"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable:“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shouldersand goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
--Luke 15:1-7, NIV
It's funny how the numbers can bring everything into focus.
NoUnequalRights.com asks the question "Why should the 99% of the population who are NOT gender confused be forced to accommodate the less than 1% who are?"
Because Jesus, that's why.
Because Jesus didn't come to save the righteous 99% of the population. He came for the rest of us: the bewildered and bruised wanderers.
This isn't about gender ethics.
This is about the gospel.
I care about the needs of 1% of the population because Jesus cares about me, and I am counting on his mercy.
Crazy things are happening in Houston. Early this summer, the city council passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that added sexual and gender identity to the usual list of unacceptable reasons to deny someone housing or employment. Initial drafts of the ordinance also mentioned bathrooms and other gender-specific facilities, and even though that language was removed from the final ordinance, the legal consensus seems to be that if you aren't allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender identity, you aren't allowed to keep people from using the restroom of their choice. The conservative Christian community found this pretty scary, and gathered more than enough signatures to put the ordinance to a referendum. The city rejected the petition, though, saying that there were multiple instances of double-signing, and many of the pages were not notarized. Now the petitioners are suing the city, and as a part of that case, the city's lawyers have subpoenaed sermons and other communications from several prominent pastors.
Anyway, the other day, I started writing an essay about the situation. It was clever and witty, funny and compelling. At least, I think it was, and nobody can tell me otherwise, because now it is gone forever.
Save your files, people. Save your files.
I stand by every lost word of it, but maybe it's just as well that the file is gone. My heart wasn't really in it.
I wrote that essay shrewdly, prudently. I tried to meet my audience half-way, establishing our common ground before moving on to my main arguments.
Actually, I felt compelled to go a whole lot more than half-way, and that's part of what bothers me about this whole situation.
I believe in conciliatory dialogue. Really, I do. Real communal truth seeking can only happen when we root our arguments in shared premises.
But it needs to go both ways.
I was pretty sure that if I wanted anyone to listen to me, I would have to start out by saying that I think it's scary for the government to subpoena sermons, and that I think it is quite possible to love someone while disapproving of his or her way of life.
So far so good.
But I was doing way too much beating around the bush, when I really needed to just come right out and say that I don't see how you can possibly love your neighbor while simultaneously campaigning to keep your neighbor from going to the bathroom.
This is kinda awkward, though, because I seriously doubt that anyone is thinking of the petition in those terms. They should just use the other restroom, right?
Unfortunately, this solution works a whole lot better for hypothetical constructs than for real flesh-and-blood human beings who can't use either bathroom without running the risk of raised eyebrows.
I've never heard of a rapist using an equal protection ordinance to sneak into a ladies room (there are much more effective ways of eluding detection!), but bathroom rape is a real thing, and the transgender are at particular risk.
But I haven't heard any of the petition's supporters even acknowledge these issues.
This is a problem.
People are people, even when their lives are messy and full of sin. And people need to go to the bathroom, even when it's not entirely obvious which restroom they belong in.
Moreover, people need Jesus, especially when their lives are messy and full of sin. And I cannot imagine darkening the door of a church that was conducting a campaign to keep me from going to the bathroom.
This is not about shifting our ethical positions on gender and sexuality. This is about the gospel. Love and mercy accomplish what shame and the fear of punishment cannot.
If you want a different kind of salvation, a different kind of transformation, then go and get yourself a different religion.
As for the ethics of gender identity, I have no idea what it could possibly mean to be born with a body of the wrong sex. Philosophically, this makes no sense to me at all.
I do, however, know exactly what it feels like to know that my soul could only be valuable if it were paired with a different sort of body. I know what it is like to try to squeeze my repulsively un-feminine soul into an acceptable mold, and to loathe my successes more than my failures, because it was a rejection of who God made me to be. I know what it is like to be disgusted by everything about my body that insisted upon telling lies about my soul. I know what it is like to starve myself in a desperate bid for femininity, while simultaneously trying to starve away my grotesquely feminine curves and erase their condemnation. It was terribly contradictory, but it didn't really matter. I couldn't have eaten anyway, with my stomach in so many knots. I watched helplessly as the numbers on the scale sank lower and lower, and I wondered if death might be the only escape from this ill-fitting flesh.
Without ever meaning to, it is so easy to be cruel to anyone who fails to live up to our culture's intensely exacting and often arbitrary gender categories.
What if instead of getting mad at people for trying to escape those categories, we started out by trying to make those categories more welcoming places?
Let's start with the little things. Let's make a world where boys are free to love flowers and dancing, where girls don't have to pretend to be bored with math.
Before we start talking about how people should live out the genders implied by their biology, we need to make sure that we haven't turned gender into something unnecessarily constricting.
Besides, for a lot of people, gender is verifiably complicated in ways that have nothing to do with sin and choice. Out of every hundred babies, one is born with an ambiguously sexed body. These people were outcasts in the Old Testament, but Jesus explicitly welcomes and blesses them.
All this is pretty hidden, though, as well it should be. Whenever we meet someone whose gender perplexes us, we can safely assume that we don't know what's going on.
And most of the time, it's not our job to know, either.
It's our job to love, because love accomplishes what shame can never do.
