Category Archives: Blog

Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let it Begin with Me

It’s 2017, and if anything is clear at this point, it’s that we absolutely must change the way we conduct ourselves. In other words, we need some powerful collective resolutions – yes, resolutions – to help us change the way things are and the way they might be.

But groups of people don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, do they? When groups of people resolve to do things, those resolutions have different names – laws, proclamations, constitutions.

So what we’re left with is what we can do on a personal level to impact how we as a society do business – in other words, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, to be the change we wish to see in the world.

In this endeavor the bible actually has something elegantly simple and clarifying to say on the subject:

God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)

With that in mind, I was re-reading Jim Wallis’ 10 Resolutions for 2015 and realized that I could classify each of his 10 proposed resolutions according to the three main areas of focus God calls us to in Micah 6:8:

To act justly:
• Extend who our neighbors are; whom we are also called to love.
• Love hardest those who are the closest.
• Always ask, “What does this mean for the poor and vulnerable?”
• Support and empower women and girls.
• Question every act of war.
• Question calling any person of faith a terrorist.
• Make sure we know what terrorism is

To love mercy:
• Build racial bridges.
• Practice presence.
• Embrace hope and joy.
• Forgive as fully and as completely as god has forgiven us.

To walk humbly with your God:
• Love God with all your strength, heart and soul
• Stand up for the reality of climate change.

To which I will add: This idea of real forgiveness. Think and pray about, and then practice, living in a judgment-free zone where your inner voice is a voice of wisdom rather than judgment; a voice of compassion rather than judgment; a voice of real love rather than judgment. Because if there is no forgiveness, there is no life. When you refuse to let go and move on, what exactly are you hanging on to, and what exactly is it worth to you?

So there you have it, the start of a path for 2017 that can actually change the way we think, the way we do business. The challenge to this is: It is not about the waiting for the world to get better. It’s about each of us committing to be better, to do better, starting today – starting right now.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org.

“Am I Going to Hell?”

Dear Pastor Paul,

My name is Ken. I was raised conservative Church of God and I have been taught my whole life that homosexuality is a sin. I began my coming out journey about five years ago when I was fifteen. Now I am in a committed relationship with a guy who was raised the same way I was. He too believes that we are both going to hell, but we don’t know how to change. We have prayed and fasted but to no avail. My question is this: Are we really going to hell for following our hearts?

Dear Ken,

Thank you for your letter. The struggle you and your boyfriend are having is because the institutional church has not caught up with the modern-day world when it comes to matters of sexuality.

Old ideas around sexuality are still being applied to people today, and they just don’t fit as God’s people have grown past the ignorance and a lack of understanding of how and why sex is practiced.

Here are just two quick examples:

    • Biblical marriage required “planting a seed” that grew into a baby. We know that is not how reproduction works.
    • To be married in the biblical sense meant the woman was the property of her father, who made a business deal with the groom to have his daughter. (Ask your Mom whose property she is.)

The “Bible” version that has been preached to you concerning this issue is full of inaccuracies and misunderstandings of the culture. There is plenty of biblical scholarship that points to the fact that gay folks are loved by God, and were created that way, and therefore are a blessing in this world.

Please take a look at this URL: http://whosoever.org/bible/
And this one: http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/bible-study/lgbt-bible-study/

I would be most happy to answer any questions that you might have after reading it over.

The fact that you and your boyfriend are in a committed relationship with God as your center is far more important than the gender of the two people sharing that love. The reason the prayer and fasting are not working is because there is nothing to change.

Do the homework I gave you, and know that neither you nor your boyfriend is going to hell for following your heart of love and commitment.

God Bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org.

Christmas 2016: Worship Services, Lectionary & Ministries

The first Sunday of Advent is November 27th. Here’s everything you need to know about celebrating the season with Gentle Spirit Christian Church.

Tree & Wreath Sale
Every year starting the day after Thanksgiving, there are quality trees and homemade wreaths for sale on the First Christian Church of Decatur lawn through the second Saturday in December. Proceeds benefit church and community missions in the City of Decatur, including the Toy Park and shared ministries with Gentle Spirit Christian Church. Last year’s trees sold out early, so get there soon for best selection!

Worship Services

  • Christmas Eve 6pm Service: We will join First Christian Church of Decatur in their main sanctuary to celebrate the eve of Christ’s birth. All are welcome.
  • Christmas Eve 11pm Service: We will lead the second Christmas Eve service at First Christian Church of Decatur in their main sanctuary to celebrate the eve of Christ’s birth. All are welcome.

