Fearfully and Wonderfully Made


This reading from 1 Corinthians reminds me of the part in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where Alice has eaten magic cake and grown so tall that she can barely see her feet, way below.


“Goodbye, feet!” (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off). “Oh, my poor little feet, I wonder who will put on your shoes and stockings for you now, dears? I’m sure I shan’t be able! I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can—but I must be kind to them,” thought Alice, “or perhaps they won’t walk the way I want to go! Let me see. I’ll give them a new pair of boots every Christmas.” [Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, chapter 2.]


Far from disowning parts of her body, she’s trying to figure out how to care for them from afar.


Also along the theme of owning or disowning parts of one’s body, I’ve been told that some stroke victims who have lost the use of an arm or a leg have trouble recognizing that limb as still belonging to them. It’s there in the bed with them. They can see it. They can touch it with the other limbs that still function. But they can’t feel it or control it, and they can’t tell you how it got there or to whom it belongs.


Look around this sanctuary. If you’re on Zoom, look at the others who are also on Zoom. We are all limbs on the body of Christ. We are not complete without all of us. We don’t all believe exactly the same things. We don’t all have the same gifts and talents. We don’t all see the world in the same ways. And that’s a good thing. We benefit from diversity. On this Pride Sunday, we celebrate our differences and recognize the holiness in each and every limb of Christ’s body.


When CrossWalk America walked across the country in 2006, Eric Elnes, one of our leaders and an ordained minister in the UCC, offered to preach at churches all along the way. An independent church in Hereford, Texas, invited him to preach there and hosted our group in their homes. We were promoting a document that Eric and others had written called the Phoenix Affirmations: four affirmations about love of God, four about love of neighbor, and four about love of self. Eric asked the pastor which of the affirmations might be the most challenging for the members of her church. She said Affirmation 5 might be a stretch. Affirmation 5 says,


Christian love of neighbor includes engaging people authentically, as Jesus did, treating all as creations made in God's very image, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, nationality, or economic class.


So of course, that’s the affirmation that Eric preached on in her church that Sunday. And on the one hand, the pastor thought, “Well, we just opened up that whole can of worms in the congregation!” But on the other hand, she thought maybe it was a good thing.


Eric noticed that, as people came through the line and shook his hand after worship, they would say, “Thank you for your sermon,” and then they’d lean in and say, “We’re pretty sure my sister is a lesbian,” or “I’m wondering about my son.” So not talking about LGBTQ issues in their church doesn’t mean they weren’t experiencing them in their families and community. It just means they weren’t talking about them. But it sounds as though the same expansiveness of spirit that led them to host our group, even though we may have had some theological differences, was the same expansiveness of spirit that led them to keep loving and living with these family members who had different sexual or gender identities.


We don’t expect everyone to have the same eye color, or hair color, or skin color. We don’t expect everyone to be the same height or weight, or to have the same amount of muscle. We don’t expect everyone to like the same kinds of foods. We don’t expect everyone to be good at the same things. We appreciate the spectrum of diversity of the human body in all these aspects.


But when it comes to sexuality and gender identity, some people think we all have to do things the exact same way: we can only love someone of the opposite gender, and we can only present ourselves as being the gender we were assigned at birth. But God invites us to think more broadly than that.


I have a friend whose first baby was born intersex—that is, with elements of both sexes. My friend had to choose which gender her child would be. I believe there was some chromosome testing that helped her make the choice. And then there was some surgery so that this child’s genitals would conform to the male gender. He grew up as a boy and married a woman and identifies as a heterosexual male. But the reality is that gender is more of a spectrum than we may know or admit. We just may not be talking about it.


I know a couple who had a baby girl about 17 years ago. As this daughter hit puberty, she became more and more anxious. She was clearly wrestling with something. Finally, about four years ago, she changed her name to something more gender-neutral and switched to they/them pronouns. And they have been much more settled and happy ever since. There was some kind of gender dysphoria going on when this person had to identify as she/her. Their parents have been supportive of their transition to a more gender-fluid identity. It has been a positive move. When friends get together with this family, we all try to remember to use the new name and the new pronouns, and we get some grace when we forget. We keep trying. You know, for over a half century I thought I had pronouns all figured out. I try to keep up with people’s preferences. Sometimes I forget.


