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A church “building project” that made a difference

Many churches get super excited about building projects. These projects are supposed to represent big changes to the church, new ideas, progress, and relevance.

Even the fundamentalist churches I’ve attended got excited about building projects, though these usually involved new gymnasiums where we could play the A.W.A.N.A “run around the circle and then go in for the beanbag” games rather than stadium seats or new stages for the worship band.

Still, the idea is the same. If we build THIS, they will come. THIS will further the gospel. THIS will change the world.

Now, sometimes building projects are just needed. Pews fill up. Roofs leak. And, you know, sometimes that 70s shag carpeting in the teen room just needs to go. But the idea that a building proejct is going to shake the foundations of the earth is usually a lie that pastors hype up in order to get in your wallet. That new building isn’t going to single-handedly bring about the kingdom of God.  Let’s be real.

Though, sometimes a change made to a church building/property does make a difference. I’m going to tell you a story about one of those times.

I’m going to tell you about a church that made a drastic change to their church property–they added a tiny sticker to their church sign.

 And that tiny sticker made a difference.

On one hand it infuriated some. After that little sticker went up, some protesters flocked to the scene, with pamphlets calling that little church with their little sticker on their sign “The Church of the Anti-Christ.”

On the other, the entire time I lived in the town where that church was located, I heard about that church, because of that tiny sticker.

When I talked to others about how one of the reasons I stopped going to church was the horrible way some of the LGBT people in my life had been treated by churches, I often got the response, “Have you tried the church on Church St.? They’ve got a rainbow flag sticker on their sign.”

When I talked about how exclusive and hateful churches often were, people–people who didn’t even go to church themselves, people who were atheists or pagan or just didn’t care–would say “Have you tried the church on Church St.? They’ve got a rainbow flag sticker on their sign.”

Even in counseling, when I was talking with my counselor about trying to reconcile my religious beliefs with my political beliefs, she told me, “Have you tried the church on Church St.? They’ve got a rainbow flag sticker on their sign.”

That year of my life was one in which I was really not ready to try any churches. Not even the church on Church St. with the rainbow flag sticker on their sign (though, when I move back to Bowling Green next summer, I think I’ll be ready to visit that church more often. I plan to). I only attended twice, but both times were pleasant. They were concerned about inclusion, love, and justice.

And everyone in Bowling Green knew it.

Their little “building project” made a difference. 

I think Christians fall all over themselves trying to change the image of the church. People don’t think that church is relevant, so Christians panic, throw out the organs, add some stadium seating, and hope that will make everyone see church as hip and cool.

Christians don’t stop to think that maybe the fact that people are starting to see church has irrelevant has NOTHING to do with how our buildings look.

They don’t stop to think that maybe the church’s million-dollar renovations only sting like salt in the wounds of the poverty that surrounds us–the poverty that the church often perpetuates when it fights against laws that would make life better for LGBT people.

They don’t stop to think that, maybe, just maybe, if they became more like the First Presbyterian Church of Bowling Green, Ohio,  and educated their congregations about LGBT issues, supported pro-LGBT legislation, performed commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, openly welcomed and affirmed people of all sexual orientations and gender identifications, and donated food and money to their neighbors in poverty…

Then maybe, just maybe, the only “building project” they would need in order to make a difference would be to add a little sticker to their church sign.

Image via Mary Jane Saunders

Image via Mary Jane Saunders

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“A New Creation:” Christianity and trans* rights

Before I start this blog post, some definitions for anyone not familiar with trans* issues!

According to wikipedia, “transgender is the state of one’s gender identity (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one’s assigned sex (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex).” A transgender person is someone who doesn’t believe the gender they were assigned at birth accurately describes them. 

Gender identity is different than sexual orientation. Some trans* people are gay. Some are straight. Some are bisexual.

