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News Special: Churches urged to be more welcoming to transgender Christians

Wed 16 Mar 2016
By Hannah Tooley

Churches are being encouraged to allow transgender Christians to play a full and active role in church life.

A number of experts along with transmen and women have been speaking to Premier as part of a documentary called 'Did God give me the wrong body'?

Transgender is a term that refers to a person that identifies as a different gender to the body they were born with.

Dr Katie Edwards, Director of the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies and lecturer who specialises in gender and sexuality, told Premier: "Churches are an institution, organisations, part of our culture like anywhere else and they shouldn't have any kind of unique power to exclude just because they are faith institutions.

"And I'm sure that lots of Christians, and I know plenty of Christians who really think that it's absolutely wrong that same-sex couples feel uncomfortable in church, some transgender people feel they're being excluded.

"I think they absolutely have a responsibility to be inclusive to anyone who wants to be part of that church, anyone who believes in God, believes in Jesus."

Stephenie, a transwoman who transitioned in 1979, told Premier that she agrees and that churches need to be better at being inclusive.

She said: "Quite a lot of churches like to gather people that are like them to build up their numbers, rather than see it from the bigger picture and saying if you believe in the Lord, if you are saved, or you want to be saved, you're welcome here - and I think we need to open up our minds to being more open and more welcoming to all kinds of people.

"I don't remember Christ actually rejecting anyone that came to him asking for help.

"We as Christians need to examine our own motives about why are we rejecting people?

"God never rejected anybody, and The Word tells me he wants everyone to be saved - everyone - so whether you're L, G, B, T, Q, I, whatever you are, God wants you to have an opportunity to be saved.

"How can they get that opportunity if they're not in a church?"

Premier's Maria Rodriguez with Stephenie 

Gerald Coates, author of the Christian book Sexual Healing, thinks it's important to clarify what 'welcome' actually means.

He told Premier everyone is welcome in church, but there are rules and people that turn against the teaching of God could struggle in a church environment: "Please don't expect to be in leadership, please don't expect to have a platform... but you are welcome."

Some Christians believe that being transgender is something a person is born with, but others disagree and think that a person making a change to their body or presenting themselves as another gender is an active choice.

Mr Coates told Premier he thinks that a person can choose to be transgender and that it is a learned behaviour: "It's an emotional issue, a choice issue, rather than there's nothing I can do about it, it's in my DNA."

"We need a change in thinking, not a change in our apparatus."

Gerald Coates 

Dr Christopher West, theologian, speaker and author of John Paul II's Theology of the Body, also believes that being transgender is a choice.

He stressed to Premier that he believes the body is vitally important and cannot be changed: "The conversation about gender takes us ultimately to the relationship between body and soul, between the spiritual and the physical and someone who feels as if I'm a woman trapped in a man's body, or a man trapped in a woman's body, obviously there is an incongruity in their experience between the relationship between the body and the soul.

"The general conclusion in the wider culture is 'we have to fix the body, we have to change the body,' but I would say from a Christian perspective we would look at it differently and say maybe there's something wrong in the soul.

"Maybe you're not really healing the problem by changing the body, maybe it's a spiritual problem and there is a healing for the soul."

Premier's Maria Rodriguez with Dr Christopher West 

But behaviour analyst and Christian Louise Kadayer has told Premier that a person cannot choose to become transgender.

She said: "There are definite differences in the male and female brain, and it looks like there's now a transgender brain."

"If you have a three-year-old girl that was convinced she was a little boy, there obviously are a group of people that would be saying 'well, she's acting like a boy, she's wearing boys clothes, she's weeing in a urinal' - so those activities are changing her brain into a more male-like brain.

"But that's a pretty flimsy argument."

Speaking to Premier, Revd Duncan Dormor, the Dean of St John's College Cambridge Chapel, said that he believes essentially all people are people and that he would welcome a clear statement of welcome in his church.

He said: "The Anglican Church has a number of priests who are transgender - they go through the same sort of processes as anybody else would do.

"The Anglican Church, it doesn't have a doctrine on transgender, it's not quite as organised, or coherent, or dogmatic as that, because it's well aware that people have different views."

Listen to Did God give me the wrong body here.

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