Two Lesbians and a Transsexual Trying to Change Churches into Their Own Images
John C. Rankin
[excerpted from First the Gospel, Then Politics …, 1999, Vol. 2, not published]
Some years ago, a pastor in a large evangelical church presented a problem to me. He described two women who attended his church and sat in the back row on Sunday. They were avowed lesbians, and were forthcoming in telling this to my friend and other staff. They also professed to be evangelical Christians, and had no desire to go to a homosexual church or a theologically liberal church that would affirm them as lesbians. They wanted affirmation in that evangelical church.
Both women were divorced, one from a pastor, and both felt justified in their divorces. They learned of each other through mutual Christian friends, and together rented a place to live out of economic necessity. One woman had two young children, and the other woman was able to help with childcare. In the course of time, these two lonely women, both feeling rejected by their ex-husbands, came to share their sufferings emotionally together, then in a way where they fell into sexual sin. As they did, they did not think it was wrong. They had found a “safe place” with each other.
I believe it is important for we Christians who have little personal knowledge about the nature of homosexuality – whether among men or women – to walk in the shoes of my college roommate, or of these two women. Their vignettes are only representative, but it should help us grasp the humanity involved, and how oftentimes homosexuals feel no other option. Only when we can lovingly listen to them, can we be servants of Jesus’s power of deliverance for them.
These two women came to my pastor friend because the mother of the two children wanted them baptized, and she wanted her lesbian partner also baptized and designated as the “other mother.” My friend balked, and called me to help sort out his thoughts. He and I agreed that these lesbians were welcome to attend worship at the church, even though they were living in sin. It was above board with the pastor, and if they wanted to hear biblical preaching, then all the better, and thus more hope for their eventual repentance.
However, when it came to the church affirming their lesbian identities, it was a different matter. The pastor was willing to baptize the children, in building a redemptive relationship with them that could triumph over their mother’s sin. But he was unwilling to designate her lesbian lover as the “other mother,” or allow her to have any part in the ceremony except to observe. The father was asked to be present and participate, with the vows being directed to him, the mother and children only.
A difficult issue with so many tangled and painful undercurrents. The balance needed is to be sure that the invitation of the Gospel is never clouded – even to self-conscious sinners, but also to be sure that sin is never viewed as acceptable in God’s sight or the church’s sight. Any biblically faithful church should welcome any sinner – homosexual, heterosexual fornicator, embezzler, slanderer or whomever – if they come to the church on its own terms. But when they try to change the Bible and the church to conform to their sins, then this is where we draw the line. There are no leadership positions that should be open for unrepentant homosexuals in the church, and the church has the right to ask them to leave if they are seeking to advance their sin to others in the church. The same is true for any person who engages in heterosexual relations outside of marriage. But for all who struggle with sin and come to the church for help, even if just passively taking in the worship and the preaching, then that is what Jesus is all about:
“Come to me, all you who toil and are loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is good and my burden is light” (vv. 28-30).
But we must come to him on his terms, not ours. And in order to gain the promised rest, we must accept his yoke – obedience to who he is, and how he has fulfilled the good law of Moses. Having said this, there is an important caveat. If such a lesbian couple were to become hardened to the Gospel, cut off communication with the pastor and engage in any defiance, then the church has the proper prerogative to ask them to leave. But so long as the pastor and other church leaders see genuine receptivity to ministry, they are free to keep the invitation to them open. It is a fine line, but as mercy triumphs over judgment, most of us know situations in which it took years of maintaining such a fine line that enabled a sinner to finally repent, and oftentimes only when their sin backfired on them severely enough. And when it did, they had Christians to whom they could turn, and in whom they could trust.
This issue can get quite complicated as we seek to serve the mercy that triumphs over judgment. One pastor told me of a young woman who came to Christ in response to the preaching in his church, she eagerly joined in a discipleship class, and was full of joy in her new found faith. After a period of time, she confided in him that she was not a “she,” but a “he” by birth. “She” had had a sex-change operation. The pastor did not make it an issue, treating it as fait accompli.
As I have thought about it, I respect his willingness to accept this person in the “state” he/she came to Christ. But what is the true identity factor? Namely, this is in reality a man who has confused his masculinity to the point he felt like and wanted to live as a woman. If the order of redemption restores us to the promise of the order of creation, then his broken sexuality must be healed as well. He needs to come to a point of healing where he regards himself as the man God made him to be, and to thus go off the female hormones and have the physicality of his sex-change operation reversed as much as it can be. (I once met a woman who successfully had a sex-change operation reversed. She did so as a result of coming to Christ, and she was a joyful Christian, deeply grateful for how God had and was healing her broken sexuality.)
In a subsequent case, another pastor sought my advice about a similar transsexual – a man who had become a “woman” and an opposite decision had to be made in comparison to the case of the two lesbians. “She” professed an evangelical faith, and became active in the church. The church received “her” well as a person, but as “she” was quite public about “her” transsexual identity, it made for uncomfortable factors in church life. When little children in the Sunday School spoke of “her” as “the man who dresses like a woman,” the pastor knew the line had to be drawn.
“She” was welcome to come to the church and seek God, to be transformed into the image of Christ, but not free to seek to remake the church and the Gospel into “her” own image. “She” was not free to advocate the reversal with even implicit church sanction. Children have a habit of calling a spade a spade. “She” may have looked like a woman, but his maleness was still there in the true psyche. The pastor, along with two other church leaders, brought the transsexual in for a conference, and told him that he was a man, and needed to be reconciled to Christ on those terms – his God-given identity. And he was free to struggle with it, but not free to export it in their midst. “She” chose instead to leave the church. What we see here is a pansexual jihad agenda, where the brokenness of such a man needed religious approval to justify his sin. And when the church did not accede, he left, likely seeking to find a church that would give him such affirmation and justification.