Also, everyone has a gender identity. Sometimes we cis people don’t even think about how we identify, either as a man or a woman, but we do. We make choices every day that tell the world “this is my gender!” This is a concept I admit I haven’t fully grasped yet, but it’s important to remember that trans* people aren’t the only ones with a gender identity.

If you are not transgender, you are cisgender. Your doctor said “it’s a girl!” when you were born, and you’re okay with calling yourself a woman today, etc. A cis person has a great deal of privilege over trans* people, a list of which can be found here.

Also, a special thanks to Anarchist Reverend for reading this post and giving me some pointers and correcting some of the problems in first draft!

Until about a year and a half ago, I knew next to nothing about trans* people. I’d been taught growing up that God created us male and female and that there were people in the world who were rebelling against God’s creation, trying to be something they were not–men trying to be women, women trying to be men. These people were to be feared by Christians because they broke God’s intended mold for manhood and womanhood.

What I’d learned was wrong.

In fact, the more I listened to the stories of real trans* people (the first stories I ever heard were actually on an episode of MTV’s True Lifenow I have a couple of trans* friends and twitter followers and I’m still in the process of listening and learning), the more I realized that if Christians really believed what we say we believe about Christ, then the Church would be at the forefront of the trans* rights movement. The Church is not at the forefront, obviously. The Church either ignores trans* people completely or perpetuates ignorance and hatred toward them.  The more I learn about trans* people, though (and I’m new at this and still have much to learn and much privilege to face), the more convinced I am that the Church’s treatment of trans* people shows that the Church doesn’t truly believe the theology that they teach.  

If anyone be in Christ that person is a new creation…

Christians believe that God’s intention for the world was perfection. Perfect harmony, perfect souls, perfect bodies.

So God created humanity in his/her own image,
in the image of God he/she created them;
male and female he/she created them

And God saw all that God had made, and it was very good.

Of course, you know the rest of the story. Humans and nature did not live up to be all God intended them to be. People made mistakes, hated and killed one another. Nature produced disease and deformities and death. But deep down, we know what we were meant to be, and we strive toward that. We try to love, we try to fix injustices. We try to cure disease and prevent untimely death. We use technology, from eye-glasses to prosthetic limbs, to help us do the things we were meant to do and be the people we were meant to be.

In Christ, we are given hope in this striving toward our intended state of perfection. We are given a chance to become a new creation–to let the parts of us that hold us back from perfection die away and to claim new life in Jesus. Life that brings us closer to God and all that God wants us to be. Though we know this “new life” is incomplete, we continue to strive for a future when we will be made perfect.

Some will say we are crazy for doing this, but we do it because we believe that in Christ’s death we are all called to “die” to our old selves and be raised again into newness of life: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!”

The problem with so many Christians is that we refuse to apply this to anything tangible. In our intangible, eschatological version of Christianity, our new bodies and new souls come to us in some otherworldly realm outside of reality.

But we’re told that the new creation is here. We’re to live as if our future perfection has already arrived. We’re to be a part of a new kingdom in which we all live as the people we were created to be.

So why do so many Christians respond with hatred when trans* people move toward wholeness? Why do so many Christians try to imprison people in their “old lives,” and deny them the freedom of becoming a new creation? 

Is our theology so weak that it can only change our lives, our names, our bodies, and our destinies in heaven? Or is the Kingdom here, on earth as it is in heaven? Is Christ sitting up in heaven, helpless to transform us here on earth? Or can we start today to become the people that we know, deep down, we were meant to be?


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Dan Cathy’s lifestyle.

 

A week and a half after the infamous Chick-fil-A Day, this quote by Rick Warren is still making it’s rounds on the internets.

Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

It’s been a couple of years since I actually held the conviction that loving a person of the same gender is wrong. It’s been years since I grabbed by giant, red-lettered KJV Bible, and decided that I was going to read the whole thing straight through as if I’d never read it before. Years since I poured my heart into learning how to divorce what I’d been taught in Christian Fundamentalism from what the Bible actually said. Years since I read the article by Walter Wink that finally convinced me that affirming the one lesbian friend I had at the time was a position completely compatible with my faith in Jesus.

