When will some churches stop treating transgender people as modern-day lepers?

By Robert Mann

Theodore Parker, the 19th century Unitarian minister and abolitionist, was right: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” History takes a circuitous route, but it inexorably gravitates toward acknowledging the dignity and inherent worth of every person. Fitfully – and with some maddening steps backward – minorities, immigrants, refugees and other marginalized people will continue to earn greater rights and wider public acceptance.

And, eventually, perhaps 10 years hence, we will glance back at today’s nasty, politically motivated struggle over transgender rights and ask, “What, exactly, did we fight about?”

I’ve given up hope that Louisiana’s political leaders will soon muster the courage to “bend toward justice” on LGBT issues. That’s one reason, as a person of faith, I find it particularly tragic that so many religious leaders lack the fortitude to lead their flocks towards greater acceptance of gay and transgender individuals. And I’m not talking about hate mongers in the style of Tony Perkins, Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson.

In many churches, you’ll find pastors who regard themselves as something like progressives simply because they deliver anodyne sermonettes about the Biblical imperative to love everyone. These admonitions, unfortunately, too often come in the spirit of the old saying, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

These lessons usually feature the “normal,” accepted ones versus “the sinners” – those degenerates whom God loves in spite of abhorring their “lifestyle.” We must love these people, parishioners are told, but that doesn’t mean literally embracing them. Like the Levite and the priest in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, too many churches regard society’s injured and marginalized as lovable, but only in the abstract. In the religious world, they are often our modern-day lepers, thus the recent irrational fear of transgender people entering the “wrong” bathroom.

It’s beyond tragic that gay, lesbian and transgender people often find no place of comfort in their faith communities. Certainly, many churches have embraced LGBT individuals. The Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the Reform Jewish Movement and the Unitarians, to name a few, not only perform same-sex weddings; they have also ordained LGBT pastors or rabbis. These are, however, still a minority.

The Roman Catholic Church, most Baptist churches, the Mormons and my own United Methodist Church persist in officially characterizing homosexuality as a sinful lifestyle choice.

Thankfully, my despair over the loveless “love” evinced by so many religious types sometimes gives way to gleams of hope. Over the past week, I had a glimpse into what I pray is the future of the church universal after stumbling across two eloquent columns written by Baptist preachers, one in Dallas and the other in Mississippi. Both demonstrated the spirit our faith communities desperately need – a commitment to share the good news that God doesn’t simply accept us; he pursues and embraces us. Yes, that mean even gay, lesbian and transgender people.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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7 Responses to When will some churches stop treating transgender people as modern-day lepers?

  1. jechoisir says:

    This entire argument, here and elsewhere, neglects something Ted Koppel noted in a speech to a graduating class at Duke University: the Ten Commandments are not the Ten Suggestions stated plainly in first the Old Testament of the Christian bible, then re-iterated in the New Testament. They are laws, not options. Jesus repeatedly reminds his followers to conform themselves to those laws, not to the ways of the world in which they live.

    In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states those laws may be subsumed in the Law of Love. But make no mistake: he is not talking about the soft-headed, good-feeling, non-demanding love our current world—and the “enlightened” churches and ministers urge upon Christians today. In that critical sermon, Jesus tells his followers they must first love God with their entire beings and they must exhibit charity to themselves and their fellows in creation. That charity flows from a knowledge of man’s innate weakness and inability to know fully all he needs to know.

    But bear in mind, he has just listed the Commandments. Before God’s sending part of himself into the created material world, man simply had to focus on what not to do. Now, seeing this example of extraordinary love and having access to an exemplary life, man is expected to act positively, not from a negative fear. God has further “enlightened” man through this mysterious action.

    When the hideous crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer were discovered, I was a young mother, and I remember thinking that however terrible that man’s actions were, his mother could not help loving him, that she must be thinking, “What did I do wrong? How could the baby I bore within me and whose beauty I loved more than anything else in the world commit such atrocities?” Surely, I thought, she must be on her knees, pleading with God to forgive her son for whatever it was within him that led him to such actions, pleading with him to enlighten her son to the meaning of love. Her grief must be exceeded only by her love for a man who was her child. And yet I did not imagine that she would question the sinfulness of her son’s actions. For only a person who felt no empathy, who was guided only with his own desires, could commit such actions.

    Those who do not understand Christianity scoff at the adage “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” But that is not an oversimplification. It might be irritating and suggest a less than charitable mindset, but it reflects Jesus’s actions and words. Remember, he turned the money-changers out of the temple; he condemned behaviors rooted in something other than God’s commandments repeatedly. Those who were stoning the woman at the well might have loved her by sharing God’s Word with her. They might have “enlightened” her, in other words and thus led her away from error. But the moral of that story is not to approve of prostitution.

