On Friday last, my in-laws finalized the adoption of their daughter.  On Sunday, there was a dedication prayer at their church, and Christine and I both attended.  I should preface this post by saying that much of the ritual that evangelical churches think they’ve done away with has merely taken a different shape, that instead of a baptism (or a christening), there’s a dedication, a prayer offered by a pastor that asks God to watch over the child and give the parents the wisdom to rear their child in the knowledge and fear of the Lord.  It’s all very nice until you realize a baptism would have been just as appropriate, worked just as well, and basically that all the prayers are more or less the same. 

But I’m not interested in just picking apart the fact that evangelicals have eliminated all the symbology and ritual of the established church and replaced it with something newer and less rich; this experience has instead served as a very good reminder of why I left the evangelical fold and not been the least interested in returning. 

Evangelical worship usually begins with singing.  These aren’t the varied (and often beautiful) hymns that have been written over the millennia of the church’s existence, songs whose topics range from seasons of the year to encouragement in Christian service.  Instead, evangelical worship songs have almost exclusively focused on redemption, especially on the sacrificial death of Jesus, rarely on the glory of God, and very rarely on His commands to care for others.  It tends to give the feeling that what is worshipped isn’t so much God as some kind of bloodthirsty desire for suffering—the beautiful cross, the time Jesus spent on earth for our sins. 

The gospel according to St. John contains 21 chapters, and the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus doesn’t start until chapter 18.  Nearly 80% of the gospel has little or nothing to do with Jesus’ death, much more to do with how we ought to treat others, how we ought to love our neighbors and how we ought to treat the poor, the downtrodden and the outcast.  I’m not saying the death of Jesus is meaningless, I’m saying we ought not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

Rather than worshipping suffering, I think we ought to understand the tragedy, that suffering is never wonderful or beautiful, even if good can come from it.  We ought to never value suffering for the sake of suffering, or even the good it produces; we should look for good apart from suffering, ways to make everyone’s life better without requiring someone to be miserable to bring about that brave new world.    

I suppose that most evangelical Christians would think this makes me a bad Christian; Glenn Beck is most certainly having a heart attack or a stroke if he’s reading this.  I’d be accused of not respecting or adoring the sacrifice of Christ, and probably advancing the lies of our culture—that a religion as obsessed over blood as Christianity is a problem. 

There’s a reason for my belief though: when I was young, I never had trouble breaking bad habits—I wasn’t a nail biter, for example.  Even as an adult, when I started smoking, I was able to quit cold turkey.  I still have a cigarette now and then, but I don’t feel like I’m addicted—I may go months without smoking and feel no worse for the wear.  It’s not much worse, for example, than someone who’s a social drinker.  Before I really understood what it meant for me to be transgender, though, I couldn’t understand why I was essentially unable to break my ‘habit’ of crossdressing. 

I thought, however mistakenly, that God required blood in order for me to be whole and so began my first experiences with cutting.  I was 15 years old and I thought that God might understand how much I wanted to be pure based on how much I hurt myself. 

Part of why I’m writing this post is that I see so much of that young girl in the children trotted out in front of the congregation, testifying about the experiences of youth camp, what it means to be examples for Christ in their daily lives.  The tragedy of this is that these children may start thinking that they can’t be friends with someone who’s not a Christian, a belief that I had for most of the time I was in school.  Worse, they may internalize the belief that certain sins are worse than others, that some things are hard limits or deal breakers when it comes to a relationship with Christ, and they might hate themselves over it. 

Those youth camps don’t prepare young people for real life, the falsehood of the expectation that “all things are possible through Christ.”  I don’t like disagreeing with others over faith, but in my own experience, that particular doctrine is a bunch of bull.  Pastors too often don’t understand how hard it is to be something unacceptable and abominable to God and all we the broken are given is the assurance that we’re not trying hard enough, or we’re not praying the right way or that we’re not sincere enough.  I wish it were as simple as one more prayer, one more baptism, one more altar call or one more retreat, as though whatever genetic imprint that makes me trans can be washed away as easily as my sin. 

It’s no accident that the lies that are spread against the LGBT community are framed in terms of the culture war.  The church has made a business out of fighting against the LGBT community and admitting sexual orientation or gender identity as innate characteristics would be tantamount to justifying racism with the Bible.  An about face would cause the church to lose face—not just with the innocent who trust their pastors to be honest and faithful but also with the bigots who will never surrender.  Any change in the church’s position would cause the hardened to seek new pastors or congregations who don’t compromise the truth of the word of God

Instead, the church permits any propaganda, any vicious lie in order to belittle the validity of the other side.  That much is obvious in all the insensitivity that exists—racial, cultural, social.  People are mocked for being different, others are demonized.  Rather than respecting the dignity of human variety, the church views these things as satanic failings, the consequences of living in a fallen world.  As a result, the pastor makes a joke about suicide.  I believe they would view it as a double effect, not intentionally insensitive, just oblivious to the consequence of their thinking.  This is war, after all, and you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.