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Made in God’s Image

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In the midst of greater societal attention to issues of trangender people, we explore the connections between being made in God’s image, being followers of Jesus, and including all in their wondrous variety. Pastor Phil and Orion share this discussion.

Today’s texts: Ephesians 2: 11-22 and Mark 6: 30-34, 55-56

There is a video version of this here. You can find the part where the discussion with Orion begins at about the 5:30 mark. After our conversation, you can hear Kelly and Jonathan sing “Let it Be Me” at the 14:35 mark.

By Pastor Phil
By Pastor Phil

We’re going to explore something today that may make some folks a bit uncomfortable. We’re going to talk about people who define themselves as transgender – trans for short – and what that means to us who are followers of Jesus.

It may cause discomfort because we are touching on some pretty intimate parts of people’s lives. And it may cause discomfort because for many of us, I think – surely for me – trying to understand the whole world of life as a transgender person is both relatively new and certainly confusing.

Fortunately, we have someone with us – Orion – who will help us explore this topic in a very personal way. But first, let me offer a bit of background.

TransYou may have noticed in the news and in popular culture over the past six months or so, there has been a surge of interest in people who are transgender.

Certainly the well-publicized change in gender identity of Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner to Caitlin Jenner has topped the list. But Jenner’s journey is relatively atypical and there is so much more going on these days.

Just last Monday, Secretary of Defense of Defense Ashton Carter issued two directives to make the armed forces more open to allowing transgendered people to serve. Laverne Cox has made a splash in the entertainment world as a trans person playing a trans person in the award-winning Netflix series, Orange is the New Black.

The New York Times has been running an in-depth series of editorials over the past two months exploring the public policy issues and has included a stunning collection of first-person stories from trans people.

The Girl Scouts have been in the news around this issue as well. Last month, the Girl Scouts of Western Washington – that’s the Seattle area – gave back a $100,000 donation when the donor insisted that none of it be used to support transgender girls. In giving it back, Megan Ferland, the CEO of that chapter, said that “Girl Scouts is for every girl.” By the way, other donors quickly gave $250,000 through an online campaign, a wonderful response to a courageous decision.

It seems to me both of the scripture readings today shed a bit of light on how those of us in this faith community might approach transgender issues.

In that letter to the people of Ephesus, the writer addresses the divisions in the early Christian communities about the bodily characteristics thought to be required to be part of the community. The Jewish tradition required men to be circumcised. The non-Jews who were becoming Christians balked at that.

The author of this letter reminds those early Christians – and reminds us today – that Christ “made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace.”

And then the story from Mark reminds us that everywhere Jesus went, he brought healing, restoring those who were considered outcasts back to a full life within their community.

One more bit of scripture before we move on. It’s right there at the beginning in our creation story.

You know the line – God “created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God he created them.”

Whether we are born male or female, whether our bodies have particular physical characteristics or not, however we think of our own identities, we all share the identity of being created in God’s image – an image that clearly has innumerable dimensions.

Within the UCC nationally, we have explored transgender issues for well over a decade now.

In 2003, the UCC General Synod broke new ground adopting a resolution affirming the role of transgender people within the church and in the broader society.

In 2005, the UCC helped produce a powerful movie, Call Me Malcolm – that follows a seminarian’s journey to understand his own gender identity and that of others, all in the context of the faith they hold dear.

If all of this seemed sort of far away and interesting but maybe not terribly relevant to us, that all changed in April when the person we knew – and loved – as Molly Jetzer –told the congregation in the course of making an announcement that he now identified as a boy and now used the name Orion.

And do you know what happened here? There were wonderfully warm applause for Orion.

We truly do know something here about being an open and affirming congregation – a status we adopted in 2002 and that is now written into the revised constitution we adopted in 2010.

That’s some background. Let me invite Orion up here to share a bit of his story and perhaps help all of us understand this part of our world a little bit better.

I know that Orion and his family have been powerful educators for me over the past few months as I have just begun to scratch the surface of what there is to know about the transgender world.

Let’s start with a few definitions. It’s almost like giving you a quiz. But the terminology around the whole transgender issue can get pretty confusing pretty quickly.

So in brief, what does the word “transgender” mean?

Is that different than “transsexual?’

Is this just another form of sexual orientation, like gay or lesbian?

There are a lot more terms that get thrown around and there is a sheet with terms and definitions in the niche, along with a couple of other resources you may borrow if you like.

That’s all useful, but let’s get to your own story. Could you tell us a bit about your journey to identify as being a boy?

What was it like to tell your family? Your teachers? Your classmates?

What helped you during that whole process?

This whole gender thing can get a little complicated in a few specific areas. One of them is bathrooms. Another one is going to camp. A couple of weeks ago, you were at the UCC’s Pilgrim Center for PilgrimCon – the sci fi and fantasy camp. Tell us a bit about how that went.

Three more questions –

What are the key things we need to know?
What are the things we should not ask you – or any trans person?
How can the people of this congregation support you and your family going forward?

Thanks so much.

We’re going to end this reflection time as we usually do with a hymn. The hymn we are going to sing – “Community of Christ” (it’s number 314) I think really captures who we strive to be at Memorial and reflect the words of that letter to the Ephesians and that Gospel story from Mark that we heard today. Let’s sing all four verses.