Christianity and transgender people

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Within Christianity there are a variety of views on the issues of gender identity and transgender people. The many Christian denominations vary in their position, ranging from condemning transgender acts as sinful, to remaining divided on the issue, to seeing it as morally acceptable. Even within a denomination, individuals and groups may hold different views. Furthermore, not all members of a denomination necessarily support their church's views on transgender identities.

Abrahamic religions (those which stem from the same root as Judaism) are based on scriptures which describe God creating people as "male and female",[1][2] which is often cited in debates on this subject. Nevertheless, some denominations including the Church of England, Church of Sweden, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), and United Church of Christ have permitted ordained transgender clergy to serve in congregations and have welcomed transgender members.[3]

Christian denominations that allow transgender clergy[edit]

Cross-dressing in Christianity[edit]

The Torah contains prohibitions against men wearing women's clothing and vice versa, which is cited as an abomination in the Biblical book of Deuteronomy,[26] and as a result it was once considered taboo in Western society for women to wear clothing traditionally associated with men, except in certain circumstances such as cases of necessity (as per St. Thomas Aquinas's guidelines in the Summa Theologica).[27] Nevertheless, even in the Middle Ages this rule's applicability was occasionally disputed.[28] The Quinisext Council in the 7th century ordered students at the University of Constantinople to stop engaging in transvestitism [29]

However, there are arguments about whether Jesus abolished the Torah law about clothing.[30]

Acceptance of transgender people within mainline Protestantism[edit]

Within mainline, or more specifically liberal, Protestantism, several denominations or regional bodies within denominations have grown increasingly accepting and supportive of transgender members and rights. Usually, but not always, support for the full inclusion of transgender people, including in ordained ministry, has been accompanied by support for the broader LGBT community. In 2000, the Church of England, an Anglican church, permitted for transgender priests to continue serving as pastors.[31] In 2006, the Church of Sweden, the national Lutheran church, voted to ordain transgender priests.[3] In 2008, the United Methodist Church determined that transgender people could serve as ordained pastors within the denomination.[32] In 2009, a spokesperson for the Church in Wales, an Anglican church, announced that the church affirms transgender people.[33] In 2014, Calvary Baptist Church in DC ordained the first known and openly transgender minister within a Baptist church.[34] Calvary Baptist is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and Alliance of Baptists.[35]

Also in 2014, the Anglican church appointed an openly transgender, and lesbian, vicar as a minor canon in Manchester Cathedral.[36] In 2015, the Church of England introduced a proposal to offer naming ceremonies for transgender members.[37] The Diocese of Blackburn in the Church of England has already been using the naming rite.[38] The Secretary General of the Archbishop's Council of the Church of England William "Nye said the Church already had services for people who had been through a 'significant personal transition of one kind or another' which could be used to mark gender change."[39] Couples, where one partner is transgender and recognised as having legally transitioned, may marry in Church of England parishes. "Thus clergy in the Church of England...will not be able to prohibit the use of their church buildings for such marriages."[40] In 2017, the General Synod of the Church of England passed a motion stating, "That this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person's gender transition."[41][42]

Also in 2017, M Barclay became the first openly non-binary trans person to be commissioned as a Deacon in the United Methodist Church.[43]

Other denominations that welcome transgender members and ordain transgender people in ministry are the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA).[44]

Transgender people have also gained acceptance in some churches in Africa and Asia. In 2012, the Church of South India opened up the possibility to ordaining transgender priests.[45] In Africa, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa affirmed that transgender people could be "full members".[46]

Acceptance of transgender people in Old Catholicism[edit]

The Old Catholic Church has been affirming and welcoming of transgender members. Old Catholic and Independent Catholic churches have been accepting of the LGBT community in general.[47] In 2014, one of the first transgender priests was ordained in the Old Catholic Church.[22]

Acceptance of transgender people in Unitarianism[edit]

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), a mainline and historically Christian Non-Trinitarian denomination,[48] although no longer exclusively Christian, has been supportive of transgender people and officially welcomes transgender members and ministers.[49] In 2017, the Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly voted to create inclusive wordings for non-binary, genderqueer, gender fluid, agender, intersex, two-spirit and polygender people, replacing the words "men and women" with the word "people." Of the six sources of the living tradition, the second source of faith, as documented in the bylaws of the denomination, now includes “Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.”[50]

Christianity and sex reassignment surgery, castration and other gender-related body modification[edit]

In the Old Testament, men with damaged testicles or severed genitals are forbidden from being admitted to religious assemblies.[51]

