The phone rings, and I pick up."Hello."A panicked voice blurts out "Is Guy Hammond there?""This is Guy, who's this?""My name is Henry James (not his real name) and I'm a church leader in Typical City U.S.A. (not a real place). I've got a huge problem on my hands and I don't know what to do.""How can I help?" I ask."There is a woman who has been attending our services over the last few months and some sisters recently started studying the Bible with her. The problem is that she confessed that she had reassignment surgery several years ago and is actually Transgender! She isn't a 'she' at all, but she is actually a HE! He calls himself "Julie" (not her real name).He pauses, either for effect, or because he can't believe he is having to deal with this seemingly messy and very confusing situation. He then continues, stumbling over his words as he attempts to explain all of the challenges they are facing;"People are split on how to handle this. Some think we should demand that she start living as a man again before we continue studying the scriptures with her, and ask her to leave if she doesn't comply. Some think we should just move on and study the Bible with her as we would with any woman. Some are afraid of their children being around her, and there is an argument about what bathroom she should be able to use when at church, and what classes she should be allowed to attend when we separate men's and women's classes. Should she meet with the sisters, should she meet with the brothers? I want us all to be respectful and loving towards her, ahhh, or him, but am lost on how to proceed. Can you help us!"
A real phone call from last month, and one of several this year.
If you would have told me only a few short years ago that the topic of transgender would become so relevant, not only in society in general but even in the church, that we would need a ministry devoted specifically to addressing this issue, I would have said you’re crazy; yet here we are.
Since Bruce became Caitlyn, and especially since May 2016 when President Obama sent out a directive to U.S. public schools telling them to give transgender students access to all activities and facilities consistent with their gender identity or risk losing federal funding,Church leaders, Elders, Youth Leaders, summer camp directors, parents and especially teens and campus age Christians have bombarded us for help and direction. In fact, Brandon Redler, our ministry leader of all things transgender, has become our most sought after speaker.
Brandon had reassignment surgery when he was 18 years old and lived as “Desiree” for six years before walking into the Orlando Church of Christ where she eventually studied the Bible and came to the conclusion that in order to glorify and honor God, she needed to go back to God’s initial intent and became Brandon again. Shortly thereafter he became your brother in Christ. His is one of the most faith building and inspiring tales I’ve ever heard.
Why is Brandon’s story important? Because Christians need to know that there are other transgender people like him in our communities who feel the emptiness of life without Christ (an emptiness we all once suffered before giving our lives to Jesus), who are open to the lifesaving message of the Gospel. Brandon’s story is important because it reminds us that there is room in Jesus’ church for anyone and everyone, regardless of how they have chosen to live their lives; no one is a hopeless case in Jesus’ eyes.
My question for Christians is this; can we be secure enough in our own faith to have room for people who are different from us, who may currently disagree with us on the issue of sexual ethics and who are at a different place along their spiritual journey? Will we be willing to accept them even though we don’t agree with them? Will we be willing to build relationships and friendships with these people?
I am not suggesting that we not be radically honest with Biblical truth, but I am hoping that Christians will be able to teach that truth with patience, kindness and respect, understanding that people will need time to unscramble these very complex realities in which they find themselves.
I realize that politically this is a hot button issue that leaves many of us frustrated, angry and emotional. I know that when stores like Target create policies that give people freedom to use whichever bathroom they want, or when parents fear that members of the opposite sex may be allowed in the change rooms or showers of our children at school, there is understandable outrage and fear.
As usual however, I refuse to dive into the political mine field, especially when it comes to the current climate in the country to my south (with me living in Canada, that would be the United States.) Being the parent of 4 children, I would never suggest that we do not have the right to fight for their children’s protection. I also understand that many Christians feel the need to tackle this in the political realm and protest about it in the public square. My own fear has always been that if Christians get too caught up in social reform and political battles, they will become more known as protestors than Christians, we’ll become more known for what we are against than what we are for; a stance that has given me some grief from Christians who have attacked me, believing that my ministry should choose that as my battleground. I choose however to limit my fight to the higher plane that I believe echoes the sentiment of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:16 when he said “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.”
I know that the number of Transgender people in our world today is significantly small, but it would be wrong for you to assume that this current reality in our world today will not affect your local church. Transgender individuals are walking into our services in the hopes that they will find the church to be a safe place for them to come and worship and ask questions about matters of sexuality and how it relates to them in matters of faith. The youth in our churches are watching and listening to see if the older more "mature" disciples and church leaders will be non-judgmental, kind and loving to these people with whom we disagree. Jesus is watching to see if we will just talk about how level the ground is at the foot of the cross, or truly believe that it is, realizing that every single one of us is broken on the inside and in need of a savior, no matter how different we may look on the outside.
Some Brief Practicals
Remember that there is a whole person there that needs to be changed into the likeness of Christ, not just their sexuality or sexual identity. Don’t feel the need to focus on this aspect first.
Focus on hospitality and friendship. As the saying goes, people will not care about how much you know until they know how much you care. Be hospitable, spend time with them, share your life.
Out of societal respect, call them by the name they wish to be called.
As for Bible studies; one option you may wish to consider is having the transgender person study the Bible with a married couple, at least until you are able to address some of these more complex issues of sexuality.
If your church is splitting into men's and women's classes, I would suggest you allow the transgender individual to attend the class of their current identity. If this person has gone so far as to have reassignment surgery and hormone therapy, then clearly to them, they are truly this gender. While it may seem somewhat unorthodox, what real harm could be done by allowing this person to worship and learn about Jesus in the setting they chose?
You are not in a hurry. Go slowly. Give this person time and space to attend church, hear the message and build friendship with Christians. Sometimes we feel the urgency to move things along quickly, but we need to realize that sometimes the Holy Spirit moves at a different pace than what we would like.
Always show love, kindness and respect and expect that from all of your fellow brothers and sisters.
To learn more, read Brandon Redler’s story of how he became a Christian, and feel free to contact us at Strength in Weakness Ministries for ongoing support and assistance. You are not alone; we are here to help!