit down with him and Say the Words. In the end, though, it didn’t turn out that way. He knew something was wrong, and he was really worried, and he was losing sleep, and it was time for him to know the truth. But distance and circumstances conspired to prevent me from being able to go and tell it to him, so instead, I wrote him a letter.

Before I sent the letter, my Dad and I would speak by phone several times a week and exchange email about as often. After I sent the letter, it was over three weeks before I heard from him. The silence wasn’t unexpected; I knew he would need some time to absorb the truth, figure out how he should respond, and find the strength to do it. I was genuinely relieved, though, when he called me one day during my afternoon commute.

“Let’s talk about your letter,” he said after pleasantries.

“Okay.”

“Your news really surprised me, but I want you to know right now that I love you as much today as I did the day you were born.”

My Dad is a person who chooses his words carefully, and as a father myself, I understood exactly what those words meant. I know how it feels to hold your newborn child for the very first time. I know what that kind of love is like.

But I knew it would be hard, and to be honest, it has been for both of us. My Dad and I have struggled to reestablish our relationship. He has found it supremely difficult to talk about my trans-ness with me or even to call me by my new name, and I have wrestled with anger, impatience, and frustration. He has yet to see me in person as I am today, a logical “next step” that I fear circumstances are going to force on him before he feels ready for it. I’m ashamed to confess that I have occasionally questioned the character of his love for me. “He says he loves me,” I’ve said to myself, “but love is as love does.”

And then today, he called me–on the anniversary of the day I was born. Just to tell me he loves me, and to wish me a happy birthday.

Thanks for the call, Dad. It means more than you know.

Speaking of Faith seeks input for future show on marriage equality

Kate Moos, the managing producer of my favorite public radio program, Speaking of Faith, posted the following at the show’s blog today:

It’s been quite a while since we’ve done a program examining the gay marriage issue. Our last treatment included the voices of 2 self-described evangelicals—Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Seminary, and Virginia Mollencott, a  Professor Emeritus  at William Patterson University. We wanted to frame the conversation in the terms most often used in our culture to discuss it, so we chose two evangelicals. But we also wanted to go beyond the yelling and meanness of the debate, which may have reached a peak about the time we did the show. I think we succeeded.

But along with a good amount of positive feedback, and despite our deliberately conciliatory approach, we heard from people form all “sides” that we had hurt them, or offended them, or otherwise inflamed them.  I mention this not to say I think we did it wrong, but because to me it’s a measure of how much pain people are in on this topic.

With the California ruling recently, the door is open to that state beginning to marry gays and lesbians as early as next week, and we have asked ourselves what our next forway into the subject might be. It seems clear there has been a great deal of movement in the last couple of years. Witness, for example, a press release that crossed my desk this morning about GLBT families, led by Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye) attending services on Father’s Day at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren’s church) and then meeting with its leaders.  That perhaps would not have happened a few years ago.

What are your thoughts about how to cover this issue? Share your thoughts here if you have some.

The Father’s Day visit Kate mentions is the American Family Outing, a series of events being held this spring by Soulforce in order to establish dialogue between LGBT families and six of the country’s largest Evangelical churches and their leaders.  The previous five visits have been incredibly successful, and many have ended with pledges to continue the conversation and build on the relationships that were formed.

I’ve got an idea, Kate.  Perhaps Speaking of Faith could bring together members of the American Family Outing and leaders from the churches they visited at some point, say six months down the road, in a forum that encourages continuation of this dialogue?  That’s a program I’d really like to hear.  (Of course, I’m such a fan that you know I’ll be listening regardless!)

Recent and Readworthy: New Resources edition

COLAGE, Children Of Lesbians And Gays Everywhere, has put together a veritable motherlode of resources for families with a transgender parent.  It includes print publications, internet resources, email support groups, and much more.  COLAGE is a spectacular organization and this is a much-needed list.  Thanks so much!

The ACLU‘s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project has launched Get Busy, Get Equal, an online toolkit to empower grassroots organizing for change.  Their page on transgender resources is particularly good.  They also have a blog, newsfeed, and podcast.  Definitely worth a look. 

