LGBT

A Part of the Body

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I was born and raised in the Christian Reformed Church. My parents were missionaries in the Navajo Nation. As a passionate believer, I witnessed to my playmates and started begging to take communion when I was seven because I had asked Jesus into my heart. I expected that God would one day call me to serve. When I was sixteen, two women at Rehoboth Mission were discovered to be lovers and were expelled. A year earlier, I’d had a romantic relationship with my best friend, which confirmed something I’d sensed for a long time about who I was. I was terrified, thinking that I, too, might be expelled from the church that had cradled me and nurtured my spiritual growth, the church I loved.

Within two months of what happened to those two women, I became what would today be a statistic. I tried for the first time to kill myself. Studies show that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers.

In Canada, 33% of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide in comparison to 7% of youth in general. About 25% of transgender youth report suicide attempts in the USA, and 28% in Canada (Taylor et al. 2011). In 1964, we were so invisible that such statistics, if they were compiled at all, were probably highly inaccurate.

Sadly, the statistics on LGBTQ depression and suicide among churchgoing youth are even higher than in the general population. The place where we should feel the safest and most supported as we struggle to understand God’s will for us as believers is most often a place fraught with danger and judgment. I struggled with my sexuality, scripture, and my place in faith communities for the next nine years, attempting suicide a second time. In 1973, when the CRC position on homosexuality was published, I left my church.

For the next forty years I tried to reconcile who God had made me to be with how most Christians saw me and how they interpreted what the Bible had to say about me. I learned from other spiritual traditions, where I was welcome. I also served the LGBTQ community in a peer-support and advocacy organization I cofounded and as a professional counselor.

In a recent discussion, a member of the CRC suggested that the church was right to deny LGBTQ people full membership. She compared the organization I’d served to the church, saying that our group would have rightly kept out people that held anti-gay positions. At first I thought that wasn’t a bad analogy. Then I said to myself, “No! The Church is not just an organization. The Church is The Body of Christ. The Church is not allowed to say to one part of the Body, ‘We have no need of you.’”

Anna Redsand’s memoir, To Drink from the Silver Cup: From Faith Through Exile and Beyond will be released in July. Anna lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, where she is a part of The Body of Christ in a Presbyterian church. She cares deeply about what happens in her first church home.

For more information:

Eisenberg, Marla E., and Michael D. Resnick. 2006. “Suicidality Among Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth: The Role of Protective Factors.” Journal of Adolescent Health 39: 662–668.

Kim, Y., & Leventhal, B. (2008). Bullying and suicide: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 20(2), 133–154 Saewyc, Elizabeth M. 2007. “Contested Conclusions: Claims That Can (and Cannot) Be Made from the Current Research on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Teen Suicide Attempts.” Journal of LGBT Health Research 3 (1): 79–87.

Sanchez, J., Diaz, R., Huebner, D., Russell, S., and Caitlin Ryan. 2010. “Family Acceptance in Adolscence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults”. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing 23 (4): 205-213.

Taylor, C., Peter, T., McMinn, T. L., Elliott, T., Beldom, S., Ferry, A., Gross, Z., et al. (2011). Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools. Final Report. Toronto, ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.

Showing Your God-Colours

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This fall I helped start a Generous Space group in BC’s Fraser Valley. Simply put, Generous Space is a bible study for people and allies of the LBGTQ+ Community.

If you asked me five years ago if this is where I saw myself headed, I would have laughed. Six years ago, my husband of 15 years and father of my children publically came out and left me. I was a pastor in the CRC at the time.

It was my worst nightmare coming true. I knew my former husband wondered about his sexuality. He felt a strong pull to the gay community. My response was to pray unceasingly. I dared to believe God would fix my marriage and bring us restoration, renewal and regrowth. I recited verse after verse and declared to the heavens my marriage would triumph and my beloved children would not be a product of divorce.

Things did not work out that way.

I can tell many stories about navigating this season. Even though it was awful, God overwhelmed me with good. Looking back, the biggest shift I experienced was my own.

My heart became more open to my own need for grace and mercy. I could not point any fingers at the LGBTQ+ community. God wanted good things for me; he also wanted good things for my former husband. I began to see that gay lives matter.

I saw churches saying “all are welcome” but I did not see them telling their gay congregants that they’re important and essential to the growth and relevance of the church. I looked for churches telling the LGBTQ+ community that we need them. I found few.

I began dreaming of a day when the church comes out of its own proverbial closet and we stop pretending we don’t have LGBTQ+ people in our congregation.

An example: in the last century, society has had frank conversations about race. Many of us—thinking we were doing the politically correct thing—may have unintentionally hurt our friends of colour by declaring we were “colour-blind” and that skin shade is a non-issue. I don’t think pretending to ignore the colour of someone’s skin was ever the point.

The point is that people are different from us and we can learn from them.

