My Issue With Caitlyn…Is Not Really About Her

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VF_JULY_COVER1433178010If you live under a rock, you most likely haven’t heard of Caitlyn Jenner. She has taken the media by storm following her 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer. I have read quite a few blog posts regarding her transition from Bruce to Caitlyn. Obviously, people want to be first with their response. Even posting this a week out, I feel like this may still be a bit too reactionary for me. So please, read the following with a grain of salt (I’ve never quite understood this saying…).

There have been some really thought-provoking posts about how she should be treated and why Christians should be setting down their stones. However, there are many who still seem eager to pick up their stones.

My issue with Caitlyn is not entirely with her…it’s more with us.

I will be the first to admit that when it comes to the transgender conversation, I am at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say…and so oftentimes, I’m silent. Yes, I agree that we should love her where she is (which, in my opinion means respecting her desire to be considered a female). And that is messy. But Jesus taught us that love was never going to be clean.

Sometimes I wonder what Jesus’s conversations with “the worst of sinners” would’ve been like. Would He have tried to persuade them to follow Him? Would He have asked them to leave their profession? Would He have asked them poignant questions about their choices in life?

The honest answer is, I don’t know.

It’s always been amusing to me that sexuality has always been the issue that Christians seem to wag their fingers at the most. We say things like, “do you not know that the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” Obviously, that would make them stop in their tracks and turn toward Jesus. We forget the context of what Paul was saying and just say those words to whomever we view as sexually immoral.

It wasn’t too long ago, however, that married people who had sex for other purposes than reproduction were considered sexually immoral.

Paul spoke quite heavily about sexual immorality in his first letter to the Corinthians. Obviously, Christians are quick to turn their when confronting those we deem sexually immoral. But what amuses me about that verse is that we often neglect the other things mentioned.

“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6.9-10 NLT)

What do we say to the businessman who tithes regularly to the church but has practices that cheat others?

What do we say to those who continuously consume without giving to others?

What do we say about those who work for companies that steal from many?

What do we say about those verbally abusive preachers who go for the shock value each and every Sunday to get their point across?

We are silent.

Those who use the argument that Caitlyn is sexually immoral and deserves our judgment neglect to point out that the person who gives the most to the church might be running a company that takes the most from those less fortunate.

I am only saying that if we draw a line…then let’s draw a clear line and not one so ambiguous.

This much I know: we live in a world where things are not as they should be. For many of those who identify as transgender, they feel like their gender is not as it should be. Christians should be eager to converse with this. There is a common theme that things are not right. Yet we pick up those stones and take a few throws.

Gender is a deeper issue than sex. The unfortunate thing is that most will not see this. I have no idea what it feels like to go your whole life feeling like this body is not right. That something is terribly wrong. I empathize even though I don’t fully understand.

It is so easy for us to simply say, “be a man! You have a penis, now be a man!” But genitals do not determine gender (for more info on this, see Debra Hirsch’s book Redeeming Sex). This is a truth I am learning more and more.

There have been a lot of blogs about all of this. Part of me is saddened by how much we are analyzing her life…but she also is in the unfortunate position of being in the spotlight, and we idolize those in that spotlight (wait, didn’t Paul say something about those who worship idols not inheriting the Kingdom as well???). Sometimes I get tired of hearing how we need to treat things with more grace. I feel like it is just an excuse for not standing up for what you believe in. But I believe in grace…and not cheap grace. I want to stand up for grace.

I pray that God grants the same grace to Caitlyn that He grants to me. Whatever is going through her mind, whatever battles she is fighting, whatever issues she might have — I pray God grants her the same grace He grants me. Many times in my life, I could say that I was a sexually immoral, idol-worshipping, greedy, cheating, thief. God granted me so much grace in those moments…and He still does.

So before we shake our heads at what is going on, can we all just agree that this is more complicated than what it appears? And that life and love is messy? And that grace flows freely? And that we are in need of that same grace…even from our pedestal that we use to look down on our transgender brothers and sisters?