Can I Quote You? St. Thomas Aquinas on activism and anger

He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), Italian Catholic priest and Dominican, theologian and philosopher.

And a comment from me: The challenge, of course, is to be moral in our anger. This is why I am so thankful for the teachings of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. on nonviolence. Paige Schilt recently wrote a wonderful essay on living out those teachings as a participant in Soulforce‘s American Family Outing at the Bilerico Project.

And an aside: This quote is widely attributed to St. Thomas, but after scouring the sections from Summa Theologica where one might expect to find it, I came up empty handed. Perhaps it’s from Contra Gentiles? If anyone can help me attribute this one, I’d be grateful.

The questionable ethics of “love the sinner, hate the sin”

“We have seen Satan, and he is us!”

Writing at EthicsDaily.com yesterday, Dr. Miguel A. de la Torre (director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology) reaches that conclusion after a concise deconstruction of traditional responses to the Problem of Evil and the development of the concept of Satan:

The early shapers of sacred text found themselves in the position of having to protect God from accusations of being the source of evil. As it became less acceptable to have aspects of God represented in evil elements or events, independent evil figures had to be birthed. If Satan did not exist, then they had to create one so as to vindicate God.

One problem with their strategy is that the texts often place responsibility for human suffering squarely in God’s lap. De la Torre notes the story of Job, the case of Saul, and the words of Amos (“Shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?“) as evidence. This is why systematic theologians have to walk such a fine line when they describe Satan. Attribute too much power to him, and you weaken your monotheism; too little, and you risk making God responsible for acts otherwise considered evil.

But there are other, more practical problems with our traditional conception of Satan as well, as de la Torre points out. (Emphasis here is mine.)

Here then is the ethical concern: seeing Satan in the other. It cannot be denied that evil was, and continues to be, committed. But to reduce the other to a representative of evil justifies cruelties and atrocities to be committed by those engaged in the battle to save humans from Satan’s corruption. No evil ever dreamed up by Satan or his demons can outdo the atrocities committed by good, decent people attempting to purge such evil forces from this world.

Hence de la Torre’s conclusion: “We have seen Satan, and he is us.” We unwittingly do evil when we see other community members as evil’s source and deal with them accordingly.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians regularly face this kind of treatment from their brothers and sisters in Christ. A mother and father force a gay child into a harmful reparative therapy program against his will. A family gives a lesbian aunt the “silent treatment” for years. A church ejects a long-time member who chooses to transition from one gender to another. This is what “love the sinner, hate the sin” has tended to look like.

Like the traditional theological conception of Satan, the doctrine of “love the sinner, hate the sin” forces adherents to walk a fine line. Stray too much toward love, and you risk enabling behavior you see as sinful. Stray too much toward hate, and you risk… Well, what, exactly? Most Christians, I think, instinctively sense that hate is dangerous, but would be hard pressed to say why. God hates, according to the texts at least, and Christians are instructed to hate (Romans 12:9 being the most general example). But the problem we recognize intuitively lies in hating the wrong things or hating for the wrong reason. Here the texts are often ambiguous, and that’s where the danger is.

This ambiguity means that Christians will err in their application of this doctrine, and so we’re forced to make some calculated decisions to minimize the error. Unfortunately, many seem inclined to err on the side of purity, and as a result, LGBT people are excommunicated from churches, ejected from families, and made to submit to exorcisms or rehabilitation programs. But the hypocrisy of erring on the side of purity is obvious–as both Testaments proclaim, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” When we reprimand some for alleged impurity without recognizing impurity in ourselves, we show our ethic to be arbitrary and self-serving. This hypocrisy is increasingly off-putting to those outside the church, and the LGBT people who are forced to endure it often leave the church and their faith behind, never to return. Above all, God’s feelings about hypocrisy are clear: “Woe to you.” Eight times, “Woe to you.”

So then why do we choose to err on the side of purity rather than on the side of inclusiveness and welcome? Perhaps, when God asks us that question one day, we can say, “The Devil made us do it.” It would go better for us, I think, if we remembered that Romans 12:9, the verse that instructs us to hate what is evil, prefaces that instruction with these words: “Let love be without hypocrisy.”

(Image courtesy gapingvoid).