– Harvey McDaniel
Thursday night I attended a “coffeehouse” series of discussions at Latham United Methodist Church. The topic was: “Would you let Caitlyn Jenner join your church?”
Latham UMC is one of several churches throughout the southeast who participate in a weekly discussion series by hosting “Lifetree Cafe”, a coffee-house type atmosphere where one is encouraged to “share your thoughts about compelling topics and hear the thoughts of others.”
It is supposedly a “comfortable, safe place” that “will feed my soul”.
I am so sorry, but my plate was empty when I sat down and I am thankful that I was not seeking nourishment for my soul because I left hungry.
The public was invited to attend, and since the topic was about transgender issues and religious thought I wanted to join them. I thought I was going to an “open, welcoming church” that was really trying to think progressively. My neighbors encouraged me to go, saying they knew several wonderful people who go there. As do I.
I went there to answer questions about being transgender and retaining religious belief.
To join in conversation that involves me. I was hoping to find a loving, welcoming environment where I could join in with others talking about God’s love.
No one knew I was coming. Open to the public, so I went. With only positive intentions and hoping to hear about God’s love.
I was welcomed graciously by a sweet person named Joyce and invited to join in, which I did.
I joined two other persons at a round table. Two older, very distinguished looking gentlemen named Sam and Chuck. At first, I really had the impression that I scared Sam when I sat down. His eyes were locked in a stare straight ahead, and at first I thought that he could not acknowledge my presence, but after sitting with them and talking I think he warmed up a little.
Chuck and I made casual conversation, he had asked if I was from Huntsville and I was telling him a little about my history.
Andy White, who hosted the discussion, came over and introduced himself and said that he might be asking me some questions later, which I welcomed him to do so. After everyone had settled in he started the presentation.
The question being presented for discussion was “Would you let Caitlyn Jenner join your church?” It was accompanied by a video about a transgender person’s life: a short story wherein Bob, the trans person on video, talked about his own personal journey and about God’s love.
There were 13 of us there, having “roundhouse” type discussions in between breaks in the video we were watching, being asked to discuss how we felt about watching segments of the video.
Upon being asked what we thought of the transgender person’s story we were watching, and asked whether a trans person would be welcome in their church most nodded yes.
Ok. Acceptance. But…..
The following thoughts and statements were shared with me by mostly three members who did most of the talking. I don’t know their names because I do not remember if they introduced themselves. But I do remember their comments. And although the main question being presented for discussion was “Would you let Caitlyn Jenner join your church?” I took it to a little more personal level and let their answers apply to myself as well.
I heard personal comments like “Transgender people are possibly a freak of nature”. “Possibly God had made a mistake”. ( Yes! Someone actually said that. ) And that “A transgendered person was not living a Christian life”. I hear that twice, along with nods of approval from several. I also heard someone say that “They would have to tolerate a transgender person.” Tolerate.
And another stated that a trans person was not living according to God’s will, that they were lost and confused.
All of this being said with Jesus Christ sitting there in the room with us.
I had to reply with an audible “Wow.” No disrespect meant, but here I am sitting in a discussion with people where at least three persons made remarks that would be construed as demeaning.
One person actually asked in a haughty tone, “Well, are you a man or a woman?”
I answered her that I was born transgender and that I was both male and female, and that it didn’t matter.
I am hoping I brought some meaningful dialog to the table when I could no longer stand to listen to these comments and I had to raise my voice three times and demanded that I be allowed to address the group. I didn’t wait for an affirmative answer.
When someone makes a judgemental statement about a transgender person they know nothing about, and about the life that they are living, they are talking about me. Talking to me.
I stood up, and now looking almost every person in attendance straight in the eyes I made these statements and asked these questions.
“I have to tell you that not once in my life have I ever thought that I was a mistake made by God, or that I was a freak of nature! I have never lost my faith in God, or ever felt that I was not one with Him. I am living in fulfillment of God’s purpose for my life. I now understand that I am welcome to attend your services, but that I could never become a member here because I am transgender. I want to ask you this. Would I be welcome to preach about God’s love in your church? Because I speak about God’s love everywhere I go. I witness and testify about God’s love EVERY WHERE I GO! I want you to think about that.” And I sat down.
To total silence.
Andy nervously got the meeting back under his direction.
I understand every person has their own opinion, but twice I heard the statement that “One of us is right, and one of us is wrong.”
I never did understand how people there agreed that trans people were not living a Christian life. There was nothing that even hinted about a sinful act in the video we were watching.
Bob, the trans person on video talked about God’s love. I talked about God’s love. How sad is it that the only two comments made about God’s love were made by us?
I do have to say that before the presentation, I was telling Chuck and Sam about how important it is for religious leaders to NOT make hurtful statements, especially in a public setting because their words were always being recorded and reported upon.
I also want to say that at one point in the discussion Sam and Chuck both stood and addressed the group, admonishing and cautioning them about making judgemental statements. They introduced themselves as visiting ministers from Trinity United Methodist Church. Sam quoted scripture that just minutes before we had discussed at our table, Matthew 22: 37-40. I am so thankful to have sat down with them upon arrival, and to have had two such learned persons there who actually realized what was going on. Thank you, Chuck and Sam, for living what you preach. I am so thankful that there were no young, impressionable persons there to have to witness such harsh, harmful statements. I also wonder about the commitment made by the leaders of the church to provide spiritual food for their flock, and if they feel a spiritual obligation to take responsibility for actions done in their name.
I did not take anything personal. I did not get mad or offended. in Public. The truth is, I left hurt and feeling sorry for several there. I cried later that evening. And the next day. And the next. It is hard NOT to take it personally.
I hope I brought to the table a more personal testimony than the one viewed on the video. Overall it was a positive experience. I can ONLY say that because maybe I opened some closed minds. I doubt it, but one can hope.
I was invited back, of course. But I wonder. Absolutely no one answered yes when I asked the question would I be welcome to speak at their church about God’s love. Silence speaks volumes.
Apparently a transgender person is welcome to attend, but not be involved in teaching or helping others. And will never be a member of their church. I was under the impression that this was God’s house and Christ’s house that I was attending. I know that they were there. Listening. It is exactly discussions like this which needed to take place. To hear thoughts and fears.