Transcending: Saying Farewell

June 19th, 2019

I’m writing a blog series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love, about the church and LGBTQ people, beginning with transgender people.

In The Situation, I told why this is personal for me. My church was considering changing their constitution to include a “Christian Living Statement” that marriage is defined as uniting one man and one woman (thus ruling out same-sex marriage) and that transgender people dishonor God’s design when they make any physical changes from the gender they were assigned at birth (not using that language, of course).

I disagree with the changes and have attempted to explain why in this blog series.

We voted on the changes this past Sunday, and the new policy passed. So it is time for me to say good-by. Fortunately, it doesn’t look like I’m going to have any difficulty finding an inclusive Bible-believing church where I can worship.

But I am grieved that my former church has taken this step. I’m going to copy out the letter I wrote resigning my membership to explain why I must resign my membership.

I will take out the name of the church, but here is the letter I sent to the pastor and the elders. There are more friends I haven’t gotten to talk with personally about this, so please consider this a letter to you, too:

Dear Friends,

It is with deep sadness that I am resigning my membership at [Former Church].

I’ve been a member for almost 13 years, and folks from [Former Church] brought me through the devastation of my divorce, took care of me when I had my stroke, and rejoiced with me as I served on the Newbery committee.

At [Former Church], I learned to listen to what God had to say to me — and not be apologetic about that. I see people with a heart for others — people who radiate God’s glory.

I’m still convinced that the number of times God uncannily spoke to me through a sermon or a song in the service is evidence that [Former Church]’s leadership are listening to God’s guidance as they plan each service, and that God’s Spirit is deeply present.

I am, though, deeply grieved about the new Christian Living Statement. You all know that I am convinced that the transgender paragraph in particular is not remotely biblical.

But the reason my conscience will not allow me to keep my membership at [Former Church] is that I also believe it is deeply hurtful toward a vulnerable group of people — a group that includes people I love. I would be ashamed to tell my kids I was a member of a church that adopted this policy, and it violates my conscience to have my name associated with it in any way, even by implication.

Know that I respect your desire to follow Jesus and your deep commitment to love everyone — including those you think are sinning. I am not for a moment saying that you are trying to be hurtful.

But I think it’s a very sad thing to tell people it is sinful to express the person they truly are, whom God created them to be. That is what transgender people say is happening.

Details: [Here I include ministry areas I’m resigning from.]

I am planning to attend [my friend]’s baptism this summer, and hope to find my way to [Former Church] for other special events. But I do feel like God is leading me to find a church home that is more inclusive toward all the members of Christ’s body.

But [Former Church] will always have my deep affection, love, and gratitude! You have been a supremely important part of my growth these last 13 years.

Much love,

Sondy Eklund

Transcending: Gender-Expansive Children

June 7th, 2019

I’m writing a blog series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love, about the church and LGBTQ people, beginning with transgender people.

The Situation told why this is personal for me.

Creation looked at what the Bible says about gender and how what transgender people say about themselves matches that.

The Science looked at the considerable scientific research that also matches both what the Bible says and what transgender people say about themselves.

Self-Definition looks at why we should believe people when they tell us who they are.

What Does the Bible Say? looks at what the Bible says about transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender. Spoiler alert: It says nothing against it! And has plenty to say about supporting and accepting who they are.

Not Conforming to the World looks at how transgender people are a marginalized group of outsiders – and the church should not be piling on.

Choice and Non-Choice looks at some evidence that LGBTQ people are born that way.

Interpretation points out that concluding homosexuality is sinful is by no means the only reasonable interpretation of Romans 1 and other New Testament passages.

Today I’m going to look at gender-expansive children and how pediatricians recommend that we respond to them.

In my first Science link, I only referenced one professional organization of doctors. Even though I do not believe that the Endocrine Society has any reason to be biased in favor of offering treatment that is not helpful, I’ve been challenged about this, so have done some research about other professional organizations of medical doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. It turns out that most national and international organizations of these professionals have some sort of statement, if they interact with transgender people at all. And they offer links to peer-reviewed studies and yet more scientific evidence on the effectiveness and helpfulness of treatment.

I want to look at more of these links, and I’ve decided to look in more detail instead of looking at them as a group – there’s so much information, it can get overwhelming.

It’s interesting to me that random google searches don’t necessarily gather this information, but if you’re looking specifically for professional organizations, you can find them, including those crucial links to research.

I’d like to start with a comprehensive paper compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics called “Supporting and Caring for Transgender Children.” This paper was prepared in conjunction with the American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

I’m going to highlight some statements in the paper, but I do highly recommend reading it fully, if you have any interest at all in understanding transgender children and the things they are dealing with.

Before I go through the paper, I want to make some comments. People who believe that using hormonal therapy or surgery to alter ones bodies is “opposed to God’s design,” and people who think transgender people are “confused” or perverting their sex drive or simply highly suggestible and led astray by counselors – have trouble explaining why young children would ever claim to be transgender.

With children, it’s definitely not about sex. That throws off the idea that being transgender is some kind of sexual perversion. On a child’s level, it’s about who they are and other people calling them the wrong thing.

Most transgender adults who came out as children now tell us that they explained to their parents that the parents were getting their gender wrong, not the other way around. This wasn’t about gender stereotypes or what colors they liked or what they wanted to play with, but was somehow about who they are.

Personally, this fits my belief that God created people “male and female,” and gender identity is something you are born with. Gender identity is biologically located in your brain and won’t always match your external organs, just as chromosomes don’t always match your external organs and internal organs don’t always match your external organs. That even children claim to know their own gender despite what people tell them seems to be strong evidence that gender identity and genitals don’t always have to match.

But let’s look at the American Academy of Pediatrics paper, “Supporting and Caring for Transgender Children.” I’m going to go through it in detail, but do recommend reading it yourself.

