Three years ago, I preached a sermon that radically transformed my life -- ending my career as a theologian, professor and ordained minister. That sermon has been watched by people all over the world, many of whom have come out as trans or intersex nourished by these words of the gospel and Psalms-- only to find that the Church today leads the charge to destroy every aspect of their lives and deny their very existence. In light of ever-increasing high-profile political activism against trans people by "Christian" public leaders like the governors of TX and NC, what did Jesus REALLY say?
Come as you are! God's good news for ALL people
Many Christians say we believe that everyone, without exception, is created in the image of God (Genesis 1.27-28). Even infamous conservative evangelical Pat Robertson not all that long ago spoke out AGAINST transphobia on the Christian Broadcasting Network (July 2013): He rightly explained that although it happens only rarely, some of us identify with genders that seem counter to our own bodies AND argued that this is NOT a sin to be condemned. At the time, Robertson actually criticized Christians who judge others' experience of gender identity, pointing out that it is never our place to decide the validity of others' intentions or to know others' intimate medical history. He argued then that only God can know and judge such things about each of us.
What does the Bible mean when it says each person is created in God's image? The prophet Jeremiah said God told him: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you" (Jeremiah 1.5 NIV).
So what IS this image of God that Christians believe each of us embodies? God tells Moses that God's name is "I AM" (Exodus 3.14). "I AM" is one of seven core names of God in Jewish (and Christian) biblical tradition. "I AM" is also the name of the trans diversity awareness campaign "Trans People Speak" sponsored by GLAAD, the leading US organization working for LGBT equality, especially in media. For a trans person - as for any person -- to be created in God's image means to share God's likeness, to say of oneself simply "I am!" -- just as God does when asked God's own name.
When God creates humankind, in Hebrew the "collective" word "adam," the human being is created both individual and plural in the first chapter of the Bible's first book (Genesis) "God created the human being in God's own image,... male and female God created them" (v. 27) - as scholars comment in the most recent Oxford English edition of the Bible, "not created to be alone." In the second chapter, the human (adham) simply means one handcrafted by God from the clay or dust of the ground (adhamah) and brought to life by the breath of God's own Spirit - and God recognizes that it isn't good for that human to be alone but rather to have partnership - the one flesh of the adam is then divided toward the very end of the chapter into two equal beings, gendered now as woman and man - a unity Paul later tells us is restored in and through Jesus Christ (Galatians 3.28).
In other words, we are FREE in Christ to live as free people, not bound by gender or any other human limitation. In our own Christian community, even in our own church, some of us can find a very significant freedom in Paul's letter to the earliest Christians in the church at Galatia, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.... It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 3:28 and 5:1 NIV).
Though some in the Christian community do not yet accept that a person who has always tried to conform to what appears to their birth gender can fail at that, we could instead find guidance in the Bible that God's boundless, loving grace and infinite creativity goes well beyond the human cultural constraints regarding gender that we tend to impose on each other. Living enslaved to others' cultural expectations is not required of us in Christ. We are free, even empowered, to be fully ourselves in Christ as God made us - fully human, more (not less) than the social roles of gender, race, class, and religion within which we sometimes confine each other.
So what do people who are what is sometimes called "gender non-conforming" (including "genderqueer," "androgynous," and / or "transgender") need from God and from those of us who love and follow Jesus? We can start by simply recognizing (without judging) the reality that some of us were created by God differently gendered -- yet fully human and in God's image. Bearing one another's burdens with empathy, we might even be gentle, patient and forebearing with those forced to live in bondage to a human assignment of sex at birth that conflicts with the fullness of who God made them to be. Regardless of sex or gender, we all need the same things from God and from each other. We need solidarity with God and other people: To "walk together," simply and faithfully, with Jesus.
Living in freedom means living with and like Jesus in a way which liberates us all - not just individually but TOGETHER. As an educator-activist emancipated from slavery, Booker T. Washington proclaimed, "There is no defence or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all....'The laws of changeless justice bind oppressor with oppressed."
Jesus wants us ALL, just as we are, one by one and TOGETHER. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus teaches a parable we call "the Great Banquet," about how God wants everyone coming over to eat together as a family around God's kitchen table. A rich man's servant invites honored guests, and they all make excuses. When the servant reports this, the angry host responds, "Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame." When even then, the table's still not full, the rich man tells the servant to "compel" anyone he meets on any road or lane to come in so the house will be full (Luke 14 NRSV). God wants a full house, the whole family around the table, just as we are, rolling in right off the street - whether that's in pajamas, drag, transition, confusion, ability, or disability. Jesus tells us it really doesn't matter to God what we look like or what we think of each other. What matters is just that we show up without making excuses AND that we share God's banquet together -- because it's God's house party, NOT OURS. We don't get to turn each other away.