Two more rays of hope

This is another follow-up to The Lutheran Witness article which sought to answer the question, “Can people really be transgender?” Following are the links to my reaction to the article, how I responded with my letters to the magazine and to the author, and finally the first letter to the editor which took exception with the article.

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/dear-lcms-transgender-is-not-like-making-a-chevy-into-a-ford/

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/chevy-into-a-ford-follow-up/

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/chevy-into-a-ford-a-ray-of-hope/

In LW’s December issue are two more letters from folks who were not pleased with the article. If the magazine has followed the typical practice, printing a representative number of letters which reflect the tone of all letters received, the readers of The Lutheran Witness found the article greatly lacking.

While I was hoping my letter would be printed, I am pleased that they published the excellent one from my friend, Norma Sander. I came to know Norma when I was a pastor, her being related to others in our congregation. After I went public regarding my being transgender, she became a grand ally. I am very thankful for her, and that she wrote to LW.

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It is with a heavy heart that I write to say how disappointed I was in the August 2017 article about transgenderism.

The whole problem is the lack of education and understanding. I wonder what kind of research the author did before espousing such simplistic views. Does he know that children from good Christian families tell their parents at a young age that they are really the opposite gender? Can he imagine the heartache and strife accompanying these feelings? Is he aware of the suicide rate among transgender people? Does he really think someone would choose to be transgender?

Please know that there are many LCMS Lutherans who know, are related to, or are friends with transgender people. These people need our prayers and support. They deserve our understanding and willingness to learn.

Amen, Norma! You touched on many vital areas concerning which all simply must be aware. As you write about Lutherans who have trans relatives, that is the perfect introduction to the other outstanding letter.

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Like Pastor Christenson’s response in October, I was dismayed with Pastor Vogt’s article about transgender people in the August LW. It’s not that I disagree that God created us male and female and we can rejoice in how He has made us. God’s original design seems clear that we are created with distinct differences in gender for both body and mind. Part of that difference is that we have an internal sense of our gender. For most of us our internal sense aligns with our physical body. When your internal sense diverges—you are transgender. The biggest problem the Christian church faces with transgender people is that we treat them as modern day lepers—spiritually unclean. Such articles don’t bring compassion and understanding about people for whom Christ died. I have a transgender child, and now many transgender friends and loved ones. They deserve to be treated with respect.

Thank you for this, dear brother in Christ! I found this thought to be especially poignant: “The biggest problem the Christian church faces with transgender people is that we treat them as modern day lepers—spiritually unclean.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

2017 was pretty quiet for me in the pursuing of my former church body regarding its understanding of gender dysphoria and transgender folks. I was very active in 2016, and was shot down one time after another. I grew disheartened. Couple that with 2017 being my surgery year. I laid low, save for a few letters and my blog posts.

Now that I am done transitioning, and I am heartened by these letters in LW, I am ready to get back to engaging LCMS leadership.

Echoing the two letters, education where there is ignorance, understanding where there is misunderstanding, compassion where there is hardheartedness, and we-are-all-sinners where trans persons are treated like lepers, are my areas of focus.

The job to educate, and to open eyes and hearts, is huge. It is high time the job gets done—for the benefit of all, and to the glory of Jesus Christ.

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“Chevy into a Ford”: a ray of hope

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In the October issue of The Lutheran Witness, a letter to the editor has been published in regard to the article on which I wrote here:

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/dear-lcms-transgender-is-not-like-making-a-chevy-into-a-ford/

As I read the letter, my joy burst forth. While the author did not say that he agrees with transitioning for the Christian, his compassion exuded. First, here’s the letter, then I will let you in on the significance of its author.