They begin with a story, mentioning Jazz Jennings, one of the youngest people to publicly come out as transgender. She is now eighteen years old and has had gender confirmation surgery and is still happy with her journey. But the point of mentioning her is that she testifies that she had a safe and happy childhood.

The purpose of the guide is clearly stated:

This guide is designed for anyone who knows a transgender or gender-expansive child, plans to write about children who transition, or simply wants to learn more. It reviews what medical and education experts know about transgender children, explores some myths about gender transition in childhood, and offers suggestions for adults with a transgender child in their life.

The focus is on children who have not yet reached puberty, approximately ages 5 to 10.

First, they explain terms. They tell about gender-expansive children, who don’t necessarily follow norms for gender expression.

Occasionally, a child consistently asserts a gender identity inconsistent with the sex they were assigned at birth. Jazz, for example, insisted she was “really a girl,” despite being told she was a boy. These children may also express discomfort with their sex, such as a desire to be rid of their genitals or a wish that they’d been “born in a different body.” They will often say “I am…” rather than “I wish I were…” Children and adults who identify with a gender and/or sex different than what they were assigned at birth are known as transgender. Transgender children are a subset of gender-expansive kids.

They cite a study that most gender-expansive children do not grow up to be transgender adults. Being gender-expansive is much more common than being transgender.

The first advice they give is not to pressure children — one way or the other.

Although families and communities may struggle with uncertainty, pressure (either to transition or to stop gender-expansive behaviors) can be harmful, so their patience and support are immensely important.

It is not uncommon for a child to feel pressure — at home, school or elsewhere — to hide their gender-expansive traits. This social pressure, when it exists, can be intense and very painful, leading children to hide their “true gender selves” altogether. Families may even encourage the child to do so, hoping to protect them from bullying. Unfortunately, hiding one’s identity or gender-expansive traits can cause serious problems during childhood and later in life — including depression, anxiety, self-harm and even suicide.

Just like the studies the Endocrine Society linked to, the Pediatricians also assert that gender identity cannot be changed by others (with links).

Although social experiences help to shape a child’s gender identity, neither families nor professionals can change that identity, and trying to do so can be extremely harmful.

Next they discuss gender dysphoria and transgender children. I want to highlight that for children, they are not talking about medical intervention.

Depending on the child’s age and signs of distress, “gender-affirmative” counseling or therapy can help manage gender dysphoria. However, in many cases, the remedy for dysphoria is gender transition: taking steps to affirm the gender that feels comfortable and authentic to the child. It is important to understand that, for children who have not reached puberty, gender transition involves no medical interventions at all: it consists of social changes like name, pronoun and gender expression.

While acceptance and affirmation at home can help a great deal, children do not grow up in a vacuum, so even children with supportive families may experience dysphoria. Nonetheless, families and doctors of transgender children often report that the gender transition process is transformative — even life-saving. Often, parents and clinicians describe remarkable improvements in the child’s psychological well-being.

They mention, as I’ve read other places, that a child who is transgender will be insistent, consistent, and persistent about their gender identity, with little or no ambivalence.

The paper explains that even without medical intervention, transition is not simple, and they’ll need medical, psychological, family, and school support.

I love this paragraph about how that transition typically goes for the child, despite all the challenges:

Despite these difficulties, a child’s gender transition is almost always a positive event. Often, the child’s debilitating gender dysphoria symptoms lift, diminishing difficult behavior that came with them. Dr. Ehrensaft calls this the ex post facto (“after the fact”) test: a dramatic reduction in stress, and blossoming happiness for the child and family, indicate that social transition has been the right choice. Along with joy at this renewed well-being, families are often thrilled to find that gender transition removes the emphasis on gender in a child’s life. With their gender identity no longer in conflict, the child can focus on the important work of learning and growing alongside their peers. Many children feel relief, even euphoria, that the adults in their life have listened and understood them.

(This is exactly what I’ve heard about from so many mothers of transgender children in my Facebook group.)

The article does touch on what’s going to happen when puberty hits. Usually transgender children will take puberty-blockers to give them more time to be sure whether they want to fully transition as a transgender adult. These are fully reversible.

Another important section sums up what we do know with very good evidence at this time (and it’s heavily footnoted):

Experts who work with transgender children, adolescents and adults generally agree on some important points. First, transgender adolescents and adults rarely regret gender transition, and the process (including social and/or medical changes) substantially improves their well-being. Second, some children express a strong transgender identity from a young age and grow into transgender adults who can live happily and healthily in their authentic gender. Third, discouraging or shaming a child’s gender identity or expression harms the child’s social-emotional health and well-being, and may have lifelong consequences.

A very important section follows, where they look at the strong evidence that gender-affirmative therapy (“focusing on what the child says about their own gender identity and expression, and allowing them to determine which forms of gender expression feel comfortable and authentic”) is the best approach, as opposed to reparative therapy, which attempts to “correct” gender-expansive behaviors, or delayed transition, which “prohibits transition until a child reaches adolescence or even older, regardless of their gender dysphoria symptoms.”

While researchers have much to learn about gender-expansive and transgender children, there is evidence that both reparative therapy and delayed transition can have serious negative consequences for children. While some groups promote these strategies in good faith, many use misleading descriptions of research or even outright misinformation.

This section describes the theory and evidence behind each approach. It explains why clinicians have embraced gender-affirmative care, and outlines what we have yet to learn about caring for transgender children.

Right now, my church is considering a policy that says that any “attempt to change ones birth sex” is “opposed to God’s design.” Since that amounts to saying that gender-affirmative therapy is opposed to God’s design, they’re left with reparative therapy. Please, please, take a look at the statistics here which show great harm can come from reparative therapy. Follow the links and look closely before saying that transgender children must use this approach, against the overwhelming consensus of major medical organizations.

