…I wondered how desperately fragile a faith must be if it cannot withstand critical engagement or diverse points of view. ~Roxane Gay
I was at a church one Sunday when the pastor told us a true story:
There is a man. All he desired was to be a woman.
There is a woman. She, on the other hand, wanted nothing other than to be a man.
Both took hormones for gender reassignment. They are transgender people.
Through some epic turn of cosmic events, they meet. And they fall in love. A transgender man, and a transgender woman- in love.
Great story, right? Like a coming-of-age tale. Two people, brave enough to embrace who they really are. Being true to themselves despite a society that defies their very existence. And then they find each other! In a world that abhors people like themselves, they have one another. Perhaps I’m over romanticising this. But, Ah! Be still my shipping heart!
One fine day, they walked into church. The church showers them with love. Yes! Go, church! At this point, I sense some conceit for loving the transgenders, but maybe that’s just my imagination.
They want to serve, but the church diplomatically says no. Er, why?
Then one day, God spoke to the transgenders, or so the story goes. As a result, they each stopped taking their hormone pills. Um, okay…
And they got married. As woman and man- the gender of their ICs.
The church rejoiced! Not just over the marriage, although that is indeed a tremendous cause of jubilee. No, the church laud their gender reversions.
In plain English, the church don’t want them to be transgenders. They cannot accept that some men just don’t want to be men, and some women just don’t want to be women. They don’t want people to be transgenders. That’s why, when transgenders no longer want to be transgenders, they celebrate.
That, right there, is everything wrong with the church.
Note: When I say “the church” or “Christians”, I don’t mean every single one. I don’t want to fall into the trap of generalisation. What I mean is the collective and median of opinions, not the sentiments of every single church/Christian.
Maybe I got it all wrong. Perhaps, I misinterpreted the pastor’s look of glee and “praise the Lord”. But I have a rotten feeling that I’m not wrong.
I know this is supposed to be a testimony of God’s remarkable grace. Of two people finding their identity in Christ, blah blah blah. But I see a bitter note of condescension. Honestly, all I see is an organisation that cannot accept that some people are simply born differently. If transgender is what they want, why not just let them be? If they genuinely changed their mind without outside pressure (in the form of verbal rebuke or disapproving glances or refusal to serve), then we respect their decision.
But is that the case?
Furthermore, I highly doubt anybody will take lightly something as gravitationally intense as a sex change, especially in a country like Malaysia. It is something that comes after ages of introspection, soul-searching, prayer (yes, prayer), and in many instances- crippling depression.
They almost always try to conform to the “normal” first. They climb this steeped, inclined mountain to arrive at the peak where they finally accept who they are inside, even if society doesn’t approve. And then what? Without a second thought, the Christians shove them off the mountain and down to where they first began. They are forced back to that point of confusion and self-loathing, destroying years of hard work.
Rather than offer due credit to their courage, we try to curb their attempt to be true to themselves. Why? Because being transgender is a sin? Because being transgender is “not God’s design for mankind”? Nowhere in the Bible are the words “being transgender is a sin”. Some Christian just woke up in the morning and decided it is.
But this is not about transgenders, per se. I’m trying to spell out what’s so utterly turn-off about church: the narrow-mindedness.
Why can’t we just accept people for who they are without trying to change them? Are they hurting anybody? What’s wrong with being transgender?
The plain answer is that being transgender is not discerned as “holy”.
And the church is so unwilling to accept anything different from whatever they perceive as “holy”. To the church, there is only one way to look at this world. In other words, narrow-mindedness.
Narrow-minded people, they are the ones keeping me from church.
Another good example of this is homosexuality. Every time there’s a breakthrough for the LGBT community, may it be the right to wed, or a gay pride march, my Facebook feed is flooded with the many reasons why homosexuality is a sin. Look! Mankind has fallen! How can we condone this unspeakable act of disobedience??
Now, what’s disgusting is how these anti-LGBT people sit on their high horses, flushed with ignorant pride. Love them! They say. But not the sin! And then they gloat over the love they offer t0 these “fallen sinners.” Again, there is a lot of self-congratulatory for “loving the gays”. They pat themselves on the shoulders and go look at me! I love the gays as God commanded me to! But I hate their sin. I am so obedient to God’s word!
May I also conveniently point out how easy it is for heterosexuals to “love the sinner but hate the sin” when it’s not a “sin” they don’t risk committing?
I’ve always been taught that homosexuality is a sin. Then a few years ago, I felt like something doesn’t add up. It just doesn’t make sense that something as harmless as love is depicted as this evil, twisted sin. So I began to search. I started to question. In fact, I spent many nights just staring up at my bedroom ceiling, asking God, “what do You REALLY think about gays? Do you really forbid homosexuality the way the church want us to believe?”
