We Can Do Better Church!
Eric is transgender. He is also married and having a difficult time making sense of his gender identity, his relationship with God and his relationship with his wife. Knowing of not a single Christian leader anywhere in his area that he could talk to, he reached out to a pastor he discovered in a TED Talk that was on YouTube. As it happens, this is the same pastor who wrote the foreword to my book. The pastor was just leaving on a sabbatical for several weeks, and asked me to reach out to Eric.
We connected via email and yesterday I drove two hours to meet with Eric. His story is so very familiar to me and those I’ve heard from others. He knew very young that he was different, couldn’t fully talk about it with anyone, and now after years of trying to “live with it”, is finding it increasingly hard to do so. Eric has shared his struggle with his wife and select people at his church but rather than finding support, he’s finding judgement and a surprising number of people who feel compelled to speak on God’s behalf telling him it’s Satan after him and pelting him with verses from scripture. That being transgender is a sin. Nothing like condemnation and the laying on of guilt coming from people who claim to be committed to loving others and who should rather be laying on hands.
What’s really sad is that there wasn’t a single church pastor within 100 miles he felt he could talk to without being told more of the same.
How long is the Church going to be a place where people DON’T feel safe and welcome and loved? What is it going to take for the Church to realize that being transgender is not a choice, not a sin, it’s just how God wired us? Why is that so hard to believe?
When I tell someone I have a headache, no one tells me that I don’t, that it’s not true and that I’m sinning. I KNOW when I have a headache. The reason people believe me is because they’ve probably had a headache themselves, so they know headaches exist. Because you don’t understand and can’t relate to being transgender, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Using verses like Genesis 1:27 “God created them male and female” have nothing to do with being transgender. That is how He designed us and all the animals in the perfection that was the garden. But that perfection hasn’t remained SINCE leaving the garden. He created them with arms and legs too, so is the baby born without limbs sinning? Of course not! Telling someone who is transgender that God can fix them if they want Him to is like telling someone confined to a wheelchair since birth that their lack of faith in God is why they can’t walk, and that God can fix them if they want Him to.
Look, the Church historically has used the Bible to justify all kinds of things we would never agree with today, and at the time felt sure they were staying true to “the Word of God”.
Christians in a young United States used verses from Leviticus chapter 25 to justify slavery: “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.” (Verses 44-46).
The Church believed for centuries that being left-handed was a sin. In fact as recently as 60 years ago Catholic schools would force left-handed children to write right-handed. And in fact even TODAY there is the odd church that still believes that you will go to HELL for being left-handed? It’s considered an “alternate lifestyle”, part of being a “dismal moral abyss of deviants who choose to defy nature and God”. Similar words are being used by the Church today to describe people who are transgender and even told directly to me by well meaning, “loving” Christians!
Today you can go to Amazon and buy a book promoted by some Christians about training a child that goes far beyond spanking and is close to child abuse (hitting a 4 month old with a switch to prevent them from crawling up stairs for example). And the book supports it with scripture!
So much harm has been done in the name of God, claiming Biblical support, doing it out of “love” or “concern” and therefore relieving us of the guilt and responsibility of the ramifications of our actions.
Church, you will NEVER be able to help people who are transgender and their relationship to the Lord until you accept what God already has accepted—that they are His children, that they too are made in God’s image just as you are. And they too are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that like you, they are just trying to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). When you tell them that they can’t be transgender and be close to God, that they are being willfully disobedient to our Father you only drive them further AWAY from the Lord. Being transgender is NOT a spiritual problem that is resolved by repentance. Repentance doesn’t fix being left-handed, it doesn’t fix autism and it doesn’t “fix” being transgender. Accepting that it is what it is—THAT’s where you start.
When you understand that you can’t NOT be transgender if you are, and if you then believe it when others say that God doesn’t love people who are transgender, THAT is why you see the suicide rate that you do!
