Friday, June 29, 2012

An Open Letter to Christian Parents of LGBT Children

I'm addressing this letter to parents whose children have come out to them or have otherwise been discovered by them to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, questioning, or otherwise "queer". I'm especially addressing those parents who are struggling with the interaction of their faith and their duties as parents to their kids of LGBT identity.

For many parents, this can be a difficult time, one that challenges their faith. After all, doesn't the Bible promise "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it"? How then can your child abandon the clear teachings of scripture for such an identity? It seems the only clear choices are either that the Bible promise is untrue or that you did something wrong as a parent.

First, you need to know that God chose you to be the parent of your LGBT child. It was a relationship He chose to work for your benefit, for your child's well-being, and for His glory. Trust Him to know what He's doing and open your heart to His leading.

Second, please keep in mind that what your child is telling you is about his or her attractions, not his or her sex life. Think back to when you were young and you had your first crush-- how tongue-tied and breathless and heart-pounding it was to be in the presence of your crush; how you thought about them, talked about them, may have doodled their name. It wasn't about sex. Indeed, you were probably too young at the time to even think about more than possibly holding hands. Just being in their presence seemed like enough for an eternity. Think about the first time you fell in love. You didn't choose who you fell in love with. It just happened. This is the same experience your gay or lesbian child has had-- only his or her first crush, his or her first love was someone of the same sex. Even though this information is new to you, keep in mind that this is the same child as before he or she came out to you. He or she has always been LGBT. You just didn't know it. He was gay when he was 8. She was bi when she was 6. Sie was genderqueer at age 11. Put aside the idea that this is only or even primarily about sex.

Third, allow me to assure you that your child's LGBT identity is not in any way your fault. Many ministries will claim that LGBT identity is due to something the parents did-- their marriage was poor, they were too clingy or too distant, too permissive or too strict, and so on. They are wrong. Your child is LGBT for the simple reason that they were born neurologically different than the majority. While there have been some studies indicating genetic and fetal development has a part, the simple fact is that human sexuality is complex and we don't fully know what causes a person to be LGBT. What we do know is that it is inborn and unchosen.

But what of Proverbs 22:6? Regardless of what science says, doesn't scripture say that this is somehow your fault?

The book Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors By Douglas K. Stuart has this to say about this particular verse:

This verse is usually translated about as follows: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." But when you analyze the words' meaning ranges closely, you find no Hebrew equivalent for the English "should." ...

(Remember: The more well known a wording in the Bible is, the more hesitant modern professional translations are to depart from it, even when they dislike it, for fear that people will not buy a Bible that has changed the wording of one of their "favorite verses.") ...

Thus with regard to Proverbs 22:6, what you can easily determine by patiently consulting a lexicon is that [al-piy] means "according to" and that [derek] means simply "way," so that [darko] means either "his way" or "his own way." The first half of this poetic couplet actually says, then, "Train a child according to his (own) way." You still find nothing about "should" here. The real point of the verse, you conclude rightly, is that a child who is allowed selfishly to do what he or she wants when young will have the same selfish tendencies as an adult.

In other words, this verse isn't a promise, but a warning similar to many others in Proverbs. So, no, dear parents, you are not at fault for your child's LGBT identity. You have not trained up your child wrong. Rest easy and do not let others heap blame on you.

I want to take a moment here to specifically address parents of trans* children. Many people accuse trans* folks of going against God's obvious will for their lives if they seek to inhabit the gender with which they identify by in any way changing their body, or adopting the dress, habits, and name of their identified gender. These people argue "God made you male/female and you shouldn't mess with that." These arguments ignore two factors. One, scientific studies have shown that trans* people are neurologically similar to those of the gender they identify with, rather than those of their genital sex. It is simplistic to claim that God's will for a person's life rests only in the genitalia he or she was born with but not in his or her brain. Second, we correct many abnormalities and birth defects without giving a second thought to whether correcting them violates God's will. Deaf children are given cochlear implants. Those with cleft palates and cleft lips have those deformities repaired. Children with holes in their hearts have those closed. We fix a myriad of issues. Now, I'm not claiming that gender dysphoria is a birth defect or a deformity, but for many trans* people, keeping the sex they were born with is not optimal in much the same way as leaving a birth defect as-is is often not optimal, though in many cases it is survivable. We seek to relieve these children's suffering. We should do no less for trans* people.

