Transgender is the state of one’s “gender identity” (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one’s “assigned sex”. Though a precise definition for transgender remains in flux. Transgender issues are usually very sensitive and rightly so. Legal procedures exist in some jurisdictions allowing individuals to change their legal gender, or their name, to reflect their gender identity. The world’s religions display great diversity and their interpretations of and reactions to transgender people demonstrate equal diversity. This week it was an Evangelical community in India that began it’s conundrum:
CHENNAI: Shunned and traumatized as a youngster, 25-year-old Bharathi now preaches to a congregation of 45 respectful parishioners, including 14 families, as India’s first transgender pastor.
Bharathi, who completed her bachelor’s degree in theology last April, has been a pastor at the Evangelical Church of India (ECI) branch in Chengalpattu, on the outskirts of Chennai, for the past eight months.
The pathbreaking move by the ECI, which has more than 100,000 followers across India, coincides with evangelical denominations in other countries, like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, deciding to allow transgenders as pastors.
Raised as a boy and taunted at school, India’s first transgender pastor Bharathi is now called to preside over baby showers and christenings, though conducting weddings is sometime away. Bharathi conducts service in Tamil and English every Sunday, “administers communion” to her parishioners, and is training another transgender to become a pastor. She says her parishioners’ acceptance of her has touched her deeply.
In a social climate of complete equality in all things, the conservative biblical teaching of only allowing men to be pastors and elders is not popular. Many feminist organizations denounce this position as antiquated and chauvinistic. In addition, many Christian churches have adopted the “politically correct” social standard and have allowed women pastors and elders in the church. But the question remains, is this biblical?
These are good doctrinal thinking points. These are situations that should draw us back to Scripture to understand the sacredness of the pastoral office as well as put the issue of gender and equality in right perspective.
So then, if one is born a man and later has a gender change does that technically disqualify him from eldership? How about vice versa can a lady qualify for eldership after a legal gender change? I will ponder on these things.