A Trans Christian's Open Letter To The Southern Baptist Convention

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

Comments (14)

Thanks for sharing this, Vivian. I too am a transgender woman who struggled with God and praying that he would heal me. I read what the SBC was proposing the a few days ago and was just heartbroken about their resolution to stabd against us. I also agree that the church needs to be a place that embraces all persons regardless of who they are. I admire your courage to stand up to the SBC.

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Hi Vivian. I really appreciate this letter as well. I'm not trans, and to be honest I'm still trying to learn about it and understand it, but I am deeply troubled by this resolution and what might result from it.

I grew up in the fundamentalist tradition. I was taught to see everything in the world as simple, black or white, easily categorized. Growing up has shown me that the world is NOT simple and it's forced me to rethink many things I thought I believe. That's scary, and I think that is why so many Christians take such an aggressive stance about issues that are not really central to faith - deep down, they're just scared.

My prayer is that the eyes of the Church will be opened to the reality of what our dogmatism is doing to the people Christ has called us to love and serve. I pray that God will change people's hearts like he's changing mine. I pray that people will listen to what you and others have to say.

Your sister in Christ,

Zoe

Thank you, Vivian, for writing this letter. It is important for all of us to be "out" - no matter our sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression.

Having said that, and, knowing that you were using the language that would be understood by Southern Baptists, I have to say that, as an Episcopalian, I find the language of "believers" and "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" to be . . . well, . . . . of concern.

I understand the context. I understand the purpose. I understand what you are trying to accomplish. That said, you are Episcopalian now. We don't talk like that. And, we don't talk like that - or like it when others do - precisely because it is exclusive - indeed, off putting and offensive - to those who are still on the journey and/or want to make absolutely certain that it is perfectly clear that The Episcopal Church welcomes EVERYONE - even those whose belief might not be considered "true".

I wish there had been some way you could have lifted that up, as well. No doubt, what you hope to accomplish - and, might well accomplish - is more important than my relatively minor discomfort about your language.

As an Episcopal priest who has been an activist for LGBT justice all of my ordained life, I just couldn't let it pass without saying that no one in The Episcopal Church not only doesn't talk that way, much less has to pass an acid test of belief and faith.

Congratulations. A good job, Vivian.

I apologize to Vivian if this turns into a comment thread hijack. But I didn't feel as if I could let this go.

"We don't talk like that...I just couldn't let it pass without saying that no one in The Episcopal Church not only doesn't talk that way, much less has to pass an acid test of belief and faith".

We (and I think as a life long Episcopalian I can say this pretty definitively, if only through experience) DO talk that way. Some of us, myself included. Others of us don't. Putting forth requirements for the language we use seems remarkably out of touch with the idea that we should welcome everyone. While I can see how this sort of language ("believers" etc) can be off-putting, especially for those who are still forming their faith, and even for those who come out of fundamentalist traditions, nevertheless, being told that "Episcopalians don't talk that way" puts up equal barriers to hospitality. It makes us seem exclusive, a secret club with specialized language and traps everywhere for the unwary. If we strive for openness and welcome, we should try very hard to welcome all the various ways people communicate as well, and not tell others what Episcopalians are supposed to say.

So, let's agree, perhaps, to take the words that people (all people) say, and instead of saying "This is how a correct Episcopalian speaks" instead just try to listen, see into the heart of the other person, and not get too hung up on language.

Thank you, Malcolm. As a fellow Episcopalian, and the proud mother of a transgender woman, I agree with you.

It's not about being "correct". It's about the fact that this kind of language is not common to TEC and much more common to denominations like Southern Baptists who not only practice exclusivity, they talk it. "True believes" leaves the majority of Episcopalians out b/c we accept everyone - including those who use exclusive language like "true believers".

It's a small point but an important one. My point is that the majority of Episcopalians don't use that kind of language because we ARE inclusive and that language is decidedly exclusive. I understand why Vivian used it, and I tried to be clear that I appreciate why she used it and that she used it, and I also wanted to make it clear that I find it offensive because it is so exclusive.

