In His Image: Trinitarian Theology and Gender Diversity

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” – Genesis 1:27

If I had a quarter for every time I’ve read/heard of this verse being used as biblical support for the gender binary, I would have a few hours worth of pinball jangling merrily in my pockets. My two humble years of biblical scholarship with a personal focus on gender and gender roles have drawn me back to Genesis 1:27, Genesis 2:22-24, and Galatians 3:28 (among many others) over and over again. I know that God created the male and female sexes for a reason, I know what the Bible has to say about gender roles, and I believe that the book is the inspired word of God. I also know that the Bible was recorded by at least 40 authors, across two millennia, containing errors, inconsistencies, and incongruous cultural concepts. This doesn’t detract from the holiness or authority of the message of Scripture, but rather bolsters the idea that God is deeply involved with the messy and disjointed human experience. I also happen to believe that God transcends Scripture, human understanding, and even the gender binary.

Despite my recent departure from most things evangelical, I am still enthusiastically Trinitarian. For most of my life, the Trinity was this grand concept that I was vaguely aware of, but never fully understood. I knew that God was Father, Jesus was Son, and Holy Spirit was the one with the neat byproducts, but wasn’t quite sure how they were interrelated. My lacklustre Bible college career aided greatly in broadening my understanding of trinitarian theology in both the macro, cosmic sense and in relation to my own life. I won’t attempt to dazzle you with my knowledge of the former, but will instead relay my feelings about the latter.

In previous posts, I’ve touched on my experiences as a Christian, non-binary person. Because of closed interpretations of Bible verses like the one previously quoted, I used to believe that the term “*insert LGBTQ label* Christian” was an oxymoron and squashed down my own queerness into the tidy, “biblically” prescribed box marked “lady”. I’d heard repeatedly in discussions and sermons on gender on Sunday mornings and Thursday youth nights that I was made in God’s image. According to my mentors and influences, being made in God’s image means that there are precisely two, clearly defined options and anything that deviates is a slap in God’s face/a rejection of God’s image/unnatural. This is an uncomfortable way to think about God, especially when you consider how diverse a being the Trinity actually is. I think that if God is as big and powerful as we want to believe Him to be, then claiming that male and female are the completion of His image in man is a little bit underwhelming.

We are made in the image of a God who is Three and One. The Father (or Mother, depending on who you’re talking to) who possesses and exceeds the characteristics that define masculinity and femininity. Holy Spirit, who is the prime creative force, the comforter and friend, the intercessor between God and people. And Jesus, the historical and eternal, interacting with humanity as a radical teacher of love and acceptance who gave all of Himself on our behalf. When I look at the Trinity, I don’t see a gender binary that is evident or must be adhered to. Only truth, goodness, grace, and love. The only dichotomy is that of the realm of the divine colliding with the realm of the human. In fact, the more I try to understand God, the less I feel that gender has any relevance in His kingdom. Paul said it himself in Galatians 3:28.

I find great comfort knowing that I am made in the image of this God and that He loves me as I am. It is what propels me to know Him more, to embrace myself, and to make room for others. The world is too diverse and beautiful a place to force each other into boxes. Maybe it wouldn’t kill us to reconsider why we do it in the first place.

Have a listen to this delightful tune. Pretty well sums up my feelings on the topic.

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White Christian Apathy is No Longer Acceptable

The news in the last week has been a little surreal. From the discovery of Rachel Dolezal’s flagrant misappropriation of black culture and the term “transracial” to the mildly humorous hack of the Canadian government’s web presence in response to the totalitarian Bill C-51, the world has felt a little unbelievable. In the wee hours this morning, I got a news notification on my phone while I was at work about the shooting at Charleston’s Emmanuel A.M.E. Church. My heart sunk deep when I got home this morning and checked the news, but given the latest in racialized violence against black lives, I was appallingly unsurprised to learn the details of last night’s events.

As a white person of privilege, I work as hard as I can to offer support and alliance with the black community. Personal experience and witness to the very real fight against systemic oppression and violence that black people face has burdened me with a passion for change and reconciliation. But what I cannot attest to is the deep, searing pain that is felt whenever a black child is murdered by the police, when a hate crime takes place. I will never be able to fully grasp the anger and sorrow because it is not my experience. And because it is not my experience, I can only use my privilege to amplify the voices and experiences of black lives, standing alongside them in the pursuit of justice.

This post is not about how to be a good ally. This post is not about how to fix the world. This is a rage post, directed at white Christian apathy.

When I was at school last Fall, I watched the Ferguson grand jury hearing coverage with great intent. I repeated the results to many people around me, seeking to have a meaningful discussion about how Christians should respond. The information was met with glassy stares and, on more than one occasion, a sickening question: “Why do you care so much?” As more black people lost their lives to police brutality and racially-motivated violence, I noticed a disturbing trend amongst my peers; a tendency to shrug their shoulders, say “oh well”, and bury their heads in the sands of placid Christian living. Even more upsetting has been the justification of the deaths of innocents through abhorrent stereotyping. The more murdered black people became Twitter hashtags, the less anyone I knew seemed to care.

