Friday, September 23, 2016

Dealing with Bullying and Religion

Outsports founder Cyd Zeigler Marries His Partner Dan Pinar 
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Exodus 20:7

Cyd Zeigler was the first person I knew personally who could dunk a basketball. As basketball players go, Cyd was not very tall by today’s standards. I’m guessing he was 6’2” or so. And he played center. Today there are taller high school guards. But in the Cape League in the late 60’s he was tall, and he could jump. He was also a very nice guy.

His son, also named Cyd Zeigler, was an even more accomplished athlete in high school. He led the Harwich High School track team in scoring for three straight years and he set two high school records. He went Stanford University and became a very successful sports journalist.

The younger Cyd Zeigler is gay.

He founded Outsports.com with Jim Buzinski, with whom he also co-authored a book “The Outsports Revolution: Truth & Myth in the World of Gay Sports.” He broke the story or John Amaechi coming out as a gay professional basketball player as well as the coming out of Michael Sam. He has been on ESPN, MSNBC, and Fox News. In the world of gay sports and sports writers, Cyd Zeigler is a big deal. 

He will return to Cape Cod on October 6 to speak at a special program called “Identifying the Intersection of Athletics, LGBTQ Diversity and Anti-Bullying Rhetoric.”

In an introduction to the event, he writes:
“From fourth grade until I graduated I was teased for being gay, despite not even knowing I had any attraction to boys until about eighth grade. As I succeeded more and more in sports, winning team MVP awards and setting school track & field records, the teasing abated the last few years of high school.
“. . . I hope the schools across the Cape . . . will send their student-athletes to this great event created . . . . and I hope some parents, coaches and teachers join us too. I know I'll be sharing some powerful stories . . . .”
It sounds like a great event and an important milestone in how our schools can support and affirm our LGBTQ youth. 

But I was particularly struck by this paragraph:
“Growing up a very closeted gay athlete in Harwich, Massachusetts, had a profound effect on me. My experiences in that small town on the Cape helped shape the person I am today, from dealing with bullies and religion to taking time to listen and learn.”
He will talk about “dealing with bullies and religion.”

As a Christian, I find the juxtaposition of “bullies” and “religion” heartbreaking.

In our increasingly secular age, Christianity specifically and religion generally, are often criticized. Many of these criticisms are false or misguided. 

But on this issue we are guilty as charged.

A century ago, perhaps even half a century ago, our embrace of a cultural taboo was understandable and unsurprising. There are many places where the biblical witness is no better than its cultural and historical context, and one of the great challenges of biblical interpretation is separating the passages which are time bound from those that speak across the ages. But on this issue our understanding has evolved over time. We know things now that we didn’t know even a few decades ago.

But we have been slow learners.

We have bullied our LGBTQ youth. And we have done it in the name of God.

That last part is what the Bible calls “blasphemy.” 

We have made “wrongful use of the name of our LORD.”

Our religious bullying has left a trail of broken hearts and minds and bodies from coast to coast and around the world. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that even now there are people who call themselves Christian who persist in this profoundly unchristian oppression and harassment. 

In a video about the event, Zeigler says that as a young person he was “very religious.” I have no idea where he might be now in his spiritual journey, but he must have lived through a very painful time as he came to terms with his sexual orientation. I cannot help thinking how different his growing up might have been if his religious experience had been more open, accepting, and affirming.

Beyond the unconscionable pain inflicted on LGBTQ youth and their families, the Christian church has done great damage to its place in the world. 

If you belong to a church, by which I mean a local church, you know that it is a remarkable place. At its best it really is the body of Christ in the world. And as Saint Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” At its best, the church is a place of healing and wholeness, where people accept us as we are and help us to grow into our best selves.

The Christian Church has never been perfect. From the smallest individual local church to the largest denominations, there have always been flaws. But the church has also been a force for enormous good in the world.

That great legacy has been done great harm by our unfaithfulness on this one issue. Our failure on this issue has jeopardized our witness on everything else. 

This should not surprise us, “for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.”


