More and more transgender people have come out in recent years. With the popularity of the reality show “I am Jazz”, a show about the journey of a transgender adolescent trying to navigate school, dating, and gender, the public transition of Caitlyn Jenner, and the rise of the #metoo movement challenging toxic gender expressions, we appears we are in the midst of another sexual revolution.
We have also seen the rise of what our transgender brothers and sisters have been saying for decades, which is discrimination, dehumanization, hostility, violence and even murder of trans people.
A 2014 survey on transgender discrimination in the United States reports startling data; 41% of transgender adults have attempted suicide compared to the overall population (1.6%). The numbers only get worse from there: 90% report having experienced harassment or discrimination at work, 57% have experienced significant family rejection, 26% have been fired for who they are, and 19% have experienced homelessness because of their gender identity. In recent years, the number of trans people who have been murdered has gone up too, in particular, trans women of color.
With this information in mind, consider this famous parable, as explored by author Austen Hartke (transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians):
Luke 15:4-7 The Message (MSG)
4-7 “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.
Many of us probably heard this story for the first time as children – it’s a Sunday school favorite, and for good reason! It’s incredibly comforting to imagine yourself as the lost sheep, riding back home on Jesus’ shoulders after an exciting but ill-advised adventure. There are times when this story is exactly the gospel message we need – when we need to hear that we are worthy of God’s love, and the God will risk everything to have us back home again.
But what if we imagined this story a different way? What is the lost sheep didn’t wander away from the safety and goodness of the shepherd? What if it was just trying to escape the cruelty of the flock? Sheep will occasionally pick out a flock member who doesn’t fit in – maybe because of an injury or a strange marking – and they’ll chase that individual away. There are times when I think Christians need to see ourselves more in the ninety-nine sheep who stayed put, and ask ourselves if we may have been a part of the reason that the lost sheep got lost in the first place.
As a ministry professional, are you committed to holding the front door open for all who seek the welcome of its sanctuary or have you placed your foot behind the door so they cannot get in?
How many “lost sheep” are there because we have chased them away?
How do we help them find their way back home?
Chris Schaffner is a counselor and veteran youth worker. He is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.