When I was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church there are a lot of things that just didn’t click with me. Since coming out as bisexual and finding myself in a more progressive space, a lot has become clear.

They say no one can be convinced of something that will cost them their job. It’s tempting to think that when I was a pastor I believed what I believed for the sake of my career. That’s probably not true, though. Becoming a pastor is a huge sacrifice for most people. We don’t go into ministry because it’s easy or lucrative, but because we are true believers. That slowly gets muddied along the way.

I often hear people say that pastors should be more open and authentic. I believe that’s true. However, in conservative churches especially, there are factors associated with the role itself that make it almost impossible to be open and authentic. Your role as a pastor places much higher scrutiny no you and your life. Many of us do little things like hide books (Harry Potter anyone?) because it isn’t worth the potential hassle. We might dress differently or avoid wearing jewelry in an Adventist church especially. There might be some more progressive opinions we tend to keep to ourselves if we are in conservative churches.

That’s because conservative church members generally prefer that the pastor be a bit more conservative than they are. And you never know when someone is going to call your boss (whether it’s a conference official or board members depending on your church structure). Even if your boss totally backs you up, you’ve still caused a hassle. Then there are the expectations of your board or your conference. When you are a pastor, the expectations can hit you from every direction, and the criticism.

I know a lot of people who have had little disagreements turn into big deals, with churches determined to kick them out. When that happens the family usually has to move, sell the house, take the kids out of school, spouse needs to find a new job. There are a lot of pastors walking around with genuine trauma because of the way they’ve been treated by their churches.

All that leads to pressure to present yourself just a little more conservative than you are, to take a few less risks, to be a bit more conventional. That adds up over a period of years. You can’t present yourself as different than you are without it having a real impact on your life. You can’t do it without eroding your ability to earnestly and wholeheartedly seek the truth.

All those little changes in how your present yourself add up in the end to prioritizing image over authenticity. Courage and vulnerability are both needed to seek the truth. It’s not so easy to wake up one day and manufacture these qualities. They are more like a muscle. If you don’t use them, they may not be strong enough when you need them.

When I was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church there are a lot of things that just didn’t click with me. Since coming out as bisexual and finding myself in a more progressive space, a lot has become clear.

The cold reality is that most people just don’t care about church that much. When I was a pastor, there was a subtle influence to think of people as invested in the church but maybe lacking some degree of inspiration.

Pastors might talk about pew warmers with a casual hint of disdain and be frustrated that people aren’t more dedicated. There was always for me a sense that these people feel that perhaps they know they should be more dedicated. Now I realize most people don’t even think they should be involved more. Most people don’t care about evangelism or church rules. They get something out of a loose affiliation, but not that much.

The biggest eye opener on this for me was how dramatically different people talked to me once I was no longer a pastor. When I was a pastor, in all my conversations people would pretend to care. When I stopped being a pastor they suddenly spoke very differently. I realized there were huge portions of the teachings of the church that a lot of people just plain ignore because they don’t believe them at all.

I should have known this before. Research has been indicating for years that larger and larger percentages of church members don’t believe basic Christian doctrine like the divinity of Christ, abstinence until marriage, and anti-LGBT+ theology. Those numbers are only going up. In the Adventist church you can add Sabbath keeping, abstaining from alcohol, and prophetic interpretation to the list.

This is the biggest problem of the church. Even though many people stay in the pews for one reason or another, their hearts really aren’t in it. Churches are losing the allegiance of its own members, but because many of them attend, and many of them give lip service to the pastors, the pastors don’t realize it.

People don’t need a revival, because the problem isn’t that they are lacking energy or Spirit. They need a church they can believe in.

One year ago I desperately wanted to attend the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference. I recall trying to think of cover stories for leaving for a few days so that my church and people close to me wouldn’t know where I was going. People finding out could result in questions I didn’t want anyone asking, questions that could lead to me losing my job as pastor.

It wa s all too easy for me to let the date come and go without ever registering or making plans to attend. I was afraid, not only of being discovered but of being seen for who I am at that conference.

Spend all your time hiding and authenticity feels foreign and dangerous. Fear won that day, but fear did not win in the end.

Today, I am waiting for my flight to leave from Denver, having just attended the very conference I was so afraid of one year ago.

Waiting for my flight to leave, I’m reflecting on my first Gay Christian Network conference. This turned out to be the last the last conference by that name when the name was changed to Q Christian Fellowship. It’s the ending of an era that I was glad to be present for, and the beginning of a new era that I’m thrilled to be part of.

This seems like a good time to reflect on what it’s been like to go from conservative church community to queer Christian community.

This very conference that I was so afraid to attend one year ago already feels like home, maybe as much like home as Adventist meetings and conferences ever did. Having attended several progressive and LGBT+ friendly events over the last 9 months since coming out as bisexual, I’m amazed at how many people I know as I wander around the convention center.

These are people I love and who inspire me, people who see all of me and call me good and blessed, people who understand and appreciate my ministry, and people to whom I can gush about my girlfriend and they’ll simply be happy for me. Here I am known and loved. I can drop my guard because no defense is needed. They fulfill my innate need for community in a way I’m not so sure the church I grew up in is capable of anymore, if it ever was.

These conferences bring tremendous healing to all of us. I would even say they save people.

Three months ago at a conservative and LGBT+ affirming conference called The Reformation Project in Chicago, I met a young lesbian woman. She was emotionally wrecked. Constantly on the verge of tears, she seemed fragile and vulnerable because of the criticism she’d taken.

As I talked with her I realized that she was in big trouble. She was at a Christian school that made her believe her desire for intimate love and connection with a woman was a sin. Her friends only reinforced this, telling her she could never experience the love she longed for.

TRP was good for her. She was encouraged, loved, accepted, and was able to see how many queer Christians are affirming themselves and thriving because of it. She was also exposed to solid theology that shifted her thinking and gave her hope.

Still, when I left I was afraid for her. I was afraid she wouldn’t know how to deal with the stress of rejection and loneliness.

