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This is part two of my extended post regarding my process of deciding between two churches. I ended part one talking about favoring the PCUSA church and having a strong reaction to an e-mail that led me to meditate some more.
It wasn’t long before the Lord spoke to me and I realized why I reacted so strongly. It tied in with a link to a story I received on Facebook, a BBC News story about a midwife in Kenya who had saved two Intersex babies.
First of all, I identify with Intersex people because the brain is also an organ in the body (in fact the most sexual organ in the body) and because so many of my secondary sex characteristics are female (without surgery and before cross gender hormones). And soon the Lord spoke a phrase that resonated with me: “innocent blood”. It is a phrase that I count occurring 22 times in 21 verses in the KJV (all but one in the Old Testament).
Suddenly it became clear to me. It surprised me and I wasn’t happy about it. But my eyes were opened. I am most sure it is from the Lord when I receive an answer I am not looking for but once I examine it, I see how well it fits.
An item that wasn’t even on my original list of comparison categories was what God wanted me to see. I knew that the Salvation Army is pro-life (as am I) while the PCUSA church is pro-choice. The pastor at the latter church knew that we disagreed on that issue and acknowledged that basically we disagreed on when life begins. It was an important issue for me, but not a deal-breaker. I am neither able to bear children or father one. Yet at the insistent prodding of the Holy Spirit, it became the sole factor in choosing which church to leave, for two reasons.
First was the selective abortion issue. If unwanted children can be killed after they’re born in the 21st century, how is that different than killing them in the womb? Perhaps it is theoretical now, but at some point with continued technological advances it may be possible to determine if a preborn child is transgender. An unwanted transgender child who can be aborted will probably be aborted. The difficulty in saving two Intersex children, knowing that many are not saved, hit very close to home for me.
Second was the idea of innocent blood. The most pure innocent blood that ever existed on earth was that of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Even Judas testifies to the innocence of the blood of Jesus (Matthew 27:4) and Pontius Pilate tried his best to avoid associating with the guilt from the shedding of His blood (Matthew 27:24). But close behind is the blood of preborn children. In their mother’s womb, they are doing what they are designed to do: draw resources from their mother until they develop enough to survive outside the womb. (And with technological advances, that age is getting younger and younger.) As far as I know they are still in a state of innocence, having committed no sins. And yet, if there is blood in them, there is life. And that was one of the first things I did: look up when blood starts to form in a preborn child. The answer: the heart starts to beat and pump fluid through blood vessels around day 20-22. The first red blood cells begin to form the next day.
God’s timing is perfect. And God has interesting ways to confirm His message.
I attended the Bible study after the worship service at the PCUSA church on 1/5/20. The group is studying Genesis but I missed some Sundays so I didn’t know how far they had gotten. It turned out that we covered the last three verses of chapter 8 and the first seventeen verses of chapter 9. The pastor asked me to read the verses in chapter 9.
After reading and some discussion, I mentioned that this reading covered two very important topics for me: the rainbow (being transgender) and the blood. The pastor nodded and I assume she thought I was referring to my salvation, or maybe to Communion (my original reason for attending there, although she didn’t know I didn’t take it that day). But I was referring to verse 4: “But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” The life, according to God, is in the blood. This is reiterated in Leviticus 17:11 and Deuteronomy 12:23. So important was this idea that when the early leaders of the Church were confronted with the first Gentile followers of Jesus, not eating meat with blood in it was one of only four rules they gave these converts to follow (Acts 15: 20,29).
(And yes, I plan to look closer at my eating habits in the near future in regards to eating meat. But one issue at a time: this would be a separate blog post.)
Ironically, the pastor also unwittingly provided the second confirmation of my choice to leave. It has become her practice around the celebration of Epiphany to hand out stars with “star words” on them: words to meditate on, gaze at and follow. The stars are upside down paper cutouts in a basket which she circulates and each person picks one. Sitting in the back, I was one of the last to take one. Only I picked up two, so as carefully as I could without looking at either word, I put back the one on top and took the one whose word at most I might have caught a glimpse of.
The basket was handed back and I looked at the word. I smiled although a bit wanly. The word was “repentance”. We were given time to meditate on the word during the service and answer some questions about it. I immediately saw the connection to my situation. While the word is used specifically in religion to regret one’s sins and turn away from them, in general it can simply mean to turn around or turn back. I was turning my attention back to the church where I am a member. At the end of the Bible study after I announced that it was my last Sunday, I shared the word. The pastor blinked a bit of surprise but then nodded. She understood how the broader meaning confirmed my decision.
Remember that career counselor I mentioned in part one? Something else he used to say was along the lines of “You don’t realize you’ve reached a new destination until you pass it.” While I had started to switch a greater percentage of my time to the PCUSA church in mid-late winter 2019 with all the pastoral turmoil at the Salvation Army, I think what made it come to a head was being present at the PCUSA church for Stewardship Sunday (when I sang my second solo). Not only did I make a financial commitment, I was making commitments of time and talent. By doing so, I had put the cart before the horse. Yet it’s all good because it cornered me into deciding whether to fish or cut bait. And for the record, I kept my financial vow for the entire year on the first Sunday. It will be impossible for me to keep the other vows, as they can understand.
I still love this church, the pastor and the congregation. I couldn’t reach everyone and some weren’t there on Sunday, but among those I told, I was prayed for, encouraged, thanked, received words of regret for me leaving and had a few of my tears wiped away. I would heartily recommend this church to anyone who doesn’t share my convictions on pro-life. In fact I recommended this church to a Christian member of the transgender community at lunch on the day after I said goodbye. They welcome anyone of any identity. The only thing they do not welcome are those who champion hate and bigotry.