Church should never be the place where someone who is transgender feels even more out of place than he/she does in his/her body. Church should be the place where he/she feels like he/she is part of the body…and then moves toward redemption and restoration…whatever that looks like. God is pretty good at working those things out. So let’s leave it to Him.

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Confession of a Choir Boy

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poseexampleGrowing up, I never fully identified with what other boys my age did. Sports was never my forte. I was not one to go out and practice a particular sport over and over. I found that boring and repetitive. Watching sports was even more of a challenge because I never understood what was happening and there was not a storyline to keep me interested. Maybe it was sports that caused me to feel alienated from other boys my age, but sports play a huge role in our American society.

Not only that, I wasn’t a fan of a lot of the music to which they listened, movies that were just about fighting and nothing else, playing video games until all hours of the night, or even the popular clothing that all the kids my age wore. A lot of this was because my parents wouldn’t allow me to listen to a lot of the music, watch a lot of those movies, play video games all the time, or wear clothing that was absurdly expensive for someone who would just grow out of it in a few weeks.

In high school, I remember feeling even more alienated because I didn’t want to sit down and fill out a bracket, I was horrible at all PE games (and had the tendency to lose interest), and I was involved in band and choir instead of the illustrious football/basketball/baseball team. Not only did I remain uninvolved in sports, but I also actually thoroughly enjoyed being in band and choir. I enjoyed being in musicals. I enjoyed performance. I enjoyed playing piano.

I heard the litany of insults that students would call me. It was the usual unintelligent rumblings of those whom the evolutionary process seemed to skip. Kids were mean. That was normal. I would much rather watch a musical than a game any day of the week. But the only time I felt different was when I was at school…and sometimes at church.

The evangelical church sometimes has the tendency to stereotype genders. Men play sports. Men eat steaks. Men are reminiscent of those cavemen from the GEICO commercials. Women make casseroles. Women stay at home with their children. Women should always be June Cleaver.

Luckily, I grew up in a home where my parents taught me that boys didn’t play with trucks and girls didn’t play with barbies. I never felt like less of a man because I didn’t want to go outside and stand in the middle of a field. At home, I felt loved and like more of a man. At church, I oftentimes felt like less of a man.

In her book, Redeeming Sex, Deb Hirsch writes this: “The problem is that buying a truck for a kid who would rather paint or dress a doll can lead him to further alienation from his masculine identity. Wouldn’t we do better to raise our kids according to their natural likes, gifts and strengths, broadening out our own categories in order to accommodate them?”

Unfortunately, I know of a lot of kids who feel like they aren’t a man at home. I was fortunate enough to be raised to where my parents taught me that what made me a man was keeping my promises, helping out those who needed help, caring for others more than yourself, and eating steak…but to be fair, eating steak was what made a woman a woman in our house, too. It was a universal truth. My parents taught me that my character made me a man.

My fear is that the evangelical church is missing out on this conversation. Every time you stereotype men for an event that is “manly,” realize that you are alienating quite a few guys. Every time that you consider those involved in the arts as “fags,” remember that David played a harp and danced around…so David was a fag. Does that make you uncomfortable? Good. It should. Because your words make me uncomfortable. In fact, every time you call someone a fag or gay or some other term from the LGBT community in hopes that it makes someone feel like less of a man, you should be ashamed. I have many gay friends who are more of a man than you’ll ever be.

Many in the evangelical church still think it’s okay to categorize guys based upon their athletic ability, their diet, or their job status. And we do the same for girls based upon their ability to be a mother, their job status, and their cooking abilities.

I am a man who loves cooking, living in a clean apartment, gardening, making sure everything is decorated and looks appealing, spending a Tuesday evening watching a musical in the city, going to hear the symphony orchestra, listening to a recent musical soundtrack, watching great films about deep topics, watching a stand-up comedian, laughing, reading, and drinking egregious amounts of coffee.

But those don’t make me a man.

Can we, in the evangelical church, move past the idea that what we do makes us a man or a woman? We may not teach that from the pulpit, but we do imply it in several different avenues. I’m not saying that we walk on eggshells…I’m just asking that we become cognizant.

