It’s often still surprising to learn of a church that is open to and affirming of the gay and lesbian community, and even more one that has any significantly developed theological stance regarding trans folk. Transgenderism continues to pose big time conundrums for our churches as they try to grapple with and develop theologies that can respond to – whether negetively or positively – these little gender-bending lambs.
It feels good to think we might be on the right side of history when all things are considered down the road. I feel as an ordained member of the United Church of Canada (UCC), I can and will be proud to have been on the right side of history in responding to the challenges of transgenderism early on. Proud, and yet, I know it will be a long road to get to fully inclusive church communities. Despite the fact that our discussions around sexual orientation, ministry and Christian faith started in the mid-80’s and we took some pretty radical stances to stand with the LGBT communities in 1988, what happens at the national level does not always fully trickle down to the congregations.
However, in November 2008 a motion was approved by the UCC to develop resources to encourage the participation and ministry of transgender people in the life of the church as well as to prepare individuals and churches to receive such participation and ministry.
Following only the United Church of Christ in the US, we are the second national denomination anywhere who has taken a step past the ‘sexual orientation’ conversation into the realm of gender identity and trans- issues.
This is in part due to the ordination of the Rev. Cindy Bourgeois, minister at Central United Church in Stratford Ontario. Cindy’s courageous vulnerability and strong faith supported by a community of allies put the reality of the ignored “T” of the LGBT acronym on the church’s radar.
We also have a profound ally and theologian in Ontario MPP Cheri DiNovo – also an ordained minister in the United Church. DiNovo’s book, “Qu(e)erying Evangelism: Growing a Community from the Ouside In” challenges congregations and other institutions in the church to rethink what it means to live Christian lives. Especially when, as she did with her former congregation – Emmanuel Howard Park United – one begins to think of Jesus as queer.
Cheri writes, “Our ‘learning to live with queerness’ allowed us to ‘read’ a Jesus who was queer (transgressive, odd, indecipherable). Thinking as queer (differently, welcoming the strangeness of our faith and scripture, learning to love the gaps and contradictions, feeling comfort in the movement rather than the answer) allowed us to become queer theologians.”
Read in context, this is the type of carefully thought out theology that makes me proud of our denomination. We are not simply ‘bleeding heart liberals’ that let our emotions taint our theologies (as some more conservative Christians might label us). Rather, I feel that – at least what I aim for in my own ministry – the best of what we are is radically inclusive, seeking justice for those with little or no voice. While I’m proud of the stance our church has taken on ‘gay ordination’ and same-sex marriage, I’m even more proud that we push into the zone of the uncomfortable to talk about multiple and queer and transgender identities.
Perhaps this will be too much of a stretch for some congregations, but I hope and pray that it won’t be. When Christians can be the best of what they intend to be (a benchmark against which we so often fail to measure up), it really does contribute – along with all other peoples of faith and no faith who share a common vision of peace and sustainability – to making the world a better, and more just, place.