Recently I asked almost 20,000 people in various Facebook transgender groups for their experience with the Church, good or bad as Christians who are transgender. I wanted to hear first person accounts of those who actually have been a part of a church community. What people told me breaks my heart as I imagine it breaks the heart of our Lord and maybe yours.
The most positive and most gracious response was also the longest, but these sentences summed it up: “To be singled out in a group of a few 100 loyal supporters and belittled it was clear to me I was basically being pushed out. I have only ever been back once since but I can see why a lot of less confident people would never go to an environment like that. And it pains me because I know the role of the church is not to push people away from Jesus. I know they pride themselves on keeping track of how many people have given their hearts, how many people they have brought into the fold. But how do they count the number of people they have helped to push away maybe permanently?” I was so impressed by this person’s lack of expressed bitterness toward this church, the heart they expressed for Christ’s Church and more importantly, for those that didn’t know Him and needed to be told about Jesus. Yet this person still has no church family to call home
This is from someone who had been a member of a church for eighteen years: ““Sure, there was always “LGBT is sin and you’re going to hell” but once the court ruling [gay marriage] came out they handed out pamphlets on how to fight back against the decision, and that anyone LGBT is welcome to come to service but you can’t be a member, have Lord’s supper, volunteer with them or anything like that. I stopped going after that.””
From someone in Vermont: “…the pastors are great and treat me equally, while most of the members just look at me as they walk by without saying so much as good morning. I actually stopped going to church as often because I don’t feel comfortable there. I feel like I would be judged worse if they knew the truth.”
This was a response to what someone else had written: “I feel much the same way as you about religion as a whole now, I’ve had too many Bible verses quoted at me too many times to feel safe with religion anymore!”
Finally is this, from someone who had been a part of their church for THIRTY FIVE YEARS! “My experience was HORRIBLE! Told that I was going to Hell by most and some encouraged me to go ahead and commit suicide. As a result, I lost all of my religion. In my case, I was a member of a 1,600 member Methodist Church in Central Kentucky for 35 years. I was Director of Lay Ministry; taught Sunday School; sang in two church choirs; was a Certified Methodist Lay Speaker; preached on occasion; was the Wednesday night song leader and a lot more. When my story came out, I was told by the Ministers that I was no longer welcome. 95+% of the members refuse to speak to me. Was treated worse than a Leper. Actually I have been treated better by the lions than the professing Christians. To say that I have been hurt is an understatement.”
Do you know what amazed me even more than the above? That not a single person, not one said they are at a church where they feel welcomed, loved and accepted just for who they are. No one said they didn’t feel judged. How is that possible? How can the Church so completely fail a group of people?
I would hope EVERY Christian, whether a leader or lay person would stop for a moment, pray and ask the Lord for His forgiveness if we have ever had any part in pushing someone away from fellowship with His people, and to reveal that within us that would separate another brother or sister in Christ away from His Church. And not just with people who are transgender, ANYBODY. Just imagine yourself face-to-face with Jesus and He is asking you to justify your part in someone not being able to find solace, compassion and community within HIS body, HIS family. If the first words that come to mind are “yes but…” I don’t think He would find anything that follows acceptable.
This isn’t about people leaving “a church”. People do that all the time for various reasons. I’ve spoken with several Pastor’s and it’s just a fact of life within a church. Some people leave because they move, other leave because maybe the church didn’t have a children’s or youth program that met their needs, maybe they didn’t like the way the Pastor preached. People leave for all kinds of reasons, but these people simply go find another church that they like better. I’m not talking about these people. I’m talking about people being treated in such a way by either their church leaders, congregation or both that they don’t go back to ANY church – EVER. We don’t represent Christ’s Church just to a world that doesn’t know Him, we represent Christ’s Church to each other as well. When someone feels they have no choice but to leave (or weren’t even given the choice) the impression is that all churches are like that and nowhere will they be welcome.
The Church has taken it upon itself to serve as judge over people, rather than the role of showing love toward people. Oh sure, as long as the person fits in, is “one of us” and doesn’t stretch our faith, we’re fine – “come on in as you are, you’re welcomed here”. Common words on most every church’s website. But rather than take the opportunity to learn how to be more loving, more compassionate, more understanding we ostracize people in overt or subtle ways and make it difficult for them (and perhaps impossible) to stay. And when they’re gone, our conscience is clear without concern what follows for them or their walk with Christ – they’re on their own and we’re just fine with that. Out of sight, out of mind – problem solved. This IS happening at respectable churches large and small all over, it should bring us to tears and tug at our soul. It’s Christian bullying at it’s finest and Christianity at it’s lowest.
We may not think of what we’re doing as bullying, we may tell ourselves we’re doing it “with love” or only with the “best of intentions”, but that fact remains we’re doing damage. We hurt when we hear stories of how a child commits suicide over being bullied. People HAVE committed suicide because the Church so shunned them they could no longer endure it. How do you imagine Christ felt when a 17 year old killed herself because her family and church refused to accept her for who she was and even sent her away for “Christian conversion therapy” to “fix” her. Or the 26 year old who took her own life – she was told she was “an abomination”, and she intentionally jumped in front of a large construction dump truck. Granted, there are other issues and people involved, but the overall message of God can’t love them took away their will to live any longer.
It’s the job of the Church to save people, not destroy them. No one has blamed an individual church for these deaths, but many are blaming Christianity. What we do individually as Christ’s representative can have a widespread effect on how the world sees ALL Christians. We need to be prayerfully mindful of how we treat our fellow Christians and the effect we may have on the lives of others. And yes, we should probably weep.