A few days ago, at the QCF conference, I saw her again. Instantly I knew that things had changed for her. She stood taller, looked people directly in the eye, and most of all she smiled easily. Clearly she was on a totally new trajectory.

We talked for a few minutes, and she simply glowed when I told her how apparent the change was. I found out she’s doing very well and made the decision to change to a different school. She’s decided to leave behind those religious systems that brought her only death and condemnation. She is finding a better way.

I wonder what would have happened to her without QCF. I wonder what would have happened to me without this beautiful world of queer Christians. I don’t know how people made it before.

I suspect they usually abandoned their faith completely or lived lives of loneliness and judgement in church. But I know there is one more outcome that was and still is all too common. The specter of LGBT+ suicide for those in non-affirming Christian spaces is ever on my mind.

Instead, for those who are in churches and organizations that affirm them, there is hope there never was before. We get to experience Christianity with no strings attached. Love is given without qualification here. Community is unconditional.

We’re here not because we all signed a belief statement or are part of the same denomination. We don’t all behave the same way. There are a variety of different approaches to ethical questions. It’s not our uniformity that unites us. We are united because we all want to help each other through this life as followers of Jesus.

This is not Christendom where discipleship means following your pastor or the tradition and teachings that have been handed down, but where discipleship means following Jesus.

I’m here to report that it’s possible, it’s real, and it’s beautiful. Breath free, beloved, and experience the body of Christ in the fullness of authenticity, messiness, and grace.

Queer Christians are not the only ones who long for this experience of faith. The hunger is universal. From the pulpit to the pew to the classroom, Christians are tired of the judgement, but don’t know the way out.

There is a way out, a way to the gospel that is good news. This is not the gospel of conformity, but the gospel of Jesus Christ, freely given, full of Grace, Peace, and Love.

To get there we need to stop being afraid, stop covering up our authentic selves with masks and lies, and be willing to seek Jesus with our full hearts.

This is the secret that is well known to queer Christians. This is the gift we offer the church of Christ.

I’ve started and failed to finish blog after blog, even though they were great topics and important, meaningful, things I believe in. It seems I’ve had writers block because of my last post about Losing My Religion, a kind of dear John letter to the Adventist church, the conservative Christian denomination in which I used to pastor before coming out.

The day after posting it, even though every word came from a very deep and honest place, something felt off. It was only a half truth. One stop on the way to wherever I’m going. Neither a final destination nor the last word on my relationships with the church I grew up in.

Every sermon is a heresy. It’s something I’ve often said. Maybe every blog post is also a heresy, guilty of the same crime for the same reason, only able to contain a small portion of the truth.

So here’s another side: Most of the best, most loving, kindest, and most generous people I know are Adventists. Many of those people are also totally unaffirming of the way I experience love and family. This is a complex truth. It’s hard for me to handle.

I’ve been looking forward to the day my anger and hurt would abate enough for me to engage more directly with individuals from my church, maybe even attend a service again. That is beginning to happen, and it’s bringing with it unexpected emotions.

During my time as an Adventist in good standing, many people invested in me. Faces flash into my mind as I write these words, faces of people whose kindness got me through difficult times, whose faith in me gave me hope as I pursued the difficult path of becoming a pastor in the Adventist church as a woman.

When I was about the graduate from my Adventist High School, I was gifted a precious book that still sits on my shelf. A book about grace signed by my teachers, one after another affirming their confidence in me and my bright future. This is a beautiful gift for an 18-year-old. I recall professors who spent endless hours guiding me through difficult questions and struggles. I can think of Administrators who offered me jobs, and more importantly whose confidence in me was so crucial for my success.

Adventists were there for me in moments of need. Offering me a room in their home when I needed it, showing up in the hospital to pray with my father who had been diagnosed with cancer when I was on the other side of the country, letting me know that he was being loved when I couldn’t be there yet. Adventist administrators gave me ridiculous amounts of time off so I could be with my father even though they knew I may well be quitting my job to be with my family. My Adventist church family put together my father’s memorial service, making all the arrangements and showing up with food for the reception, after only one phone call from me asking for help.

Adventists are the colleges who supported me through ups and downs and difficult seasons of ministry. They are people who encouraged me, mentored me, gave me opportunities I wasn’t even sure I was ready for, and helped me succeed.

Adventists, many of them anyways, are people who will be there for you if you need them, no questions asked, no thanks required, because they know how to love well.

I wounded these kind and loving people when I came out as bisexual and opposed the church’s treatment of LGBT+ people.

People I worked with side by side, building up the church, now watch me tear down our work. The energy they poured into me I now use to accomplish the opposite of their intentions. I know for certain that my coming out caused people to leave the Adventist church for good. More than that, they are afraid for me because of the choices I am making, and they are afraid of the harm they believe I am causing to others.

The word betrayal is not too strong. I betrayed them. I betrayed the church that nurtured, raised, and loved me. Over the months since coming out, I’ve only twisted that knife. I feel my betrayal, even though I believe I’m doing the right thing.

How must it be for them? Adventists who love me now struggle with my announcement and struggle with the new me. Some are cruel to me in their struggle. Some want to dialogue. Some are even cheering me on. But most seem at a loss and want mostly to care for me but don’t know how.

I know my betrayal is necessary. I’m intentionally causing those good people to struggle, and I hope by God’s good grace to continue. LGBT+ people struggle unseen and unacknowledged in the Adventist church. Straight Adventists need to feel this hidden struggle. Nor is the pain I’ve caused in any way comparable to the extreme stress and resulting mental health challenges LGBT+ people face as a result of unaffirming theology. Yet I know that for some it has felt like I punched them in the stomach. I’ve been told as much.

If I have betrayed my church, my betrayal is the best way I know of being faithful. It’s a holy betrayal.

