Sam showed up at the door of our church wearing a long green dress with a bright red scarf around his neck and a white knit cap on his head. He pulled behind him all his earthly possession atop a red wagon. He showed up minutes before our evening services began and was stopped by our security guard and two concerned deacons. Needless to say, cross dressers are not common at our traditional downtown church and his presence created quite an alarm. So I was summoned to speak to Sam.
Time did not allow for the kind of heart to heart conversation to make a wise assessment of the situation on my part so I asked if Sam could come back the next day to talk. He reluctantly agreed but added “I just want to sit in the back and have Christian fellowship.” As he spoke the words a tear glisten in the corner of his eye.
Right on time Sam showed up the next afternoon. I welcomed him into my inner sanctum and we began one of the most intriguing and strange conversations of my life. I asked Sam to tell me his story, which began with him being raised from the cradle roll of a large Baptist church in the heart of San Antonio to his baptism at another large Baptist church in New Mexico.
Sam openly shared about his struggle with his sexual identity and how he chose to dress and live like a women. Since Sam had had many such conversations with ministers, he quickly tried to confront the objections he expected from me, not realizing that I was simply trying to get to know him and his story. I was not so much seeking to judge him as to understand him.
At one point Sam pulled out a large unusual Bible from his large bag. I quickly realized he carried a Greek and Hebrew Bible. He turned to Matthew 19 and began to read to be directly from the Greek a passage of Scripture in which Jesus spoke on the topic of eunuchs.
Since I had studied Greek in college and seminary I was amazed at his skill in translating. He read it like most people read the English Bible. He read these words of Jesus.
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
I must confess I had never really thought of this passage in these terms, and I was impressed with his mastery of the subject. I don’t believe Jesus was actually referred to cross dressing in the text, but the issue of a eunuch being “born that way” did stir my mind and force me to stop and think.
Sam then took me to the classic statement in Deuteronomy 22, and read these words of Moses straight from the Hebrew text:
5 A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.
At this point we had a length discussion about the differences between the Hebrew words for man, and how the one chosen by Moses spoke of a strong mighty warrior type man and that a weaker man did not meet this description therefore he did not fall under this law. Again his reasoning was a stretch for me,but I was impressed at the work he put into the subject.
The heart breaking part of the conversation for me was knowing that I was going to have to deliver the bad news. Even though I realized how much he needed to be loved and accepted, I knew my church was not ready for this kind of adventure in grace and redemption yet. We were growing and learning about how to open our lives to all kinds of people, but Sam dressed as a woman was a bit too far of a stretch for us. Besides he confessed that a number of years ago he had been asked to leave our church due to his disrupting behavior.
I asked him to meet us halfway. I invited him to worship with us, but asked him to please dress like a man during his time with us so we could build a relationship with him. However, Sam protested that he had to dress like a woman. Sadly no middle ground could be found.
As I walked Sam to the door, I thank him for the time we shared and his understanding. He was kind and gracious. I suspect our paths will cross again in the days to come. I hope so. In this complicated broken world we live in relationships are very complex. I must confess I struggle with what love and grace look like on the streets of El Paso.