Because I love the LCMS and steadfastly adhere to her doctrine as a correct understanding of God’s Word, I cannot remain silent when I believe that gender dysphoria and transgender people are completely misunderstood by my church body. This essay explains how I arrived at this.
The church of my youth was the Roman Catholic Church.
When I found myself ready to marry, I was in a pickle. Kim was a Nazarene. She found becoming Catholic too big a leap, and I felt the same about her church.
Knowing that we would marry, and that it was a must to be unified in our faith, we determined to find our own church home. We planned to visit every church in the Montague-Whitehall area.
My close friend, Rick Hughes, belonged to Montague’s LCMS congregation. I asked him to take me to church. I loved it. Of course, the liturgy was familiar. Even better, Pastor Walter Teske preached an easy-to-understand Law and Gospel sermon.
The next week, I took Kim. She loved it, despite never belonging to a liturgical church. She suggested we go there the next week, and then the next.
We never visited another church. Eight months later we married in her church. Soon, we were receiving instruction from Pastor Teske. We joined St. James the spring of 1980.
Pastor visited at our home. “Greg, I encourage you to come to voters meetings.” Dumb me, I took him up on it. I was twenty-three when I attended my first one, the youngest person in attendance.
Soon, I was on the stewardship committee. Then the preschool board. At age 32, I was asked to be an elder. I said, “Come on. I’m way too young.” They came back the next year. I was elected elder. All of the other elders were old enough to be my father.
As a kid, maybe it was the sermons I heard, or maybe it’s how a kid listens, but I did not hear the Gospel. From the first Sunday at St. James, I heard the Word of God proclaimed in a way which penetrated my heart, which gave me sure and certain hope of the Lord’s love for me in Jesus Christ.
I quickly grew in the Word. A few years into membership at St. James, Fran Ramthun, the mother of a good friend, encouraged me to attend Sunday Bible class. Kim was fine with watching our young children in the nursery during that hour. I began attending and loved it.
I took up reading my Bible at home. My prayer life, which my mother nurtured in us kids, exploded.
I found myself sitting in church every Sunday picturing myself in the pulpit, thinking that the work of a minister was for me.
When one is married with four young children, not to mention a good job and a mortgage, pulling up stakes to go back to school is a seemingly unjumpable hurdle. Yet, in 1996, at age thirty-five, I began seminary at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The following memory is etched upon my mind. It was early in my first year. I was sitting in Professor Kurt Marquart’s Confessions I class. He was deftly explaining some foundational doctrine with his unique combination of dazzling insight and keen wit. I found myself saying to myself: “You know, Greg, if at any time during seminary they teach you a doctrine which you do not find correct, you won’t be able to be a pastor. If you find yourself in a spot, you’re going to have to study the living daylights out of it to be sure you know what you believe to be correct. And it you cannot become convinced, you are going to have to leave seminary. You can’t be a pastor if you are not 100% on board.”
That moment replayed in my head a number of times during those years. Truly, some doctrines tried to stump me, simply because they are a challenge to correctly grasp (example: eternal election). In the end, I came through every class, every topic, with a strong adherence to the LCMS position on every doctrine.
When I made my ordination vow on June 23, 1996, I spoke truthfully of my devotion to the purity of God’s Word and the correctness of LCMS doctrine.
During my eighteen years as a parish pastor, I continued to hone my theology, reading much, attending pastor meetings and conferences, seriously debating every topic under the sun. I was pleased that my peers considered me a fine theologian. When I retired, I received a note from a pastor in our circuit. “Greg, I have never known a pastor who has as firm a grasp on objective justification as you have.” I was pleased for him to be so gracious as my faith rests right there, that Jesus Christ has atoned not only for the believer’s sins, but for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2), and salvation rests only on what He has done and not a bit on anything we do.
And, here I was the entire time, with gender identity issues—a questioning which began around age nine—which finally exploded into crushing gender dysphoria.
In 2013, soon after it reached its apex, thorough study brought me to understand the real, physical nature of my condition. I was not the freak, not the sexual fetishist, that in my youth I could only imagine I was. I did not have a mental illness, borne of some terrible experience in my past. No, I was a standard-issue fallen and fractured human with an intersex condition which has a cure.
The cure, some would say alluding to the old adage, is worse than the condition.
When we love people or groups, we speak up when we see error. If my mother had not taken me to task on numerous occasions, I would not have corrected many bad behaviors.
All those times I was wrong? That’s when I needed my mom most.
It is my sense that plenty of people in the LCMS would not agree that the LCMS needs me (as egotistical a statement as I’ve ever written!) but, when I was a child, at the time I was doing wrong neither did I want my mom butting in.
Since I find the LCMS in the dark regarding gender dysphoria and living as a transgender person, I cannot sit by and let it continue, especially when I am both transgender and a theologian. If I did not speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8)—our lay people who are suffering and their family members—then shame on me.
I love the LCMS. Twenty years after having taken my ordination vows, two years after retiring, and one year after having to resign from the clergy roster, my devotion to LCMS doctrine is the strongest it has ever been. That is what experience and ongoing education is supposed to do for us, to strengthen us.
This is why I have to speak. This is why I won’t go anywhere else—why it didn’t work for me going to an ELCA congregation for nine months, when no LCMS congregation would welcome Julie and me. The LCMS is my spiritual family. If family does not fight for right with family, how can unity exist; how can family remain?
This is why I have to speak. I, and surely hundreds like me—whether never telling a soul they struggle with their gender identity issues or having transitioned—belong to our LCMS congregations. Is the Gospel for us, too? Is justification before God based on our works or on Christ’s work?
But, what if I am wrong? I will address that next.