Church, pastors, Christians everywhere—if you want to help people who are transgender, get past the “it’s a sin” thing. You’re wrong. We’re born this way. The vast majority of people who are transgender will tell you they knew well before they were ten years old they were different. And many before age five. This is not a sexual thing. This is not an attraction thing. This had NOTHING do to with attraction toward another person. It has nothing to do with being gay. It has EVERYTHING to do with how you’re wired. Men and women are wired different, everyone admits that. Yet somehow people will deny that it’s POSSIBLE that some are born and the brain isn’t wired like the rest of the body. We’ll accept all kinds of other things that happen to people that we have no solid scientific answers to (yet) and somehow, being transgender is impossible and a sin. Sounds to me more like someone who once believed the world was flat.
I’m sorry if I sound harsh, but I talk to, communicate with or read the words of others who are transgender every day who suffer BECAUSE of the Church! You’re NOT helping!
Love, compassion and affirmation that the Lord loves them, His creation is what they need. And if they’re transgender, then they’re transgender.
Yes, it’s not “normal”. So what? Most of the people at your church probably aren’t “normal” in one way or another. Some are really short, some are really tall. Some may have funny voices, or walk funny. So what? You don’t let that stop you from sharing the love of Jesus and holding their hands and praying with them, sharing one another’s burdens.
All Eric wants is to life a happy life, and he doesn’t know how to make that happen. I can’t tell him how because it’s his life. He’ll be getting professional help in dealing with his gender dysphoria, and fortunately I happen to know a couple of pastors in his town that won’t condemn Eric, and can help him understand that his love for the Lord is not diminished because he’s transgender, only when he believes what others say in judgement and in ignorance. He shouldn’t have to contact a pastor 100 miles away, and me 120 miles away in order to find a Christian who can show him love and concern, and let him know that he is loved by His father, and that while everyone around him is looking at the outside, that God looks at the inside (1 Samuel 16:7 as long as people are throwing Bible verses around. 🙂 )
If the Church was more genuinely concerned about helping a person grow in the Lord, you wouldn’t stand on one or two verses to justify NOT helping them or out and out rejecting them. There is no Jesus there in that. THAT is a Pharisee, someone more concerned with “the Law” and not wanting to associate or be near the “wrong kind of Christian”.
People like Eric are in an extremely difficult situation. He’s not asking the church to solve all his problems, he simply wants to know that God loves him, as he is, the person he is on the inside, he wants a community where he feels safe as he deals with the torture that is being transgender. One day Eric may get to the point where he can no longer live as a he and chooses to live as the gender he’s wired as (I’ve begged him to take suicide off the table, a common out among people who are transgender.)
But regardless of the direction of Eric’s life, I hope the Church will be Jesus, whether it is to him, or to her.
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Thankyou for today’s post. Its message is a joy to read as is the whole of your excellent book. We can accept almost anything in a person except for transgender and I’m sure you are right. It is because people can’t understand it, can’t even contemplate something so different from their own experience. One thing the experience of transgender has shown me is the wonderful diversity of the Christ. No one is outside or beyond it including all the excluders. I must see them as simply not yet understanding the body of Christ but not outside it (but that can… Read more »
What a great post! The more you write the more I understand the innumerable challenges and pain Transgender people have to overcome to find peace in their lives. I know you are making a difference Laurie. Never stop!
Thanks for this post. I found it really encouraging and it reminds me that I really need to read your book soon.
I’m in a similar position to Eric, but it’s complicated by the fact that I work for a church too. The organization I work for says that they accept and help LGBTQ+ persons, but will only allow us to join if we repent of our ‘sin’.
A great message to The Church. I would beseech you to consider revising this piece so that Eric’s pronouns are reflected to more accurately represent the gender they are struggling to affirm… if not during the body of the message, in the last paragraph at the *very* least. As it currently reads, I cannot share it in good community consciousness.
In fairness, Eric still presents as male. That’s how we met, and when we talked he didn’t ask me to use a female name, in fact he didn’t mention it. He is struggling, but he has not made the decision to transition at this time. I’ve communicated with him since, and he identifies himself as Eric to me, so that is how I referred to him. Eric decides the name and pronoun that is used toward him, no one else and certainly not me. The MOMENT I’m informed a different pronoun is wanted, I will respect that immediately and call… Read more »