Jesus and the Politics of Gender Identity

"Tell me about yourself."

It's a common phrase, used in many settings. Perhaps on a first date, or a job interview, or at any kind of social gathering.

At the core of who we are as humans is a desire to connect with other humans. To create community where there isn't community.

Even as an introvert, I desire to connect with other people. Sometimes I may connect in other ways - through books or online or some other method, but even then I'm looking for meaningful connection. What is the author/artist/film maker saying through this piece? I want to have genuine connection with other humans through some sort of medium on a regular basis.

This is good and healthy. As I have said before, I believe God created humanity specifically to join the community, which exists within God (Father-Son-Holy Spirit: three persons in one God). And as we join this God community, we are invited to expand this connection to other people. This is the nature of the Kingdom of God: community with God and other people. 

When Jesus says the two commandments which sum all of life up are, essentially, love God and love people, I believe he is reinforcing this understanding. Love is exactly what creates community.

So when we ask someone to tell us about themselves, looking to create some connections of community, what usually follows in response is that someone tells us what they do for a living, or perhaps about hobbies they engage in, or maybe something that they're really passionate about.

We're looking to learn about the identity of the other person, because identity is the foundation upon which we build the connections of community. Things we have in common, perspectives we are interested in - these are the connectors from one human being to another.

But if you were looking at me face to face when you asked this question, you probably would not expect me to tell you that I am white, or a male, or 5'11''. These are parts of my identity that you would likely take for granted.

Seeing that I'm about as white as a human being can get, you would most likely would not ask me what cultural group I identify with. It would be unusual to ask me what height group I identify with. Up until recently, the idea of asking what gender I identify with would also be highly unusual.

Recently, however, the conversation around gender identification and gender fluidity (the concept that a person may identify their gender as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities at any given time) has come into the public spotlight.

As some facilities in our society (specifically bathrooms, locker rooms, etc.) are locked into the binary, either-or genders of our physical bodies, a person who does not necessarily identify their gender with their physical body is faced with a question of how to respond to this social construct. Do I go into the women's restroom when I identify as a woman, regardless of my gender?

North Carolina recently passed a law requiring people to only use restrooms which are in line with the physical gender listed on an their birth certificate, regardless of what identity they ascribe to. A sweeping debate around the issue has followed.

In the past day, the Obama administration sent a directive to public schools in the U.S. to provide safe environments for transgender persons to use a restroom or locker room.

Now, as a follower of Jesus, what am I to do with this?

When I read in the book of Genesis that God created humans as male and female, what choices do I have if I try to engage in this conversation?

Here are the lenses I have in place within my own life, which I use to help me engage with an issue like this:

When others try to politicize an issue, try to personalize it instead.

Look for opportunities to gain perspectives, have conversations, and understand the underlying issues.

When we're dealing with any issue where other people feel marginalized, ignored, intimidated or undignified, our response should never, ever be "I don't care."

You can care about somebody without ever agreeing with them.

In response to the Obama directive to public schools, some politicians have responded by using scare tactics to assert that this bill will mean "grown men [will] be allowed to use the little girls’ restroom.”

It's a straw man argument, which nobody advocates. The directive to public schools has suggested that privacy curtains or single occupancy restrooms can provide such safe places.

When someone tries to paint a picture that you're either against a law/bill/rule or a pedophile, take a step back.

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.

I believe that every person is deserving of my love and respect and of being treated with dignity. If I come away from an action having robbed a person of their dignity (or I at least tried to, or allowed it to occur as collateral damage), I believe I must re-evaluate myself.

If I want to point people towards Jesus, I think it's only realistically possible if people walk away from an interaction with me feeling as though they are cared about.

This doesn't mean I have to agree with them. I have friends from all over the political spectrum. I don't agree with everyone on every topic, but I sure as heck don't spend my time trying to cut them down. They are my friends and I want to build them up.

Everyone who sought community with Jesus (pretty much everyone except religious and political leaders) came away better off than they were before.

If anyone comes away from an interaction with us feeling less loved in this world, we have missed our purpose.

Christians should always be willing to have conversations around identity.

At the core of this conversation is that everyone is trying to figure out the answer to the "who am I?" question. It took me years to learn that my core identity is a child of God. I'm still working to implement that identity in every area of my life.

When I don't know what the future holds, instead of automatically trusting that my loving Father is going to handle these things as he promises, sometimes I freak out. I forget my identity.

Or I base my core identity on something other than being a child of God - what I do for a living, my income level, my fitness level, etc.

I'm always trying to remind myself of my core identity. When I get off base, I don't accuse myself of being a horrible monster. I refocus. As a minister, I spend most of my time encouraging people to connect with this identity.

You are not your addiction or your past or your worst moments; you are a child of God. As we embrace that truth, God transforms us.

When someone is asking, "what is my core identity?", I think we should be excited for them, because Jesus said that when someone seeks, they find. So explore away! Ask what your identity is! 

We were made for something more than the mundane mediocrity of our everyday life, and questions about "who I am" will lead us to places where we must give consideration to why we even exist on this earth. That's a great conversation to be a part of as a follower of Jesus, and I look forward to being able to share my opinion on that topic as well as to listen to what others have to say about it as well.

With those perspectives in mind, here are my personal thoughts on this topic:

  1. God made me male. I embrace that and seek to be the healthiest, most God-focused male I can be.
  2. I'm not interested in telling other people what to think about their identity beyond being a child of God, unless they want to know my thoughts. Usually, that "wanting to know my thoughts" happens with people with whom I form friendships with. We generally only care about what other people think of us if we know they care about us first. I've never sat down and reassessed my life when somebody gave me the finger on the highway. I did reassess my life a number of years ago when a friend whom I would trust with my life told me I needed to stop being so whiny about a job situation.
  3. I want everyone to have safe environments. If we can simply designate certain bathrooms as being single use, non-gender specific, such as the family restrooms in many locations, that's great! I'm not here to force people to function in ways that meet my expectations. I also want to preserve the dignity of those who are not gender fluid, but who embrace their biological gender.
  4. Using politics or the law in any attempt to enforce morality is a terrible, terrible idea. The entire point of the first testament of the Bible is that the law cannot help us to lead healthier, more abundant lives. I'm not saying we should have no laws. The Bible is clear that the government has a mandate to maintain order in society. But transforming hearts? That's not the job of the government; it's the job of the Holy Spirit. When we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, he will show us the places where he wants to make changes. I have enough areas of my own where I need that to happen to keep me occupied, and when I criticize others, I only tend to get in the way of the restorative work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

If I were to boil all these words down, I would probably come up with something like this, "love God and love people." Five words that are so simple and so incredibly difficult to do on a day in, day out basis - sometimes even with those closest to me, much less a random stranger I cross paths with.

But standing with those who are being ostracized is a usually a good start, even if you don't agree with them. Jesus hung out with thieves and hookers and maybe worse. He never said, 'Prostitution is cool now!' or 'Stealing isn't a problem anymore!'

He spent his time telling people what their true identity is - child of God, who is loved unconditionally; and that led to the most drastic change in the history of humanity. In 2016, we are not wrong to follow in his example.