    And the latter is what Christians are being asked—no, what they are being legally required—to do in all the LGBT false piety and pietistic outrage. Their demand is part of a broad and rancorous attack on Christianity. Sadly, many Christians do not know the Bible well enough or can make logical and philosophical distinctions well enough to grasp this. And many want to be approved of by their fellows more than they want to be right.

    John Henry Newman left the Church of England because he saw it behaving exactly in this way. He joined the more authoritarian Roman Catholic Church. Told by a Cambridge don that the ways of the Roman church were impractical, that they would not “work” in a secular nineteenth century, Newman said, “I never said they would. I just said they were right.” Christians are commanded to follow what is right, not what the secular world finds convenient. Such lamentations as this one—-and the Lord knows they are fashionable and considered “enlightened” by folks who are “open-minded”—miss the point, fail to make the critical distinctions. From the little that I have read by Franklin Graham, I believe he is more “enlightened.”

    We live in a nation where even a sense of community has been shredded by multiculturalism with its selfishness. Look at the two candidates we have put forward for the highest office in the nation. They are corrupt, self-absorbed people who seem able to justify anything that benefits them, regardless of its impact on others. We are looking at a Middle East on fire. Economically, we live in our tight little “class” groups and look out only for the interests of that group. We are encouraged to despise officers of the law. Well, one could go on and on, couldn’t one? But with all these truly black signs and fearful horizons, we are going to battle about homosexuality and bizarre sexual transformations?

    I suggest focusing on Hillary and The Donald and Old Bernie and Isis and a crumbling Europe and wild North Korea and military preparedness and all those things that are the proper object of political thought. Give Christianity a break.

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  2. Stephen Winham says:

    A cornerstone of the foundation of our country is religious freedom. From the Universalist Unitarian Church through the Westboro Baptist Church and beyond, people are free to worship and believe as they choose. It is unfortunate that some churches actually teach hatred – something that seems entirely antithetical to Christianity, Judaism, and most other religions. Overarching the right of religious leaders to preach what they wish, is our right to worship as we choose. Should we hate the sermon, but love the preacher, or simply ignore him and follow our own faith and its leaders. I tend toward the latter.

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  3. jechoisir says:

    Jesus said his people should love God with their entire beings, which includes obeying his often inconvenient Commandments. If we are Protestant or Reformed Christians, God’s revealed Word alone is the proper basis for private faith. At their best and most learned, our leaders remain fallible. That is why Protestant reformed Christianity from the outset taught people to read and reason about the Bible. It is God’s light, set forth through the Bible, that “enlightens” the Christian.

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  4. martybankson says:

    Private faith, personal gods, and revealed truths are all fine and dandy until the possessor of any or all of them decides to act out on them in the political arena on them. At this point they become subject to rational scrutiny, evaluation against secular laws respecting individual rights and freedom of expression, or any other criticisms, just like any other ideas about the legal ordering of the business of the polity. Any demand for an exception for one’s own religion as an exception is a fool’s gambit: the religious freedom lost may be your own. Best bet is to stick with the Separation Clause, pluralism, and yes, love thy multi-cultural melting pot.

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  5. jechoisir says:

    I heartily agree regarding the separation clause of the Constitution, which protects all religions equally and historically has accommodated variances between particular religious beliefs and civil law (e.g., providing ways for religious conscientious objectors to serve the nation in times of war by assigning them non-battle capacities). Yet I also know government tends to be greedy. Violations of the separation clause will occur and must be redressed through law.

    But I have a question. Am I the only one reading this column who finds it just a little odd that we have been encouraged to get all excited about this transgender issue, which affects such a minuscule part of the population, especially when we are besieged with so many pressing,critical economic and political matters that present clear and present dangers? Why would a president do that? And could it be that the sleepy shepherds of the land have just trotted right along with him, bleating out the same tired old choruses without serious consideration, when they ought to be asking that question too?

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    • martybankson says:

      Getting excited about any issue that concerns the ideal of liberty, for any group, all the way down to an individual case is necessary for the realization of the ideal. To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, take care of the small stuff and the big stuff will take care of itself. No tyranny of the majority–all those concepts.
      I do agree, however, that the corporatocracy prefers seeing the demos continuously embroiled in social justice issues (and the absolutist moral value system inherent in religions play so well into most of these debates) since it diverts energy away from the big stuff–namely an inegalitarian and unsustainable economic system probably in its final stage.

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