I am caught between Scilla and Charybdis this morning. Having foolishly taken a week off from blogging, thinking that I needed a break, as usual I only ended up wandering around my disorganized house in a muddle, mad about everything but unable to remember why. And into this bad state of affairs, Matt kept sending me items of note, like this one. And this one. And oh my goodness, this one that I came across my feed this morning. The first is an angry screed in something called Religion Dispatches by a person who has taken the name of Chrissy Stroop. I blogged about the person before, I think, coming to the surprising defense of Beth Allison Barr. The second link is an excellent review of Jesus and John Wayne. The third is an Anglican matter, and I’m sure Matt will want to talk about it tomorrow. The Lesson, of course, is that I Should Never Stop Blogging or I will be crushed by an avalanche of news.
Casting a beleaguered eye over the readings for this morning, I think we will go with La Stroop, for there must be a way for the Scriptures to say something about whatever it is that person is dealing with. Stroop launches in this way:
In late February, I went through an episode of online bullying that made me feel more dehumanized than I ever had since coming out as a transgender woman, leading to several days of heightened depressive symptoms and low productivity. The suffering this bullying caused me undoubtedly pales in comparison to what families with trans children who are currently under attack in Texas are going through since Governor Greg Abbott ordered child welfare agencies to treat parental support for, and medical provision of, gender-affirming health care for minors as child abuse. And while that attack is certainly political—although many in the press seem to rely on a fairly narrow definition of that term when they describe the cruel Texas policy—it’s no longer tenable to argue that the attack is “merely” theoretical or rhetorical, even if a handful of state officials have said they believe the policy to be illegal and will refuse to comply.
I would just like to go on the record that I am against depression and the dehumanization of people. I know this is a pretty stunning thing for me to admit, but I am all for a War on Depression, and, even more, I am for all people being treated like people by other people. Anything else I say about anything must be seen in this important context. Of course, and this is the problem, the law in Texas represents the efforts of people in that state to keep children from being abused and treated as ideological battle axes rather than people. The Trans Lobby takes it as read that the feelings of all, or rather some people must be affirmed without question. The only alternative is death. This is, in the words of our Lord which we will get to in a moment, certainly one kind of “narrow door,” but one that should be thoughtfully considered before rushing through. Can reasonable people discuss and then disagree about how best to care for people who are troubled or confused? Apparently not. Affirmation of certain stated identities is the only possible way of being a morally good person.
I must just gently point out—because Stroop admitted it here in the first paragraph—that likening a Twitter war amongst decadent “Christians” to the radically ideological phenomenon of adults hormonally or surgically altering children before they reach the age of majority is pretty shocking. This is my favorite line in the whole piece:
Of course, infants have not yet developed a sense of their gender identity…
No, of course they haven’t. It’s a mercy Stroop is able to admit that. But goodness, imagine being born into a world where there was a chance you wouldn’t be born at all because your mother had been either lied to about how unhappy your very existence would make her, or she was coerced by a loved one into doing you in, or she just didn’t feel like dealing with you, but by the mercy of God you escaped being killed before your birth, but then the world you faced wanted you to begin immediately to think about your “gender identity” rather than any of the wonderous things that babies and small children are more usually entranced by, but we carry on….
…and so cannot be targeted, which is one major difference between Texas’s assault on trans people and campaigns targeting racial, ethnic, or religious groups—but if those currently in power in Texas aren’t stopped, it’s not out of the question that, down the line, the state could move on to removing infants from queer parents, and/or other means of violently persecuting the queer population. In the case of trans adolescents forcibly removed from supportive families, the likely result will be numerous suicides. So, what does dehumanization look like on the level of public rhetoric and polemics in an age of social media and surging fascism? In this particular case, it looked like far right-wing Christians attempting to discredit a scholar and her brilliant book—historian and Calvin University professor Kristin Kobes Du Mez and Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation—by gesturing to the mere fact that a brief quotation from a mostly positive review I wrote for The Boston Globe in 2020 appears on the cover of the paperback edition that came out in June 2021. In my review, I called Jesus and John Wayne “a book that America needs now,” a statement I stand by, and the one that appears on the cover of the paperback—a choice made neither by myself nor by Du Mez.
