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Easter and transgender visibility fall on the same day this year

‘In this between time, gender identity is slipping away,’ professor says

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

iStock photo

As the International Day of Transgender Visibility falls on Easter this year, Christians wrestle again with the ways that religion wounds those on the margins of society and in what ways the resurrection calls Christians into new ways of seeing, believing and loving.

In a new post for Presbyterians Today titled, “Healing the Wounds of Transphobia,” Dr. Wendy Farley, professor of spirituality at San Francisco Theological Seminary and author of six books published by Westminster John Knox Press, diagnoses our ailment, “in the religious and legal attacks on our trans siblings, we are experiencing a communal wounding — an indulgence in hatred and contempt whose multiple forms no one can evade.”

Dr. Wendy Farley

She appeals to the belief that we are one body and “what wounds one wounds all.” Christians called to the resurrecting power of love must do more than tolerate our human siblings with a trans identity, whom she calls, “tender bearers of the divine image … mutilated in spirit” by our past beliefs and actions.

 When it comes to understanding the evolving nature of gender and the current movement of queer theology, Dr. David Jensen, a professor of Reformed Theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, says that “we find surprising helpful resources when we dig deeply into our traditions.”

Such was the topic of his talk on March 21 titled “Queering Theology: Gender Trouble and Christian Faith.” The talk was presented as part of the spring series of faculty talks called “Cultivating Ideas,” hosted by the seminary online at noon Central Time on Thursdays.

In his presentation, Jensen covered texts that challenge gender dichotomies, including Genesis 1, Galatians 2, Gregory of Nyssa’s “On the Creation of Humanity” and early rabbinical commentary on the full representation of genders in each human within Genesis Creation accounts.

“Paul says some striking and sometimes rather conflicting things about gender,” said Jensen, who specifically referenced verses 28–29 in Galatians 3, but at the heart of what Paul is saying is this: “that all of our identities — cultural, religious, socioeconomic, whatever our identities are — they are relativized and renewed in the new life that we have in Jesus Christ.”

Dr. David Jensen

The focus on renewal in Christ applies to gender, according to Jensen, as much as it does to any other characteristic that a person might want to claim is fixed and untouchable. Jensen’s teaching and research explore the interconnections between Christian theology and daily living. Jensen, the author of over nine books, has tackled theologies of human sexuality, parenting, childhood and work. For Jensen, God’s grace transforms and is always transforming in all aspects of people’s lives. There is no part of humanity that God’s grace cannot touch and change, including gender. “Gender essentialism blocks God’s grace,” said Jensen.

Jensen looked to the early church theologian Gregory of Nyssa, who cemented the basics of Trinitarian theology and orthodox understandings of the “both/and” nature of Christ as divine and human.

“Gregory says that humanity’s original creation is genderless,” posited Jensen, and “to be human is beyond gender.” Male and female come later and are a concession to reproduction and, in a certain sense, to sin, according to Jensen’s interpretations of Gregory of Nyssa. “For him, the most key insight,” said Jensen, is that “we are to be genderless in the new life in Christ. That is our true nature and our true destiny.”

Jensen also drew on literary scholar Judith Butler’s seminal work, “Gender Trouble,” from 1990, and a more recent theological work, Susannah Cornwall’s “Constructive Theology and Gender Variance,” to further explore the dangers of gender essentialism and the more faithful approach to gender through queer theology and transgender activism. By putting these contemporary scholars in conversation with early Christian thinkers, Jensen argues that Christians go beyond tolerance of transgender people and consider how “trans people help us better live into our basic Christian beliefs about Christ, Creation and eschatology.”

Susannah Cornwall’s book on queer theology imagines the consummation of the Christian life as genderless.

Ending his talk with a discussion of 2 Corinthians 5:17, Jensen invited listeners to see how Christ, who holds his own human/divine nature together, also heals humanity’s competitive categories: “Everything that seemed to be in opposition to one another, whether one gender over another, one culture over another,” Jensen said, summarizing Cornwall, “all of that is healed, transformed, helped together and changed.” Everything old has passed away, and new things have come into being, as the verse in Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth imagines.

“Gender is for humanity, not humanity for gender,” Jensen said as he invited listeners to consider Cornwall’s eschatological claim that “we live in a between time, and in this between time, gender identity is slipping away.” The Christian life is an invitation to connect — parts of ourselves, with each other, with God. “Through gender nonconformity and transgender Christians,” according to Jensen’s summation of Cornwall, “we see an expansion of the ways in which we are called to connect with one another.”

Faculty members of Austin Theological Seminary are offering online talks this spring as part of the “Cultivating Ideas” faculty webinar series.

“At the end of the day, that is a deeply Christian thing — to connect, to be changed, to be transformed by grace — so that we might flourish together with one another, drawing life from the living God, the giver of all gifts,” Jensen concluded.

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary’s “Cultivating Ideas” series was created to offer “some of the most compelling, fresh ideas from Austin Seminary’s faculty,” according to the seminary’s website. Past lectures including Jensen’s are available in the archives on the seminary’s website.

Upcoming topics include the failure of churches to form the faith of children and teens, which will be presented by Andrew Zirschky on April 18; the harm Euro-American Christianity has caused Indigenous peoples, to be presented by Crystal Silva-McCormick on April 25; and trauma-informed faith formation, which will be presented by Patricia Bonilla on May 2.

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