Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Will They Be Numbered Among the Goats?

I am terribly frustrated by the furor of the Christianist right wing over basic human rights for transsexual and transgender people, and people who don't fit into gender stereotypes. For example, Louis P. Sheldon of the "Traditional Values" Coalition derisively refers to the "gender-identity" inclusive version of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 2015) as The Barney Frank She-Male Shower Bill.

For a long time, I have questioned the genuineness of the Christianity of people like Lou Sheldon, Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, and http://www.godhatesfags.com/ ) Tony Perkins (Family Research Council), James C. Dobson (Focus on the Family), and Beverly LaHaye (Concerned Women For America). I call them "Christianists" because theirs is a false Christianity built on a message of hatred for strangers and children; they pervert the Good News and make a mockery of religion in their quest to wrap their prejudice in the American Flag while lifting high the Cross upon which they have crucified me, and people like me.

They are all so consumed with an anti-Christian, anti-family, anti-transgender, anti-gay malevolence, that I fear for their souls.

Quite frankly, if they ever bothered to actually read the Bibles they thump so enthusiastically, they would know that God loves people like me who are strangers in the midst of a fearful cissexist heteronormative society.

The following is a homily I gave for the Remembering Our Dead services in 2005. It is as relevant today as it was then.

We have gathered together this afternoon for this Day of Remembrance to remember the silent victims of anti-transgender violence, many of whom each year are deprived of justice in addition to being deprived of their lives. Those who seek to murder us often wish to deny our existence, want to erase us, and want to see those of us who remain be relegated to the shadows and out of the clear light of day.

Before we take a look at the meaning of today’s readings, I think we should take a look at a couple of biblical verses that are often taken out of context by some who claim to be Christian, as a reason to vilify those who are transgender or gender variant.

Many of these "Christianists" will point to a single quote from Deuteronomy to demonstrate that transgendered people are an abomination hated by God, (Deut. 22:5): The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.

This is the same chapter that required the Hebrew people to wear clothing with fringes, and prohibited the wearing of cloth with mixed threads, such as cotton-polyester blends. It also required those who build houses to put battlements on the roofs.

Somehow, when it comes to those other things, the good Christianist would be quick to point out Acts Chapter 15, in which it was made clear that one need not follow the whole of the Jewish law to be Christian, need not be circumcised, but only (v. 28-29) "no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well." Certainly, if crossdressing was such a horrible thing, it would have been included in the short list of Jewish law applicable to Gentile Christians. It wasn’t.

But let’s look a little more carefully at the Deuteronomy quote. Rabbinical scholars have debated the meaning of this verse for centuries, and while there are differences of opinion among these authorities, the historical context, and the ascription of "abomination" seems to make it clear that this verse was intended to forbid the Hebrews from engaging in the religious practices of the Canaanites, whose worship of the goddess Astarte, believed by her worshippers to be the goddess of sexuality, passion, creativity, and of the fertility of women and nature, involved transgendered priestesses and for whom sex was a sacrament.

Even the allegorical history of the Book of Genesis makes it clear that Yahweh did not approve of the sacrifice of Cain the farmer, but gave his favor to the sacrifice of the lamb of Abel, the shepherd. The Canaanites were farmers, the Hebrews were shepherds – and goddess-centered agricultural and fertility faiths were seen as the competition for the god-centered animal-sacrificing Hebrews.

We can also look at that Deuteronomy verse by asking the question, "who is a man" and "who is a woman?" Intersexed, Transgendered and gender variant people represent the natural diversity of the human condition, and not all of us can easily be placed in the either/or boxes of the binary gender system, in which one must be either a man or a woman.

And that brings us to the second verse that is used to negate the existence of transgender and gender variant people.

Those Christianists will often point out Genesis 1:27 as indicating that humans were created to be only two genders, male or female. But a careful look at that verse seems to indicate that humans were created in the image and likeness of God as "male and female" and not "male or female." In one sense, each one of us is "male and female." That is acknowledged in other spiritual and philosophical traditions as well.

For example, have you ever taken a close look at one of those Taoist Yin-Yang symbols? The half of light has a little bit of dark in it, and the half of dark has a little bit of light in it. In the philosophical psychology of Carl Jung, men have an animus, with a touch of an anima, while women have an anima with a touch of animus.

If we look at the readings chosen for today’s service, we can surely see the conflict between the traditional Christianist understanding of Deuteronomy 22:5 and the image of the Loving God who includes among the People of God those who are eunuchs and strangers, as shown in our first reading from the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 56:1-7).

And as to those who will point out the binary division of gender as God-given and God-willed, what could be a better answer than the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 19:12, in which Jesus lets us know that He is aware that there are several different sorts of "eunuchs."

There are those who are born different – those, for example, include both those who are intersexed and who have a visible genital anomaly at birth, and those who are transsexual, whose brains are formed differently from an erroneous genital-based sex assignment. There are those who are made different by men – and that includes those who seek surgical correction of the conflict between body and soul that the psychiatric community calls gender dysphoria.

