Let’s begin here. I apologize for the length of the following exchange, but I think it brings out a point that I want to make.
A dear Christian writer, retreat leader and teacher of Christian meditation posted something on Facebook by Theodore Shoebat who, speaking of LGBT people, said, “Thats [sic] exactly what should happen to all of these sodomites and their followers: they should be burned at the stake, just as the heretics and reprobates were back in the Middle Ages,” and “The government needs to kill all of the sodomites and all of their supporters, and [sic] the Scriptures command.” Needless to say, I was shocked.
The article was condemning a large Pride Festival in Sao Paolo (Brazil). I asked her, “Why did you share this link?? The interpretation, language and tone are very hateful. Others interpreted that event with a great deal more understanding. [I was] just wondering … The article accuses all homosexuals of hating God and actually suggests that they should be burned alive—well, it is not worthy of a Christian to commend such hatred. So I was surprised that you posted it without comment. In fact, the [beautiful] trans woman in the picture [the article kept calling her a man] was making the statement that what we do to the least of Christ’s siblings is what we are doing to Christ [hence the placard above her on the cross]. The mistreatment of LGBT people by Christians, many of the LGBT people clinging to Jesus as their Savior and whom Jesus would consider ‘little ones who believe in me,’ deeply scandalizes them. Jesus says in no uncertain terms that those who scandalize them (causing them to turn from the faith) face God’s wrath in the worst way. The message in a strongly Catholic country, that their mistreatment of LGBT people was a way of crucifying Christ afresh, could hardly have been more clear! The number of trans people murdered in Brazil is one of the highest in the world. But the article seems to intentionally misconstrue these people’s purpose. As an evangelical Christian pastor, I find the article deeply deeply offensive.” (I was referring to Matthew 18:5-14. For the way Jesus makes this identification between his little ones—the least of his siblings—and himself, see Matthew 10:40-42 and 25:31-46 as examples. The entire Gospel according to Matthew shows Jesus reaching out to those on the margins, even those on the margins because of their sinful lifestyles, and condemning instead the self-righteous.)
My friend replied commendably, “Thanks for another perspective. I never want to promote hate. God loves all people, and he commanded Christians to as well.”
I continued: “The author wrote, ‘The government needs to kill all of the sodomites and all of their supporters, and the Scriptures command.’ Earlier he suggested burning them alive. The author not only has a violent and hateful temperament but [as he shows in his article] also a very perverted imagination, and he is very paranoid [thinking that gays were going to take over the world, impose homosexuality on everyone and outlaw Christianity]. Are you sure you want to appear to be endorsing this?”
Thankfully she answered, “Absolutely not. I will need to read the whole thing through. Regardless of their motive, hate is not the answer or God’s way. Thanks again for sharing.”
Unfortunately, someone else chimed in with: “Sick and disgusting ____. Don’t make any apologies for sharing the truth. You know where all this is headed. God is going to separate the goats from the sheep when Jesus comes back to the Earth. Turn or burn.” She must have embarrassingly forgot to actually read the whole parable to which she alluded (Matthew 25:31-46].
I responded, “Seriously ____? Don’t you agree that ‘truth’ should at least be truthful? [The article was full of misinterpretations, bigoted lies and false generalizations.] God is the judge of us all and Jesus called us to a life of repentance while loving others with the generosity of God who rains on the just and the unjust [Matthew 5:45], but I do not recall that Jesus told us to judge others. I think Jesus would commend the person who, out of love, tries to see another’s point of view. I would ask you to not dismiss my words so out of hand.”
Someone else then said, “I don’t know where this don’t judge comes from … scripture is clear on jugeing [sic] sin … not the person … but sin … judge and address the sin … not the penalty … but judging and addressing …”
I said: “It comes from Jesus, ____, namely the gospels. You cannot get far before you hear him say it, “Do not judge” [Matthew 7:1-5], and then [he goes on to say here and elsewhere the same thing] in many different ways. It is very frustrating talking to Christians who don’t read the Bible [or even learned anything from the treasury of hymns written by our forebears; though I forgot that many contemporary Christians ignore those hymns]. (According to the Bible, of course the holiness of God is a judgment of all sin, but when God judges our sin, God is judging us as persons. After all, sin does not commit itself; we commit it. And it is on us as these persons (not our sins) that God has mercy, if we turn to God as the sinners that we are and stop acting like we can rely on our own uprightness.)”
The person whose post this was, my friend, then said to the first person who rebuffed me, “I do agree with Pastor Strand. Yes it may be sick and disgusting especially looking at it on the surface, but it also has the potential to promote anger and hate toward people whom God loves and wants to save. Hell was never created for man and I believe we must do all we can to help those living in darkness, to pray for them to see the light. I hope that is what others who read this post can take away from it. Let’s stand in agreement and pray for their salvation and ask God to help us see them just how he does, with love and compassion. ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what that do.’ While they are still alive there is a chance for them to be saved and receive eternal life. Jesus, I pray, remove the blindness from their eyes and let your glorious light shine unto them. Transform them from darkness to light. Save their souls!”
I also said to the person she was addressing, “____, you need to be faithful to Christ and leave some things to the kingship of God over the human race. No, do not compromise. But no one comes to Christ because they are more or less likely. They come only because of the grace of God. How will you win them over then? By sharing the love of Christ who loved tax collectors and sex-workers, and all the sick and poor and marginalized, or by treating them the way the Pharisees did, with scorn? I ask only that you be more evangelical, not less.”
Another, a fellow Christian, added, “Also this article, among many other things, assumes all homosexuals hate the church and that’s just the furthest thing from the truth. Many gays are in the church. So very many … Just loving Jesus and following best they can[,] like the rest of us.”
