Shutting Out Sparrows

Paige Tilden

Christ preached acceptance. Do you?

The life of an intersex person has always been hard, both historically and in the modern day. While the term intersex is a modern expression, the historical expression of the term was that of the eunuch, specifically those born as one, called “eunuch of the sun.” Since our more modern medicine has ways to “help”—and by help what is meant is forcibly conform an infant’s body to a standard male/female binary without any consent or discussion with the child, then denying it happened—the stigma as well as awareness of this diversity in our species has been slowly getting erased. Yet we see in scripture that eunuchs are welcomed and encouraged to be a part of the faith community. We see this example of acceptance not only from the well-known story with Philip and the eunuch, but also in Matthew 19, where Jesus said those who are born as eunuchs (today we are called intersex people), those who were made eunuchs, and those who chose to live that way for the Kingdom were explicitly told they are welcome.

When I was not even one year old, I was subjected to one of the surgeries that many like me have listed in our medical history simply as a minor ­reconstruction—when they are often actually much larger procedures. We in the Western world often are appalled that other cultures will mutilate genitals, but unnecessary surgeries on infants happen approximately five times a day here in the United States alone. After the butchering of these genitals has been completed, the person’s medical history can sometimes be entirely scrubbed from medical logs to ensure a desired heteronormativity in which the child would be raised.

Following my procedure, I was raised, named, and otherwise treated as a typical male child. My female skeletal structure, however, was evident, regardless of any kind of upbringing. Often, especially when called from behind, my entire life has been filled with people confused as to whether they were looking at a male or female body. While others in my situation would likely be upset that it happened so often, I just preferred to accept it, make a joke, and move on. Little did I know that my body was actually both male and female, and that is what people saw.

As I hit my mid-twenties, my life changed. My body suddenly started a second puberty, and I began to display all the traditional signs of puberty again—but it was a female development this time. When the dots all finally connected, I felt as if my entire life made sense, and it came in a wave of understanding. I had questioned so many things about my life, mindset, body, hobbies, relationships, all of it. Everything came into a brand new level of appreciation and understanding when I accepted that I was now actually, at least in part, female as well as male. I discovered that while in utero, my paternal twin and I fused into one body, sharing both male and female parts. Medically, I am a mosaic or chimera of male and female chromosomes in a single human body.

My expectation when I was accepting the truth of my very existence was that my path was not going to be one of ease or joy. But in addition to that, I found struggle and rejection from many of the people I had called friends. My choice seemed to be to either accept the ways God had made me (and which finally made sense to me by a scientific explanation by my doctor), or to reject the ways God had made me, and the plans God had for my life inherent in its creation. This was a difficult choice to make in many ways, but I reasoned if my struggle and pain were to lead even one more person to Christ, then I would obediently bear the burden. In comparison to what others suffer for their faith, surely the loss of a few relationships would be bearable in the greater scheme of things. I was willing to accept that loss for the sake of the Kingdom.

Sadly, the place of least acceptance of my newfound circumstances was my then church home. With a resolve to bear my cross with purpose, I knew what I needed to do. I came prepared with scripture, research, and a heart focused on how I could use my story to reach others for Christ. But the well had been tainted long before I was even able to share my story to my church family. Many in that church, including the pastor, were gossiping behind my back—spreading lies that I was a trans person instead of asking me the truth directly. While being trans should also be wholly accepted in our faith practices, there is a significant stigma against it, and to say I was trans was an inaccurate portrayal of my reality. Neither being intersex or trans are choices, but it seems inconceivable to tell someone who has not initiated any medical sex change procedures and who has begun to menstruate that they are making a sinful choice to accept their body the way God had made them.

When I had formally decided that it was no longer time to attend a church regularly, I had also come to the realization that many who had chosen to pastor were no longer seeking out God’s will. Instead they were focused on maintaining organizational viability, protecting their own interests and life, and most of all, pleasing a congregation’s whims over sticking to scriptural truth. This realization was assuredly signed, sealed, and delivered to my wife and me when our pastor told us, “I would rather deny your child a dedication than risk my job security.” Someone this focused on themselves stands against the very principles that Christ embodied. Just past the more often quoted line of Matthew 10:29-31, which says God cares for “even the sparrows” but cares very much more for people, there is much graver warning from Jesus that was ignored in this case, and that warning applies to all who exclude anyone who is a gender or sexual minority.

In Matthew 18, Christ very explicitly states that it would be better for people to drown themselves with a large stone tied around their necks than for them to cause someone else to stumble in their faith. The sheer shock value of this statement coming out of Jesus’ mouth should be enough of a warning for those in pastoral leadership. Ending your own life, in the eyes of the one who was sent to sacrifice His life for ours, is better than pushing someone away from their faith. Yet this is what the church does to so many people who are part of the gender and sexual minority community! Are we not all made in His image? Whether it is the belief in an erroneous translation of the scripture, disapproval of anyone who isn’t like themselves, or simply the inability to adjust their worldview because they are so rooted in the history and traditions they have, they are sinning. They sin not only against God’s creation, but against God Himself by saying that something He made is not good enough to be loved, or even accepted in a place dedicated to His worship. How audacious has the church become to ignore such an important instruction from Him whom we follow!

Christ came to Earth to give all of humanity the fullest extent of love and grace that we can ever experience. Someday, when we leave this existence and move to the next, and we see God face to face, we are all going to be held to account for that which we did here to those around us. We know that one day Christ will return and be seated on a throne too glorious for us to behold. All will bend the knee and we will be separated like a shepherd separates their sheep and goats. There we will be told, regardless of how we are sorted, that whatever we did (or did not do) for the least of those around us, we did also to the King of Kings. How can anyone expect to be allowed into the kingdom of heaven when they shut the door on the faces of others? You won’t. How can we focus on the principles of tithing and cleanliness but be so blind to the more important ideas of justice, mercy, and faithfulness? It is a sign we have a plank in our eye.

All have sinned. All fall short. None of us are righteous. To tell someone that they cannot be righteous enough to be in the church because of their life circumstances is pure hypocrisy, because nobody was, is, or ever will be righteous enough, except Jesus. This is why we are told not to judge. Whenever we are looking for sin, real or perceived, in any person’s life on this planet, we will always find something, both in others and in ourselves. If we dare to think that we will not have the same measure applied to us that we used to judge others, then we truly have failed to understand the purpose of the Gospel. Christ called the “sinners” of His time on Earth to prove that anyone could follow Him, not just the Pharisees who made a point of showing how righteous they were. Let us also then focus on letting all of God’s creation worship without obstruction. I fear if we don’t, we’ll find ourselves too easily entangled between the planks we ignore and the stones we’re told to tie around our necks.

Paige Tilden is a mother of two, a graduate from Northwest Nazarene University, and is involved in advocacy work for the intersex community.

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