What providence! Go read that review of Jesus and John Wayne after all. It’s not the book that “America needs now.” It in no way explains all our problems and it certainly doesn’t provide any solutions. But not to go too far down that primrose path, let us cut to the chase. Stroop ends this way:
In short, the toxic theology of the Christian Right that denies the validity of queer existence and teaches that women must submit to men is behind both the online bullying I experienced from evangelical leaders last month, and the political assault on LGBTQ rights happening in Texas and elsewhere across the United States. The dehumanization of members of targeted groups on display in the bullying derives support from conservative theology, and in turn paves the way for state-sponsored persecution of, and extralegal violence against, members of the targeted groups. There’s no more room for doubt about the extent to which an authoritarian ethos characterizes the mainstream of American evangelicalism, and the human cost will be high if we can’t find a way to stop the Christian Right from destroying what’s left of American democracy.
This must surely have been in the mind of Abraham when he took all those animals and cut them in half and then sat in the growing night, chasing off hungry scavengers. That Great Patriarch who, you might remember, worshiped the moon god before God called him and told him to leave his rich and comfortable home and go to a far distant and strange land. On top of that, God would give him a son, would make his name great. Indeed, Abraham would be given so many offspring that it would not be possible to count them all. Abraham, strangely enough, believed God. And it was counted to him as righteousness. Abraham, in other words, walked through a narrow and nearly invisible door. He went from one kind of life to another.
There he was, watching over his offering, waiting for God to give him what he had already been promised—a baby son. He fell into a deep sleep, and a dreadful darkness fell upon him, and then a firepot moved between the two lines of split animals. Rather than making Abraham walk in submission over the ground of death—if you don’t keep your promises this will be what happens to you—God is the one who makes the covenant and seals it in his own blood. Abraham watches, in the stupor of sleep, and wonders how long it will take his God to do what he has promised to do.
A long time, of course, for God doesn’t trouble himself about our schedules. It was an epoch, almost, an age longer than any Twitter dust-up, before the offspring of Abraham “went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.” This was an ominous journey, the threading of a narrow way to keep all the promises made to Abraham. At first, all the crowds surged around this Promised Son, sure that everything was going to be golden. The Romans would be overthrown and a new age of prosperity and peace would surely arise. Everyone would have enough to eat and no one would get sick. For Jesus had fed them all and healed them all.
But as the things that he was saying sunk down into the minds of all his followers, some began to be anxious. “Lord,” asked one after a bit, “will those who are saved be few?” Is it possible, in other words, that you are talking about something we weren’t particularly interested in? Jesus answers with the painful “Yes.” The way I am going is hard. “Strive,” then, “to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” The assembled crowds muttered that this must not be so. Abraham’s offspring were going to be as numerous as the sand and the stars. But they were a small nation. Where were all the promised children going to come from if even those would fall away?
They would come, said Jesus, from East and West, from lands farther distant than any Abraham could even have imagined. But at the same time, many who are sure they are “in,” when the final reckoning hour of darkness falls, will cry out “Lord, open to us,” and the Lord will say, “I do not know where you come from.” Whatever place you lived, whatever kind of beliefs you had, because you did not know and recognize me, I don’t know you. Abraham himself will be there, but you will not be able to enter.
What does this mean? The Stroops and Du Mez’s of the world want to pretend that if you know the meaning of this text—that Jesus is the only way to eternal life, that every knee must bow to him and every tongue confess that he is Lord—you are participating in an “Alt-Right” destruction of democracy. If you read the scriptures and conclude, rightly, that the lives of people do matter, that God makes the human body a certain way and it should not be mangled, or lied to, or cut apart, you are a “Bully.”
Well, it isn’t that hard. To those who lie about the gospel and Jesus, if they don’t repent, the door will be closed. They will be told to “Depart, all you workers of evil.” They will be sent to a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But for those who endure, who, in the words of St. Paul, “stand firm thus in the Lord,” the promise is of a transformed body, one where the feelings finally do fit together the way each person longs for, where the anxiety and stress and degradation and humiliation are wiped away by God’s own mighty hand. It may seem too small a promise. It may feel like it is taking too long. But Jesus accomplished it already in his own body, by the shedding of his own blood. Go through the narrow door of his flesh. Let his life count for yours. No other way of being in this dark valley of death can even come close to the glory that God is preparing for you in that other, better, more glorious country. See you in church!