Lately, every time I think I’m going to have thought-space for crafting some tips for welcoming and affirming trans/gender-diverse persons in the church, the need to respond to daily assaults on us distracts my efforts. This, in itself, is a valuable place to invest some reflection.
At many levels, distraction is both a function and a tool of oppressive systems.
And, I wonder of late if we are at a point where thinking theologically and practically about how to be the church converges in meaningful solidarity with marginalized and oppressed groups, trans folks included.
It seems this much is true: whether it be diverting energy and attention through necessary busy-ness with daily survival, pitting marginalized groups against one another through divisiveness and competition, or by simply tossing up issue after issue to create a multi-headed beast so big we can’t possibly deal with all the attacks on our common needs and concerns, distraction is an essential function of societies built on hierarchies and systems of privileging.
The church, as we know it, is also such a society.
For example, we have many denominations because the church has distracted itself, repeatedly, from actively being the church by placing greater emphasis on thinking about being the church. Said another way: we focus more time and energy on doctrinal thinking and bickering than we place on exploring how we practice being the church in a world rooted in exclusion, competition, privileging and marginalization. Too often, the church, which is called to be set apart—to be a priesthood of believers, a light unto the nations—has been, instead, a puppet of the nation, an instrument of its unjust ends, or at the least, an imitator of its practices.
To draw a parallel:
Currently, the conversation about who is “in” and who is “out” in the military industrial complex, who is allowed to serve and who is not, becomes a mighty arm of distraction. It keeps us focused on inclusion versus exclusion of who may serve. Thus, it prevents meaningful conversation about the role of the military in manipulative, exploitative and oppressive governmental initiatives. We are diverted from talking about the layers of problems presented by trans, queer, and poor people being exploited as fodder in morally questionable “wars.” More importantly, we are distracted from thinking more deeply about and developing strategies for dismantling the social and political systems that make military service a primary source of immediate employment, housing, health care, job training, and education for large numbers of trans and queer folks who, otherwise, have limited options.
In other words, quibbling about who is “in” and who is “out” diverts deeper discussions of oppression based on gender, race, and class.
Similarly, focusing energy on discussions and disagreements about who is “in” and who is “out” within the church distracts us from figuring out how to live a collective effort to be church. Historically, wrestling back and forth about doctrines of inclusion actually serves to prolong the exclusion of others.
The human reality is this: some hearts and minds simply cannot be changed—at least not through abstract intellectual methods. Socially and religiously, we are using hammers to change flat tires.
I can’t help but wonder what might happen if we earnestly set ourselves to the task of being a church where everyone is truly welcome and let the other folks do what they do? What if we, as people of faith, were to step out in practice of faith, open wide the doors, the pews and the choir lofts, the Sunday school rooms and the potlucks, the service committees and, even, the pulpits, inviting in all who hope for a sense of God and a place of belonging?
Is it possible that a movement from thinking and talking to believing and doing might make the talking points irrelevant? What if we were to toss all the doctrinal details aside and just started acting as if we are the church until we become the church?
I don’t know, but I imagine we would be amazed by the results. I suspect that if we just went about the actual lived work of being the church, others would follow. Hearts and minds would be moved to change. Perhaps, a process of spiritual attraction rather than intellectual promotion is what we need. Who knows, we might even hear a Holy Utterance. We might even see, more often and clearly, the face of God among us—where, perhaps, it has been all along.
If I have a tip this month, it is this (borrowing from Jesus, the prophets, folks like St. Ignatius, and C. S. Lewis): do not waste time bothering whether you love your neighbor; act as if you love and you will presently find that you are loving others.
Interested in learning how your church/community could be more inclusive of trans/gender-diverse persons? Check out our video series at rmnetwork.org/transformation
Liam Hooper lives in the deep south with his wife, Diana, a freelance publishing professional who keeps his calendar in line, and their teenage son, who keeps them on their toes.