If you've managed to read this far, thank you for listening to me. Thank you for meeting me in my hurt and disillusionment. It's an image of what Jesus did when he left the glorious purity of heaven to come break bread with swindlers and prostitutes.
I bet there are some other people who could use that kind of listening grace, as well.
In fourteen hundred and ninety two,
you thought you knew
that the world was small enough for you to grasp.
Still, you were spared by its unexpected vastness,
and still you insisted on closing both your fists
and your eyes, clutching your pleasant delusions of a world
small enough to own. Today we remember
that the rain falls down on the just and the unjust alike,
that the winners write the histories, right or wrong,
and this wild, cruel world's too much to comprehend.
Remember those woven bracelets we wore way back when? Not the ones we made for each other at camp, but the ones we bought at the Christian book store, along with the matching Bible covers. I had a necklace too; I think mine was a leather cord with pewter fish and that ubiquitous acronym.
The whole thing was apparently based on a book, but I never actually read it. I'm assuming it was good? But really, I have no idea.
All I know is that having surrounded myself with reminders of the right question, I still forgot to ask it.
It wasn't for lack of trying. I would read those letters on my bracelet, and I would try a little harder, try a little harder. But it never occurred to me to ask.
You see, the problem with acronyms is that they are so easy to mispronounce. And on this one, it makes all the difference in world whether the pitch of your voice goes up or down on the D at the end.
Had I been saying the actual words, I would have noticed the problem immediately. "What would Jesus do" makes no grammatical sense at all unless it's a question.
But I was the girl with all the answers, and "W.W.J.D." was an unquestioning statement to me, a reminder to do whatever it was that I already thought I was supposed to do. A reminder that I had to try harder to be perfect, or at the very least to look like it, so that my life would be good advertising for Jesus.
But the funny thing is, that's precisely the thing that Jesus wouldn't have done.
Jesus would have loved wildly, forgiven extravagantly, and even though he was known for breaking all the right rules, he probably would have done most of the things I tried to do.
But Jesus never guarded his reputation the way that I did.
He let go of it.
He didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he emptied himself.
He emptied himself of his glory, and he didn't run away from shame.
Sometimes following Jesus means being the good little girl who keeps all the rules, and sometimes it means being the rabble-rouser who keeps making everybody squirm. Always, it means prioritizing love over reputation. It means fearlessly plunging straight through the shame for the sake of the glory on the other side.
If I had only thought to ask the question on my bracelet, I would have found that the answer was right there all along, in the shape of a cross.
I know, I know. This makes me a pretty rotten evangelical.
But I'm in good company. Most Christians in most places at most times didn't even have access to their own Bibles.Jesus didn't read the Bible every day, and neither did St. Peter, or St. Paul, or any of the early church.
The "read your Bible every day" rule is ubiquitous within evangelicalism, but despite its strong presence in our particular church tradition, I'm unaware of any Scriptural basis for it.
The Bible itself doesn't tell us to read it every day, but rather to meditate on it day and night. Daily Bible reading regimens can be a wonderful tool to help modern Christians answer this ancient call, but we have to remember that the Bible was initially written for people in less technologically privileged times and places. God was still at work among them, even though they didn't read their Bibles every day, and he's still at work today among believers all around the world who don't share our astonishing access to print.
The Bible tells us to meditate day and night, but it leaves a lot of freedom as to how we're supposed to do that, and it only ever refers to Scripture reading in public contexts. Given that we are no longer bound by Old Testament regulations, it's just fine that we don't read the entire book of Deuteronomy aloud every seven years at our debt-cancellation party. Still, the plans laid out in Scripture are full of wisdom, and while we have full liberty to replace those ancient devotional practices with modern technologically-driven approaches, we are not free to mandate our modernized practices, nor to restrict the work of the Holy Spirit to the confines of our inventions.
If we tell people about the ways that we benefit from daily Scripture reading, and recommend that they do likewise, this is good. Very good. We serve a God who chose to become incarnate, and we do Him honor by bringing His truth to bear in our particular times and places.
But if we tell people that it's a sin not read their Bibles every day, we join the Pharisees in adding on to God's requirements, and we dishonor Him by restricting His work to the particularities of our time and place.
And anyway, why every day? Why not every hour? Why not every minute?
But this is silly. We're supposed to be doers of the word, and not hearers only, and reading the Bible every minute would surely prevent anyone from actually acting on the things that he read. Hourly Bible reading is slightly more plausible, but it is still unlikely to work out well for most of us, most of the time. In the same way, reading the Bible every day is very profitable for many people, but it is not something that everyone is able to do.
And that's okay.
So read the Bible when you can. Better yet, listen to other people read it aloud whenever you get the chance, whether that's in public or in private or through your computer speakers. Meditate on God's Word always. Think about it while you wash the dishes, while you commute, while you break up yet another fight between your kids, and while you scroll through your facebook feed. And as you flop exhausted into bed, pray that you dream about it all night long.
And yes, take a good honest look at your schedule. Plan to be transformed by Scripture, and if that means cutting some things out of your schedule, then so be it.
But never forget that God cares more about the doing than the reading, and that all the reading just multiplies your guilt if it isn't teaching you how to love. And whatever you do, don't ever allow your Bible reading to squeeze obedience to Christ out of your schedule.