Teddy Bear Ministry
Every year we collect teddy bears and stuffed animals during the Advent season and distribute them to patients in local hospitals and hospitals to spread Christmas cheer and let them know they’re not alone. Click here for details on how to participate.

The Live Tithe
If you’re cleaning out your attic, closets or storage after Christmas, you can put unused items that are in good condition to work supporting the ministry of Gentle Spirit Christian Church via our Live Tithe, which allows you to convert gently used (or never-used) items into support for GSCC’s ministry and claim a tax deduction. Click here for details.

Office Hours
The Gentle Spirit Christian Church office at First Christian Church of Decatur will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and open on New Year’s Eve. For an appointment with Pastor Paul, just contact the church office.

Advent 2016 Lectionary

Advent Year AFirst ReadingPsalmSecond ReadingGospel
First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2016Isaiah 2:1-5Psalm 122Romans 13:11-14Matthew 24:36-44
Second Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2016Isaiah 11:1-10Psalm72:1-7, Psalm72:18-19Romans 15:4-13Matthew 3:1-12
Third Sunday of Advent, December 11, 2016Isaiah 35:1-10Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55James 5:7-10Matthew 11:2-11
Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2016Isaiah 7:10-16Psalm80:1-7, Psalm80:17-19Romans 1:1-7Matthew 1:18-25

Hygiene Kits for the Homeless: February 12, 2017

Several times a year we distribute 200-500 personal hygiene kits to the homeless on the streets of Atlanta. Since starting our hygiene kits ministry in 2010, we have distributed more than 5,000 kits. Our goal is to distribute 2,000 kits a year.

Our next distribution is planned for Sunday, February 12, 2017 in place of our regular Church Without Walls service. As with the regular service, we will meet in picnic Pavilion 2 in Candler Park.

During our last hygiene kits ministry on October 23, 2016 we assembled 530 more hygiene kits and distributed 482 of them to the homeless on the streets of Atlanta. We were joined by members of the Decatur Rotary Club, which also generously supports our hygiene kits ministry with a grant and sourcing of supplies.

Continue reading Hygiene Kits for the Homeless: February 12, 2017

“I Don’t Feel Like I’m Doing Well at Being a Christian”

Pastor Paul,

I am gay, and 20 years old… I honestly can say that I am not happy. I don’t feel like I’m doing well at being a Christian. I try to pray but I am inconsistent, and sometimes I have no clue where I will end up. I feel like God is in some way absent because of my relationship with a woman or maybe just because I am gay.

I want so badly to be connected with Him. I know that if I have Him, I need nothing more. I long for the morning I wake up entirely alone and am serene because He is there with me. I tear up at the idea of God speaking to me. Accepting me without change.

But a voice in the back of my mind always makes me think that I am wrong. That I must change in order to walk with Him or to know my full potential. I just want peace. Not to be appeased. I want to walk with Him properly, but something in my heart is not connected with him yet. I want to be connected with Him.

Please help me to figure out what I can do to Grow closer to Him. I know he is all I need.

Akira

Dear Akira,

First let me say from the beginning; your sexual orientation has nothing to do with God loving you or not. As for how you are doing as a Christian, maybe a quick read of these passages with help you figure that out:

1) Do you love God with all your heart, soul and mind?

“Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.” This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: “Love others as well as you love yourself.” These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them. Matthew 22:34-40

2) Are you feeding the hungry? Clothing the naked? Giving drink to the thirsty? Visiting the sick and those in prison?

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my God! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”

Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.” Matthew 25:31-40

3) You love God and are in relationship with God, then believe these words of Jesus:

Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in God’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking. John 14:1-4

My friend, these are the tools by which to measure how you are doing, not who you are in love with. In fact whom you love will come about because of doing these things… regardless of gender!

God Bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org.

Taking the Bullets out of the Gun

In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. (Martin Luther King Jr.)

In the days following the Orlando massacre, it’s become painfully clear to me that there are people out there who really don’t get it. They really don’t. They don’t get that LGBT people like me feel connected to what happened at Pulse. They don’t get that it touched a nerve with each of us individually. They don’t get that we LGBT people live our lives carrying around a keen sense of vulnerability that not everyone can relate to. They just don’t get it. And it’s so disappointing.

Perhaps worst of all, these people don’t get that this is the wrong time to exercise their heterosexual privilege and make excuses for why they couldn’t be bothered to express sympathy for how LGBT people are feeling in the wake of Orlando.

If you think I’m generalizing, I can assure you that I’m not. And if this particular shoe fits you, then by all means I encourage you to wear it. Walk around and see how it feels. If it’s uncomfortable, read on. If it’s comfortable, read on.

