Posts Tagged ‘Transgender’

Jesus and the Transgender Person

August 1, 2017

Galatians 3:23-39, Matthew 19:10-12

Humans are intriguing creatures. Each of us unique to ourselves and with similarities to others. We are as individual as our own fingerprints and unfortunately often way too predictable as a species. We are a volatile and beautiful mix of nature and nurture, and while we have the intelligence and technology to study this nature and nurture, there is constantly a blurring of the line between the two, and often uncertainty which plays how much of a role.

We are different. A diverse tapestry of personality and emotion. Even within our own families, where children are raised as nearly the same as possible, the differences and diversity are often noticeable from birth. Birth order plays a role. Being an only child plays a role. Traumatic experience plays a role. Parenting practices play a role. And sometimes, it is just our makeup, chemistry, the way the brain fires, and the synapses carry those currents…or not.

I think of my own family and the way my brother, my sister, and I were raised, raised very similarly. And yet, especially after my brother died when I was thirteen, I experienced a much different family dynamic than did my sister, who was out of the home by then, which I know shaped and molded who I am emotionally, psychologically. That dynamic affected how I respond to stimuli, how I react, how I interact in relationships, and of what I am aware in the world around me.

I think of our two boys, raised as near as we could the same, and yet from the very beginning we could tell they were different. Birth order plays a role, and yet, even at a very young age we could put our oldest in the middle of a room and surround him with toys and he would be content and play for hours. He liked to be rocked to sleep every night, didn’t want to be put to bed alone while he was still awake and aware.

Our youngest, we could put him in the middle of the same room surround him with toys and he would be pulling the cord on the table lamp, trying to stick something in the wall outlet, or chasing the cat across the room. He didn’t mind being rocked, but he enjoyed it enough he wouldn’t go to sleep. The only way we could get him to go to sleep, we learned after collection of long nights, was to just go put him in his bed alone, he would go to sleep on his own, out of boredom I suppose.

All this to simply say, we are different, all of us, diverse and unique. It made me think of that saying, “You are unique, just like everyone else!” Some of it is the way we are raised, some of it is the way we are wired from the beginning. It is true for all of us. For today’s message, I am speaking not just to all of us in general and our individual uniqueness, but in particular as it relates to those who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender.

To a large degree, as I read and study, it becomes more apparent to me, I think it is unfortunate and unjust we (speaking of heterosexual orientation) in society and culture, as well as in the church, we have normalized heterosexual orientation to the point that we have to talk about this in order to inform our actions and relationships toward others as opposed to simply loving and accepting them into our lives, our families, our society and culture, and our churches.

While there continues to be medical studies regarding sexual orientation in terms of nature and nurture, there is growing evidence through brain imaging that sexual orientation is influenced greatly by nature it is the way we are wired, not just heterosexuality but homosexuality as well. It is how we are born. Yes, most studies I have read also cite that nurture, the way we are raised, our experiences, can also affect who we are. However, there is scientific evidence it is also who we are and how we are born. This is a broad statement especially for today’s message and in particular referring to the LGB person in our families, society, and in our churches.

While I selected Jesus and the Transgender Person for my sermon series on Uncomfortable Christianity last May, recent proclamations by our current administration in Washington D.C. regarding transgender persons in the military make today’s message especially relevant. I believe it is important for the church, the community of faith, to understand as best we can, to consider the most faithful way to respond to our country and world whenever such decisions effect our members and communities of persons in the world around us.

So, let me be a little more specific about transgender persons before we look at how Jesus might respond to our current environment.  I think it appropriate to begin with some common terminology and identifiers as we may not all be familiar with some of the language. While we most generally include the T(transgender) in our LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) there are other letters as well. There is also – Q – queer – which I still struggle to include as when I was growing up this was a term used as a weapon to diminish and abuse, however I understand LGBTQ persons, especially in recent years claiming it as their own to take away its power. There is also A – Asexual and I – Intersexual, and there are others as well, all of this signaling the fluidity of sexual orientation and gender identity expression.

I do not pretend to understand all the nuances of these person’s identity or experience, though I do try to study and understand as best I can, but my only experience is heterosexual orientation and cis-gender (denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.) – which I acknowledge carries with it a power of position and privilege that needs to be noted held in check.

In other words, I believe this is important and crucial for the church, and for myself to address and hold before us as a person of privilege, as one who has never experienced nor feared discrimination or the loss of a job, or verbal abuse, or physical violence, or been told I cannot serve my country, simply because of who I am, such privilege carries with it responsibility to not only name it, but to use it to speak to the injustice and abuse that is leveled toward those who are discriminated against and oppressed.

This is not only a civil and human rights issue, this is a theological issue for the church and how we understand the love and grace of God and how we are called to live that love and grace in the world around us!

