When God Throws a Party

The following post was written by Kevin Harris, Director of Community Relations at The Marin Foundation.

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” -Dorothy Day

There are those words by Jesus that seem to haunt and inspire me at the same time. They haunt me as I assess the implications that Jesus’ words have for my life and how I fail to live out those words and measure up to the high standard set forth by Jesus. While being taken aback, I’m often inspired as the text seems to point to ways of living that are possible as we seek to submit to God and allow our hearts to be shaped so that the love of God can be manifested in our lives.

One such passage is Luke 14: 12-14 where Jesus gave instructions on whom to invite over for dinner or a party. He then goes on to relate it to what is called the “great banquet” or I guess you could say “God’s banquet” to reveal a little more of God’s heart to us. God invites the people who have no standing in society and are looked at as outcasts. Those that one would have expected to attend God’s banquet had turned God down so God invited the outcasts, or those deemed as outsiders/outcasts, whose very presence would have offended the powerful and religious leaders. And reading the mentioned scripture, it sounds as if we are to do the same.

I think there could be a number of conclusions on who is seen and/or treated as outsiders today, but within the context of the communities typically discussed on this blog, I think of individuals that are bisexual, transgender, and intersex. I attended an event in Chicago on September 23rd this year called “Celebrate Bisexuality Day” and it was mentioned that bisexual men and women are almost twice as likely to commit suicide as gay and lesbian individuals. Bisexual individuals face the same risks for rejection as gays and lesbians when they come out to friends and family, but they also touched on the fact that they also often do not feel welcomed in the broader gay and lesbian community as they are told by many that they are just confused and they are really gay or lesbian. While reading the “National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report on Health and Health Care” that polled 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming people that was released in Oct. 2010, I noticed that 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population.  The study is only 24 pages and definitely worth checking out if you have a few minutes. Obviously there are many factors that contribute to the probability of committing suicide, but I think that community and a strong support network or a lack thereof is one of the biggest factors.

As the Church, we have to be a place that provides community and support while welcoming people to the “banquet,” especially those that are feeling alienated and lonely. Though support won’t automatically make the difficulties in life go away, individuals are much more likely to push on through pain and struggles if they know others will have their back regardless of who they are or what they believe or do. And I don’t mean to imply that it is only bisexual, transgender, and other individuals that have been treated as outsiders that need the Church, but the opposite is just as true. Until the Church starts seeking to actively incorporate bisexual and transgender individuals into the larger body of Christ, there will continue to be gaping holes. Without the strength, passion, creativity, wisdom, and other gifts that bisexual and transgender individuals possess, the Church will continue to limp and fall short of the beloved community that we are called to.

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org

Print Friendly

About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • Amy

    Terrific posts, Kevin (yesterday’s AND today’s). Thank you!

  • Debbie Thurman

    “Without the strength, passion, creativity, wisdom, and other gifts that bisexual and transgender individuals possess, the Church will continue to limp and fall short of the beloved community that we are called to.”

    Kevin, this is a sentiment I am seeing expressed more and more. Do you think there are some “rebuttable presumptions” in it, though? Is it just a bridge too far to ask the Church at this point in time (or maybe ever) to utilize the gifts of bisexual or transgender individuals, when to do so would be tantamount to inviting church anarchy in the view of many? Am I understanding what you are saying? Do you mean that they should be celibate? Are you implying that, as well, about gays and lesbians? Are you saying they should be allowed to serve the body, regardless of their private lives, or just be welcomed in with no expectation?

    What role does repentance play for them, or anyone who may be marginalized? An outcast is not automatically to be equated with a “righteous” or regenerated person.

    I recognize what the Church is lacking in all the missing-in-action prodigals and marginalized people. It is a sad state of affairs and we should all be grieved over it. But how do we bring these folks to the banquet table without affirming what many view as sexual (or gender) brokenness? Can this even be discussed without setting off irrational emotion bombs? How can we be image bearers of God unless we identify with Christ’s death and resurrection, broken yet made whole? Who gets to define “whole”?

    I am wondering what it means to “have their back regardless of who they are or what they believe or do.” It ought to matter what folks in the body believe or do. We must love them unconditionally, of course. Are we allowed to even entertain the possibility that some of these people may be so conflicted over their identity that suicide sometimes appears to be the only answer? Is this pain God’s way of drawing them to Him? Where does unChristian marginalization end and true spiritual conflict (not a bad thing) begin?

    These are tough questions that we need to try to answer. I don’t have all the answers, to be sure. I do have a history of deep conflict, depression and rebellion. It is all gone today. I had enough people loving me to make a difference, but I also had to do some tough work, walking a road that one can only walk with Christ. There is a point where all humans have to leave us and we have to go on with him. I never believed he would have given me the option of staying on the cusp. To come to his banquet table for me meant to accept his grace, his forgiveness and a new image in him (i.e, one transformed by the renewing of my mind).

