Jun 9, 2015

Franklin Graham Makes No Sense // On Fear

The overriding imperative of the Christian is the Gospel: living and sharing the news of Jesus our savior. The Gospel is not a bar to pass "in order to become a Christian." The Gospel is the defining nucleus of the Christian life. All ethics flows from the Gospel. I am grateful for the title of Pastor Timothy Keller's publishing work: Gospel in Life. Grace does indeed change everything.

Franklin Graham's recent statements make no sense when held up to the Gospel. 

In response to some ads from secular companies featuring homosexuals, he says:

Let’s just stop doing business with those who promote sin and stand against Almighty God’s laws and His standards. Maybe if enough of us do this, it will get their attention.

 And so he won't buy from Tiffany and he won't bank at Wells Fargo, or something.

To quote the younger generation: I can't even.

A Few Thoughts on This Nonsense

1. From an utterly pragmatic stance, his efforts will have no effect whatsoever. Do you remember when the Southern Baptist Convention voted to boycott Disney? Remember the disastrous effects of that boycott on Disney's bottom line? Yeah, I don't either. For eight long years good Southern Baptists did what they do most every week:  ignore the sanctimonious and Pharisaical pleadings of their Pastors whilst doing just about whatever they please. They watched Disney shows and went to shake Mickey's hand down in Florida and out there in godless California. Franklin Graham has effected nothing by this pronouncement. Good thing he didn't call for a boycott or he would have to tuck his tail and run like the SBC eventually did.

2. From the perspective of the Gospel, Franklin Graham has only pushed people further away from Jesus. I will argue this point strenuously until my last breath: no one is made righteous through the approximation of biblical law in American law. We cannot make someone better. We can safely execute justice and protect lives. We can seek to justly run a society by imprisoning those who commit crimes. But we cannot - cannot! - make people good! We cannot make people believe in Jesus! These are not things that we can do with our threats, with our batons or our guns. Goodness and righteousness flow from the Holy Spirit alone, right? Am I alone in beating this drum?

3. It is absolutely impossible to stop doing business with "those who promote sin and stand against God's laws." Do I need to even argue this? Are you going to root out every company that does wrong? Where do we begin? Stop eating bananas, drinking coke, driving Fords (or cars in general, really), using oil, wearing clothes... I mean, EVERYONE ON EARTH PROMOTES SIN AND YOU OUGHT TO BELIEVE THAT MR. GRAHAM. There is none righteous! Not one! 

4. It is raw stupidity in the light of the Great Commission to suggest that we stop doing business with "those who promote sin and stand against God's laws." How on earth are you supposed to reach actual human people with the news of Jesus without interacting with / doing business with / working alongside / actually engaging with people who need to be saved? 


On Fear

The root of comments like Graham's or Mr. Huckabee's about transgendered folks is fear. Fear has invaded the evangelical church to a degree that I could not have imagined a decade or two ago. Fear saturates the foyer conversations of churches large and small across America. Fear fills pulpits right now. Fear loves social media and fills our Facebook feeds. 

What is this fear? It is a base thing, hard to grasp, ill-defined.

Fear spills out from young parents who don't know how to talk with their kids about sexuality for fear that they will end up doing or being something the parents hate. 

Fear spills out from the older folks who remind me time and again that Jesus must be coming soon because the world is surely worse than it has ever been (patently untrue), that governments are crumbling all over (another falsehood), that a Muslim is in the White House (nope), that morality has reached an all-time low (again, no), an so on.

I weep - actual tears falling from my eyes - when I see this fear saturating the Church. Are we not the triumphant people of God? Do we not remember that Jesus told us to take heart because he has overcome the world? Do we not draw comfort from his Gospel and defeat of death itself? Are we not the Mockers of Death, the Conquerors of Fear itself? 

Nothing - NOTHING - shakes the Gospel or the Kingdom. It will not be moved. Why this fear? Why react so strongly to gay folks on the television or transgendered people in Vanity Fair? Why not recognize that we Christians are and always have been a people who are no of any given country, class, race, or land. We are a people who transcend time itself. America may well fall apart because of bad leadership or too many wars or moral decay. In fact, I promise America will do this one day! When she does, we Christians will not cease our worship, will we? Is America the Kingdom of Heaven? Is God the God of America alone?

I am convinced that responses like Franklin Graham's are the dying gasps of a movement of God's people - an evil movement - that placed its trust in political leadership and political power instead of the Kingdom of Heaven and her King, Jesus. These people are afraid because their movement failed. The Moral Majority accomplished little of substance and nothing of lasting value. As these kinds of movements  fade and their losses become more obvious I hope that we the Church can go back to the business of being the Church and again focus on Christ and him crucified and resurrected.

We are not cultural arbiters. We are not kingmakers. We are mere Christ-lovers. Let's stick with that. It is enough.

Jun 3, 2015


1. It costs me nothing to call someone I do not know whatever they prefer to be called, so were this about this Jenner person - Caitlyn is preferred - I would say Caitlyn.

2. The real problem is about the pronoun, isn't it? Bruce/Caitlyn wants to be called a "she." I do not know the specifics of the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner situation and I do not know this person myself, so I'd like to talk more generally about the idea of a transgender person, the surgery, the mind of it, and the ethics at play. 

Let's talk:

Gender Identity Disorder is (Still) Fundamentally a Mental Illness

Though same hail the change from "Gender Identity Disorder" to "Gender Dysphoria" in the DSM-V as marking the end of Transgenderism being a mental illness,  psychiatrists affirm that there is, in fact, some sort of disorder at play:

The transgendered suffer a disorder of "assumption" like those in other disorders familiar to psychiatrists. With the transgendered, the disordered assumption is that the individual differs from what seems given in nature—namely one's maleness or femaleness. Other kinds of disordered assumptions are held by those who suffer from anorexia and bulimia nervosa, where the assumption that departs from physical reality is the belief by the dangerously thin that they are overweight.