I cringed as I read Pastor ____’s article in the August Lutheran Witness, “Can People Really Be Transgender?” To quote 1 Corinthians 12:18 as proof that Paul “anticipated and refutes the claim that some humans are born in the ‘wrong sex,’” is just wrong. 1 Corinthians 12 is about the church. It’s not a commentary on human sexuality. Worse, his article lacked any sense of compassion toward transgender people and their intense, life-long struggles. This is a difficult and complex issue. To attempt to speak to it in five short paragraphs was a bad idea. As we ponder our Christian response to transgenderism, we need to pray, seek God’s wisdom, be quick to listen and slow to speak, avoid overly simplistic responses and, above all, heed the counsel of Colossians 4:6 “Let your conversation be always full of grace . . . so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

The letter was penned by a minister of the LCMS. If I suffered from gender identity issues and he were my pastor, I am confident that everything he preaches and teaches would inform me that his attitude would be such as he wrote in the letter, and should I dare to speak to him about my struggles he would truly hear me. If, however, my pastor’s speech were like that of the man who authored the article, there is no way I would feel that he would have a true listening ear for me, that all I would get from him is judgment and would leave the meeting in as bad a shape, or worse, than before I entered.

Besides the letter-writer pastor’s compassionate attitude, I was doubly pleased that the letter came from one of my seminary classmates. When I knew him at seminary, I found him to be a lovely guy. If this letter is indicative of how he ministers to those members of his who are in difficult situations . . . well, in an online chat I told him exactly what I think, as I wrote, “I bet your members love you.”

In that chat, he was warm and friendly with me, and concerned for Julie and me—exactly the man I knew more than twenty years ago at Concordia Theological Seminary.

I am left to wonder: how did readers of The Lutheran Witness take his letter? I have hope that at least some recognized in it the heart of our Lord Jesus, which is the heart that we are to have for one another. And maybe, just maybe, a few hard hearts have been softened.

“Chevy into a Ford” follow-up

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The top of the page of the article in question, from the August, 2017, issue of The Lutheran Witness.

The day after posting my critique to The Lutheran Witness article, “Vive la difference!”—found here:

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/dear-lcms-transgender-is-not-like-making-a-chevy-into-a-ford/

—I emailed LW’s managing editor and the pastor who authored the article. I have received replies from both.

This is my letter to the editor, which I copied to the pastor:

Gender dysphoria, the condition which transgender people suffer, is such a nagging, baffling, misunderstood malady that two of every five sufferers will attempt suicide. We Christians who are stricken with this do not deny that the Lord made humans male and female. Rather, we bear one of the many terrible marks of the fall into sin and seek to find some measure of earthly healing as we await the permanent, perfect wholeness which the Lord will provide at the resurrection.

Sadly, August’s article “Vive la difference!” answered the question, “Can people really be transgender?” with such brevity and levity that this Lutheran, who takes seriously confessing correct doctrine and living it, fears the LCMS dismisses trans folks as kooks, with no interest in understanding us or compassionately hearing us.

I signed my letter “Gina Eilers,” but because of the sensitivity of this issue, and since I am now known by many in the LCMS, I indicated that if they want to print my letter, but hesitate because it is from me, I would be okay with them putting “name withheld.”

In my short email to the pastor, I said that I would be interested in speaking with him. Soon, I received his reply, in which he addressed me as “Greg.” He expressed sadness for my situation, but found that because I have had “extensive conversations about this with many individuals,” he doubted he would have anything to add.

My reaction was to write back to him, pointing out that it is not what he could add that interested me, but what I might add to his knowledge of the topic. I did not write that email. Instead, because I find it likely that I would go nowhere if I sought to do any more, I simply wrote, “Thank you for your reply.”

I received a longer reply from the editor. I would love to copy it in total, but find that would be inappropriate. Suffice it to say, I appreciated her response.

Finally, besides the public comments on this blog post and to my Facebook link, I received a number of private messages and emails. All but one were of a positive nature, expressing support for my desire to have the LCMS take more seriously—or, it would be more fair to say, provide evidence that it takes seriously—gender dysphoria and transgender Christians.

