Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chaz Bono's Lion's Heart

I love Dancing With The Stars, and this season, one of my favorites is Chaz Bono.

 It also made me recall my early mission days, when I was given a chance to shepherd gays and transgender people. One of the signs of old age is constant nostalgia and insight from the past. I've been deluged with memories, lately, that I haven't thought about for literally years and years.

Maybe it was the call from my dear old friend from the past, which summoned up some of the ghosts from these days, or maybe I need to review my own life to scrutinize what I did wrong or right.

I was reminded of when as a youth leader, and becoming knowledgeable enough to minister, I was recommended to participate in a missionary assignment. This is the ultimate dream of all young Christians, especially Jewish ones! We all desire to be sent to the Congo, like Audrey Hepburn in "The Nun's Story", haha, but, in reality, missionary assignments usually refers to work amongst our own environment. In my case, it was suggested that I help minister a mission to gays and transgender people.

I was honored, but, it was a strange ministry to be asked to participate. Back then, Jews 4 Jesus was sponsored and funded, in part, by the Southern Baptist Convention. They funded the Messianic movement. In turn, after educating us,  they expected us to impart their dogma, doctrine and mission goals, with the latitude to incorporate our Jewish culture and beliefs.

When they suggested I participate in a mission to the gays, I was a little surprised, but, it made sense as well. I had some good friends, who were gay, who I brought to church, from time to time. I suppose I was much less imposing or threatening than a male sponsor or spiritual mentor, anyway. 

 However, their plan was to help convert them, both in spirit and sexual orientation. In my heart, I believed that it wasn't possible to change their sexual orientation. I didn't share this belief, and that my be my first mistake.

I never believed that they were condemned, 0R that God created them flawed, or that their love wasn't valid. While there is certainly promiscuous behavior in the gay community, it is not different from heterosexuality, where pornography and lust lure the individual down a destructive path.'

But, in general, I cannot attribute someone else's sexuality to rebellion, sin or the devil, gay or straight.

It grieved me, to constantly try to fight the daunting bias against gays, and that's not even close to how  narrow minded their view was of transgender people. 

I became concerned for transgender, knowing three or four individuals personally. One transgender male to female I knew was so successful that she dated prominent blue blood people, even Grace Kelly's brother. But, the story for the others was far different. It pierced my own heart to feel their heartbreak and hear their stories of rejection and ridicule. Not one transgender person I ever knew was in the flagrantly exploitative "drag queen" mode, but, quite the opposite, being  more subdued than we were.

By  mid 1980s,  AIDS was casting a dark shadow on the gay and transgender communities, and it was not unusual for otherwise decent, kind-hearted, and God-fearing Christians to hate these people, without knowing anything about them.  

What was far worse was how many believed AIDS was a plague that they deserved. Meanwhile, thousands of hemophiliacs were afflicted, not to mention those who were not considered high risk. 

 Instead of providing safe haven and being a refuge to these dear souls, we became their tormentors, condemning them by justifying our prejudice by assuming God's "plague" was a license to hate and judge them. In fact, we were judging ourselves, because, the absence of love is considered the greatest sin.

   I recognized this syndrome to be from pure ignorance and fear. Unfortunately, the case with those who consider themselves "children of God," is that we often think that our own impulses and knee-jerk responses are infallible, in the mistaken assumption that we are imbued with the mind of Christ. How can we grow, or get past that major obstacle?

Back then, the church recognized that a mission to the gays was essential, but, felt our role was to emphasize total renunciation of their lifestyles. 

It's absurd to consider why heterosexuals  are welcomed into the church, with no questions asked, while homosexuals and  transgender, were outcasts. In fact, my closest gay friend, had not even had sex for years and years. He felt this was directed by God, and the way he  he could achieve his goals. That was not different from my own self-imposed chastity before God as a single person.

I don't think the Kingdom of God pertains to who you have sex with, anyway, but, how faithful we are to the Gospel of Christ, and our faithfulness to HIM, following his commands, his example, his ministry and extending the hope of eternal life to a hopeless world. 

What more deserving group is there than those who the world cast out ?

