In this series of blogs, we’re examining theology that impacts transgender people. Traditionalist interpretations typically forbid any gender identity that is different from person’s sexual organs at birth, or whatever is on their birth certificate. I don’t see much biblical support for this viewpoint.

For those whose internal sense of gender is out of line with their pysical appearance at birth, or for those who have a sense of gender that is somewhere in between male and female, traditionalist theology demands they live as the gender of their sexual organs and not what their brain is telling them. Trans people are often told that this is the only way to be in harmony with God’s will.

In the last blog we looked at Genesis 1:27, which is the seminal verse used by traditionalist theologians to refute trans and non-binary lives. For those for whom the entire subject might be new, I also wrote an introductory blog about trans lives. In this post we’ll look at a couple other verses and the accompanying reasoning used to support traditional, non-affirming theology.

But God Doesn’t Make Mistakes

Sometimes Psalm 139:13-14 is quoted, as it is in the document from the General Conference of SDAs Executive committee, and in the Biblical Research Institute’s statement from the Ethics Committee:

For you formed my inward parts;

you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;

my soul knows it very well.

Transgender people are often told that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” This means for the person speaking that are the gender of their anatomy. But it doesn’t take long to realize that there are lots of ways in which humans are born that are not typical. This may mean they are in need of medical intervention, or may simply be a matter of human variation.

No one would bat an eye at removing an extra finger or toe. No one would say in such a situation that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Sometimes babies are born with cancer, did God knit that cancer into their bodies when they were in the womb? Of course not!

This does not mean that being transgender should be equated to a birth defect or cancer, because it most certainly is nothing of the sort. It’s simply to point out the inconsistency in saying “God doesn’t make mistakes” as an argument that anatomy is supreme, never to be altered, and always the best indication of who we are. That is manifestly false.

When the psalmist wrote Psalm 139, anatomy was not in mind at all. Psalm 139 is a poem about God’s intimate knowledge and guiding of the psalmist’s life. It’s not about the relationship between biology and psychology. The actual message of the psalmist is not negated by someone being transgender or non-binary.

There is the other rather obvious challenge to this view. Some people are born intersex, with some degree of both male and female sexual organs or DNA. The reality of human biology is not compatible with the teaching that God creates only male and female, doesn’t make mistakes (meaning that God doesn’t deviate from this typical pattern), and that the binary distinction of gender are ever-present.

If God’s will for someone’s gender is expressed clearly in their sexual organs, what is God’s will for intersex people? Sometimes, in their misplaced discomfort with anyone who isn’t typical, doctors have surgically altered newborn intersex babies to make them more typically male or more typically female. This has been disastrous for intersex people whose lives and sense of gender often don’t align with the doctor’s hasty decision.

Sometimes people are unwilling to test their particular theology or ideology against the physical world around us, the world God has given us. This is one such example. Only a steadfast refusal to engage with the implications of the truth of God’s creation as we know it can allow a traditionalist understanding to be maintained on this point.

Even though it might make cisgender people uncomfortable, sex organs don’t always fit the binary. And if sexual organs can refuse to fit the binary, why can’t the central nervous system also refuse to fit the binary? Of course it can and does.

Seeing Trans People as God Sees All People

I’m disturbed at how quickly theologians claim to know the will of God, based on so little scripture and with so little understanding of the lives of trans and intersex people.

I’m disturbed by how easy it is to judge intersex and transgender people.

I’m disturbed by how quickly religious people sometimes make decisions about what is best for others without paying attention to medical consensus, the reality of God’s creation, scripture itself, and the wisdom and insight of trans and intersex people.

I’m disturbed that making these judgments come so easily even though they result in severe danger to transgender lives.

Why these hasty decisions? Why this focus on exterior anatomy? Why this cavalier disregard for the psychological impact of our judgments?

And here’s a question you may not have considered, when talking about this issue, why do traditionalists always assume that God will change a person’s mind to match their anatomy? Why not the other way around?

The Bible gives us an answer to this question. It’s because people tend to focus on what they can understand themselves. They tend to focus on what they can see. We prefer to make judgement based on outward appearance, on what we can confirm. Human understanding hates trusting in what we may not see or understand. What do we understand? Externals.

But is this the way that God sees us? 1 Samuel 16:7 says,

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

So why are cisgender people so confident to say they understand the will of God for transgender people despite the fact that nowhere in scripture is gender defined in terms of sexual organs? Is it possible that, as this verse suggests, this preference for exterior organs that we can understand over another person’s mind that we do not understand is only an expression our fallen nature? Is it our sin that leads us to focus on outward appearances and does not see the heart? Could it be that we have labeled trans people as sinners when we are the sinners?

