Gender Offender?: A Letter to My Kids and the Church

Don’t ask me how I jumped from Netflix banter to this.  Ah well.

I recently read in a Time Magazine article what I’d basically known already- that more and more people are challenging not only traditional views of gender roles, but redefining gender identity itself while simultaneously expanding definitions of sexual preference.  (There’s a mouthful.)  There are now literally hundreds of ways to describe your basic identity to the world.

Grab the remote and pause while I make one thing clear: this blog post will not be about hate or defining morals.  I’m writing as a mother who has put all her crazy hope in Jesus, yet struggles with the chasm between church and the world that “God so loved.”

I’m surrounded by these gender and sexuality issues lately and I’m never short on thoughts, in case you haven’t noticed.  But I’m hoping these letters give you a window into what’s most on my heart.
To my three children
, who will certainly grow up in a different world than I did, let me tell you what I hope for you.  I hope, first,that you will never believe that you can be or do or say anything that makes me love you less.  Trust me when I say that no matter what identity you believe about yourself, your identity will always be loved, Loved, LOVED.  There’s no escaping that, so don’t weary yourself running from me, please.  And as much as I crazy love you, I believe the God who made you and died for you will never find you less lovable either.  May your ultimate identity be His. Loved. Child.  No strings attached.

Second, I want to warn you about labels.  Your whole life people will label you: some good things, some negative.  Smart, dumb, fat, skinny, too girly, not good enough, goody-two-shoes, quiet, loud, silly, and on and on.  The world will tell you what you’re good at, and what you’re failing at.  Who you should be, what you should study in college.  And at the end of the day you’re probably going to want to tell everyone to shut up and let you define yourself.  I don’t know, but maybe you’ll feel boxed in by gender or sexuality labels as well.

Whatever the labels, let me tell you this: If you’re looking for the perfect label to set you free and make you feel like you belong, you’ll probably never find it.  I’m not even saying your label will be wrong, but if what you’re really looking for is validation for your worth, it won’t change with your label.  Your worth is tied into your identity, yes, but your most fundamental identity is “loved” and, Sweetie, there’s no greater worth for us clay pots than to be loved by the Potter that dreamt us up.  And that goes for the people you might want to label too- you can never label anyone else’s worth up or down, so please don’t try.

And if you must label yourself, never let that label divide you from others who “aren’t”.  We get ourselves into a lot of hate and mess this way.

I hope you’re stunningly “you”,that you walk in confidence and purpose, and that you care more about how you can love and serve the world than whether the world validates or negates your labels. Because if I haven’t said it enough, we all just need the label of “loved”.

And that’s where I’ll end…with all my love,

~Mom

Now, to the church,

not only my own in a tiny pocket in CT, but to the larger church out there, I have a few words for you.  For us, really, because God help me, I’m not where I should be.  I believe in a Jesus who came not for the healthy but for the sick- and to be honest I think we forget that He was including everyone in the “sick” category, but we like to make distinctions.  It seems Jesus was more baffled by the stubborn “righteous” than those that the religious turned away, and in His love He died for everyone, regardless of age, race, gender…or any labels we might find ourselves under.

I believe we want to accept everyone, but let’s face it we’re awkward at best and cruel at worst.  In our fear of “condoning” what we don’t understand, we elevate moral standards over a love that covers thick.  If we’re afraid to engage with any person with beliefs we don’t understand or agree with, we simply draw a deeper and deeper line between us and them.  In fact, we often perpetuate the idea that it’s only OK to “come as you are” if you plan to change who you are in the very near future.  This is damaging to those within the church, even, who are afraid to be exposed as flawed and vulnerable.  (Except we all are.)

And if we’re pointing fingers at the sheer number of new labels people are identifying with, perhaps we should point that finger back at ourselves: I was shocked to read recently that there are thousands of Protestant church denominations.  Even if the estimates are high, the truth is that as the church has “progressed” we’ve actually become more fragmented by disagreements than united under God.  The bottom line is that we know better than anyone that it’s easier to divide and relabel ourselves to find value and identity with those who think similarly than to live in the messy tension of community with people who don’t always agree.

