Martha and Billy were only young, but they were allowed to walk home from Sunday school together. Whenever Martha and Billy walked home from Sunday school they passed a holiday resort for naturists. They’d never actually seen anything as the property had a great big wall around it. They usually didn’t pay it any attention but today they could hear the strangest sounds coming from over the wall. There was yelling, grunting, squeals, laughing, and all kinds of odd sounds. So Martha and Billy looked at each other and decided they couldn’t carry on without taking a peek over the wall to see what was going on.
Billy said, “let me climb on your shoulders and I might be able to see over the top”. Martha stood very still whilst billy scrambled up to look over the wall. As he peeked over the top Martha asked -“What’s going on?”. Billy said, “there’s a whole lot of people playing volleyball”. Martha asked “are they men, or are they ladies?” and Billy said, “I don’t know, they haven’t got any clothes on”.
Defining someone’s gender by the clothes they wear is childish. Believing we can define anyone’s gender by the clothes they wear, or the way they wear their hair, or whether or not they wear makeup might have been forgiven back in the 1970’s, but today you’d have to be really nieve to assume that you know someone’s gender or preferred pronoun based on these things. In fact, the one thing we should know is that, when it comes to gender and gender expression, you can’t take anything for granted. Which, when you think about it, is only right.
In 1 Corinthians 2:11 we read Who can know the thoughts of another person? Only a person’s own spirit can know them. In the same way, only the Spirit of God knows God’s thoughts.
In London’s pride parade last week a group or anti-trans protestors, who not only held up the march but then ended up walking at the head of the parade. These are cis-gendered women, women who were born biologically female, who believe that trans women don’t have the right to identify as women.
Their argument seems to be that since a trans woman’s journey into womanhood isn’t the same as a cis-gendered woman’s journey into womanhood, then trans women are not really women. These protestors define women by their sex, their biology; and not their gender or identity. It reminds me of Israel 3,000 years ago where it was deemed that a man wasn’t really a man if his testicles had been crushed. I kid you not – Deuteronomy 23:1-7.
It’s true that most bigotry is born out of ignorance – and that transphobia, like homophobia, is often rooted in irrational fear, but I had hoped we’d got past demeaning others to make ourselves feel more secure, especially within the LGBT community.
Years ago I can remember sitting on a few BBC panel shows, defending my right to be Gay and Christian. I remember the ridiculous questions I was asked, like ‘are you the man or the woman in the relationship?’ or ‘When did you choose to be gay? How do you know that you’re gay if you’ve never been with a woman? Did something bad happen to you when you were a kid? You must be Christian, or gay, you can’t be both. Your parents must be so hurt, why would you want to do this to them? You look so normal, are you sure this isn’t a phase?
My sexuality was about sex to them.
Fox and Owl To deny someone their identity is an act of the most awful emotional violence and it leaves scars deeper than any that could be held by the skin.
You’d think we’d have got past it in the Christian church. After all, one’s identity in Christ is a matter of faith so it would make sense that our core identity is also a matter of faith.
But one of the big problems I still see in the church is most Christians don’t seem to understand what faith is. In fact, many believe faith and belief are the same things.
Pain for you and others. Belief is created by the mind. Faith is created by the Spirit.
By its nature belief changes, whereas by it’s nature faith is foundational
In Hebrews 11:1 we read Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. – Faith is its own evidence. It is that which we know because we know it. It is that which we know because our Spirit declares it.
Our beliefs are a reflection of the way we see the world, our reality, created by our religion, culture, and experience.
Our faith is born of the Spirit and so is a reflection of God’s reality, not ours. Faith doesn’t make sense. You can’t reason it out.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 the apostle Paul wrote that For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one should boast.
You can create your beliefs, study, argue, work them out. You can’t create faith. All you can do is choose to live in it, or not. Belief is so much easier than faith because beliefs make sense and faith does not.
Talk to any Trans person about their journey.
Joke for you, on a trans blog. How many transgender people does it take to change a light bulb? – 1, but they have to live in the dark for two years to make sure they really want it changed, and then get the opinion of two electricians to make sure it really needs changing.
It’s not funny. Who would choose that? Who would want that? Who would make such a journey unless it was an imperative, and essential to identity?
Quite often our beliefs don’t serve us, they hold us back. They keep us from God, rather than drawing us closer.
I see it so often, that belief has been a jailer, certainly not the wings of freedom. The freedom we have in Christ is one born of faith, not the dogma of religious belief. When he said “I came so you may have life, and life in abundance” he didn’t add “as long as you believe all the dogma”. In fact what he said was quite simply “as long as you believe in me”.
There comes a point in our lives, if we’re very lucky and very unlucky, that we choose between belief and faith.
For example, it’s easy to believe that all you need is to do is pray for healing, when it’s for somebody you don’t know well that needs healing. But when it’s you or someone you love that’s suffering, and praying hard doesn’t seem to be making any difference, it’s miserable.
Belief says there must be an answer, praying should work. We reason that we must have done something wrong, or that God must be waiting for something from us. We might think that the illness is God’s will – there’s a belief that will mess you up. Or if we think that belief and faith are the same things then we might think that God is testing our faith.
In reality, God isn’t testing anything, we are leaning the wrong way, into belief instead of faith.
The kind of belief I’m talking about here is the branch that bears no fruit. The more we try to hang on to it, the more the tree seems to shake. Belief says “don’t let go”. Faith says “trust, and let go”. Let go, and watch Jesus cut the branch off and throw it into the fire. Let him, it wasn’t bearing any fruit anyway.
Look at the beliefs you’ve let go of already. Santa Clause, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, and most of the western church has left behind slavery, gender and race inequality – although we still have a ways to go for gender equality. We no longer believe that if you’re sick it’s because you’ve sinned. We no longer believe that a disability is a curse from God. We no longer believe that God burns souls forever in a fiery hell. Well, most of us don’t.
Belief that bears no fruit. Branches cut off and thrown into the fire.
A few years ago Rea Nolan Martin wrote a wonderful article on faith and belief in the Huffington Post. She wrote, and I’m paraphrasing a little: To commit to faith is not the same as committing to a set of beliefs. In crisis it is impossible to know what the unknowable God is really asking of us. In fact, is it God at the centre of this? Or just circumstance?
Faith answers: It doesn’t matter. You don’t know now whether God is responsible, and you may never know. But that helps you to be humble and teachable. To throw away the conflicting and unusable beliefs of the mind is to be free of human chatter and hubris and step closer to the divine. Where faith does not fill in the cracks, fear will. Faith is an attitude of acceptance of not knowing. Knowing does not create faith. Unknowing does.
In other words, when the bad stuff hits the proverbial fan how do I know whether it’s God’s will or not? How do I know if God is in the process, or not? The truth is I don’t know, and perhaps I never will. Just like Jesus on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. He didn’t know why God was allowing it to happen but he had faith that God loved him – otherwise, why ask the question? Jesus let go of everything and trusted in faith. And models that for us.
I have a faith that tells me that God made me gay. Trans women have a faith that tells them that they are women. Christians have a faith that Jesus lives, and that God is love. Homophobes, transphobes, and Christian fundamentalists can believe what they like, after all, in the end, it’s not belief that counts. It’s faith.