Someone else then joined the chorus: “But, just like all of us, they have to repent of their sins to truly walk in the (Holy) Spirit. Yes, God is love…but He is HOLY. ‘Therefore, be ye holy, as I am holy.’ All of life for a christian should be a process of personal sanctification. ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’ To not tell the complete truth of all of God’s word, is not love. The world says ‘I’m ok – you’re ok,’ not the Lord. Not ok to just stay in our mess.”
I answered her: “Do it then the way Jesus did. First place yourself under the judgment of God’s holiness. [This is what Jesus did when he received the baptism of John, and when he went to the cross.] That is the only way anyone can know God’s mercy and love. But if we do not first learn to condemn ourselves and the sins in which we share (such as systemic racism), and BE there [instead of fleeing the wrath of God], we really have no business thinking we can be the beacon of God’s holiness to others. It is my experience that people come to know God’s holiness only after they are floored by God’s love—and then, thus humbled, they come to know it deeply, and IT (not their own efforts) transforms them. People who try to know God’s love by measuring up to God’s holiness first, at best only become self-righteous. It is easy to condemn others, especially when their appearance and behaviors are so distasteful, but try to remember how you first came to Christ, and treat others the same.
“I just ask you to consider how the Gospel actually works. When I appeal to sinners it can only be as a fellow sinner, anything else is out of the question. And what compels a person to give up the vanity of the world if not their being overcome by the love of Christ? This was how all the great evangelical movements work, from the Middle Ages into the present—particularly in the mission field. I am unable to recognize my sin (I am in denial of it) and give up my ‘loves’ (those vanities that give me comfort) until I am offered forgiveness and come face to face with the One who loved me to death. Then I am impelled to give up my vanities; they lose their strength and fall away. It is by beholding the love of Christ that a person repents. But I am hardly convincing to others if I myself—the Christian—am not completely in awe and in love with Jesus, and if I still cling to my own more tasteful and refined vanities. Indeed, others can only see a hypocrite.”
At that point someone said, “God’ calling is to war. Your peaceful loving train has left the station.” This individual on his own Facebook page showed that he had an obsession with some sort of apocalyptic fantasy and actually advocated domestic terrorism—murder—in a Jihad against liberals and non-believers. A little scary! His position was not far from Theodore Shoebat. At that point all I felt that I could do was say that I hope it was all just rhetoric. Here was a person who needed the Gospel far more than those he was condemning, the Gospel and a good psychologist to help him with his anger issues.
I am an evangelical pastor. My calling as a pastor is the cure (cura, care) of souls. I have a passion for people and would love for everyone to be so moved by the love of God that they are overcome by it and find healing. In that vein, I am a very old fashioned evangelical, for the newer versions that I see going by this name are brazenly self-righteous with no sense of God’s holiness (or they would be trembling in fear rather than condemning others) or God’s righteousness (how can they when they are so sure of their own righteousness?) and it treat the love of God as a trivial thing. Moreover, the whole movement seems ignorant of the Scriptures, though they are always ready to tell us what the Scriptures say. Whatever this is, its complete lack of any humility before the judgement of God is not what I can identify as “evangelical.”
As you know, I am a transgender woman. I was always been attracted to women and not to men, and after my transition I find them even more attractive and I am even less attracted to men. I am still attracted to my wife. Without the effects of testosterone raging through my brain, however, my feelings towards women has changed. There is no longer a sense that I have to “have” someone, someone to love, someone to love me back; I far more desire relationships. Like I said, I am far less attracted to men than I have ever been (yuck!). But since I no longer have anything to prove to them, I find that some of them are easier to like (maybe, at least partly, I feel sorry for them), though I still do not want to hang out with them. Does that make me a lesbian now? I suppose it does. (I do not think I am asexual.) Does it make my wife a lesbian? No, because she was attracted to me as a “man” and if she is still attracted to me it is not because I am a woman.
If I am a lesbian, is that a choice? What about my wife? Should I decide I no longer desire her so that others can consider me “normal”? You see, from my vantage point, all this is a bit complicated. Or would you suggest that my being born a woman is a mistake? Or would you say that my only coming to terms with this late in life, that that was the horrible mistake? Should I have resolutely refused to come to terms with it and instead pretend to others that I am someone I am not just so that they would approve of me? That would be very Pharisaical of me, though probably their approval has to do with their own comfort rather than their sense of right.
Does my condition make me less of an evangelical Christian? Of course not! What has changed between me and God? Only that I am no longer fooling myself and trying to be before God someone whom God was not actually seeing. I can now stand before God more authentically—as the one whom God created—though still a sinner, the sinner I have always been, a sinner of God’s redeeming. What else has changed? That the anointing of the Holy Spirit on me—and on those whose lives I touch—seems stronger and more consistent than before. Perhaps it is because I am burdened with much less self-doubt.
In the Facebook exchange I preserved above I tried to explain how the Gospel actually works, and how bludgeoning people with what we think are the demands of God’s holiness is not the way that either Jesus or the apostles have shown us, nor is it the approach of our great evangelical forebears. Ought we to present God’s holiness? Absolutely, sometimes even with words. However, we might not understand the strictures that issue from that holiness as well as we think; and it is also (a little!) likely that we do not know other individuals (their heart) the way God does. If we approach our fellow human beings with a bit more humility (towards them, but with more than a smidgen of the humility that we ought to feel before God, our Judge), that would do far more to convey to them the holiness of God than setting ourselves up as the police and judges of unbelievers. Let us bring the Gospel to others with humility and love. It is that simple.