THE BLOG
04/08/2014 05:54 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2014

Christian Community as Safe Pasture: A Challenge to George Fox University's False Witness

Hannah Bichay via Getty Images

There are six things that the Lord strongly dislikes, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

As reported in several media outlets late last week, the Christian college George Fox University is refusing to allow Jayce, a transgender student, to live on campus in housing appropriate for his gender and is moving forward to develop an official policy that will restrict housing to being based exclusively on the biological sex that was assigned to their students at birth (not recognizing even intersex or ambiguous, non-binary birth gender, let alone trans* identity). SafetyNet, a nonprofit organization that offers resources for LGBTQA students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni at institutions of higher education where religion plays a significant role in the challenges they face, has also issued an official response, "Trans* Housing At George Fox University."

As a transgender Christian who is a university professor, I continue to be deeply concerned by transphobia in Christian universities, particularly when its foundation as a university policy is blatant academic ignorance of transgender identity as congenital and biological (not moral, not chosen, certainly not "sin"). The situation for those of us who seek medical and legal correctives, as Jayce and I have chosen to do, reminds me, as an older academic, of when Apple and Microsoft computer software and hardware were incompatible with one another. My experience of being transgender has been like trying to run a Mac with Windows in the old days: I could not function and kept "crashing" (addiction, chronic depression, divorces, chronic stress-induced illnesses that eventually led to organ failure, even suicide attempts). For many decades, professional from Sigmund Freud to Carl Jung to, most notably, Harry Benjamin have recognized that changing the "software" doesn't work for trans* people. Jayce and I can't think or pray our way therapeutically into Christian womanhood. The only thing that does work for the overwhelming majority of trans* people to stop that "system failure" of running software with hardware that doesn't match is to fix the "hardware" -- at least, living as the gender with which we identify through social transition, usually including name and pronoun changes, and sometimes also seeking medical treatment, as Jayce and I have also done.

Spiritually, the only "problem" for living with a transgender identity is not actually being trans* but figuring out how to live with that -- not only for the individual but for the community as a whole. Those who are Christian (including those who make policy decisions at Christian universities) are commanded to live a life of personal integrity, just like the one Jayce is living with the support of his mother, SafetyNet and thousands of others who signed last week's Change.org petition. In accord with the biblical command not to bear false witness (lie to and/or about others), all Christians (including those who are transgender) are called to live a life of rigorous honesty with ourselves and with others, facing facts as they are (for example, being born transgender or intersex rather than cisgender) instead of running away from problems (transferring to a non-transphobic university, for example, or lying about one's gender identity).

In my own life, I too have chosen not to "run away" from Christian communities that shun me, nor to remain closeted about my gender identity, especially now that doctors and treatment have confirmed both that I am not cisgender (the gender experience of most people, for whom their sense of gender identity is "near" or in accord with the gender assigned to them at birth). Like Jayce, my gender is, for congenital reasons, more complex than that of the majority of people, a condition currently described as "transgender," and I (like him) fall more to the masculine side of the gender spectrum. Therefore it makes sense simply to be honest with ourselves and others (as God asks us to be) about who we really are and seek legal and medical correctives (if we wish) to help clarify that trans-masculine identity for people. As a Christian who pastors and teaches people Jayce's age and older, I testify to the importance of our honesty not only for ourselves but for the whole flock. After all, in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15.1-7), Jesus does not merely hold the one lamb that's wandered outside the pasture but brings it back into the flock of 99, transforming the experience of them all, demanding that they live as one community in the same pasture, cared for together by the same Shepherd. That is the goal we can share as a Christian community, regardless of whether we identify as transgender or not.