This apathy contributed largely to my exodus from evangelicalism and lies in a gross misunderstanding of what racism is. Racism is so much more than the KKK and lynch mobs (although those are very real things still). Racism is systemic oppression against other people groups at the belief that one’s own is superior. The whole of Western civilization is built upon the subjugation and slavery of people of colour and 50+ years of civil rights “progress” has had minimal impact on the far reaching impact of racism. It has permeated our economy, social discourse, politics, education, health care, environmental causes, and religion. The fact that Christians rationalize Mike Brown’s death because of his alleged criminal involvement, and in the same breath “forgive and forget” the actions of Josh Duggar means there is something incredibly wrong. The fact that Rachel Dolezal is being defended, but the brutalities against black women are being ignored means there is something incredibly wrong. The fact that we were so quick to condemn the Baltimore riots, but join in when a sports team wins/loses THERE IS SOMETHING FUCKING WRONG. This is more than just ignorance, this is woven into the fabric of North America.

White Christians; we cannot ignore matters of race. We cannot lie to ourselves about this any longer. Nine black believers were killed by a white aggressor in their own church last night. They are our siblings in Christ and they deserve more than your apathy. It is the mandate of the believer and the example of Jesus to work for justice and dignity for all people. It is not the time to retreat, nor is it the time to infringe with our privilege. This isn’t about us, but it deserves our attention and effort. It’s not about #AllLivesMatter, so don’t you dare use this tragic event as a platform for including yourself in a very specific cause. Learn, listen, pray. Weep with those who are weeping and lay yourself down for your siblings of colour. If you have read this and are uncomfortable; good. I hope you stay uncomfortable. I hope that the violence perpetrated against the lives of minorities unsettles you to your core and you are motivated to ask yourself why. And that in doing so, you will be stirred to action.

Or don’t. By all means, keep posting funny Bible memes and articles about guarding your heart.

Christ have mercy.

I Don’t Like Going to Church

My disenfranchisement with church started early. While my parents encouraged individuality, open-mindedness, and balanced enjoyment of secular media, my church exposure was frequent and stereotypically evangelical. Riding on the charismatic surge of the 1990s, my church upbringing stirs up memories of Flannelgraph board Bible stories, “action” songs, purity pledges, and crackling VHS tapes of The Donut Man live show (which I always found disturbing). Easter Sunday flag ministry, Harry Potter Awareness Nights, and the Christy movies were the wholesome pillars of my childhood.

Still traumatized.
Still traumatized.

The sterilized Christian culture attempted to be fun and safe but, even as a young child, left a weird taste in my mouth. I remember very specifically the moment that I started losing interest in church. My Sunday School teacher, a particularly zealous (but well-meaning) congregant, told my class of 6-8 year old girls that because Eve was created out of Adam’s rib, men biologically had one less rib than women. I precociously insisted otherwise and had my medical professional of a mother back me up. As I got a little bit older, I detected an “us and them” mentality that required an arms-length participation in the world surrounding. This unsettled me deeply as a kid, but because this had been my only exposure to church, I was certain that the problem was within me. I didn’t accept or like what was being offered to me in terms of a church community, but it didn’t occur to me to look elsewhere till much later.

To combat my self-perceived bad attitude, I flung myself into the thick of church culture in my teen years with the hope that God would change me. I eagerly attended church camp every year, took a leadership position in my youth group, and committed myself to being above the teen culture. While claiming to be cool and judgment free, I was actually judging folks outside of my safety net. And judging hard. I had become a product of my church environment, despite my parents’ desire to keep the door open to discovering faith for myself. Stuffing down my early childhood intuitions, I dove headlong into the waters of evangelicalism. This saturation of church culture is what largely contributed to my decision to go to Bible college.

It wasn’t until I got to school that I began to critically assess my surroundings. And when that began, the more uncomfortable I became. During my two years of study, I attended church maybe 10 times. Once removed from my home church experience, I failed to identify any authenticity or sense of community in the churches I was recommended to attend. This is not meant to be a generalization of all evangelical churches, but merely a reflection of my own experience. I respect that there are thriving evangelical churches that step outside of the same quiet judgment and unchanging routine, but I have been hard pressed to find one.

I asked my sister how she felt about our church upbringing and she hit the nail on the head. Paraphrasing her words; she observed that evangelical sermons and church culture feels pretty condemning and awkward to someone who hasn’t been exposed their whole life. Having married a dude who’s more into the quiet tradition of Anglicanism, the feeling she described has guided her to express her faith in a different way. And it’s for this reason that I don’t like going to church.

I don’t like going to a church where only some are welcome to participate. Where there is criteria for discipleship. Where the Gospel is thundered from a pulpit and not found in moments of authenticity and tenderness. Where the only liturgy to be found is in the tired pattern of “welcome message, fast song, handshaking time, announcements, slow song, sermon, altar call”. I don’t want to pretend to enjoy myself and then feel guilty for not being spiritual enough. What I want is community.

Community can be found where God moves in imperfect people and knits them together in mutual love for Christ and others. When we affirm the full humanity and inherent goodness of the people around us. I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a community. When I first visited Ottawa, my partner brought me to his church. An Anglican church. I must admit that I was apprehensive to the idea after years of believing that mainline denominations were heretical and dying. But the moment I walked into St. Alban’s* at the corner of Daly and King Edward, I knew something was different. Good different. My first impression was a culture of love and acceptance. Everyone participated in some way or another, there was incredible diversity, and the Eucharist was celebrated in the most beautiful way. For the first time in months, I’d felt the closeness of God’s presence as I awkwardly fumbled through the liturgy and happily worshipped along to familiar “hymns”. Afterwards, I told Davis that St. Al’s was the first church I’d ever felt truly at home in. And I am so pleased to be making it my home.

I acknowledge that the day the Church reaches perfection is the day that Jesus returns. I also acknowledge that bitterness and criticism is easy. I harbour no bitterness towards my upbringing; there just needs to be a different way.

*Shoutout to any St. Al’s people who are reading this! Y’all are beautiful people.