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