For several decades, political and theological debates related to LGBTQ+ issues have centered around same-sex relationships for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. While an exploration of that topic is important, the volume of faith resources dedicated to it have often excluded reflection on the unique considerations related to gender identity. Mistakenly, some Christians have suggested that taking the Bible seriously requires people of faith to stand in opposition to the existence, health and humanity of transgender people. Consequently, gender-expansive people of all demographics and Christian traditions have been made to feel that they must choose between their faith and living a whole, healthy and authentic life. Whether you are a ministry leader, the family member of a transgender person or a trans person of faith yourself, this page seeks to serve as a brief overview of the Bible’s precedent for affirming the full inclusion of transgender, non-binary and other gender-expansive people in the full life of Christian community.
1 A part of the reason this seems to be so successful is the overwhelming number of people who say they do not have a personal close friend who is transgender. In a PRRI survey conducted in 2019, it was found that less than one-quarter (24%) of Americans report having a close friend or family member who is transgender, compared to 46% who report having a bisexual close friend or family member, and nearly seven in ten (68%) who report having a gay or lesbian close friend or family member.
2 The Human Rights Campaign’s Reporting Guide is another helpful tool developed so that reporters and media makers can begin to improve trans coverage. It provides insight for anyone seeking to use appropriate language, understand common shortcomings, and discover steps they can take to address trans communities more respectfully.
3 For more on the diversity of creation, especially when it comes to assigned sex, see Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People by Joan Roughgarden (University of California Press, 2013)
4 To read more about gender complementarity and where this understanding falls short see Point #4 on The Reformation Project’s ‘The Brief Biblical Case for LGBTQ Inclusion’ and Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships by James V. Brownson (Eerdmans, 2013).
5 Many studies have been done on the effect of minority stress on transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, including Expecting Rejection: Understanding the Minority Stress Experiences of Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Individuals by Brian A. Rood, Sari L. Reisner, et al, in Transgender Health (2016)
6 See Chosen Name Use Is Linked to Reduced Depressive Symptoms, Suicidal Ideation, and Suicidal Behavior Among Transgender Youth by Stephen T. Russell, Amanda M. Pollitt, et al in Journal of Adolescent Health (2018) and Mental Health of Transgender Children Who Are Supported in Their Identities by Kristina R. Olson, Lily Durwood, et al in Pediatrics (2016) and Intervenable Factors Associated with Suicide Risk in Transgender Persons: A Respondent Driven Sampling Study in Ontario, Canada by Greta R. Bauer, Ayden I. Scheim, et al in BMC Public Health (2015) among others.
7 Ian Cairns, Deuteronomy: Word and Presence. (William B. Eerdmans, 1992.)
8 Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (John Knox Press, 1990)
9 Although the term ‘mixing’ to talk about Jesus can be associated with the heresy of Eutychianism (Jesus’ natures were so thoroughly combined that the result was that Jesus was not able to relate as a true human), the term used here is in keeping with the view that Jesus was truly God and truly man. Read more in ‘Constructing Hybridity and Heterogeneity: Asian American Biblical Interpretation from a Third-Generation Perspective’ by Frank M. Yamada in Ways of Being, Ways of Reading: Asian American Biblical Interpretation edited by Mary F. Foskett and Jeffrey Kah-Jin Kuan (Chalice Press, 2006)
10 Human Rights Campaign Glossary of Terms
11 There’s quite a lot of writing from trans people on this subject, but for an overview see Towards a Transgender Theology: Que(e)rying the Eunuchs by Lewis Reay in Trans/Formations by Marcella Althaus-Reid and Lisa Isherwood (SCM Press, 2009). Additionally, for a perspective from transgender theologians who don’t find eunuchs to be a helpful point of connection, see chapter 5, “What Does the Bible Say” in Transfaith: A Transgender Pastoral Resource by Chris Dowd and Christina Beardsley (Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 2018).
12 For more on intersex people in scripture, and especially connections to the word “eunuch,” see Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God by Megan K. DeFranza (Eerdmans, 2015).
13 Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community in 2020. (HRC 2020)
One of the most difficult things human beings have had to learn how to do is to work together despite our differences, and that’s no less true in the church. There are times when we emphasize the things that we share, and times when we have to emphasize our different gifts and talents even when they seem to put us at odds. We see this tension play out in many of the Apostle Paul’s letters to the early Christian churches, and in his letter to the Galatians he toes this line again when he says, “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” (Galatians 3:28, NRSV). While on the surface this verse may suggest that we ignore or even try to get rid of our differences, it’s also clear from the rest of Paul’s letters that he took these differences seriously during his ministry. He probably was not suggesting that a person ceased to be male or female after baptism, and yet perhaps, when we die and rise again with Christ, we might be made free from the cultural power dynamics that cause one person to oppress another based on race, ethnicity, class, ability, gender or any other difference we may have. Instead, rather than trying to destroy or ignore a facet of humanity that makes us all different, we might consider dissolving the harmful power dynamics that tear us apart. This balance between sameness and difference, between the individual and the communal, is necessary for life together in Christ.
If you are new to this conversation, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, or fearful that other people will accuse you of affirming transgender and non-binary people merely because it seems politically correct or trendy. However, even though it is true that there has been an increase in transgender and non-binary visibility in media, our society has never seen as many trans-exclusionary bills in state legislatures, public faith statements made against transgender people in churches or higher rates of recorded crimes and violence committed against transgender people. Having the biblical and theological precedent demonstrated throughout this writing doesn’t guarantee anyone protection from continued discrimination. It is always a profound act of courage to come out to yourself and to your community. Similarly, for the friends and family of transgender and non-binary people, to publicly express your love and support in many contexts can be an act of critical solidarity.
In the midst of fear, stress or confusion, it’s important to remember that we are invited to pause, breathe and simply observe the work God is already doing. The experiences of gender diversity can be found in nearly every culture throughout recorded human history. Traditionally gender non-conforming people were given communal roles as spiritual leaders, healers, conflict mediators and cultural conduits.
While not all of these experiences map perfectly on to contemporary trans experiences, what we do see similarly today are countless examples of transgender and non-binary people across denominations operating in specialized roles within the church whether formally recognized or not. Transgender and non-binary people are actively preaching, teaching, leading, pastoring and offering their time, energy and various gifts for ministry and service. What this tells us is that the real issue here is not whether a person can be transgender and Christian, but whether the church will acknowledge and empower those whom God is already working through to enrich the whole life of the body of Christ. As we all approach this topic with compassion, humility and courage, we may call to mind the words of Gamaliel, a teacher who defended the persecuted apostles of the early church: “...[I]f this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:34-39, NRSV).
Read what the Bible says about homosexuality here.
Austen Hartke (Co-Author)
Founder and Director of Transmission Ministry Collective
Master of Arts, Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Studies, Luther Seminary
Myles Markham (Co-Author)
Master of Arts of Practical Theology, Columbia Theological Seminary
Michael Vazquez (Lead Editor)
Religion & Faith Director, Human Rights Campaign
Master of Theological Studies, Duke Divinity School