Is God punishing LGBTs?

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I began work on this piece on Monday, then let it sit. At that time I had written these two paragraphs:

I am amazed that I have heard no conservative Christian leader declaring that the massacre at Pulse in Orlando was God’s punishment upon LGBT people. Indeed, so expectant was it that I even did an Internet search in a hunt for it.

The reason I expected it is because of the number of times it has happened. The one that always stands out is hurricane Katrina. That it hit New Orleans, some Christian leaders said, was God’s judgment on the city because it had become a den of iniquity.

I stopped there, deciding I did not want to write about something that, hopefully, would be a non-issue. Sadly, it became an issue.

After the magnanimous minister, Mark Wingfield, with his “Seven Things I am Learning about Transgender People” gave a good name to Baptists, a prig of a pastor, Roger Jimenez, has done his best to besmirch the same name. In a sermon, which has now been removed from YouTube because of, well, you’ll see, he said, “Are you sad that fifty pedophiles were killed today? Um, no. I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida, is a little safer tonight. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is I’m kind of upset he didn’t finish the job, because these people are predators. They are abusers.”

Wow, nice job there, Pastor, of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and perfectly describing the people who were killed.

Um, no. You were a miserably mistaken oh for two, and when we look at your theology you will drop to oh for three.

It will come as no surprise that Jimenez would next say the thing that I had been waiting for some religious bigot to promulgate: “You don’t mourn the death of them. They deserve what they got. You reap what you sow.”

There it is: “They deserve what they got.” It’s another way of saying, “God was punishing them.”

Did these forty-nine people deserve to be gunned down? According to the Word of God, every person who dies “deserves what he gets.”

• “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die (Genesis 2:17).”
• “The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).”
• “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”

Were those forty-nine people sinners, whose lives were unjustly taken from them? Yes. They were sinners because they were humans.

Here is correct theology: We all are in the same boat. No one conceived from sperm and egg is able to cast the first stone, because no one is without sin. If God were in the business of punishing sinners, none of us would be here. He would have smite us at the first chance.

The only One who could have cast the first stone, because He was without sin, chose not to throw stones but to freely lay down His life so that we might possess the forgiveness of all of our sins, the gift of eternal life, and salvation from death, devil, and damnation.

How do I know—how can I be bold to insist—that I am positive that God was not punishing those who were killed at Pulse, or those who died in Katrina, or any other situation that might arise? The Bible tells me so. (Emphases are mine.)
• “God was reconciling THE WORLD to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).”
• “[Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of THE WHOLE WORLD (1 John 2:2).”
• “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. ALL we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—EVERY ONE—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us ALL (Isaiah 53:4-6).”

These facts inform me that when God says that He “wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4),” He is telling the truth. The only crazy thing about the Lord is that “He has committed to us His message of reconciliation (the sentence which follows what I previously quoted from 2 Corinthians 5:19).”

None of this conversation is to ignore any behavior which the Lord condemns.  Rather, it is to acknowledge that every one of us has behaviors which the Lord condemns.  ALL humans sin in thought, word, and deed. We all have ways of justifying our behavior, creating a ten commandments which suits us. None of us can deny it.  Thus, if our manner of proclaiming God’s Word is going to be one of condemning sinners, the place to begin is at home.

With the black-and-white-ness of all of this—that all are sinners who deserve God’s wrath, and that Christ took all of God’s wrath on behalf of us sinners—how shall we live?

Instead of using our mouths to condemn, let us employ them to encourage.

Instead of pointing fingers, let us use our hands to embrace our fellow man.

Instead of declaring things that God Himself does not declare, let us proclaim the thing that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself declared: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him (John 3:16-17).”

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The big turn-off

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There are many things about the Christian faith which non-believers find offensive, the chief of which is that Jesus Christ, who is the Creator of the world (see the first chapters of both John and Colossians) took on human flesh and is the Savior of the world.

It’s always going to be this way, that Christ, and many Christian truths, are going to offend non-Christians. What doesn’t need to be, as it is too often, is that non-Christians and Christians alike are offended by certain behaviors of Christians.

You know the word is coming. Hypocrite. And there is a specific hypocritical behavior which harms the holy name of Jesus Christ, along with all who are on the injured end of it. To introduce it, here are two quotes from the Lord Jesus:
• Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, or you too will be judged.”
• Matthew 7:12: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”

I can vouch for how often Christians quote these. I suspect I’ve heard them nearly as many times as the number of pizzas I’ve eaten in my life. Christians speak these with a reverence which approaches the very death and resurrection of Christ.