    There is a distinction between those who are social outcasts for reasons of ethnicity, race or disease and those whose beliefs run counter to scriptural teaching or wisdom. Some people will see sexual/gender identity issues as a kind of infirmity that may lead to sin (but also engender compassion) while others while bristle at that thought.

    We do have a conundrum here.

    • Eugene

      “We do have a conundrum here.”

      I agree. I don’t really understand these “Why can’t we all just get along” posts. When the conflict is so obvious, it can happen in two different ways:

      1) GLBT people are expected to accept their “brokenness” and second-class status.
      2) Anti-gay Christians are expected to ignore or condone “sinful” activity.

      So how is it going to happen?

      “There is a distinction between those who are social outcasts for reasons of ethnicity, race or disease and those whose beliefs run counter to scriptural teaching or wisdom.”

      I disagree. There was a time when the idea of racial equality ran counter to scriptural teachings and wisdom and black people were social outcasts for reasons of race. These things aren’t mutually exclusive.

      Kevin used an important term: “gender non-conforming”. And that’s what it’s all about. How can a church welcome “gender non-conforming” people when Christian morals are largely based on conformity? Even homosexuality can be viewed from this perspective: a man is not allowed to marry another man because he is a man. The same feelings towards a woman would have been acceptable.

      • Kevin Harris

        Eugene – I don’t see things as simply as the two options that you list and although I am obviously biased, I have not seen evidence of what you are referring to as the “Why can’t we just get along and be friends” posts. That sentiment is shallow and trite, and if Andrew, myself, or anyone else that has been writing posts on this blog have been writing in that vein it does need to be called out.

        Thinking of all the old posts, I think of post after post from Andrew explaining his understanding of reconciliation, what it looks like to live in constructive tension with those we disagree with, what it means and looks like to love our enemies, practical examples in building bridges with one another that are rooted in experiential knowledge, and so on.

    • Kevin Harris

      Debbie – All of the questions aside, the thing at the heart of the matter is that transgender and gender non-conforming individuals have for the most part been solely treated as a conversation (although not very frequently in Christian circles) and they have not been a part of those conversations in most evangelical churches.
      We each have our own opinions about gender and identity and although they are important to discuss, that is mostly all the broader church has done. We haven’t incarnationally lived out our faith in relationship with those that are transgender and have primarily focused on the theoretical and theological questions instead of seeking to humbly listen and learn first. We debate theology while forgetting that the way we live our life reveals our true theology.

      My guess is that most of the time, if they are referenced in a church setting it is when those in leadership of a church decide in what ways they may or may not participate when they are handed down the framework that they must operate within if they want to be a part of the community. Even if they come to different conclusions, those in leadership need to actually engage in discussion with those that they are talking about when it comes to policies instead of ideas about who they believe they are. And that presents another problem as transgender and gender con-conforming individuals are not beating down the doors of every evangelical church to get in as a result of the way that they have been treated and neglected.

      If we both came up with a list of the most unreached people groups as it relates to Christianity, I think we would both agree that they would make the list. And when we have completely failed to reach a particular people group, the questions that we need to be focusing on are not questions about how they can be in leadership, if they should be celibate, etc. But we need to be analyzing our own theology and the way we live it out to see where we have come up short as scripture tells us over and over again that the body of Christ is supposed to be a place where the poor, oppressed, and down trodden can find refuge.

      • Kevin Harris

        I am not asking anyone or any Christian entity to change their theological framework or beliefs regarding transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, but am trying to foster thought and conversation through this medium as well as in the broader Church about what it means to welcome all people to the ‘banquet table of God’ while creating a safe and welcoming space for individuals to work through whatever it may be they need to work through in the context of Christian community. I was reading a blog post the other day by Wendy Gritter, (http://www.btgproject.blogspot.com/) of New Direction (http://www.newdirection.ca/) whose work I have come to deeply respect, and I think she did a great job of defining the need for what she defines as “generous spaciousness.” She spoke of “acknowledging diverse perspectives and creating safe spaces in which we can engage respectfully, with a commitment to listen, to honor our shared humanity as image bearers of God and the uniqueness of each individual journey, and to seek common ground through shared values.”

