COMMENTARY | Eric Reed
When we first heard that Bruce Jenner was in multi-year gender reassignment,
I thought the doubtable story must be some tabloid concoction. Then when the legitimate news outlets reported it as true, I knew I wasn’t ready for this. Whenever the thought crossed my mind, my jaw dropped. Literally. A boyhood hero was becoming a girl. More or less. I wondered, Am I ready for this?
When the adult son of a character in a popular book series showed up at his mother’s house in a tasteful sweater and skirt set—and set the small town on its collective ear—I thought, That’s fiction.
When a female Sunday school teacher told me about the man who attended the ladies class in women’s clothes and calling himself Jackie*, I thought, That’s Chicago.
Then recently a pastor showed me a photo of bearded fellow and said, “When we were in college, we used to sing together and lead revivals. This is Shane. Shane used to be Sharon.” I thought, That’s it. It’s here. And I’m not ready.
In a February meeting with Baptist editors, Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the issue of ministry to transgender people has arrived on the church doorstep, but not at the sanctuary or the church office. Instead, it’s showing up first in the youth department. Moore mentioned assisting a church that had a transgender teenager attend their youth meetings.
While everyone else is concerned about same-sex marriage issues, I’ve added transgender teens to the checklist. Issues similar to those faced by a few public schools could be headed to church:
• If a boy presents himself as a girl, does he get to use the girls’ room?
• If there are any gender-segregated classes left in the world, which one is the transgender teen to attend?
• Is this the end of the overnight lock-in, the Acteens slumber party, or the RA’s camp out?
• And the deeper issue: How do we tell a genuinely hurting, confused person who is desperately seeking acceptance that God doesn’t make mistakes—boys are boys and girls are girls—with enough compassion that we don’t drive them from the
only hope they have?
At one time, it was enough to know three forms of “trans”—transvestite (wearing clothes of the opposite sex), transgender (identifying psychologically with the opposite sex), and transsexual (having hormone treatment and surgery for gender reassignment). But the sexual identity landscape has gotten more complicated. And teens especially are trying a variety of labels, if they choose any label at all.
How can we help?
Yes, there is clear biblical teaching to be shared, starting in Genesis: God made people male and female (1:27). We are all made in God’s image, but we have distinct assignments (2:21-23). Paul’s criticisms of the culture in which he lived included the abandonment of one’s own sexual role for that of the opposite sex (Rom. 1:26-28, 1 Cor. 6:9).
And yes, there are practical issues to consider: Will “questioning” or “trans” youth be allowed to crossdress at church, even in limited ways such as wearing earrings and nail polish? The Old Testament forbade wearing the other sex’s clothing (Deut. 22:5). And there’s that restroom question.
But more to the point, can such a struggling person be loved and made welcome without endorsing their behavior, or confusing other adolescents whose stage of life is already confused enough?
The Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution on transgender identity in June 2014. The resolution urges churches to “extend love and compassion to those whose sexual self-understanding is shaped by a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity.” Further it encourages churches to “welcome them to our churches and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership (2 Cor. 5:18–20; Gal. 5:14),” all the while opposing public and government efforts “to validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy (Isa. 5:20).”
Messengers to IBSA’s 2014 Annual Meeting adopted the same resolution six months later.
Perhaps these examples teach us something: That Chicago Sunday school class took Jackie in for a year until he emerged one Sunday in a suit and tie and went to the men’s class under his birth name, Willie. And Shane’s Christian friend, a pastor, maintains a Facebook friendship as a reminder of how much we all need the gospel.
Ministry in the face of sexual pain and confusion, now including the needs of transgender people, will be required of all church leaders eventually. Also required is the call for faithfulness to biblical truth without driving hurting people from the only
hope they have in Jesus Christ.
I hope we’re ready for this.
Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.
*This class’s story was told in our May 26, 2014, issue. You can read it online at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.