There’s something very human about wanting to be known. Most of us find that we want to be able to be honest with others about our experiences, feelings and desires, even if that’s something we struggle to do. In a way, we could say we all long to be visible, but sometimes it feels easier to be invisible.
Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility. It’s a day to celebrate people who identify as transgender and to raise awareness about the awful ways that transgender people are often treated. While trans people often share the same desire to be visible that we all do, sadly, all too often it feels easier to them to just remain invisible.
Churches should be the places and communities where we can all be the most visible and most known.
Churches should be the places and communities where we can all be the most visible and most known. And they should be these kinds of communities because we preach a gospel that tells us we are completely known and yet completely loved and accepted by Jesus. Often, we prefer to stay invisible because we fear that if we’re really known we’ll be rejected. The gospel is the best antidote to that fear. And as God’s people, we are called to reflect his heart: we should be seeking to express the love and welcome of God – the God to whom we’re always totally visible – to all people.
Sadly, this often isn’t the experience that transgender people have of Christians and churches. I recently spoke to a transgender friend who told me a heart-breaking story of their own experience.
After many years of wanting to find a church and to get to know Jesus, they started attending a prominent evangelical church in a major UK city. A woman in that church befriended them and they were developing a good friendship. But when others in the church learnt that this person was transgender, they started to pick on the woman and to pressure her to break off the friendship. The woman succumbed to the pressure, and my trans friend was abandoned. The visibility of my friend should have done nothing to change the welcome, friendship and love they were experiencing at that church, and yet, heartbreakingly, visibility actually led to rejection and an understandable desire to once again become invisible.
Churches should be the safest places for transgender people – and for all of us – to be visible.
Churches should be the safest places for transgender people – and for all of us – to be visible: open and honest about all elements of our experience of life. How can we develop these kinds of churches? Here are a few quick ideas:
- Leaders should lead by example, being visible and vulnerable themselves. Obviously wisdom should be employed – all of us should think about the best times and contexts for honesty and vulnerability – but setting the example is important: when we are honest and visible, others in our churches know that this is a safe place to do the same.
- The gospel and the grace of God need to be taught, explained, applied, sung and prayed time after time, week after week. They are the foundation that frees us for true visibility, and yet we find it so easy to stray from them. All of us need help to keep the gospel front and centre.
- All people should be treated equally. For some reason, we find it easy to accept the visibility of some people and yet reject others. We need to honestly search our hearts and repent of any prejudices we find; we need to make sure that we are preaching the same gospel with the same gospel demands to all people, and we need to be consistent in our interactions with everyone.
Visibility is important for all of us. It’s freeing and life-giving. Jesus is in the business of granting freedom and giving life. As his people, we get to enjoy that freedom and life, but we also have a part to play in ensuring others can experience it too.
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