Jesus Punched Up

There’s an old maxim in comedy: “Always punch up.” It refers to a comic’s responsibility to avoid jokes about people or groups who can’t defend themselves, who are vulnerable or already persecuted and oppressed. Because, it’s simply not funny to make fun of people who already face harassment.

I have been following a lot of the news stories surrounding efforts to keep transgender people out of bathrooms to which they do not biologically belong, regardless of how they identify. And, I have been having difficulty articulating my support of trans people from a Biblical standpoint. The truth is that I haven’t given it a lot of thought. Support for transgender folks has always been tied up in my support for the entire LGBT community, and I have never thought of them as an individual community – rather a part of a larger whole.

I think that my lack of specific support is really common among gender “normal” folks: I simply don’t get it. I can understand same-sex attraction, and I have personal experience with bisexuality. But, I was born male, and I have always felt male. Added to that, I have been raised in a subculture that is very suspicious of “effeminate” men or “masculine” women. (Several less kind words have been used, by me and others, to describe people who go outside what we believe to be gender norms.)

Even though I can intellectually accept that people have different gender identities than their biological sex, even though I can support people being their very best and truest selves, I have a hard time articulating that support in a way that other Christians can understand.

So, I’ve been giving it some thought. And, I’ve been reading Scripture, because I know that I’m not making this stuff up – I know that compassion is the highest Scriptural value, and that it’s always correct to choose compassion over exclusion. But, it wasn’t until I was teaching my Sunday School class this morning – we’re covering the Book of Acts – that I really understood what basis my support has.

Jesus always punched up.

Reading Acts again has brought back to the forefront of my mind what an antagonistic and adversarial relationship the early Church had with the religious and secular authorities. It wasn’t because they were intentionally antagonizing them, it was simply a virtue of who they were and Whom they followed. Those authorities had built their power base on their ability to exclude people from the Temple – because of “sin” or because they were “unclean.” And, as I read Acts 3 and 4 this morning – the story of Peter and John healing a man crippled from birth, and then answering to the Sanhedrin for the crime of compassion – I realized that the power of Jesus (and the early Church in His name) made sacred what the authorities, the “religious folks”, had judged unclean. He healed the sick, thereby pronouncing that their sins – that is, the sin that the current teaching held they inherited from their parents – were forgiven. He took the power to exclude away from the Temple, and He did it by pronouncing everyone included. The powerless became powerful, the least became greatest, the last became first.

The fact that those who were “added daily to their number” came from the ranks of the people who had been excluded, pronounced unclean, and persecuted by the religious authorities tells me that Jesus has a special regard for those people.

And the fact that He regards those people as worthy of the Kingdom is enough basis for me.

Make no mistake: the morality of support for oppressed, persecuted, and harassed communities – like the transgender community – requires no further study from me. This is a group of people who lives under constant threat of violence, who has a far higher suicide rate than most of the population, who are misunderstood and mislabeled by a large portion of society. That alone – the fact that they are being hurt, while not hurting anyone – is enough for me to declare my support for them. What the lessons of Jesus and the early Church give me is a way to articulate that support in the shared language of faith.

While I’m going to continue to try and understand the trans community, the fact is that my faith doesn’t require me to understand: it requires me to show compassion, to help, to protect when necessary, and to speak in support of. Even were I to believe that transgenderism was a horrendous mental illness – which I do not – I would still be required by my Christian discipleship to support and protect transgender persons, for as long as they were being threatened, oppressed, and harassed.

That’s what we do.

We don’t punch down, as Christians. We don’t become the agents of exclusion or condemnation. We don’t declare people unclean or sinful. That’s not our job.

We are Kingdom People, people who declare that everyone is included.

And, we don’t cozy up to the very authorities whose power is built around the exclusion of people they deem unworthy. That’s in direct opposition to what Jesus and the early Church stood for. That’s not Christian, it’s Anti-Christ.

Join me in helping those that are hurting, those that are excluded, those that are declared unclean and sinful.

Join me in following Jesus.

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