God Made Us to Be Whole

What the Bible does teach is that we should be whole. The concept of wholeness is used by traditionalists to argue that transgender people should live as the gender of their sexual organs.

Is that a logical interpretations of scripture’s call to be whole? Here’s the statement made by the Executive Committee of the General Conference of SDAs:

From a biblical perspective, the human being is a psychosomatic unity. For example, Scripture repeatedly calls the entire human being a soul (Gen 2:7; Jer 13:17; 52:28-30; Ezek 18:4; Acts 2:41; 1 Cor 15:45), a body (Eph 5:28; Rom 12:1-2; Rev 18:13), flesh (1 Pet 1:24), and spirit (2 Tim 4:22; 1 John 4:1-3). Thus, the Bible does not endorse dualism in the sense of a separation between one’s body and one’s sense of sexuality.

This statement is problematic because it does not confirm, but ignores the “psychosomatic unity” of transgender people. It says that you can be whole by ignoring your own brain and what it is telling you about your gender, or it assumes despite no evidence or scripture to support them, that God will change a person’s brain. This reasoning works by preserving appearances over internal lives. It demands people to present themselves in a way that is consistent with their appearance without regard to their psychology, and paradoxically calls this wholeness.

Is this not a common problem in the church? Who of us has not had the frustrating experience of people wanting us to keep quiet about our ideas, our choices, or our values when they conflict with expectations? Being whole does not mean presenting an exterior appearance that is not a challenge to anyone. True wholeness is being genuine. It’s authenticity. It’s integrity. How I wish we would learn this lesson!

Wholeness is when what shows up on the outside is a true expression of the inside. It’s not the appearance of wholeness in the judgement of those who affirm only what they understand. Such a preoccupation with the exterior is in fact brokenness, dishonesty, and hypocrisy. Wholeness is not the person who makes big public gestures that make people admire them, it’s the person who is true and honest with God who sees the heart (Matthew 6:1-6).

So if transgender people threaten the external appearance too many are focused on, they are not expressing brokenness, but a level of integrity that is extreme. They are willing to defy social expectation for the sake of wholeness.

We who are cisgender must learn to stop focusing on outward appearance and be more like God, who sees the heart.

Instead of trying to make trans people change to be cisgender like us, we should appreciate them for who they are. When we do, we learn from them. We learn how to live with integrity, how to be brave, and how to be whole. Trans people can and should be fully embraced members of our communities. They can build up the church, enrich us, and teach us. They can be a corrective for our fallen tendency to focus on appearance and devalue integrity.

How like fallen humanity is it to vilify those who are most vulnerable in society? How like God is it to use those who are despised and rejected by man (Isaiah 53:3)? If we are not careful, we will fail to see Christ in transgender people. Such is the nature of our obsession with appearance.

***I have many conservative Christian readers who are not used to this type of post. I invite you to walk a moment in the shoes of another. I invite you to suspend your beliefs for a moment and see through our eyes, the eyes of those who fully affirm LGBT love and gender and also fully embrace our faith in God. You’re perspective will be there waiting when you are done reading, you can pick it up right where you left it, but you will be able to better understand us for taking this moment to see the world as we do.***

God’s love is something I see again and again in the queer community.

God is like my two friends, gay men who found each other after years of loneliness. I see them sweetly lean in towards each other during casual conversation, simple acts revealing deep affection. After decades of partnership they were united during the first wave of legal same-sex marriage in California days before prop 8 made marriage illegal again.

God’s affection is deep, and he never loses an opportunity for love.

God is like my friend who holds the tension of being Seventh-day Adventist and lesbian. Her bookcases filled with Adventist commentaries, Review & Herald titles, and shelves of Ellen White; her kitchen full of vegan fair; but she can’t find a church where she’s accepted for all she is. Still she holds the tension.

God holds the tension, believing in us even when we fail his children.

God is like the man I met who was studying to be a Catholic priest. He laughs and tells me half the candidates for priesthood were gay, then talks about the man he met 50 years ago who put an end to his studies and has been his partner ever since. They have loved each other since a time when their love could land them in prison.

God is willing to go to prison for love.

God is like the transgender woman who shows up for church every week, still willing to invest in the denomination that once made her life unlivable. She’s in leadership now, happy to have found a church that is more interested in supporting LGBT people than bowing to the will of the institution.

