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Introduction

Like most Christians (or maybe not), I was taken aback by President Obama’s edict that forces public schools across our country to allow those who self-identify as transgender to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.  Before attempting a response – what does it mean to “self-identify” as transgender?

Self-Identifying

“People who identify as transgender or transsexual are usually people who are born with typical male or female anatomies but feel as though they’ve been born into the “wrong body.” For example, a person who identifies as transgender or transsexual may have typical female anatomy but feel like a male and seek to become male by taking hormones or electing to have sex reassignment surgeries” (see http://www.isna.org/faq/transgender).

How might a Christian respond?

First, we must treat those who self-identify as transgender with dignity and respect as they too are imago Dei bearers (Genesis 1:26-28).  This means among other things to take time to listen to their stories, to show them hospitality, to serve them, to advocate for them, etc. For example, we must teach our kids to stand up to bullies of those who self-identify as transgender.

Second, we dare not abandon those who self-identify as transgender.  The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, if we don’t associate with swindlers, the sexual immoral or those who self-identify as transgender, then “board a space ship” and leave this world.  (Of course, Paul does not say “board a space ship” but you get the point.) This is not the time to retreat, erect walls and throw “condemning grenades” over the wall at these precious people.

Third, we dare not condemn those who self-identify as transgender.  No one has that right except God alone.  Even Jesus did not come to condemn (John 3:16-17). So, to condemn others would be usurping God’s role as final judge.

Fourth, we must know the difference and not be fooled.  Many in the LGBT community are playing the anti-discrimination card. True, we should not deny these dear people the rights and privileges and access to public restrooms as any other American but this is not the same as denying Black Americans their rights and privileges – all of which had the ugly and insidious precursor or precedence of US Slavery.   To equate the discrimination that those who self-identify as transgender face with the discrimination that blacks faced in this country is to be fooled and it sadly makes light of the many beautiful dark skinned imago Dei bearers who died and/or who suffered gross inhumane indignities in and during US Slavery (and Jim Crow).

Fifth (and finally, for now), we must allow businesses – both Christian and non-Christian owned and operated – to struggle with how to accommodate those who self-identify as transgender.  Most public businesses offer a service to the general public and they cannot be partial to one group over another (and this includes schools too).  This is why I believe it is okay for a photographer, who is a Christian, to photograph a wedding between two people of the same sex.  Some Christians would quickly object, “this is condoning a sinful lifestyle.” If we follow that logic, then supporting a restaurant where the owners are not Christians is condoning their non-Christian worldview and accompanying lifestyle.  Many professional athletes are paid exorbitant salaries; when I pay for a ticket to see these athletes in person, then I must be condoning this greed and/or excess.  Jesus invited Himself to a known crook’s home, a crook who became rich from his fraudulent practices; following our logic, then, would suggest that Jesus condoned Zacchaeus’ sinful behavior. To serve others whose lifestyles are in stark contrast to ours is not condoning their lifestyles; rather, to serve others whose lifestyles are in stark contrast to ours is being a conduit of common grace (Matthew 5:43-45).  It appears Christian have forgotten this vital teaching on common grace.

(Note: if the photographer is not okay or his conscience does not permit him to, that’s his prerogative.)

To say that this issue is complex is an understatement; however, God promises to give the Christian believer wisdom and wisdom generously if we simply ask for it (James 1).

My list is by no means exhaustive of course; again, because this is a complex issue and there is not a neat and tidy how-to-list.

Society vs. Biology

There is one matter worth commenting on and one I struggle with: this whole notion of ‘self-identifying’ as male or female. For millennia, one’s gender at birth was determined by one’s biology; it was not a matter of my choosing or my parents choosing.  Even today expectant mothers and daddies want to know the sex of their unborn child.  And technology allows that; this technology can pinpoint the biology, and thus, the gender of the nascent infant in utero.  Most applications for work, etc. still only have two boxes for gender: male or female.  Male and female have been the binary distinctions of the human race since the beginning of time and this binary distinction transcends time and culture. This is because of natural law.  C. S. Lewis refers to this natural law as the “Tao” in his book The Abolition of Man.  In the appendix of the book, he shows how many natural laws regardless of one’s ethnicity or culture (civilized or not), have been recognized for millennia.  How can we, as a society, change what has been “naturally” binding for years and years and years?

