“Would you pray for me?”
I was asked this question by a guest on the front porch at Manna House some fifteen years ago.
What followed stays with me and speaks to what is being done to trans people in the United States these days.
When I asked Suzy (not her real name) what she wanted me to pray for, she began to tell her story. She had been born biologically male. But she realized early on in her life that her assigned male gender did not fit with who she really was. She was never interested in boy things. She saw herself as a girl. She wanted to dress in “girls’ clothing.” As the “son” of a minister, this led to her parents’ condemning her, and angry “discipline” that included beatings. Finally, she was thrown out of the family home at age thirteen. She had lived on the streets ever since. She survived the trauma of this rejection and her being without a home through prostitution and drugs.
“I’m so tired. I want to kill myself,” she continued in tears, “I just want to be loved for who I am. Pray that God will love me. Pray that I find a church that will love me.”
I said, “I do not have to pray that God will love you. God already loves you. You are loved by God.”
“But then why won’t any church love me?” she asked.
I shared with her about a few churches that I knew were welcoming and affirming; places I knew would open their arms to her, “They will love you.”
I took her hands in mine and prayed. “God help Suzy to know that she is loved, fully loved by you. Help her to find a church where she will be embraced for who she is.”
I am telling this story now because there is an evil spirit abroad stirring up hatred toward people like Suzy. Laws are being passed based upon that hatred. Too many churches are either openly endorsing this hate or silently standing by while it goes on.
I am telling this story now because Suzy’s suffering and tears are a cry from the heart that echoes the heart of God.
I am telling this story now because it reminds me that at the very center of our practice of hospitality at Manna House is the belief that each guest is sent by God and embodies the presence of God.
The biblical testimony is clear. Jesus taught that “Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me” (Matthew 25:31-46). God sends messengers who come as strangers. To hear God’s voice we need to welcome those strangers (Genesis 18, Hebrews 13:1-3). “Whoever mocks the poor [the vulnerable and despised] shows contempt for their Maker” (Proverbs 17:3). God hears the cry of the poor (Psalm 34:6). God does not despise those marginalized because of their sexuality, but rather they reflect God’s work in the world. In the prophet Jeremiah, the Ethiopian eunuch Ebedmelech rescues Jeremiah, acting on behalf of the king of Judah, and is later spared by God for this act (38.7–13; 39.15–18). The Ethiopian eunuch in the New Testament was a triple outsider — a gender-variant foreigner from a racial minority. He was not allowed to worship in the Temple due to his sexuality (see Deuteronomy 23:1, No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of God). But Philip welcomes him into the church (Acts 8:26-40).
The fear and contempt of trans people expressed in laws, political rhetoric, and the teachings of too many churches is contrary to hospitality. It is contrary to God’s love for the stranger, for the poor and vulnerable, for the marginalized. It is contrary to this basic truth, God loves Suzy.