There is no scientific evidence that reparative therapy helps with gender dysphoria or prevents children from becoming transgender adults. Instead, experts and professional organizations believe that it inflicts lasting damage on children. In particular, it harms family relationships and makes children feel ashamed of who they are. Sociologist Karl Bryant, who as a young boy underwent therapy designed to make him less stereotypically feminine, wrote in 2007 that “the most enduring residue [of the treatment was] the shame of knowing that those I was closest to disapproved of me in what felt like very profound ways.”

They then look at Delayed Transition and the problems with not treating children individually, but setting rules for all children based on age.

That section has some lovely conclusions:

Gender-affirmative clinicians emphasize considering each child individually — and in terms of their developmental stage, not their age. They advise that transition should take place when the child indicates that they are ready, rather than when adults dictate it.

With affirmation and support, many transgender and gender-expansive children mature into happy, healthy young adults. These young people are remarkably resilient to the challenges they face. Emerging research reports that transgender children whose families affirm their gender identity are as psychologically healthy as their non-transgender peers.

The paper finishes up with advice to parents and with lists of resources (and of course the 98 footnotes). They don’t want anyone to rush to assume their child is transgender (most gender-expansive children aren’t), but they do want parents to assure their children that they are loved unconditionally, “however they express themselves and whoever they grow up to be.”

Growing up transgender or gender-expansive can be difficult. By supporting families, sharing the facts and practicing gender-affirmative attitudes with all children, each of us can make life a little easier for these unique, resilient kids.

Transcending: Interpretation

May 31st, 2019

I’m writing a blog series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love, about the church and LGBTQ people, beginning with transgender people.

The Situation told why this is personal for me.

Creation looked at what the Bible says about gender and how what transgender people say about themselves matches that.

The Science looked at the considerable scientific research that also matches both what the Bible says and what transgender people say about themselves.

Self-Definition looks at why we should believe people when they tell us who they are.

What Does the Bible Say? looks at what the Bible says about transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender. Spoiler alert: It says nothing against it! And has plenty to say about supporting and accepting who they are.

Not Conforming to the World looks at how transgender people are a marginalized group of outsiders – and the church should not be piling on.

Choice and Non-Choice looks at some evidence that LGBTQ people are born that way.

I’d been meaning to finish talking about transgender people first, but tonight I’d like to talk about same-sex marriage.

My church is indeed pursuing adding a policy to its constitution stating that transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender identity dishonors God’s design and that marriage can only be between one man and one woman. In the first members’ meeting to discuss this, the pastor read from Romans 1 and said that the plain meaning is that homosexuality is sinful.

[After that, he admitted that there is nothing in the Bible that speaks against transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender identity. But said we can conclude it’s wrong because of creation. I covered that reasoning in Transcending: Creation.]

I will grant you that reading Romans 1 in English in 2019 does give the impression that the Bible condemns homosexuality.

But what if one of Paul’s contemporaries who was a native Greek speaker came forward in time? If we explained same-sex marriage to that person, would they think it had anything to do with what Paul was talking about?

Look more closely at what Paul is saying. It’s not a prohibition. It’s all in present tense. Paul is saying, “Look at how terrible our society has gotten!”

I recently read Paul Among the People, by Sarah Ruden, an expert on Graeco-Roman literature. She writes about what people were doing in that time period. It was commonplace for men to prove their manhood by preying on the weak – slaves, boys, men of lesser standing. It was even part of their idol worship, especially of Priapus, an idol of sexual aggression. She points out that Paul’s attitude was completely different from other writers of the time:

Paul could have, like generations of Greek and Roman moralistic and satirical commentators, lit into passive homosexuality, into the victims. But in Romans 1 he makes no distinction between active and passive: the whole transaction is wrong. This is crucially indicated by his use of the Greek word for “males,” arsenes, for everybody; he does not use the word for “men,” as the NRSV translation would have us believe. The Classical and New Testament word for a socially acceptable, sexually functional man is aner. In traditional parlance, this could mean an active but never a passive homosexual. But Paul places on a par all the male participants in homosexual acts, emphasizing this in Romans 2:1 and clearly implying that they are all morally degraded and that they all become physically debilitated from the sex act with each other. Such effects were unheard of among the Greeks and Romans when it came to active homosexuals: these were thought only to draw their passive partners’ moral and physical integrity into themselves.

This has nothing in common with a loving, committed, monogamous same-sex relationship.

What if couples in same-sex marriages are not sinning? What if the act of homosexuality is not sinful unless you’re hurting someone?

For that matter, does the New Testament call anything else sinful that doesn’t harm anyone – either the person doing it or someone else? If Paul was talking about preying on weaker people, then it makes sense for him to condemn it. But how does a committed same-sex marriage hurt anyone?

If we exclude people in same-sex marriages from membership in our churches, aren’t we saying to a part of the body of Christ – “We don’t need you”?

For that matter, we agree that everyone who comes to Christ comes as a sinner. We expect, after they accept Christ, for His Spirit to work in their lives and that He’ll help them overcome sin. Christians are not under Law, but under Grace – in the past, my church has let the Holy Spirit decide what sins other people should work on. The important thing has been that we’re a gathering of people who have accepted Jesus as the Lord of our lives.

There are verses about coming alongside Christians who are trapped in sin – but always gently and with humility. And those verses never call out a specific sin ahead of time. There are many, many more verses about how important it is not to judge others. Remove the beam from your own eye before you try to take the speck out of your brother’s eye!

If we add a Code of Conduct (even if it’s called a “Christian Living Statement”), we’re saying that these particular sins have to be cleaned up before you can be a member of this church. And it’s questionable whether they are actually sins.

And that’s the biggest problem I have with calling same-sex marriage sinful. The only reason to do so is because you believe one particular interpretation of the Bible – an interpretation that many, many other Christians don’t agree with. But it doesn’t harm anyone. In fact, same-sex marriage, like heterosexual marriage, is all about love. Isn’t Love a good thing?

