This writing refers to two pieces of legislation recently supported and signed into law by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds. Senate File 538 prohibits medical personnel from providing gender-altering treatment for minors even if they have their parents’ permission. Senate File 482 requires transgender youth to use bathrooms and locker rooms at school that align with their gender assigned at birth, providing separate facilities only with parents’ permission.
It seems that a lot of people in Iowa and around the U.S. are asking a question these days: “What if…?”
What if my child has to share a locker room with a transgender student? What if we let the people who identify as LGBTQ+ and their allies have a voice in public policy? What if we let parents of a transgender child do what they think is best to help that child be their whole self through affirmation and body-altering surgery?
I asked my own “what if” questions some years ago. I was wrestling with the fact that Christians whose theology I respected were on different sides of the debate about homosexuality and faith. Since I was already familiar with the “it’s a sin” perspective, I asked myself, “What if those who affirm LGBTQ+ persons, and whose scholarship about the Bible is just as considered and conscientious as the ‘conservative’ view, are right?” I had to ask whether their perspective was plausible.
When I studied the arguments, they did seem plausible. Their views simply reflected a different way of looking at the Bible than I had been familiar with, but it was no less valid. These people took the Bible seriously. They did not treat it as a constitution but rather as a library of inspired and diverse writings about God, the world, and ourselves. If their perspective was plausible, I could not dismiss it. Instead, I had to admit that I did not know everything.
I certainly did not know what it was like to be gay. But I knew gay people whose faith in God was deep and life-giving, and whose behavior reflected the kind of love Jesus invites us to express. I began to let go of any certainty about my views. It was scary at first, but eventually it led to a new way of life that was not bound by anxiety over who’s right and who’s not, who’s sinning and who isn’t. I was freed to focus on the love of God for all people.
For those who, for religious reasons, want to limit the options for transgender and other people who identify as LGBTQ+, I suggest setting aside your certainty for a moment and considering the plausibility of a few ideas. These ideas are limited to the Christian scriptures, and I do not presume to advise adherents of other faiths.
What if, when Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery, he was not only telling the woman to “go and sin no more,” but also including those men who wanted to stone her? I suspect he intervened to rescue her from their certainty that she was shameful and that they were righteous.
What if the apostle Paul was never intended to have the last word about what is sin and what is not? What if he is simply a good model for wrestling with the gospel of Jesus Christ and applying it to the understandings of one’s historical context? Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. He also said that he himself is the truth. These statements compel me to think that my faith is an ongoing experience of wrestling with what it means to follow Jesus, not a rigid dogma by which I dictate how others should act when their identity has no material impact on anyone else’s wellbeing.
What if the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 is told so that we will not be quick to judge other people’s sexuality, and to take seriously the Ethiopian’s question, “What is to keep me from being baptized?” Philip’s answer was “nothing.” That word resounds with grace. The man’s altered body was considered deviant, but it did not place him outside of God’s family whatsoever. (There is no indication that he was commanded to repent or to start living like a “real” man.)
What if Jesus were asked about what it means to be born out of kilter with the “norms” of society? There is a story about this too. A man born blind was assumed to be a sinner—or his parents were—because he was outside the “norm.” Jesus refused to engage in a debate about sin. The story of the “righteous” men’s condemnation is both sobering and comical in its uncovering of their faulty perspective about God.
What if I were born in a body that feels out of sync with who I consistently sense I ought to be? If my abnormality were a faulty heart or myopia, nobody would object to measures being taken to correct it. Nobody would condemn me to live my life according to my biology at birth. Yet Senate File 538 signed by Governor Reynolds accomplishes just that for transgender youth.
I contend that her comment that “It’s not easy” to make this decision should have given her enough pause to refrain from such sweeping and discriminatory legislation. The law denies parents the opportunity to act in their children’s best interests, even though this contradicts another law Reynolds pushed that enables public funds to be used for private school tuition because parents “know what is best for their children” in that case.
I know more than one transgender person. The one closest to me is a woman, a beautiful human being. I hate to ask “what if” she had been denied the right to become who she knows herself to be. I wonder whether she would still be alive today after the agony she went through for so many years in a male body.
What if our sexuality is not something we can turn off and on for the sake of the comfort of other people? If it is not binary but is instead a field of possibilities just as are some of our other traits? Sexuality is about far more than anatomy or intimate interactions. It involves the way we experience our bodies and our selves as they relate to the world and people around us.
Despite the fact that sharing locker rooms or bathrooms with transgender people has not been a problem for Iowa students, legislators in support of Senate File 482 have singled them out for exclusion.
So, what if your child is asked to share a locker room or bathroom with someone who makes them feel uncomfortable? What if you taught them that their own comfort is not the standard for living in harmony with other people in this world? What if you taught them that love is the standard, as Jesus taught when asked what is most important in pleasing the God who made us all? He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets depend on these two commands.”
Jesus demonstrated that love in literally breaking the laws of ancient scriptures by associating with, affirming, and taking seriously people who were Gentiles, women, “unclean” and “sinners” of every sort. He lived by religious moral code only when it aligned with his innate love and compassion that superseded that code by divine authority. What if we all chose to do the same?