Thank you for reading this post. Please feel free to comment here or on Facebook. Please share on social media as you wish.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
Genesis 22:1-2

Last Sunday I talked about Abraham and Sarah.

There is a wonderful scene where the “messengers of God” come as strangers to visit them by the oaks of Mamre, and they repeat the promise that Sarah will conceive and bear a son whose descendants will become a great nation. As Abraham talks with the men, Sarah is inside the tent listening, and when she hears them tell Abraham that they will conceive a child now, at the age of ninety, she laughs. The strangers ask her why she laughs at the promises of God and she says she didn’t laugh. One of them repeats the promise and then ends the announcement saying, “But you did laugh.”

I love the image of Sarah, laughing at the promise.

That is one of the high points in the story. When the child is born, they name him Isaac, which means laughter.

But just a few verses later, the narrative turns dark and cold.

God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son. Some readers may be comforted by the notion that it is “a test,” but it is a monstrous test. And more than a few readers are likely to stop right there and give up on the whole biblical enterprise.

If one of the central stories is that immoral, how can the Bible claim any authority in our lives?

One interpretation notes that after this incident God never speaks to Abraham again and suggests that this is because Abraham so totally misunderstood what God was calling him to do. Another ancient commentary rebukes Abraham for his failure to argue with God for his son’s life, as he argued against the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Still others point to the last minute intervention:
‘But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” (Genesis 22:11-13)
A Jewish prayer book instructs the reader to stand and take a few steps backward, as if staggered by the story. It is in so many ways incomprehensible.

As I researched interpretations, I came across a poem by Wilfred Owen, called “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young.”

Owen was one of the great poets of the First World War. He was badly injured in battle and sent back to England to recover. The injury was more than enough to keep him at home, but he volunteered to go back to the front. He won honors for his gallantry in battle and was promoted to First Lieutenant. He was killed in action on November 4, 1918, exactly one week before the armistice. He was twenty-five years old. As the church bells were ringing to celebrate the end of the war, his mother received two telegrams, one told of his promotion and the other reported his death.

When I read the story of the Binding of Isaac, I am appalled, and I know that we modern people would never do anything so barbaric. 

But then I am brought up short by the last lines of Owen’s poem:
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Of course, we tell ourselves, we would not sacrifice a single child. Yet the reality is that we have sacrificed millions to the god of war.

Over and over, the old men sacrifice the young men to the gods of Nationalism and Pride.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

John Silber and Bad Theology

Marsh Chapel with Memorial to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the foreground.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD your God is One. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9

On a beautiful day in early September in 1971 I sat in Marsh Chapel for the first time. Dean Walter Muelder smiled warmly as he welcomed the new class of students to Boston University School of Theology and introduced us to the incoming University President, John Silber. He spoke of Dr. Silber’s study of Kant’s philosophy, of the great leadership he had shown in his previous position at the University of Texas, of his intellect and his commitment to learning.

We gave him a standing ovation. 

And while we were still standing, Dr. Silber began to speak.

There were many, he said, who questioned whether the study of theology should even be part of a university or whether it might more appropriately be left  to what he called “the backwaters of civilization.”

I did not have a warm feeling.

We stood, awkwardly, waiting politely for him to indicate that we could be seated. He just kept talking. A few people sat down, but that seemed impolite. 

President Silber posed a question and asked for a show of hands. “How many of you believe that God exists?”

I was new to the study of theology, but I had read enough of Paul Tillich to know that the question was very poorly phrased. Existence is a limited and contingent category. God cannot “exist” in the way that other people and animals and things exist.

Reluctantly, I raised my hand. 

“I see,” said President Silber, “Now, how many of you believe that you can answer that question through rational inquiry?”

I lowered my hand. 

“Theoretically,” he said, we should see at least as many hands as before, plus a few who do not presently believe in the existence of God but are willing to submit that belief to rational inquiry and academic study.”

No, I thought. Wrong again. This is not a question that can be answered through academic research or analysis. It’s an existential question. What we can do intellectually is to frame the question, and put ourselves in a position to answer it in our lives.

