Making Sacred Spaces More Safe: Church Clarity

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“Elizabeth” met Jesus just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. I met Elizabeth in her middling years at church in Norman, Oklahoma where I was a graduate student. Since I was moving to Charlottesville for a dissertation fellowship at the University of Virginia, and she was an alum, we commiserated about all things UVA.

I recall vividly Elizabeth’s first Sunday at our church. Our church was not large—maybe 200 on a high holy day—so any visitor was difficult to miss. And Elizabeth stood out for many reasons. Elizabeth dressed impeccably—not unlike my Granny who sits every Sunday on the third row of our little black church and matches from head to toe in hat, dress suit, high heels, purse, and jewelry. Elizabeth is not a petite black woman. Elizabeth is a tall, white woman. And Elizabeth is transgender.

As sure as a few folks like me made a beeline for Elizabeth after church to welcome her, many more sought to shield their children and themselves from her transgendered, Christian body. Others stared with mouths agape as though she were a sideshow act at the Oklahoma State Fair. But that’s the least egregious part of this story.

Soon after she began attending our community of Jesus followers, I departed Oklahoma for Virginia while the true Virginian, Elizabeth, stayed behind. Once I settled in Charlottesville, she sent me occasional post cards, penned beautifully in the lost art of cursive. While I was away dissertating, Elizabeth sought membership in the church she loved. I counted this step a mere formality, even as the denomination required an interview with the pastor before one could officially join. But Elizabeth’s membership interview turned into a series of "conversations". A veritable inquisition.

Elizabeth’s Christian bona fides were called into question because the song of her gendered soul did not match the organs of her sexed body at birth.

The pastor decreed that Elizabeth could attend church services, but he refused to serve Elizabeth the bread and the wine. Ostensibly, the crimson stain of her “sin” was too great for the blood of the spotless lamb; never mind that neither the church nor the denomination had a policy that precluded transgender folk from joining the roll up yonder or the rolls of the church.

The body and blood of Jesus bypassed Elizabeth’s trans body each week, until she left a church she had loved—or rather, was cast out by capriciousness; by a lack of clarity about its policy on LGBTQ Christians.  

I’d like to tell you that the body of Christ on earth, the visible instantiation of an invisible reality, is radically inclusive of all bodies. But I know that to be untrue. That’s why I am so excited about a new website and movement called Church Clarity.

The ambiguity that Elizabeth encountered at the church we once attended can be eliminated if churches, especially evangelical ones, are clear about their policies on their websites. In many cases, policies are never disclosed at all and Christian sisters like Elizabeth are subject to unnecessary pain and discrimination--suffered at the hands of the very community that they thought embraced them.

Sacred spaces are made safe by clarity on a range of issues, and especially where our LGBTQ friends are concerned. Church clarity benefits all of us. Requesting clarity may mean that you learn of your church or denomination’s policy for the first time, realize that your church lacks any policy, or hear that your church and/or denomination are developing policy. Whatever the case, to be clear is divine!

I’m committed to #ChurchClairty and I’m honored to be a member of the Advisory Council of this innovative project. Follow @ChurchClarity and determine to make it a reality.