A Long Life in the Land: For Nex Benedict

Nex Benedict

Today’s reflection is by Bondings 2.0 contributor Allison Connelly-Vetter.

Today’s liturgical readings for the 3rd Sunday of Lent can be found here

I’ve been thinking a lot about laws lately. As a queer woman, the rapidly changing political landscape for LGBTQ+ people in the United States is very much in front of mind. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is tracking 469 anti-LGBTQ bills in the U.S. right now. A record number of anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in 2023: at least 510, which is nearly three times the number of bills introduced in 2022. As of 2024, 11 states have laws preventing transgender people from using bathroom facilities consistent with their gender identities.

These laws have real consequences for trans and nonbinary people, especially youth like Nex Benedict, a nonbinary, Two-Spirit 16-year-old of Chahta (Choctaw) heritage living in Owasso, Oklahoma. Nex loved nature, drawing, reading, playing video games like Ark and Minecraft, watching The Walking Dead, and a pet cat, Zeus. On February 7, 2024, Nex was violently attacked by fellow students in the girls’ bathroom at their school. Nex died the next day from their injuries. Nex is at least the second trans or nonbinary person violently killed in 2024.

Nex’s death did not happen in a political vacuum. Oklahoma has passed several anti-trans laws over the past few years. Nex’s death resulted from a fight in a school bathroom Nex was legally required to use, and the attack happened in a state banning gender-affirming care. Their passing is fundamentally inseparable from the transphobic legislation which controlled their life and autonomy.

Laws are the focus of today’s first liturgical reading from Exodus in which what now refer to as the Ten Commandments is presented. Although I memorized these rules in elementary school, a phrase caught my attention anew: “Honor your [parents], that you may have a long life in the land” (Ex. 20:12, emphasis mine).

In this verse, God reveals the true purpose of the Ten Commandments. God does not intend to shame or control God’s people into following some rigid plan. Rather, God gives these laws as a blessing, so that the people of God “may have a long life” in the context of their community and their home.

How different are God’s laws of love than Oklahoma’s anti-trans laws, which are made through fear, bigotry, and willful ignorance. Nex Benedict, like all God’s children, deserved a long life in their land. Nex Benedict’s death was enabled by the laws of Oklahoma, but is forbidden under the law of God.

The message that God’s laws are made to help people flourish, not to exploit them, appears in today’s Gospel reading, which contains the famous story of Jesus clearing the Temple. Growing up, I thought that Jesus was simply upset that people were selling things in a place of worship. However, as I learned in seminary, the buying and selling of animals in the Temple was an expected and almost necessary practice, as travelers to the Temple needed to purchase animals for a sacrifice.

The moneychangers in the Temple were charging exorbitant, predatory prices for doves, the most affordable sacrificial purchase for the poor. These merchants forced poor travelers—many of whom were farmers and fishers, barely scraping by under the crushing taxation of the Roman Empire—to pay large sums of money in order to make the required sacrifice. This is why Jesus addresses the dove-sellers specifically, telling them to “take [the doves] out of here.” In clearing the Temple, Jesus was protesting the exploitation of the poor.

This story has been interpreted with narratives that further an anti-Jewish agenda, but is applied appropriately to the Christian legislators and lobbyists in the United States enacting the same sorts of economic and legal violence against those on the margins. In Oklahoma, State Senator David Bullard introduced a bill in 2023 which would “make it a felony for doctors to provide gender transition procedures to anyone under the age of 26.” Citing Christian faith as the motivation for this anti-trans law, Bullard, a Baptist deacon, said that “the act’s name alludes to a passage in the Book of Matthew suggesting that anyone causing a child to sin should be drowned in the sea with a millstone hung around their neck.” I imagine that if Jesus had been present at that bill’s hearing in the Oklahoma State Senate, he would have flipped some tables there, too.

I can’t stop thinking about Nex Benedict, and how they should still be here, snuggling their cat and leveling up in their video game. Nex Benedict, and every trans and nonbinary young person, deserves a long life—a long, easy life of joy and play and love. A long life in the land, in their land, whether that land is Oklahoma or Tennessee or any of the other too-many-states with anti-trans legislation on the books.

I hope we never forget Nex Benedict. I hope our Christian faith compels us to work for life and liberation for every child of God, while at the same time we decry transphobia and bullying. I hope we flip every table of exploitation and violence and death which takes our trans and queer young people from us too soon.

Nex Benedict, we say your name. We honor your memory. We will never stop fighting for the long life you deserved.

Allison Connelly-Vetter (she/her), March 3, 2024

2 replies
  1. Stephen Golden
    Stephen Golden says:

    Well said. These homilies are very important to me because of the enlightened, positive message. Someday, I have to believe we will actually here them in Church.


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