In 2015, more than 1 million refugees crossed the border into Europe seeking asylum from terrorism and brutal regimes that have resulted in the displacement of thousands of Syrians every day. They’re fleeing for their lives, their families safety and their future. Over the past five years, this has evolved into the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, resulting in over 4 million displaced refugees throughout neighboring countries, and most recent numbers find the death toll of this war to be over 470,000. For me, the dam broke when I, like millions of others saw the picture of the tragic, Syrian boy that left echos around the world. I had ignored the crisis, far on the other side of the world, it honestly wasn’t even on my radar. Then it was, and I couldn’t look away. That Syrian boy could have been my daughter. That could have been her story. She’s from a country, torn apart by poverty, susceptible to brutal dictators and civil wars. It could have been her. It could have been me.
What stands out to me, when I think back six months ago is not only the horrible tragedies that surrounded our world. It’s not just the drowning children and the displaced families. It’s not just the mothers and fathers who were fighting the treacherous Mediterranean Sea just to keep their family alive. It was the horrendous actions and responses of conservative Christians and many other Americans here in the states. Many posts were written, dedicated for the sole purpose of keeping refugees out. Built upon immigration and committed to decency and justice in the world, many in our country were hell-bent on keeping refugees as far away as possible. Whether it was entire states, elected officials or pastors, the voices were loud and clear, it’s us versus you, me instead of we, and sadly, conservative Christians were often the loudest, fueled by fear and prejudice instead of Christlike love and reason. Given the chance to be the Good Samaritan, we chose the path of the priest and the Levite, choosing comfort and perceived safety over our the desperate plight of the refugee.
David Platt wrote: “Resist the temptation at every turn to shrink back into Christian materialism and church consumerism where everything revolves around your priorities and your preferences and your comforts and what you would most like for you and your family to be safe. We are surrendered to something much, much greater than that.”
Fear drove our reactions then, and in North Carolina and across the country,
they’re driving them again.
The Syrians, their plight, their war, are just an abstraction. Simon Sinek in Leaders Eat Last puts it this way: “..decisions can have a dramatic impact on lives…the lives of people who cannot be seen or heard. The more abstract people become, the more capable we are of doing them harm.” The Syrians were on the other side of the world. They weren’t our family. And for many, not our problem..the physical separation between us and those on the receiving end of our
When President Obama committed to bringing 10,000 refugees to America for a better life, heck, for a chance at life, we scoffed, and kicked and screamed, like we had forgotten where we had come from. Like we had forgotten the toil and strife our forefathers had to endure to build our great country. “Our systems aren’t good enough” we said. “We can’t screen them” we said. Yes. Yes we can. We can, we just don’t want to. We can fix broken systems and open our arms at the same time, we’re just choosing not to.
Today, we’re facing the same issue. My heart has been broken and burdened at the visceral anger and hate I’ve seen primarily from believers regarding NC’s #HB2 bill. I’m not going to engage in the debate of whether our governor was right or wrong. There are arguments on both sides. If you haven’t already, your state will be handling this over-inflated case soon enough. What I want to focus on is the hateful rhetoric I’ve seen from many who call themselves Christians in the past few days.
As I write this, over 900,000 signatures have hit the American Family Association’s petition because of Target’s inclusive policy. The policy goes like this: “[W]e welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity. …Everyone deserves to feel like they belong.” So, in response, conservatives, many of which are believers have responded with a nice, tidy petition to make us all feel better about this onslaught of moral decay in our country. Why settle for true, effectual Gospel change, when action is as easy as a click and a signature away. Why get our hands dirty with one-on-one discipleship within the LGBT community, when the allure of a petition is so much easier?
Aaron Wilson at Christianity Today wrote a great piece earlier this week. In it he said: “I understand the sentiment and appeal of such an action. Hit board members where it hurts – their wallets. Stand up for truth. Click a few petition links and play a part in being the salt of the earth. It sounds like an easy and impactful way to take a stand, but is boycotting a corporation the best way to reflect Christ in light of the issues at stake? I worry that a strategy of cultural engagement centered around boycotts is doomed to undermine the true effectiveness of biblical evangelism.” It has me wondering, where is the backlash, the anger over the brokenness and hurt in our country? Seem like we only get angry when brokenness starts to infringe on our lives.