In other words, regardless of what the DSM or the transgendered community call it, the underlying problem with transgenderism is a mental health disorder or condition.

The Fundamental Question About Gender Dysphoria is How to Treat It

So what would you do with someone born a man who wants to be a woman? Can you imagine the depths of frustration that person would feel in the tension between their neurological gender and their body gender? Is it any wonder that the suicide rate for transgendered people is significantly higher than it is in the rest of the population? Not to mention the fact that trans individuals suffer all sorts of related mental disorders, including depression, bulimia, anorexia, and other illnesses. 

This is not a life anyone would choose, and it requires some sort of treatment.

But what?

Go back to the root: we either change the Neurological Gender (I feel like I am a female) or the Physical Gender (my body is male). We alter the body or alter the mind

Do we Change the Body to Match the Mind, or Change the Mind to Match the Body?

Not an easy answer here! We do change the body to match norms all the time: children born with coneheads have them shaped into a ball at birth. Children with cleft palates have them fixed. Folks going bald but think they should have hair? Give 'em hair! What about missing teeth? Bad scars? Even forcing braces on kids with marginally corrupt jawlines! 

On the opposite end of the spectrum we have this news out of Canada: folks who are "transabled." They have whole bodies, but really want to be disabled. (You need to see that article):

When he cut off his right arm with a “very sharp power tool,” a man who now calls himself One Hand Jason let everyone believe it was an accident.
But he had for months tried different means of cutting and crushing the limb that never quite felt like his own, training himself on first aid so he wouldn’t bleed to death, even practicing on animal parts sourced from a butcher.
“My goal was to get the job done with no hope of reconstruction or re-attachment, and I wanted some method that I could actually bring myself to do,” he told the body modification website ModBlog.

Would we enable this group by allowing them to pursue their mental illness to its chosen end? Do we help people cut off limbs so their bodies can match their minds?

So we might say "we dare not change the body - we must change the mind!" But changing the mind is immensely difficult: attempts to "cure" GID by changing the patient's gender identity to reflect birth characteristics have been ineffective. No amount of therapy or hormonal intervention therapy seems to stop a person whose mind tells them that they are a woman in a man's body or vice versa. The mind is already there, the heart set.

But we should know this, shouldn't we? These are matters of the heart, are they not? Do we really expect modern science to cure any kind of mental disease totally absent the work of Christ? Do we expect to adapt any sort of secular therapeutic approach to our ministry and have effectiveness short of miraculous intervention by the Holy Spirit?

This is my problem with the old "gay conversion" therapy and modern criticism of C/B Jenner by Christians: we try to skirt the necessity of miraculous Gospel intervention in the hearts of unbelievers by suggesting that some sort of secular therapy will address what the Gospel alone has power to effect. In Christ ALONE our hope is found. 

What would you have Caitlyn do differently in the secular realm, absent the work of Christ in the heart? If all a trans person knows - and all the medical realm is saying - is "do this and you will feel better," what would you advise? If you are not providing hope in the Gospel, dear Christian, then how can you judge someone flailing about for any help at all?

A Humble Attempt at Suggesting the Body and Mind are Both Broken

Missing in this discourse over male and female, over surgery and sex, over genitals and whatever else this whole trans thing entails, is a meaningful discussion of the virtues required to handle a disease like Gender Dysphoria in the context of a people of faith. Say you have the latter disease: transability. You desire to cut off your feet. You hate the fact that you have feet. Everything in you tells you to dispose of your feet. Culture judges you because of this desire, and you feel castigated and unwanted. You consider and possibly attempt suicide. Wouldn't removing your feet be much easier? 

You tell a friend. You need help. What does your friend say?

Let's look at some harmful responses:

1) Sure! Let's do whatever makes you feel good - this is enabling and fails to address the heart
2) You are are fool and a crazy person - this is judgement and de-humanizing the person
3) The weather outside sure is nice! - this is denial and ignores the commands to love and speak truth.

What would be some positive responses?

1) I think your feet are lovely and a gift from God - this is loving and truthful
2) I do not think you should hurt yourself just because you are in pain - this is loving and truthful
3) God has so much in store for you and your feet - this is hope
4) Jesus gave his life so you would not have to feel the pain you feel right now - this is the Gospel
5) You want to crush your feet because you have something wrong inside, but you do not have to do this because Jesus died for that wrong desire - this is the reality of Sin
6) I want to invite you to join a community of people who struggle with pain and don't always know what to do with it, but believe in Jesus who suffered even more pain than any of us - this is the Church

In other words, our response to people with pain - even the pain of mental illness - is to seek to introduce them to the only person who can give hope, that is, Jesus. It is not to castigate or cast aside. I know my body and mind are broken, and I know my heart hurts. I do not and cannot know the pain of desiring to be a woman, nor can I assure this person that their pain will go away through some other means beyond a God-given miracle, a heavenly intervention. I must offer the only things I can: a loving Christ and a loving  community that will listen to this person and continually preach the gospel to him. 

I Cannot Judge Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner, Because I Am Told Not To Judge

I can say that I would advise anyone in my congregation who claimed Christ to not undergo this surgery and this process because it will not solve the fundamental heart issues at play, just as I would not tell the man who cannot stop looking at porn and cheating on his wife to castrate himself. The heart is broken; the head needs mending. Christ is the savior and healer and even the best physical measures fall miles short of the fullness of his goodness and grace. 

But to anyone outside the Church of Jesus, who am I to judge? It is not given to me to look at the cover of Vanity Fair and curse a person to hell. Seems like folks do a good enough job of suffering hell on their own. Why would we preach anything other than the hope of heaven to them?