We’re approaching Epiphany. Whether you observe this twelfth day of Christmas on January 5 or January 6, it’s a day for remembering those who came to see the Christ child and recognized him as a king, despite the outward signs of humble birth.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:1-2, 10-11, NRSV

Tradition tells us there were three wise men, but scripture only tells us there were more than one, and that there were three gifts: gold, denoting Jesus’ kingship; frankincense, identifying him as a priest; and myrrh, prefiguring his death.

I’m thinking about this story of seeing the truth in someone despite outward appearances – as I also think of something that happened earlier this week:

On December 28, 2014, a young person made the decision to end their life. The person’s parents wrote about the death of their son, but the young person identified herself as female in her suicide note.

While I won’t discuss methods here, I do want to address what led up to this death.

At fourteen years of age, this young person discovered a name for what she was going through – what she had known about herself since the age of four. Leelah, as she named herself, recognized she was transgender. At sixteen, she learned she would not be allowed by her parents to transition to living out her identity; instead, she would have to remain living as a male, at least until she reached the age of eighteen.

Unable to bear that future, Leelah ended her life and, in her letter, asked those of us who live on to “fix society.”

It may be difficult to understand what it’s like to be transgender, and even more difficult to understand why she wasn’t willing to wait a couple of years.

Those of us who are transgender often know very early in our lives that something is different. We may realize what our gender identity is, and that it’s at odds with how others identify us. We may have any number of ideas about what’s going on: at one point in my life, I wondered whether this was some sort of social experiment to raise me as a boy even though I was a girl. But eventually we learn that we are not alone in this, and that it’s natural – not common, but natural – for us to identify differently from the way others – including our families – identify us.

Once we realize there is a way to resolve this issue – and that we don’t have to live the rest of our lives in denial of who we know we are, but can live as our authentic selves – any attempt to force ourselves back into hiding is very painful. What is also painful is when those closest to us – those we most love and trust – betray us by denying our identities.

By this I don’t mean to put the blame on one set of parents – as Leelah correctly identified, this is a problem with society as a whole. We can’t convince every parent to accept their transgender children. But we can help to fix society, and we ought to start by fixing the church, as that’s where many people are taught that being transgender is a sin.

How do we fix the church? We can recognize the truth of transgender people: just as gifted, loving, holy, and blessed as the rest of us. We can bring our finest gifts to transgender people: not mere welcome, but affirmation; not mere acceptance, but a place in the life and leadership of the church; not mere acknowledgment, but solidarity in word and deed, in private and in the public square. This includes standing for transgender rights in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Meanwhile, we can reject the lies about transgender people – that being transgender is a mental illness (the American Psychological Association says it’s not), that transgender people are predatory (we’re more likely to be preyed upon), that transgender people seek to deceive others (we seek instead to bring our true selves to light).

I can’t promise that this work will mean no young person will ever end their life again. But I can promise that loving transgender people as they are, affirming their lives – including them at every level of church and society, and standing in solidarity with them – will go a long way toward creating hope for a future. In doing so, we will help to bring to reality the realm of God.

What gifts will you bring?


If you are considering self harm, please ask for help.

In the USA:

11 thoughts on “The Pastoral Is Political – Our Finest Gifts: Affirmation, Inclusion, and Solidarity for Transgender People

  1. A powerful piece.
    I’m sorry for all the pain in it. For the death of a young person. For the pain in that family, for what is now even harder to heal. For so much pain, struggle, grief….in the quest for identity, self-hood, to be accepted as we are, to be able to express our sexual identity without so much struggle. The pain of being born follows us through life. Giving birth to ourselves can be much longer and harder than it was the first time, in the labour and delivery room.

    What gifts do I bring? Being part of a denomination- The United Church of Canada, which has an openness to ordination and marriage for any one, and has since 1988. My own struggle with sexualiry and wholeness. The wonder of being loved, both by God and my spouse. Knowing that every person is made in the image of God….Issuing an invitation and welcome from the pulpit on Sunday “no matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, there us a place here for you.”. The willingness to ‘show up’, in places where light and life are needed, to let Gods healing flow through us…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Karen.

