Trans Lives in American Christian Contexts

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On September 20, 2016 at 7:00pm, the Desmond Tutu Center and the Center for Faith and Vocation hosted Trans Lives in American Christian Contexts—part one of a four part public seminar series discussing Religion and Trans Lives in a Global Perspective. Butler students, church leaders, members of the LGBT community and Indianapolis residents filled Butler University’s Schrott Center to hear keynote speaker Allyson Robinson discuss transgender issues within the Christian church itself, with delfin bautista and Terri Jett acting as respondents.

The seminar began with an opening statement made by Desmond Tutu Center Executive Director Reverend Dr. Allan Boesak, who reflected on how the seminar’s purpose aligned with the Desmond Tutu Center’s mission, followed by an introduction about Allyson Robinson.

Robinson—a trans mother of four who is believed to be the first openly transgender person ordained by a Baptist church—took to the podium and promised her audience that she would be “as raw and real as I can be.” Her words reflected on the ideas of “Theology as Survival.” She used her own suffering and doubt during her transition to develop the relationship she has with God today. Robinson shared how it took many years for her to realize that she wasn’t broken even if scripture said otherwise. The journey to becoming her true self led her to understand that it’s okay to question God. While doubt is typically seen as a weakness and sign of moral failure, it helped Robinson discover that faith and doubt need each other to confirm the realness of her beliefs.

In response, delfin bautista—the Director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University, who was raised in a Latino Catholic household —reflected on religious moments in time where transition has been celebrated “Gods and Goddesses experiencing a transition are honored in other religions.” They goes on to say that the affirmation of who someone truly is was celebrated as a sacred revelation in the scripts. bautista ends by stating that while “gender is messy and colorful, transition is not about mistake-fixing, but a journey of creation.”

Terri Jett—an Associate Professor of Political Science and Special Assistant to the Provost for Diversity and Inclusivity at Butler University—contributed to the conversation by centering her response around acceptance. Through her lifelong involvement with an African American Presbyterian Church, Jett saw that a challenge for churches has been their ability to evolve with today’s current issues while also honoring the scriptures used in worship. Jett nudges churches to accept all and believes those who suffer should lead churches and social debates. It’s her belief that for communities to flourish, it’s our calling to enhance human dignity no matter someone’s religion or sex.

Once the speakers were finished, audience members had the opportunity to speak with them through an interactive Question and Answer section. Topics covered during this portion of the seminar included: LGBT rights within religion and whether there could be a compromise between resistant church groups and LGBT members—Robinson’s answer: “There should be no compromise for human dignity—,” how languages, specifically Spanish, is generally more gender-inclusive, whether an openly trans-person can thrive believing traditional Christian beliefs and scriptures, if there is such a thing as traditional Christianity, and the issue of “God” language (in this age should churches refer to God as something other than masculine).

Several youth pastors and church leaders asked the panel for advice on how to be more inclusive to their congregations and how to be a supportive resource to people going through a transition. Members of the LGBT community who connected with the panelists’ past struggles looked for guidance on how to merge their religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds while being open about their true selves. The discussion was ended with still several people in line at the microphones hoping to pick the experts’ brains about this intricate topic.

“Everyone’s identity is intersected and everyone can stand in solidarity because all are suffering from “systems.” –Terri Jett

By: Lexa Muehlbauer

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