So why does part of me want to say sorry? I guess for the simple reason that I hurt people I love and who love me. ‘Sorry’ is not the right word and apology is not what is owed. I need to be clear about that. I have no shame and no regret but know I am in the center of God’s calling in the ministry I am doing now. I do want to acknowledge something I haven’t before. Here’s what I would like to say, if it’s not too late, if anyone I’ve hurt is listening:

“I now see past my own pain enough to acknowledge yours. I know you are not malicious but well-intentioned. I see that I’ve undermined the work we were doing together and how hard that could be. I can accept that you are hurt too. I know things are forever changed between us, but I hope they aren’t over.”

If you think I owe the church an apology, I guess this is the best I can do. There is healing in these words for me; I hope there is for others as well.

And this is important because I know my story is not unique. So many of us LGBT+ Christians who are in traditional denominations or coming out of them are in this struggle, and so many of the people we left behind are struggling as well. Perhaps my words can be of some help. If I’ve missed the mark, remember, every blog post is a heresy.

What now? What hope remains for people who have so hurt each other? What reconciliation can there be after such gut-wrenching mutual betrayal?

I don’t know. But for some reason I feel hopeful.

Maybe my hope comes from this: we are all trying to follow Jesus, and even if we don’t know how to manage this mess, Jesus does.

Today I’m finally going to talk about something that has been conspicuously missing from my blog: the crazy journey I have been on in my faith since coming out publicly as bi. Perhaps I’m ready to talk about it today because I’m beginning to recover some sense of spiritual grounding again.

Before coming out, affirming theology seemed like the missing element to my faith. Things seemed to fit in a way that didn’t before. Affirming theology reconciled elements of the Bible and God that hadn’t made sense. Those things are probably still true, though for a time they seemed like they weren’t.

I realize now that the real change since coming out isn’t about the Bible or God, it’s about the church. So much of it has been about the way people and institutions responded to me coming out. As expected, there was praise from some and attacks from others. What did surprise me is the reactions I haven’t heard, reactions I fully expected to encounter from Bible-believing Christians.

Losing the Beautiful Vision

My whole life I’ve been taught that the Adventist church has no creed but the Bible, that our doctrines are based on scripture more than any other denomination.

When others reverted to tradition, Adventist theology progressed, embracing the Sabbath, new understandings of death and the nature of the soul, new prophets, and new prophecies. We were a faith unafraid to go back to the Bible. We were people of the book.

I was a true believer in this visions of the Adventist church.

Because of this, I had a framework for why it was okay to open myself up to new understandings of scripture. When I studied and changed my mind about LGBT+ affirmation, that wasn’t a big threat to me. It made sense. It’s how Christianity is supposed to work.

Since coming out, I’m unable to believe that this vision of Adventism is true in the present, even if it was in the past. Coming out has decimated my faith in the church.

The response I expected and rarely received was thoughtful, careful engagement with me in study of the text. If Adventist understandings of truth are based on scripture and not on tradition, the first response to my work should be curiosity fostered by a desire to understand the Bible better.

Instead, I found people insisting that this matter has already been decided, that it’s part of settled theology in the Adventist church. In fact, many times I’ve been asked what more an Adventist pastor could do given the limitations of our theology. But why would our theology be excluded from change? This isn’t Adventism at all.

Defaulting to the doctrines of the church rather than the study of scripture isn’t supposed to be what it means to be an Adventist. As one of our most important founders put it:

“There is no excuse for anyone taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed and that our expositions of Scripture are without error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close examination.” -Ellen White

In stark contrast to this attitude of the early founders of our church, the Adventist church has taken a settled position against same-gender marriage and against transgender people. They’ve done so despite the fact that the Adventist church has never undertaken to study this issue, but instead has assumed itself to be right with zero self-examination.

As one example, when they met at the Andrews University seminary for a conference on the subject of “homosexuality” a few years ago, they began the conference clarifying that the churches doctrine was not up for re-examination. Everything they said would be within those bounds.

This approach is not the approach our church was founded on. It’s not what we are telling people about ourselves and our values. We are telling people the Adventist church is all about being true to the text, over and above any other denomination, even when it sets us at odds with other Christians.

Where Have the Faithful Gone?

I get it. I expected the official church to take this stance. The church is becoming more creedal, theologically calcifying for decades. What I didn’t expect was the lack of curiosity and open engagement from individuals in the church.

I have seen people casually write me off, saying my hermeneutic is wrong without ever expounding. I’ve studied hermeneutics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. I know how it works. The hermeneutic I’ve used in my work is conservative.

No, I don’t use a literalistic approach, but that’s not a conservative hermeneutic, it’s an uneducated one. My hermeneutic has attempted to get at the original intent of the author and to illuminate the work that God is doing in his people through all of scripture and over time. That’s conservative hermeneutics. That’s what I’ve used every time. In every post. In every discussion.

I can understand how someone could see this matter differently than I do, and I would really love to engage in conversation around this, but I can’t see how someone who truly wants to understand scripture would be so lacking in curiosity or a willingness to learn more about scripture through someone who sees it differently than they do.

This has been the source of my frustration. It seems that this unwillingness to return to the text with humility and curiosity has met me at every turn. Nothing seems like a good enough reason to even seriously ask these questions. It doesn’t matter that there has been new and credible scholarship. It doesn’t matter that the current doctrine is doing immense harm. It doesn’t even matter that there are many Adventist pastors who privately believe the church to be wrong.

I’ve spent my time mostly fending off hateful comments rather than thoughtfully engaging and growing from serious dialogue, that in itself is revealing.

Losing My Religion

This failure of self-reflection and scriptural curiosity has been ground zero for the dissolution of my trust in the church, though it’s far from the only one. It hurts.

Before coming out, I expected the pain of the church’s rejection of me, but I’m finding more and more that I’m also rejecting the church, and it’s just as painful.

What happens when you lose faith in the church that introduced you to Jesus, nurtured you, believed in you, gave you a place, gave you a spiritual home, and helped you know God? This is what I’m discovering.