It’s because that particular pair of shoes still exists that we have so-called “Christians” taking full advantage of this moment to widen the divisions and hatred in our society. They’re hiding behind an illusion that theirs is the one true faith (thereby implying that they’re speaking for God). They’re hiding behind “morality” and “values” — evangelical/fundamentalist code for opposition to reproductive freedom, marriage equality, and any limits whatsoever on the sacrosanctity of American gun rights.

Well, guess what else is included in that code: That if you’re not “Christian” by their standards, there’s no mercy, compassion or place for you in their America.

In other words, it’s okay for someone to kill you.

Eliel Cruz, executive director of Faith in America, puts it this way:

We also have to examine how specifically Christian evangelicals, the right, have exported their homophobia. I mean, let’s really look at Christian evangelicals who have influenced legislation abroad in many countries in Africa, and in Russia, that have led to LGBT people being killed.
There are specific ties to these individuals.

The same messages that are being preached in the pulpit are the same messages that are being preached abroad, and it’s being translated to understand that they believe this… is okay because these white missionaries told us it was. And that, because of what scripture says, it’s okay to kill these individuals as well. Whether or not that is your intent, that is the impact.

And in case you think this is just hyperbole, allow Rev. Roger Jimenez of Sacramento’s Verity Baptist Church to disabuse you of that notion (the following being from an hourlong sermon):

Hey, are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today? No… I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida’s a little safer tonight.

… It is unnatural for a man to be attracted to another man.

… The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die.

Or allow Congressman Rick Allen to assure you that LGBT people are worthy of death.

Statements like these are so far apart from my morals and values — and my Christianity — that I find it hard to believe they draw breath on the same planet as I do.

There have always been Christians who take an exceptionalist view of their faith — i.e., that there’s one road to heaven, and they’ve got the map. But the religious right (and political right), the fundamentalists, the zealots, the anti-intellectual evangelicals and the end-of-times crowd have a lot of nerve trying to claim their narrow brand of Christianity is the only one to be practiced.

Why is this stuff so dangerous? Because as a society shifts toward acceptance, those who oppose it are likely to become more radical, according to law and psychology experts interviewed by the New York Times for an article stating that even before the Orlando massacre, the LGBT community was more at risk for hate crimes in America than any other minority group. According to FBI data cited by the Times:

  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are the most likely targets of hate crimes, with LGBT people being twice as likely to be targeted as African Americans.
  • In the past 10 years, the rate of hate crimes based on sexual orientation has surpassed that of crimes against Jewish people.
  • Of 5,462 single-bias hate crimes reported in 2014, nearly one-fifth were because of the victim’s perceived or actual sexual orientation.

In other words, being out and LGBT is simply dangerous, as a friend recently shared. I agree. When it comes to my husband and me, there are places we don’t go. We instinctively scan any room we enter. We have a plan in place in case we run into an aggressive homophobe. When someone walks into a restaurant where we’re seated and gives us “that look”, we tense. Partly because at one time we were literally on the receiving end of threats, we don’t ever assume we’re safe.

But then there’s Robert Lynch, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla. Writing about Orlando in his blog, he said:

Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that… Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.

Meanwhile, the political right was in a hurry to connect the massacre to Islamic terrorism, with the shooter’s Muslim identity breathlessly noted.

Yet before we allow the Christian/political right to label every Muslim an extremist and every Syrian refugee a terrorist, let’s not forget that it’s the message of the Christian extremists and terrorists in our own nation — those who organize their own militias, who wear white sheets and burn crosses, who bomb abortion clinics, who kill and kidnap in the name of God, who refuse to recognize homosexuals — who might as well have been bullets in the shooter’s gun.

Has anyone noticed that these Christian exceptionalists never talk about what Jesus did or said, opting instead to go immediately to their own twisted version of the Old Testament to justify their fear, their hate, their grab for power?

Throw in a spoonful of the writings from Revelations, and Christian-identified American exceptionalism blesses the carpet bombing of a country into submission, or the injection of needle full of poison into the arm of a man or woman the state has determined is expendable.

By the way, do you really think someone who has been married 3-4 times has any morals or values to offer up to a same-gender couple who have been together for 34 years? Or that an institutional church that has made a century-long practice of hiding pedophiles has any moral grounds to be worried about who a LGBTQ person chooses to marry?

Do you really think that a person who calls themselves a “right to life” Christian yet allows the state to murder someone in their 30’s or 40’s has any moral compass from which anyone else could take direction?

My editor likes to call me “Pastor Angrypants” when I get worked up about these glaring hypocrisies. Well then, so be it. I am tired — and maybe even a little righteously angry — that my religion has been hijacked, repackaged and returned to me as something I should swallow whole or risk burning in hell.