If only they would practice what they preach.

This has been on my mind the past few weeks. A trans friend has been at that point in transitioning where she’s had to tell her family. They are devout Christians. My friend has not practiced the faith since she was young. She speaks of Christ, and her being baptized, in the manner of a believer, and she lives an ethical, highly moral life—and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her speak ill of another person—but she hasn’t worshiped.

The concerns of her family over her being transgender found her saying to me with exasperation, “When I was growing up, we were always taught in church that we are not to judge and we are to treat others as we want them to treat us, but it seems like the first thing Christians do when there is something which they don’t approve is to forget the two rules that they are always professing.”

And that is her big turn-off.

And that is the big turn-off for Christians and non-Christians alike.

It is blatant hypocrisy. It is ruining the good name of Jesus Christ and His Church.

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I am pleased to report that many Christians take seriously what they profess. I am sad to report that way too many do not.

Way too many are quick to judge others. Way too many jump on the judging bandwagon with the most cutting words. Way too many speak in ways that have juicy smeared all over them: “Did you hear about Greg Eilers? Can you BELIEVE it??????”

I wonder, when the Lord Jesus said, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone (John 8),” how many modern Christians would have still had at it?

And do notice that the Lord did not say, “He who is without THIS sin”—the woman’s sin was adultery—but He kept it to sin in general. In other words, if you are a sinner—and the first qualification for being a Christian is acknowledging that you are a sinner—put down the stones.

 

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We love throwing stones. We love sorting through our sins so we can recognize that we are not guilty of the thing we see in another, and as we rocket our rocks we forget that we would never want anyone throwing stones at us even as we pick up the biggest ones we can find.

The Lord Jesus flips our behavior on its head. The Lord Jesus ate with sinners. The Lord Jesus only condemned those who would not heed His words. The main object of His condemnations were those hypocrites of hypocrites, the Pharisees.

God’s Word says that He wants all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), and that Christians are to shine the light of Christ so that others might see their good deeds and give the glory to God the Father (Matthew 5:16). If we Christians do not do the latter because we do not practice the two things we claim are primary rules for living—judge not and the Golden Rule—the former will never happen.

And, oh, about this judging business. The Lord did not end with “judge not.” This placard provides the full thought:

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Do you want God to show you mercy? Then show mercy.

Do you want others to be loving, friendly, and respectful toward you? Then give them what you want from them.

It is easy to judge. It is hard to listen. It is hard to learn. It is hard to love.

It is that much harder when the thing in question is so foreign, so unknown, and so terribly misunderstood. Pastor Mark Wingfield, who wrote, “Seven Things I’m Learning about Transgender Persons” and its follow-up, has demonstrated that it is possible to put down the stones, listen up, and learn.

No judging. Golden Rule living. Just as I’m sure he teaches and his congregation members profess.

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We all are in this together. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24).” There is no room for stone throwing.

Do make wise judgments about every important thing in life—it is the God-fearing thing to do—but when you have the opportunity to speak a harsh word or a kind one, to react with a huff or to dig in with patience, to cut someone off or to draw them back in, to tear someone down or to build him or her up, to put up walls or to build bridges . . .

You know what to do. It’s what the Lord Jesus does for you. As Jesus’ disciple, it is your privilege and joy to treat others the way that He treats you.

He didn’t judge you for your sins. He died for them.

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A Lutheran, a Baptist, and PBS

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No, they didn’t walk into a bar and, no, this isn’t the start of a joke. Each of these walked into my life in the past two weeks, and they come together very nicely for this piece.

The Lutheran

It was at Grandma Morrison’s party for her one-hundredth birthday that the seventy-nine-year-old man, whom I’ll call John, somehow managed to sit down next to me. I thought, “Didn’t he get a good look at me? He never would have sat here if he had gotten a good look at me.” Julie’s mom introduced us, and that I had been a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor. This man and Mom’s family had long ago been in the Missouri Synod, but left in the 1960s for the Church of the Lutheran Confession because the Missouri Synod had some leaders who were teaching new, modern ideas.

John and I began to chat. Early on, I said that being transgender was not a mental illness, but from a real, physical condition. He said, “I understand,” which was nice, and then followed with, “But I don’t agree with it.”

“It.” Typically, “it” means transitioning, “it” often is the perceived sexual perversion aspect of this, or “it” means “living that lifestyle.” I stored his words and waited for an opportunity to speak to them. But, first, I wanted to show him what I was made of.