People say that they believe same-sex marriage is wrong because the Bible says so – so this way they can be proud of how faithful they are to the Bible. But please be aware that this is your interpretation of what the Bible says, and it is by no means certain. And it doesn’t fit well with the rest of the Bible message to love one another, to include all parts of the body of Christ, and not to judge.

Judging others indeed does harm. And it’s so much easier to judge about things you’ll never be tempted to do. As I covered in Choice and Non-Choice, there’s plenty of evidence LGBTQ people are born LGBTQ people. Do we really believe that God’s best for every single one of them is a life without a committed, loving, monogamous partnership? And we’re basing that on one interpretation that’s quite weak if you look at the historical context.

Transcending – Choice and Non-Choice

May 25th, 2019

I’m writing a blog series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love, about the church and LGBTQ people, beginning with transgender people.

The Situation told why this is personal for me.

Creation looked at what the Bible says about gender and how what transgender people say about themselves matches that.

The Science looked at the considerable scientific research that also matches both what the Bible says and what transgender people say about themselves.

Self-Definition looks at why we should believe people when they tell us who they are.

What Does the Bible Say? looks at what the Bible says about transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender. Spoiler alert: It says nothing against it! And has plenty to say about supporting and accepting who they are.

Not Conforming to the World looks at how transgender people are a marginalized group of outsiders – and the church should not be piling on.

Today I want to say something about choices. Often when I talk to people who condemn transgender people, I get the impression that they think being transgender is either a delusion or something people choose on a whim.

For example, after my last post, someone asked me: If transgender people have a suicide attempt rate of 37% — so much higher than in the general population – aren’t you afraid to have your child be transgender? Why would you ever affirm that?

This person was forgetting the other part of the statistic. (These are from the 2015 U. S. Transgender Survey of 28,000 transgender people.) For transgender people with nonsupportive families, the suicide attempt rate was 54%. You better believe I’m going to be supportive!

Now, I grant you – nobody has statistics about people whose families were nonsupportive who decided not to come out as transgender after all. But I have a very hard time believing that group has very many members. You might hide who you are because of your family, but you can’t change who you are.

Transgender people keep telling us, This is who I am.

In fact, as I mentioned in my Science post, Science keeps telling us gender identity is something you’re born with. And even though we try, people have not figured out a way to change someone’s gender identity.

I am going to eventually do a lot more posts about scientific and research studies. I’ve discovered that at least a dozen major medical organizations have position statements about transgender people. But in the meantime, I ran across this summary of studies on human sexuality and gender, put together by a doctor and her husband, a librarian.

The author of the webpage summarizes her literature review as follows:

Our LGBTQ community has consistently told us that sexual orientation and gender identity are not chosen, and cannot be changed. Based on the consistency of their stories, the available scientific literature, and the complete lack of evidence in any opposing viewpoints, it is time that we believe them.

I found another literature review by following the link in the Endocrine Society Position Statement on Transgender Health. It’s called Evidence Supporting the Biologic Nature of Gender Identity. With the help of google, you can download and read the actual article. There is lots of evidence that gender identity resides biologically in our brains and is something we’re born with. It doesn’t necessarily match our genitalia and doesn’t necessarily match our chromosomes. The best way to be sure which gender someone has is to ask the person who lives in that brain.

Just today, a friend announced that her spouse is coming out as a transgender woman. I love the way her spouse put it in her Facebook announcement:

I have been living with something for most of my life that I’ve kept fairly well hidden until now. I am a transgender woman currently in the process of transitioning to present as a woman. I know this will come as a shock to most of you reading this as I don’t come across as very feminine (and have been told this by those who already know). Please know that this is something very real that I’ve lived with since high school and it was only in the last few years that I felt I could start the transition process and begin to live as my true self. It’s been a personal challenge coming out to family and close friends but everyone has been loving and supportive and now I’m ready to come out to the wider world.

Listen to what she says! Yes, she had a choice whether to present as a woman, whether to come out as transgender. But she didn’t have a choice about the fact that she is a transgender woman. She is courageously saying, “This is Who I am!

No one’s going to take lightly a choice to change their body and their appearance. But choosing which gender we are? We don’t actually have that choice.

And I’m never going to make a blanket statement of what people should do who know they are a gender different from the one they were told they were all their lives, the one that matches their external genitalia.

But please, churches, let’s not make a blanket statement either. Sometimes, what honors God’s design is for transgender people to use current medical science to make their appearance and body match the true gender they know themselves to be.

Who you are is not a choice.

How you present your body to express who you are? That choice should be yours and yours alone.

Transcending: Not Conforming to the World

May 20th, 2019

I’m writing a blog series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love, about the church and LGBTQ people, beginning with transgender people.

The Situation told why this is personal for me.

Creation looked at what the Bible says about gender and how what transgender people say about themselves matches that.

The Science looked at the considerable scientific research that also matches both what the Bible says and what transgender people say about themselves.

Self-Definition looks at why we should believe people when they tell us who they are.

What Does the Bible Say? looks at what the Bible says about transgender people changing their bodies to match their gender. Spoiler alert: It says nothing against it! And has plenty to say about supporting and accepting who they are.

Today I want to look for a moment at a verse that I’ve heard more than once used as a reason not to affirm and support transgender people: Romans 12:1-2. I believe this verse actually provides another reason we should affirm them. Here’s what it says (New International Version):

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I’ll be honest – I get angry when I hear this verse used to say we should not affirm transgender people.

I’m not entirely clear what the thinking is. Are they saying that if ethical non-Christians speak up against something, then we’re conforming to the world if we also say it’s unethical?

Are they saying that because “the world” accepts transgender people, the church should not?

Are they saying that we shouldn’t listen to medical personnel or peer-reviewed research studies because those are part of “the world”?

To be fair, I do not know what argument people use to rationalize using this verse against transgender people getting gender affirmative therapy. I don’t understand the train of thought at all. Maybe there’s a way that I haven’t conceived of.