One pastor, referring to my critique, found my key thought here:

I wonder whether the LCMS so fears the humanistic spirit of the day that any topic which has any appearance of being part of that—and if transgender doesn’t, nothing does—that it believes it has to take a completely hands off, doors closed, walls erected stance, lest it give an inch and find its doors beaten down by every unwanted issue.

As for the one person who expressed negative concerns, she did not write about the LCMS stance on transgender Christians, but asked me why I became a minister when I struggled with gender issues. I told her that when I decided to go to seminary, I never dreamed that I would find the need to transition and, indeed, hoped that becoming a minister would help me squash my desires of being a female. I perceived that she thought I should not have become a minister because of my struggles, so I spoke to the common malady of all humans, that no one is exempt from the many and various trials caused by our living in a fallen nature and fractured world, thus if every man elected not to go into the ministry because of his specific trials and temptations then no men would ever become ministers.

Finally, it is possible that LW will print my letter. If so, I will be heartened. The article struck me hard, so hard that it took me more than two weeks to be able to compose my thoughts, finding myself at my computer every day but unable to begin typing.

The article angered, frustrated, exasperated, and saddened me. I can’t believe that the church body I love, the one where I find myself in agreement with its understanding of the Holy Bible, would take such an attitude toward this subject that it would print this unhelpful, even potentially harmful article.

Sadly, in my efforts to educate I find myself experiencing way more frustration than elation. Friends continue to encourage me, finding that change will likely not occur at the level of the LCMS leadership but from the ground up, with more and more ministers and church members able to truly listen and learn.

I will keep on keeping on, making and taking every opportunity to educate, always remaining in the same prayer, that the Lord Jesus would guide me in His good and gracious will.

Dear LCMS: transgender is not like making a Chevy into a Ford

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The top of the page of the article in question, from the August, 2017, issue of The Lutheran Witness.

Once again, The Lutheran Witness (LW), the magazine for the lay folks of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), has given attention to the topic of transgender, this time devoting a full, though very short article to it.

Each article in the August issue of LW addressed a question. “Vive la difference!” is the title of the essay in answer to, “Can people really be transgender?”

I cannot read the mind or motives of the pastor who wrote the article; I can only tell you how I reacted to this. Overall, I found the author not to have adequately answered the question. Worse than that, I felt that he made fun of the topic. By the conclusion, I was offended. I was left wondering how the LCMS can print something so short and flippant regarding a subject which is so deep and serious.

Here is what I mean by flippant, from the opening paragraph: “The changes those who ‘transition’ undergo, even if surgically or with artificial hormones, are merely superficial and cosmetic. It’s like putting Ford nameplates and logos on a Chevrolet, then claiming it ‘transitioned’ to being a Ford!”

No, pastor, it’s not even close to the same. And that you made such a wise-cracking comparison leaves me wondering if you have ever sat across from a human being who is struggling with issues of gender identity, who longs to find comfort in her or his birth sex but hates the person in the mirror and the female or male life which is expected of that person, who hesitates telling even one soul about the battle being waged inside for fear of rejection, even the ridicule which might be returned for the revelation, who is plagued by suicidal ideation, of finding comfort in the thought that it can all go away if she just takes enough pills, if he can gather the courage to hang the noose.

The author spent most of the balance of the article discussing how God made us male and female—no arguments here—only touching on the actual question which this piece was to be answering, when he wrote, “Apart from very rare genetic defects, humans universally have been and continue to be made male or female.” Actually, he referred not to transgender, but to one type of intersex condition, of which there are several. Transgender specifically refers to a person whose identity does not match his or her birth sex. A person could be intersex and never be transgender.

After sketching how God made us male and female, and that Eve was made for Adam as his helper, the pastor concluded, “The French have a cheekier way of saying it: Vive la difference!” Again, this felt like making fun in the midst of a deadly serious matter.