But what if we were called to be just that?  The messy tension of a community of people who don’t always agree…but surrender our right to be right to the greater work of God’s Grace and Love.  Maybe that sounds oversimplified and watered down…but its also possible we complicate simple things.

Can we be that messy church?  If Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, can we at least look people in the eyes and recognize the glint of the image of God in them?  Can we at least listen?

Thanks for listening to me, anyway.

Sincerely,

Carrye (Major Work-in-Progress, but LOVED)

 

 

13 comments

  1. I’m not sure it’s your place to comment if your labels are fairly simple- and mainstream.

    Labels serve a purpose. People grow in and out of them, but it lets us be seen and identified. If only to ourself.

    If you aren’t different enough from the majority that you need an uncommon label- because nothing else fits- it’s not appropriate to go dissing the use of them.

    It’s like denying someone’s heritage- Cambodian; from North Jersey- to say labels are irrelevant, and the only thing needed is loved:

    Where are you from?” “I’m loved, and that’s all I need to know”

    Are you queer or straight? Male, female or neither? An introvert or an extrovert? A Christian or a Sikh or neither?

    We use our own labels- “I’m an introverted extrovert”. “I grew up in the church, but no longer quite feel at home, and see myself as spiritual.”

    That we can understand. Gender and orientation identity is the same.

    I like your message. Some of it. It still seems to equate queer people with sin- though I missed some of the reading. Just not sure about the delivery. It seems like it contains too much erasure of real people, and returning to the default of homogenization.

    1. Hello Jackie,
      I really appreciate your comment and additions to the conversation. I agree with you that I oversimplified labels as negative, when clearly they do serve an important purpose. And there’s an element, as you said, to being able to name something about ourselves (whether heritage or otherwise) that is freeing and orients us. Maybe it’s all in how we handle labels- I don’t want my kids to use labels as negative dividers (a frightening trend, in my opinion). And while I don’t want them to feel that they have to conform to all the “expected” labels, I also don’t want them to grow up feeling that they aren’t valid if they can’t find their “right” label, if that makes sense?
      So in that case, I hope that when they’re unsure of themselves or who they are (as we all experience) they can fall back on “loved” as a base-label.
      But you are right again that my labels are somewhat simple and I apologize for where I may have belittled someone’s journey with labels that aren’t as readily accepted by mainstream society. I can’t fully understand, but I realize that there are many who feel they have to fight to be seen and validated and I absolutely don’t want to diminish that hurt.

      And to your final comment, I think that in our black and white attempts as a church to label things clearly as right or wrong, we’re avoiding people or pushing them out. We get theologically squirmy and decide not to address the issues we don’t know how to deal with. My bottom line to the church is that certainly we won’t all agree, but recognizing our own humanity and need for love and grace should compel us to embrace all people (regardless of moral belief) and not avoid or reject. I know that doesn’t fully answer your question, but I’d always enjoy talking more and would love to hear more of your story if you’d ever want to share. Thanks again for your insight.

  2. So many quotable lines in here I didn’t know which one to share … but these lines:
    “In our fear of “condoning” what we don’t understand, we elevate moral standards over a love that covers thick. If we’re afraid to engage with any person with beliefs we don’t understand or agree with, we simply draw a deeper and deeper line between us and them. In fact, we often perpetuate the idea that it’s only OK to “come as you are” if you plan to change who you are in the very near future.” Carrye — you move beautifully between humor in some posts and serious gospel-of-Jesus in others. This is a beautifully written, hard-hitting-truth-telling post. Well said …well lived!

  3. Carrie you are a very talented writer. I enjoy reading your thoughts and wish more people could share your views . You are so blessed and we really miss your whole family.

    1. Hi Theresa! Thanks for your comment, We miss you guys too. Maybe we’ll cross paths on another summer vacation one of these days. 😉 I hope your family is doing well!