Looking at my first two questions above, I’m afraid “the world” was in many cases ahead of the church when it came to the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, civil rights, interracial marriage, child labor, and many, many other social issues. Yes, in many of those cases, Christians were at the forefront of the movement toward social justice, but this movement out in the world was often ahead of the church at large. They were certainly ahead of many individual churches. You can’t condemn something as evil simply because there are people out in “the world” who advocate for it. They might be onto something.

As far as peer-reviewed medical research studies, I already provided some links to some in my first Science post. Since then, I’ve been looking up more statements by medical and psychological associations about transgender people and appropriate and effective treatment. I’ve discovered there’s much, much more scientific information out there. I plan to write some more posts about them.

But why is the church weighing in on which treatment is effective, anyway?

Does the church really want to go up against the prevailing scientific opinion in an area on which the Bible doesn’t speak? When we try that, it doesn’t usually go well.

The Bible does not condemn being transgender; the Bible does not condemn changing your body via hormones or surgery to match your gender identity.

An analogy that works well is this:

Imagine if a church came out with a policy that said taking insulin dishonors God’s design because it changes your body chemistry given to you by God.

Such a policy would not affect most people. But for those it does affect, it can be a life-or-death issue.

And the Bible doesn’t speak about it. This insulin prohibition I invented would be based entirely on extrapolation with a made-up principle by someone who is unaffected by the new rule.

I would like to propose that Romans 12:1-2 actually gives a strong reason that we should support and affirm transgender people. Because if we want to be different from the world, the world in general is not treating transgender people well.

I used as the subtitle for this Transcending series: They’ll Know Us By Our Love. That comes from John 13:35 –

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

We should be known for our love, not for our rejection.

Here’s where it gets personal for me. When I visited my adult transgender daughter in Oregon last February, I was shocked and surprised to learn that she was the only one in her community of transgender friends who had supportive parents. In fact, her new fiancée is the daughter of an evangelical pastor in Arkansas. Her family rejected her when she came out, and that’s why she’s in Portland now.

Many of my daughter’s transgender friends are homeless and unemployed. (Thank God healthcare in Oregon does cover people in this situation!) They try to help each other out, but she told me there’s a joke going around the transgender community that they’re all passing around the same five-dollar bill.

As my daughter was talking about her friends, she said, with passion in her voice, “They’re such beautiful people!” And I immediately thought — Oh, that’s what the church should be saying about them! We should not be throwing these people away. As the world is doing.

After I got home, I discovered the 2015 U. S. Transgender Survey and learned that the experience of my daughter and her friends is by no means unusual.

There’s a lot in this survey that’s sobering – I strongly recommend taking a look. There’s a whole chapter of the report called “Family Life and Faith Communities.”

Do read the report in detail for more nuance, but here are a few statistics that struck me:

Sixty percent (60%) of respondents who were out to the immediate family they grew up with reported that they had supportive families, and 40% had families that were neutral or not supportive.

One in ten (10%) reported that an immediate family member had been violent towards them because they were transgender.

Fifteen percent (15%) ran away from home and/or were kicked out of the house because they were transgender.

Much more disturbing were the consequences of this:

Family support was associated with positive outcomes while family rejection was associated with negative outcomes. Respondents who were rejected were:

Nearly twice as likely to have experienced homelessness (40%) as those who were not rejected (22%).
Almost twice as likely to have engaged in sex work (16%) as those who were not rejected (9%).
More likely to have attempted suicide (49%) than those who were not rejected (33%).

The report also looks at the reactions of faith communities. This part strikes home, as I’ve seen many Facebook posts from transgender people that express great anger with the church – and anger with God. If you’ve been rejected by a church, this is a natural reaction – and it breaks my heart. Because I don’t believe for a moment that God is angry with them or disapproves of their getting good treatment. In fact, I believe God sees their beauty better than anyone and loves them deeply. Isn’t the church supposed to be the body of Christ? Shouldn’t we be expressing Christ’s love?

But the report gives this statistic: “Nearly one in five (19%) respondents who had ever been part of a spiritual or religious community left due to rejection. Forty-two percent (42%) of those who left found a welcoming spiritual or religious community.”

Put more negatively, more than half of those rejected by a faith community never returned. Which breaks my heart. It does provide a bit of hope – only 19% were rejected and 42% of those did find a welcoming community. Welcoming communities are out there!

And I pray fervently and with all my heart that the churches I am part of will always be included among them.

May we not be conformed to the world, thinking it’s okay to reject and marginalize and judge an entire group of people.

Instead, may we be transformed by the renewing of our minds. And may they know us by our love.

Transcending: What Does the Bible Say?

May 18th, 2019

I’m writing a blog series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love, about the church and LGBTQ people, beginning with transgender people.

The Situation told why this is personal for me.

Creation looked at what the Bible says about gender and how what transgender people say about themselves matches that.

The Science looked at the considerable scientific research that also matches both what the Bible says and what transgender people say about themselves.

Self-Definition looks at why we should believe people when they tell us who they are.

Today I’m going to look at what the Bible says about transgender people. Short answer: Nothing.

But there are verses that might seem to apply. In the Old Testament, we’ve got Deuteronomy 22:5 –

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.

There are two reasons I don’t think this applies. In the first place, Christians are not under the Law. I wear long pants almost every day, and no one in my church has ever said that’s sinful.

In the second place, transgender people say they are the gender they transition into. Transgender women are women. So they should wear women’s clothes.

Another verse from the Law that has been mentioned is Deuteronomy 23:1. I think you can see if I continue on with the next two verses that nobody thinks the criteria listed here can keep anyone from Christ.

No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.

No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.

Instead, in the New Testament, we’ve got Galatians 3:26-28 –

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Based on that, gender is no barrier to coming to Christ.

Austen Hartke, a transgender pastor who wrote the book Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians, points out that the nearest thing to transgender people in the Bible are eunuchs. They, too, were in an in-between space, not really fitting neatly into either male or female.