There are rumors going around that “guys” don’t like the church because it is too feminine. So we decide to add more sports, more meat, and more testosterone-driven messages. Maybe we don’t need to add more stereotypical manly activities and instead speak to the character.

With Father’s Day approaching, churches will most likely celebrate it to some extent (I’m not a fan for celebration of non-liturgical holidays…but that’s another topic for another time). Instead of doing the usual jokes about how men don’t ask for directions, eat too much meat, refuse to do the dishes, or whatever else, speak about character and integrity.

I would much rather sing in a choir any day over watching a football game….even the Super Bowl…and that doesn’t make me less of a man. I’m not the one who’s insecure about his masculinity. In my experience, the one who projects is the one who is insecure.

Confession of a Single Guy…

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In the American evangelical church, a lot of our efforts are focused on families. We offer parenting seminars, we hold marriage banquets, we honor fathers and mothers on their appropriate made-up and non-liturgical holidays, we have youth groups and children’s activities. Much of our language regarding events is pointed toward families (each family bring a dish…or the price is $10 a family…etc.). We gauge the growth of a church by how many babies are in a nursery (which seems borderline cultish when you want to grow from within like that).

As someone who grew up in the church, I loved most of these things. But when I graduated from college and realized that I was going to be working in a church as a single person, these things began to stand out more and more. Let me make one thing clear: I love families and I love seeing families grow toward Christ together. This is by no means a post saying that we should forget about families.

This is a post saying that we need to remember a group we have forgotten: the singles.

When I say singles, you probably immediately think of people somewhere in the age range of 18-35 who are putting off getting married until they establish themselves. But I am not just talking about these people. I am also talking about the widows and widowers who became single due to tragic events. Or to the newly divorced person who is navigating what it means to be single again. This is also about those who took a vow of celibacy because it was something they wanted to do.

Look around, church. There are singles everywhere. And they desperately want to be a part of a family but they don’t know how or where they fit in.

Do they fit in to the numerous sermon series dedicated to marriages? Because the only time we hear singles being mentioned in those series is usually in reference to remaining sexually pure and to stop looking at pornography (because all singles are sexual deviants who continuously look at porn and/or have sex).

Do they fit into the countless married small groups? It’s not that we want to be in a “singles” small group…we really do want to be around married people because they are just people…but many times we hear that we aren’t allowed because we aren’t married.

Do they fit into the illustrations about frustrations with a spouse or with children? As a youth pastor, every time I go to a conference, other youth pastors who speak talk about their kids or their spouses…and I realize that the key to a successful youth ministry is really a family.

Do they feel at home in your church or do they feel the pressure to get married or remarried? You might say that you have singles in your church but how often are they asked about who they’re dating, when they plan on getting married, etc.

Recently, I read a book from Deb Hirsch called Redeeming Sex. Very rarely do I read a book that speaks to the soul as much as this book did. I found it saying everything I have felt and wanted to say for so long. And it was refreshing to know that I was not alone in my feelings for how singles are treated in the church.

As a single, I feel alone quite a bit. This isn’t to evoke feelings of sympathy for me (if you know me, you know that I would just laugh at those feelings). Surprisingly enough, I feel more alone at church than I do when I’m at my apartment.10392377_634829361283_6032125750710341341_n

At church, sometimes I feel more on the outside as families plan outings together and dinners (hey, I get it, if you take a 5th wheel to a theme park, rides get confusing).

At church, I hear sermons about marriage and I hear pastors say, “now if you’re single, this might not apply to you now…but it will someday.” Really? You know that for sure? You know, without a doubt, that this will apply to me?

At church, people ask about my dating life. Luckily, I have not had to endure many of the people who say, “oh…well if you’re still single, I have the perfect girl for you!”

At church, I see marriages celebrated all the time in a variety of ways. I immediately think of those whose marriages ended poorly. Or those who lost a spouse. Or those who took vows of celibacy. What does it mean to them when they see this?