These are the types of questions I’m going to be asking and reflecting on more and more in my blog. Today I want to share with you a bit of hope that’s come my way.

Losing God

Often, in the midst of this disintegrating faith in the church, I was also caught off guard by feeling incredibly distant from God. It was like God was gone. I was trying to seek spiritual solace, but couldn’t find it.

Many times it’s seemed to me that faith, God, and religion bring nothing but pain to the world. I understand why people reject religion altogether. There are many times and many ways in which religious systems are the reason why people are xenophobic, fearing and attacking anyone different than themselves.

In other words, religion often makes people worse instead of better. I’ve struggled with this reality over the last few months. It’s hard to accept it. It’s hard to know what to do with this information when religion has been such an important part of my life.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve begun to see the appeal in being an atheist. I’ve also seen the appeal in rejecting entirely all things conservative. I’ve begun to see conservatives as selfish, afraid, and hateful. I’ve wondered if maybe the one and only thing we need is to stop hurting each other. Can it all be boiled down to that?

The reason I didn’t talk about any of this publicly is because I knew I was still sorting it out. I knew I was reacting, confused, hurting, and looking for some way to safety. Though I’m still in that process, I’ve tentatively figured some things out.

The Fuller Story

I’ve realized that religion is often a tool for oppression, but God (and even religion) are also a source for strength, hope, and the most important movements for liberation in the history of the world. People who are the most despised and feared in society find strength in God. Maybe that’s why so many atheists are straight, white men while those against whom religion has been wielded as a weapon paradoxically tend to believe in God.

As one of those who has been often targeted by religious people and institutions, I’ve found that God can be a source of strength for withstanding assault from God’s own supposed followers. After all, wasn’t Jesus crucified by religious leaders using the power of the state for violence?

Maybe God and Jesus look more like the victims of religion than the most powerful proponents of it. Maybe becoming a victim of religion has made me closer to God and not further away.

Besides, if we give up on religion, it isn’t going to go away. If we give up on conservative values, that doesn’t mean conservatism disappears, it just means it will lack our influence. We need better religion, better conservative values, and better institutions. Without this effort, we lose our influence in these spaces and abandon LGBT+ kids growing up in them as so many of us did.

In other words, I realize that I don’t want to give up on God, and surprisingly I don’t even want to give up on religion. My soul still longs for God. The divine still soothes, fills, and inspires me.

Freedom comes from loss, growth comes from pain, and God has always brought beauty from ashes. When the roof caves in you can see the stars for the first time. Destruction clears the way for growth. Losing my religion doesn’t have to mean losing religion. It could be an unimagined and desperately needed new beginning.

Renewing Faith in God

So I started to do something important. I’m separating myself from the church in my mind, and I’m doing so with great intentionality. I’m accepting the reality of who I am now in the eyes of so many Adventist leaders. I’m not included anymore. I’m a member of the LGBT+ community who affirms and celebrates the way I love. That makes me other.

What really surprises me is that the more I do so, the more aware I am that God is with me.

I am saying the following out loud, “I no longer have a place in the Adventist church, but I have a place in the Kingdom of God, and I have a place with Jesus.”

The more I repeated this phrase, the more healing I experienced. Peace flowed from these painful words, peace between myself and God. It would seem that my concept of God was more wrapped up in the church than I knew. Probably still is.

It’s necessary for me to be intentional about this loss so I can be intentional about rebuilding my life and my faith apart from the Adventist church. It’s something I never wanted to do, but something I find I must do. I can’t make an idol of the Adventist church. I must be willing to let it go.

I suppose losing a church family is like losing a spouse. You don’t realize how many pieces of yourself are wrapped up in the other person until the other person is gone. Also like the lose of a spouse, the more you are able to accept the reality of the loss, the more you are able to heal and become whole. By the grace of God, I’m becoming whole again.

In this series of blogs, we’re examining theology that impacts transgender people. Traditionalist interpretations typically forbid any gender identity that is different from person’s sexual organs at birth, or whatever is on their birth certificate. I don’t see much biblical support for this viewpoint.

For those whose internal sense of gender is out of line with their pysical appearance at birth, or for those who have a sense of gender that is somewhere in between male and female, traditionalist theology demands they live as the gender of their sexual organs and not what their brain is telling them. Trans people are often told that this is the only way to be in harmony with God’s will.

In the last blog we looked at Genesis 1:27, which is the seminal verse used by traditionalist theologians to refute trans and non-binary lives. For those for whom the entire subject might be new, I also wrote an introductory blog about trans lives. In this post we’ll look at a couple other verses and the accompanying reasoning used to support traditional, non-affirming theology.

But God Doesn’t Make Mistakes

Sometimes Psalm 139:13-14 is quoted, as it is in the document from the General Conference of SDAs Executive committee, and in the Biblical Research Institute’s statement from the Ethics Committee:

For you formed my inward parts;

you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;

my soul knows it very well.

Transgender people are often told that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” This means for the person speaking that are the gender of their anatomy. But it doesn’t take long to realize that there are lots of ways in which humans are born that are not typical. This may mean they are in need of medical intervention, or may simply be a matter of human variation.

No one would bat an eye at removing an extra finger or toe. No one would say in such a situation that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Sometimes babies are born with cancer, did God knit that cancer into their bodies when they were in the womb? Of course not!

This does not mean that being transgender should be equated to a birth defect or cancer, because it most certainly is nothing of the sort. It’s simply to point out the inconsistency in saying “God doesn’t make mistakes” as an argument that anatomy is supreme, never to be altered, and always the best indication of who we are. That is manifestly false.

When the psalmist wrote Psalm 139, anatomy was not in mind at all. Psalm 139 is a poem about God’s intimate knowledge and guiding of the psalmist’s life. It’s not about the relationship between biology and psychology. The actual message of the psalmist is not negated by someone being transgender or non-binary.

