Suzanne DeWitt Hall’s recent article, Jesus: The First Transgender Man, wades into the contemporary firestorm about transgender access to public bathrooms in the United States with a reflection about gender identity and biological determination from two- fairly important- characters from the Biblical record: Eve (Genesis 2) and Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, et al.).
Much has already been written about the flaws of seeing gender as a biological binary as well as how gender roles (and the number of gender options) are culturally formed, but her article approaches the issue using a different tact.
If we take the Genesis account in it’s literal meaning, as conservative Christians demand that we do, she is also the first case of a transgender woman. God reached into Adam, pulled out a bit of rib bone, and grew Eve from that XY DNA into Adam’s companion. She was created genetically male, and yet trans-formed into woman.
Then along comes Jesus and the whole pattern is both repeated and reversed. The first couple’s refusal to cooperate is turned around by Mary’s yes, and the second act of cloning occurs. The Holy Spirit comes upon the second Eve, and the child takes flesh from her and is born. Born of her flesh. Born with XX chromosome pairing. Born genetically female, and yet trans-formed into man.
The significance in considering how these bodies are formed should not be a biology lesson, but ought to lead us to consider how tightly we hold to cultural assumptions about gender and identity.
This is the same spirit in which we read Galatians 3:28 about other categories,
There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The differences between people are not magically erased but they no longer form the basis of our identification and relationship with one another. Any identity, gender included, is to be secondary to our identity in Christ.
Perhaps a modern reading could include that there is neither cisgender and transgender, but you are all one in Christ Jesus. If this seems scandalous, I believe that we are approaching the original intent of Paul- to show the radical inclusion that is possible within Christian community.
She concludes her post with a meaningful benediction, writing,
A quick look at the dictionary for the prefix “trans” tells us that it means “across,” “beyond,” “through,” and “changing thoroughly,” all of which are great terms for the person of Christ. He cuts across all boundaries. He is beyond our understanding. He is through all and in all. He changes us thoroughly into new creations.
In his person, and in his salvific actions, Jesus is truly the first and forever trans man.
A special blessing to those brothers and sisters (and all who may find those terms of affection difficult) to know that Christ is present with you in your journey and invites you to live deeply from your identity as a new creation in Him and full fellowship within all of God’s family.
A few years ago, a mural appeared on London Bridge in a street art style similar to that of popular artist, Banksy. It portrays Jesus carrying his cross while police harass him and paparazzi exploit him. While difficult to confirm who to credit the piece to, it has been titled Crucifixation or, more commonly, Stations of the Cross.
The mural is a vivid reminder that Jesus lived in a police state where the color of his skin put him at odds with the government. His contemporaries (and companions) advocated for violent overthrow of the occupiers and others called for personal piety and strict religious observance. Still others thought that accommodating to the oppressors was the most direct option for peace.
We still have oppressors, zealots, Pharisees, ascetics, and Sadducees in our world today, whether it is the Police (preservers of the status quo) or paparazzi (exploiting someone’s pain to their advantage) yet we must continually return to the dedication of Jesus who identifies with the poor, the meek, the dispossessed, and the marginalized.
Good Friday is a backward holiday- celebrating the mistrial, mob justice, torture, and execution of a man teaching a radical way of life that destabilizes the power of the political, military, and spiritual authorities. In the culmination of the crucifixion, Jesus pleads for his executioners to be forgiven- showing what a contrast of message he lived and taught.
This gospel has outlived the Romans and all other social strata of the first century, yet the power structures that undergird those conspirators of the cross remain present in every community. To follow after a crucified messiah today requires us to be alert to where these powers remain in our lives and take action. To see where Jesus continues to identify with the poor, the meek, the dispossessed, and the marginalized and join him there in real, tangible ways.
Michael Shepherd is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Hope International University. He is the editor of the Global Theology blog and welcomes contributors!
Union Theological Seminary recently hosted a documentary about the origin of Womanist Theology through the perspective of some of its early adherents. The 12-minute video below is a preview of the full documentary, Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology and Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, which will be shown at the American Academy of Religion meeting this fall in San Diego, California, USA.
A social and spiritual look at female theologians and ethicists of African descent…Union Theological Seminary will premier Journey to Liberation, a 50-minute documentary on the founding of Womanist theology, an African-American feminist liberation movement. Filmmaker Anika Gibbons takes a deeper look at the radical spirituality and scholarship within the lives of the founding mothers of Womanist theology and Womanist ethics. She focuses on their significance as figures in African-American theology and history, and on the role played by Union in that founding.
