November 19, 2017: A New Story by Beth Hayward

My first plan today was to retell the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, to rectify its misuse as a biblical example of the condemnation of homosexual acts and to delve into a more accurate read of it being a story first and foremost about hospitality. But then it was brought to my attention that we aren’t actually talking about homosexuality today we are focusing on the place of transgender individuals in church and society. I had this aha moment. Honestly, I was embarrassed and ashamed that I had confused two distinct issues. There is a high level of awareness about gay, lesbian, and bisexual orientations. Sexual orientation is about who we are sexually attracted to. Being transgendered is not about sexual orientation. It is about gender identity and gender expression. It is about who we know ourselves to be in our heart, our head, our soul. Quite honestly I’m not the person to offer an education on all of this. You can find plenty of links on the Affirm page of our church website to help with your education. Or you can likely talk to any of the youth in this congregation, they have been great teachers to me.

But here’s the thing I agreed to dedicate this day to transgender day or Remembrance because I am convinced as ones who seek to follow in the way of Jesus we have an obligation to be self reflective, to be pushed to consider how are we being inclusive of those who are amongst the most marginalized in our society. Transgender individuals often live daily with an extreme sense of exclusion and hatred. I am convinced that a Christian community needs to be ever pushing itself to the extreme edges of who is included not just in these walls but in our communities. But then when I stupidly thought a scripture about homosexual acts could be transferred to a conversation about the transgendered, well I started to lose my nerve. I share this with you in an effort to show that I, like many of you, am on a journey, there are some things that I know we need to be exposed to and I’m not even sure where to begin.

I want to begin not with scripture but with a story told in the first person.

(turn sound on audio) This is the opening scene of a documentary entitled “Call Me Malcolm.”[1] This low budget movie, produced by the United Church of Christ in the States, was released a decade ago, it tells the story of a transgender priest.  Let’s watch.

 

It’s been said that you can’t hate the other once that person has a name and a face, once you have actually met them. It’s difficult to hold on to ideological fear or hatred when the object of your hate becomes real flesh and blood before you. I’ve known this to be true but still it’s complicated. Malcolm shows us that love and acceptance is actually more of a process than a destination. Malcolm laments his family still using his former name saying, “I have to be somebody I don’t really remember but everybody else does.” Everyone around Malcolm has said: I love you and yet when it comes to naming Malcolm they fall short of putting that love into action. It’s complicated.

Since Sodom and Gomorrah doesn’t work today I went searching for scriptures that might. There is a rather familiar verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians where he writes: 8There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28) Paul’s declaration, that in Christ, these categories no longer apply, is a “radical dismantling of what we until then understood to be “primary identity and boundary markers.”[2] I keep wishing that being a Christian was a way to wrap ourselves in a the warm embrace of Jesus but more often it is an invitation, a demand even, to challenge every division that our human mind finds comforting.

Father Richard Rohr says that “Binary genders (male and female) are more an imposition of our dualistic minds than the nature of reality. Even as we acknowledge the sacredness of gender and sex, we also need to realize that there’s something deeper than our gender, anatomy, or physical passion: our ontological self, who we are forever in Christ.” You are beyond the metaphor of male and female; you are a child of the Resurrection, a creature of Eternal Life. He suggests that “it is amazing that it has taken us this long to admit what is hidden in plain sight, and it must have caused immense suffering to so many throughout history.”[3]

There are signs of hope. Just this week the Church of England, under the guidance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, instructed its primary and nursery schools

With these words “Pupils need to be able to play with the many cloaks of identity (sometimes quite literally with the dressing-up box). Children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision.

warning  that homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes “profound damage leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide”.[4]

After a decade being talked about Bill C16 finally came into law this fall amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

I’m not trying here to make this the gay church or the trans church. Just like I’m not trying to make us the social justice church or the contemplative church. I’m trying to ever lure us toward being the church of Jesus Christ. The church where we live in word and action toward our identity  as ones beyond the divisions we like to impose.  A church where there is no longer male or female. A church where we say blessed are those who are persucuted, those who mourn, those who are pushed aside, pressed down, silenced and ridiculed. At the end of the day we aren’t fully the church until all are included in the radical inclusion of love that  Jesus revealed. Amen

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sh4Pv10lFyc

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=610

[3] https://cac.org/identity-and-desire-2017-11-09/

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/13/boys-should-be-free-to-wear-tiaras-and-heels-says-church-of-england?CMP=fb_gu