I want to point out just a few things regarding transgender persons specifically, I have learned through study and conversation with transgender persons outside of and within our community of faith here at CHUM.

In statistical studies by the Human Rights Campaign, n 2016 at least 22 deaths of transgender people in the United States due to fatal violence, the most ever recorded. These victims were killed by acquaintances, partners and strangers. 2017 has already seen at least 15 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. The rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGB youth. In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.

LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. (in this and other ways I believe the church is complicit through doctrine, policy, statement, and silence)

Spanish investigators, led by psychobiologist Antonio Guillamon of the National Distance Education University in Madrid and neuropsychologist Carme Junqué Plaja of the University of Barcelona in a MRI brain imaging study made the following statement – “Trans people have brains that are different from males and females, a unique kind of brain,” “It is simplistic to say that a female-to-male transgender person is a female trapped in a male body. It’s not because they have a male brain but a transsexual brain.”

In a Boston University study, a biological connection with transgender persons was made as well. Not everyone is born into clear XY or XX chromosomes, there is a wide range spectrum, there are XXY or XXX, XYY, and other combinations. All this to say, we are born this way, it is not something that is chosen or something that can somehow be cured.

Douglas John Hall, Canadian theologian suggests in his book, “Thinking the Faith, Christian Theology in a North American Context,” we not only allow the scriptures and our theology to interpret the world around us, our culture and current experience must also be allowed to interpret and inform our theology and study of the scriptures. In other words, while we embrace our scriptures as a guide for our faith, we must recognize current understandings and discoveries and let this new knowledge inform our readings of scripture and our development of theology and practice.

So, how should the community of faith respond to a culture, a society, a church that continues to diminish, discriminate, abuse, and reject those of differing orientations and gender identities? There are some specific clues in our scriptures. In terms of orientation, the passages that are most often used to support discrimination and abuse are passages outlined in the purity laws which are designed to maintain tribal procreation and boundaries. Other passages are condemning of particular practices; non-consensual, abusive, promiscuous, unequal power and status. As far as loving, consensual, equal, mutual relationships between same gender persons, it is not in our scriptures.

As for passages, I might identify as relating to transgender and gender identity specific would perhaps be passages regarding eunuchs. Eunuchs, as you may know where often made eunuchs by crushing or removing the testicles of a male to provide protection for the king’s wives so they did not have to worry about the protectors having sexual desires, so to speak.

Regarding religious treatment, in the Hebrew scriptures, eunuchs were barred from the temple as well, they could not worship there. They were discriminated against. There is a citation in the book of Acts where a eunuch is welcomed into the Way of Jesus which indicates a place in the church for those who would identify differently in gender. The passage we read from Matthew, Jesus identifies not only those who were made that way, or those who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kindom, but also indicates those who are eunuchs from birth, they were born that way. Jesus, we are told here in Matthew, makes way for those who are of differing gender identity from how they may appear as their birth identity.

And of course, there is the passage from Galatians we read that might be paraphrased, or addendum added, and interpreted to say, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, no longer straight, nor gay, or lesbian, nor bisexual, nor transgender, there is no longer male and female;”

For in the community of faith, in the church, in the family of God, all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

For me this does not, nor should it, negate our diversity, our difference, it does not deny we are made up of straight, gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, but it says, we all belong, we are ALL, ALL children of the Divine, unique and authentically valued and sacred. I believe that is what Jesus would say.

The church, the community of faith cannot continue to be silent and complicit in the neglect and abuse of transgender persons, LGB persons, or any person, lives are at stake!

This is what Jesus would say to the church universal today, to the empire today, Did Say!

I would close with words, with an edit or two, from author blogger Glennon Doyle, “Straight, Gay, and especially in today’s cultural and religious context Transgender – “God says YES to you. God is FOR you and God made you just as you are and God says yes even when God’s beloved institutions, and the institutions of law and government … even when they have joined forces against you….  and are screaming NOT YET.” God still says “Yes!”

We See You. We Stand with You. God Loves You. We Love You. Period.

May it be so. May it be soon. May it be Now!

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Beautiful Hearts

April 2, 2017

We attended the Trans Day of Visibility: Rally for Equality. I confess, I know and understand very little about the journey of transgender persons and what they have been through, though I know many and am educating myself by studying, listening to their stories, respecting their presence and rights, deliberately seeing them, and loving them. While I can never fully understand, I can understand better. As it was said at the Rally Friday, it is up to me, up to us to do the work of study and educating of ourselves to try and better understand what our transgender friends and family are going through and have been through. I am working on that, I want to better understand so I can be a better pastor, ally, advocate, friend, … a better person in my loving of all of God’s children…all of us.

trans

Speakers at the rally shared stories of loss and pain. Friday I heard not just stories of bullying and hatred, but witnessed it firsthand. I listened as speakers shared of youth and adults who have ended their lives because of religion, culture, and society who diminish and belittle who and whose they are, and I was moved to tears. I can only hope to somehow understand a small fraction of the pain and fear they have encountered on their journey, but I can be here for them as they make that journey, we can all be here for them as they make that journey. Transgender persons and their journeys, though filled with tragedy and pain, fear, risk, and struggle, are courageous and beautiful, all of them.