  4. What I got from this is that we should accept people as Christ did, just as they are, regardless of their label.

  5. There is a big difference between the church welcoming all people and “celebrating” and “affirming” lifestyles that the Bible clearly calls sin. Don’t forget what Jesus told the woman caught in adultery…”leave your life of sin”.

    1. Thanks for commenting, I realize this is a sensitive issue. I understand what you’re saying, and the truth is so many people land in a different place here. But this is exactly the tension I’m referring to in the church. In our human context we tend to ask qualifying questions for loving people, like Peter when he asked “How many times should I forgive my brother” (Matt 18:21) or like the expert in the law who asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) As I watch Jesus I see that He tends to upturn the question and ask us back, “How much forgiveness is TOO much in light of God’s forgiveness?” Or “Who ISN’T your neighbor?” So if our real question is “how much love is TOO much or TOO accepting or TOO _______” what do we think God would say to that question today? Would his line between welcoming and affirming look like ours?

      1. This is only a sensitive issue because we’ve bought a lie from the world that sexual sin is really just about love and anyone who calls it wrong is full of hate. However, we tend to not want to apply this same logic to other sins. Are we full of hate to call murder or rape a sin? Something that causes tension isn’t inherently bad. Jesus probably caused quite a bit of tension when He called the leaders hypocrites, serpents, vipers, fools etc. and again when he upturned the tables in the temple and drove the money changers out with a whip! Can we accept that Jesus did this in perfect unconditional love?

  6. As Kirsten points out, where then is the line between accepting and condoning sin? With all labels aside I have been in the church a long time and see Believers mostly accepting and loving of anyone who is different or self identifying in some way. But what will not nor should not be accepting is the behavior that Jesus calls sin. He calls it like it is while loving the sinner but holding them to a high standard to know and resist the sin he mentions. Maybe you are saying that too many have judged and not loved a person due to their behaviors (labels), that is true in many ways and probably always will be so we need to be reminded to love as He shows us. But that does not mean we have to accept the sin He calls sin. (see Matthew 18:15-17). If someone wants to identify a certain way, by all means let them do so and let us love them as exampled by a loving God. But Jesus draws the line for us to see sin and then to turn away from it. He clearly defines adultry as a sin even if the woman caught in it calls herself an adultress because she needs to identify in that way (not that she did, just using that as an example of labeling). To put it simply, we are to love the sinner and hate the sin. So if we encounter trans-whatever people in our lives, this is what we are to do regardless of the label. Homosexual behavior is clearly identified as sin in the Scriptures and we are not expected to condone it. But we are to love everyone.

    1. Thanks for adding to the conversation, each comment has forced me to wrestle before God with my own beliefs. I appreciate that you bring up deferring to what a Holy God says, which is something I must be better about doing daily. Still, I don’t think the moral/practical answers are as simple as we think…and I wonder if love is more about celebrating people than worrying so much whether in our love we might appear to condone an action one might disagree with. In the spirit of continuing the conversation, I would ask you (or others) what we mean by “love the sinner, hate the sin”? What does that phrase really communicate to the actual people you might use it against? For that matter, do we use it selectively? (I feel like I’ve heard it used about 2 or 3 issues, but never about things like greed, apathy, racism, etc.) Would we be comfortable turning that phrase around at ourselves and our friends, or would that feel offensive and shaming to us? (John 8:7 anyone without sin… Matt 7:3 why do we try to remove a speck from someone else with a plank in our own eye, etc).

  7. My understanding of the story of the woman caught in adultery is that both parties were to be stoned for their crime, so the religious leaders were sinning in only punishing the woman and not the man. That is why Jesus said…”he who is without sin among you, let him be the fist to throw a stone at her”.

    As far as the plank/speck in the eye…we can’t help someone else with their sin if we are currently struggling with the same sin. For example, if I struggle with acting out in anger, I’m not going to be of much help to my friend with the same struggle because I’ve yet to repent of my own sin in that area. However, once I’ve repented (turned from my sin), I can help my friend.

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