In the course of my early association with this ministry,  I encountered  a transgender teen, just a helpless young pup, who was heartlessly thrown out to the streets by his own so-called Christian family. I ended up bringing him (her) home with me. She was lovable, ethereally beautiful, kind and spiritual. It broke my heart to pieces seeing how at risk she was, living on the street, starving, getting beaten and even raped.

 Christ is about redemption to ANYONE who accepts His free gift. If this free gift went out to Paul, a murderer and persecutor of the disciples, then, why would two people who are committed to love one another be seen as being outside the grace and cleansing of the blood of Christ?

The Kingdom of Heaven is not about sex. It just is not. We're informed that in God's Kingdom, we'll be like the Angels, being neither male or female, while being both male and female. If it's the nature of Angels, why can't the Church be more open-minded?

In the course of a rapidly expanding gay attendance in our congregation, we inherited two Israeli women, one a female-to-male transgender.
They had to leave their Orthodox communities in Israel, and sought a place where they could exist in peace. They were joyful believers, and they filled me with a helium-like contact high from being in the presence of two people who loved God.

The coup des gras was when they were  married in our church by our rabbi. Their relatives were overcome with emotions, because, the wedding was wonderful to behold, with unadulterated joy and blessings. Naches, as they say.

The rabbi also had a blast, with a  jubilant audience appreciating every word of his consecration and sermon to them. There wasn't a dry eye, and people were laughing and crying when they were pronounced man and wife!

The bubble burst when their exuberant families extended their deepest thanks to our rabbi, and expressed their awe in how liberal-minded our branch of Judaism was in accepting two people,  both born as woman, and joining them in a legally binding marriage.... well, kind of legal.

The kerfuffle that ensued in rapid order is actually unnecessary to describe, because, it is obvious how it would upset many.  

 The objectives for damage control ensued : 1. Keep this out of the MEDIA; 2. Remove me from all contact with the gay community; 3. Make my life miserable... including being yelled at and insulted.
A lot.

The next mission I was offered was to Druids. Yes. That's right. DRUIDS! If I heard the line, "You don't look Druish," a thousand times, it wouldn't surprise me. Anyway, I left the congregation shortly afterward. I loved Jews 4 Jesus, but, it felt like wearing a pair of jeans I outgrew, cutting into my flesh and making me miserable. I went looking for a better fit somewhere else, and to be honest, I'm still looking....

I wanted to emphasize these stories to portray why I have always been tender-hearted to gays and transgender, and why I  believe they are as worthy of Christ's Kingdom as me. The amount of suffering they endure almost pre-qualifies them, in my opinion, because it helps to create the mirror image of Christ on the cross. 

No one who is straight could understand the personal, and public struggles they have to overcome.

I'm reminded of John 9:1 to 9:3 where Christ is presented with a blind man. Sicknesses were considered to be a punishment for sin back then, (and for some, in our day.)

Jhn 9:1 And as [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man which was blind from [his] birth.

9:2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

9:3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

It may seem like a stretch to use this illustration to compare gays and transgender, but, it parallels the type of prejudice and self-righteous indignation that many of us, as Christians, are prone towards. Just like in this passage, Christ utilizes the infirmity in this innocent man to impress the disciples how some, who are ostensibly cursed, or are different and despised, are not smitten to punish them, but, to earnestly test our hearts, and our faith.

When we label people  unworthy of salvation and condemn them to Hell, based on our narrow-minded understanding derived from framing a few lines of Scripture and developing a curse, we have impeded the work of God, and persecuted His creation. God isn't the author of confusion. We need to think about the way we react to many who are outcasts from church society.

God does NOT make mistakes. These people are born with an orientation as certain as any heterosexual or original gender individual. We know that genes and hormones determine sexual identity, and development is unique to each person.

 I don't believe that someone decides to be rebellious, and succumbs to a sexual preference due to sinfulness. The amount of turmoil and pain that most gays endure make that premise LUDICROUS! They were made the way they are by a perfect and merciful God, and deserve the same opportunity to be loved by God, and by God's so-called "chosen." They stand as witnesses of God's perfection, and God-forbid we condemn those who God has blessed.

Anyway, I think Chaz Bono has a ton of courage, and I'm proud of him. I pray that he has not been scarred or scared off by the prejudice of many Christians. I would feel honored to call him, "Brother."

And as far as I'm concerned....That's that.

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