Well, this post was originally meant to serve as my concluding thoughts on gender in Pentecostal/Charismatic communities. Admittedly, this post would have been clearer after talking through the upcoming gender posts, especially gender fluidity; nevertheless, I have moved it here due to recent decisions and continued societal uproar, both in favor and in opposition. Needless to say, though I do need to say it (!), I will not cover the discussion fully here.
Two important points are required before our discussion. First, some Christians will read this post and immediately be outraged, not so much for what I say, but for the simple fact that I’m saying anything other than, “transgender identity is wrong, period.” To be upfront, I will not be making that statement.
Second, and relatedly, Christians tend to want to use definitive and reductive language. In other words, without knowing background information, Christians often feel confident in saying, for example, that Hobby Lobby is 100% good and abortion is 100% bad. One of our goals with this blog is to hopefully show that there are rarely “black or white” answers to things. Yes, Christians should uphold moral principles and yes, Pentecostals should allow the Spirit to lead. However, when all the factors are considered, we find that things are much more complicated than we initially think.
Many Christians have felt attacked by the “liberal agenda” that is fighting to destroy marriages and family values through things like gay marriage and transgender rights. I’ve seen countless comments on Facebook from friends and family members who bluntly state, “I don’t care if this is controversial, but you’re either a boy or a girl.” That comment raises an important first question for us: is that even true?
BuzzFeed did a story recently about California moving toward including a Third Gender on their driver’s licenses, which D.C. has already done. On hearing this, I’d guess many Christians would be outraged and immediately share it through social media. But there is, of course, a story associated with the article and it explains that Keenan found out at age 49 that she was intersex: “in her words, born with male genes, female genitalia, and mixed internal reproduction organs.” According to the Intersex Society of North America, between one in 1,500 and one in 2,000 births require a sex differentiation specialist to determine the sex of the baby. Furthermore, based on the research, one in 100 births produce a person whose body differs from standard male and female categories.
Now, transgender identity and intersex are clearly not the same; yet, by exploring gender identity in this way, we see that the claim that there are two fundamental gender identities that fit everyone is simply false.
My second question is related to current events: why is allowing transgender people in the military bad?
I have two thoughts. First, many Christians appear to conflate Christian values with national values and, therefore, with the military. Our service people quite literally give their lives for us as citizens daily. They sacrifice time with family during deployment and selflessly give in many ways that will never be seen.
The vast majority of service people are well deserving of all the accolades bestowed upon them; nonetheless, there are issues. For example, in 2013 PBS FRONTLINE did a story titled, “Why the Military has a Sexual Assault Problem.” In other words, the male-female binary (or strict categories) is not immune to significant problems.
If Christians want to claim that transgender people should not be allowed to honorably serve their country due to a “Christian value,” as they specifically define it, then Christians will also have to consider if anyone is able to ascend to the necessary spiritual height to serve. Also, let’s just ignore the fact that in a country where we rightfully praise our military members, that banning transgender people from serving means thousands of people will lose their job.
Second, Trump stated the reason for keeping transgender people out of the military by saying, “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Trump’s basic argument is that the military budget won’t allow for such frivolous spending. That’s right, the U.S. military budget, which dwarfs all others, the budget Trump wants to expand, that already includes an F-35 Joint Striker jet program that has an estimated cost of $400 billion (enough to house every homeless person with a $600,000 home), cannot possibly afford the extensive medical costs transgender people will inevitably accrue, not to mention the unforeseen “disruption” that follows. When making sweeping claims, it is best to generalize and exaggerate for effect.
The cultural discourse on transgender identity is growing. If it’s not about bathrooms, it’s about schools––the article linked is out of Knoxville, TN, where students are simply asking to be treated like everyone else. In other words, not like something is fundamentally wrong with them or that they are somehow inherently “bad.”
When Christians unsympathetically state that any transgender consideration is ridiculous and simply wrong, it communicates to that segment of the population––that is, our neighbors, family members, friends, etc.––that they are unwelcome overall and especially in the Christian faith. That constant rejection by society, often being referred to as monsters, wears on transgender people, causing them to have a suicide attempt rate of 32-50%.
That leads me to my third and final question: how should Pentecostals approach this topic?
There are certainly many reasonable responses; however, I do think some better adhere to our values. For starters, our general posture toward the topic should change. Transgender people aren’t a threat to any Christian moral values that Jesus taught. They are, instead, our dear friends, neighbors, and family members (perhaps even ourselves).
We can take it a step further; we can defend their cause. It is important for us to remember those Jesus wanted to defend and include the most––those most marginalized.
It’s interesting because Pentecostals are often upset at people who rudely mock the exuberance associated with Pentecostal worship. We dislike when people point at us and explain how we are the problem with society. In short, we dislike being judged and claim that being judgmental is antithetical to our faith.
Yet, we enthusiastically join with fellow Christians to reduce, mock, and point at transgender people, calling them the problem with society. We’d be wise to reconsider our words and faith in light of Jesus’ life and teachings.
Up next in the series: “The Women’s March” (except really this time)
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.