And this is an important thing for me to make clear: I do not believe that their pro-choice position comes from hatred or evil, not for one minute. I believe it comes from different interpretations and a different focus for their expression of compassion. And as I stated in the beginning of this post, I do make exceptions. (And unlike some followers of Christ, I do not believe that birth control is a sin.) For two years I thought I could agree to disagree on this topic and continue my association with them, whether part-time, full-time or even back to the occasional Communion Sunday throughout the year.
It would have made my life a lot easier if I could have continued there. I am continuing to shed tears because I am not. But as I shared with some people, it was like Acts 16 when Paul and his entourage were planning on leaving Mysia to go to Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit would not allow it and bid them go to Macedonia from Troas instead.
And in the future, that same Spirit may open the door for me to do some things with the pastor and other members of the PCUSA church. This past Sunday, she announced that their church would be cooperating with the Salvation Army in collecting warm winter garb for those locally in need. Perhaps I had a part in that. I know her opinion of the Army is higher after my ongoing testimony about how I have been welcomed there.
Leaving the PCUSA church will be a sacrifice for me on many levels. Because of where I live, the turnover is much greater at my Salvation Army corps than the typical corps and certainly higher than at the PCUSA church. Therefore I was able to develop and maintain friendships easier at the PCUSA church. Even as a non-member, ministry doors and opportunities to share my abilities were much easier at the PCUSA church. As an adherent member at the Army in a corps top heavy with officers and soldiers, my avenues for service were more limited. Furthermore, ministry opportunities were decreasing. Without a presence at the PCUSA church, it will be harder for me to find avenues for my writing, my singing and getting my Born Thrice ministry off the ground.
Yet I have no idea whether God wants me to prosper in any of these areas, regardless of where I am. I do know that it is more likely that God will not bless me if I am somewhere other than where He wants me to be. And even if I achieve some success while in a church against His will, it doesn’t mean that the Lord will ultimately bless me with it.
This is definitely a walk of faith, not knowing what the future holds. At present, it seems very inconvenient with negative consequences to choose what I perceive as God’s will for my life over my own feelings. Some might even call me foolish for walking away from such an extraordinarily supportive church when so many transgender people are searching in vain for one. There are times when the Christian walk reaps a bountiful harvest and times when it calls for sacrifice. This is a time of sacrifice.
At this point, I am not even certain that I will be staying with the Salvation Army. I started going to the PCUSA church a few times a year to fill one void: the lack of Communion. Certainly there were a lot of positives at the PCUSA church to draw me. But as fellowship decreased, ministry opportunities decreased, effective communications decreased and confusion increased at the Army, I had more voids to fill. The only good news is that little or none of these things happened because I am transgender. Even so, I have sent hard questions to the pastors at the Salvation Army to see what is happening to get things back on track. Even if I stay, I am back at square one, looking for a church where I can celebrate communion a few times a year (or I have the daunting task of finding enough people who would want to celebrate communion privately; as someone who has been ordained as an elder, I believe I would qualify to serve communion).
If I don’t stay, I have to find a church within reasonable driving distance that is conservative enough to be pro-life but open-minded enough to welcome someone who is transgender; and they also have to celebrate Holy Communion in a manner that I can theologically accept (generally what is known as “spiritual presence”). I may have some digging to do. A number of churches in my local area are scrubbing their stance on LGBT and abortion from their websites.
I have stated my conscience on the issue. Each person has to deal with their own conscience as to what they would do in their own life and what they believe for society. If there was universal agreement on when life begins, the issue would resolve itself. But there isn’t that agreement. I have many perspectives from which to view this issue (scientifically, spiritually/morally as a Christian, politically as someone leaning more and more Libertarian, and legally as an American constitutionalist) and they don’t all agree.
Besides, we live in such a cancel culture these days and I am not the ideal spokesperson on the issue. So I will leave that to those who have either given birth or have the capacity to do so, and to others who can speak with expertise on the various elements of the topic. My primary focus (and the focus of my blog) will remain the intersection between being Christian and being transgender.
At the same time, I live in the United States, a country that I see becoming more divided and irreconcilable, trending more to the extreme. We have had our highs and lows as a country, but we could at least agree that as a country we had lofty ideals that attracted the world. Now we can’t even seem to agree on that. One side emphasizes all the positives of America and the other side emphasizes all the negatives. And this divide is being reflected in the Christian community. (The blog post on the Church divide has been posted; the national divide post is in progress.)
So I am concerned for my country. I note two places in Jeremiah where God reveals to the prophet what He will do if Judah does right. The second time, He also reveals what He will do if Judah does wrong. And He defines what He means by doing right or wrong.
For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. – Jeremiah 7:5-7
I believe that both churches and their respective denominations do an excellent job of advocating for good government and justice for all, going the extra mile and more to help those most in need. Neither of them are worshiping or promoting false gods. And we could argue that the nation at large has fallen short in all these areas. But we also have that commandment to not shed innocent blood. There are many headlines that could be used as examples of innocent blood being shed. Over the years, I have learned that we get nowhere in solving problems by pointing fingers at each other: if we are both contributing to the problem in our own way, the beginning of the solution is to point the finger at ourselves. Whether it is a speck of sawdust or a log in the other person’s eye, we can be most effective after taking the log out of our own eye.
But for now it is tears, not logs, in my eyes. I miss the pastor and congregation at the PCUSA church very much. I am heartbroken more than I can say. Holding onto and trusting my dear Lord is what sustains me for now.
Thus saith the LORD; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place. For if ye do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants, and his people. But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation. – Jeremiah 22:3-5