God forgives.

God is like Harvey Milk, who knew that his political career as a gay man and activist would probably get him killed. Before he was assasinated, he left a last political will and testament for us to follow. He urged us to stop hiding and stand up for what is right, hopeful that his death would be an inspiration.

God died for us and urges us to follow this path.

God is like the thousands and millions of LGBT people and our courageous allies who show up and refuse to hide in the face of bigotry, hate, and violence. We refuse to be silent, refuse to pretend we are just friends, refuse to change who we are to pass as straight. We are not not satisfied with systems that oppress us, religions that shame us, and media that dismisses us. Neither is God.

God’s love is queer.

So where is God in the LGBT community? God is everywhere.

Last night was my dad’s memorial service. I delayed my coming out because of his illness. I knew that he was already struggling with his own mortality and that trying to reconcile the daughter he was so proud of and loved deeply with the ideas he had about LGBT people would be too much for him. He was the kind of guy who, when he saw a same-sex couple on a TV show, would exclaim how gross it was, change the channel, and never watch that show again.

I don’t regret never telling my dad, and I don’t think I ever will. It’s the reality of the situation that what he would think if I told him I’m queer is 10,000 miles away from what I would mean. He would think I was denying God. I know I am following God. He would believe I was embracing sin and sexual deviance. I know I am rejecting hate and embracing the true and good heart I have been given.

It was the right call. But that didn’t change the fact that after he breathed his last breath, I looked down at his body and realized that my father would never know me for who I am. I began to sob. I wanted things to be different. I wanted the world to be different. I wanted the man who brought me into the world and was one of the first two people to ever love me to know this beautiful, wonderful part of myself. But he couldn’t.

Last night we went to the church where I am a pastor, and we honored the memory of my dad. The service was beautiful. People I have known since I was a child talked about what a wonderful man my father was, and every word was true. They embraced me, told me they love me, and told me over and over again how proud dad was of me. He was proud of his little girl who became a pastor.

The outpouring of loved I received these last few days, and especially last night at the memorial, has been exceptional. I can’t recall ever being so loved and supported. I’ve lost track of the number of people who told me they are happy to help with anything I need. Everyone answers when I call. Everyone does exactly what I ask of them. Everyone’s hearts are broken for me. Everyone is anxious to show me how much they love me.

This is Christian community at its best. It is a thing to behold. It is true, it is good, and it is the heart of the gospel. And when I come out in a few weeks, and tell them that I affirm my bisexual identity, it will be broken forever.

Today, my choice to be a pastor affirms everything they want to believe about God and the church. But soon affirmation will turn to threat because I’ve taken a different view on a handful of Bible passages, and more importantly because I’ve come to love this part of myself that loves women.

I won’t be able to pastor this or any other Adventist church after that. These same people won’t listen to my sermons online, praise my ministry, and tell me how proud they are of me for being an Adventist pastor.

My father would not have been proud of me had he lived long enough to see me be honest about what I believe and who I am.

This is perhaps the worst part of the church’s anti-queer theology. It breaks something beautiful. Christian community can be a beautiful thing if you are straight. If you are queer like I am, the cost is silence and shame. That cost is too high. Even those who are a dedicated allies and speak too loudly on my behalf often experience the cost becoming too high for them. Silence is demanded of anyone who would speak out. How could I pastor in a church that is harming people like me? How could I ignore the compassion of the Bible and still pastor with integrity?

If you are queer in a traditional Christian church, your choices are impossible. You must be willing to demonize your same-sex attraction, hide it, or both. The church will offer you shame and disgrace, and you must receive it no matter how you struggle against it. You must live with the constant sense of being other. When people say homophobic and ignorant things, you must hold your tongue. Falling in love must become something you fear. This is the cost of remaining comfortably in this community.

If your experience is anything like mine, you will find yourself desperately clinging to any shred of hope that maybe you can just be same-sex attracted and not queer. Maybe these are just thoughts and feelings and not the truth about who you are, how you see the world, and how you experience love and family.

And all of this will impact your mental health in ways you may not even know. I didn’t know, not until I learned to love the way I love did I finally see how much sadness and loneliness I lived with all my life. Not until I experienced the sharp joy of affirmation from God did I discover that my love for women is a gift.

But I can’t embrace this truth about myself and the world and still have my place in this Christian community. I can’t be queer and have my father be proud of me. These are the impossible choices LGBT people in traditionalist churches face.