There is the other rather obvious challenge to this view. Some people are born intersex, with some degree of both male and female sexual organs or DNA. The reality of human biology is not compatible with the teaching that God creates only male and female, doesn’t make mistakes (meaning that God doesn’t deviate from this typical pattern), and that the binary distinction of gender are ever-present.

If God’s will for someone’s gender is expressed clearly in their sexual organs, what is God’s will for intersex people? Sometimes, in their misplaced discomfort with anyone who isn’t typical, doctors have surgically altered newborn intersex babies to make them more typically male or more typically female. This has been disastrous for intersex people whose lives and sense of gender often don’t align with the doctor’s hasty decision.

Sometimes people are unwilling to test their particular theology or ideology against the physical world around us, the world God has given us. This is one such example. Only a steadfast refusal to engage with the implications of the truth of God’s creation as we know it can allow a traditionalist understanding to be maintained on this point.

Even though it might make cisgender people uncomfortable, sex organs don’t always fit the binary. And if sexual organs can refuse to fit the binary, why can’t the central nervous system also refuse to fit the binary? Of course it can and does.

Seeing Trans People as God Sees All People

I’m disturbed at how quickly theologians claim to know the will of God, based on so little scripture and with so little understanding of the lives of trans and intersex people.

I’m disturbed by how easy it is to judge intersex and transgender people.

I’m disturbed by how quickly religious people sometimes make decisions about what is best for others without paying attention to medical consensus, the reality of God’s creation, scripture itself, and the wisdom and insight of trans and intersex people.

I’m disturbed that making these judgments come so easily even though they result in severe danger to transgender lives.

Why these hasty decisions? Why this focus on exterior anatomy? Why this cavalier disregard for the psychological impact of our judgments?

And here’s a question you may not have considered, when talking about this issue, why do traditionalists always assume that God will change a person’s mind to match their anatomy? Why not the other way around?

The Bible gives us an answer to this question. It’s because people tend to focus on what they can understand themselves. They tend to focus on what they can see. We prefer to make judgement based on outward appearance, on what we can confirm. Human understanding hates trusting in what we may not see or understand. What do we understand? Externals.

But is this the way that God sees us? 1 Samuel 16:7 says,

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

So why are cisgender people so confident to say they understand the will of God for transgender people despite the fact that nowhere in scripture is gender defined in terms of sexual organs? Is it possible that, as this verse suggests, this preference for exterior organs that we can understand over another person’s mind that we do not understand is only an expression our fallen nature? Is it our sin that leads us to focus on outward appearances and does not see the heart? Could it be that we have labeled trans people as sinners when we are the sinners?

God Made Us to Be Whole

What the Bible does teach is that we should be whole. The concept of wholeness is used by traditionalists to argue that transgender people should live as the gender of their sexual organs.

Is that a logical interpretations of scripture’s call to be whole? Here’s the statement made by the Executive Committee of the General Conference of SDAs:

From a biblical perspective, the human being is a psychosomatic unity. For example, Scripture repeatedly calls the entire human being a soul (Gen 2:7; Jer 13:17; 52:28-30; Ezek 18:4; Acts 2:41; 1 Cor 15:45), a body (Eph 5:28; Rom 12:1-2; Rev 18:13), flesh (1 Pet 1:24), and spirit (2 Tim 4:22; 1 John 4:1-3). Thus, the Bible does not endorse dualism in the sense of a separation between one’s body and one’s sense of sexuality.

This statement is problematic because it does not confirm, but ignores the “psychosomatic unity” of transgender people. It says that you can be whole by ignoring your own brain and what it is telling you about your gender, or it assumes despite no evidence or scripture to support them, that God will change a person’s brain. This reasoning works by preserving appearances over internal lives. It demands people to present themselves in a way that is consistent with their appearance without regard to their psychology, and paradoxically calls this wholeness.

Is this not a common problem in the church? Who of us has not had the frustrating experience of people wanting us to keep quiet about our ideas, our choices, or our values when they conflict with expectations? Being whole does not mean presenting an exterior appearance that is not a challenge to anyone. True wholeness is being genuine. It’s authenticity. It’s integrity. How I wish we would learn this lesson!

Wholeness is when what shows up on the outside is a true expression of the inside. It’s not the appearance of wholeness in the judgement of those who affirm only what they understand. Such a preoccupation with the exterior is in fact brokenness, dishonesty, and hypocrisy. Wholeness is not the person who makes big public gestures that make people admire them, it’s the person who is true and honest with God who sees the heart (Matthew 6:1-6).

So if transgender people threaten the external appearance too many are focused on, they are not expressing brokenness, but a level of integrity that is extreme. They are willing to defy social expectation for the sake of wholeness.

We who are cisgender must learn to stop focusing on outward appearance and be more like God, who sees the heart.

Instead of trying to make trans people change to be cisgender like us, we should appreciate them for who they are. When we do, we learn from them. We learn how to live with integrity, how to be brave, and how to be whole. Trans people can and should be fully embraced members of our communities. They can build up the church, enrich us, and teach us. They can be a corrective for our fallen tendency to focus on appearance and devalue integrity.

How like fallen humanity is it to vilify those who are most vulnerable in society? How like God is it to use those who are despised and rejected by man (Isaiah 53:3)? If we are not careful, we will fail to see Christ in transgender people. Such is the nature of our obsession with appearance.

For many people, maybe most people, there is a rush of excitement after coming out. There’s nothing so sweet as the pleasure never before tasted, and the pleasure of loving who you are is intoxicating. I lovingly call this time “rainbow phase,” and it typically does include a lot of rainbows, like the one I wear on my wrist and the rather large one the rear bumper of my car I excitedly plastered there the first day of pride month. The rainbow phase is also a welcome emotional lift during a time most of us experience rejection and a shift in social situations that is painful and disorienting.

The rainbow phase provides us with something important, the opportunity to live into our identities in a new way. One delightful aspect of this phase is the reclaiming of the phrase “you look so gay” from insult to compliment. When I was first out (not long ago), I was obsessed with looking gay. But I realized one day that I kept talking about looking gay, but I’m not gay, I’m bisexual. What does it mean to “look so bi”? What is the bi look?