Obviously, I tell people my thoughts. I explained simply that I really don’t think homosexuality is a sin, nor the acts associated with homosexuality, in the same way that heterosexuality and heterosexual acts are not sins.
Most Christians will disagree.
Now, what troubles me the most is not that they refuse to affirm homosexuality. We live in a world with differing opinions and points of view, and sometimes people just disagree. What TRULY disturbs me is that they refuse to even consider the possibility that homosexuality- innocent love- is not a sin. If they listen to my arguments, it’s only to pacify me. Their minds are already made up. But mostly, they won’t even entertain my arguments.
I won’t go into that argument now, lest I bore you flat. But for the curious minds, check out this link. I think it’s really helpful.
I’ve exhausted much saliva on this topic. And of the many people I’ve talked to, I notice that ultimately, they don’t see a moral flaw in homosexuality. But they refuse to budge only because of the 6 very out-of-context cherry-picked Bible verses. Without those verses, they just might be the loudest affirming voice at a gay pride parade.
So, what bothers me is that most Christians are unwilling to even consider an alternate interpretation of certain bible verses. This led me to think- Christians don’t even want to accept the possibility of being wrong. This is the opposite of teachable. A teachable person can be corrected. But majority of Christians are not teachable. We might be teachable if the issue is aligned with our personal interpretation of the Bible. But if what comes into question is our interpretation of scripture? Barb wires go up. Guns are trained on the “intruder”. Hounds are let loose. How dare you question the word of God?!
Given this unteachable attitude, if something is wrong, will we spot it and right the wrong?
Now, I am imperfect and flawed. At many times, I am unteachable the way many Christians are. To the recipients of the many times I’ve been stuck up and arrogant, whichever side of the fence I was (because God knows I’ve been on both sides of most issues before), I am truly sorry. I must say this before I continue condemning another of being unteachable. Once again, I am sorry.
Going back to the topic at hand, if the church is wrong about homosexuality, what else are they wrong about?
Hypocrites don’t repel me from church. We know the church is brimming with hypocrites, and I’m the queen.
People will fall short. It’s called being human. We accept that. We endeavour to overcome our inequities. So hypocrisy isn’t the problem, in my opinion. It’s okay when we know something needs fixing, because then we’ll try to fix the problem.
No, the problem is when we don’t think anything needs fixing. The problem is the smug confidence that we know everything about being Christian, as if Angel Gabriel personally descended from heaven and confirmed our biases in plain, simple English.
And these biases enforce conformity. There is only one specifically shaped mould. The church “accepts” if you don’t fit in that mould today, but they expect you to want to fit into that mould. Squeeze, twist, crack a rib, whatever it takes to fit in that very-specifically shaped cast.
So, if you are not a heterosexual, cisgender, tattoo-free, piercing-free, non-smoker, non-drinker, never-divorced, pro-life individual that says “hallelujah” every 5 minutes, something is wrong. And work you better do, so help me God. Anyway, for the record, I don’t think there is enough in the Bible to condemn a homosexual, transgender, tattoo-ladden, piercing-ridden, smoker, drinker, divorced, pro-choice person that says “hallelujah” every 10 minutes instead of 5. But what do I know?
And where do these ideas come from? With Christians, there usually isn’t room for debate. Many Christians tend to have their ideas cemented in Bible verses (albeit poorly interpreted Bible verses), and you’re not allowed to disagree, because then, ah-ah, you are disagreeing with God.
So instead of studying the facts to reach a conclusion, they have a pre-conceived idea. Next, they build their evidence to support that idea. This is very often the case with homosexuality, abortion, divorce, etc.
Conversations with Christians can be very annoying. Ultimately, they make up their minds first, look at facts second. Sometimes, I let my biases get in the way too. Again, I’m sorry.
Here’s a reason why Christians can be very frustrating to talk to. With non-Bible-absorbed people, no matter how stubborn they all, and no matter what their convictions are rooted in, all you have to do is convince them of your argument. But with “Bible-centric” people, you have to first persuade them that their Bible interpretation is wrong, before you even tap the core arguments.
“Bible-centric” people, they make up their minds based on what “the Bible says”, no matter the strength of the counterargument. And sometimes, the Bible doesn’t even say that. The Bible says something else that they interpret to mean that, and then they rage this whole war over it, hurting millions in the process.
Christians are very critical of anything that doesn’t match our ideas. Christians are very critical, in general. Just like me. I’m a vey critical person, I’m not going to pretend like the plank is not in my eye. I’m a sample of what Christians are like, except I’m not as convinced of certain Bible interpretations the way I once was. You can convince me of an issue without dragging the Bible into it.