Then Dr. Muelder interrupted and invited us to be seated. The Dean was no longer smiling.

And all at once, that was my introduction to Boston University School of Theology, John Silber, and bad theology.

My first impression of President Silber was confirmed by his relentless antipathy toward the School of Theology. My impression of Dean Muelder as an academic functionary was completely wrong. It did not take long for me to realize that he had an incredible grasp of philosophy and theology and could bring that to bear on any discussion or inquiry. 

But I totally missed the significance of John Silber’s question.

I had been exposed to bad theology before. I probably heard some of it from well-meaning adults. I certainly heard it from other children in elementary school, and I’m sure I offered my own versions back to them. 

But this was the first time I heard bad theology from a well-educated adult, and I did not recognize how much of a problem that would become. 

To be fair, it could have been a lot worse. Silber did not ask, “How many of you believe in a god?” 

I’m not sure how we got there, but that’s where we are. The truth is that even within the church, we do not do theology very well anymore.

Paul Tillich pointed out that when we speak of “God,” we are always speaking symbolically. We do not really have a word for that reality. And so he spoke of God as the Ground of Being, Being Itself, and Ultimate Reality. 

Tillich liked to speak of faith rather than belief, because believing is generally associated with a conviction or certainty that something is true although it cannot be proven. Faith, for Tillich, is ultimate concern; it is being grasped by ultimate questions.

But setting aside Tillich’s aversion to the word “belief.”

We do not believe in “a god.” 

We do not even believe in “a God.” 

We believe in God.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment here or on Facebook. Please feel free to share on social media.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The End of the World as We Knew It

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”Luke 21:20-28


(This is the sermon I preached on September 16, 2001, 
the Sunday after 9/11.)

"When these things begin to take place, 
stand up and raise your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near." 


The Scripture reading is actually an advent text in our lectionary. It is also a Holy Week text, since it comes from the last week of Jesus’ life in Jerusalem. He is talking about the second coming. I chose it for today because it speaks of disaster and catastrophe, and I believe it is useful to remind ourselves that this is not the first time that people of faith have faced such things. It is useful to remind ourselves that such catastrophe was not unknown or unanticipated in biblical times.


The events of this week have been tragic and catastrophic. The pain endured has been immense. Our lives have been shaken. there is a real sense in which this kind of war in our global village has changed our world forever. What Jesus tells his disciples is that in times such as these, precisely in this kind of situation, we are called to respond with faith and courage. In the last verse, he tells them, "When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Stand Up

This is a time for people to stand up; to stand up and think; to stand up and question; to stand up and pray. People have a lot of questions. Obviously, there are a host of questions. There are questions of security and politics, but I am thinking about theological questions. I hear people asking, “How could this happen?”

That question has been asked of many religious leaders in television interviews this week, and most of the answers have been awful. I understand that Billy Graham did a great job at the service in Washington, and I thought the Roman Catholic Bishop of New York was wonderful, but most of the responses were poor. 

The low point for me came when Ann Graham Lotz, Billy Graham's daughter, was asked how God could let this happen, and she said, “You have to understand, we have spent years driving God out of our lives,” and she went on to talk about taking prayer out of our schools. Apparently, she believes that God killed three thousand innocent people to teach us that we ought to make kids pray in school. I don’t know what kind of barbarian god she worships, but that is not the God that I know.

Some of us wish that God would work the way King Kong did in the old movie. Do you remember King Kong on the Empire State Building, grabbing the planes out of the air and smashing them on the ground? Some of us wish that God had done something like that last Tuesday, perhaps snatching the planes out of the air and then setting them gently on the ground. But God simply does not work that way.

As I contemplated the events of last Tuesday and began to think about coming together on Sunday morning, I asked myself, “What can I possibly say? And what difference does it make anyway? After something like this, what’s the point?” And then I remembered that this is not the first time that something like this has happened. Twenty-six hundred years ago, when Jerusalem fell and many of the people were carried into captivity in Babylon, the people of Israel still gathered to sing and pray and worship. The faithful gathered for worship after Gettysburg and during the London Blitz. We can think of dozens of examples. People of faith have gathered for prayer and worship in crises large and small all across the centuries.

