Sermon - 14th July 2019
Nature delights in diversity. Why can’t we humans delight in it too?
[An audio version of this sermon, in mp3 format, is available via the link at our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]
Today I want to tackle some of the few Biblical Texts that refer to Gender Diverse people and show how God always delights in their own creation and our diversity
[Reading 1: Deuteronomy Ch 22 v 1-12]
God created human beings as male, female, and sometimes dramatically or subtly a complex mix of male and female in their bodies. Throughout History human and social cultures have created a broad diversity of behaviour and presentation for men and for women. They have sometimes created roles for people named as neither male nor female, and in many older cultures revered and respected them.
How do Other Cultures see gender? There are many examples, which too often have been crushed or obliterated by Judeo Christian Culture. Some examples of these are:
Two-Spirit people are American Indians who fulfill one of many mixed gender roles found traditionally among many American Indian and Canadian First Nations indigenous groups. Their roles included wearing the clothing and performing the work of both male and female genders. The term usually implies a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit living in the same body. They were often seen as the peacemakers and Elders who were able to converse equally with male and female in theirs tribes
In some Polynesian societies, fa’afafine are considered to be a “third gender” alongside male and female. They are biologically male, but dress and behave in a manner considered typically female. Fa’afafine are accepted in their culture as a natural gender, and neither looked down upon nor discriminated against.
In the Indian subcontinent Culture, Hijra are usually considered to be neither male or Female. Most are biologically male or intersex, but some are biologically female. The Hijra form a third gender, although due to Western influence, they do not enjoy the same acceptance and respect as males and females in their cultures.
The Xanith form an accepted third gender in Oman, an Islamic, gender-segregated society. The xanith dressing is male, featuring pastel colors (rather than white, worn by men), but their mannerisms are female. Xanith can mingle with women and have their own households, performing all tasks (both male and female) in marriage. Should a divorce or death take place, these men can revert to their status as xaniths at the next wedding.
Rules of appearance in the Bible, such as in our first reading from Deuteronomy 22:5 (wearing clothes of the opposite sex), are certainly among the rules criticized by Jesus as focused on outward conformity as the Pharisees did, rather than inward integrity formed by God’s love.
There are numerous biblical affirmations of the goodness of creation and the love of God for all people, including Genesis 1, Psalm 139, John 1:1–5, and Acts 10:34–43. Galatians 3:26–29 is another example, which calls on those who are baptized to put on Christ like a garment and to look past human divisions to become one person in Christ.
[Reading 2: Galatians Chapter 3 v 22-29[
In Galatians 3:28, Paul says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." For in the creation Story, after God separated the first man into the two sexes of men and women they each became an incomplete image of god with elements of each gender in both. Christ then made both complete again by transcending gender itself and offering his all-encompassing love to everyone regardless of gender, race or culture.
This enables Trans people to provide valuable ministry in many churches, both as lay people and as clergy. And In conforming with the United Reform Church’s long history of promoting gender justice, we affirms all gender identities and experiences of gender.
"Binary gender (division into male and female) isn't clearly defined with words such as 'man' or 'woman' until Genesis Chapter 2 v.22,” Before that division, Genesis 2 refers to the first human as "ha'adam," the creature made of earth.
[Reading 3: Matthew Ch. 19 v 11-15]
In this reading from Matthew Jesus says, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth.”
Here Jesus refers to "natural-born eunuchs." This is my own experience of gender as one who internally experiences female gender identity though I did not appear to be female at birth for what was then visually obvious reasons as people are classified by a cursory glance at their genitalia and registered as Male or Female. This is your Biological Sex not your gender Identity, which for the vast majority is congruent with their Sex.
However for 1-2% of the population (Loosely defined as Transgender) their Gender Identity does not match their birth assigned sex. For an even smaller population their birth assigned sex may be wrongly assigned and these we term Intersex people.
[Reading 4: Isaiah 56 v 3-5]
In Isaiah 56:5 text from the Hebrew Bible God promises to “give (eunuchs) an everlasting name that will not be cut off.” Eunuchs are not directly synonymous with transgender people but they do represent a diversity in biblical culture that stands against the traditional gender identities of masculine and feminine. And this diversity was not abhorred, but rather celebrated in several biblical texts, some of which we are hearing today.
[Reading 5: Acts 8: v26-40]
In this reading where the Apostle Philip’s baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch was instituted by the spirit of God, we see as an explicit instruction to include eunuchs within the kingdom of God.
Jesus didn't speak about cross-dressing as such, but he did here speak a word of liberation for Eunuchs as another kind of gender and sex diverse people.
We can also note that as a further measure of oppression, the word eunuch appears over 60 times in Greek and Hebrew scripture but the modern translations use the word only a dozen times, at most. In our reading from Matthew 19, Jesus is recorded as overturning one of the 651 laws which kept eunuchs from entering the temple and instead Jesus welcomed eunuchs to the kingdom of heaven, whether they were born that way, whether they were castrated as punishment, or whether they castrated themselves for the kingdom of heaven.
In the threefold structure of the passage, the first two categories have created an expectation about the third which enabled Jesus to achieve maximum effect with his totally unforeseen reference to the Galloi or eunuch-priests who self-castrated at festival time in honour of the Fertility Goddess.
