“Wake up, you who are in sound sleep, and slumberous people: stop hibernating, look into your deeds, repent and remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanity of time and wander in their sleep through nonsense and emptiness, which shall do no good nor save anybody, look into your souls and mend your ways and deeds, and each one of you shall forsake your errant paths and unworthy thoughts.” (Rambam)
The recent Nashville Statement, which followed 45’s ban on trans people in the military, is a fundamentalist, Evangelical last-gasp effort to unite and legitimize the Christian Right. Denouncing trans and queer folks, as well as those who love and support us, it is a particularly soul-less, anti-Torah, and anti-Christic document stuffed-full of condemnatory, self-righteous words.
Still… words matter. Hateful rhetoric harms. Impassioned vilifying language ignites fearful biases and incites multiple forms of aggression toward those targeted.
We trans and queer folks know the damage done by continuous, inescapable assaults on our very personhood. Surviving with some semblance of selfhood requires a range of skills that enable us to cope, develop systems of support, cultivate resilience and meet our daily needs. We develop creative ways to show up, make some meaning of our lives, and mentally turn down the incessant noise of negating messages.
All this, while tending the hyper-vigilance necessary to hear the proverbial twig snap behind us.
Because… the truth is, we are always in danger—some of us, more than others. Those who live without the protection of white skin, privileged access to resources, and the relative comfort of a perceived “appropriate” gender-blending presentation are in greater danger every day.
We live in a constant, droning hum of threat: to our psyches, our spirits, access to resources, the means of a daily life—and, to our flesh. We can turn down the internal volume, but we cannot turn off the nagging drone of danger. Truth is, we would perish if we did.
Any attempt to refute the Statement with counter theology might be well-intended, but serves only to pour good water out for bad. Worse, it gives credence to the very statement it proposes to refute. Still, many have chosen to make an article-by-article response to the Statement, attempting to meet proof-texting with proof-texting.
I much prefer to call the thing out for what it is.
The Nashville Statement is condemnation of personhood masquerading as biblical obedience. It is divisive, biblical gibberish and theological nonsense crafted to justify and legitimize the hate-based, self-serving agenda of soul-sick people. More, it is a morally-bankrupt doctrinal statement that squeezes, twists, and distorts scripture to fit it into a misshapen theological golem born of pre-existing bias—rather like pushing rich, earthy clay into a hideous pre-fab, plastic mold.
Bias informs their reading of scripture, not the other way around. In the same way that racism pre-exists and creates the construct of race, fragility-fueled hatred—plain and simple—begets doctrines that judge, vilify, and condemn human beings based upon their identities and self-understandings. Misogyny begets sexism which begets construction of gender binaries…which begets transphobia and homophobia.
And, of course, all of this is inherently tied to power: the amassing of resources and wealth by a self-appointed elite minority which secures its position by pitting the rest of us against each other, by whatever means necessary. The Nashville Statement is the intentional colonization and repurposing of scripture repeatedly employed to colonize land, peoples, and bodies. The “church,” writ large, has been doing this since its inception and collusion with empire.
There is little point in debating errant theology and its resulting doctrine. A mind that willing adapts to a hateful plastic mold and intentionally consents to cementing itself there cannot be reshaped. If we have learned nothing else from church history—or American history—we ought to have learned that proof-texting just leads to more proof-texting and undermines the apologist’s position as empty defense—which, of course, is what they want. I won’t be sucked into that.
My respect for scripture, and my love for those harmed, is too great.
Additionally, the Nashville Statement evidences an ancient, lingering double-speak.
Much of the content relies on select verses from the Hebrew Torah (the Five Books of Moses; what Christians call, the Pentateuch). Christianity, by definition, claims Jewish origins while judging and rejecting it. Christianity–writ large–generally, avoids a working, meaningful historical, cultural, or theological context for understanding Jewish scripture and practice. Christian thought, overall, does not have a frame of reference for more nuanced, contextualized readings of Hebrew scriptures. Nonetheless, Christian fundamentalists regularly co-opt Torah and put it on parade when it suits a pre-existing viewpoint, then reject “the law” when it does not.
For Christians to select a few verses from Leviticus (particularly) or other Hebrew texts and use them to legitimize their own doctrine is not only blatant hypocrisy, it is a flagrant, continuous anti-Semitic, re-purposed perversion of the Hebrew text. Moreover, when Christians invoke the prophets while simultaneously ignoring the heart of prophetic witness—seeking only justice, loving neighbor, and engaging social responsibility to all people, especially strangers, foreigners, and the outcast—the hypocrisy stands large.
The use of Christian texts in the Nashville Statement points to the ongoing failure to understand the religion, culture, and context of its claimed namesake, that fellow from Nazareth, Jesus. Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. Thus, he was called to seek the soul of the Torah, which he knew well, and to try to live it. Jesus was rooted in the heart of Torah; that heart is conduct—how we live the soul of the instruction.
For all its institutional bluster otherwise, the institutional “church” is anti-Christic. The Statement lives into a long, ugly history of embodying and proselytizing the exact opposite of everything Jesus taught—choosing instead, the conflation of “church” and empire, the death-dealing pursuit of worldly wealth and power, and the neglect and outright rejection of God’s people. The Nashville Statement is simply more of the same.
The Christian church has been on the wrong side of empire and the wrong side of history far more than it has ever been on the right side: the side of the prophets and of Jesus who followed them.
And, while I know many see me as a heretic—which I claim with pride if it means I’m recognized for refuting the sinful tradition of the imperialist church—I feel sure of this:
the Jesus we find in the gospels; the Jesus who up-ended the ways of empire; who lifted up the heart of the Torah, rooted in doing love, and lived it; the man who called us to love our neighbors and our enemies;
the Jesus who demonstrated, time and again, a preference for the outcast, the persecuted, the hungry, the sick, the marginalized;
the Jesus who did “women’s work” and fed the masses, healed the sick, tended and raised the dead, spoke to women and lifted them up, reached out to foreigners, and turned away no one;
the Jesus who called us to throw off the ways of empire, to sell all we have (rather than amass worldly wealth and power) and follow a way of living counter to the ways of the world, to divest ourselves of alignment to socio-political ways, means, and securities;
the Jesus who called us to do as he did and shake the dust off our feet when we are turned away for living counter to the ways of powerful, dominating men;
the Jesus who accepted, cared for, and consorted with “sinners,” tax collectors, low-wage workers, sex-workers, widows and foreigners;
the same Jesus who taught the disciples the truth about eunuchs, recognizing all genders, sexes, and sexualities;
the Jesus who was, himself, marked by skin, heritage, and culture, and therefore, outcast, believed so much in his work he was willing to die for it;
this Jesus, my Jewish Jesus, weeps with us when everything he taught, demonstrated, and died for is co-opted by the very kinds of people he called out and whose ways he condemned.
So, my response to the Nashville Statement is not aimed at its crafters. I won’t give it credence by speaking to it. But, I will seek to counter it in my heart, my work…and my words.
To my trans, gender-expansive, gender-queer and queer siblings, I offer these words:
You are beautiful. You are valuable, necessary and wondrous manifestations of God’s imaging in a good and marvelously diverse creation. You belong. You have place. Your lives, your gifts, talents, questions, struggles, insights, and contributions—your very presence—is necessary to our ability to conceive of and understand a Creator who is vastly beyond our comprehension, transcendent yet always, somehow, near to us, present in us, and abiding among us. You make God bigger. You make us all bigger as individual images of God.
Without you, our human nature and our world, entire, is made small and enfeebled by the limited, insecure, self-centered and self-aggrandizing imaginations of small, power-mongering men. You are beautiful. You are necessary. You matter.