Using the past to inform the present

I do not have all of the answers regarding gender dysphoria and being transgender.  I have learned that we have much to learn.

With this essay, I seek to present the past as instructor for the present, that we might remember that we have been wrong and ill-informed about many things over the years, and we have changed our position on many.

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I suspect that you know of this fellow, Copernicus.  My friend, Rick, does, and his referring to Copernicus to me provided an impetus to write about things of, pun intended, astronomical proportions.  Thank you, Rick!

Copernicus was that troublemaker, er, mathematician and astronomer who, in the 1500s, proposed that the earth revolves around the sun, when the accepted belief—and a biblically-quoted one at that—was the other way around.

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Some listened to Copernicus—even in the Church—and were favorable to learning from him.  Others were not.  It took others over the years—who doesn’t know of Galileo?—to promote Copernicus’ sun-centered idea and move it forward. Eventually, our abilities for observing the solar system, along with more people being willing to listen, combined with time for things to progress, got us to where we are, with full acceptance of how the planets and stars orbit.

How many things could we name, throughout history, which were rejected, considered foolishness and worse, because they were too unusual, even seemingly impossible to be anything different than the current accepted belief?

With gender dysphoria and a person’s transitioning sexes, I find us in this spot with many in society and, as is my especial concern, among Christians who hold a traditional reading of the Holy Bible, that one’s being transgender cannot possibly be different from the perspective which has always been held.

Recalling the maxim, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it,” I urge all to practice caution and remember the attitude of Copernicus’ day, who believe the case is settled regarding gender dysphoria and being transgender.  To further my cause, I present situations from far more recent history to help us see what we once believed and how we changed.

As recently as fifty years ago—the 1960s—depression, interracial marriage, and dramatic surgical procedures were viewed as differently as we once watched scratchy images on black and white TVs to where today we walk around viewing vividly high definition videos on our phones.

Depression

From antiquity, depression was not understood.  Even by fifty years ago, we did not know anywhere near what we now know of the physical nature of this awful malady.  People who are depressed do not simply have the blues.  Their problem is not laziness.  And, when they are Christians, theirs is not a case of not having enough faith.

(When, last year, I talked about this with some ministers, and commented that fifty years ago a pastor might tell his parishioner, “You need to have a stronger faith,” one of the ministers very soberly interjected, “Some pastors today would still say that.”)

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When depression was not understood, sufferers were not respected for the ailment which plagued them.  We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.  Today, finally, most of us who do not suffer depression can listen to others describe it, truly hear them as having the real, physical trouble they have, and have compassion for them rather than ridicule and disrespect them.

Because medical science worked to understand depression, we have learned a great deal about how  it works in us, even providing medicinal treatment to give relief to many sufferers, which was not possible for centuries.

Interracial marriage

In the 1960s, if a white man took a black woman’s hand in marriage, the couple very possibly would have been excommunicated from their Christian congregation.  These marriages were not legal in all fifty states until a US Supreme Court decision in 1967.

Is it against the Holy Bible for Christians of different colors and cultures to marry?  No.  In the Old Testament, it was forbidden for Israel to marry outside of Israel, but in the New Testament it is not forbidden for any Christian to marry another Christian whose skin color, culture, language, nationality, you name it, is different.

So, what was the problem for blacks and whites marrying?  In the USA, it was racial prejudice which influenced secular laws, and this flowed into the Church.

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Today, we have millions of mixed-culture couples in our country, and these couples marry and are members in good standing in our churches.  What changed?  The Holy Bible didn’t change.  The country and culture changed, and the Church changed in response to it.

Dramatic surgical procedures

It rings in my ears: “They’re playing God.”  I was a young kid and heart transplant surgery was in the news a lot.  “You can’t give one person’s heart to someone else.  That’s playing God.  It’s sinful.”  The “playing God” card has been tossed onto the table many times over the years in situations akin to heart transplants.

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Today?  I have never heard a minister say that receiving another person’s heart is playing God or is sinful.  When I was a minister, and a car accident left one of our members brain-dead, her heart was given to another person, who was given a renewed chance at good health.  There are a host of other similarly dramatic procedures that are carried out—even face transplants—and we Christians praise God for the good that is done for those who suffer.

Putting it together: medical, cultural, and church

I use these three examples to show where we were fifty years ago to where we are today, hoping all can see that it is easily imaginable that we are

  • only at the beginning of understanding gender dysphoria (the medical part),
  • finding transitioning acceptable (the cultural part),
  • and recognizing that a Christian (the church part) could transition, doing so as any person makes use of medical services, and not be sinning.

As for the past two years I have been making my appeal to all, and especially with my fellow Lutheran Christians, the singular wall which has been erected before me has been when people have decided they know all they need to know about one’s being transgender, yet they have done little to no study on the topic.  Sadly, my discussions with them continually show that they base their decision on long-held beliefs, and these beliefs do not allow for advancing in learning.

I appeal to all, both secular and in religion.  Let us do what we always say we want, but when it comes time to apply it so often fail: Let us put ourselves in the other guy’s shoes and say, “Wow, what a tough spot.  I know nothing of this, but I can imagine this is very hard for people with gender dysphoria and who have transitioned.  Well, I am not going to make it harder by assuming that I know anything.  I will remember the past, and how much we thought we knew, and how much learning has changed our thinking and our behavior on so many topics.”

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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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