Can I tell you why, if a transgender person asks me to refer to them as male or female, or “they” or “them,” or asks me to call them by a name they’ve chosen rather than the name they were given, I’m happy to comply?
It comes from personal experience that many of my family and friends can relate to.
I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in The Bible. I identify as Christian. Sorry to go all Merriam-Webster on you, but it defines Christian as “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.” And I do.
Throughout my life, as recently as this past weekend in fact, I’ve been told that because I am a Latter-day Saint, I am not a Christian. Gatekeepers of the term tell me that because my concept of the Godhead differs from the Nicean Creed, or because I believe in additional scripture and continuing revelation, that I don’t qualify.
I’m denied a seat at the table. I’m denied the fellowship of other believers and the opportunity to rejoice with them in what we have in common. It hurts that they don’t think Christ means as much to me as He does to them. Generally speaking, they have no idea just how much I love Him.
It hurts to be told that I don’t get to choose who I am. It hurts to be told that my experience is invalid or lesser. I’d much rather they say, “we may disagree on some big things, we may vigorously debate them, but I see your heart. You are welcome among us. You say you’re a Christian. We may think it means different things, but I won’t deny you your experience nor deny your claim to the identity that means so much to you.”
Transgender friends, you call yourself Susan though you were born Stephen. You ask to be referred to as “she” though you were born “he,” or “he” though you were born “she,” or “they/them” instead of “him” or “her.” I may not understand it, but I know it’s real to you. I may see the world differently, but why would I try to enforce my worldview on you? Is it not a sign of respect to call you by your preferred title?
My Christian friends can say “well, I think being a Christian means believing in The Bible as God’s only word and that the Godhead are three-beings-in-one instead of three separate beings united (or “one”) in purpose. That’s a key part of it. But I can see how much Jesus means to you. I can see how much you love the Bible. I may disagree with you, but I won’t deny you. It doesn’t diminish my stance to co-exist separately with yours.”
One can believe that gender is eternal and that the sex you were born with is who you are while still allowing others to see things differently, to experience them differently, and to have the right to claim the identity they choose. It doesn’t feel good to be told you cannot. It doesn’t feel good to have another’s worldview enforced upon you.
I’m Jonathan Decker. I’m a Christian. Whether or not you think I am is irrelevant to me. I know the identity I claim. You are a transgender person. Whether or not others think there is no such thing is irrelevant. We all choose the paths we follow and how to play the hands we are dealt.
Before any Saints think I’ve gone off the rails, I direct you to our current Church Handbook, section titled “Transgender Individuals” (38.6.22). “If a member decides to change his or her preferred name or pronouns of address, the name preference may be noted in the preferred name field on the membership record. The person may be addressed by the preferred name in the ward.”
The whole section is illuminating for where our faith stands on the issue of transgenderism. Obviously, we and that movement diverge widely in key places. But that doesn’t mean we can’t love each other, respect each other, and make room for one another at the table.
Whoever you are, I believe there’s a God who loves you and embraces you as you are. He does want all of us to grow and improve, but He also knows us and loves us unconditionally. Why do I believe this? Because the more I learn about Him, the more I try to grow closer to Him, the more inclined I am to love you and let go of any bigotry in myself.
Don’t believe as I do? Or overlap in some areas but not in others, like a Venn diagram? You’re welcome at my table. Let’s break bread (or in my case, pizza). I think we can learn a lot from each other.
Jonathan Decker is a husband. Father.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Child of God.
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