On Sunday, my home church is voting to update its constitution, and if it is approved, I will no longer be a member of the church.
Here are the proposed changes to the section about gender and sexuality in full:
We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. These two distinct, complimentary genders together reflect the image and nature of God. Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.
We believe that the term “marriage” has only one meaning and that is the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture. We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other. We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and woman. We believe that marriage ceremonies are Christian worship services that celebrate the covenant made between a man and a woman before God.
We believe that any form of sexual immorality, including but not limited to adultery, fornication, homosexual or bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography is sinful and offensive to God.
In order to preserve the function and integrity of [CHURCH NAME REDACTED] as the local Body of Christ, and to provide a biblical role model to the church as a whole and the community, it is imperative that all persons employed by the church in any capacity, those who serve the church as volunteers, and all members of the church should abide by and agree to these statements of belief and conduct themselves accordingly.
Although I have many grievances with these statements, some as foundational as my basic belief in the church as a place of radical grace, I will vote against it for two basic reasons:
- I do not believe transgender or transexual people to be a “rejection of the image of God within that person.”
- I am deeply worried against qualifications of church membership extending beyond some few core Christian doctrines.
Is Being Transgender a Sin?
I have expressed my opinion on homosexuality elsewhere, but I have not yet expressed my theology of transgenderism. The thing is, while I can see where Christians read the Bible and can come away thinking it is a sin (though I believe the issue is not so straightforward, again, see my other post), I do not see similar evidence against transgenderism.
To “reject the image of God” within oneself implies that God made you correctly and you are trying to change it. I’ve heard that said explicitly, that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Except…he does. Or at least, to avoid a theological minefield, because we live in a fallen world, babies are born imperfectly. Babies are born without brains! And in less dramatic cases, babies are born with irregular heartbeats, with blood diseases and cleft palates. In each case, Christians affirm the goodness of doctors who do their best to “correct” the problem the baby was born with.
Lest one argues for a differentiation between physical and sexual issues, we cannot forget our intersex brothers and sisters who are born with both male and female genitalia. God allows babies to be born who are neither exclusively male or female, and unfortunately, they are largely ignored in theology. Such is the case for my church’s constitution, which leaves no room for their existence.
All of this is to say, my theology easily allows for a baby who is born with a gender that does not match its sex. In every other case of a “problem of birth,” our cultural and spiritual answer is to do what can be done to fix it. I see no reason for us to deny this privilege to men and women who were born into bodies that did not belong to them.
(If I have misrepresented the experience of transgender men or women, I ask forgiveness! If you have the emotional energy, please know I would love to hear from and learn from you.)
What Doctrines Determine Church Membership?
For that issue alone, I would vote against these changes to the constitution. But according to these same changes, my disagreement means forfeiting my church membership. After all, “all members of the church should abide by and agree to these statements of belief.” I don’t agree, therefore I no longer qualify to be a member of this church. And honestly, if membership is determined by lesser doctrinal issues such as these, I’m not sure I want to be a part of such a church.
In my mind, belonging to a church naturally necessitates believing in core Christian doctrines: that God is the Triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that God revealed himself most fully to us through the Bible, and that God offers us salvation from our sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In short, church membership should be extended to those who read the Nicene Creed and say, “Yes, that.” We can, and should, have opinions about everything else. But to make anything else into a matter of membership strikes me as excessively legalistic and exclusionary. So for this, too, I will vote against these proposed changes.
I know that in many ways, my beliefs do not align with my Southern Baptist Church’s beliefs. But I have found such beauty and encouragement in the fact that, although our opinions might differ about homosexuality or the role of women in the church, we can still meet together as sisters and brothers to worship the God we agree is more important. It is incredibly sad to me that I will be denied membership of this church if these changes are passed. But looking at the evangelical culture around me, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.