But now let us return to that parenthetical statement up there. "Remember: The more well known a wording in the Bible is, the more hesitant modern professional translations are to depart from it, even when they dislike it, for fear that people will not buy a Bible that has changed the wording of one of their 'favorite verses.'"

I want you to think about that. I want you to consider that maybe the clear teachings of scripture aren't what you think they are. The simple fact of the matter is that Bible translators are human. They come to their task with biases, both personal and cultural. And they are also swayed by the need to have their translation accepted by eventual users and purchasers. Anything that deviates too far from previous understandings and cultural norms is likely to be rejected, and their translation job with it.

Before you speak to your child about the clear teachings of scriptures, I encourage you to study the passages in question. Consider their contexts-- both the people to whom they were written, the culture they were written within, and the original textual meanings. Don't automatically accept that the English translations are correct. Please, dear parents, don't drive your child from his or her faith, from your love, or from your home by rejecting them based on a handful of scriptures. I have included a few resources below.

I believe when you have studied God's word, that you will find there is no shame in your child's LGBT identity. It's no more sinful than dark skin or blue eyes or left-handedness or being ADHD.

So what should you say to your child?

First, you need to assure him or her of your unconditional love. God's love is unchanging, regardless of what we have done or not done. As much as you are able, your love for your child should be likewise. Do not withhold your love out of some sense that your child can or will change their sexual orientation to win it back. If you have already spoken hurtful or unloving things, honestly seek your child's forgiveness.

Second, you need to make sure your child knows that you appreciate the honesty and trust he or she has shown you and that you are willing to do more listening and less talking. This is not about you. This is not about what the church or the neighbours or your maiden auntie will think. This is about your child learning to live inside the body they were created to inhabit. For any person, this can be a hard journey. For a child who is somehow different, it can be even more difficult. Suicide statistics for LGBT teens are frightening, but the one bright spot among them is that LGBT teens with supportive families are far less likely to give in to despair than those whose families reject them. Be that family. Allow him or her to share struggles and joys and hopes and dreams. Allow this to be something that brings you together, rather than separating you.

Third, reassure him or her that you are on this spiritual journey together to understand God's will for your family. This is not a time to preach, but a time to seek. Seek together and remember to listen more than you speak. I know there's a temptation to rush here, to either completely reject the idea that same-sex relationships could be moral or to abandon those scripture passages altogether for the sake of your child. Please, don't feel pressured to rush. Make sure your child understands that this may take time, but that you will not abandon your love for him or her. Your support for your child is important, but so is your faith. Take the time to nurture both.

Fourth, as a parent, you can and should hold your LGBT child to the same standards to which you would hold a cisgendered (that is to say, someone whose physical sex and neurological gender match up) and straight child. By remaining open and honest as a parent, you can uphold values of love and respect in romantic relationships, regardless of whether those relationships are opposite sex or same sex. But! This should not be the focus of your parenting any more than it is the focus of your relationship with your straight children. Sexual orientation and gender identity should not be cause for mistrust.

Fifth and last, it is understandable that you might experience a period of grieving for the lost dreams and hopes you had for your child, for an imagined future that will never be. Just simply by virtue of being a gender or sexual minority, your child is going to face more difficulties in life. But in truth, none of us have ever led a "normal life" because there is no such thing. Now is the time to give those dreams a good, hard look, grieve them for a while, and then set them aside to embrace a hope for the future based in your child's newly disclosed truth. The dreams may change in ways large and small, but if you are there for your child, they are more likely to be realised.

