Last Sunday, Pastor Keith Simon of The Crossing church in Columbia, Missouri — an evangelical megachurch — delivered a sermon that was undoubtedly anti-trans.
Imagine your worst relative at Thanksgiving explaining to everyone, in a gentle yet condescending voice, why trans people are just confused… and you now have the gist of this entire sermon.
Among other things, Simon says that Genesis 1:27 means God made us male or female, implying there are no other options. He says “God is not pleased when we blur genders” (18:08). He refers to intersex people as “broken” (25:50). He repeatedly says that trans people are just products of modern culture, and culture has been wrong before, like when culture said “slavery was fine” (31:08).
Referring to the acceptance of transgender people and gender reassignment surgeries, around 33:15, he asks the “activists” in our culture — as opposed to people just living their lives — “Are we sure this is best?” (Later, talking about trans women in sports, he asks, “Are we sure that this is good for women?”)
He brings up Rachel Dolezal — seriously — as an argument against identifying as trans. He compares being transgender to being anorexic, suggesting both require intervention.
And in a version of the sermon that’s not on the church’s website — because it was delivered at a different service that same day — you can hear Simon bring up that whole “don’t follow the culture” argument with a reference to Nazis. Thankfully, the livestream was captured and you can hear that segment at the 54:30 mark below.
Be careful if you follow culture. In this culture, in Germany, in the 1930s, the culture said something that is horrendously wrong! Be careful where following culture leads you. Jesus is Lord, not culture. And Jesus is not just Lord over culture, he’s Lord over you and me and our bodies.
After about 40 minutes of this anti-trans commentary, Simon talks about how much his church loves trans people and how Christianity is all about love. Because irony is dead.
You can’t give a 40-minute sermon denying the humanity of trans people, then justify it by wrapping it up in the useless cloak of “Christian love.”
But here’s the good news. People heard this sermon and they pushed back hard. There was enormous, justified outrage on social media.
On Tuesday, Simon was forced to address the criticism with a video:
At one point, when talking about his critics, he claims, “They said that it was hateful. I don’t think so…”
I guess that settles it.
In that same video, he again refers to trans people as “broken” (in the context of how we’re all broken). It’s the same way they say homosexuality is a sin but always add, “But we’re all sinners!” As if that addendum makes the first line any less despicable.
My point is this: Keith Simon is really terrible at his job. He delivered an ignorant sermon. He was criticized for it. So he responded by delivering a two-minute version of the exact same sermon.
It also didn’t help when the church issued a statement responding to some of the criticism.
Was Keith’s sermon transphobic? Does The Crossing endorse or ignore harm done to the Trans community?
No, but we’re realizing that some people heard it that way, and that was never our heart behind it. Unfortunately, the vast majority of negative commentary on Keith’s sermon appears to be written by people who never watched it. The sermon began and ended with calls for compassion, empathy, listening, and supportive presence for trans people. The irony is that we weren’t trying to throw down the cultural gauntlet, but trying to help Christians in our community grow more compassionate. Many people have shared how this sermon helped them to grow in their compassion toward trans people.
(Hey, Pastor Simon: You’re a dick… but I only say that because I love you. Feel better?)
The statement also referred to the Nazi analogy.
Did Keith compare trans people to Nazis?
No. To be honest it’s a ridiculous assertion. During the first service on Sunday, Keith used a picture of a Nazi rally as evidence that it’s never smart to make culture your authority because majority opinion is often wrong. After the service, Keith decided the illustration, while true, could be misinterpreted and so he didn’t use it in the second or third service.
So… all the critics were correct. He said the Nazis were wrong and trans people are wrong. That was his point. There’s nothing to misinterpret there.
At least we can give the church credit for this iota of self-awareness:
Are we responding this way to do damage control?
Honestly, yes. A lot of misrepresentation and misinterpretation of this sermon has done harm to others. Every communicator knows that misinterpretation is at least partly their own responsibility, so we are trying to own our part by being clear.
Clarity isn’t achieved when you simply reiterate all the problematic things you said in shorter sentences.
Anyway, here’s the kicker. There are two local companies that receive donations from the church in exchange for promotion. The True/False Film Festival has received about $35,000 from the church while its sister group, Ragtag Cinema, received $8,000. In return, those groups include ads for the church before and after movies, along with “print promotions” and “vocal endorsements.”
A Change.org petition was launched urging both the film festival and the cinema to sever ties with the church. It received over 1,000 supporters, and yesterday, Ragtag Film Society (which oversees both the festival and the theater) announced the end of the partnership.
After ten years, however, Ragtag Film Society must end the sponsor relationship with The Crossing. We have always known that there are many places where the values of The Crossing and our organization diverge, but a recent sermon has crystallized an unbridgeable difference between us. The message, premised on the idea that trans and gender-nonconforming people are broken, has caused tremendous pain in our community. We do not believe that expression of authentic gender and sexual identities makes any person broken; it makes them whole and contributes to the richness of our community and lived experience.
… We will not give a sponsor’s place of prominence to any organization that discriminates or explicitly devalues LGBTQ+ citizens.
Daaaaaamn. That’s good stuff. (The Crossing should hire that writer to do its statements.)
That’s not all! The Sager Braudis Gallery, a local art gallery which also received sponsorship money from The Crossing, said it would no longer take money from the church either.
… We fundamentally and adamantly stand against the sermon’s thesis, and while its content was not explicitly “hateful,” feel it contributes to a simplistic and heteronormative philosophy that does in fact lead to intolerance, creating a dangerously prescriptive and prejudiced mindset which perpetuates the systemic illness in our culture that is hate. We are cutting ties, effective immediately, as a show of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community but also as a protest against institutions who perpetuate and use their powerful platforms for content of this nature.
This is the right kind of response. No one’s censoring the pastor. He’s allowed to be a bigot in his church. And everyone else is allowed to point out that bigotry and refuse to do business with companies that align with the church. Those companies need to decide whether it’s more important to accept conservative Christian hate-dollars or be decent allies. In this case, they chose wisely.
If the people running The Crossing don’t like the response, well, too damn bad. Fix your theology, then you can rejoin the rest of civil society. Otherwise, stay in your bubble where ignorance, bigotry, and Jesus are all merged into one.
(Thanks to @MiffedQueer for the link)