What if a Christian were reading this article, who is suffering from gender dysphoria (or a family member or close friend of such a person)? Do you think she or he might decide that, if the LCMS magazine printed this, then it must be how the entire LCMS sees the subject, which might be the way his or her pastor sees it, and therefore this Christian would never dare speak with the very person who is supposed to be there to minister to Christ’s flock, and to be especially compassionate to one who is in the hardest of times?

From the three references to transgender, which I found in 2017 issues of LW, I am concerned about many things regarding the church body which I continue to call my church family. I see a latent assumption that anyone who is favorable to transgender also then does not affirm correct doctrine. Because of the minimal manner in which transgender is cited in these articles, the sense I have is that the LCMS believes the issue is nothing more than as with telling the person who lies, “God says lying is a sin, so don’t lie,” as if there is not a confounding malady behind a person’s struggling with his or her gender identity.

Because I am in my third year of blogging, and since my name became widespread in the LCMS a year ago, a number of Christians, including Lutherans, have contacted me, people who profess sound doctrine and strive to live godly lives, but who are utterly befuddled by a condition which they did not ask to have plague them, which they are trying to address in a God-pleasing manner.

None of them wants to, or wanted to, transition, to live in the sex opposite their birth sex. Some have transitioned, as I have, hoping it gives them a measure of earthly healing, as they await eternal wholeness in the resurrection of the flesh, when Jesus Christ returns in glory and, in His everlasting New Creation, there will be no more gender dysphoria. Some anticipate transitioning, but they long not to destroy their marriages, or hurt their families, or experience any of the other fallout from being transgender, and so they bide their time. One (Robert, of whom I have previously written), is even taking cross-sex hormones, with the hope that increasing his estrogen and decreasing his testosterone will allow him to remain male. (Despite the changes to his body, which he knew would occur, after fifteen month he continues to be succeeding as a male.) All have this in common: the desire to strive in correct doctrine and to live as God-fearing Christians.

Since, last year, the accusation was made about me that I want to introduce the entire LGBTQ agenda into the LCMS (I don’t), I wonder whether the LCMS so fears the humanistic spirit of the day that any topic which has any appearance of being part of that—and if transgender doesn’t, nothing does—that it believes it has to take a completely hands off, doors closed, walls erected stance, lest it give an inch and find its doors beaten down by every unwanted issue.

I don’t know that any of this is the case, and I have been striving since 2013, and writing now, in such a manner so as not to sin against the Eighth Commandment (“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”), and so I assume that I know nothing for sure, but am trying to learn from the evidence I have, from LW articles, from the reactions of LCMS pastors and lay people which I have read and received, and from LCMS ministers with whom I have met.

President Trump is regularly criticized for pandering to his base, as with his recent condemning of NFL players who are taking a knee during the national anthem. Mr. Trump knows how to speak to his supporters, to rally them to his side, and he makes hay in his speeches and tweets.

The LCMS has its own pulpit, with LW and many other periodicals, websites, and other outlets. It knows who its base is, especially its leadership—the ministers and other church workers, and the lay folks who are in leadership positions in its congregations—and how to rally the membership. Overall, these are biblically traditional and politically conservative Christians. For the majority of them to be easily appalled at anything transgender is no leap of the imagination. Articles, such as “Vive la difference!” can work just as a Trump tweet does with his base.

If the LCMS wants to keep a distance from transgender, articles such as “Vive la difference!” can do exactly what President Trump’s words toward the NFL have been doing. The difference, however, is not whether a person is properly reverent to our flag and loyal to our nation, but the eternal lives of human beings who are being torn apart by one of the myriad of maladies which are common to we who suffer the fallen nature, which every human born of a man and woman must endure.

Is gender dysphoria a tough topic to handle? You bet, it is. Is having transgender women and men worshiping and communing in a traditional church body, as the LCMS is, a challenging thought? Again, you bet. Is this a topic, and are we as fellow humans—equally sinful and equally saved—worthy of the LCMS’ full, serious concern? Lord, have mercy, if it is not and we are not.