Created "and"

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
- Genesis 1:27 (New International Version)

"And". It should be such a simple word.

Particularly for something written in a time when women were often considered little, if at all, better than property, that verse from Genesis makes a fascinating assertion. The image of God is not the sole domain of the male, nor, for that matter, of the female. Neither masculine nor feminine is better or more Godly. The man cannot say to the woman that he is more favored of God, nor the woman say to the man that nothing of God is in him. All are part of God's creation and exhibit facets of God's nature.

Created "in the image of God... male and female". Not only does this make neither inferior, it leads to the inescapable conclusion that the image of God is itself neither purely male nor purely female. This God is both and neither. We might even say that God... transcends gender.

So it's especially dismaying to see such writings as "Created Male and Female: An Open Letter from Religious Leaders", recently issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (I will not link to it directly, but the rebuttal linked below does, for any who wish to read it), misuse this scripture of inclusion to exclude people. Specifically, in this case, transgender people, though the letter manages to avoid saying so directly.

Sure, it refers to a "complicated reality" that "needs to be addressed with sensitivity and truth", acknowledges that everyone "deserves to be heard and treated with respect", and speaks to the importance of responding "with compassion, mercy and honesty" as well as "patience and love". But the letter then proceeds to ignore the complexities, not to mention the realities; to neglect giving anyone the chance to be heard; to demonstrate none of sensitivity, respect, compassion, mercy, patience, or love; and to disregard truth and honesty in favor of prejudice and misinformation.

This kind of folly is hardly new, either. Confusing overly-narrow passing notions of propriety with "what ought to be for all time" has been an extensive problem for long enough that it has become, to some, a false gospel. Among such people, adherence to superficial rules is being taken more seriously than loving one another, caring for those in need, or just generally doing as people of faith—or any decent people—are meant to do. Being God-oriented has been overtaken by being conformity-oriented. The message of Jesus is being lost among fussing over things that are other people's business. As author Rachel Held Evans puts it:

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not so fragile as to be unpinned by the reality that variations in gender and sexuality exist, nor is it so narrow as to only be good news for people who look and live like Ward and June Cleaver. This glorification of gender binaries has become a dangerous idol in the Christian community, for it conflates cultural norms with Christian morality and elevates an ideal over actual people.

Fortunately, quite a few Christians, including some prominent Catholics, disagree with the USCCB's statement. Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of the Catholic group New Ways Ministry, has issued a pointed rebuttal that cuts through the statement's misconceptions and draws entirely different conclusions about how people of faith should respond. He also questions whether those who wrote and signed the letter have any understanding of what they presume to comment on:

Reading this statement makes one wonder if any of these leaders have ever listened to the journey of transgender people. If they had, they would find that transgender people often experience their transition as not only a psychologically beneficial step, but one that also involves important spiritual dimensions. Transitioning helps people become closer to God. That is something religious people should support.

Much of what I would want to say has already been said, so I'll just end with an assortment of brief thoughts related to the matter.

One of the USCCB's talking points is that hormone treatment may "possibly render them infertile as adults". As though human beings existed only to reproduce. As though trans women, in particular, were not already all too aware that, barring significant medical advances, they will never be able to give birth. As though there were not already people who may be infertile for any of a multitude of other reasons, or who may simply choose not to have children, whom the letter, by using this line of argument, implicitly brands as inferior.

As a Christian myself, and having experienced some of the good a healthy faith community can do, I have a deep respect for religion. With that respect necessarily comes a deep disdain for religious hypocrisy. So, too, does a contempt for efforts to twist religion into an excuse to cling to personal prejudices. Many great evils have been justified by the selective application of principles that aren't even Biblical. Pointless wars, slavery and racism, sexism, xenophobia... we really ought to know better by now. Ignorance is not a virtue.

It wasn't so long ago that much of mainstream Christianity considered left-handedness to be "of the devil" and attempted to beat it out of children. Nor was it all that long ago that a fairly obscure story about Noah cursing Canaan was somehow twisted into "proof" that those with dark skin are meant to be inferior, despite its complete irrelevance to the topic. It's saddening that these ideas were ever taken seriously. And it's perplexing that so much of mainstream Christianity remains so heedless of rushing toward sweeping condemnations based on things that aren't even in the Bible.

The harshest words to come out of Jesus's mouth were reserved not for the outcasts or those called "sinners", but for religious leaders. For those who obsessed over the minutiae that their tradition had built up around rules, while ignoring the reasons for the rules. For those who cared more about their image than about the people they were called to serve. For those who had ears, yet refused to hear, and eyes, yet refused to see. For hypocrites who did more to drive people away from God than to call them to God.

Would it be a cheap shot to bring up the church's pedophile problem, and to suggest that maybe these leaders should put more effort into addressing the corruption in their own midst than going out of their way to denounce others? Or it is perhaps because the church has been unable or unwilling to solve this problem that there has been so much focus on demonizing others? Woe to those who would trumpet their opposition to what they imagine might harm children, yet turn a blind eye to those among them who have actually harmed children!

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