Of course the right answer is that I always look bi because I am bi, therefore bi looks like me. But when I was trying to establish that identity, it would have been easier in many ways to have a more developed cultural sense of what it is to be bisexual. I didn’t have a lane. There was a straight lane. There was a gay lane. There was no bisexual lane. This is also a problem for straight girls who are tomboys, or gay women who are femme, and don’t look the way people expect them to look based on their orientation. There are a lot of problems with the whole idea, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to be seen for who I am, and not knowing how to go about it.

Then there was the gay community. From my first cautious steps into the queer community, dipping my toes into a pool I hoped was swimable, I realized that not everyone wanted the likes of me in their swim space.

Sitting around a table at a social gathering for LGBT+ people, I tried to keep my cool despite the newness of it all, when an older lesbian woman began to dominate the conversation. As I have found to often be the case listening to people who lived through the early days of the Gay Liberation Movement, I was interested in her stories, her history, and her perspective on her life and career.

She talked about working as a teacher in a sometimes hostile environment, about gay cruises, about things that have changed and things that have stayed the same, then she started to veer into different territory. She started to talk about how lesbians aren’t lesbian enough these days, and how too many women she knows have been with men.

Just like that, I went from inside to outside. There is no way I could be lesbian enough, because I’m not lesbian at all. I sat silently, invisible, letting everyone assume I’m gay and not bisexual.

I would handle it differently today. I’ve had other instances like this come up, and I’m learning to speak up, as well as learning to ask questions and listen. I know that this tendency in the gay community to subtly or no-so-subtly distrust or discredit people who are bisexual, and in many ways I understand it. They are afraid that someone who has the option to be in a relationship with heterosexual privilege would never choose a relationship without it. Though I think the real issue is not that they’re dating bisexuals, but they’re dating women who aren’t out, women who haven’t made the decision to openly claim their identity as part of the queer community.

There have also been those who have questioned me from the other side. Am I sure I’m not gay? I seem pretty gay. Was I ever really into guys? I never had a serious relationship with one in all those years. Or, as one person put it, “welcome to being lesbian, because bisexual is just a stop on the lesbian train.”

Sadly, my rainbow phase seems to be waning as I settle into the reality of my new openly-queer existence with new freedoms, new friends, a tremendous sense of the goodness of my existence on this planet, and of course an ever-expanding set of challenges related to living authentically in a world that would prefer I were straight, and a gay community that would sometimes prefer I were gay.

This is more than just an annoyance for me, because the invisibility of the bisexual identity meant that I didn’t know who I was for a very, very long time.

Like most people who are bi, awareness of my attraction for the opposite gender came first. Because I was clearly attracted to men from an early age, the answer to the question, “Am I gay?”, came very easily. The answer was no. Lesbians aren’t attracted to men. Duh.

People thought I was gay, not random people but people who were closest to me and knew me well. I felt deeply misunderstood. I sometimes dreamed of getting married, and when I did it was always a dream of marrying a woman. I was obsessive about particular female friends, sometimes having to intentionally stop myself from talking about a girl because I knew it was weird.

Still, it never occurred to me that I was attracted to them. I just really wanted a super-close lifelong best friend who would be like family. I knew it was possible, because my favorite TV show had such a friendship. Xena and Gabriel were the perfect model of what I wanted. Seriously. This is what my teenage self thought. The subtext went completely over my head.

And for that reason, because I didn’t even know who I was, I put a weird pressure on my female friendships, didn’t know how to evaluate my relationships with men, and in general was angsty and clueless about the whole dating process. Dating felt hopeless. Having romance and a partner felt hopeless.

Then, when I really did fall in love with a woman in a way that was undeniable, I felt really, really confused. How could this be happening? I’m not gay?!

It seems so obvious now, but at the time I didn’t have a word for it. An analogy may be helpful: as I was driving one day, I saw a strange white spot in my vision, moving up and down. It was perfectly white, perfectly round, and perfectly strange. Then suddenly I realized it was an errant golf ball from a nearby course, and I was about to run right into it.

When we don’t have a category for something, it’s hard to make sense of the experiences we are having. When we suddenly realize what to call it, everything makes sense and we know what to do.

People say bisexuals are confused. That’s not true. What’s confusing is being bisexual and not having a word for it or any examples of bi people. Understanding that I was bi made sense of my entire life. It was the Rosetta stone for my history, translating feelings and relationships in a way that finally made sense, helping me realize and accept myself for the first time, helping me understand how to navigate friendships with straight women as well as the wide world of dating.

What I’m learning is this. There is no right or wrong way to be bisexual. It doesn’t mean I have to prove my sexuality with my dating history or my current dating practices. It makes sense of my life. That is all. And I offer you this incredible definition from Robyn Ochs in case your not sure what bisexuality is:

I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.

The upside of the waning of the rainbow phase is that I care less and less whether I look gay, straight, or bi. I am bisexual. I’m comfortable saying that these days. It’s not a big deal, it’s just a part of who I am. If someone is threatened by it, that’s okay. I’ll probably ask some questions of that person and try to understand why. If someone questions whether I might be gay or straight instead of bi, I know I don’t need to defend or explain myself, but I might explain if I feel like it.

Right now, I only want to date women, and even if I never date another man, I’m no less bisexual. Bisexual is not a verb. I don’t have to demonstrate it. I don’t think of it as a noun either. It’s one of the adjectives in my life, but it’s an adjective for which I have a particular fondness.

I’m grateful to be bisexual. It’s a gift. I’m so glad I was finally able to receive it.

I can’t write about LGBT issues today like I normally do. I will get back to that injustice soon, but I can’t right now. I’m too concerned for anyone in this country who isn’t a White European.

But I haven’t known what to say. I’ve written two different posts addressing bigotry and White Supremacy, and nothing feels right.

