I awoke to a bombshell this morning. Pun intended, because I need some humor to dull the hurt, manage the anger, and resist a rekindled sense of insecurity. The bombshell is the statement released by Pope Francis concerning gender theory.
Now widely circulating in the media is the statement made by this pope that gender theory is as destructive as nuclear bombs.
Gender theory, which understands gender as far more complex than the traditional binary model based solely upon obvious (or sometimes not so obvious) biological sex, recognizes a gender spectrum in terms of identity and behavior. Transgender individuals are one example of the diversity represented along this spectrum.
As a transgender person, I never had a clue I wielded power to be as destructive as a nuclear bomb. Had I known, perhaps I would not have exhausted so much energy trying to build community, human or otherwise. Who needs any kind of community when you are akin to a nuclear weapon; when, as Francis claims, one is like the, “Herods that destroy, that plot designs of death; that disfigure the face of man and women, destroying creation.” As a companion follower of Jesus, I am stunned. As a transgender man, I am anguished. As a human being, I am outraged.
In one senseless article based upon old models of both nuclear physics and gender identity Pope Francis has pushed millions of transgender people further into harm’s way. As noted in one news article:
“While these comments may seem somewhat innocuous to the casual observer, they have the potential to harm millions of transgender people around the world who already have issues gaining acceptance. When you also consider the fact that neuroscience has proven that the gender spectrum is a much more accurate representation of humanity than the gender binary system, it seems that the pope is the one going against the natural order of life.”
Unfortunately, few who hear or read this vitriolic portrayal of transgender persons will be formally educated either in quantum physics or neuroscience. They are educated to regard the man making these statements as their spiritual leader and direct conduit to God.
In some countries containing large Roman Catholic populations, such as Brazil, Mexico, and the United States, violence against transgender persons is already a problem.
These three countries top the list as most violent towards those who identify as transgender. Each year the list of names grows longer. What effect will this misleading and misinformed message produce? As a transgender man and member of the clergy for thirty-two years wanting to serve as a bridge and a resource in education and ministry with both the cis-gendered and transgender community this statement from the pope is a devastating blow to a road that is already difficult.
Lack of accurate education about the roots of transgender identity, the history and current status of transgender people, or personal knowledge through social relationships with transgender persons creates barriers. Additionally, the continuing problem of sensationalism and sexualization of transgender children, youth, and adults in some social media, including religious media, promotes fear and suspicion. This can lead to blatant rejection by some, and a restricted, partial acceptance by others.
Many transgender persons are so wounded by the church through either personal experience or what they have heard through social media they want nothing to do with any organized religion or faith community even when speaking with a transgender clergy. The rage, pain, and spiritual vacuum resulting from these gaping wounds leads some to other spiritual paths; and some to nothing at all.
The message delivered by Pope Francis is another blow to those who work to help heal these wounds in the name of Jesus.
In 1992 I delivered a sermon speaking for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life of our congregation and the United Methodist Church. In that message I cited an article I found in a magazine. A reporter was interviewing a group of 400 young men who had been arrested for gay bashing. In the course of the interview the men revealed they saw nothing wrong in what they did, often citing encouragement for such violence by their religious leaders. One adolescent noted his pastor encouraged them to engage in such behavior towards gay persons because they were evil and satanic. I could not help but recall that article as I awoke to this statement by Pope Francis. He is the one who has dropped a bomb. God have mercy on us all.
1. David Weekley, In From the Wilderness. (Eugene: Wipf&Stock, 2011), 113.
Note: Edited on February 23, 2015 to correct descriptions of writing by Pope Francis.
Photo of Rev. David Weekley courtesy of Jess T. Dugan, photographer.