here are two words practically guaranteed to start a lively debate among any group of people: Caitlyn Jenner. Within moments of uttering that name, any hope of finding a middle ground disappears.
Caitlyn began life as a boy named Bruce Jenner, who grew up to gain fame as an outstanding athlete and win the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. But in April 2015 on the 20/20 television show with Diane Sawyer, Jenner said he was a transgender woman, and “for all intents and purposes, I’m a woman.”
Jenner’s comments ignited an intense public controversy about a topic that had rarely been discussed: What does being a transgender person mean, and how does it impact society?
Then in 2016, the North Carolina Legislature passed a law reaffirming there must be separate public restrooms for males and females, according to the gender shown on one’s birth certificate. Following a backlash, the law was overturned in March 2017, allowing a transgendered person to use the bathroom of their choice.
What Does Transgender Mean?
The answer is not necessarily an easy one. The term generally refers to people whose gender identity (the person’s internal sense of being male or female) differs from the sex determined at their birth by physical characteristics. In 2017, the American Psychiatric Association reclassified gender identity disorder (GID) as gender dysphoria─“the anxiety and distress a person feels over not being his or her desired sex.”
The number of people in America who self-identify as transgender is difficult to determine. Neither the Census Bureau nor the Center for Disease Control asks citizens if they are transgender. Currently, based on several independent reports, the best estimate is that somewhere between 0.3% (700,000 people) and 0.6% (1.4 million) of the population consider themselves transgender.
Despite the relatively small percentage, the issues faced by transgenders have a large impact on American society. Here are findings from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality:
- 40% of respondents have attempted suicide in their lifetime; 39% experienced serious psychological distress during the month before completing the survey.
- One in 10 respondents reported that a family member was violent toward them because they were transgender; 8% had been kicked out of their house.
- 30% said they had been fired, denied a promotion, or experienced some form of mistreatment in the workplace in the year before the survey.
- Almost a third (29%) were living in poverty, compared to 14% of the general population. Only 16% owned a home, compared to 63% of the overall population.
- 19% who had ever been part of a spiritual or religious community had left due to rejection.
- Nearly one-third (31%) experienced at least one type of mistreatment in the past year in a place of public accommodation (such as retail stores, hotel, and government offices).
Transgender organizations are advocating to improve their lives in areas including family issues, employment, mistreatment, and poverty. There is a noticeable cultural shift occurring in America, and federal and state governments and courts are passing laws and making legal judgments to begin addressing these concerns.
How Should Christians Respond?
How should the church respond to transgenders? We must not stand on the sidelines with angry frowns and condemning stares. Instead, we must affirm out commitment to Scriptural positions while maintaining the message of God’s love for all people.
The Church of God stands firmly against immorality, and has made its position clear regarding the transgender issue. At the 2016 General Assembly, denominational leaders issued the following resolution:
WHEREAS, the Bible in Genesis 5:2 and Matthew 19:4 states that from the beginning God has made people as men and women, and nowhere in Scripture is it suggested that individuals may self-identify as the gender they wish to be, rather than the biological sex to which they were born; and
WHEREAS, the Church of God has upheld from its beginning the recognition that biological differences establish the uniqueness of men and women—an apperception that has been acknowledged throughout history; and
WHEREAS, the Church of God states in its Book of Church Order and Governance (Minutes 2014), when God created man, He created them male and female (Genesis 1:27). He gave them distinctly different characteristics (1 Corinthians 11:14, 15; 1 Peter 3:7) as well as different responsibilities (Genesis 3:16-17; 1 Peter 3:7).
WHEREAS, the act of giving access to restrooms and related facilities to persons of the opposite sex creates settings in which violations of privacy and safety may occur;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that churches and church-owned facilities or properties and Church of God educational institutions used by the Church of God for the fulfillment of all religious purposes maintain sex-differentiated restrooms, locker rooms, and related facilities for the exclusive use of men and women, ascertained solely by biological sex and by the gender identified on the birth certificate (with appropriate exceptions for those who must assist handicapped persons of the opposite sex, in which case the gender of the helping adult will determine which facility is used); and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that clergy and laity in Church of God congregations recognize the reality of gender confusion as an issue that should be treated compassionately and professionally, and that care be taken to offer or seek competent counsel for those who experience such confusion; and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the church accept anew its responsibility as a commitment to Christian discipleship to teach God’s creation design of male and female.
If transgender people walk into the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, should church members respond? We should greet them with love and compassion, accepting them as people who need God’s grace and salvation. Regardless of the sin someone may be involved in, there is only one solution─forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
In John 4, we see how Jesus handled an encounter with a Samaritan woman whose life was one that most people would have condemned. Jesus revealed that she had been married five times, and the man with whom she was now living was not her husband. However, He did not demean or chastise her for her sinful lifestyle. Instead, He calmly explained that she was in the presence of the source of “living water,” and offered to freely give it to her.
In John 8, a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought to Jesus. Again, Jesus showed compassion on her. When all of her accusers left, Jesus told her, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11 NIV). He did not ignore the sin, but He did not add to her humiliation or refuse to love her.
In an interview in Enrichment Journal, Rick Cole, senior pastor at Central Christian Center in Sacramento, California, said about ministering to lesbian, gay, and transgender people: “We don’t seem to have the same emotional response to those who have been divorced, who are involved in heterosexual promiscuity, who are filled with pride, who are fraudulent and filled with lies, who misuse alcohol or drugs, or who are filled with anger and lack self-control. We offer them hope and the opportunity to receive grace. We welcome them into our houses of worship with open arms.”
In addition to transgender individuals, the church needs to be aware and supportive of their families. They must not be made to feel shut out by believers, but must be reassured of their value to the body of Christ and the availability of the support and love of their church family.
The house of God is a sanctuary for all. Transgender people are dealing with many internal issues and confusion, as well as the social rejection and condemnation that affect every aspect of their daily lives─from trying to make a living to dealing with family pressures. Let us extend the love, compassion, and hope that Christians should embody and demonstrate.