John and I talked shop.

He impressed me with a keen knowledge of the workings of Lutheran church business, with God’s Word, and with his resume as an involved layman. I hoped I impressed him with my responses to everything he brought up, that I knew my stuff. I also hoped he was finding, in what likely was the first trans person with whom he’d ever spoken, a genuine human being and not some caricature.

After ten minutes, I made my way into explaining about being transgender. He listened intently, giving me good eye contact. He didn’t respond to anything I said or asked any questions, but clearly he was taking me seriously.

In all, we talked for nearly a half-hour. We shook hands and spoke friendly so-longs and nice-to-meet-yous.

I found in John a typical Christian, one who knows nothing and misunderstands much about one’s being transgender, but one who will give you his ear and listen. Maybe, John’s attitude will change, as has the pastor’s who has become a hot topic the past few weeks.

The Baptist

Mark Wingfield is a Baptist minister in Dallas. On May 13, his piece was published on baptistnews.com: “Seven things I’m learning about transgender persons.” It went viral. Wingfield has been the subject of many interviews. I heard him on NPR. He spoke very well.

Here is his essay: http://baptistnews.com/article/seven-things-im-learning-about-transgender-persons/

Wingfield had been in the same camp as John, not understanding and misunderstanding. He undertook listening to two friends, a pediatrician and a geneticist. He still claims he doesn’t know much, but his seven points demonstrate that he has learned much and, perhaps even better, that he has an open mind to learning.

I hope you read his essay. I will only quote one item. I quote it because it is the one that sticks in my craw as I continually have Deuteronomy 22:5 tossed at me: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.”

Wingfield wrote: “4. Transgender persons are not ‘transvestites.’ Far too many of us make this mix-up, in part because the words sound similar and we have no real knowledge of either. Cross-dressers, identified in slang as ‘transvestites,’ are people (typically men) who are happy with their gender but derive pleasure from occasionally dressing like the opposite gender. Cross-dressing is about something other than gender identity.”

Pastor Wingfield has gotten a foot in the door for the Church which can only be helpful. I am very thankful for him, and for news stories such as the following.

PBS

On Sunday, my best friend, Tim Todd, sent me this video:
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/daily_videos/scientists-rethink-gender-identity-with-new-research/

In this piece, Jackie Judd presents an informative story about the science behind transgender. No sensationalism. No bias. No preaching. Nothing but the even-handed presentation of information.

After Judd introduces us to a trans boy, University of Washington psychology professor Kristina Olson is quoted, “Your biology determines a lot of your psychology,” and adding that there likely are biological contributors to our sense of gender identity.

We are then moved into a discussion of the now-abandoned practice of males who were born with ambiguous genitalia on which surgery was automatically performed—the parents might or might not have been informed of the situation—and then presented as girls, given hormone therapy when they reached puberty, and reared as girls. (The genitals were surgically formed into female genitals because constructing a respectable penis is not possible.) The majority of these people rejected their being girls, insisting they were boys which, of course, they were. The lesson? Gender identity if hardwired; it cannot be manipulated or taught.

Next, we are told of post-mortem images of brains of cisgender males and females, and of those who were transgender, with the brains of transgender females having areas resembling cisgender females. (Cisgender means that gender identity and sex anatomy match.)

It has been commonly thought—and I have had suggested regarding me—that trans-identity likely results from being sexually abused, or having a domineering or overly-doting mother, or an absent mother, or a domineering father, or an absent father. Everything in this story, all of the science presented here along with, perhaps most importantly, the testimony of trans individuals, completely dismisses these as factors for those who are truly transgender.

With young children—as young as three—many are concerned that “I don’t want to wear dresses” or “I am a girl!” are just passing phases. They certainly can be, but what of those who persist? Professor Olson, explains the text which accompanies the video, “conducted a long-term study with children using tests that use image and word association to measure the strength of their gender identification. The results showed the children’s thought processes align with the gender they identify with, even if it is not the one they were assigned at birth.”

I most value this news story for its objectivity. It came off as having no agenda other than to provide accurate information.

I value Pastor Wingfield for his attitude, that he knew that he knew nothing and was willing to learn, and even more, by publishing his essay, that he freely placed himself in the firing line of the many Christian detractors.

And I value Christians and fellow Lutherans like John who appear to know nothing, reveal that they likely have misconceptions, but who treat me with respect and give me a fair hearing.

The fight to be understood is difficult, but we are making progress. And progress gives me hope.