United Church of Christ

Commentary: Are transgender seekers safe in every Open and Affirming congregation? Not yet!

At least 60% of Open and Affirming churches cannot offer “a confident and well-informed welcome” to their transgender neighbors, according to a recent survey by the ONA Coalition.

This means that transgender and gender-expansive seekers may not be truly safe in many ONA congregations.

How could this happen? The Coalition certified the first 15 ONA churches in 1987, two years after the General Synod urged congregations to adopt ONA covenants. At that time, 32 years ago, attention was focused on equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, but transgender rights were not yet on the agenda of movements for equality. Over the following decades, transgender people of faith demanded a place at the table, and the ecumenical welcoming movement—including the Coalition—responded.

This was not an easy journey. Transphobia ran deep in the lesbian and gay community, but the persistent witness of transgender people of faith began to tip the scales. In 2003, General Synod approved a resolution with Coalition support calling on “all congregations of the United Church of Christ” to “welcome transgender people into membership, ministry, and full participation.”

Today, the Coalition will not certify a congregation’s new ONA covenant unless it includes language that explicitly welcomes transgender and gender-expansive people—usually with the words “people of any gender identity and expression.”

The Coalition emphasizes in its ONA resources and training programs that a congregation’s journey towards an ONA covenant requires a focus on gender identity, and that includes “non-binary” identities that challenge our familiar constructs of gender. The journey may be challenging, but no congregation can live fully into its ONA commitment if it hasn’t taken the time to hear the stories of their transgender and gender-expansive neighbors and members, and to learn the practical steps that will help transgender and non-binary communities feel truly welcome in our places of worship.

To be honest, we have to acknowledge that transphobia still exists in many ONA churches, and in the Coalition, too.

The Coalition pledges to make justice and safety for our transgender and non-binary members one of its highest priorities now and in the future. That means, in part, keeping faith with our existing commitment that transgender, non-binary and other gender expressions are represented in the Coalition’s leadership, resources and training programs. Our goal is a church that is “100% ONA,” and for our 1,500 ONA congregations that means we must live fully into our ONA commitment—a commitment that will remain deeply flawed if our welcome to transgender and non-binary seekers is not “confident and well-informed.”

This is our commitment, not only because the Body of Christ is incomplete without its transgender and gender-expansive members, but because their stories of spiritual and physical courage deepens our faith as a community that seeks to find in each other the image and likeness of God.

For resources, visit the Coalition’s website at www.openandaffirming.org/transgender. Please also join our Trans 101 workshop June 20 in Milwaukee right before Synod. For more information, go to www.openandaffirming.org/national-gathering.

Andy Lang is Executive Director of the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ.

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