And then there are those whom Jesus says are "eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven." The Magisterium of the Catholic Church would have us believe that this is a call to priestly celibacy, but it is more clearly a direct reference to Isaiah 56, in which those eunuchs who choose faith in the Lord will have "an everlasting name which will not be cut off."

In our last reading today from the book of Acts of the Apostles, the message of both Isaiah 56 and Matthew 19:12 is reinforced, as Philip the Apostle encounters an Ethiopian eunuch, who just happens to be reading the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, just a couple of chapters before our reading – the quote from Isaiah in the reading is from Chapter 53 verse 7.

It’s pretty clear that in the course of their discussion, Philip and the eunuch got around to Chapter 56 with its accepting message – and that this is what prompted the eunuch a bit later to ask Philip for baptism.

The three readings today are not merely verses taken out of context, as the quotes often used by the Christianists, they are the authentic message of the love that God has for all, even eunuchs, even strangers.

And then, what is the message to those who hate us, those who kill us, those who want to eradicate us?

Let’s look first at the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. When he was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the current Pope (the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) dismissively cited the story of Sodom and Gommorrah as follows "Thus, in Genesis 19:1-11, the deterioration due to sin continues in the story of the men of Sodom. There can be no doubt of the moral judgement made there against homosexual relations."*
*LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE PASTORAL CARE OF HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS – Homosexualitatis problema (Epistula de pastorali personarum homosexualium cura), October 1st, 1986, §6, paragraph 2
Apparently, the Pope has not read the story of Sodom as written in the Book of Genesis. It is a story that involves the suspicious and inhospitable inhabitants of the City of Sodom, who did not approve of strangers from outside the city who were visiting Abraham’s brother Lot.

They wanted to communicate their lack of hospitality for Lot’s visitors, by gang-raping them and then throwing them out of town. It was the ancient equivalent of tarring, feathering and riding out of town on a rail.

The idea of the gang rape of the visitors, was a very macho sort of thing – to show the visitors that the men of Sodom were "real men" and the visitors were "less than women."

This sort of misogynistic attitude, this mistrust of people who are different, or who are strangers in our midst, is not a characteristic of gay people, who are often slurred when they are called "sodomites."

What the Pope and the Christianists refuse to understand, is that the punishment of Sodom was meted out to those who do not accept strangers, and who hate people be-cause they are different. The real "sodomites" are the people who have a rabid hatred of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, because we are different, because we are strangers, because we are eunuchs.

But God loves us.

There is a further message in the Gospel for those who preach bigotry and hate, and who want to deny human dignity and fair treatment to those of us who are different because we are LGBT.
The message of Mathew Chapter 25:31-46 is a warning to the intolerant.

When the time comes for Judgment, they will be found wanting.

Whatsoever they have done to the least of God’s children, they do to God.

Those who insult and hate us, and shoot us in the back of the head, or bludgeon and stab us until we are unrecognizable and dump our bodies in a shallow grave, are not the only ones who will number among the goats.

Those whose intolerance in the name of Christ leads them to deny to the members of the LGBT community basic human rights and dignity will fare just as poorly on the Day of Judgment. Like the men of Sodom, their inhospitable and suspicious bigotry is an affront to God as well as to those who are the victims of their persecution.

These same Christianists, the real sodomites, also often wrap themselves up in the flag and claim that their concept of Christianity is also patriotic and American. The nation that supposedly guarantees its inhabitants the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, has a history of treating people with injustice. The treatment of slaves, of women, and of LGBT people, has all the same earmarks. You will know them by their works.

My prayer for them is this: May God forgive them, if they know not what they do. But they do know what they do, and they believe they are justified, and that is so much sadder, because they are more likely to die unrepentant. And so I pray for them, that they may become open to the knowledge and understanding they need, the strength and courage to change their ways and see the truth, and, inspired by Holy Wisdom, that they no longer be so hard of heart, and that they know peace and love.


  1. i found this post when googling for trans interpretations of matthew 19:12. i came upon this verse by chance in personal bible study and i thank you so much for your interpretation of it. God is Love- i love your usage of "christianist" for those who choose to use the word of God for hatred and bigotry rather than the infinite love that He(It, really) represents.

  2. What you have written makes sense. I have a small quibble with one item (which does not diminish your meaning in my opinion).

    Reducing the tale of Cain and Abel to that of hunter v. farmer is problematic in that Jacob and Esau are the opposite. Jacob is depicted as a farmer and Esau as a hunter (Genesis 25). The farmer, using subterfuge, is both the favored and the winner.

    Your depiction of the tale of Lot in Sodom is much closer to the Jewish perspective than that of the Christian perspective. In Judaism, we believe that the lack of hospitality is set as a contrast to the hospitality shown earlier by Abraham to the same men (or angels if you prefer). The law of hospitality was powerful in ancient times. The christianist shift from a failure to offer hospitality to homosexuality, while ignoring the 'offer' to rape the guests, is bizarre from a Jewish perspective.

    You write quite well. I will slowly be enjoying reading more.

  3. I think Deuteronomy 22:5 and 1 Corinthians 11 both prohibit crossdressing for Christians today. I say that as both a pastor and a past crossdresser.