This week, I was called by ABC12 to offer an opinion on conversion therapy, that discredited pseudo-scientific practice of trying to make people conform to "normal" sexual orientation and gender identify. Specifically, the desire to make gay people straight and make transgender folks accept anatomy as identity (even when anatomy is ambiguous).
The reporter's call was prompted by a bill in the state legislature that would make it illegal for mental health professionals to attempt to change the sexual orientation of minors. Michigan should pass this. (But I'm not holding my breath.)
Part of the reason this has been in the news is because a Detroit area church has been offering seminars (for just $200!) to young girls trying to figure out their lives, girls who may be awakening to a lesbian or transgender self-understanding. This church certainly isn't the only one; the practice of attempted conversion continues across the country, causing harm to a lot of people. Only 9 states and DC have outlawed it, and even then, churches get wide latitude to despise anyone they want to, and to do pretty awful "faith-based" things. And why this Detroit Church is targeting girls is a mystery, except as part of our society's general disdain for women and ongoing attempts to control every aspect of our lives.
Part of why it has been on my mind is that, in the past week, I've watched two mainstream television shows address the experience of transgender folks and the surgical aspect of transition. On Grey's Anatomy, now introducing a new transgender character, what we once called "sex change" surgery, and later called "gender reassignment" surgery, was referred to as "gender affirmation" surgery; in The Good Doctor (about a surgeon with autism), the procedure was called "gender confirmation" surgery. Both of these phrases express what we know to be true: for the person with gender dysphoria (no longer called "gender identity disorder"), the reality is clear, and the surgery is undertaken as a step in helping someone live more fully who they already are.
I applaud progress in human understanding and in human kindness, and I hope our legislature passes this bill, as protection for a quite vulnerable class of people we love. So, call your state rep to support the bill.
But that's not the end. Because, while we work for laws that honor and protect people, we also have to challenge the other oppressive systems in our culture. Including church. And that's the other reason this is on my mind.
Woodside is part of the American Baptist Churches, and you've heard me lately express anger and frustration that the relatively new General Secretary of the denomination is openly anti-gay. He has called us immoral, not fit to be leaders, and has reiterated his belief that marriage is just for straight people. Our Chicago region is more open, but so far lacks prophetic fire for calling out the national body. Woodside is responding, so far, in writing.
But our new friend, Wendell Griffen, our guest preacher last month, has offered a different approach. His denomination, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, has decided that, while they are open to LGBTQ married folks in lower-ranking positions, the upper echelons of leadership and ministry are only for the straight (or LGBTQ unmarried?). Wendell has written a biting denunciation of that denomination, and is inviting his congregation to consider leaving the CBF. He writes:
"Plainly, CBF and New Millennium Church disagree about LGBTQ equality and inclusion .... I will not support continued funding or involvement in CBF initiatives. CBF has chosen love of its purses above love of God's LGBTQ people. I am unwilling to follow that path as pastor of New Millennium Church. If our congregation is to keep faith with the love and justice imperatives in the gospel of Jesus, we should not be seduced...by a body that consciously and proudly celebrates a decision to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status .... Some people will disagree with or disapprove of my position. No one should be unsure about it."
I'm not always as articulate as I wish to be when news channels call. But however well or poorly, it matters that we speak -- all of us; the gospel imperative is that we speak. Who in our lives is unsure of our love and welcome? Who in our community feels alone in the struggle, and how can we communicate solidarity? How can we bolster our solidarity into something far greater than words? Woodside has committed for years to being in the struggle, alongside the folks most likely to get battered in our world. Are we doing all that we can? And what to do about this one of our denominations? Wash our hands? Live as a thorn in their side? There are questions. There are opportunities.