It makes me feel alone because it reminds me that I don’t quite fit the mold for who should be attending an American evangelical church. Because I’m perfectly content with remaining single until I’m 35 or even older. I don’t have an end in sight. That’s okay with me. But it’s not okay for a lot of people. They think I won’t be happy until I find the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. But I am perfectly happy, as is.

As a single guy, I do not…

order takeout or pizza every night

have a crazy messy bachelor pad

get super depressed because I come home to an empty apartment

abandon my responsibilities (just because I don’t have a family doesn’t mean I can get up and do whatever I want whenever I want…I have other responsibilities)

pile on extra work because I don’t have a family to worry about

go to clubs or bars picking up women

or have a computer that’s filled with images of porn.

My typical day includes: cooking, cleaning, reading, watching some tv, hanging out with friends, talking with friends, and maybe going out to do something fun. It’s not that bizarre. And it’s not unfulfilling.

So please, church, let us stop making singles feel like outcasts. It’s not that we get upset when: you include a sermon about us in your series over marriage, or when you include us when you celebrate moms and dads, or when you graciously open up events for us by saying something like “it’s not just for families…but for everyone (thanks for that),” or when you remind us that one day we will have a family, or even when you tell us we can come to your small group but we should really try to find a small group that we can really identify with.

We don’t get upset by those things…we just feel like we don’t belong. And we desperately want to belong. We don’t hate marriages and we don’t hate families. We don’t want the church to stop celebrating these things at all. But we do wish that the church would start celebrating us.

I love how Hirsch reminds us that Jesus redefined family. He really did. Everyone was His mother, brother, father, sister, etc. We all want that. We all want to be a part of that family. But we don’t have to already have a family to be a part of that family.

Kim Kardashian’s Butt

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1400710375_131204463_kim-kardashian-467You would have to be living under a rock to not have heard about the story (which we consider news) of Kim Kardashian posing naked for Paper magazine. Reports say that the cover photo has been viewed over 16 million times and Christians have taken to the internet to express their concern. I’ve read a few blog posts about how upset parents are about Kardashian’s recent photo. No longer can they protect their children from the internet.

This interests me because now parents are concerned with protecting their kids from images on the internet.

Kardashian is certainly not the first celebrity to pose nude for the cover of a magazine and she will certainly not be the last. Most technological innovations have been powered by pornography or have been used for the distribution of pornographic material. What Kardashian did is nothing new. And we shouldn’t consider what she has done as innovative. Far from it. She is simply following in the footsteps of several celebrities before her.

The humorous part is still how parents are now concerned. In an age where it is estimated that about 20% of students have sent or received a sext, people are concerned about Kim Kardashian’s butt. Or in an age where hook-up apps like Tindr allow for discreet and consensual sex, people are concerned about Kim Kardashian appearing full frontal.

I have a lot of thoughts about this. Personally, I wasn’t phased by what Kardashian did. Since culture is a reflection of its people, no one should have been surprised. Writing shaming articles to her reminding her of daughter won’t create change. I would think the church would’ve learned from previous mistakes that one cannot shame someone into change. Instead of trying to launch a campaign to protest the Kardashians (or would it be Wests?), here are some things we can reflect on as we see culture continue moving in this direction:

1.) Innocence cannot be protected.

As much as it saddens me to say this, it is highly unlikely that the younger generations will grow up without being exposed to porn. We could force the government to make a ban, but that will only last for so long. Morals cannot be made laws. And I think this is a good thing. If morals become laws, then are they morals? People will not change because of force. People are only changed through the Holy Spirit.

Innocence simply cannot be protected. Look at the Garden of Eden. Instead of trying to protect innocence, try to instill a good moral compass. These are commonly mistaken as the same thing. However, as we have seen from “good Christian children” heading off to college only to behave in “hedonism” and other atrocities that make parents shudder at night, we should see that protecting innocence and instilling good morals are not the same thing. Build up morals instead of building up walls.

2.) Don’t be surprised.

