The Crucial Visibility of Transgender People: A Theology

The Crucial Visibility of Transgender People: A Theology October 23, 2018

Today in the United States there are those foolish enough to think they can “erase” what God has created. The Trump administration thinks it can render transgender people invisible by making laws about genitalia and defining gender as “immutable.”

This is hubris, the theological term for the kind of excessive pride that makes a person think they can know better than God. Really, Trump administration, that never works out well for those arrogant enough to try it. Consult the ancient Greeks if you don’t believe me.

Human beings, in my theological perspective, were created by God’s glorious act of effectively changing everything. In the beginning, the earth was “formless” and “a wind from God” blew and changed it all. (Genesis 1:1-3)

Creativity, change and constant renewal are the love of God as creator made manifest.

This loving God created transgender people, in my view, as a beautiful example of humanity’s possibilities.

You see? Transgender people are at the center of theological insight. They are at the center of the whole project of human rights as it has unfolded over millennia. Possibility. Change. Growth for individuals, society and governments.

No wonder conservatives in religion and in politics want to try to erase the existence of transgender people. They want control, even, it seems, over genitalia. Well, really, especially over genitalia, as a way of consolidating political power.

The Conservative Theology of Sin Over Grace

The invisibility of transgender folks is essential to the conservative desire for a fixed, hierarchical power structure in the family, in the society and in government. The opposition to reproductive choice is an aspect of this, as control of human reproduction holds enormous political power. The unstated, but very real, policy of not preventing or prosecuting sexual violence fits with this as well. Unfettered access to vulnerable bodies is an exercise of abusive power. Domestic violence completes this power structure, and I have argued that domestic abuse is the political philosophy of this administration.

Focus on the Family, a very conservative Christian lobby, reveals this whole power structure in their opposition to what they call “transgenderism,” labeling it an ideology not an existential fact. Their website argues,

God created humans male and female, and that matters. In recent years, a revisionist transgender theology has been put forth in some theological circles that violates God’s clearly articulated and intentional design for the two sexes. This distorts His image and His plan for sexuality, marriage, family and the just and proper ordering of society.

See? God is a guy (“His”!) and “He” designed the world so that heteropatriarchal marriage would be the norm. Men over women provides the model, and the other crucial components are white over people of color, rich over poor, cisgender over LGBTQ people, and, in a theological sense, sin over grace.

Sin over grace? you may ask. How does that fit in?

If you are being oppressed, abused and excluded, and your rights denied, in that conservative theology it is because you are a sinner and you deserve it. No grace for you. Children in cages? Their fault. Women beaten or raped? Their fault. And so on. In this way, violence is not only normalized, it is obscured by having sacred smoke blown at it.

Opposing this effort to render transgender people invisible is at the heart of our broader resistance to this conservative theology—a political and religious struggle to be the diverse, vibrant and growing human beings we were created to be.

Political and religious conservatives want a passive populace that fears change and doesn’t want to grow in body, mind and spirit.

The fear of change is an offense to the creative God who moved over the waters and shook stuff up.

Reject fear and rise up for full transgender equality.

Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite—Professor of Theology and President (1998-2008), Chicago Theological Seminary


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