Prayer is not unlike the role playing game “Dungeons and Dragons” in which God invites us to write a story alongside him, according to a transgender Baptist pastor who preached Sunday at a prominent United Methodist congregation in Washington, D.C.
Allyson Dylan Robinson spoke Sunday, July 24 at Foundry United Methodist Church as part of the progressive church’s outstanding preacher series. A graduate of George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas, Robinson was ordained as a Baptist pastor before transitioning to a female identity in 2007, an ordination that was reaffirmed by Washington D.C.’s Calvary Baptist Church in 2014. Today Robinson, a West Point graduate, advocates on LGBT issues.
At various points in the sermon, Robinson, who served for a time as an interim pastor at nearby Calvary, touched on not only transitioning to a female identity, but also delved into liberation theology and a critique of Evangelical teachings about prayer. Calvary is affiliated with the liberal Alliance of Baptists and made news in 2012 when the congregation voted to formally cut ties with the Southern Baptist Convention.
During a lighthearted moment in which Robinson confessed a longstanding love for “Dungeons and Dragons”, the Baptist pastor noted the appeal of taking on another identity within the 1980s fantasy role-playing game.
“It allowed me to live a life other than the ill-fitting one I had been given, if only for a few hours,” Robinson shared. “The first time I ever really imagined myself living life as a girl, it was as Cassie: a half-elf thief with a heart of gold and a dagger of folded steel.”
Robinson described a childhood in which prayer was taken seriously, but in which most requests went unfulfilled:
“It didn’t really seem to work all that well. I mean, many of my petitions were not answered in the affirmative – probably most of them. I did well on tests, but I also got beat up a lot. I was pretty sure that I knew the answer, but this flaw in the system, well it gnawed at me, and it was nowhere more glaring than when I would pray as I did so often, ‘God, please, let me wake up tomorrow and be a girl.’ Or, as I often did, ‘God, please make me stop wanting to be a girl.’”
The first 20 years of life Robinson believed that the fault was within and that righteousness was the key to getting prayers answered, so righteousness became a work. Doubt entered in.
According to Robinson, modern Christians have twisted the word blessed to mean “that we’ve pretty much gotten what we wanted from God” or asked for or needed:
“When we say we are blessed, we are usually just baptizing our privilege and thereby shirking responsibility for it. Because the truth of blessed is that God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteousness.”
“If you’ve never had to pit the strength and purity of your belief against the kinds of horrific circumstances I described a moment ago – then hey, that’s great. You’ve won the cosmic lottery – for now – but if you have, then you know the dirty truth: prayer doesn’t work that way. You know that your belief in God, that God can cure you of cancer, won’t prompt God to do it for you. Purging yourself of doubt won’t bring your father back from the abyss of Alzheimer’s or a child back from the grave. And silencing your questions about how God works or why God works won’t make you straight if you are gay. And it won’t make a man out of you if your brain is coded and patterned woman. Any theology that fails to account for this fact – attested to by millions of human beings across the millennia – is nothing but a fairy tale or a bedtime story. Useful only for lulling children to sleep while covering up the terrifying truth that there really are monsters underneath the bed, and they really are out to get you.”
“Now if I sound a little bit embittered by this whole prayer thing, please know that it is because a bad theology of prayer almost killed me, as the tension between that theology – all I had been taught to believe, all that I had been trained to see in scripture – the tension between that and my experience of life and of prayer led me to the brink of suicide.”
Robinson advised the congregation to look at how and why they pray with a critical eye: “I think we owe them more than ‘it just works’ – we owe them better than that.”
“We ought to hold our means of communication with the divine to a higher standard than we hold our phones,” Robinson advised. “We’ll just respond to the world’s suffering with platitudes: ‘my thoughts and prayers are with you.’ Feeling good about ourselves for it – imagining that that means something real or something redemptive. If it did, I think Jesus would have had a much easier go of things on Good Friday.”
Robinson quoted 19th Century Baptist Preacher and Composer Adoniram Judson Gordon, founder of Gordon College and what would become Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, who famously said “You can do more than pray after you’ve prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”
“But with all due respect to the great composer, I think he got it backwards, folks,” Robinson speculated. “I side here with the great father of Liberation Theology, [Dominican Priest] Gustavo Gutiérrez, who said that prayer takes for granted that you have acted and will continue to act to align your sphere of influence with the coming Kingdom of God.”
Quoting Gutierrez, Robinson read: “The gift of communion with the Lord in prayer, far from being a call to pacificity, demands a vigilant attitude. The encounter with the Lord in prayer presupposes attention, active disposition, work, and the good use of talents received.”
Robinson proposed that the patriarch Abraham was stepping between God and the city of Sodom, challenging him. “Isn’t that what Jesus does for us on the cross?” Robinson asked. “Say to his heavenly parent: ‘no, I can’t allow it. Maybe they deserve to suffer, but I just can’t let it happen. You will judge them over my dead body.”
Robinson proposed that in the Genesis text, Abraham in his intercession for Sodom was role-playing Jesus, his prayer taking the form of a physical act, standing between the city of Sodom and fiery destruction under the control of all-powerful God.
“Much like ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ God in prayer invites us to write the story with God: God chooses for the Kingdom to come, but the shape and form that the Kingdom takes in the here and now: well, that we get to create together,” Robinson declared. “God invited us in prayer to enter into the story, to shape its outcome: living out together this epic saga of peril and salvation.”