For many years, we Americans have enjoyed an unprecedented sense of personal and national security. For more than twenty-five years we have been almost untouched by the threat of war. Desert Storm happened far away and with few American casualties. The threat of nuclear war has been almost non-existent for more than a decade. This week we have suffered a huge loss in that sense of security. And some of us have been tempted to equate that loss of personal and national security with a loss of God’s presence. But that is not the security that God provides. At the end of his life, Moses blessed the people of Israel with the promise that “underneath are the everlasting arms.” The promise is not that God will protect us from every evil deed, but that God will always be there.

The reality is that God gives freedom to human beings, and we can use that in a variety of ways. Today I wore my “Palm Sunday” tie. You can see the handprints or palm prints of children. I wore it in part because it feels to me like Palm Sunday. I feel that somber sense that I experience in Holy Week. I also wore it because I have been thinking about what hands do. God gave us hands, and we can use them to do good things or evil things. We have seen both this week.

And Raise Your Heads

"When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads . . . ." This week we have seen human beings at their best and at their worst. Obviously, what the terrorists did on Tuesday was beyond the scope of what most people had contemplated. When I heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, I immediately assumed it was a tragic accident. Even after the second plane, my mind was searching for an explanation. It was literally incomprehensible.

We have also seen people at their best. What amazing courage it must have taken for people to crash that plane near Pittsburgh, rather than let it go on toward a major population center. The heroism of the rescue workers was magnificent. And was it not a minor miracle that the evacuation of the towers was as orderly as it was. In the face of imminent danger, reports say that people were polite and brave. If even a small number had panicked, the death toll might have been doubled or tripled. One man fell and broke his ankle, and four strangers picked him up and carried him down fifteen flights to safety. Seldom have we seen so many individual acts of caring and kindness in such a small space and time.

We have seen people at their best in our nation, but we have also seen them at their worst. There have been hundreds of attacks on Arab-Americans and on people who looked like Arabs. Molotov cocktails have been thrown into business, guns have been fired, threats and epithets have been shouted.

That is not who we are and that can never be who we are. To put it crudely, we are not them. (To be grammatically correct, I should say, “We are not they,” but it doesn’t sound right.) We are not terrorists and we must not let this tragedy turn us into something less than what we are called to be, as Christians and as Americans. We have an obligation to raise our heads, to lift our vision, and to raise our standards.

The Apostle Paul said that we must “hate what is evil and love what is good.” And he’s right. If we only love the good and do not hate the evil, we become merely sentimental. But William Sloan Coffin was also right when he said that we must love the good more than we hate the evil. If we do not love the good more than we hate the evil, we will simply become good haters. We must not become good haters. We must love the good more than we hate the evil.

Because Your Redemption Is Drawing Near."When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." After describing a great crisis in the most vivid language, Jesus then tells them that the time of crisis will also be a time of redemption. He can speak with confidence about the future because he knows this has happened in the past.

When Jerusalem fell and the people of Israel were taken into captivity, the prophets and great religious thinkers asked themselves, “How could this happen? How can it be that the holiest city of the very people God has chosen to bring his message to the world has fallen? If this can happen, then how can we trust God?” 

This was the greatest challenge that Israel had ever faced. And Israel responded to this theological crisis with some of the most brilliant and beautiful literature that human beings have ever produced. The wisdom and depth of thought were amazing. Israel responded, in the words of Professor Walter Brueggemann, “precisely against the data.” It was out of this crisis, says Brueggemann, that Israel gave birth to the concept of hope. It was in these great reflections on the crisis of exile that the concept of hope was first introduced to the world. Hope was Israel’s gift to the world.

Hope is always “against the data.” It is not an analysis which says that things will get better. It is not the cheerful assertion that every cloud has a silver lining. Hope says we trust in God, regardless of the data; regardless of the presence or absence of a silver lining.

