Before he was even three years old, my young friend Jonathan became fascinated with the solar system. He could recite the names of each planet, in order, moving outward from the sun. He even included the dwarf planets!
Jonathan’s curiosity called my attention to how much I take for granted about Creation, about the heavens and the earth, and about God’s majesty. Hanging out with Jonathan led me to stand drop-jawed in awe at the hugeness of God, and he reminded me of how little I really know or understand about the universe God created.
Scientists are always pushing the limits of our imagination as they “discover” new things that we’ve not known before. Physicists and astronomers and such are now discussing whether or not ours is a solo existence, or if in fact we are a part of a “multi-verse” – one of several universes.
Even the most fundamentalist Christians among us today accept that that the sun doesn’t rise and set, nor is the earth flat with four distinct corners (though the biblical authors wrote as much based on their limited experience and limited understanding). Rather, when we, in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds God has made, our souls so majestically sing with the great old hymn, “How great Thou art! How great Thou art!”
A fellow Baptist minister was called to meet and pray with a young couple. Their child had just been born, and the doctors were recommending surgery to “correct” a “problem” – the child had both male and female genitalia. The doctors could “fix” it, but the parents had to choose if they wanted a son or a daughter.
A Brown University biologist found that as many as between 1 and 2 infants in every 1, 000 births receive “corrective” genital surgery. Such surgeries not medically necessary, but the result of social pressures to conform to an “either/or” binary understanding of sex.
Hearing my pastor friend share his experience and learning more about the not-so-uncommon occurance of intersexed births lead me to stand drop-jawed in awe at the hugeness of God, and I am reminded of how little I truly know or understand about the vast diversity of God’s Creation.
Just as the world has always been round, and just as the earth has always been the third of several planets that rotate around the sun, we are coming to understand that throughout history there has always been more to human beings than an exclusive binary system of being either male or female.
In Judaism, multiple categories regarding biological organs and gender expression are recognized in the Talmud. Native American cultures have long been aware of and embraced “two-spirited” individuals – people who were neither biologically nor socially distinctly male or female. And, there is an ever-growing, but already quite large, branch of Christian theology incorporating the spectrum of sex and gender.
Intersexed and transgendered persons have always been with us – yes, even in our churches (we just didn’t know it). Really, though, is it truly any of our business? Would you like it if everyone around you were suddenly concerned with discussing your genitalia?
Not unlike our world so long ago when people began to challenge how we understood the earth and its relationship to the sun, many of us are afraid. We’re afraid that “new” information regarding sex and gender is a threat to God.
Sure, it may be confusing and overwhelming at first – growth spurts, whether physical, mental, or spiritual (or all three) always are. Hey, I still have trouble grasping eight, or possibly nine, planets, let alone trying to imagine a multi-verse instead of a universe.
By God’s grace some friends and students have trusted me enough to share privately with me their personal stories as transgender persons. They have very real reasons to be afraid; they experience real threats all the time – threats to their families, to their jobs, to their friends, to their safety. These threats are made out of ignorance, plain and simple. Scientific ignorance and theological ignorance. Unfortunately, such ignorance is very often encouraged, celebrated and, some might say, idolized by the Church.
But God is not threatened by any of our “discoveries” or advancements in human knowledge. The Church should be the safest place for transgender individuals, and the Church should be marching alongside scientists leading the way as we continue to expand our knowledge about the vastness of God’s Creation. It is science, along with the Holy Spirit after all, that is always pushing and prodding and pulling us beyond our cherished certainties and out into wild mysteries of the universe, until, with wide-eyed amazement and drop-jawed wonder, we humbly declare, “My God! How great Thou art!”