Want to Defend Trans Kids? Become an Evangelist
I am on a one-woman quest to help every person in the Episcopal Church become a confident evangelist. This is my call, this is my mission.
And if you just cringed internally when you heard the word “evangelism,” and thought, “don’t I have somewhere else to be?” you are not alone.
Episcopalians very rightfully feel squeamish about evangelism because almost all the associations they have with it are negative.
When I work with congregations to rebuild their definition of evangelism from the ground up, I start by asking them what about it they don’t like. I hear words like aggressive, intrusive, exploitative, coercive, scary, self-interested, and based on fear, guilt, and shame.
That sounds awful. I don’t want to be a part of anything like that, and if you don’t either, your spiritual instincts are spot-on.
I’m also quite certain that there are folks sitting in this nave right now who have been wounded and shamed by churches who practice “evangelism” in these ways, threatening hell and damnation and positing Christianity as an exclusive club that only the “right” kind of people can get into.
The way evangelism has been practiced, particularly in the U.S. over the last hundred years, is not evangelism as scripture teaches it. The coercive, “we’re right and you’re wrong, let us tell you how to get your life right” style of evangelism is what I call Christian malpractice or spiritual violence, and it is not of God. It is based on fear, guilt, and shame, and it is not how evangelism shows up in the Bible.
Want to see how evangelism does show up in the Bible? Take a look at our story from Acts today, Paul’s speech to the Athenians.
Paul understood what the Christian malpractice crowd never does, that evangelism practiced with integrity is always a two-way street.
We need to be evangelized as much as we need to evangelize.
I know that I need the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed to me every single day in some way by some person.
Whether it is direct and explicit, or merely the witness of someone’s life to me, I need that reminder that grace is everywhere and it’s up to me to see it and celebrate it. Evangelism is first and foremost about listening, long before any proclaiming or inviting.
Paul demonstrates this in Acts. The spiritual violence methods of evangelism assume that everyone we talk to about faith is a blank slate, as though they had no idea about God’s work in the world or how to live a good life until we showed up.
That is, of course, ludicrous, and a major reason why evangelism is also so tied up with colonialism and imperialism, something we as Episcopalians have to take very seriously as heirs of the Church of England, who as an arm of the British Empire spent centuries converting people to Christianity at the point of a gun.
But we see that Paul has listened. He respects the journey of the Athenians, and how wise they already are about the spiritual life.
He is interested in an exchange of ideas, and in seeing them flourish by obtaining even fuller blessings from God. He relates his scriptures to their holy texts, pointing out how their own tradition can lead them into more and more depth in the confluence of humanity into the Divine.
I wake up every day with a sense of urgency to help my church learn to evangelize, to build spiritual intimacy with others and grow together deeper into God, because every day I see people around me who are being deprived of the fullness of grace and joy that God wants to pour out on them.
Hear me say this: there are people walking around in your life right now who do not know that God loves them. I promise you that.
There are people in this church right now who do not know that God loves them.
Some days, I’m one of them.
A lot of us know that God loves us in our heads, sometimes we know it in our hearts, but precious few of us know it down to our bones.
I can’t sleep on that, and I hope you can’t either.
Every person on this earth deserves to know that they are cherished by God. You deserve to know that you are cherished by God.
Do you know that God has never been disappointed in you? You are the reason God gets up in the morning.
Sometimes our ability to internalize the love of God is related to our level of societal privilege.
If you’ve spent your whole life being seen as the norm, of not having any special stumbling blocks to being who you are and being able to get a roof over your head, it might be a little bit easier to think God thinks you’re mostly okay.
But if you’ve spent your whole life fighting just to be known and seen for who you are, it’s going to be a lot harder.
If the world is telling you every day of your life that you are not enough, that you are wrong, that you are unworthy and less than, that your knowledge of who God created you to be is a lie, the road to believing that you are God’s Beloved is going to be a lot steeper.
On Wednesday, the Missouri legislature passed restrictions on trans kids receiving gender-affirming healthcare and participating on school sports teams that align with their gender identity. Our elected representatives stood up en masse and told the world that they are in full favor of victimizing children and denying them healthcare, for some twisted culture war political points that they are trying to gaslight everyone into believing is supposed to protect children.
Let me state it clearly: denying gender-affirming care to trans kids is harmful and morally wrong.
It is cruel and unnecessary and shameful, and once again demonstrates the lengths the powerful and power-hungry will go to exploit the most vulnerable among us.
Paul makes a strong statement in our lesson from Acts about how God feels about the idolatry of false gods that we see playing out in our legislature every day: “While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
This is why you must become an evangelist. The cause of justice is advanced by evangelism.
Trans kids need us to join with God in pushing back against human ignorance, to repent, to join with God in hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
They are children who have the world telling them that they’re wrong, that they don’t know who they are, that living their lives as themselves will lead only to regret.
Trans kids need us proclaiming their belovedness as loudly as we can, fighting for them against other adults who would harm and deprive them, and doing whatever we can to be in the kind of transformative relationship with transphobic people that can help shepherd them into truth.
The work of evangelism is the work of justice.
As Paul says in Romans 10, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believe? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?”
You are that someone.
God needs people to speak on God’s behalf, to push back against the idolatry of rigid gender hierarchies. Take hold of your identity as evangelists for the belovedness of all of God’s children, most especially in this moment for trans kids, because they are under dire threat in our state.
So how do we do that? How do we make no quarter with injustice while still striving to be in transformative relationship with those who are carrying it out?
Our lesson from First Peter shows us the ropes: “Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”
I’m not asking you to go out and start knocking on doors, although if you want to do that, I’ll go with you—I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again.
Do the advocacy work that the Episcopal Church is so well known for, be a safe haven for trans kids while you fight for their rights, and keep chipping away at building relationship with people who are lost and wrong on this issue, so that God might change their hearts and bring them into all truth.
Jesus tells us in our gospel today that he will send us help: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Jesus goes on to say, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
Trans kids are being orphaned by our society and our government right now.
Children are supposed to be able to look up to any and every adult around them and know that that adult will care for them, support them, defend them.
Trans kids don’t have that luxury, and that is wrong. They need us as evangelists for their well-being, their safety, their identity as gifts God gives to the world.
And so Jesus speaks to them as well as to us: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
As Jesus comes to us, let him find us to be steadfast messengers of his Good News, protectors of his vulnerable, beautiful children, who do not count the cost of giving ourselves in their defense.