I think of that familiar passage about the anointing of David when God shares that God looks upon the heart. I can honestly say, the transgender persons I have encountered and come to know, have beautiful hearts of grace, compassion, courage, and love. I have much to learn from my transgender brothers and sisters that already has and will continue to deepen my understanding and walk with them as well as my walk with God in Christ. I am grateful and I look forward to a new journey each morning!

For our church, here at College Hill. The first of the year I had the congregation fill out note cards expressing what they loved about CHUM, why they came, what was our purpose. I shared those responses in our newsletter and we will be visiting them at our next Extended Council meeting. While we want to be aware and attentive to all the responses, the overwhelming nature of the responses had to do with our open, loving, welcoming, and inclusive posture and vision. We will be focusing on that and talking about how we can better share that message not only with our current membership but with our city and Annual Conference.

I want to emphasize my place here in this writing in that I stand with and will advocate for transgender persons, and gay, lesbian, bi-sexual persons, and those regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, and age who are marginalized and oppressed. It is my passion, my vocation, my calling, and I believe what and who God with Christ has called me to be in this world so filled with brokenness, bigotry, hate, and exclusion.

I implore our society, city, state, country, and religious communities, to stop the discrimination and hate. Sit down with someone, talk less and listen more to the stories of those who simply want to live authentically as they were created to be. Here at CHUM, we are, and can be even more of a beacon of justice, grace, wisdom, and love. It is a beautiful way to join the beauty of this diverse tapestry of us God has created. Join me won’t you?

It is one of the many ways we seek to be faithful to the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the community, the whole community of God’s children!  Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table.   Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Pastor Kent

An Ally for Caitlyn Jenner and All Who Struggle to Be

June 2, 2015

I have read several comments and articles at this point on Caitlyn Jenner. I confess there is some struggle on my part with the commercialization and sensationalism around the Jenner story as well as the Kardashians that has made me really rather ignore the whole story. And yet there is something that draws me to the reading I have done.

There is something within that hurts my heart to read the hurtful, hate-filled, and bullying type language expressed by society in general and in particular from those who profess to be followers of Jesus. And there is something inspiring about those who have expressed support and care for her as she has made this, quite literally, life changing decision.

As a straight, male, heterosexual I do not pretend to understand all that is involved with such a struggle to become that which one is destined to be at the risk of ostracism and rejection, I cannot, and yet I can try to better understand. On some minimal level I have on my own journey known the struggle to simply become and be present at this point in my journey of life and faith, which has not been without criticism and intolerance from some from time to time. But my experience cannot possibly be equated to the struggles, suffering, and rejection my friends and family who are LGBTQ have endured in order to be true to themselves.

That being said, even with my lack of understanding and experience, I can still be compassionate. I can still strive to understand more deeply. I can still be present. I can still appreciate the courage and depth of character it takes to embrace the reality of who one is at the risk of losing relationship, family, job, home, and even life.

So, I am present here on my journey to say I applaud Caitlyn Jenner and all those who are transgender, all of those who have the presence of mind, spirit, and body to claim who they were created to be by the One who loves us all without condition. And I am an Ally of not only these, but also those who live in fear of loss and violence who are unable to fully be in their world today.

I am not finished along this journey of understanding and I know I have those who will help me along the way to be a better friend, pastor, and human being as we are all immersed in the Presence from which none of us can ever be separated…the Presence of Love.

Pondering continues …

An Ally Along the Journey…
Rev. Kent H. Little

I Am United Methodist. I Am Here To Stay.

January 20, 2014

April 21, 1959, I was born into the family of James and Nadine Little who attended the Methodist Church in Douglass Kansas. Some months later the family traveled to Meade Kansas and my baptism by a family friend. I grew up in the Methodist Church and along that journey my father entered into the ordained ministry of the Methodist Church. He was in seminary when the merger happened in 1968 and we became the United Methodist Church.

Following dad’s graduation from seminary, as chance and the bishop at the time would have it, dad was appointed to the Meade United Methodist Church in Meade Kansas. At the age of thirteen I went through confirmation classes and at the end of the classes was called to the “pastor’s” office, as were all of the confirmands. I had been called to his office before, but it had always been as son rather than potential church member.

My pastor and I discussed the faith and what I had learned in my confirmation classes. I was never asked if I was gay or straight, if I smoked or drank, overate or cheated on tests. I was asked if I believed in Jesus Christ. I was asked if I would resist evil in whatever ways it presented itself. I was asked if I would support the church with my prayers, presence, gifts, and service. I said yes.