Such people would rarely attract the interest of moral teachers in any positive way. But Jesus not only drew attention to their existence, he used an extreme form of their condition, self-inflicted for purposes utterly abhorrent to his culture, as an example of an act of will of supreme value. The question Jesus could have asked from this is, “If the pagans are prepared to castrate themselves for the sake of their Goddess, what are you prepared to do for the Kingdom of Heaven?
In many ways the transgender community can be seen as the modern equivalent of the eunuch. We know that persecuting gender non-conforming people is not unique to the Christian Church; it tracks back the death of Joan of Arc (and many others) who was burned on a funeral pyre because she was gender nonconforming, and possibly an intersex person.
It is essential that we support the Gender Diverse community, especially while so much of the Media and Press who treat us as less than fully human or completely accepted as the person they are. When you meet someone for the first time, ask them their name and which pronouns they prefer as a way of reminding us all to respect everyone, embrace diversity and give to all an everlasting name that will not be cut off!
Finally lets us look at that first Deuteronomy reading which appears to completely forbid the validity of Gender Diverse people, even though latter biblical scripture takes a for more supportive stance, especially as we use Jesus's example of love and acceptance as the way we interpret the Bible so that it makes sense for us in our own current age and culture.
"A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this." (Deuteronomy 22:5)
In all probability the text was condemning people who cross-dressed so they could gain access into spaces reserved for the other sex for the purpose of illicit sexual intercourse. Hence a man might dress as a woman in order to gain unlawful access into women's areas of the Jewish village. The law was concerned with keeping men and women separate so they would not fornicate. Incidentally a 16th Century Jewish commentary on the Law, the Shulhan Arukh, states that during the festival of Purim people may cross-dress for the purpose of "gaiety" not adultery.
This would lend support to the idea that the intention of the law was to prevent sexual sin. This passage is part of what biblical scholars refer to as the Hebrew Purity Code, a system of rules for social behaviour and dietary consumption intended to "purify" the body and spirit in God's eyes. Taken together the prohibitions of the Purity Code amount to arbitrary cultural taboos as contrasted with the more profound moral precepts of the Ten Commandments.
Biblical scholars and theologians warn of the danger of selective interpretation of the Bible in a way which upholds some passages while ignoring others and overlooking the broader context.
Other authors point out that what "pertaineth unto a man" and what garments "pertain to women" have undergone continual change throughout history.
Judged strictly by Hebrew standards the entirety of modern civilization would appear to violate the Purity Code.
Turning to this particular piece of scripture, we must first consider the Hebrew language and secondly the historical setting.
The Hebrew word used in this scripture is translated from Geber and literally means a Strong Man or Warrior. The more general term for a male human being was zakar. It is probably that this scripture is specifically referring to those who were fighting men. Since men were frequently called on to defend the community in warfare.
Let's also note what else Deut. 22 tells us.
- It tells you what to do when you find someone else's cattle (verses 1-4).
- It tells you what to do if you find a bird's nest on the ground (verses 6-7).
- It tells you that you have to put a railing around your roof to make sure nobody falls off of it (verse 8).
- It tells you not to plant more than one kind of seed in the same vineyard (verse 9),
- not to hitch your plow to an ass and an ox at the same time (verse 10),
- NOT TO WEAR CLOTHING OF MIXED FIBERS! -- "Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, AS OF woollen and linen together"
- and that your clothing has to have fringes on it (oh, how 1960’s that is!) (verse 12).
- It tells you that adulterers must be put to death (verse 22).
- It tells you that if a woman is raped in a field where there's nobody to hear her cry out, you kill the rapist but not the victim (verse 25-
- In fact, the very next scripture tells what to do if you see a nesting bird in the path.
- Further on in the scripture are rules for building houses, planting fields and making clothes.
One could just as easily, take Deut 22. 8 out of it’s historical context and condemn all who live in houses without a parapet on the roof or one may not wear clothing with a mixture of fabric. So, one must look at scripture as a whole to understand it’s meaning and applicability to one’s life.
Of course, all of this is in a way irrelevant to trans people. If your brain tells you that you are female although your body is male, (or vice versa), and you wear the clothing opposite your biological sex, then you are wearing the clothing that is congruent with your gender ... you are not wearing the clothing of the opposite sex.
If someone uses 22:5 against you, ask them When was the last time you wore a mixture of garments in your outfit? Or had fringes on the four corners of you clothing? Or a parapet on your roof or sold you’re your daughter into slavery?
This passage was for only that culture at that time. The bible is not like a supermarket , so you can't pick and choose which laws you want and which ones you don't want. It must be read within the historical context it was given. Similarly The original texts in 22:5 have been mistranslated as well.
So May you all embrace exactly what God made you to be, not worrying what the world thinks. For the world’s judging ways didn't accept Jesus either. The bible is too often being used in the same condemning way that the Pharisees used it in Jesus's time. Just treat everyone with that same inclusive love and wisdom as Jesus did. It is wonderful to be able to use love for your enemies and Love in everything. That is the way of the Lord and no evil can overcome that.
Finally we have a short Video of “Born This way”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BsLd4Y060Q
Please read and listen to the words to see the Wonder and inclusion of God’s love for all diversity.