There is appeal in this backlash, I understand. Christians are frustrated at the moral decay, the depravity, the sexual fluidity and the agenda that seems to be derailing the moral fabric of our country. I get it. I’m raising kids here too. It’s intense and disheartening, but seriously, we’ve got to get better at our responses, or the world will never want to hear a word we say. When Christ left his disciples, he gave them their mission. The Great Commision charges us to go and make disciples, not go and reign in morality and not go and sign petitions in hope of cultural change. In fact, as we look at history, the disciples were given the charge to go into the world, making disciples of Christ, not moral followers of Christ. They weren’t told to stay in Jerusalem and make sure the moral integrity of the city stands. It didn’t, and neither will ours apart from God moving through his church to bring hope to the broken. Change doesn’t come through petitions, it comes through lives that have been radically altered by the cross of Christ. How do we expect transgender people to ever hear the Gospel if all we’re yelling about is where they can pee?
As I read the Gospels, I believe Jesus would be far less concerned about where transgender people do their business, and more about how soon they could come over for dinner.
I’ve heard many times this week, “why should we change our laws just for the ..003% of the population?” I understand the question, but I hate it’s sentiment. It’s basically asking the question: why should we change, just because they are a minority? What they’re really saying is these people are on the fringe, they’re beyond anyone’s reach, they’ve gone too far, they’ve chosen this life…what do they expect? Let’s reshape this narrative in light of the Gospel. Currently in the U.S., the suicide rate of the overall population is 4.6%. The suicide rate of the gay and lesbian population sits right around 20%, while the suicide rate of the transgender community sits at a staggering rate of 41%. That means that every 4 out of 10 transgender people have been so scared, so conflicted, so confused that they tried to take their very own life, and almost 50% of that statistic are under the age of 24. Can you imagine that kind of pain, the internal battles and the mental conflict that leads to that kind of decision? More specifically, can you imagine the internal pain and anguish that must haunt our fellow Americans every single day that they would go to the great lengths they go to just to feel “normal” or “right” within their own skin? Many to the point that they would choose to go under the knife, just to feel whole? How tragic. If this doesn’t spark more compassion in our hearts than a Facebook rant, it says more about who we are than it does them. Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, those on the fringes of society. He didn’t shame them, he didn’t berate them, he loved them deeper than anyone had ever loved them, and then he rescued them.
What drives a person into prostitution? What drives a person to porn? What drives a person to an affair? I would argue it’s the same soul longing that drives some individuals to change their gender identity, and if we don’t start becoming more inclusive with our love while still maintaining our theology, we’ll never get to see these beautiful image bearers of God come to know Him. To me, what’s most frustrating about the 900,000+ signatures on that petition is that there are enough people represented in that 900,000 to more than cover loving and ministering to every transgender person in our country, all of whom need a meaningful, Gospel presence in their life. What would it look like for the knee-jerk reaction of believers to be Gospel opportunity rather than moral majority backlash in the face of such situations? The impact of the LGBT community could be striking and the impact on the kingdom of God would be eternal.
To my fellow believers, we have failed. Not at petitions or protests, we have failed at the simplest of commands: love. And we need to repent, and re-engage with this love. I hope this helps shape the conversation for you. I know it’s hard and confusing, but so is being a member of the LGBT community. Sexual brokenness affects us all. I am the refugee. I am the transgender male. I am the prostitute. There is no difference. There’s much talk about being on the wrong side of history these days. For us, we should have a much greater fear of being on the wrong side of the Gospel when it comes to these enormously important issues. Don’t let the abstraction of the transgender community drive you to speak and act with hate and fear. God is not calling us to make America a more moral place, he’s calling us to make disciples and in such broken, desperate times, LGBT friends should find safety, solace and wisdom in our circles, not hate and rhetoric and certainly not love that is constantly followed with a “but I don’t agree with your lifestyle”. Bring them to Jesus and let him do the work.
To those in the transgender community. I’m so sorry. We have failed you. We have failed to be Jesus to you. To love you in your time of need and to invite you into a thriving community. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’re entire life you’ve felt different, and alone. I’m sorry you’ve felt isolated and scared, and I’m sorry the church has only further alienated you. We are wrong in that. You deserve love, respect and dignity, and we as a church should be passionate about that because you are a human being. We may not always share the same worldviews, but we have much more in common that we have different. We are all broken. We are all wanting. We all need a Savior. There’s room at our table.