Now, with a fresh perspective on the Bible, I look at this Chick-fil-A fiasco and I only have one conviction and that is this: Dan Cathy, and those supporting him, are not being like Christ in this area. Not at all. He is living a lifestyle of fear and hatred, putting vast amounts of money into hurting others just to appease his own conscious.

Jesus did not life a lifestyle of hatred.

My convictions are that donating money to hate groups that spread lies about and take away the rights of the friends that I love is the farthest thing from the compassion of Christ. I don’t hate Dan Cathy, and I certainly don’t fear him. But I refuse to compromise my convictions by giving him my money so he can use it to hurt my friends with his lifestyle of hate.

That’s the lifestyle I oppose.

 


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Not them. Us.

This week, Amendment One passed in North Carolina. We all know this by now, I’m sure.

And we all know who is responsible.

I don’t know what we Christians hope to accomplish. Even if you believe same-sex marriage is wrong (I personally do not think there is anything wrong with same-sex relationships–here is why. Please don’t waste your time trying to argue it with me in the comments section because I’ve made a well-researched decision and you’re not going to change my mind at this point), what do we hope to do? Legislate “morality?” Arrest people who do not accept (particular definitions of) the Bible? Show God’s love by denying others their rights?

Damn straight.

But, I honestly don’t want to talk to those Christians right now. Some of you reading my blog may still believe that taking away people’s rights in the name of Jesus is the right way to love others and to treat others as you would want to be treated, but I’m going to guess that most of those types of Christians have long since given up on me (or are too busy praying for me to stop “backsliding”). If I’m wrong, and you’re one of those Christians and you’re reading this, please read with an open mind and don’t be a jerk in the comments (I WILL delete you. I mean it).

I want to talk to my fellow LGBT-affirming/tolerating Christians. The ones who don’t think that taking away the rights of others shows the love of God. Whether you affirm same-sex relationships like I do or you think same-sex relationships are wrong but don’t force those beliefs on others, this is for you.

First of all, you’re not alone. It’s not you vs. the Church.

Sure, it may feel that way. Especially for those of us who grew up in fundamental or evangelical churches. I’m sure many of us have heard “God wants us to love, but not tolerate sin,” and “you need to read the Bible because it clearly says ____,” speeches.

It gets frustrating and tiring.

I know, believe me. I know. I break down and cry every now and then because of all the pressure from my brothers and sisters in Christ to hate others. And I’m dating a man, so I have it much easier than those of you who may face pressures from your brothers and sisters in Christ to hate yourself.

But we’re not alone. There are lots of us.

Allies facing rebuke.

People with questions being shot down.

Gays and lesbians who feel they should be celibate facing misunderstanding and lack of support.

Out LGBT people facing excommunication.

Closeted LGBT people facing shame.

Which brings me to my next point. The LGBT community is not just “out there.”

I was thankful to see posts by some of my favorite Christian bloggers, expressing outrage over Amendment One.

Rachel Held Evans (whom I love dearly), wrote a beautiful post:

When it comes to homosexuality, we no longer think in the black-at-white categories of the generations before ours. We know too many wonderful people from the LGBT community to consider homosexuality a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen. And Amendment One hurts like hell.

Her words are true.

But…

LGBT people aren’t just our friends.

When we assume that the LGBT community is some separate group outside the church, we forget that many people within the church are LGBT and many LGBT people are Christians. When we talk about LGBT people as a church, we need to realize that many of them are our siblings in Christ.

We are talking about us. Not them.

The church and the LGBT community are not mutually exclusive.

Tomorrow I’m going to talk about a group of LGBT activists who work with and within the church toward change–More Light Presbyterians. I really love what this group is doing. I think they’re more inclusive and bold than even many secular LGBT activist groups. Until then, what reminds you as an LGBT Christian or ally that you are not alone?