Carry on, Vivian. St. Paul spoke differently to different congregations - even to the point of contradicting himself. I just couldn't let it pass and had to acknowledge that, as an Episcopalian who has worked for inclusion all of my adult life, I cringe when I hear this kind of language used. That's all.

As an Episcopal priest, Mtr Kaeton certainly knows that any statement beginning "no one in the Episcopal Church ... " is guaranteed to be untrue!

The tone of this comment disturbs me.It seems as though it should come with an animated icon of a wagging finger. "Now, dear, let me (an ordained person with an advanced degree, and you know this because I have included my formal title) teach you how you should use your lived experience _properly_." (That is the only clue there is to this person's identity.)

This letter is not addressed to Episcopalians, and therefore I don't see how an Episcopalian to judge the lexicon and tone as to appropriateness. My read is that Vivian has followed Paul's view in I Corinthians 9:22, becoming as a Baptist in order to speak to Baptists in such a way that they -- her real audience -- can hear her.

I am at a loss to imagine how describing one's self as a "believer" and calling other Christ-followers (even if they articulate a theology and cultivate a vocabulary that may be very different) "fellow believers" could be perceived as exclusive or alienating to people. Declaring that Christ is the "savior of the world," as indeed He is, is fully consonant with the orthodox faith. And to say that we have given our heart and soul to Jesus...okay, well, perhaps that is a style of expression that is a little more heart-centered and emotional than the restrained, cerebral eloquence some Anglicans apparently imagine is our unique and proper aesthetic, but nonetheless it remains that Vivian *is* an Episcopalian and speaks like that, ipso facto at least some Episcopalians talk like that. One of the hallmarks of mainline Christians tends to be that, once we leave church on Sundays, we instantly disappear into our surrounding culture, indistinguishable from anyone else. The lived lives of many church-goers are utterly indistinct from the non-church-goers. Many of us are so sensitive to the insensitivity of some of our Christian sisters and brothers that we do not talk about our faith in public; indeed, many of us consider it inappropriate. Now, there's a scandal for you. But if the question is what kind of language should we adopt that IS sensitive to seekers who may be wary of or wounded by some forms of Christian expression, setting parameters on the way Episcopalians may speak of their personal experience of Christ has to be one of the most exclusive and barrier-erecting options we could choose. I, for one, am grateful that Vivian has answered her call from God to speak out in the way she does, taking the risks she does, and being as vulnerable as she is willing to be. And if we're going to engage in constructive conversation on areas of tension with other Christian communities, we may not always be successful if, sherry in hand, we begin by asking, "What would Rowan Williams say?" I don't think we should discourage folks like Vivian who, with her upbringing, can authentically claim the vernacular of other traditions in telling her story.

Thank you Vivian, and thank you Malcolm. Very well said, both of you.

Some of the strongest Christians I know are are in the transgender community. There are so many things wrong with the underlying SBC premise biblically. I hope to confront the author.

I am; 20 years old, from India, and 'trans-woman' is among the less-than-likeable terms which describe my 'situation'.

I have been aware of being a female inside from a very young age, I think.. All this pressure gradually morphed into this futureless combination where neither sexual outcome is probable.
I believe in Jesus.. Or, I try to align my 'situation' into God's will. I know what I want.. but is it the right thing, I don't know :/
Let me put it like this, if I knew Jesus was okay with me transitioning- I'd be doing cartwheels while doing it.
I can't decide.. I'm human, and therefore, ignorant and foolish in word and deed.
My mentor-person-guy tells me the truth- God didn't make a mistake with me.
I'd just like to believe that God would be happy with me going ahead with transitioning.. that it's my choice. Time might not be an issue for God, but it is for me.

All I know is that I THINK I'd be happier being female than have this male-existence.

Hope God works out things out for me.. Please do pray

Vivian, the UCC posted a link to this on FB and even before I clicked, I knew I'd see your name as the author. I can see your dad, whom I miss, proudly sharing this letter up and down every street in Heaven. I'm proud of you, too.
btw, I learned pretty much the same things you did growing up Southern Baptist.

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