The point is that we are equals. We are created in the image of God. All of us. 

We are created to live in community with each other.

We are created to learn from each other.

We are created to display different parts of the character of God.

Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message) says: “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it requires great courage. Yes, there may be a cost.

What do we say as we rub shoulders with the LGBTQ+ community? What do we say to LGBTQ+ families whose spousal/parental/sibling relationships have gone through change?

Let’s start with two postures that we, as the church, can take.

The first is: seek empathy. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Christians are traditionally adept at displaying sympathy. Sympathy is, “I feel so bad that this has happened. I will pray for you.” There is nothing overly wrong about this reaction, but the thing is, it’s a reaction.

Empathy pursues understanding. Empathy means walking a mile in the LGBTQ+ community’s shoes.

The second is: be inclusive. This is different from tolerance. Inclusion is inviting families and members of the gay community into your home. Eat with them. Learn from them. Invite them to pray for you. Stop pretending they don’t exist; they do. They are members of your family, your church family and community. They love you.

Show them your own God-colours.

Beckie— Beckie Evans is an award-winning writer and teacher. She is currently collaborating with Rebecca Schroeder (M.A., R.C.C.) on a resource for the church entitled “ReVision: When Gender Issues Change Partner Relationships”. She lives with her husband Jarrett and five kids in Abbotsford, BC where they enthusiastically cheer for the Winnipeg Jets.

Living Justly: A Conversation with Christian Trans* Advocate Tori Phillips

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(In the above photo, Tori Phillips is on the top left.)

By Rachel Vroege, DMC Staff

Note: DMC has recently launched a new LGBTQ+ vulnerable people group webpage. To see the webpage, click hereTo see the previous blog post explaining this webpage, click here.

I first met Tori just over a year ago after a New Direction gathering at Vancouver First CRC. Tori is a Trans* woman and a Christian who attends Lighthouse of Hope Christian Fellowship in New Westminster, British Columbia. She is passionate about the Church, helping churches to understand the LGBTQ+ community, and breaking down the barriers that lead LGBTQ+ people to feel marginalized in the church.

Meeting Tori changed my life and opened my eyes to the barriers experienced by Trans* people both within and without the church. When I opened my heart to Tori to learn more about the experiences of Trans* people I came face to face with the reality of what it means to live justly.

Tori graciously agreed to chat with me about the barriers and challenges that exist and how the church and deacons can reach out to make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Rachel: What does the term Trans* mean, and why the asterisk?

Tori: Trans* is an umbrella term that refers to all of the identities within the gender identity spectrum. Trans (without the asterisk) can be intentionally used to describe trans men and trans women, while the asterisk makes special note in an effort to include all transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming identities.

Rachel: What is the most compelling justice concern facing LGBTQ+ people in society?

Tori: A 2013 National Report stated that at least 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness in any given year and that youth account for 20% of the homeless. An estimated 25% to 40% of homeless youth are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or transgender. A third of trans* youth are rejected from shelters.

This occurs because LGBTQ+ youth face ridicule and non-acceptance in their families and communities, in particular those who are gender neutral and fluid. Due to family conflict after coming out, many LGBTQ+ youth are kicked out of their homes.

Trans* people are often turned away from food banks when they don’t look the same as the gender listed on their ID.

Although we have this information, there is still minimal support available to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ youth in Canada. The church can be a voice for the weakest in society.

Rachel: How can churches help Trans* people to feel like they are welcome and belong in their faith community?

Tori: It’s hard to walk through the doors of a church not knowing what kind of reception you will get. Will people stare? Will they whisper? It’s not very comfortable. Gender-neutral bathrooms are one way churches can communicate hospitality and welcome.

Rachel: What does biblical justice mean to you?

Tori: The golden rule—“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12), or in medical terminology: “do no harm.” Justice for LGBTQ+ looks like a place in society—to work, to pay taxes, to have dignity. Justice is to be heard, to have a place at the table.

Rachel: What would you like people to know about you (as a Trans* person)?

Tori:  That beyond being Trans*, I live a normal life—I’m a parent to two young men aged 25 and 27, I work in automotive parts, I have a wife, Elaine, and a cat. That God designed diversity and I’m just another person with a soul, a soul well worth reaching out to with compassion and care.


 

For many Christians, especially those of us within the Christian Reformed tradition, interviews like these may raise feelings of indignation, guilt, or even anger. The LGBTQ+ issue is one that frequently divides families and churches. However, if we are to be taking a posture of humility and compassion, we cannot immediately dismiss these words as blasphemous or irreverent. We must journey alongside our Christian siblings, regardless of their sexual or gender orientation.

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” (Romans 14: 13)

If your diaconate or church is looking to get involved or start the conversation about LGBTQ+ persons, or if you have questions or comments about this piece, please feel free to email DMC’s Justice Mobilizer at dgalenkamp@crcna.org, or comment below.