According to an article from The Guardian, a research conducted by 7 universities across the world found that “children from religious families are less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households”. We learn that “the relation between religion and morality is a contentious one”. Keith Porteous Wood of the UK National Secular Society regards the report as “a welcome antidote to the presumption that religion is a prerequisite of morality”.
Now I’m just copying lines from the article, which is uncomely. But this I will say, I can attest to the findings of this study. I agree completely. In the context of a Christian vs. non-religious-person, I find that christianity has no bearing on morality. All it does is turn the person more judgemental. Now back that judgemental demeanour with an unteachable heart and a detachment from reason.
Now you see why talking to christians can be so darn frustrating.
There’s a part in “Disenchanted” where the princess inferred that instead of praying that God help the poor, it is more practical to melt their gold statue and use the money to help them. The nun shouted: “how dare you bring logic into God’s house?!” Yup, spot on.
Many Christians sacrifice logic in the name of “faith”. I have a friend who met a girl that’s convinced dinosaur bones were put there simply to test our faith. Uhuh, I’m very embarrassed to say that the root of her conviction is the Bible.
Sometimes, these cherished churchy messages just-aren’t-right.
That’s when we have to accept that maybe, all this while, we were wrong. Just like how we accept that the church of yesteryears were wrong about slavery.
We cannot ignore the nuance of being human. We cannot take these poorly interpreted verses, deem them one fit all, and then make these blanket rules.
Humanity isn’t free size. We all play by the same rules. So we have to make sure that everybody CAN play by the same rules. We cannot expect a fish to climb a tree or a butterfly to do laps in a swimming pool (not even the butterfly stroke).
Once again, the nuance. There are people who are divorced because their partners were abusive- we cannot tell them divorce is a sin. There are women who aborted their pregnancies simply because they cannot afford to raise a child- we cannot say abortion is a sin.
There are boys who like boys, and girls who like girls, simply because that’s how God made them. There are also couples who have very healthy marriages without the man lording over the woman. Do we insist the man lead when they are perfectly happy as a mutual partnership?
People just don’t fit in boxes. Some things work for some people, but not all people. That’s why I abide very much by this test: what is the fruit? Does it hurt anybody? Is it consistent with the Bible’s theme of love? This test doesn’t always work, so I won’t swear by it. But certainly, it gives me a platform to launch from.
Here’s a quote by Sarah Bessey in Jesus Feminist that I overuse: “If it’s not true in Darfur, it’s not true here. (This) means if we can’t preach it in every context, for every person, it’s not really for everyone, and so then we should probably ask whether or not what we are preaching is actually the gospel.”
Christians love to pick and choose which verses to take literally, and which to explain away. And we have to do that, because we cannot take every word in the Bible literally, since that will mean getting stoned for wearing blended fabrics or shaving our sideburns.
That’s when wisdom comes to play.
Here’s another quote from Sarah Bessey in Jesus Feminist. Because, shucks, I love her.
Theologian N.T.Wright believes that to affirm the “authority of scripture” is precisely “not to say, ‘we know what scripture means and don’t need to raise anymore questions.’ It is also a way of saying that the church in each generation must make fresh and rejuvenated efforts to understand scripture more fully and live by it more thoroughly, even if that means cutting across cherished traditions.”
Once again, sometimes men want to be women. And women want to be men. Sometimes girls like girls. And sometimes boys like boys.
Sometimes people for whatever reason get divorced. Sometimes people don’t want kids, and abort their pregnancies.
For something to be true, it has to be true for everybody, despite the circumstance, place or time. If you have to make exceptions every now and then, perhaps it isn’t true.
I’ll end with a suggestion: Let’s be open-minded. Because an open-minded person is teachable. And we (me, especially) could really benefit from being teachable.
At the risk of committing the grave writing sin of tautology, I repeat: only a teachable person is receptive to correction. And a teachable person has to be open-minded.
Disclaimer: Just so my parents don’t panic and launch a 40 days of fast and prayer to save my soul, let me clarify: I still read my Bible. I still tell God things like “this roster pattern is such a fatigue-fest’ and “thank you for a husband with broad shoulders”. I most certainly believe in the authenticity and sovereignty of the Bible.
And no, this is not an announcement that I’m leaving the faith.
This is simply a pointless rant to air my grievances. All this bitterness at the church is making me fat and judgemental. I’ve bottled it up so long it’s starting to ooze out as inappropriate humour. I’m snapping at random people, and it has to stop. Writing has always been my coping mechanism. So rather than wage wars in comment sections, I’m trying to make sense of my darn thoughts by immortalising them as words. I feel vulnerable and exposed and defenceless, but screw it, because I wanna be like Siti Kasim and Marina Mahathir and Roxane Gay- women who fearlessly verbatim whatever the heck they think.