Dear Southern Baptist Convention,
I know that you are considering passing a resolution against transgender identity this week at your meeting in Baltimore. In anticipation of this vote, I write to you as a fellow believer in our Lord Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, the person to whom I have given my heart and soul and whom I spend my life serving.
I was raised Southern Baptist in Stanly County, North Carolina, in a devoted Christian family.
My dad grew up in Nigeria, the son of Southern Baptist missionaries who taught there. The theology and worship of my Southern Baptist church was a core part of my identity as a child, and in many ways, it continues to form the person I am today.
Growing up, I was desperate to be a good Christian and to earnestly give my life, my heart, and my soul to the Lord. I was also trans. I knew I was a girl from a very young age, even though the world saw me as a boy. It wasn't easy. I fought against this. I fought with every tool I had. I prayed and I prayed and I begged.
I went through the act of being saved over and over, thinking each time that if I was perfectly contrite and sorrowful, Christ would save me from being trans, from being a girl.
When I was about 16, I was on a youth retreat up near Liberty University. My youth group was staying in cabins out in the woods. At one of the evening praise and worship times I fell down on the floor praying that God would fix me. My minister prayed over me. I hoped, I hoped incredibly hard that that would be the moment where I was fixed, but of course it wasn't.
I couldn’t “fix” being trans because it’s how God created me.
There have always been transgender and gender non-conforming people. There will always be trans and gender non-conforming people. Trans and gender non-conforming people turn up in every culture and every population. In fact, the first gentile Christian in the Book of Acts was someone who could be viewed gender non-conforming—the Ethiopian Eunuch.
The thing is, struggling against being trans wasn't good for me. That struggle made me an unhealthy, unhappy person. I was hiding so much and hating so much about myself that it poisoned my ability to build meaningful, loving relationships.
Coming out and transitioning was one of the scariest things I've ever done, and I served with the US Military in Iraq.
But it was worth it. People now have the chance to know me and love me. My friends and family have the opportunity to come past all the mean little walls I once set up around my heart. In the process, I’ve gotten to know my family in profound ways.
And I’ve gotten to know, absolutely, that I am loved unconditionally.
Unfortunately, the proposed resolution, which attempts to provide a reference point for Southern Baptists considering questions of gender identity, fails to extend that unconditional love to trans and gender non-conforming people.
As more and more trans folks appear on television and the covers of magazines, there are conversations about trans identity happening all over the United States. A lot of people are trying to figure out how to feel about us transgender people, and it makes sense that the SBC wants to take a stand.
I can even see why some Southern Baptists might be inclined to come out against folks being trans. The 2000 Baptist Faith & Message proclaims that the “gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation.” On the surface, transgender identity seems to complicate gender systems and disrupt the gender roles that are entrenched in Southern Baptist theology.
It can be temptingly easy to label confusing things as bad or wrong, even when they are perfectly natural and good, just complicated.
But growing up Southern Baptist, I was taught that every person had to make their own choices about their faith and their life. I was taught that all people had soul freedom. I was taught that no one gets to stand between you and God, and that you get to make the choice about who you are, about how you will live your life, about whether or not you will follow Jesus.
If we can believe that it is up to each individual to make choices of that importance about their souls, can't people also be trusted to make their own choices about their own bodies and identities?
Unfortunately, transgender people experience harassment, violence, and discrimination at alarming rates.
Isn’t it the role of Christians to minister with those who are excluded and marginalized?
I ask you, as fellow believers, to join with us in the Episcopal Church and other traditions as family in standing with trans and gender non-nonconforming people rather than against us.
Don’t make the world harder for trans folks. Instead, let’s explore together the ways that our gender, in all its beautiful diversity, is a blessed gift from God.
Thank you for listening.
Your sister in Christ, Vivian Taylor
UPDATE: On June 10, the Southern Baptist Convention passed the resolution condemning transgender people. Read more on GLAAD.
Photo via flickr user Matt and Cyndi Maxson