Where Faith, the Real World & Gay Life intersect!

Like Herding Cats: Getting Trans People in Church

"Empty Pews," photo by khrawlings via Flickr, cc

Herding cats might be easier. My friend Candace Chellew-Hodge recently wrote an OpEd piece for Religion Dispatches. The headline read: Pew Confirms LGBT Rejection of Religion: Why That’s a Good Thing.

Her piece was in response to the latest Pew Survey from the Pew Research Center, which found LGBT persons have abandoned religion big-time. This was also the finding of an earlier Pew Survey of LGBT Americans (2013).

The problem with these two studies is the relatively low number of trans respondents, the 2013 survey only had 5% trans participants.

By comparison, the study I just completed for my Master’s degree polled only trans persons. It found very few trans individuals interested in any kind of church participation, much lower than the Pew Research findings for LGBT. Only 17% out of the 39% who still claim to be Christian include church involvement as one of their intentional spiritual practices. What this means for pastors is they don’t have to worry about trans persons breaking down their doors if their church should ever become affirming.

Significantly, the study also found that trans people have not only shed dogmatic religious traditions, they are also more spiritual than the general population. What does this mean? It means that trans inclusion and affirmation as a means to draw them into churches might be a futile endeavor with a low ROI. How futile? If your hope was to have ten trans persons in your church, for example, you would need to canvass over 100,000 persons to find them; and you would still have the challenge of offering a style of worship in which these ten persons might feel comfortable with, despite your open arms.

transparently_bookThe fact is trans people are not likely to come anyway, not even if you hang banners outside proclaiming trans people are welcome. The reasons are quite obvious—nobody wants to become the poster child for trans inclusion, nor the elephant in the room, nor the panache factor, nor a special project. This does not mean that churches should not be preaching trans inclusion; the fact is there may be a trans person in their midst who is yet to “emerge” … it could be a child, a teen, a young adult, or even a grandparent. (According to the Williams Institute there is one trans person for every 333 “cisgender” persons in the general population.) Will these invisible-for-now trans persons in their churches have no choice but to shed their faith and walk away from their community, too?

There is another important reason for being a trans-inclusive and affirming congregation: it is preparing “church people” to be accepting and affirming of trans persons outside the four walls of the church … the barista, the lawyer, the doctor, the hair-dresser, the clerk, the gardener, the police officer, the food server, the teacher, the nurse, or their neighbor.

What trans persons are watching and waiting for is for the church to stand up for their defense in the public square, when it’s not just trans voices advocating for trans inclusion that are heard at city council meetings, school boards, legislatures or in Congress.

Until this happens, for trans persons, the church will continue to be irrelevant, if not the enemy. This is not to deny there are churches with trans persons, but these are the rare exceptions, rather than the rule. In the meantime, trans people will continue to practice a very deep and personal form of spirituality, and sadly, the institutional church will simply continue to miss out on their giftedness and authenticity.


photo credit: khrawlings via Flickr, cc

Salazar-LisaUntil the age of 58, Lisa Salazar lived a life that was complicated by the fact that she was born male. She envisioned a very private life after her transition in 2008, but her life is anything but private these days. She shares her life journey in her book, Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life, gives workshops on transgender issues, and is a board member of Canyon Walker Connections.

Her advocacy is directed towards the church. “Whether you like it or not, the church continues to influence politics in both the U.S. and Canada. As long as pulpits continue to spew out misinformation regarding LGB and T issues, the longer it is going to take to see real change happen,” she says.

Follow her blog at lisainbc.blogspot.ca.

 

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