To be continued…

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During a recent stay at a hotel in the Midwest, I peeked out my window and I noticed a car trunk was open.  (The car was a very nice Black Cadillac). I thought nothing of it and resumed typing again on my laptop computer.  I took a short break and noticed that same car trunk was still open.  So, wanting to be a “good neighbor,” I called down to the front desk to alert someone but the line was busy; I retried calling the front desk after a few minutes but to no avail. Not to be deterred and denied being a good neighbor, I grabbed my plastic hotel door key and took the elevator from the third floor to the lobby to alert the clerk.  When I got to the front desk, there were two African-American men laughing it up with the white male hotel clerk (apparently they knew each other).  I told the clerk about the car trunk being open and because it was cloudy outside this could be trouble if the trunk was not closed.  One of the African-American men quickly said, “we can’t do that anymore.” He spoke in hidden code but I knew exactly what he meant.  This hotel was in a predominantly white area and an affluent area at that.  Translating this hidden code for those who don’t get it, this African-American brother was saying this, “I am not going to take a risk and close the car trunk because of where we are.”  You see he did not want to be seen closing a car trunk to a car that did not belong to him because if anything came up missing…do you get it, I get it.  I painfully get it. It is hard being a ‘good neighbor’ in a racialized society.

Postscript. Someone closed the car trunk and it did not rain.

I like KU Men’s Basketball.  That makes sense as I am a proud alumnus; I graduated from KU in December 1982 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.  Something happened earlier this week involving Brannen Greene in a game between KU and their in state revival, K-State (Kansas State University). Greene dunks the basketball with 2 seconds left in the game. Clearly, this was unsportsman-like and un-classy as the score was already 75 to 59 (Greene’s dunk made the final score 77 to 59 in KU’s favor).  That was a knuckleheaded mistake by a guy who has committed other ill-advised decisions while at KU.  Earlier in the season, Greene was suspended for several games for some offense (I don’t know the details).  Coach Bill Self apologized to the K-State faithful during the post-game interview on behalf of Greene.  Now, that’s a classy move on behalf of Self who has led the Jayhawks to eleven straight Big 12 regular season championships, 2 NCAA Final Four appearances, and the 2008 NCAA championship during his 13 seasons as head coach.

I do not know Bill Self personally – however, I have heard Bill Self speak on several occasions and I have taken a picture with Self. (See picture here: http://tinyurl.com/z4zsujx.). Self seems like a really nice dude. Yet, what was not nice or classy was Self’s comments about Greene during the post-game interview. According to this link, http://deadspin.com/bill-self-calls-out-his-player-for-dick-move-a-dunk-1757049897, Self calls out Greene for making a “dick move” (referring to Greene’s ill-advised, unsportsman-like dunk with 2 seconds remaining in the game). A “dick move” – are you kidding me?!

Sure, Greene is still maturing; however, rules are rules.  And rules are a good thing; otherwise there would be chaos and pandemonium. Self is right to correct Greene as correction facilitates the maturation process.  However, for Self to refer to Greene’s indiscretion as a “dick move” on national TV is immature and unclassy.  We all say things that we regret – because to do so is human. However, should Self offer another apology for his inappropriate comments? Or do people like Self get a pass because of his impressive resume as the KU Basketball Coach? Or maybe because of our moral relativistic culture, maybe what Self said was not objectionable to many? Perhaps, I am the only one with the hang up?

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 670 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 11 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Tamir Rice, a 12 year old little African-American boy, was shot and killed by an overzealous police officer in Ohio.  Rice was playing in the park with a pellet gun but when the officers arrived, protocol apparently was not followed (see http://tinyurl.com/h42y2ud). That is, he was not told to drop his weapon or get on the ground, etc.  Rather, within seconds of arriving on the scene an officer shot Rice in his abdomen. Young Rice, along with his dreams and along with his contributions to our society, died the next day.  The Grand Jury did not indict the overzealous police officer who killed this precious imago dei bearer.  However, I have great hopes for the church in America because after all God has ordained three human institutions for the sake of human flourishing: the human family, the civil government and the church.

As 2016 approaches my hopes for the bride of Christ in the upcoming new year are quite simple: 1) I hope there will be no more deaths like Rice in 2016; 2) I hope that the church in general and the white church in particular will wake up and see incidents like Rice not as a “racial issue but rather as a human issue” as friend and brother, Bryan Berry put it (we all share a common humanity with the likes of Rice); 3) I hope that the church will wake up and lead reform of the criminal justice system and actively, civilly and loudly speak out when injustices occur; and 4) I hope those in the church with privileges – which includes all of us – will use those privileges for the common good or for the sake of human flourishing for all.