The New Testament is more ambiguous about gender-variant identities than the Old Testament. Eunuchs (Greek eunochos, similar to Hebrew saris) are indicated as acceptable candidates for evangelism and baptism, as demonstrated in a story about the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch.[52] At one point, while answering questions about marriage and divorce, Jesus says that "there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."[53] This has sparked discussion about the significance of the selection of the Ethiopian eunuch as being the first gentile conversion to Christianity. Some argue that the inclusion of a eunuch represents a sexual minority similar to some of those who are included under today's category of transgender, in the context of the time.[54]

Modern Christian denominations vary in their views, but some are accepting. Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion with roots in liberal Christianity, and it was the first denomination to accept openly transgender people as full members with eligibility to become clergy, and the first to open an Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns.[55][56] In 1988 the first openly transgender person was ordained by the Unitarian Universalist Association.[57] In 2002 Rev. Sean Dennison became the first openly transgender person in the Unitarian Universalist ministry called to serve a congregation; he was called to South Valley UU Society, Salt Lake City, UT.[57] The United Church of Christ General Synod called for full inclusion of transgender persons in 2003.[58] In 2005 Sarah Jones became the first openly transgender person ordained by the Church of England as a priest.[59][60][61] Carol Stone was the first transgender priest, having been ordained in 1978 and transitioning in 2000, then continuing her ministry within the church as a woman.[62] In 2008, the United Methodist Church Judicial Council ruled that transgender pastor Drew Phoenix could keep his position.[63] At the UMC General Conference the same year, several petitions that would have forbidden transgender clergy and added anti-transgender language to the Book of Discipline were rejected.[64] In 2012 the Episcopal Church in the United States approved a change to their nondiscrimination canons to include gender identity and expression.[65] In 2013 Shannon Kearns became the first openly transgender person ordained by the North American Old Catholic Church. In 2014 Megan Rohrer became the first openly transgender leader of a Lutheran congregation (specifically, the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of San Francisco.) [66]

Christianity and gender identity[edit]

Most Christian denominations do not recognize gender transition. A 2000 document from the Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concludes that sex reassignment procedures do not change a person’s gender in the eyes of the Church. “The key point,” said the reported document, “is that the transsexual surgical operation is so superficial and external that it does not change the personality. If the person was a male, he remains male. If she was female, she remains female.” The document also concludes that a “sex-change” operation could be morally acceptable in certain extreme cases, but that in all cases transgender people cannot validly marry.[67] Pope Benedict XVI has denounced gender theory, warning that it blurs the distinction between male and female and could thus lead to the "self-destruction" of the human race.[68] He warned against alteration of the term "gender": "What is often expressed and understood by the term 'gender,' is definitively resolved in the self-emancipation of the human being from creation and the Creator," he warned. "Man wants to create himself, and to decide always and exclusively on his own about what concerns him." The Pontiff said this is humanity living "against truth, against the creating Spirit."[69]

In 2006 Albert Mohler, then president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said "Only God has the right to determine gender", adding, "any attempt to alter that creation is an act of rebellion against God." [70][71] He also stated, "Christians are obligated to find our definitions … in the Bible. What the activists want to call 'sex-reassignment surgery' must be seen as a form of bodily mutilation rather than gender correction. The chromosomes will continue to tell the story...Gender is not under our control after all. When a nation's moral rebellion comes down to this level of confusion, we are already in big trouble. A society that can't distinguish between men and women is not likely to find moral clarity in any other area of life." [71] In 2014, the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution at its annual meeting stating that "God's design was the creation of two distinct and complementary sexes, male and female" and that "gender identity is determined by biological sex, not by one's self-perception.” [72] Furthermore, the resolution opposes hormone therapy, transition-related procedures, and anything else that would “alter one’s bodily identity," as well as opposing government efforts to “validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy." [72] Instead, the resolution asks transgender people to "trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the Gospel."[72]

On August 29, 2017, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a manifesto on human sexuality known as the "Nashville Statement". The statement was signed by 150 evangelical leaders, and includes 14 points of belief.[73]

Christianity and transgender godparents[edit]

In 2015, the Vatican declared that transgender Catholics cannot become godparents, stating in response to a transgender man's query that transgender status "reveals in a public way an attitude opposite to the moral imperative of solving the problem of sexual identity according to the truth of one's own sexuality" and that, "[t]herefore it is evident that this person does not possess the requirement of leading a life according to the faith and in the position of godfather and is therefore unable to be admitted to the position of godfather or godmother."[74]

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