I resent that in today’s environment, I am expected to rent my faith from the institutional church rather than owning it for myself.

I am tired of counting the angels dancing on the head of a pin while our culture collapses around us. I am tired of watching my tax dollars being spent on a false war on Christmas while thousands of souls are left on the streets without shelter, food or decent clothing — and with little hope of that changing in the foreseeable future.

I am tired of these so-called Christian leaders taking front and center on moral talk and then encouraging people to go get a gun.

I am more than just a little tired of having to give comfort to those grieving in my community because it seems that every other day we are gunned down, knifed and beaten beyond recognition because of who we love or what public restroom we use.

It is time for the “followers of Jesus” to speak up and remind the world that “Christian” means someone who follows the example and teachings of Jesus. Not someone who will swallow whatever a power-hungry and opportunist pastor tells them.

Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. As a matter of fact, Jesus very seldom talked about the “thou shalt nots” of what we’re not supposed to do. Rather, his moral compass, his teaching, was much more concerned with what we’re supposed to do. He was always crystal clear about the “thou shalts.”

So here’s a “thou shalt”: It is time for our family members whose silence has have been deafening to stand up! And to our other (largely straight) allies, hear us when we say this: We need you to stand up with us. We can do a lot by ourselves, but this won’t end without your help. When you hear a gay joke, or someone saying “that’s so gay”, or someone being called queer (or worse), or a clergyperson demonizing gay people, say something. Stand up for us. And if you know us, stand up for us. Stand up for my family.

We need your help emptying the bullets from the literal and figurative guns that are killing us.

Here’s another “thou shalt”: It is time for us to really walk with Jesus. Feed the poor (in America alone there are 12-15 million souls who worry daily about whether they will have food); visit the sick and imprisoned (and advocate for their humane treatment); accept the outcast (the queer, the single mom, the street person, the Muslim, the mentally challenged); shelter the homeless (and stop creating more of them); be good stewards and shepherds of Creation (and stop raping the environment); depend on God rather than on wealth (and stop collecting it at the expense of the poor); treat others as you would have them treat you. And if you’re going to fight, fight for justice!

And it is far past time for the “followers of Jesus” — those who believe in and actually attempt to live the teachings of Jesus — to reclaim the name “Christian”, to reclaim the faith, to reclaim the discussion… to stop being co-opted by persons and politicians who have little knowledge, understanding or practical application of Christian principles in their own lives.

Let us today reclaim this definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Let us reclaim this theme of the Old Testament (Micah 6:8):

But God has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously.

Let us reject the repackaging of today’s Christianity into silly self-righteous proof-texting of the old Hebrew scriptures whose byproduct is real spiritual violence in service of a naked power grab by which the institutional church dominates and controls people.

Murder and violent aggression are immoral. Allowing people to wallow in poverty is immoral. Raising children to hate others for any reason is immoral. Rewarding the rich and greedy is immoral. Lying is immoral. Suspending basic human rights is immoral. Torturing prisoners is immoral.

Insecure (and all too often power hungry) preachers and politicians feed on people’s fears. They prey on the weak, they divert our abundance away from the poor to build a building or win an election, and they threaten believers with hell on earth at the hands of weapons of mass destruction. That is not congruent with my faith, nor should it be with yours.

It is now more than past time to leave behind the preachers, priests and politicians who have proven themselves to be a badly behaved bunch of hypocrites. It is now more than past time to abandon the churches that are temples to greed, self-indulgence and self-righteousness.

And finally, it is time to take seriously this urging of Martin Luther King Jr., who said:

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

To which I would add: Let us not be bullets in the gun of hate and despair.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org.

What the Whole World Could Learn from a 15-Year-Old Girl

I thought I’d sit down today and get indignant about the crass politicization of a complete non-issue.

No, I’m not talking about Benghazi, or private email servers, or whether or not Donald Trump actually knows how to run a business. I’m talking about something that actually has everyday people acting as though they’ve lost their minds: The issue of which public restroom a person chooses to use.

I know why people are freaked out on a personal level. And I also know why their fears around this issue are being manipulated by the political and religious classes. The first “why” has nothing to do with the vaunted right to privacy or fears of molestation that the foamers are serving up to the media as the reasons.

Instead, it has everything to do with gender itself. Gender being the actual third rail of our society. When people step outside the accepted gender norms of their time and their society, the people around them really lose it. History is littered with examples: Women’s liberation, gay equality… and now transgender people.

