Transgenderism and Church Membership

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:

  1. I do not believe transgender or transexual people to be a “rejection of the image of God within that person.”
  2. 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.

10 thoughts on “Transgenderism and Church Membership

  1. Tommy Meisel October 3, 2017 / 7:53 pm

    Trish, I understand your point of view and I agree with it. I think the inclusion of these sexual preconditions for membership is a theological mistake, and in my mind’s eye I can see God slapping His forehead in frustration once again, wondering if His children will ever “get it”. My bet is that this change to the constitution will pass easily, and most of those who vote for it will think they are doing the right thing. This whole affair is just a knee-jerk reaction to all the news and comments in the media about inclusion of those who are sexually “different” from most of us. What will be next? Will we will have to pass a written test with an essay on the side confirming that we accept these conditions as gospel truth or we will be written out of the church or forbidden membership? I feel sad that so many Christians are so arrogant as to think that they have a lock on the absolute truth.
    God wants us to love Him and acknowledge Him and His goodness. Why is something so simple made so complex and rigid?


    • Tricia October 8, 2017 / 12:37 am

      I agree, Tommy, that God is likely frustrated by this. Perhaps that is me making God in my image, but…this is legalistic gatekeeping, and I sincerely hope God does not approve of it.


  2. Elizabeth October 4, 2017 / 3:06 am

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this, and I’m also so encouraged by your commitment to a loving theology that encompasses both body and spirit. ❤️


    • Tricia October 8, 2017 / 1:09 am

      Thank you, dear friend! Our conversations are always enlightening and encouraging.


  3. Jeremy October 8, 2017 / 12:08 am

    I am conflicted as well. I don’t believe that being transgender is a sin or mental illness and I don’t believe that a person being transgender is incompatible with being a Christian. I also think it is foolish to discourage any group of people from attending church. I have not been to our mutual church in two years (and only rarely any other church), but I want to resume attending a church and exposing my girls to Christianity. However, I question whether I would feel comfortable returning to our mutual church.


    • Tricia October 8, 2017 / 12:40 am

      Jeremy, I agree with you. I hope my comments weren’t insinuating that I believe transgenderism is a mental illness. I don’t know the proper language for what I believe, except that when someone says, “I am a woman even though I was born biologically male,” I believe them, and what to do what I can to help them right that wrong in whatever way is best for them.

      I understand your discomfort. I often feel uncomfortable/different there, but until this, I thought our bonds as spiritual family allowed for disagreements. We will see if that is still true after tomorrow!

      (If you are still a member there…you could always show up and vote against this!)


      • Jeremy October 8, 2017 / 12:59 am

        I knew you were not saying it was a mental illness. However, that is often the way Christians portray it.

        I am still a member, but will be out of town tomorrow.

        I wonder how the church members would reconcile the proposed amendments with the way eunuchs (including self-made eunuchs) were treated in the Bible and early church history. There are early church leaders/saints that were eunuchs. While eunuchs and people who are transgender are not equivalent, a self-made eunuch is certainly rejecting his biology in a sense.


        • Tricia October 8, 2017 / 1:09 am

          That is an excellent point! It serves to show that where issues of gender and sexuality appear, things are SUPER COMPLICATED and require an enormous amount of research, openness, and above all, grace. I for one don’t think we will ever be able to figure out a hard line for these issues, which is why I think it’s best to go with what we do know: “Love God, love others, love ourselves.” I don’t think excluding people from church membership aligns with those commandments.


  4. Taryn Viv December 11, 2017 / 5:52 pm

    Hi, Tricia. I’m a transgender woman, and a Christian, and I have written a good bit on this subject myself. I believe that you are 100% right in saying not only your church, really, but so, so many who consider themselves Christians seem to be forgetting to continually get their direction from God’s word — and not only on this subject, either.

    Of course, it’s obviously important each of us be willing to set preconceived notions aside whenever we search the scriptures to discern God’s thoughts. It brings to mind Jesus’ words, “If you remain in my word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But when folks only go searching for snippets of text to validate what they already wish to believe, then that’s never going to be the case.

    For example, take the notion you mention they have that “God does not make mistakes.” It’s true, yes, we’re told his ways, and his works are perfect. The earth was created perfect. Adam and Eve were created perfect. But to stop there is to ignore what we are also very plainly told — “through one man, sin entered into the world…and spread to all men.” Adam and Eve sinned. They became imperfect themselves, and broke the perfect mold as it were, so they could only pass imperfection and sin on to all of their offspring. God did not make us, the children of Adam and Eve imperfect, but he allowed it to become the case — and so just as you pointed out, now humans are born in all sorts of ways he never originally intended. The transgender condition is simply one of them. No one who genuinely searches the scriptures faithfully for understanding could ever put forth in good conscience the sorts of arguments your church is trying to use.

    In any case, I sincerely thank you for taking the stand you are here. Even if it may not be appreciated by some of those in your present church, the integrity it shows on your part is surely appreciated by the God of truth, which is far more important.


    • Tricia December 11, 2017 / 6:03 pm

      Thank you so much for commenting, Taryn. I will definitely take a look at the things you’ve written. I’m so glad that you are using your experiences to create art and dialogue. All the best to you!


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