Caitlyn Jenner has been named by Barbara Walters as the ‘Most Fascinating Person of 2015.’  Months ago, Ms. Jenner took home the coveted Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPY awards ceremony.  Caityln Jenner was (is?) the famed Olympian Bruce Jenner until her sex/gender change. Jenner has been hailed as a hero in the transgender community. While this was going on, Ms. Rachel Dolezal was parading as an African-American person and had infiltrated the NAACP, a historically black organization.  Remember Rachel? Rachel is white; Caucasian by birth.

Both Dolezal and Jenner underwent a transformation to become something they were originally not.  Dolezal was not born Black; but became Black.  Jenner was born a man; but became a woman.  Dolezal’s transformation was more temporary; Jenner’s transformation is presumably more permanent. Speaking of Dolezal, she has gone into hiding after being vilified and lampooned for being complicit.  I haven’t heard a peep about her or from her since all that stuff hit the fan. Jenner, on the other hand, remains in the public eye and continues to get praise or attention.

Dolezal and Jenner raise a lot of questions in mind: 1) why did Dolezal feel compelled to ‘become Black’ to work at the NAACP – would she not have been hired if she were white? 2) presumably Dolezal did a lot of good for the NAACP as the head of the Spokane Chapter – so didn’t she deserve recognition for that good work – at least as much as Jenner? 3) which person really did the courageous act? and 4) don’t both persons have questionable integrity?

I am confused about our standards in America!

I often say to predominantly white audiences, “I am not mad or upset about your privileges or your ‘special access’ to places I don’t have access. I just encourage you to use these ‘privileges’ for the common good or for the sake of human flourishing.” I truly expect this of my white brothers and sisters in Christ. Why? Because we are family members! Yet, I have been disappointed with some of my white brothers and sisters (as there are always exceptions to the rule).  For me, when a person asks for book or speaker recommendations I often give the names of white brothers and sisters – I do this without a second thought! Many of these folks I have met in person; for many of these folks I have met on the pages of their books or articles; and for many of them I have met through others who I value and trust greatly. I am not given that same ‘without a second thought’ regards often among my white brothers and sisters. Or maybe I am over reacting or being overly sensitive? Is it unreasonable to expect the same high regard from my white brothers and sisters?

I was invited to give a “TED like” talk at the Common Good (CG) Conference 2015 on October 3.  The organizers imaginatively and creatively titled this portion of the conference, “CG Talks.”  My talk is given below with a few tweaks.

‘Billboard’

Let me tell you what I plan to talk about: I need to define some terms, I plan to tell you a story and then I plan to share three (3) principles.

Define Terms

When talking about imagination, we need to distinguish it from the word, fantasy; first, to imagine means to think creatively of possibilities that are rooted in reality (the reality described on the pages of Scripture). Fantasy, on the other hand, is rooted in a made-up reality. Sorry fellows but “fantasy football” is rooted in a made-up reality. And not to leave the ladies out, this too is a fantasy: having two men at once, one cooking and one cleaning.

Now that we have our terms defined, let me tell you a story. This story takes place in Canada (the Promised Land as one of my seminary professors was fond of calling it). A 17 year old male is just getting off of work and he notices a couple nearby; and the man is hollering at the woman. Instead of walking away, this young man approaches the couple (all this reminds me of Jesus’ Good Samaritan Parable in Luke 10; the Priest and Levite were getting off of work too but they passed on to the other side leaving the injured man to die). Nonetheless, this young man quickly picks up on contextual clues that the woman was in trouble and he tells the couple that he is headed where there are and offers to buy them food, the man agrees…but this young man actually told a little white lie! (Google the young man’s name, Malyk Bonnet).

Is it okay to lie? Yes, I would submit to you that this is an instance this young man exercised his imagination – like the Hebrew midwives did in Exodus 1 who lied to Pharaoh; like Rahab who lied to the local Jericho police in Joshua 2; and like the Quakers did in helping slaves escape via the Underground Railroad from the South to the North (‘Canaan’ or code for Canada.). All these people knew that it was okay to lie because a human life was at stake and the Hebrew midwives, Rahab and the Quakers knew what Augustine had apparently said, “an unjust law is no law at all and therefore we are not obligated to follow it.” This young man diverts the man’s attention long enough to call 911 on someone else’s phone because his phone died; the police soon arrive. This man who was berating this woman in public had a checkered past and was intending on abducting this woman.

Three (3) Principles

So what can we learn from this story, this weekend and the Bible. 3 principles:

  1. All people were made to flourish;
  2. We are called by God to help others flourish – regardless of the risks;
  3. To imagine is what it means to be human; otherwise, why would God say in Ephesians 3:20 (“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think [imagine], according to the power at work within us); so we all are capable of imagining possibilities for the other.