If you don’t believe me, Google “Transgender Day of Remembrance” and see what you get. It ain’t a party, a parade, or even a crystal staircase. It’s how transgender people and their allies solemnly remember, every year, just how deadly it can be to step on today’s third rail of gender nonconformity and declare for yourself that your gender and your biological sex might just be misaligned.

So God forbid you should walk into a public restroom designated for use by those who share your gender identity. People will lose their minds. And other people will exploit that. And it will all be a backlash against something only tangentially related to your individual life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ll start with what I know. The Atlanta metro area has approximately 11,000 homeless people — a ridiculously high percentage of whom are veterans and kids. Those kids are on our streets.

Now, I have marginally more experience to write about the problem of homelessness than about America’s new war on restroom choice. (Not to mention that if the issue of homelessness captivated the public imagination as much as the restroom issue appears to have, who knows? We might actually have a shot at meeting the challenge of homelessness in a relatively short period of time.)

I say “marginally” because, while (compared to most Americans) I have an ocean of experience relating to transgender people as friends, community members and parishioners, I have to admit that I am limited in just how much I can claim to personally relate to their plight in this world.

I was born a biological male and reared as a male, and in the six decades I’ve lived as a male, I’ve never experienced a moment of struggle over the connection between my biological sex and my gender identity.

Of course, my sexual orientation was another matter entirely, at least according to society in general and the church in particular. However, even that was never really a question for me personally. Deep in my soul I have always known that God had not made a mistake with the gene(s) that caused me to be attracted to people of the same gender as me.

Yet I do find it somewhat awkward to address the restroom-choice issue because I don’t feel that I can truly relate in my mind, in the deepest parts of my person, to the incredible struggle and inner turmoil my friends from the transgender community must deal with on multiple fronts. If I’m totally honest with myself, I have to confess that I come up short on true empathy (look it up, it’s not the same as sympathy) with what it must be like to feel “born in the wrong body” biologically.

I have no real clue what it must be like to look in the mirror see my body and think to myself, “This is not who I am. My body is not put together in such a way as to match my mind and/or soul.” I have no idea what it’s like to not be comfortable in my own skin.

As a student of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — the man I credit with singlehandedly inspiring me to go into ministry — I can relate this gap to an even bigger, more enduring and more perplexing one: The awkward sensation for white liberals of knowing that we will never truly understand, in bones-deep authentic way, what it really is to be black in America.

God knows I’ve spent a lifetime trying to explain what it is to be gay to my straight friends — and while there has been a certain level of understanding reached, eyes still roll and faces blush when I kiss my partner in front of them or refer to him as my husband. So there’s that.

Given all these things, what can I claim to know about the transgender community and the bathroom issue?

First of all, I know several things from a Christian perspective. Those things that I know are rooted in a very clear understanding of Matthew 22:40, where Jesus said, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

So here’s what I’ll hang off those two commands:

  1. I know that transgender folks do not wake up one day making a choice to change their gender identity so they can go to a different public restroom.
  2. I know that to change one’s biological gender requires ongoing and long-term consultations with psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors, support groups and personal therapists.
  3. I know that each of these folks is in fact a child of God.
  4. I know that by the time a transwoman (i.e., a male-to-female transgender person) walks into a women’s restroom, she is a women, her biology notwithstanding.
  5. I know that by the time a transman (a female-to-male transgender person) walks into a men’s restroom, he is a man.
  6. I know transgender folks have been around and using public restrooms in relative peace for a lot longer than this “issue” has been politicized.
  7. I know that this “issue” is part of a backlash against my not-even-one-year-old right to get married — i.e., the political right and religious fundamentalists need another target to wax hysterical about.
  8. I know, based on Jesus’ teachings, that for a pastor to stand in a pulpit and call for transgender people to be killed is not even close to being a Christian response.
  9. I know that there is a really easy fix to all this: Make all bathrooms unisex. After all, going to the bathroom is a private matter for everyone.
  10. I know that to try and turn this discussion into an argument around safety from pedophiles and sexual perverts shows a lack of knowledge, fairness and mercy.
  11. I know the overriding challenge facing the transgender community in the form of this particular issue is that the vast majority of folks screaming about this have not taken the time to learn, watch and or listen.

But don’t take my word for it. Talk to a transgender person. And by that I mean listen. Really listen. And it doesn’t have to be about anything deep. Just what’s going on that day. Because it’s really, really hard to hate someone whose story you actually know.

And if you don’t think you know any transgender people, meet Jazz Jennings:

Katie Couric & Jazz Jennings
Katie Couric interviews transgender advocate Jazz Jennings on her teen years, her new book and equality.

You’re welcome.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org.