      For those who have been explicitly excluded, it can be important to hear those words of explicit inclusion. Thank you for being that voice of welcome and inclusion.

      Like

      1. You’re welcome. It can be so hard to put into words something like “a love which will never let you go…” You and I know that the voice of welcome and inclusion isn’t mine – – it is the One voice above all the noise we humans can make,

        We have two banners at the front of our chancel. One reads “God Loves You.” the other “God loves through you.” They are often part of the words said in benediction – sending out. “Remember that God loves you. Remember that God loves through you. Now go into the world with this daring and tender love……” This season of the year reminds us that God was made flesh in Jesus and God is enfleshed in us, when we show up in all the places and ways God shows up.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. My internship supervisor used to say that our job is “to love people with God’s love”…and that it’s often easier to do when we don’t like people *too* much–because if we do, we are in danger of believing our own love is enough, and we forget to be a conduit of God’s love. Even all these years later, I still remember that often…

            Liked by 1 person

  2. for me I am a transgender female. Went to a UCC Seminary, went through the member in discernment process. My Seminary was very accommodating. My association tried somewhat. But to give them the benefit of the doubt, they never had a transgender member in discernment before.

    My issues were the way the UCC remain resolved in their “processes” of ordination which is very easy for straight people. Very hard for transgender people. You know how hard it is to get a CPE unit in a hospital as a transgender person? Next to nill.

    However, my issues came with trying to find a calling. The UCC, on a national level, is very pro transgender (except for healthcare…which just changed for the better this year) but the local UCC level churches are abysmal.

    Did you know the odds of a male to female transgender like myself of finding a calling is less than 1%? You see, the UCC local churches (for the most part) doesn’t mind having transgender members. They do mind having a Transgender Pastor.

    So for me, it’s hard me to really accept the concept that the UCC church is really pro transgender. The ultimate test in equality is whether or not you will ordain one of us. Right now there are dozens of transgender people seeking out a calling in a church and we are lucky to even get a call back. So for many of us we feel that the UCC cannot really say they are supportive if they wont even ordain one of our own.

    We know the UCC is congregational but for us we still are rejected. We know the National level cannot control what the local churches say or do but we are still rejected.

    I have a Masters of Divinity and I am writing this message to you in call center because the UCC really isn’t as Affirming as they say they are.

    Yes, there are churches who will welcome transgender people.

    But the real test of faith is: will you ordain us? So far it’s roughly 99% “no.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Annah, I have to admit my experience is very similar to yours. Congregations – even those in progressive denominations – still have a lot of growing to do. When “we won’t call a transgender person as pastor” or “we can’t have a transgender person in leadership,” we teach the entire congregation that trans is less-than. This is true even when we prefer a cisgender person over a transgender person: when we don’t treat people equally, our actions speak more loudly than any ONA covenant can.

      And when we teach the congregation to differentiate between transgender people and cisgender people, we support – even if implicitly – devaluing lives of people who are transgender. It may lead to parents who are dismissive of trans identities, bullies who prey upon trans persons, and to trans people who doubt their worth and place in church and society.

      While I share in your frustration in the search process, I am hopeful that people like you and me can continue to help people see that transgender lives are just as valuable as cisgender lives. It might have been easier to be woodworked/closeted/stealth, but we are helping to change the conversation by being out.

      Blessings to you, and may you soon find the church to which God is truly calling you.

      Like

    2. I totally understand that those of us that are “other than” have challenges in seeking a call. I am curious of how you arrive at your 1% figure. Is it that 1% of UCC churches have a transgender person in leadership? Or is it that 1% of the UCC congregations have made a statement that they would be willing to ordain a transgender person? Or is there some other way that you arrived at your number?

      Like

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