You and I are called to reaffirm our hope: our hope in human beings, our hope in our nation, and underneath it all, our hope in God. One of the many posters placed near the destruction at ground zero quoted Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.”

This is a time for people of faith to stand up and raise our heads. This is a time for people of faith to raise our standards higher than they have ever been. This is a time for us to reaffirm the gift of hope and this is a time for us to love the good.


Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment here or on Facebook. Please share on social media as you wish.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Big Papi Comments on Donald Trump's Wall

David Ortiz and Derek Jeter
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
II Timothy 4:6-7

We want our athletes to be heroes. We want them to be good as well as great.

We know that there is no moral value in hitting a home run, or throwing a touchdown pass, or sinking a three pointer, but we cannot help ourselves.

When it comes to athletes, I am a profound skeptic. But I can’t help myself.

In spite of all the evidence, I want to believe that Ted Williams was a good person. 

And I haven't yet gotten over my disappointment with Lance Armstrong.

Of course, there have been some athletes who have combined exceptional goodness with athletic greatness: Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Robert Gordon Orr come to mind. Al Kaline. Stan Musial. Roberto Clemente. And I would probably add Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Jerry West if they had not committed the unforgiveable sin of playing for the Lakers.

And somewhere in that constellation, I see David Ortiz.

He is not perfect. In 2009 a New York Times report said that he was one of 104 Major League players who tested positive for something in a 2003 drug check that was supposed to be confidential. His excuse is that he was careless in the use of a supplement. 

But it’s hard not to love Big Papi. His career numbers are staggering. And it’s not just what he did, but when he did it. I am skeptical of calling someone a “clutch” hitter, but Ortiz may be the exception. Before Ortiz came to the Red Sox they had not won a World Series in more than eight decades. Since his arrival they have won three.

Major League Baseball has a rule against fraternizing with fans or with members of the opposing team. The rule, 3.09, reads in full: 
“Players in uniform shall not address or mingle with spectators, nor sit in the stands before, during, or after a game. No manager, coach or player shall address any spectator before or during a game. Players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time while in uniform.”
Big Papi pays no attention. He is friends with everyone and everyone loves him. He talks to the fans when he is on deck waiting to bat. When he gets on base, he is always smiling. And he is always talking to the players on the other team. 

In an interview in Spanish with Jorge Ortiz of USA Today, he was asked to comment on the status of Latinos and immigrants in the United States, particularly in light of the current presidential campaign.

Ortiz, who became an American citizen in 2008, said that he does not normally comment on political issues and is not particularly knowledgeable about politics. But he said that Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall to seal off the southern border and have Mexico pay for it, and Trump’s statements about Mexico sending rapists and criminals to the USA, “didn’t sit well with me.”

“When you speak like that about us, it’s a slap in the face,” said Ortiz.
“I walk around sometimes, and I see Mexican people trying to earn a living in an honest way. And to hear somebody make those kinds of comments, it hits you. I think as Latin people we deserve better. Things have gotten much better in that regard. … As Latin people we deserve respect, no matter where you’re from. And especially our Mexican brothers, who come here willing to do all the dirty work.
“Latin people here in the United States are the spark plug of the country’s economy. Whoever opposes that is going to lose. And not just Latin people but immigrants. I’m talking about people who come from Africa, from Asia, other places. All those people come here with one goal, to realize the American dream, and you have to include them in our group.”
It means something that David Ortiz, who is one of the most popular athletes in America and also one of the most well-known Latinos in America, would take the risk of speaking out. 

In an instant, he put a face on the issue. And not just any face. A beloved face, larger than life.

I first heard about the interview on sports talk radio as I was driving home for lunch yesterday. And I was appalled by the comments. 

The hosts spoke as if they were talking about a child. They noted that David admitted he really didn’t know very much about politics. 

"Doesn’t he know we’re talking about illegal immigrants?" they asked. Donald Trump isn’t going to deport all immigrants, just the illegals. Trump didn’t say all Mexicans were rapists. David just doesn’t understand the issue. And it went on like that.

