Christian Faith and the Experience of Gender


A few months ago, President Jimmy Carter took religion to task for contributing to discrimination against women around the world. From my perspective, President Carter’s comments definitely struck home. But it led me to also ask the question: What does religion, and specifically my faith, Christianity, really have to say about gender?

The answer I came to may surprise you.

The Christian religion holds in tension the poles of preserving the tradition and listening for the Holy Spirit inspiring us to follow Jesus in our time and place. On the one hand, Scripture is clear that God is always doing a new thing. On the other, this challenges our faith when we are focused on holding fast to ancient tradition.

With regard to gender, this tension leads the Church to both restrict the role of women and advocate for women at the same time.

Christian tradition, on the foundation of Scripture, arose in a time when everyone thought that vital life energy resided in the male — that new life came from the planting of the seed in the woman who was merely a vessel. The woman was the possession of the man. Christians who insist on preserving such tradition contribute to discrimination against women around the world. I am so grateful for President Carter and others who take religion to task for this sin.

On the other hand, affirmation of equality between men and women are everywhere in Scripture and Christian experience starting with “male and female, created He them” in Genesis. When science opened our eyes to the more accurate way in which men and women both contribute to a child being born, then the roles of power and vessel were challenged and a new understanding broke forth.

This understanding has created a way for many Christian denominations to receive the gifts of women leaders all over the world.

And today, I see God doing yet another new thing in our time with regard to gender. Our transgender loved ones, neighbors and children, are helping us to build on our understandings yet again. They remind us that souls can be female even as the body is male or vice versa. Transgender people respond in a host of different ways to this reality while they navigate a world of suspicion and discrimination.

So how is organized religion responding to the courageous transgender people sharing themselves with us all now?

Unfortunately, my Christian tradition is in danger of falling into reliance upon “male and female, created He them,” basically saying to transgender people, “What you say about yourself can’t be true.” This dismissal of the human testimony and experience of transgender people threatens to diminish our witness to the Gospel, which is, according to Christ, for all people.

Especially as we in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) go into a new era with the passing of Amendment 10A, it’s important for Christians to also remember our transgender brothers and sisters, who are wonderfully made by God in their mother’s womb. God is doing a new thing for us through them for which I give deep thanks.

The Holy Spirit nudges us now to see that God sees our souls and loves us all.

What do you think God’s guidance is on gender?


Reverend Janet

I also appreciated this informative video on what it means to be transgender, and hope you do too.

4 Responses
  • Mary on August 20, 2011

    Janet; Thank you for attempting to get this issue out of the “closet” and out where it should be. I definitely think that whenever scripture is used to control or to “put people in their place” it is a sad misuse of God’s word that is a living word and one that is meant to bring freedom and wholeness to lives. As a Trans-woman who has spent her whole live in the church, specifically the PC(USA)I am still longing to hear words of love and compassion from my church instead of hatred and fear. God does not make mistakes I do not believe I was a mistake God made me as I am and through God’s good grace has given us the opportunities to become wholly the person God created. My prayer is that one day soon, I will again be able to serve the church from my new position of wholeness as I did when I was forced to live a life of lies and deceit.

  • Janet Edwards on August 21, 2011

    Dear Mary,

    Wow! Thanks so much for writing such heartfelt words!

    The most important thing for me to say, I think, is this: as far as I know the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has made no statement at all about transgender people. The original statements on gays and lesbians from 1978 were revoked in 2008 so those judgments are no longer in place and they did not include transgender who were invisible to us, as you know. Correct me if I am wrong that there is no official statements on transgender by the PCUSA.

    Of course, there are vocal people in the church who have their strong positions on transgender and their interpretations of Scripture. I know it is probably small consolation for me to encourage you and other trans Presbyterians to articulate loudly and constantly your understanding of Scripture and experience of Grace in Jesus. BUt it is an immense gift to the church.

    I trust the Holy Spirit will guide the church if all voices are contributing to our discernment. This is why I am so grateful for your writing here and for your witness in the church.

    Peace, Janet

  • Janet L. Bohren on August 22, 2011

    Your post is so concise and so correct, relative to both scripture, theology and science. I have studied gender issues for years both as an science/math educator and in theology. I began to try to understand transgender issues in the nineties and attended 2 “Witness our Welcome” conferences and took part in transgender workshops at these and at an MLP conference a few years ago in Atlanta. I came to understand better the terrible difficulties transgender teens and adults face. I find it hard to bring the issue forward for discussion at church as people just don’t see it as an important issue for churches to deal with. I hope blogs like yours and others will bring the issue forward and bring out more justice and love in our churches (and elsewhere) for all transgender people.
    Janet B.

  • Janet Edwards on August 23, 2011

    Dear Janet,

    Thank you so very much for your affirmation of my thoughts here, especially given your knowledge and experience around transgender and the church.

    Perhaps you would agree with me that one very important step forward for the church would be to understand that this is not some kind of abstract issue, but rather is about real people who are yearning to be known by the church as they are certain they are known by God, and loved by God, as Mary says.

    The first thing the church must do is create an atmosphere of love that will allow Presbyterians like Mary to share their souls with us so that we get beyond “issues” to the experience and desires of friends and neighbors. Not everyone has the courage Mary has, so the church has to create the loving space where every person, including transgender people can feel at home.

    Does this make sense? Peace, Janet

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