Some reading or watching you can do:
What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality by Daniel Helminiak
The Best Case for the Bible NOT Condemning Homosexuality by John Shore
Ron Goetz on the Clobber Passages
Ron Goetz on Translator Bias's Review of the Views on the Bible and Homosexuality
Homosexuality and the Bible, a review of two perspectives by Loren L. Johns, Professor of New Testament at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary
The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality video-- long, but worthwhile.
Two movies I highly recommend are For the Bible Tells Me So and Fish Out of Water, which were both available on Netflix streaming at the time of this writing.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Godless Sodomites: Apostolic Truth Tabernacle of Greensburg, IN

This is the first of my series of posts on people who qualify as Godless Sodomites (see that post for a definition). This one is close to home for me, being in my home state.

The Apostolic Truth Tabernacle of Greensburg, Indiana, is now infamous for a video of a 4- or 5-year-old kid singing "Ain't No Homos Gonna Make It to Heaven" during a church service while the congregation claps and cheers. After this hate-filled performance, the church's pastor, Jeff Sangl, praised the boy as well.

Here's a link to the RTV Channel 6 story about it.

Further news stories reveal that the pastor and church members have claimed they're getting death threats, but the County Sheriff, who was dealing with Sangl over church security after the video went viral, before Sangl up and decided to hightail it out of town for a while, says that's news to him. During this entire thing, Sangl never bothered to mention the death threats, even though he was dealing with the Sheriff for the purpose of making sure the church was safe. I'm not going to say that the claims of death threats are lies, but seriously who doesn't mention a little thing like death threats to the nice law enforcement officer who is trying to assure that you and your church members are safe?

Also of note is that this community is not ignorant of the devastation that is caused by this kind of rhetoric. In September of 2010, 15-year-old Billy Lucas committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied at Greensburg High School because he was perceived as being gay. These people know the heartbreak this sort of thing can lead to.

And yet, they're remorselessly sticking to their guns. Here's the statement from the church website:

5/30/12 - The Pastor and members of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle do not condone, teach, or practice hate of any person for any reason. We believe and hope that every person can find true Bible salvation and the mercy and grace of God in their lives. We are a strong advocate of the family unit according to the teachings and precepts found in the Holy Bible. We believe the Holy Bible is the Divinely-inspired Word of God and we will continue to uphold and preach that which is found in scripture.

That's right, folks! Telling an entire segment of the population that they absolutely will not make it into heaven, that they're inherently too sinful to be covered by Christ's sacrifice on the cross, is not at all hateful and is scriptural.

Here's a quote from Dillen Swango, a fellow student of Billy Lucas', following Billy's suicide: "They said stuff like 'You're like a piece of crap' and 'You don't deserve to live.' Different things like that. Talked about how he was gay or whatever." I'm sure by the standards of the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle, those statements are also scriptural and not hateful.

To Pastor Sangl and members of the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle I have this to say: You have committed the sins of Soddom by being prideful and holier-than-thou and have lied by claiming to love God while hating your neighbors. You are Godless Sodomites.

To those who are incensed at this church and pastor, protest by going and donating in the name of this church or its pastor to any of the following organisations:

Indiana LGBT Organisations

Indiana Youth Group

Indiana Equality

Quarryland Men's Chorus

Pride of Indy Bands


The Damien Center

National LGBT Organisations

American Veterans For Equal Rights

Born this Way Foundation

GLAAD - Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation

GLSEN – Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network

Harvey Milk Foundation

Human Rights Campaign

Lambda Legal

National Center for Lesbian Rights

NGL Task Force - National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

PFLAG National

Renaissance Education Association

Sylvia Rivera Law Project

TGI Justice Project

Transgender American Veterans Association

TransYouth Family Allies

The Trevor Project

Believe Out Loud

Canyonwalker Connections

Empowering Spirits Foundation

Faith in America

The Gay Christian Network

Horizons Foundation

Rising Sun Ministries

Soul Force

Truth Wins Out

Make these donations, if you can, in the name of
Apostolic Truth Tabernacle
Attn: Pastor Jeff Sangl
Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 644, Greensburg, IN 47240
Church Phone: (812) 662-8224

Please, do not call the church and harass them. The number above is provided in case the donation form asks for one. Also, be sure to make a significant donation. One that is too small will not cover the cost of postage!

Be sure to drop the church a line to let them know you donated to a good cause in their name!