Our communities are beautiful, but they aren’t working for everyone. That is a problem. Ignoring this problem is ignoring the heart and soul of the gospel.  The gospel was never intended to be only for the right kind of people, but for everyone.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “The problem with sticking your head in the sand is that you leave yourself… exposed.” When it comes to LGBT people, too many churches are fully exposed.

Church members have serious questions. They know that the church is dropping the ball by not talking about something important and relevant to their lives. In the absence of any kind of message from the church, members are left guessing, and LGBT members especially feel isolated and ignored.

I’m here to help you figure out how to courageously and intelligently wade these choppy waters. If you missed the first article, I’ve already shared three principles and you can find them here.

Be Honest

Sometimes when we preach it’s easy to focus on how we want things to be. At times that even means a bit of sanctified imagination about how things are. I empathize particularly with the challenges of being an affirming pastors in a non-affirming environment. I’ve been there.

If you are straight and in this situation, you might be trying to make your church affirming in an under-the-radar kind of way. But if your church or denomination is non-affirming, there will be real, hard limits to that affirmation. It’s important to faithfully describe these limits, no matter how badly you wish they didn’t exist.

What does your church teach about same-sex intimacy and people with gender identities different from their biological sex? Is your church affirming and accepting? Is it trying to be? Or is it non-affirming?

Don’t over promise. If your church requires LGBT to embrace non-affirming theology in order to experience full participation, don’t try to hide that reality. Please don’t use a bait-and-switch tactic in which you are initially accepting but inform them of the real limits only after they get attached to your community. Be honest about your church’s position. Don’t say they are accepted when they can’t be members, help in the children’s department, teach, or pursue ministry.

Here’s an example of what you might say if you pastor an non-affirming church: “If you are here and you are LGBT or questioning your sexuality, I can’t you what you should do. You are the one who is going to have to make that decision, because you are the one who has to live with your decision. This church teaches that God’s design is that marriage is between a man and a woman, sex outside of heterosexual marriage is wrong, and that God gave you your gender through biological identity at birth. It’s the official doctrine of the church. We believe that it’s the sexual ethics taught in the Bible. Not everyone here believes that, but most do. We are here to support you in pursuing that goal, and we believe it is the best, most satisfying, and most holistic way to live. If you believe differently, this might not be the church for you.” This is honest, and it’s only fair to say it.

On the flip side, I am an affirming queer person and trans ally. Any church I pastor would not be a supportive environment for someone pursuing celibacy. It’s important that we not try and hide our cards because we want to attract more people. That’s dishonest and wreaks of manipulation and salesmanship.

Consider Vulnerability & Give Hope

One of the biggest dangers for queer people in traditional churches is isolation. They often feel alone, damaged, and rejected because of the messages they’re received and the silence imposed by the church. As a result, they suffer mental health problems and attempt suicide far more frequently than others in your churches.

Is your sermon going to make this problem better or worse? Is it going to make LGBT people feel more isolated or less? Will they walk away feeling hope and solidarity, or feeling even more alone and scared?

The best way to give hope is by sharing positive stories about queer people. Too often the only narrative heard in churches about LGBT people is how hard it is to be in the church, or what horrible lives they live when they leave the church and embrace their sexuality. This is an impossible choice.

Offer an alternative, and make sure it’s credible. Even if your theology is non-affirming, there are people who choose celibacy and have healthy lives. If you don’t know how to offer hope credibly, you aren’t ready to preach this sermon.

Do Your Homework

If you were to preach a sermon on grace, forgiveness, marriage, the incarnation, the gospel, or any other host of topics you would not only be drawing from your studies that week, but also from years of study both formally and informally. You would have a larger sense of context to put the message into and a basic understanding of the social issues, interpersonal issues, and theological teaching.

But most pastors pastors have never had a class on human sexuality and their understanding of the lives of LGBT people is limited. Perhaps you haven’t read a whole lot on the theological considerations either, or you’ve only read one side. That makes it especially important that you do your homework on this topic, because you probably don’t have the same background of knowledge you have on most topics.

Read some books, get familiar with the language, understand the experience of LGBT people, talk to LGBT people and have them review your sermon. Unless you already have the background, this topic will probably not be one you can prepare for in one week.

Just add some LGBT themed books to your reading, have lunch with someone who can give you some insight, and take your time processing the information before you get down to the actual sermon writing. It will make the preparation much more comfortable and the sermon much more powerful.