Austen speaks at length on the passage Isaiah 56:3-7, which says:

Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant –
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant –
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Jesus even speaks well of eunuchs in Matthew 19:11-12, certainly not excluding them.

And then there’s the important story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. I’ll quote a section from Austen Hartke’s book:

We’ve talked about eunuchs already, and how they existed outside of the accepted gender roles and expectations of their time, but the eunuch we meet in Acts 8 was outside the norm in other ways as well. For instance, he was from Ethiopia – a place that was considered “the ends of the earth” in that day and was a military threat to the Roman Empire. As an Ethiopian he was probably Black – not necessarily in the way we understand Black identity today, especially in the United States, where our concept of Blackness is seen through the lens of American slavery – but he was certainly different from the people that Philip was used to.

The second thing that marked the Ethiopian eunuch as an outsider was his status as not-quite-Jewish and not-quite-Gentile. It’s made clear in the text that he was not born Jewish, but the story never calls him a Gentile either. Additionally, it’s the baptism of the clearly categorized Gentile Cornelius in Acts 10 that begins the conversation about Gentile inclusion in the early church. The eunuch may have been what the Bible calls “a God-fearer,” which essentially means a person who ascribed to the beliefs of the Jewish people despite not having been born among them. This placed him in between or outside of the established categories when it came to the Jew/Gentile binary of the times. If the eunuch hadn’t already been excluded from temple worship because of his status as a eunuch (since the welcome in Isaiah 56 was never implemented), he would have been kept out of the inner sanctums because he was neither a Jew by birth nor a full convert.

Lastly, despite being put in a place of authority, the eunuch must have been either a slave or a freed former slave, since it would have been unusual for a free person to be castrated. This means that the eunuch of Acts 8, whose name we never learn, was outside the boundaries of gender, race, class, and religion – a quadruple threat.

When the Ethiopian eunuch asks to be baptized, Philip doesn’t even debate. Austen Hartke finishes that chapter with these words:

In a way, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is a story about two conversions. The eunuch may be the one who gets baptized, but Philip is the person who has to change his metric for who’s in and who’s out. Even though this story is two thousand years old, a third conversion is still taking place: will the church eventually realize that when God’s love overpowers all human distincitions, nothing can prevent us from full inclusion?

So, those are all reasons why it is in the Christian tradition to include the outsider, but let me repeat this point:

There is NOTHING in the New Testament that forbids a person changing the sex of their body, whether through hormones or surgery. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

I’ve already talked about why I don’t think the Creation story warrants a prohibition against gender affirmative therapy. (I’m going to use that to include hormone therapy and/or gender confirmation surgery.) In fact, I was talking with a leader in my church about how there is nothing whatsoever in the New Testament against gender-affirmative therapy, and he admitted, “We extrapolated.”

But Jesus did not encourage extrapolating to develop new rules. In fact, I believe that is exactly the sin of the Pharisees that Jesus blasted them for in Matthew 23:4 – “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

The idea that gender-affirmative therapy dishonors God’s design is a made-up rule. It is nowhere found in Scripture, and it is completely contrary to the spirit of Jesus’ words in John 13:34 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Or Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

Or Paul’s words in Romans 14:4 – “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall, and they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

Someone may argue, “But we need to be discerning!” Indeed, Jesus said in Matthew 7:16-17, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”

Transgender people have high rates of attempted suicide, 37%, according to the 2015 World Transgender Survey. However, for transgender people whose families were unsupportive, the rate of attempted suicide jumps to 54%. Refusing to support transgender people yields a fruit of death.

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – John 5

May 18th, 2019

My series, A Universalist Looks at the New Testament, is following along as my church reads through the New Testament together and pointing out passages that look different after I came to believe that the Bible teaches that all will be saved – at the end of the ages, anyway.

Today we read from John 5. When I read it before I was a universalist, I simply assumed that “judgment” here meant torment in hell, lasting forever and ever. Well, although the passage definitely teaches there will be judgment after death, there is nothing that says it will last forever.

In fact, another passage talks about “eonian correction.” And correcting his children is the kind of thing God does! But if the judgment leads to correction, how can it last forever?

But there’s no need to belabor that point. Please notice that this passage never says that the result of the judgment that comes after death is unending punishment.

John 5:21-30, New International Version:

For, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

From the Concordant Literal New Testament, which literally translates from the Greek, using one English word for every Greek word:

For even as the Father is rousing the dead and vivifying, thus the Son also is vivifying whom He will. For neither is the Father judging anyone, but has given all judging to the Son, that all may be honoring the Son, according as they are honoring the Father. He who is not honoring the Son is not honoring the Father Who sends Him.

Verily, verily, I am saying to you that he who is hearing My word and believing Him Who sends Me, has life eonian and is not coming into judging, but has proceeded out of death into life. Verily, verily, I am saying to you that coming is an hour, and now is, when the dead shall be hearing the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall be living. For even as the Father has life in Himself, thus to the Son also He gives to have life in Himself.

And He gives Him authority to do judging, seeing that He is a son of mankind. Marvel not at this, for coming is the hour in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and those who do good shall go out into a resurrection of life, yet those who commit bad things, into a resurrection of judging.

Mind you, I still would much rather proceed out of death into life. I would rather not come into judging.

But God’s judgments are just…. and I’m not convinced that would include unending torment. This passage does not say that it does.

Another thing this passage says is there is Life in the Son. I like the past tense in this sentence: He… “has proceeded out of death into life.” Amen!

Transcending: Self-Definition

May 11th, 2019

I’m writing a blog series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love, about the church and LGBTQ people, beginning with transgender people.

The Situation told why this is personal for me.

Creation looked at what the Bible says about gender and how what transgender people say about themselves matches that.

The Science looked at the considerable scientific research that also matches both what the Bible says and what transgender people say about themselves.

Now I want to step back for a moment and think about the question: What is the decent human response to transgender people?