But here’s the thing. It’s not up to me to tell somebody else who they’re supposed to be, or to judge them for making choices that I wouldn’t make about their gender identity or choice of partner. Nowhere in the Bible am I given the authority to judge them, to play God or to tell people what God has in mind for them. It is never my job to tell people that God hates them and is sending them to hell. That is an abuse of the Bible, using it like a weapon—and it happens all the time. It is an abuse of God. It is an attempt to cut people apart from their own spiritual life and relationship with the Divine as they understand that. Never my job. Never our job.


If we take Psalm 139 seriously, we know that God makes us with love, that God is always with us, that God knows us down to the marrow of our bones before we’re even born, and that God loves us, no matter what. If we change our names, God loves us. If we change our gender, God loves us. If we go to the ends of the earth, we are never, ever separated from God.


But some people have decided that transgender people are a threat to a Christian, God-fearing society. They are like the stroke victims who see one of their own limbs and disown it. And you know how well the body works when you disown parts of it. These people have introduced hundreds of bills into state and national legislation, bills that deny gender-affirming counseling or healthcare, bills that deny people the right to change their names and genders on driver’s licenses, bills that ban trans people from participation in team sports.


Lest you think that these bills impact only trans people, let me tell you that some of these bills impact anyone who interacts with a person who is even considering transitioning. For example, there are bills that ban educators from providing any form of support for students wanting even to talk with a trusted adult about the possibility of transitioning—what is called “social transition” in some legislation. A bill under consideration in Missouri says,


A person commits the offense of contributing to social transition if the person is acting in his or her official capacity as a teacher or school counselor and the person provides support, regardless of whether the support is material, information, or other resources to a child regarding social transition. The offense of contributing to social transition is a class E felony and requires a person to be placed on the sexual offender registry. [translegislation.com.]


In other words, if a student comes to you, a teacher or school counselor, saying they want to talk about transitioning their gender, and you give them any information about resources or even just have a conversation with them on this topic, you could be labeled a felon and placed on a sexual offender registry. Try doing your job as a trusted adult in a school setting under those conditions, interacting with students who are wrestling with questions about their gender identity. And try renting an apartment when you are on a public sexual offender registry. Imagine as well how cut off and alone that student feels when a teacher says to them, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk with you about that. You’re on your own.”


A bill under consideration in Florida would forbid employees from providing gender and pronoun preferences that do not align with the person’s assigned gender at birth. This bill would also forbid employers from asking employees their gender and pronoun preferences. Forbidden by law. It would be a criminal act for trans people to provide their gender and pronoun preferences. [Ibid.]


There are hundreds of these bills out there. I only found one listed for Washington State in 2024, and it was defeated. But it may come back. Our state is not immune.


Perhaps when you think of transgender people you come up with an image of drag queens: men or trans women who wear inch-long eyelashes and high heels and lots of makeup and sparkles. Sure. And. There are lots of trans people who just blend in and go about their jobs without a lot of fanfare. I knew one who was the tech resource person in the office where I worked. I knew a bunch of trans people who attended seminary the same time I did. They were called to be ministers. They weren’t hurting anybody or trying to convince anyone else to join them. They just wanted to become the person they felt called to be and then get on with their lives.


The message is clear: Our trans siblings are just as much a part of the body of Christ as we are. God knows and loves them just as much as God knows and loves each one of us, in all our diversity, in all our particularities. To legislate against them, to cut them out of society, would be like cutting off our arm. And if the Bible tells us anything about how to love our neighbor and how to be the body of Christ, it says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). We found this out with COVID: if anyone has COVID, we are all at risk. It is the same with trans rights: if anyone in our collective body is under attack for being the best authentic self they feel called to be, none of us is safe.


Our trans siblings are suffering at the hands of some who would legislate them out of existence. When we write to our legislators in the face of such hateful bills, we can identify ourselves as Christians. That is a powerful and loving counter message to the “Christian” forces that say the opposite. We can let our legislators know that we are writing as people of faith who recognize that God loves all of God’s children, no exceptions.


In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice decides she will send new boots to her feet at Christmas to let them know she loves them. She will give them a gift. Blessings on all of you who are marching in the Pride Parade next Sunday. That is a gift. Blessings on all of you who speak out with love and compassion for all in the body of Christ, especially in the face of hateful legislation. These are gifts that we can give to our siblings in the body of Christ. The UCC has a motto, taken from John 17:21: “that they may all be one.” We don’t have to be identical—in fact, we are better off with diversity. But let us stand united in our diversity, daring to love our whole bodies, made in the image of God and loved more deeply by God than we can fathom. Amen.

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