Then, when you get ready to write, use the categories of this blog and it predecessor as a checklist to help you prepare. You will end up with a sermon that is well thought out, helpful, and that will be good for your church and for you. You will shed light on a difficult situation. You will give people hope and bring their lives out of the shadows.

I know first hand how isolating it can be to be a queer person in a traditional church. Sometimes it seemed like I was the only one. The church didn’t know what to do with me, that much I knew. My existence in the church was unacknowledged, and for my part I tried to make my sexuality invisible.

Had a pastor had the courage to address me in a sermon in a way that was open and gracious, it would have helped. Instead, the few references to sexual minorities that made their way into sermons did more harm than good.

Now that I’ve accepted myself and educated myself, I realize that things don’t have to be this way. If you’re thinking about preaching on LGBT topics, I’m here to help. Here are three simple things you can do to make a difference.

Acknowledge LGBT People and Speak to Us

While your sermon might be mostly forgotten by the straight people in your church, the queer people will probably remember it forever. I remember all kinds of little things pastors said in sermons and things I read over the years that I’m sure straight people never thought twice about. So please speak to us. We are listening more closely than anyone.

Most sermons I’ve heard about LGBT issues never once addressed queer people in the congregation. We are spoken about as the other, people separate from the group being addressed, as if we weren’t even there.

These sermons were all about what the church teaches or how we should be more compassionate towards LGBT people. But if you ignore queer people in the audience, you have failed to model compassion, and your words are hollow. Don’t tell people to love us while you yourself ignore us.

Here’s a helpful question to ask: What message do LGBT people need to hear? Get that clear. Then I’d suggest you spend some time thinking about what messages you are sending unintentionally. Ask yourself, “if I were queer, how would this come across to me?”

For example, if you spend your sermon talking about how we need to show more grace to LGBT people, you are sending us the message that they will not receive grace in the church. It might not be bad to send that message because it might be true. However, you have a pastoral duty to address the pain of this reality.

Give Voice to LGBT People

What would you think of a sermon about marriage from a single person who never so much as quotes a married person? The sermon would have no credibility. Or how might you feel if the only perspective they shared from a married person was from a miserable married person? Such a sermon would only bring discouragement.

I listened to a sermon promoting greater compassion for LGBT people. In this sermon, the only LGBT voice that was given was the reading of a suicide note from someone who was bullied for years and finally killed himself. The intention was good. He wanted to build compassion, but he didn’t consider the impact on queer youth. He never did talk about the amazing life that gay teen might have had, nor did he talk about the reality that life usually gets better for queer people as they get older.

There are a lot of sources of healthy queer perspectives. Try blogs on this site, try the Gay Christian Network and Justin Lee’s blog, you can always google search, or best of all get to know a LGBT person who has reflected on these issues and is able to help you. You can also contact me through this website if you’d like. There are a lot of resources available if you start looking.

Address Real Problems in Practical Ways

Preaching a sermon on this topic is a golden opportunity. There are clear problems you can address and myths you can clear up. You will help heal families and protect people who are LGBT. Some of these suggestions might seem unnecessary to you, but they are reflective of common experiences for LGBT people.

Here are some guidelines you can share:

  • Don’t use the term “gay” as an insult.

  • Don’t use derogatory terms. “Homosexual” is usually a derogatory term, and you probably know worse terms.

  • When you tell an LGBT person you care about them, don’t add a “but I disagree…” Just love them. If

  • Sexual orientation does not change as a general rule. How you feel is almost certainly how you will always feel.

  • If your child comes out to you:

    • Do not tell them to leave your home or make them feel that you don’t want them there. Homelessness is a huge problem for LGBT youth, especially transgender youth.

    • Be aware that suicide is a very real possibility. If you are highly rejecting of your child, they are 8.4 times more likely to commit suicide.

    • Tell your child you love them, and never stop supporting them as an individual, even if you disagree with their life choices. Don’t remove financial support or try to pressure them to make the choices you believe are right.

  • Listen to the LGBT people in your lives. Honor them and their stories.

By reading this blog, you have already taken one step towards shedding light on a difficult subject, and I thank you. When I preached on this topic, using these principles, I had church members coming to me in tears, sharing difficult situations they’d been struggling with for year without telling anyone. The sermon opened up important conversations that needed to happen, and your will do the same. Take courage, you are on the right path, and even if you get some push back, it will be well worth it.

In the next few days, I will be adding another post with three more principles for preaching on LGBT topics.