Transgender people prove the holiness of human bodies.
I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene. I’m one of those fifth generation, cradle-to-grave Nazarenes. The Church of the Nazarene is the soil in which my faith took root. I was nurtured by our theology of holiness and our fervent proclamation of the radical optimism of grace. I am comforted by our hymnody—who doesn’t love a good, vigorous rendition of “Holiness Unto the Lord”?
My whole life I knew I wanted to go to Olivet Nazarene University. I remember bringing the university catalog to my free reading time back in elementary school. I’d pour over the mission statement and values, course descriptions, and even the rather boring descriptions of administrative policies. In 2007, I finally began at Olivet as a student, and it felt amazing. Three years later, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies. My time as a religion major was a literal Godsend, and I still frequently reflect on the insights my professors shared and the love they expressed through their lectures, discussions, and one-on-one conversations.
Then in 2020, about 2 months after my son was born, I resigned my membership and ministerial credentials. It was extremely difficult to give up on being ordained in my home church. That decision to give up my license was not impulsive, and a long time coming, but it was still something that I could never envision until the previous few years. I thought I could stick it out with the Church of the Nazarene, even if I would never really fit in all that much. It turns out that I was wrong—it was too much. The birth of my son was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I never wanted him to grow up in a church where he might feel “less than.”
There were some seismic personal and theological shifts in the ten years between graduating Olivet and resigning my credentials, but perhaps the biggest difference is my conviction that people’s physical bodies are holy and sacred. This belief is not a departure from the Church of the Nazarene’s historic teaching; it is a continuation of it. One of the most important books ever written by any Nazarene is Mildred Bangs Wynkoop’s A Theology of Love. This is a book that nearly every Nazarene pastor will have read or at least be familiar with. Wynkoop was a professor at Trevecca, but her influence and respect goes much further than the city limits of Nashville. Indeed, Nazarene Theological Seminary named their Center for Women’s Leadership after her.
In A Theology of Love, Wynkoop explains how the Bible consistently connects human souls with human bodies. The idea that our souls take priority over human bodies stems from Greek paganism rather than anything in the Bible. This is one of Wynkoop’s starting points in how she thinks about holiness, which she argues is love. It is not an abstract love though; holiness is a love for a whole person—their heart, soul, mind, and body. This kind of love is transformative; it releases people from the bondage of sin and liberates them to love and holiness. This is the radical optimism of grace proclaimed by holiness folk.
But why in the world do I bring up a 50-year-old theology book that does not mention LGBTQ+ people at all? It’s because bodies matter. They are holy and sacred. Lots of other contributors to this volume will have talked about gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. I want to focus on transgender people. Trans people experience much higher rates of suicide, homelessness, and being victims of sexual assault and murder. These are not the results of gender dysphoria, which is the sense that they are born into the wrong sex. Many people never feel at home in their bodies, and many people never feel at home in their relationships with their neighbors, coworkers, families, and spouses. It is a feeling of broken relationship with one’s self and with others. I think this is similar to the kind of lack of love Wynkoop talks about. The “closet” is a place of isolation, shame, and death.
The only consistently effective therapy and treatment for gender dysphoria is transitioning and strong social support from the other people in their lives. The support and affirmation from their loved ones is essential. In embracing themselves, they lose the life they once knew. They risk being abandoned by their loved ones, homelessness and poverty, physical and sexual violence, and even murder. Few people embody the gospel truth that a person must “lose their life in order to find it.” If sin leads to death, and holy love leads to life—then we must look at what actually keeps people alive. Transgender people affirming themselves and receiving affirmation from others keeps them alive. From this, we can see this kind of support is the very embodiment of love. And love is holiness.
Tyler Brinkman is currently married, with one son. They live in Milwaukee and attend a United Methodist Church in their neighborhood.