Today’s post applies to every human, and not merely to Christians who have a calling to love their neighbors as themselves.

The background I’m bringing to this is that for years I’ve been an avid reader of Patricia Evans’ books about verbal abuse, including Victory Over Verbal Abuse. These books helped me tremendously when I was going through my divorce.

Patricia Evans’ defines verbal abuse like this:

Any statement that tells you what, who, or how you are, or what you think, feel, or want, is defining you and is, therefore, abusive. Such statements suggest an invasion of your very being, as if to say, ‘I’ve looked within you and now I’ll tell you what you want, feel, etc.’ Similarly, threats are verbally abusive because, like torture, they attempt to limit your freedom to choose and thus to define yourself. Of course, if you have defined yourself to someone, ‘I’m Suzy’s Mom,’ and that person says, ‘That’s Suzy’s Mom,’ they are affirming or validating what you have said. On the other hand, verbal abuse is a lie told to you or told to others about you. If you believe the lie, it would lead you to think that you are not who you are or that you are less than you are.

Now, there are plenty of people who don’t agree with this definition of verbal abuse. But I’ve found it’s a practical definition – when I come away from a conversation feeling bad about what was said – very often I look more closely at what was said and discover something was said defining me. Maybe they said, You’re trying to start an argument…” (telling me my motives), or “You are assuming such and so…” (telling me what I’m thinking), or “You’re making too big a deal of this” (minimizing my experience), or “You’re too sensitive” (telling me what I’m feeling).

The problem with defining someone else is that You do not know what’s going on in someone else’s head. This means that if someone tells you that you are wrong when you claim to know what they are thinking or feeling – they are automatically correct, and you are wrong. This is your opportunity to apologize and stand corrected.

And that’s what’s wrong with verbal abuse (by this definition). It’s nonsense. You do not know what another person is thinking or feeling. If someone says, “You’re just saying that to make me angry” – they don’t know your motives and they can’t see inside your head, and that statement is nonsense.

Now, with our friends, we do try to affirm them by telling them good qualities we’ve seen in them. Or maybe gently call them out on negative qualities. But if they respond by saying, “No, you’re wrong – that wasn’t why I was doing that at all.” Then it is time for us to stand down. Each person is the authority on their own thoughts and feelings.

Patricia Evans also explains why it hurts so much:

Clearly, when one person defines the other, the person doing the defining (abusing), has closed off from the real person. When a person is told what they are, think, feel, and so forth, it is not only a lie told to them about themselves, but also it means that the abuser is closed off from the real person. The abuser cannot really hear, see, and take in information from the real person. It is as if he sees someone else. For instance, if the abuser says, ‘You’re too sensitive’ or ‘You’re not listening,’ he is talking to someone whom he defines as ‘made wrong’ or as ‘not listening.’ So, the real person isn’t seen or heard. It is as if a wall has arisen between the verbally abusive man and his partner. This is why, when a man defines his partner, she feels pain. At some level, she experiences the end of the relationship.

The fact is, every human being has a right to self-definition.

When Caitlyn Jenner came out, before I had any idea how deeply this issue would affect me, I realized that there are few things more fundamental to your identity than your gender.

If there is any area where a person should be allowed to define themselves, it is their gender.

And if someone calls you by the wrong name or refers to you with the wrong pronouns, that’s going to hurt. They have closed themselves off from the person you know yourself to be. You certainly aren’t going to feel loved by them. How can they love you when they refuse to even see you for who you are? Refuse to acknowledge that you know what’s going on inside your own body better than they do?

When I attempt to explain this to others, this is the point where some people say, “If your son called himself a pigeon, would you go along with it?” Or “When someone’s deluded, is it loving to go along with the delusion?”

These people need to read my post about The Science — complete with the conclusion that being transgender is not a mental disorder and that we’re born with a gender based in our biology, and the biology that determines gender is between our ears, not between our legs.

There are approximately 1.4 million transgender people in the United States. Maybe some of those are deluded, but certainly not all of them are. Just because their experience doesn’t match your experience doesn’t mean you know better than they do who they truly are.

Based on this, the decent human thing to do is to believe someone when they tell you what gender they are. To refuse to do this is to say that you know who they are better than they do themselves. And besides being cruel, that’s nonsense.

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – John 3 and Titus 2

May 11th, 2019

My series, A Universalist Looks at the New Testament is an attempt to show how when you look at the New Testament with different eyes, you see different things. Once I entertained the idea that God will save everyone, I noticed things I’d never noticed before. Now I’m reading along as my church reads through the New Testament together, with a daily reading from the gospels and one from the epistles, and I’m pointing out things I didn’t notice until I was willing to open my mind to the possibility that the Bible teaches that all will be saved.

[Please note that I would never have thought it does – but an author I highly respected who clearly loved the Lord with all his heart and had studied the original language was completely sure that the Bible does teach that God will save everyone. How could he think that? Yet he did. Maybe I should take another look….]

Last night I wrote about John 3 – but there’s one more verse at the end of the chapter that reads similarly to the verses I already discussed. Here it is in the Concordant Literal New Testament:

He who is believing in the Son has life eonian, yet he who is stubborn as to the Son shall not be seeing life, but the indignation of God is remaining on him.

Before I was a universalist, I thought the Bible said a whole lot more about hell than it does – because I read verses like this as talking about everlasting torment. I assumed that’s what they meant. I assumed if a verse mentions the wrath of God, it means God’s going to burn those people forever and ever with fiery torment. Better turn or burn!

But notice all this verse doesn’t say. Nothing about everlasting torment. Nothing about a deadline after which the person will be stuck in their stubbornness forever, when it will forever be too late to turn to the Son and get that life eonian.

As long as you’re stubborn as to the Son, you’re not seeing life. You’re in a completely different state. That’s what it says.

I said yesterday that the way the passage is in present tense points out that faith makes a big difference in this life now. Both passages in John 3 emphasize that people are stubbornly staying away from God, not the other way around. And don’t forget, we also read about how much God loves the world. Perhaps He loves them enough not to leave them in their sin.

