I am reposting Dr. Susan Shaw’s beautiful post, Embracing God’s Transgender People for the Huffington Post (Oct 20, 2015).
I am so delighted that Dr. Shaw quotes my new book, “Embracing the Other“. Read and share her post.
Another transgender woman is dead. Keisha Jenkins became the 21st transgender or gender non-conforming person murdered in the United States this year, the 18th transwoman of color.
Transphobia is a problem, a matter of life and death for some people. The pope says transgender people, like nuclear weapons and genetic manipulation, do not recognize the order of creation. The Southern Baptist Convention is opposed to any efforts to validate transgender identity. Mormons who undergo sex-reassignment surgery cannot receive the priesthood or a temple recommend. Missouri Synod Lutherans think such surgery is a mutilation of the body and transgender identity is a disorder.
Of course, these churches also tell us to love transgender individuals and not to bully them, but they are clear: transgender people are outside God’s created order. Without irony, they suppose that they can tell us something is wrong with transgender people and then assume they are not partly responsible for the climate that has led to those 21 murders, not to mention all the other acts of violence against trans people that happen every day.
These churches, however, do not speak for all Christians, and some churches have proclaimed welcome and solidarity with transgender and gender non-conforming people. In 2003, the United Church of Christ encouraged its churches to welcome transgender individuals and to become involved in advocacy for the human rights of transgender people. In 2012, the Alliance of Baptists called on churches and community leaders to work to end discrimination and violence against transgender people. That same year the Episcopal Church extended the right to ordination to transgender people.
At the core of the Gospel is a call for what theologian Grace Ji-Sun Kim calls “embracing the Other.” The “Other” is any of us who are outside the mythical norm (In the U.S., that includes those of us who are people of color, women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer, poor, immigrants, non-Christian). When the dominant culture constructs a group of people as “Other,” it dehumanizes them, it makes them less than, and it provides justification for mistreatment. But the power of the Spirit, Kim says, “opens our hearts to cross borders and embrace the Other” (Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2015).
Certainly, in the dominant culture in the U.S., particularly in the dominant Christian culture, transgender people are Other. They are stereotyped, marginalized, discriminated against, and victimized by violence — including the rhetorical violence of many Christians.
Yet even the biblical witness itself proclaims that God is One who transcends gender. Trans means “across,” “beyond,” “through,” “changing thoroughly,” “transverse,” “on the other side of.” The transcendent God is the one who crosses over, the one who moves beyond and through boundaries. God encompasses all gender and is therefore trans-gender.
Those humans who are transgender also reflect this crossing over, this moving beyond boundaries. They too are people created in God’s image, reflecting yet another aspect of God’s transcending and encompassing gender. Therefore, they are not outside God’s creation but are a reflection of the very diversity that is the being of God.
For people of faith, no group should be seen as “Other.” If God is the One who transcends, transgresses, transforms, the One who crosses over, then surely all of God’s people should be people who cross over — who cross over prejudices and stereotypes and bigotry — to embrace God’s transgender children as fully human, fully created by and loved by God, fully welcome in God’s family and in our churches. We should lead our world in embracing the Other, who is not really Other, but is one of us.
Susan M. Shaw is professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Director of the School of Language, Culture, and Society at Oregon State University. She holds a BA from Berry College, an MA and PhD from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and an MAIS from Oregon State University. She is an ordained Baptist minister who now makes her congregational home in the United Church of Christ.