Interfaith Initiative: Gender identity won’t halt welcome

“Love Thy Neighbor” — but who is my neighbor? That is a question congregations of many faiths are asking.

Nondiscrimination under the law, one of our nation’s highest ideals, is embedded in our Constitution, according to the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision on marriage equality. Applying these ideals to transgender people is one next big issue. Where should faith communities stand?

The Golden Rule — to treat others as we wish to be treated — is held high in virtually every religion. In the Hebrew Bible, for example, God commands, “You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.” When Jesus discusses the great commandment to love God, and one’s neighbor as oneself, he says neighbor includes the alien Samaritans. He even includes enemies in those we must love. Muhammad said, “Seek for mankind that which you desire for yourself.” Thus, it appears the Golden Rule applies to everyone, not just your own tribe.

But some people feel specific Scripture allows or requires discrimination. For example, some believe Genesis 19 — involving homosexual rape — condemns all homosexual practice. Yet a very similar story in Judges 19 involving heterosexual rape doesn’t make us condemn all heterosexual practice. In that story, most of the Benjamin tribe is later killed as punishment, until the leaders weep that this punishment almost eliminated a whole tribe of Israel. They vow never to do it again. Understanding that story makes it easier to see that the sins of Sodom are (a) rape and (b) not loving or welcoming the stranger (Abraham’s cousin Lot, who had just moved to Sodom).

Gender identity is a different issue, so our church had to educate ourselves first. We heard from transgendered people and other knowledgeable people, and also looked at the Bible.

There are biblical characters who don’t fit gender norms, such as the prophetess Huldah (whose burial site is sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians), the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8, and the man carrying the jar of water (a woman’s job) who helps the disciples find the Upper Room where the Last Supper took place. While Deuteronomy 22:5 bans cross-dressing, 1 Samuel 16:7 says God “does not see as mortals see;” for mortals look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. John 7:24 says, “Judge not according to appearance”. Romans 14:14 says, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself.” Galatians 3:28 says, “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” John 13:34-35 says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

I wish we would spend more time quoting great Scripture like that. After many months of such study, our congregation voted to add people of all gender identities and expressions to our welcome statement.