A sermon preached on 16th November 2017.
“Let boys wear tutus says Church of England” was a headline on the front page the Daily Telegraph on Monday with a similar one in the Daily Mail. Both referred to a report from the Church of England entitled “Valuing all God’s children” (link is actually to a previous version as the most recent seems to have got lost in cyberspace – last seen at this link) which provides guidance for its 4,700 schools on challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. The theme was picked up in the Thought for the Day on the BBC today programme on Radio 4 on Tuesday and was the subject discussed in the Moral Maze last night. Louis Theroux has also explored the issues in a recent TV documentary (although I admit that I haven’t yet seen that).
It’s tempting to think this is an issue for other people but there are now two trans-gender people in my circle of acquaintance. One, a teenager, has derived considerable support from the love and acceptance that she (who was born he) has received from her grand-parents in particular.
The world is much more complicated than the one we grew up in isn’t it? When I was at school there were girls and boys and that was that. Boys and girls did different things. Nothing could have been clearer to me growing up in South Liverpool. The boys played football all the time and the girls, well I don’t know what the girls did because I was playing football.
Things are very different now. We are now very conscious that just assuming that boys will be boys and girls will be girls may be oversimplifying things. Growing evidence from genetics, endocrinology and psychology has made this very clear. Most people are born with either two XX chromosomes or an X and a Y chromosomes which determines whether they are female or male. We now know however that some people are born with different combinations of chromosomes and don’t fall into this neat categorisation. On top of this there are people who are born chromosomally normal but have different levels of hormones which can cause them to take on characteristics of the opposite gender both physically and psychologically. A final group are those who have no apparent genetic or hormonal issues but simply feel they are a man trapped in a woman’s body or vice versa.
Although things feel different there is no scientific evidence that things actually are different. It is virtually certain that the people I’ve described above has always been born into society but that this has been hidden by the way society has behaved towards them. Further, particularly, with regard to those trapped in the body of someone of the opposite gender, the growing evidence is that this is the way that people have been born and is often apparent from very early childhood. This is not something that has developed from the way children have been brought up or as the result of some illness, it is simply the way they were born.
As with many advances in our scientific understanding of the world, this is something that challenges some Christians. In this morning’s Bible reading (Genesis 1:20-31) we read that “he created them male and female” there is no mention that there might be any alternative or that some of those males may desperately want to be females or some of those females might desperately want to be males. Then again, of course, the Bible only says that God created animals “domestic and wild, large and small”, it doesn’t feel a need to list every single type of animal within this category. Just because the full gender spectrum of humanity is not listed in Genesis does not mean that they are not part of God’s creation.
The verse that the Archbishop of Canterbury draws attention to in his introduction to the report is the previous verse, “And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us” in the Good News Bible or “so God created man in his own image”, in old money. All humans are created in God’s own image, all humans, not just some. We are called to celebrate the paradox that that whole rainbow of humanity, different races, different talents, different personalities, different expressions of gender, are created in the image of a single God.
What follows from that is the simple understanding that what God has created we are called to love. Our role is not to change those who God has created into our own likeness, it is to allow them to flourish into their own likeness to God. The other text the Archbishop cites is the one that I include in my e-mail signature. John 10:10, “I come that they may have life and have it more abundantly”. If children are born with a psychological gender that is different to their physical gender then they are going to have much less chance of living life abundantly if they are forced to conform to our stereotypes of how they should behave than if their natural inclination is accepted, nurtured and the valued.
The statistics on this are stark. 84% of trans-gender young people have self-harmed. 45% of them have attempted to take their own life (all statistics in this seromon are taken from the Valuing all God’s Children report). This issue is not a trivial one about whether little boys should be allowed to wear tutus and tiaras from the dressing up box – it is a matter of life and death. Part of this is because of the considerable psychological turmoil that being born feeling trapped in the body of the wrong gender causes, but this is augmented by the stigma that these people receive from wider society. Nearly 1 in 10 transgender children are subjected to death threats while still at school. Overt bullying is not the only problem. Transgender people are often made to feel different and unwelcome. Much of this is not intentional, it is simply that the rest of us are insensitive to who they are and how they need to be. We use language loosely without intending offense. We say the wrong thing simply because it may never occur to us that it is wrong.
So, I follow the Archbishop’s example and encourage you all this morning to celebrate the dazzling rainbow which is the full spectrum of humanity with all its many hues. I ask you to recognise that, whatever hue, we are all created in God’s image. I want to encourage you to do your part to ensure that all God’s people, whatever they feel about their own gender, are allowed to flourish on this earth and nurtured to live life as abundantly and fully as they are able.
This may feel like an agenda for a different generation but please acknowledge the importance of your own role as parents, grand-parents, great-grandparents, uncles and aunts. The wisdom of age is often honoured more within our family circles than we ever appreciate. And who knows? – your love, support and understanding may make the difference between a child who lives in anguish, turmoil and self-hate and one who is at peace with themselves, with you and with their God.
The sermon was followed by the hymn, Let love be real. I’d chosen this before I’d written my sermon and was amazed, when we sung it, just how well the words fitted with the message I’d preached. (In our hymn book it is set to the Londonderry Air).