I offer this brief theological reflection to share some of my thoughts and convictions which informed my decision to join with the President of the House of Deputies as signatories to the amicus brief in the case of Gloucester County School Board v. G.G, which concerns Gavin Grimm, a transgender youth who seeks equal access according to his gender identity, to bathroom facilities in his public school.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
– Genesis 1:26-27 NRSV
The Episcopal Church welcomes all persons: young and old, liberal and conservative, high-church and low-church, cisgender and transgender children of God. This principle – adorning the signs of the Episcopal Church which read, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” – has its origins in the way of Jesus of Nazareth, given voice by the Apostle Paul, who wrote:
“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28)
In part because of this vision of who we are called to be through our baptism into Christ, the church is meant to be a sign of and a witness to God’s dream for the entire human family living as “the Beloved Community” of God. This vocation of the church as a sign and a witness informs my concern for Gavin and our other transgender siblings.
All people have been equally created by God in God’s image and likeness. The proclamation of Genesis 1:26-27 that humankind is created in the “image” and “likeness” of God is the solemn declaration of the Lord God Almighty of the inherent sacredness, dignity, worth, and equality of every human person, by virtue of the imago dei. Because of this the human person is, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “endowed by their Creator with certain in alienable rights.” While human societies discover and discern this in a variety of ways and contexts, this fundamental human equality, civil and human rights are not civilly determined but divinely decreed.
A pivotal point in the ongoing struggle for the civil rights of all God’s children will culminate this spring, when the Supreme Court of the United States determines whether to uphold the right of transgender persons to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. The Episcopal Church has spoken clearly on this issue through our 76th General Convention, supporting the enactment of laws at the local, state, and federal levels that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
This week, I will sign an amicus brief that supports the dignity of transgender persons and affirms their place in civic life. I take this stand both as a follower of Jesus who cannot ignore the moral gravity of this case, and as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Gloucester County School Board v. G.G.raises fundamental questions of the dignity and worth of the human person created imago dei, and challenges our very notions of acceptance, welcome, and love for neighbor.
As a leader of a venerable religious tradition, and one who believes firmly in freedom of religious expression, it is important for me to say that the imperative of religious freedom is not at stake in this debate. This claim of threat to religious freedom was expressed during the desegregation struggles of the civil rights movement. It was not true then and it is not true now. As expressed in the amicus brief, I firmly consider that affirming transgender rights will not inhibit the fundamental beliefs and practices of religions, but rather will preclude a single set of religious beliefs from being enacted through civic law. The Episcopal Church strongly supports religious freedom for all societies, and has championed the rights of religious freedom domestically and internationally through advocacy, intercession, and prayer for several decades. Our stand for transgender rights further strengthens and upholds our commitment to valuing the variety of our shared humanity, both in our Church and the wider world.
I expect that there will be some brothers and sisters who disagree with my decision to sign the amicus brief. For those who differ with me on this, I welcome your voices and pray for the opportunity to move closer together through conversation and mutual understanding. While we differ on some matters there is, as the old spiritual says, “plenty good room” for us all. For the measure of God’s love is nothing less than the length of the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross.
Your brother in Christ,