I finally realized that the last thing I want to talk about is exactly what needs to be said.

I am beginning to understand how deep inequality goes, how much it persists to today in the lives of Black Americans especially, but to all POC. I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to begin to see.

This knowledge is painful. It makes me think of my country differently. I certainly don’t feel the same way about America as I once did, and there is sadness there. I wish I could believe this to be the best country in the world. I wish I could believe the dream of America was more than a dream. But I’ve learned too much.

Sometimes I have to consciously mourn the view the death of the beautiful vision of my country and the accomplishments of those who came before me. If I don’t recognize that need, and accept the reality of it, I might end up trying to deny it. Instead I want to see the shame of it all, the violence done to native people, Black people, LGBT people, and every single new wave of immigrants.

I’m tempted to explain it away, say we weren’t that bad. Didn’t we fight a war to end slavery? Yes, but we followed it up with Jim Crow. Didn’t we make dramatic changes after the Civil Rights movement? Yes, but we followed that up with mass incarceration in a prison system with ingrained racial inequalities which effectively strip civil rights from poor Black people.

I love America, and love requires no dishonesty. When it comes to POC, we have always taken with the left hand what was given with the right.

Since I won’t deny it anymore, I’m tempted to do what come natural in White culture and try to fix this. I want to understand it, come to the right solution, implement that solution, do it with excellence, fix the problem, restore the image of a whole and beautiful America, erase our shame, correct our injustice. But I don’t know how. Even an attempt at this point, with wounds so fresh, would be wrong.

In White culture we are uncomfortable with our imperfections. It’s not okay for us to be broken, to have shame in our history, to not have the answers, and to be less than perfect. But we are far, far less than perfect. White washing our history only brings more pain.

For my part, I’m learning to sit with the reality of White Supremacy in my family tree, in the people who came before me and set-up the country in the way they did, a way that favors me.

I’m learning to sit in the reality that there are two Americas: The one I get to live in, and the one POC live in.

Owning the shame of my history may open the possibility of a brighter future. Because if I own the shame of White America, I don’t have to hide from it anymore. I don’t have to pretend our country is better than it is.

If we own the shame of our past, there is no need to pretend that the people who tried to tear this nation apart in order to keep race-based chattel slavery intact were good people who deserve monuments. We can learn to be honest about our past, and build monuments to the right people, those who resisted and survived slavery.

I’m also free to believe that our future can be better than our past. I’m free to see that in order to be better, we don’t need to return to the past, we need to transcend it.

In the past, power was kept in the hands of one ethnicity. It’s tempting for us as White people to think that it is our responsibility to solve the racial problems in our society, but we aren’t the ones with the solutions.

People of color have been fighting this fight for centuries. They have been and continue to be my teachers, in person and through the books I read. They are in mourning right now, and I want to mourn, too.

If I am to learn to be any part of the solution, perhaps now is the time for me to enter into sadness. Perhaps this is a time for lament.

I will figure out how to do more. I will keep my eyes open. I will continue to have difficult discussions online and in person. I will look for opportunities not only to search for helpful ideas, but to lift up the voices of POC that we so desperately need.

The solution to White Supremacy won’t come from White people. I increasingly believe that the voices of oppressed people are the moral soul of this country, and if we are ever to learn to be good and just, we will learn it from them.

So let me share first this Jewish Lament, Psalm 13:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

And let me share with you a voice truly capable of inspiration:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCenwgheIBs

After a helpful message from one of my readers, I want to add this caveat: I still don’t think the real solutions will come from White people, but I do think we need to take responsibility, learn solutions from POC, and get out of the way. What needs to happen is to turn over real power and give a real voice to POC. We need to listen to and implement what we learn from POC, yes, but that’s ultimately just a patriarchal way of offering help on our terms unless we learn to actually give up power, give up a voice, give up privilege so that POC can have real influence in ways that are not under our control or our supervision. Solutions offered by those who are privileged tend not to go far enough and not to go deep enough. The first reaction of people like myself to events like this is usually to explain, to say what needs to happen, and solve it, if only intellectually. What White people need is to sit with the gravity and the enormity of this problem that is about much more than one rally, but about a history in this country and in European countries that goes back many centuries. We need to sit with that reality before we act. Trying to come up with solutions in the aftermath is disrespectful, there needs to be a period of mourning, of allowing the gravity to sink in, of feeling the sadness, not of rushing to solutions based on our own discomfort, solutions which will inevitably be superficial.

***I have many conservative Christian readers who are not used to this type of post. I invite you to walk a moment in the shoes of another. I invite you to suspend your beliefs for a moment and see through our eyes, the eyes of those who fully affirm LGBT love and gender and also fully embrace our faith in God. You’re perspective will be there waiting when you are done reading, you can pick it up right where you left it, but you will be able to better understand us for taking this moment to see the world as we do.***

God’s love is something I see again and again in the queer community.

God is like my two friends, gay men who found each other after years of loneliness. I see them sweetly lean in towards each other during casual conversation, simple acts revealing deep affection. After decades of partnership they were united during the first wave of legal same-sex marriage in California days before prop 8 made marriage illegal again.

God’s affection is deep, and he never loses an opportunity for love.

God is like my friend who holds the tension of being Seventh-day Adventist and lesbian. Her bookcases filled with Adventist commentaries, Review & Herald titles, and shelves of Ellen White; her kitchen full of vegan fair; but she can’t find a church where she’s accepted for all she is. Still she holds the tension.

God holds the tension, believing in us even when we fail his children.

God is like the man I met who was studying to be a Catholic priest. He laughs and tells me half the candidates for priesthood were gay, then talks about the man he met 50 years ago who put an end to his studies and has been his partner ever since. They have loved each other since a time when their love could land them in prison.

God is willing to go to prison for love.

God is like the transgender woman who shows up for church every week, still willing to invest in the denomination that once made her life unlivable. She’s in leadership now, happy to have found a church that is more interested in supporting LGBT people than bowing to the will of the institution.