        In welcoming individuals to the ‘banquet table’, we seem to be jump way ahead of the main point with all of the questions that we get lost in. That God welcomes all individuals to the table to dine together/journey together in faith and a transforming relationship with Jesus is the basis and what we need to focus on. With a relationship with Jesus will come change, but I am not specifically referencing a change in gender identity or sexual orientation. I believe that God meets people where they are at in their life as only God truly knows their hearts. As we all go through processes of healing in our lives in whatever that may be, God knows what we can handle at certain points in our life and there is not a single script that is followed as our layers are taken off and then rewoven into something beautiful. An individual may be on the path towards sanctification even if that does not look like what we expect it to. In this process, we have to acknowledge that God exists outside the confines of time and thus may not function on a timeline that we understand or agree with, while simply trusting that God knows what is best for God’s children while we seek to help them along in the process of discernment in community.

        “Do you mean that they should be celibate? Are you implying that, as well, about gays and lesbians? Are you saying they should be allowed to serve the body, regardless of their private lives, or just be welcomed in with no expectation?”

        Through blog posts on Andrew’s blog or through the work of The Marin Foundation, we have no desire to try to answer those questions for individuals or churches as those are questions that need to be figured out through discernment in the context of local Christian communities. Nor do I have any desire in my own personal life to actively push what I believe concerning sexual orientation/gender identity as there are more than enough people telling others what to believe. Rather I want to seek to do what I can to point to and give voice for individuals that the Church is by and large not listening to. Humbly listening and learning often seems to be a lost art in the Church.

        “Is it a bridge too far to ask the Church at this point in time?”

        Sure, there are many in the broader church that are not ready to have these conversations, but at the same time I will still maintain that the scripture in Matthew 25 holds true as God will judge the Church according to how it treats the ‘least of these.’ Progress may need to be made, but excuses like “well I just don’t understand it” and “I’m not ready to talk about it” are not adequate excuses to legitimize the continued marginalization and oppression of a people group.

        “What role does repentance play for them, or anyone who may be marginalized?”

        In a relationship with Christ, repentance is a prerequisite so it plays the same role for anyone else as it will for you. But since individuals do not hold ownership rights as to what is entailed in the process of repentance, I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that a person’s life is not marked by repentance if it does not mirror our exact interpretation of what it should look like.

        “What does it mean to have someone’s back regardless of whom they are or what they believe or do?”

        Continuing to walk alongside someone and be there for them through measurable expressions of unconditional behaviors. Sure it matters what people do and believe, but neither change our dedication to love and support them. The distinction that Andrew makes between validation and affirmation that I think you are familiar with also plays a role.

        “Are we allowed to even entertain the possibility that some of these people may be so conflicted over their identity that suicide sometimes appears to be the only answer?”

        Would we place all the blame on a gay or lesbian student that committed suicide as a result bullying and anti-gay harassment? People do not exist in vacuums where they are struggling with questions related to gender identity detached from discrimination and macro level factors acting upon their life. Confusion as it relates to gender identity may be present in an individual’s life, but there are broader systemic factors in play that cannot be ignored. We don’t have to start breaking out the research as it is fairly obvious that transgender individuals face much higher levels of harassment, discrimination, animosity from others, ect. than heterosexual and gay and lesbian individuals, thus leading to the positive correlation between being transgender and being at a higher risk for attempting suicide. Love and support from a community will inevitably reduce the risk of suicide. I watched a talk by Aaron Huey on ted.com recently where he was talking about the Lacota tribe in the US and how they have been treated and he stated “The last chapter in any successful genocide is the one in which the oppressor can remove their hands and say, my God, what are these people doing to themselves. They are killing themselves while we watch them die.” A direct parallel cannot be drawn between the colonialism and genocide that has been brought upon the native people of our land in the US, but we must be wary of approaching a place where we are placing the blame on the victims.

        • Debbie Thurman

          Kevin, thank you for taking time to address some of the questions I raised, difficult as that may be. I truly appreciate what you are saying, overall.

          I think the reflection of the “fruit of the spirit” in a life that is being regenerated (through repentance) is a fair assessment. But, as you and I both know and you said, only God sees the heart and can make that judgment. Sadly, some of the most obvious specimens of rotten fruit already serve in the Church. Some manage to keep their sins hidden for a long time. I truly do despise hypocrisy, as Christ did/does.

          Yes, we have failed miserably to love “the least of these.” How can we do the work of intercessory prayer if we do not love those for whom we are asking God to intercede?

          I really like this:

          “I believe that God meets people where they are at in their life as only God truly knows their hearts. As we all go through processes of healing in our lives in whatever that may be, God knows what we can handle at certain points in our life and there is not a single script that is followed as our layers are taken off and then rewoven into something beautiful. An individual may be on the path towards sanctification even if that does not look like what we expect it to. In this process, we have to acknowledge that God exists outside the confines of time and thus may not function on a timeline that we understand or agree with, while simply trusting that God knows what is best for God’s children while we seek to help them along in the process of discernment in community.”

          Well said.