On Confirmation Sunday we spoke of the same things, we were asked the same questions, and still none of us were asked those questions of sexual orientation, lifestyle, or character. We all answered yes and were welcomed with joy and gladness into the United Methodist Church of Meade Kansas, the church of my baptism.

My own journey of life and faith was and is shaped by being a “preacher’s” kid. After high school I wandered away from the church for a time, wandered away in attendance but not who I was at the very core and that was always United Methodist. After TruDee and I were married we began to get back to being involved in the church in Johnson Kansas, to make a long story short I began to feel the call to ministry and though I ran from it for several years knew that at some point if I were to be happy I would need to answer the call of God for my life. I began my college education, received my first appointment in 1992, finished seminary in 1998 and was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church in the spring of 2000. I am a United Methodist through and through, this is my church and I am saddened to watch it struggle to “be” an inclusive and welcoming church.

In my life, faith, and ministry I myself have been told by not only members of the United Methodist Church, but those outside the UM church as well, that perhaps because of my stances on particular theological and social issues that perhaps I should consider leaving the United Methodist Church. I have held conversations with members of the churches I have served who have felt the need to consider leaving because of the church’s stance particularly the negative and restrictive language in our Discipline regarding gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer persons. These are persons who, like me, were raised, baptized, confirmed and have served in the UM Church for 10, 20, 30, 40 plus years, who have just as much claim on the UM church as I or anyone else.

I was raised, baptized, confirmed, and have remained connected and served in the UM Church for nearly 55 years as of this coming April. I serve in a United Methodist denomination who claims to exist for the purpose of Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. A purpose which it has been suggested is more important than removing the restrictive language in our UM Discipline and being a church that welcomes, includes, ordains, and marries LGBTQ persons. Let me just say this, I believe the church is wrong, and not only wrong, but doing harm to the very disciples of Christ it has called to faith.

 
I am blessed, honored, and humbled to serve in a church that became a Reconciling Congregation before I arrived. College Hill United Methodist Church works tirelessly in service to our community, reaching the poor, feeding the hungry, providing resource and counsel to those in need, actively participates in the neighborhood and community to make this world a better place. The Community College Hill UMC is faithful in claiming and following Christ, resisting evil in whatever form it presents itself, and is faithful in prayer, gift, presence, and service.

As a member of the United Methodist church, birthed, baptized, confirmed, educated, and ordained, I take seriously what it means to work and live in a community of faith and in particular in the United Methodist Church. Removing the restrictive and hurtful language in our Discipline is not only crucial to living a life of Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World; it should be a priority in our work and place in the world.

Let me put it this way, as a clergy ordained and serving in the United Methodist Church I have promised to uphold the Discipline. But our Discipline is conflicted and contradictory. In one place it says I am to be in ministry to the whole church and in another it limits my call to serve the LGBTQ members of the churches I have served and the church I currently serve. When two members of the church I serve, who have been together for 15, 20, 30, even over 40 years and members of the church for 15 plus years comes asks me to do their wedding and I have to say no because they are of the same gender, such a response on my part because of the church’s stance is not only damaging and harmful to the very persons who have been a part of our community working to feed the hungry, care for the poor, comfort the hurting, and calling persons to faith in Christ, it diminishes the very purpose for which we as a United Methodist Church claim to exist.

I love the United Methodist Church and I am blessed to be a part of it and serve the people of the church and our Conference. And though the church is wrong on its stance regarding being fully inclusive of LGBTQ members, I will not be leaving. Nor will I encourage any members of the UM church to leave. I have been energized and recommitted to find ways to organize our numbers, our voices, and our votes until we become the church the Spirit is calling us to be. I will not be leaving, because the story of my life and faith is deep and strong in this United Methodist Church just as many of you who may read this, if we leave who will be left to participate with the Spirit in struggling and fighting for the soul of the church? Who will remain to live and work in ministry with and alongside our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who were also baptized, confirmed and serve to transform the world, for who this church is home and whom we love?

I am United Methodist called to serve the church, called to love God and neighbor, called to work for justice and love in order to Make Disciples of Christ that we may all be transformed for the work of Christ in the church and in the world around us that the walls of exclusion might fall at and by the love of God in Christ, and I am here to stay. I am committed to Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. If you would stand with me in finding ways to not only Transform Our World for Christ but Transform our Church for Christ, to engage, share our stories, embrace in grace, and trust the Spirit to change the hearts and minds of those who would continue to hold our LGBTQ members captive and outside the ministry of the church I hope you will add your voice to mine and join me. Silence is assent and it is time to speak and be heard.

Peace and Light for Your Journey
Rev. Kent H. Little