We get an eon to choose our own way. Jesus did say the next eon brings judgment, but why do we assume that this judgment is the end? Especially since God’s way with people is correction, not retribution.

The Titus passage we read today fits in well with all this. Here is Titus 2:11-15 from the New International Version:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

Okay, let’s pause there. I’ve always been taught that God offered salvation to all, but couldn’t manage to give salvation to all. Continuing on:

It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (eon), while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Again, there’s an emphasis that being saved in this life is a special blessing, a special calling. Notice we’re redeemed from all wickedness, not from being punished for wickedness. We get to be a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

One of those good things is to love the world as He does, with self-giving love.

If you think He’s going to petulantly torment His enemies forever, that’s a little different than the idea that He will one day win them over.

Anyway, again I’m straying from my main point, which is that neither of these passages talks about hell. The whole Bible does not talk about hell nearly as much as I was taught it does. Believing in judgment after death does not mean we have to believe in endless torment.

So may we focus instead on being God’s very own people, eager to do what is good.

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – John 3

May 10th, 2019

As my church is reading through the New Testament together, I’m using this opportunity to stop and point out some passages that look different when you read them from the perspective of a Universalist.

When I first realized that the great author George MacDonald, who loved the Bible and studied the original Greek, claimed the Bible teaches that all will be saved, I wondered how he could think that, since the Bible doesn’t teach it. Or does it? Once I actually looked at Scripture, I began to think differently.

Today’s passage was John 3:16-21. It’s a passage that both Universalists and non-Universalists can use, so I’m not going to try to argue for Universalism with this passage, but I do want to point out how it looks just a little different from this perspective. I found some new richness I didn’t expect. It also touches on several themes found elsewhere in the writings of John.

Beginning with verse 14, here’s how it goes in the New International Version:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Now, as a universalist, I wish the passage stopped there. See that? God loved the world and sent his Son to save the world! If the whole world is not saved, did God fail?

But the passage does continue.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Okay, there’s judgment in this passage.

But you know what? It mentions condemnation, which can be translated as judgment – but it does not say that those who are judged will be tormented in hell forever and ever.

And do notice that it’s not that God is angry with people. God loves the world. But so many hate the light and are afraid to come into the light. It’s not that God can’t look on sin. It’s that sinful people don’t want to be seen.

Two things I’m sure of from this passage:

1) God loves everyone in the world.

2) There will be judgment. My view is that after death we’ll be brought into the light, like it or not.

I’ve said all along that I’m a universalist who believes in hell. But I do not believe that hell lasts forever. And like all of God’s chastisement, it’s for correction, not retribution. This means it has to come to an end.

The word translated “eternal” here is that same word “eonian,” “of the eons,” “of the ages.” It doesn’t indicate a definite time period, and it may indicate an enduring, deep quality.

John himself seems to use it to talk about the type, the quality of life in John 17:3:

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Mind you, I’m definitely not saying that Christians won’t live forever! I believe we will. But I’m not sure if that’s John’s focus here.

And what does he mean by “perish”? It certainly doesn’t say anything about everlasting torment.

It’s interesting to look at the Concordant Literal New Testament translation of this passage. The Concordant Literal New Testament is the closest you can get to the original Greek, peppered with symbols to indicate the verb tenses. They use one English word for each Greek word used, the better to be clear about what was actually written in the original language.

Here’s how they translate John 3:16:

For thus God loves the world, so that He gives His only-begotten Son, that everyone who is believing in Him should not be perishing, but may be having life eonian.

What’s interesting to me about that is that it’s present tense. The passage isn’t saying, “This will save you from going to hell when you die.” Instead it’s saying, “You’re perishing right now, and believing in the Son will give you life eonian right now.”

In fact, that fits with the illustration of Moses and the snake in the desert. The story goes that the Israelites had been struck with a plague and they were dying. But when they looked up and saw the bronze snake that Moses had put on a pole – they stopped dying.

Even so, Jesus stops the perishing that we’re doing right now.

To me, this fits with what Jesus told Martha at the tomb of her brother Lazarus in John 11:25-26. Here’s the Concordant Literal translation of that verse:

Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who is believing in Me, even if he should be dying, shall be living. And everyone who is living and believing in Me, should by no means be dying for the eon. Are you believing this?”

Again, it’s all present tense – and seems to be talking about something deeper than physical life and death, especially since Lazarus was physically dead at this time.

Now, the book of John is very clear that judgment is coming after death. We’ll talk about that when we get to John 5. But here there’s something going on in the present. Jesus can save you from the fact that you are perishing right now.

It also has to do, I think, with becoming a child of God. This is a huge theme in both the Gospel of John and the epistles of John. And in this chapter, Jesus just told Nicodemus, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

This ties with what’s said in the passage we’ve already looked at. You’re perishing right now, in this life. You need a whole new life. Which means you need to be born again, “of water and the Spirit,” “born from above.”

This fits with the idea of becoming children of God.

John introduced this theme in his very first chapter, in verse 12:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Then we hear more about being born of God here in John 3.

In John 8, we get the negative side of that. The Pharisees say that God is their Father, and Jesus responds harshly:

If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.

John repeats this idea in I John 3 –

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

So becoming God’s child changes our very being! We become someone different and someone who acts differently. It changes the quality of our lives. And we are no longer perishing.

I’ve strayed very far afield! But back to John 3:16. Let’s remember that God loves the world. And the reason Jesus came was not to judge the world but to save it. And when we believe in Him, we become God’s child. We are no longer perishing, and we have life eonian, which is to know God. We become His child and His life permeates our being.

And as a universalist, my great hope is that God’s desire will not be thwarted, that even though many will not believe, will love darkness instead of light – God will triumph and by the end of the ages, all humanity will have turned to the light.

But meanwhile, how great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!