(Sermon for June 7, 2020)
But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 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, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Galations 3:25-29
This time last year, I was in Kansas City working my former church’s booth at Kansas City’s annual LGBTQ Pride Festival. I haven’t missed a Pride festival or Parade since I was a senior in high school, and I have to say that going through the month of June without spending at least a little time in a flurry of rainbows and glitter and fabulous people is very strange.
Here we are, in the middle of a pandemic that has all large public gatherings closed for the time being. So when I started thinking about what I wanted to preach about this month, I settled on a four week sermon series in honor of Pride that I’m calling “All Means All: Calling Progressive Churches to be Intentionally Open and Affirming.”
Over the next four weeks, we will be talking about groups of people that are accepted into Progressive, Open and Affirming Churches but usually without the congregation being intentionally aware about what might need to be changed in the church to make it truly accessible for them.
What God is calling us to do here is to move beyond welcoming people to join us in our space, with our norms, and our way of doing things to investigating what we can do to make our space more intentionally inclusive.
Over the next few weeks, we will be having this conversation with the understanding that 1) we are already doing the best we can with the knowledge that we have and 2) that being an ally to someone means being constantly willing to learn more about their challenges and how we can participate in their fight for equity.
I have a few ideas on how we can do this:
First—I believe we need to be open to learning about people who are living different experiences than we are. What issues affect them in their daily lives and when they are out in the community? What makes a space welcoming for them and what doesn’t?
Second—we need to be willing to look at the ways that we as a church can makes changes to address these issues. What ways can we become more intentionally inclusive of all?
And third—we can learn how to advocate for these groups out in the community. In what ways can we be active in the social justice movements that are helping to create space in our communities for these folks?
These ideas can be applied to any number of minority groups, but over the next four weeks we will be addressing how to be more intentional about making space for folks who have a disability or chronic illness, folks who are living with a mental illness, and folks who are living in poverty.
This morning, we are talking about becoming more aware of how to truly welcome the T in LGBTQ—transgender and gender non-conforming persons.
Let’s start with a mini-history lesson about First Christian Church’s ONA process. The conversation started back in 1996, after 2 church members attended a Disciples of Christ general assembly and learned about the importance of discussing whether the church should be open and affirming of gay and lesbian people. After 8 years of discussion and education the majority of this congregation voted to become ONA.
First Christian Church should be proud of itself for starting the ONA conversation back in the 1990s before most churches had even begun thinking about welcoming the LGBTQ community into their congregations. I have seen first-hand how becoming ONA has shaped this church—today we have many members who identify as gay or lesbian or bisexual, and you called an openly lesbian minister! The outreach that is being done by this community on behalf of the LGBTQ community is wonderful, and one of the reasons I was so excited to come to this church.
We have decided as a congregation that we fully welcome and include the LGBTQ community in all aspects of our church, but this doesn’t mean that we are fully there yet. Andy Lang, Executive Director of the Open and Affirming Coalition in the UCC wrote in an article last year that “At least 60% of Open and Affirming churches cannot offer “a confident and well-informed welcome” to their transgender neighbors, according to a recent survey by the ONA Coalition.”
This morning I am calling us into the next step in our Open and Affirming process. We are a church that would lovingly welcome a transgender person into our congregation, but what are things that we need to know to help us become even better allies to the transgender and gender non-conforming community?
One of the most important things we need to know is how to use the right vocabulary when we are referring to the transgender community. So, here are a few words we should know with definitions from Austen Hartke’s book Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians.
Let’s start with Gender Identity– Every person on earth has one, this is your internal sense of being male, female, both, or neither. A transgender person is someone whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender or Trans for short is a sort of umbrella word that covers many different identities including people who are gender non-conforming and people who are non-binary.
Someone who is gender non-conforming dresses or acts in a way that is not typical of their assigned sex—for example, the actor Billy Porter identifies as male but often wears beautiful gowns to award shows.
Someone who is non-binary is a person who doesn’t identify as a man or a woman but as someone either in-between male and female, or maybe as a gender that feels completely different from our understanding of male and female. A good example of this is Johnathan Van Ness from the Netflix show Queer Eye, who identifies as non-binary and prefers to use they/them as their pronouns. If you haven’t seen them before, they have a full beard but also often wears dresses and skirts.
I also want to note that all of these words are connected to someone’s gender which is different from someone’s sexual orientation—Sexual Orientation is about who you are attracted to and gender identity is about what gender you are. Make sense?
Beyond just knowing the right words to use when talking about gender and gender identity, we can pay attention to the issues that trans people deal with on a daily basis and make sure they don’t have to deal with them when they come into our building…you know, when we are all able to go back into our building.
For example, we can be aware of the importance of using the right name and pronouns when we refer to transgender people. The best way to do this is to listen to what the person says their name is and their pronouns are, and then use them. Using he and she is a pretty easy adjustment for most of us, but it can be a lot harder for people to feel comfortable using gender neutral pronouns for a gender non-conforming or non-binary person.
According to Jill Johnson in her article, Christians and Gender Neutral Pronouns, “If you don’t know what gender neutral pronouns are, or if you don’t know anyone who goes by such pronouns, you are not alone. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, only one-in-five Americans say they personally know someone who goes by a pronoun other than “he” or “she.” So, it’s no wonder a lot of people aren’t used to referring to one person as they or them.
For a lot of transgender, gender non-conforming or non-binary people their self-esteem and their feeling of personal safety is often connected to whether people use the correct name and pronoun when they reference them. So, if you have never used gender neutral pronouns to refer to someone before and you want to practice, I invite you to practice on me. My pronouns are she and her, but if you would like to refer to me as they/them in order to get more comfortable with using those pronouns, I am more than willing to let you do that.
There are other ways we can be better at normalizing using the correct pronouns for folks! If you have read an email from me, you may have noticed that under my name I always include that my pronouns are she/her/hers. I also write my pronouns on my name tag when I am at events—these two simple things are a great way to be a good ally to transgender people. I do this because it helps to make it common to talk about what pronouns we use and create a safer environment for someone who is transgender or gender non-conforming to share what their pronouns are with us.
Another way we can make our building and church safer for transgender folks is to be visible as transgender allies. We can put on our website and social media that we stand with the trans community and that trans people are welcome in our church. We can observe the Transgender Day of Visibility which celebrates the trans community and the Transgender Day of Remembrance which pays tribute to the memory of trans people who have been murdered in hate crimes in the past year.
We also can be clear with visitors that our bathrooms are friendly for transgender people. We can put up signs that welcome people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as, and we can direct people who don’t feel comfortable in a multi-person bathroom to our single stall bathroom.
Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson puts it this way:
“Justice demands, as does God, a special emphasis on care, compassion, and advocacy for the poor, the marginalized, and the most vulnerable. People of faith are called upon to work for justice—as human beings and as members of society—for those who are forgotten, scorned, and mistreated by the systems of society…
Similar to other marginalized communities, transgender people are often perceived as being other. And all too often the other is demonized as being less than human and therefore deserving of scorn, mistreatment, and violence.
Judaism and Christianity teach that this is precisely where their adherents are called to be: right in the middle of standing with and for the oppressed. As transgender people become more visible in American communities and congregations and make their way into our hearts, they need advocates within religious communities. As they begin to share publicly more of their lives and stories, transgender people deserve the support of allies, gay and straight, in order for their voices to be more readily heard. And in places where their voices are not yet heard or welcome, allies need to speak on their behalf. Justice demands no less.”
It is up to us as Progressive Christians to advocate for and stand with transgender people in our community. This is a sacred calling and an important part of being the hands and feet of God in the world.