Conclusion

Finally, where did we see human flourishing in this story? One, the woman was allowed to flourish because this man wanted to abduct her; and two, the society-at-large flourished because this man who had many brushes with the law was taken off the streets – he would no longer be a menace to society.

Many Firsts

Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play baseball in the major leagues.  Dr. Bernadette Gray-Little is the 17th chancellor of the University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS) and the first African-American female to be at the helm in the university’s nearly 150 years of existence. Yours truly was the first African-American to lead the Francis Schaeffer Institute (FSI) at Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, MO). Yours truly was the first African-American engineer in the printed circuit boards department at then Bendix Aerospace (Kansas City, MO).  Hank Aaron was the first to break Babe Ruth’s homework record (and allegedly he received death threats to discourage him from hitting that historic homerun). President Barack Obama is the first African-American president.  General Colin Powell was the first U.S. Secretary of State and Condoleezza Rice was the first African-American female Secretary of State.  Arthur Ashe became the first African-American male champion who won the 1968 U.S. Open, the 1970 Australian Open, and the 1975 Wimbledon championship. (See others at http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhmfirsts.html.)

Why is it difficult?

It is difficult for these reasons: 1) many blacks who are first struggle because of hearing repeated messages like the following “you are not good enough” or “you got here because of a favor and not because of your own merit.” Some internal statements worry the “firsts” too like, “can I really be myself”? or “should I ask what something means that seems obvious to the majority culture”? Statements like these – from without and from within – play heavily on the psychic of the first African-American or any person. 2) it is difficult because many African-Americans who are first are forerunners for more African-Americans.  That is, white employers will make decisions to hire other African-Americans based on the performance of the first. So, for many “firsts” the margin of error is fairly small. 3) many “firsts” find it difficult because they do not want to let down all the people that helped get them there. And 4) it is difficult because many of these first African-Americans are ‘in circles’ with protocols, mores, customs, language, written rules and most importantly, unwritten rules that must be learned and translated.

Implications

There are several implications in light of the second paragraph: 1) show the “firsts” some grace and patience; 2) be an interpreter of the not so obvious for the firsts; and 3) don’t be quick to rush to the conclusion that they are not a good fit…they might be a bit nervous and anxious…I certainly was.

[I believe this blog applies not only to the “firsts” in the African-American community but the “firsts” in any culture.  For example, I am certain Sonia Maria Sotomayor, the first Hispanic justice of SCOTUS undoubtedly experiences what African-Americans experience.]

The Only One

A University of Kansas (KU) student recently posted, “I am the only black person in this class.” When I was a student at KU many moons ago as an electrical engineering major, I was often the only African-American in a class.  When I graduated from KU and started my career as an electrical engineer, I was often the only African-American in my department.  When I attended Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, MO) I was often the only African-American in classes.  When I assumed the role of Director of the Francis Schaeffer Institute, I found myself as the only African-American in many social contexts.  I now work for a small non-profit, BBT (Biblical Business Training), which is owned and operated by a gracious Christian white couple and recently at their home, I looked around and you guessed it, I was the only African-American there.

I often ask myself, “why are you using your gifts in the majority culture, a culture that has enough resources while many African-Americans are not afforded the benefits of your gifts?”  I have these existential moments at times.  I asked recently, “why are you using your gifts for BBT that presumably serves more whites than others?” (See our website b-b-t.org to see what we do.)

So Tiring

Quite frankly, this is so tiring – being the only African-American in all white contexts.  Why? Mentally, it is tiring because I am constantly saying to myself, “should I say that?”, “should I make that gesture?”, “should I hug a white man’s wife?” A friend and colleague referred to this mental exercise in the company of whites as doing “mental gymnastics.” Blacks live in two worlds: their world and the white person’s world and the reality is: in America, the white life experience is normative – which means the white majority sets the rules for social engagement – what is proper and improper, etc. The white majority defines “business casual” for example. So, I have to constantly be on guard and remind myself which context I am in.  An African-American lecturer put it this way, “African-Americans have to be the master of double-talk.”

Divine Answer

I know that God has providentially led me to BBT for a season; how long is that season? I don’t know. So, I will remain faithful to the task at hand.  God has so gifted me to do what I do; and He does the calling and placing.  He commands and orders, and I say, “Yes Sir.”

Relate and Non-Relatable

Some will relate to my existential dilemma if you have gifts and want to use them for a less served demographic.  Like using gifts for the impoverished in regions in Africa, South America or in the inner city. However, unless you are a minority, you cannot relate to being a minority clothed in dark skin in the company of mostly whites. And that’s okay!