The Daily Camera reports…
“A transgender woman from Boulder alleges that Jim Burgen, lead pastor at the evangelical Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, has barred her from women’s events at the church because she lives in a “broken body” that was “betrayed” by sin.
Melissa Chapman, 43, claims Burgen penned a letter to her earlier this month citing scripture that likens her situation to that of a “eunuch.”
“‘Return to the actual, reality-based, true, gender-appropriate life that images the masculine nature of God,'” Chapman said the letter reads. “‘You are a man living in a broken body, and this part of the body of Christ known as Flatirons Community Church are ready and willing to walk alongside you as the man that you are and always have been.'”
Chapman said she is not being asked to leave the church; in fact, she said Burgen has made clear she will remain welcome at Flatirons — just not at women’s retreats and seminars.
Church officials initially declined to comment on Chapman’s allegations, then released the following statement Wednesday evening:
“As the lead pastor of Flatirons Community Church, Jim (along with our other church staff) has offered to work through these issues with Melissa Chapman, a parishioner of our church. Rather than resolve these challenges under the spotlight of the media and public opinion, leadership has sought to work this out within the walls of the church community.
“This is how we handle challenges with anyone who attends Flatirons Community Church.”
Chapman provided the Daily Camera with a copy of the letter she said she received from Burgen, but Flatirons officials declined to address it.
Chapman began taking hormone pills 25 years ago, and underwent gender reassignment surgery 10 years ago. She said in an interview this week that she drifted for many years from her Christian faith after being repeatedly told by various churches to repent and return to the gender assigned to her at birth.
In 2012, she landed at Flatirons Community Church, the massive, fast-growing, non-denominational evangelical megachurch that now routinely draws more than 17,000 people on weekends for lively, musical services hosted by the charismatic Burgen.
“Jim gave me a hug and said, ‘I’m so happy you’re here at Flatirons,'” Chapman said of her early days with the congregation. “I was asking him questions, and he said he’d give me the same advice he’d give any woman on relationship issues. It felt supportive.”
They struck a deal: If Chapman could be patient with Burgen, he’d extend her the same courtesy.
Chapman said things went smoothly from there, and she even attended a women’s retreat, albeit sequestered in a private dormitory at night.
“There was a lot of learning and support,” she said.
In August 2013, Burgen stood before his congregation and, with Chapman’s permission, shared her story with thousands. She had asked him early on, Burgen explained, whether he’d accept her at Flatirons, whether he’d be open to officiating her wedding and whether she’d be welcome at women’s retreats.
“I never got asked those questions in Kentucky,” Burgen told the congregation to uproarious laughter.
Burgen continued: “I said, ‘I know God loves you, so we love you, and this your church, so you can always come.'”
Burgen also has made waves in recent years, in two different directions, for his stance on gay rights.
In March 2013, Burgen posted on Facebook — where he now has close to 10,000 followers — that “all a follower of Jesus needs to do is say that you are hanging onto the definition of marriage that you find from Jesus, who said that it was between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6).”
Opposition to that stance led Lafayette to re-route this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day march because it was to have ended at Flatirons.
But in a YouTube video also from the spring of 2013 titled, “Finally, a pastor gets it right about gay marriage,” Burgen tells his congregants that, “We can love another whether or not we agree with everything going on in their life.”
In the video, he went on to say that if someone isn’t sure how to talk to a gay neighbor, he’d advise them to “go over to their house and welcome them to the neighborhood.”
Chapman said the openness that initially drew her to Flatirons “feels contradictory” to what she claims Burgen told her last week. She disagrees with Burgen’s alleged opinion that there has been a “betrayal of her flesh,” and said her stance is informed by more than the fact that she’s already undergone surgery.
“For me to go back to who I was born as would be denying who I am deep down,” she said. “I know going back to who I was would be denying my true self. If I still had to live as a guy, I probably would have committed suicide by now if I didn’t do it.”
Paula Williams, a 64-year-old transgender woman from Lyons who was an evangelical pastor for 40 years, before transitioning in 2013, said she’s noticed that the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage as well as the exposure of Caitlyn Jenner have motivated churches such as Flatirons to take stances on transgender issues.
“There was generally an openness to transition before, because there were no direct scripture passages prohibiting the practice,” Williams said. “There’s one remote passage in the Old Testament about cross-dressing, but any evangelical pastor would not call in an Old Testament passage for proof.”
She said she has found that churches often welcome transgender people in, only to have a pastor tell them later that to be transgender is to live in sin. She has met Burgen before and is familiar with his work, and believes he is not as “duplicitous” as others.
“I would say on this case I am sympathetic to Jim,” she said. “He’s not your televangelist. He’s a good guy and he’s a good leader. He’s not a theologian.”
And, of course, he hasn’t committed any crime. In Colorado and every other state that provides protective rights to transgender people, religious exclusions allow for the very sort of letter Chapman alleges to have received.
For 35 years, Williams preached and worked for the Orchard Group, “planting” churches around the country, and it is that precise exclusion that allowed her to be fired two weeks after she came out as transgender.
But theologically, Williams says, Flatirons “is on very thin ice.”
“The Bible is totally silent on the subject,” she said. “So if you want to say something against it, you’re going to have to extrapolate out a stance from other passages that don’t directly deal with it.”