I selected what I find is the worst possible word for the title because for many LCMS Christians “acceptance” evokes this reaction: “I will never accept transgender people as God-fearing Christians.”
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My chief complaint with the LCMS is that, overall as a synod, gender dysphoria has been judged as either a mental illness or a sinful proclivity, and transitioning a sinful response to it. While there are pastors and lay folks who are open to learning, even to recognizing gender dysphoria as arising from a real, physical condition, and transitioning as a medically viable option, the general sense in the LCMS is that those who transition willfully sin and thus are found ineligible for membership in LCMS congregations.
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“Acceptance” is commonly heard from LGBTQ folks and their allies. It is synonymous with tolerance. The sense of its usage is that one consents to, is tolerant to, whatever a person says about himself, however he lives, whatever his take is on his situation in life, and no judgment will be taken in opposition to the person’s actions.
Because LCMS Christians hold a traditional understanding of God’s Word, and with how “acceptance” is used, it is largely rejected. I am reminded of the term, “born again Christian,” which is also largely unused by LCMS Christians. The term is correct—there is no such thing as a Christian who is not “born again”—yet, because of the wrong theology attached to it by evangelicals, it is mostly unheard in the LCMS. So it goes with “acceptance” in the transgender conversation.
For many in the LCMS, acceptance with transgender issues feels like support, which feels like caving in and giving up one’s theology. My best example is when Julie and I were received into membership in a LCMS congregation in 2016. The uproar among LCMS pastors was swift and vicious, and taken right to the top of the synod.
None of these, who called for our congregation and pastors to be kicked out of the LCMS, sat in on any of the meetings I had with the pastors. They did not inquire of the pastors as to these discussions, as to my answers, as to the pastors’ stance. They simply judged each person and the situation as sinful. I know; I read their comments on several websites.
They made assumptions about things which were in violation of the Eighth Commandment, that we shall not bear false witness against our neighbor. Martin Luther explains this command wonderfully: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” The reputation of our pastors, the congregation, and Julie and I, all were hurt. From the outcry, it seemed that no one was interested in learning anything from us, but only condemning us. Few of our fellow Christians defended us, or spoke well of us, or explained anything about this situation in the kindest way.
There are many unfair assumptions about transgender persons, including:
- their actions are sexually motivated;
- they live a lifestyle unfit for a Christian;
- they all are part of a movement to impose their beliefs on others.
None of these assumptions are true about me.
Speaking only for myself, yet having had other Christians express similar things about their experience,
- I have poured out my heart to many pastors, expressing how difficult is this malady;
- how strongly I fought it;
- how deeply I longed to remain living as a male;
- how the last thing I wanted was to sin against the Lord or offend my fellow Christians, yet how weak I was against my gender dysphoria;
- how thoughts of suicide constantly visited me;
- how I truly thought I was going to lose my mind;
- how I struggled to live a God-pleasing life because this led me to hate everything;
- and how I feared that I would have to go on medication which, because it would be very strong in order to address my anguish, would leave me in a stupor, which would leave me a shell of a person and unable to fulfill any of my vocations.
I have explained how my studying has led me to be all but convinced that my gender dysphoria—and, I suspect, most cases of gender dysphoria—was caused by disruption to my endocrine system when I formed in the womb, which explains why talk therapy and repentance does not address it. I have provided all of the evidence I have accumulated, to demonstrate the science of this.
While I realize that this is challenging stuff, I do not understand the replies I have received from so many. Some simply dismissed what I said. Some were highly skeptical. Some returned to the various Scriptures which they had already quoted, such as “male and female He created them,” as if there have been no maladies of our sinful nature which could attack the uniqueness of the two sexes.
I have continued to demonstrate that I hold to all LCMS doctrine, and that my desire is to love the Lord with all my heart and my neighbor as myself. Because I cannot undeniably prove anything regarding my malady—and, my experience informs me, I am up against misinformation and prejudice—I am left on the outside looking in, as are others in the LCMS who share my situation.
Instead of being helped, we are shunned.
Instead of being heard, we are ignored.
Instead of being fed with the nourishing Word and Sacraments of Jesus Christ, we are starved.
Is this how Christians are supposed to act toward their brothers and sisters in Christ?
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My experience informs me that most LCMS pastors find that gender dysphoria is a mental illness. I will now take them up on that assumption. One pastor said to me, “You wouldn’t tell a woman, who is anorexic, not to eat,” making that the correlative to my transitioning. Indeed, no one would encourage the anorexic to starve herself. However, if she were not able to conquer her malady, and she did, indeed, eat so little as to continue to worsen, even to hasten her death, no respectable pastor would kick her out of the church!
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Here is what I do NOT want from the LCMS:
- I do not want the LCMS to accept one’s being transgender as normal, the “God made me this way” which is argued by some.
- I do not want the LCMS to cave in to the secular LGBTQ agenda.
- I do not want the LCMS to alter one word of its doctrine.
Here is what I DO want from the LCMS:
- I want the LCMS to recognize that gender dysphoria is a real, physical condition, suffered by Christians just as believers are prone to experience any aspect of our fallen and fractured nature.
- I want the LCMS to accept that it has members who strive in right doctrine, who struggle with gender dysphoria, who long to be healed, to remain in their birth sex.
- I want the LCMS to see that it is possible for a Christian to transition, to hate that transitioning was found to be the only solution to quelling suicidal thoughts and fears of insanity.
- I want the LCMS to acknowledge and treat us as the equals we are in the Lord’s sight, every last one of us humans a fallen and fractured person, all of us unworthy of the Lord’s grace.
- I want the LCMS to speak and act compassionately toward we who are burdened and heavy-laden, whom the Lord Jesus encourages to come to Him for rest.
This is how acceptance looks to me. It looks like Christians commiserating with their fellow Christians. It looks like working to understand, not judging and discarding. It looks like longsuffering. It looks like compassion. It looks like 1 Corinthians 13’s definition of love.
It looks like how God the Father looks at us—at ALL of us—through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.