For a summary and commentary on the event, see Womanist Theology at Union: A Past, A Present– A Future? by Jamall Calloway (H/T to Jason Harris and Postcolonial Theology Network Facebook Group)
For more videos, including an introduction to the film and resulting panel discussion about the current state of African-American women in theology and Womanist perspectives, follow this link.
If you are interested in sharing your perspective and becoming a writer with GlobalTheology.org, find more information on our Get Involved Page!
Michael Shepherd is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Hope International University. He is the editor of GlobalTheology.org and lives in Fullerton, CA, USA with his wife and son.
Artist Joey Novak has an installation of minimalist interpretations of books of the Bible (LINK). Out of respect for his work, I will not post the images here, but encourage you to follow the link to see for yourself.
Questions to consider:
What symbols carry the most power in his art?
How do we assign meaning to symbols (enough meaning that they can convey so much more than words)?
What other symbols exist that we can use to communicate the gospel and discipleship?
How do we incorporate the cultural expectations of our particular locations in our own theological development? What elements inform our community’s imagination and supply meaning to its spiritual vocabulary? How can we communicate effectively who Christ is and the significance of the gospel?
In 1927, Po Ch’en Kuang viewed the Chinese religious classics Analects, Mencius, and the Book of Songs and Rites as comparable to the prophets, Psalms, and Deuteronomy of the Hebrew Scriptures that were included in the canon by non-Hebrew Christian groups. As Kwok Pui Lan summarized his argument, “since the Bible contains the important classics of the Jewish people which preceded Jesus, he could see no reason why the Chinese would not include their own” (“Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World.” Voices from the Margins. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed. 1991, 302).
Some Christian communities in India exemplify this approach through the incorporation of Vedic Hindu Scriptures. The Vedas and Hindu traditions define the lexicon of the spirituality and so to access this subsystem of the culture requires fluency in the associated terms and grammar. Thangaraj describes the possibility of viewing the Hindu scriptures as a type of “Old Testament for Indian Christians” and the need to “…read the Hindu Scriptures in the light of Christ, just as the early Jewish disciples of Jesus had done with the Hebrew Scriptures” (“The Bible as Veda: Biblical Hermeneutics in Tamil Christianity.” Vernacular Hermeneutics. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed. 1999, 136). This perspective takes seriously the extent to which the Hinduism and the Vedic scriptures have shaped the culture and religious expectation in India. One must mine the cultural influence of the Hindu Scripture to present an image of Christ that is recognizable and incorporated into the lives of the community.
Within these convergent communities, local theologians utilize the existing thought forms and archetypes to mold their unique Christologies. As a North American example, Gabe Lyons, in his book The Next Christians (2010), labels some communities of North American Christians restorers, in clear differentiation from a former buzzword, relevant. A defining characteristic of these communities is a countercultural relationship with the majority culture. The term “countercultural” is not void of meaning to this community, however, as they possess preconceived images that define it. To view Christ as countercultural places him in a category of other iconoclasts and may conjure images of Che Guevara, Malcolm X, or Bob Dylan. Elements of the lives of each of these men find greater definition when applied to Christ, such as commitment to societal change, redefining oneself in relation to one’s commitment to faith, or using poetic language to convey a message of hope and love. A more contemporary example of the countercultural iconoclast is the street artist Banksy, an anonymous activist known to beautify public places in an attempt to bring attention to injustices or awaken people to a life of deeper significance. The theologizing of the restorers follows the pre-existing pattern to determine the type of countercultural figure Jesus is and the manner in which the community can align their lives after his in discipleship. For this community to comprehend Christ, they begin with the images with which they are familiar and then seek the direction of scripture to add greater definition.
What elements exist within your community that form its “lexicon of spirituality”? How can these be used and re-interpreted to convey the gospel?
This essay was excerpted from “Form, Re-Form: Religious and Cultural Identity in the Formation of Christian Theology” , by Michael Shepherd. The full material can be found here and is open for dialogue and review.
I have always liked this song for its simplicity. The band (mewithoutYou) is one whose use of imagery and lyricism is pregnant with meaning and the connection toward the spiritual.
There is much hand wringing in the western church over the growing margins of people who consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious” or specifically “Christian”. This song speaks to this strata of people looking for spiritual significance in a world that is increasingly distant.
The song makes no explicit mention of Christ or salvation, yet a cursory glance at the lyrics makes several theological declarations. (more…)