I guess if you are a very large black guy with an accent who smiles all the time and seems to love everybody it’s easy for people to think you are not very smart. Now we know why Bill Russell smiled so seldom.

For the record, I think David understands precisely what the issues are.

And you don’t need a Ph.D. in Political Science to feel a slap in the face.

Thank you for reading. Your comments are welcome here or on Facebook. Please feel free to share on social media.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Standing Firm for Full Inclusion

Newly Elected Bishop Karen Oliveto
“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.”
II Thessalonians 2:15 (NRSV)

UnitedMethodists Standing Firm is the latest iteration of those United Methodists opposed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons within the life of the United Methodist Church. It stands beside UM Action, Good News, and The Confessing Movement, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and their allies.

The Standing Firm folks chose this verse from Second Thessalonians as their text. It is an ironic choice in at least two ways.

First, the “traditions” to which Paul (or more likely a disciple of Paul) refers were only about twenty minutes old when the letter was written. I’m just kidding. They were maybe a decade or two old. They were traditional in the same way that a particular Christmas Eve service becomes a tradition if the church uses it more than two years in a row. Paul (or his disciple) is not pointing to some ancient custom, he is talking about what he just taught them.

Second, the church in Thessalonica is being urged to stand firm in the face of persecution by the Empire. There is no comparable persecution of “traditionalists” in the church today. If any group can claim persecution, it would be our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, who are not allowed full inclusion in the life of the church, not the people who are organized to maintain that exclusion.

Standing Firm points to the election of Dr. Karen Oliveto as a Bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC as the event which, as they see it, elevated tensions within the church to "an unprecedented level." Dr. Oliveto is an openly gay clergywoman living in what they refer to as "a partnered relationship."

Then they offer a cautionary observation to their supporters:
Let us not lose perspective.  Representing just two percent of United Methodism, the fast-declining Western Jurisdiction that elected Dr. Oliveto on its own does not represent the present or future of our church.”
But the question that we should ask is whether the Western Jurisdiction, declining as it is, might nevertheless be the “saving remnant” of which the prophet Isaiah speaks. Is this not, as many of us believe, a sign of life and hope?

Standing Firm admonishes supporters not to forget “the many great accomplishments of last May’s General Conference, at which liberal delegates once again gave up even trying to remove our denomination’s ban on same-sex unions and it became abundantly clear that the momentum in our denomination is decisively with the growing orthodox majority.”

True. By every reasonable measure, the traditionalists had many successes, but it is also important to note that what they term “the growing orthodox majority,” which exists globally does not exist in the United States. Here at home our “orthodoxy” on issues of human sexuality is radically out of step with our culture and it is a major hindrance to the effective communication of the Gospel. Standing Firm declares that “global United Methodism is growing and increasingly orthodox.” And they are glad that our denomination is moving “away from its USA-only liberal Protestant identity.” But “global United Methodism” is also moving away from its membership here at home.

Finally, Standing Firm offers a condescending affirmation:
 “We are committed to loving ministry with ALL people, including our friends and loved ones who identify as LGBTQIA+.  We grieve for the deep pain inflicted by secular Western culture’s confusions about human sexuality. . . . The answer is for our church to rediscover the riches of Christian teaching about the holiness and good news of God’s plan for marriage and the human body.”
Seriously.

The problem, as they see it, is not the church’s exclusionary and unjust policies. The problem is “secular Western culture’s confusions about human sexuality.” That’s the source of “the deep pain” suffered by “our friends and loved ones who identify as LGBTQIA+.

They are right about the pain. It is real. But they are wrong about the source. And as long as they persist in excluding LGBTQIA+ folks, that pain will continue.


Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment here or on Facebook. Please share on social media as you wish.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Christian Faith and Transgender Kids

Kai Shappley at age 5 with her mom

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”
Luke 17:1-2

At age 3 Joseph Shappley began telling her mom that she was a girl.

“From my earliest memories of my child, my child’s been very feminine,” says Kim Shappley. “It’s just always been that way. I don’t know how else to put it. I’m a strong, spirit-filled, Bible-believing, born-again Christian. I’m a Republican.”