It always amazes me how surprised Christians are at people. Every time I look at Christ, I never see Him surprised. How would it look if Christ responded in the same way we respond? Let’s take a look at the woman caught in adultery:

Then the people brought forth a woman caught in the act of adultery. They told Christ what she had done. “Oh my goodness!” exclaimed Christ. “How dare you do these sort of things. Did you not think about your children? Your parents? Your friends? Your relatives? Do you know the irreparable damage that you have done? You don’t even have the common decency to clothe yourself in front of me? We won’t completely stone her, but we will protest everything her family does until she stops sleeping around.”

It’s quite a dramatically different response than what we read in John. Every time someone “misbehaves” by our standards, we tend to respond in shock. Jesus was never shocked and that left a mark on people. They could be close with Him because He was never shocked. Perhaps part of the reason people are so alienated from Christians is that Christ-followers respond with the exact opposite reaction that Christ would have responded with.

3.) We are sexual.

Deb Hirsch spoke about this at a conference I was at and it all made sense. We are all sexual beings. But, like she said, sexuality is not confined to genitalia. Kardashian may have shown herself naked, but that was not the whole of her sexuality.

We have a tendency in the evangelical church to respond negatively to sex. But people will continue to express themselves sexually. As Christ-followers, we need to teach people that what we do with our genitalia is not the whole of our sexuality. Instead of saying, “STOP IT,” we need to be saying, “there is so much more than what you think.”

I think Kim Kardashian’s butt serves as a good reminder for Christians to reevaluate what we are saying about sexuality and innocence (that’s a sentence I never thought I would write). And instead of responding with our mouths wide open, we need to respond with our arms wide open.

Abstinence is Not the Answer

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ImageI’ve been researching statistics on teen sexuality the past couple of weeks in preparation for a series we’re doing at Crash (our student ministry) entitled, “Sex on Fire.” I am more than saddened by some of the numbers that I’ve been seeing. The United States still leads among other developed countries in regards for teenage pregnancy rates. States that teach abstinence only have some of the highest pregnancy rates in the nation. 

For a nation that boasts in being a “Christian Nation,” our numbers sure do not prove that to be true. By saying that, I am not saying that I support the idea that America is a “Christian Nation.” That opens up a whole can of worms that I am not willing to dive into at this time. I am simply saying that the American evangelical church boasts in this title and yet, we lead among other developed nations in teen pregnancy.

As I’ve been preparing for the next three weeks of this series, I’ve come to the following conclusion: abstinence is not the answer. 

The problem is, biblically speaking, we are only teaching half of the answer. I have sat in on many purity rallies. The speakers talk about how sex is fantastic but should be saved for marriage. They encourage students to not participate in sex until marriage. They talk about the dangers of premarital sex. But that’s it. We talk about abstinence. But we never talk about pursuit.

I’m not talking about the pursuit of a relationship. I’m talking about the pursuit of holiness. Paul, in his letter to the church in Ephesus says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4.28, ESV).

The Church Father, John Chrysostom, wrote about this passage: “Where are they which are called pure; they that are full of all defilement, and yet dare to give themselves a name like this? For it is possible, very possible, to put off the reproach, not only by ceasing from the sin, but by working some good thing also. Perceive ye how we ought to get quit of the sin? They stole. This is the sin. They steal no more. This is not to do away the sin. But how shall they? If they labor, and charitably communicate to others, thus will they do away the sin. He does not simply desire that we should work, but so work as to labor, so as that we may communicate to others. For the thief indeed works, but it is that which is evil.”

It is not enough to just say, “STOP.” There has to be more. There has to be something else. There has to be the pursuit of holiness. This applies to so much more than premarital sex. This applies to any sin in our life. I fear that we teach “stop,” but not “pursue.” Of course, this line of thought is prominent in our society; it’s not a problem if we don’t talk about it. We ignore things and hope they will go away. But Paul never supports this idea. 

One must stop, but one must also pursue and labor. 

No longer should the evangelical church be promoting abstinence only. We should be teaching something more. We are teaching half-truths. We must begin changing the mindset from only “stopping” to “stopping and pursuing.”