  • Sam

    Yes, churches often treat LGBT individuals unfairly and unequally. Treatment ranges from avoidance to rejection to hostility. We might ask ourselves why anyone would want to be party of any group where they are so treated. The rules that apply to a LGBT individual (purportedly based on certain interpretations of several Bible verses) are not the same rules that apply to adulterers, those who have been divorced for “unscriptural” reasons, people living with their opposite gender boyfriend or girlfriend and a multitude of other situations. Most anyone can easily see that LGBT individuals are singled out for different treatment.

    On the other hand, if all LGBT individuals departed all churches, the music, drama and art programs in many churches would be devastated, according to several LGBT friends who direct these programs in churches. Apparently, as long as one is not out, many/most churches tacitly accept this. Laughable or sad??? (As in – “As long as you pretend you’re straight you can do our music, since you’re good at it and we don’t have anyone else.” Implied is “Don’t you go bringing your LGBT friends around, because we won’t accept them”)

    Perhaps the relevant factor to consider in the suicide tragedy is not whether these individuals are killing themselves because they are so conflicted over their identity. Perhaps the question the church should be asking is whether or not the lack of acceptance, and the rejection and sometimes outright hostility that is often shown to LGBT individuals by the church is a significant factor in the plague of suicides that stalks this community.

    It is so much easier to not accept any responsibility on the church’s part and say “They’re killing themselves because they’re conflicted over their identity. We’ve done what we could. We told them what (we think) the Bible says. They’re just not willing to accept that.” It is so much more difficult to say “Maybe if we had accepted them, loved them, spent some time with them getting to know them, fewer would be killing themselves.” That might mean doing actually doing something other than quoting a few (probably questionably translated) Bible verses. And who has time for that?

  • Debbie Thurman

    Sam, please don’t infer from one of my questions (Kevin gave that inference a little impetus) that I would be so heartless or naive as to suggest GLBT suicides are driven by self-hatred or identity conflict. Also, remember that Kevin was making somewhat of a distinction between the BTs and the GLs in his post. I already knew from my own research that bisexual and transgender individuals, for whatever reasons, have higher rates of suicide or suicidal thoughts than the general population and gays/lesbians. Additionally, bisexual teen girls have been singled out as having an increased risk for suicide (check out the research of Elizabeth Saewyc, et al). And sexually active teen girls, in general, have been associated with high rates of depression.

    • Kevin Harris

      Btw, if I did imply it, it was not my intention as I do not think you were trying to argue that all the blame can be put on an individual if they attempt suicide and they fall outside of what society deems as the norm for gender identification/expression. But it seems like your main question was that if an individual’s gender was causing them some confusion, is it fair to acknowledge that it played a factor in the attempt. Questions like those do cause me to bristle as too many Christians have tried to pass on the blame and I still think that how others react to their expressed gender plays a much larger role, hence my reaction.

      • Debbie Thurman

        “But it seems like your main question was that if an individual’s gender was causing them some confusion, is it fair to acknowledge that it played a factor in the attempt. Questions like those do cause me to bristle as too many Christians have tried to pass on the blame and I still think that how others react to their expressed gender plays a much larger role, hence my reaction.”

        And I truly appreciate that sentiment, Kevin. What I am saying is we would all do well to get beyond our knee-jerk reactions and our “bristling.” I’ve had to work on my own over time. I guess that’s one path to bridge-building, right?

  • http://www.gracerivers.com John Smid

    Kevin,
    I must say that a recent experience with a transgendered individual was one of the more humbling experiences of my Christian life. She (formerly lived as a man) explained to me her walk with Christ in such a way as to pale most Christian’s dedication to serve Jesus. Her commitment to serve her fellow transgendered community was incredible.

    As i listened to her heart I saw how many transgendered feel lost, alone, confused and certainly unwelcome to a place of worship of Jesus. In her very personal awareness, in submission to the church she was allowed to be a part of, she began a Sunday afternoon “church” for the transgendered she was so burdened to reach.

    To her personal amazement, these folks are coming, remaining, and receiving from this community – hope and stimulation in their own faith.

    As I walked away I found myself saying “and who else is willing, who else could God find?” This experience certainly blew more of my preconceived ideas about someone being “holy enough” to find a place in the service of our Lord.

    I have often said, “if God can’t use imperfect people, He can’t use any of us”. However, my introduction to “Rene” took my own words to a deeper place of reality.

    I am incredibly thankful for Rene, her heart, her sacrifice, and her dedication to give back to Jesus from a thankful heart of what He has already given her.

    John

    • Kevin Harris

      Thanks for sharing about your experience with Rene and her heart John. It is saddening that those she is in ministry with did not feel welcomed at other churches but encouraging that she and others are pushing on to follow Jesus and organize a service that will provide community despite the ways the broader Church has hurt and discouraged them from doing so.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X