On transgender rights, a reaction to singing “Jesus Loves Me” against the rights of transgender individuals to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
Pastor Tom: There’s a lot in that reading, and lots of different ways that I could go with this sermon. I thought about a couple different approaches. I’m kind of not taking any of them. All of the stuff that you’re struggling with in that scripture, I’m not really going to address right now. Sorry about that, but we’ll talk about it sometime.
The reason why is because there is this video that’s been going around the Internet that I saw last week. Early in the week there was a board of education meeting in a county in South Carolina that was dealing with the issue of a transgender boy who wanted use the boy’s bathroom at a school. The gender that he identifies with. At this board meeting there were about 500 adults there holding up signs against this boy doing what he would like to do. They were very vocal in their opposition.
In this room full of people, one person stood up, this one woman stood up supporting the boy, supporting transgender people, supporting the right for people to use the bathroom of the gender that they identify with. As she talked and as she tried to stand up for the oppressed, other adults in the room began to drown her out by singing, “Jesus Loves You.”
Paul is writing to people and drawing a line in the sand saying this is what it means to be a Christian, if you don’t believe in a full bodily resurrection, then how can you call yourself Christian. The people in the board of education meeting were drawing a line in the sand saying how can you possibly be a Christian if you don’t believe that gender is just cut and dry, that there are only two genders, that the outside of our bodies must match what’s in our hearts and in our minds.
That reaction is not what I believe a Christian would do or should do. Paul’s argument here is, “Well, I’ve told you what I’ve seen and others have told you what they’ve seen. How can you not believe then? We’ve seen the risen Christ, you must believe it.” There’s a lot of that same kind of thinking in some of the arguments about transgenderism and transgender identity. Everybody says, well this is my experience, for me personally, I only know what it’s like to identify with the way that my body looks. My gender identity matches the gender that I was assigned at birth.
For me to just be in my head and say, “Well everybody needs to feel exactly the way that I feel,” doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t believe that it’s the way that Jesus teaches us.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality a month ago when they looked at it, there were 49 state level bills in different states that had been introduced in 2016, legislative sections that contained provisions that the center believes targets transgender people. Fortunately, a lot of those have already died in committee or have been voted down, but there are still 12 that are considered active. Where states are looking to legalize discrimination against transgender people.
Many of them are focused on the so-called bathroom bills saying that people should only be able to use the bathroom that matches the gender that they were assigned at birth. The argument that they use it that it’s a safety issue. It’s often focused on transgender women, if a woman who was assigned male at birth enters a bathroom that they can cause harm, that they can attack our daughters and our wives. Even though there is absolutely no evidence that anything like that has ever happened in any state, in any city, in any town.
In fact, the opposite is true. UCLA’s William’s Institute reports that nearly 70% of transgender people have said that they have experienced verbal harassment in situations involving gender segregated bathrooms. Nearly 10% have reported being physically attacked. 54% of respondents to a William’s Institute survey reported experiencing physical problems based on being transgender, and being scared to use the bathroom that matches their identity. Many transgender people simply choose to not use public bathrooms. We’re talking about school children, kids in college, people at work. 54% say that because of that they suffer from dehydration, urinary tract infections, kidney problems, all caused by avoiding public restrooms.
North Carolina had one of the most publicized bathroom bills. The day after news broke, phone calls to suicide hotline focusing on transgender youth nearly doubles to almost 400 a day. This is a population that already has a rate of suicide and suicide attempts around 40%.
When these Christians start singing, “Jesus Loves You,” which Jesus loves me the old unspoken lyric there is Jesus loves me and Jesus doesn’t love you for who you are. We do a lot of saying everybody is welcome, we don’t draw lines in the sand, we say anybody can believe what they want and act as they want, but sometimes I wonder if we need to start drawing some lines because when we say everybody’s welcome what we mean is we’re doing an outreach for people who have been oppressed, people who have been outcast, people who have been left out, flowers that have been left on the floor, but sometimes people think that that also means that we’re opening up the door for the ones who are doing the oppressing. We need to take a stand.
How do we do that? There are a few things that we do. Three years ago, we expanded out open and affirming statement to specifically mention a welcome to everyone regardless of gender identity and expression. As part of that, we have visited the signage, we’ve visited the language that we use in our bulletins, and we try to be very cautious and careful about being gender specific. You’ll notice I never split voices between men and women or anything gender specific like that. We’re fortunate that our facilities already had a bathroom that’s single stall, so we changed the signage on it so that it doesn’t say anything about male or female. It’s for all genders. Everyone is welcome.
These are ways that we take a stand, but I’m not sure if we’re being quite public enough in our faith. One of the things that I’d like to do this week is to hang a transgender pride flag up on our church next to our rainbow flag. This is a public declaration of our faith, of our belief that all are created in God’s image. In the creation story in Genesis it says, “God created them, male and female, God created them.” It doesn’t actually say one was male and one way female. It doesn’t say that this is the only way it will be for everyone, Jesus talks about … I forget the scripture reading off hand, but Jesus says, “some were born eunuchs, some have chosen to be eunuchs, some were made eunuchs by others.” [Matthew 19:12] It’s not a direct correlation, but I believe that it’s Jesus talking about an acceptance of everybody, of people who don’t fall into gender binaries, of people who don’t Fall into “normal.”
By hanging this flag outside of our church, I believe that we continue to widen our welcome. We continue to throw our doors open to a population that is continually being oppressed, to a population that hears the message, “Jesus loves me, but doesn’t love you.” I want to expand our welcome so that we let everyone know Jesus loves you.
Paul says, “What matters is that we keep preaching, and that you have faith in this message.” He says, “I am who I am because of God’s grace.” One of the arguments that people made in South Carolina is that God doesn’t make mistakes. I agree with that. I don’t believe God makes mistakes. I believe that God created all of us exactly the way that we are male, female, transgender, agender, intersex, there are so many different ways of being and all made in the image of God. We’re called to support our transgender siblings. I hope that you’ll join me in this. If we hang this sign outside of our church, I hope that you can have a public witness as well, that you can stand up to discrimination against trans* people, that you can offer your support, that you can let people know that it’s Christ’s love that sets this foundation for you.
I have to put one reminder out there, one kind of don’t do this. Many of us have somebody or more than one somebody that we love who we know is transgender. It is important to remember that story is there story. It’s not up to us to out them to anyone else. It’s not up to us to say, “Hey, I know that whoever is transgender,” but we can say that somebody that I love and care for is transgender. Your discrimination breaks my heart. I fully support them for who they are. Offer your support, offer your love, and let everyone know that you’re doing it because of God’s grace because without God’s grace we are nothing. Without Jesus’ grace we are nothing, and there are some lines in the sand that others will draw saying that this is what it means to be a Christian, but I hope that you’ll join me in declaring that support for everyone, support for the outcasts, support especially for our transgender siblings is what it means to be a Christian.
Can I get an amen?