By Their Fruit

“If there is no repentance….
...if they profess to be a Christian, then you have to alienate them….
You have to turn them over to Satan, Scripture says…”
John MacArthur answering the question, “what do I do if my adult child comes out to me as gay?”

There was a time in elementary school that I remember when the pressure that many of my classmates had to be accepted to the district’s top performing academic school was immense. It might still be, I don’t know. Either way, I remember one of my classmates inviting everyone to a birthday party at Disneyland, and when he didn’t make it in, he had to call and cancel those plans with his friends. Other students were caught cheating, others dealing with physical abuse - all because of the expectation of grades.

Had one of those children committed suicide, who would get the blame? In most cases, even in the church, the parents, right? We’re taught as parents - even in the church - that we need to love our children unconditionally. That withholding love over unreasonable expectations on grades and success is detrimental to not only the well-being of our children, but to their faith, as we as parents are to demonstrate the unconditional love of God to them on earth.

If that’s the case, then why is it that this week alone has brought not one, but three different people into my life who are dealing with rejection from their parents for their identity as gay or transgender?

Why is it that the National Runaway Switchboard in 2005 was reporting that 42% of homeless youth nationwide identify as LGBTQ+?

I sat this weekend with two of the leaders of our local transgender group, Trans-E-Motion, as I heard heartbreaking statistics of how local shelters and organizations are turning away LGBTQ+ people due to a shortage of resources. These men and women - many in the transgender community - are forced to live on streets, risking illness and death, many of them raped, beaten, or turning to sex work just to survive. But then one has to ask the question, what is causing this? Where is the breakdown?

Locally, the Fresno City College student newspaper, “The Rampage,” detailed the story of Kaede Acuña, a local teen who identifies as non-binary transgender. At the age of 14, they came out as lesbian, at which time their mother kicked her out of the house. They spent 5 days in a local park, surviving off of school lunches, before moving from house to house, spending nights on the couches of friends and bouncing back and forth between home and friends depending on how her mother felt at the time.

Kaede’s story isn’t unique. In the transgender community, 1 in 5 people who were surveyed in the U.S. have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. Amber Cantorna, author of the book, “Refocusing My Family,” openly shares her experience of being cast out by her family when she came out. Her dad, an executive with Focus on the Family, to this day does not have contact with her because of her “sin.” Garrard Conley, author of the book, “Boy Erased,” which was made into a major motion picture in 2018, faced similar issues with his own family who sent him to “reparative therapy” as a way to try and get him to turn away from his own same-sex attractions.

More often than not, these heartbreaking stories find their basis in faith and harmful theology. People like John MacArthur, Franklin Graham, John Piper, and Dr. James Dobson use their voices to urge Christian parents to abandon their children if they identify as LGBTQ+. Christians lash out in anger against progressive authors like Rachel Held Evans and Jen Hatmaker for embracing a theology that affirms the gay and transgender communities, and oftentimes the affirming voices are drowned out against the objections of conservative Christians who are shouting them down. Even in writing this now, I wonder if my voice will ever make any sort of difference as a queer transgender Christian woman.

I guess I have to wonder, is this overwhelming suffering truly coming from God? I can’t honestly believe it is. And what do we do with the idea that it’s the love of God that brings us to repentance - if we also believe that the love of God is experienced in the very community we are being ostracized from?

I don’t have all the answers, I admit that.

But to see the pain and suffering happening at the hands of some of the biggest names in Evangelical Christianity today…. It absolutely breaks my heart. It isn’t God. It can’t be. If it is, then how can we account for the 38 percent increase in suicidal ideation for youth struggling with LGBTQ+ issues in the church over those who did not claim religious affiliation?

In Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus warns about the false teachers who are to come, saying, “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:15-20, CSB)

At the point in time when I was first coming to terms with my own gender identity, I was absolutely scared. What would coming out with this information mean to my marriage? To my family? To my friendships? And, even though I had been away from the Evangelical community for 10 years, there was an immense sense of loss, as if I needed to choose one or the other. Problem was, if I chose the Church and decided to stay in the closet, I wouldn’t have had the willpower to overcome the illness that was putting me close to death. At the same time, choosing to come out and accept that this is what I had been dealing with for all of my life meant that I would no longer be welcome at so many places that I still had a deep affinity for. For me, it finally came down to a decision that I had been hurt enough by the church - and that whatever pain would come from them would no longer be a surprise or an attack on my character. As that realization began to take root in my own life, a sermon one Sunday from the pastor of the United Methodist/United Church of Christ community I have been serving at solidified it all when she spoke on the issue of the LGBTQ+ community, asking, “COULD God have made people this way?”

It was a question I had never considered.

I mean, COULD He have? Could all of this just be something that God allowed to happen to me? I began to embrace that idea and started to study more about gender dysphoria, the state of being disconnected mentally from the physical gender one is. All of it began to add up, and I even began to consider that the UMC/UCC church was a place where I would have to give up my Evangelical past and embrace a more liberal theology.

Even with a supportive and affirming community around me, there was still a sense of deep loss, as if by disappointing the Evangelical community I had held so tightly to for many years meant disappointing God Himself. The thought burned at me for a while, even before I came out to anyone - including my own wife. I remember being in a state of utter despair when she would go to work, praying in my moments of lucidity that God would take this struggle away from me. Pleading with God. Trying to bargain. Wondering if it was just going to be better to allow the illness to overtake me and forget this entire episode.

These are the thoughts that run through my mind, even now as I struggle with so many aspects of my life and coming out. And while I couldn’t imagine life any other way, it’s still painful.

The question is, “does it need to be?”

These are the fruits that have been borne by ministries that do not affirm and embrace the image of God in the person who identifies as LGBTQ+. Socially? I’m well adjusted. Better adjusted, quite honestly, especially in light of where I once was as Darryl. But in terms of my faith? It’s been a struggle, and it pains me to know that I am not alone. Not by a long shot. Friends, families are being torn apart. Lives are being destroyed. Faith and salvation are being called into question - and for what? Because we’re afraid? Because it makes us uncomfortable? Because it’s outside of the norm of what we believe is “normal?”

Jesus routinely had words about that. From His ministry with the marginalized and outcast to the sick and the sinners…. He called ALL people to Himself. And it was in encountering Jesus that the lives of these people were changed dramatically. Yet, the changes weren’t always welcome or accepted. Remember the man at the pool of Bethesda? (John 5:1-16) Jesus healed the man, yet the religious leaders got upset that He did it on the Sabbath. We’ve GOT to remember and realize that it wasn’t the religious leaders that changed people. It wasn’t the congregations that brought repentance. It was when Jesus encountered these people.

So, how can people in our communities encounter Jesus? By welcoming them. By embracing them and letting them be an active part of our faith communities. By sharing the stories with them and allowing them, in community, to draw close to God. Yet, too often, the wall is built even before the LGBTQ+ person even can step foot in the door. “Not welcome here,” is the message proclaimed. Or, more commonly, “not welcome here unless you’re willing to change.”

The people Jesus came into contact with - they had no idea that they were needing to change any aspect of their lives. They asked and were compelled to change because of how God met them where they were at. The real sin, then, is when religion and our own ideologies block people from that place where ALL can meet God where they are at. No questions asked.

“You shall know them by their fruits.”

What are the fruits of your ministry? Of your church’s ministry? We say that the Church needs to be “Jesus to the world.” Are we? Something to think about.
homeless man holding a white bread, close-up

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