God forgives.

God is like Harvey Milk, who knew that his political career as a gay man and activist would probably get him killed. Before he was assasinated, he left a last political will and testament for us to follow. He urged us to stop hiding and stand up for what is right, hopeful that his death would be an inspiration.

God died for us and urges us to follow this path.

God is like the thousands and millions of LGBT people and our courageous allies who show up and refuse to hide in the face of bigotry, hate, and violence. We refuse to be silent, refuse to pretend we are just friends, refuse to change who we are to pass as straight. We are not not satisfied with systems that oppress us, religions that shame us, and media that dismisses us. Neither is God.

God’s love is queer.

So where is God in the LGBT community? God is everywhere.

This is a common question, and one that many people sincerely ask.

I can’t blame people for asking. When my romantic attraction to women finally broke through the layers of self-deception I had carefully constructed, I made a firm decision that I would only date men.

This is what I wanted for myself, what I believed, and what would afford me the life I wanted to live. It was an easy choice. This life would be free of problems with the church, with family, with my career, and with my own views about scripture.

My decision lead to getting serious about dating men. I ignored my interest in women, starved it out as best I could, and fostered my interest in men. As I went on dates, I felt relieved that I wasn’t gay. I thought about how hard it must be for those who are, having no choice to date in a way that’s acceptable. So I understand why people would wonder why someone like me would ever come out.

But knowing what I know now, I’m embarrassed I ever thought about it this way.

It’s Not About Celibacy, It’s About Integrity

Usually, the discussion about same-sex relationships is about gay people and not bisexual people. In fact, most people call it gay marriage and not same-sex marriage. Questions center on whether celibacy should be required of people who can’t have a healthy opposite-sex relationships. Often people ask whether in a fallen world we need to make accommodations for those who can’t marry someone of the opposite sex.

None of this applies to me or other bisexual people. Within this framework, the whole reason for coming out is an inability to be attracted to the opposite sex. So coming out as bisexual doesn’t make sense.

One problem with this approach is that only heterosexual and gay orientations count. There is no space for those of us in the middle of the spectrum. Bisexuality is erased.

But I am in the middle, along with many others. So if you want to understand why I came out, it’s best to understand that my nature was bringing up a different question. Instead of asking, is lifelong celibacy the best choice? I asked, is love between women holy? Is it good?

Study, prayer, and soul searching brought me to confidently declare my answer—yes. Love between women and between men is holy. It is sacred, beautiful, and life-giving. Love in the face of rejection, hate, and fear is a reflection of the character of God. Choosing love over security is Christlike.

I did not come out because I had no other path to a relationships. I came out because I had no other path to integrity.

Many gay people come out for the same reason. That reason is often misunderstood as selfish when it’s really about integrity. In fact, if you find yourself wondering why a bisexual would come out at all, it might be an indication that you are prone to misunderstanding this key fact.

Many of us come out because we are morally opposed to the idea that LGBT sexuality and gender is sinful. In other words, we believe non-affirming churches are sinning in teaching destructive and false theology.

Pastoring with Integrity

Initially, understanding God’s affirmation of LGBT sexuality didn’t change my personal decision to date only men. As strange as it seems now, that’s how complete my decision was.

Essentially that meant thinking of myself as straight, at least publicly. Even from that mindset, I began to see that the nature of my ministry as a pastor must change. If I was going to fully support LGBT people, it would change the nature of my ministry. I would be fully inclusive, teaching queer people to accept God’s affirmation of their sexuality and gender despite the shame from churches and society.

Even if I were straight, this theological shift would have meant total disagreement with teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Ministering as an affirming pastor would have meant losing my job just as surely as coming out did. There have in fact been many straight pastors who have lost their jobs for coming out as allies of the LGBT community.

Being Straight has its Advantages, But I Don’t Want Them

At some point, it began to dawn on me that if God had no condemnation of same-sex relationships, what right did I have to avoid them? How could I hold myself back from something for my own convenience and let the judgment fall on others?

Hiding my sexuality in order to hold on to the advantages of being straight began to feel like a thoroughly unChristian thing to do. It’s the opposite of Christ’s incarnation. In the incarnation Christ rejected status in order to identify with the suffering. For far too long, I refused suffering in order to keep the status and advantages of being perceived as straight.

There was a moment that really clarified this for me. I was at my church, meeting with the team before the service started, and wondering how people would react if they knew in that moment who I was. Suddenly I realized, I’m supposed to be the queer person in this room. I’m supposed to bring the uniqueness of that experience into my ministry.

That was the dawn of an understanding that has only grown. I’m a much better pastor and minister now that I’m out. I am who I’m supposed to be, and I have so much to offer because of my sexual orientation and because I am offering myself as I truly am and not as some people want me to be.

Sexuality Cannot Be Divided

Unexpectedly, accepting and affirming my theology has given me a seemingly endless sense of joy. I’ve become whole. I’ve learned that choosing to only date men was damaging to me in ways I never understood.

Before accepting my sexuality, I wasn’t a happy person. When I accepted and affirmed myself and my way of loving, the sky seemed bluer, the future was brighter, and I found in myself an inner sense of peace and joyful strength.

Why was that? The Adventist church takes a holistic approach to health and spirituality. Only now do I understand that the theology I once believed was dividing me in ways that were profound and destructive. Calling the good parts of yourself evil inevitably leads to depression. Saying that same-sex sex is wrong is ultimately no different than saying that the way a gay or bisexual person loves is inherently evil. Particularly as a bisexual person, I harmed myself by calling part of my sexuality sinful and the other holy. It’s a divided way to live, and we are meant to be whole.

I only understood this through living it. I wasn’t looking for joy, but I found it nonetheless. It is one of the many good gifts God has given me.

One of my favorite gifts is this: That God gave me eyes to see not only the beauty of love between a man and a woman, but also of love between women. I’m forever grateful that I finally had the courage to reach out and take hold of that gift.