‘This was just not going to happen,” she told herself. “At home I had three other boys. I had a very masculine home. Nothing feminine in the home, and Kai started telling us at age 3, ‘I’m a girl.’”

I read about Kim Shappley and her daughter Kai in an article by Nyssa Kruse in the Texas Observer. Biologically, Kai was born a male and she was named Joseph.

Joseph knew at age three that she was a girl. But Kim believed that if she prayed enough and fasted enough, she could change Kai back into Joseph.

Then Kai began having behavior problems at school. Kim recalls, “If another little girl brought a toy for show and tell on Friday, my child would do everything in their power to steal that toy and lie about stealing it. And it just continued to escalate.”

Kim learned of a little boy in Oregon, a four year old, who was beaten to death by his mom because he had acted gay. She said it was something that “kind of struck me hard.” So she began reaching out to her pediatrician and to psychiatrists, “and they all pretty consistently said the same thing: ‘This is a real thing.’”

Then one night when Kai said her prayers at bedtime she started crying and she asked God to “let Joseph go home and live with Jesus.”

As Kim describes that time:
“Joseph is Kai’s male birth name. Kai was actually just begging the Lord to just let her die. Who wants to hear their toddler pray that? And then it starts clicking: 41 percent suicide rate. A 41 percent suicide rate. Why? The suicide rate is high because they don’t have the family support. They don’t have the community support and their self-esteem and their self-worth.”
Kim’s faith shifted and she told herself, “I am a Bible-believing Christian. I love the Lord. But God makes no mistakes, and my child is fearfully and wonderfully made, just as the Scripture tells us.” 

She says she used to listen to other mothers of transgender children say that they just wanted their child to be happy, and in her self-righteousness she would think, “It’s not about your kid being happy. You need to train your child in the ways of the Lord and be a better mom.”

Kai begged her mom to buy her panties, and Kim says it took her three or four trips to Wal-Mart before she could finally go through with it. She put the panties in Kai’s drawer and when Kai discovered the princess panties she fell on the floor hugging her new panties and sobbing to her mom, “Thank you, Mommy, thank you.”

Kim explains, “the thing is, what I saw in my child, when Kai got those panties, was this joy and this peace I had never seen in this child, and I realize it’s not about ‘I’m going to give you these to make you happy,’ it’s about my child had never truly been happy before.”
“We’ve lost a lot of very important people out of our lives and there are some thoroughly burned bridges. My sister has disowned me. I watch cousins and aunts post horrible things about transgender people, trying to rally the troops against the militant gay agenda, that Satan was using these little kids. I will say we’ve lost the majority of our family. I feel like sometimes we’re on a little island, but through this transition, my kid, within a few short weeks, we weren’t having lying anymore. We weren’t having bed-wetting any- more. We have had no nightmares in the past year. No stealing at all. That all was just erased within a few weeks of this. I have a happy, healthy, outgoing, loving, beautiful, sweet little girl who loves Jesus and loves her brothers.”
Finally, Kim Shappley has some thoughts on what lawmakers and public officials could do to help transgender children:
“They could stop fueling the hate. They are making a dangerous and hostile environment for my child, for me, for our family with their hate. The bathroom deal — how did that become an issue? Transgender human beings have been using the gender-appropriate bathroom forever. Forever. And it didn’t become an issue until it was made an issue. The argument about “We can’t let this happen because it will let perverts into the bathroom” — well, hey, make a law that says perverts can’t go into the bathroom. Oh, wait, we already have that law.
“If we were to send my daughter into the men’s bathroom like lawmakers want, there we have a risk. Either she’s gonna get beaten up by people who’ve had their hatred fueled because there’s this beautiful woman in the bathroom with them, where lawmakers want her to go, or she’s gonna get raped because she’s a beautiful little woman. Let her go into the women’s bathroom. The only danger my daughter is gonna do in the women’s restroom that might be a little offensive is try to tell a woman how to fix her hair or makeup better.”
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