I don't remember when I first learned that some people were neither male nor female, but I do remember that "hermaphrodite" was whispered in the dark at slumber parties. We spoke in the dark about things we didn't understand--boys, ghosts, menstruation. I didn't learn much of value, only that some people had "both boy and girl parts."
It wasn't until I hit college that intersex individuals were talked about in the light of day. I went to NYU where we didn't talk about anything in the dark. (Well, okay, maybe we talked about our secret societies and our Republican, pro-life leanings in the dark, but that was about it.) Thinking of majoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies, I took an intro course. During that class, I learned and unlearned a lot. A LOT.
But beyond what I learned was what I saw. Those who had formerly been spoken about only in whispers were spoken about with dignity, respect, and love. Non-intersex people, who did not pretend to understand the intersex experience, were advocating for there to be a place in society for everyone who was an outcast. I saw a lot of anger for past injustices, but I also saw hope.
I wish I had seen those things in the Church, or that even my professors had been Christians. But they were far from it. That was the year I realized that the Church had A LOT to learn from nonChristians. I used the phrase, "I still like Jesus, but I'm not sure I would call myself a Christian" frequently. (Not that I would support that phrase at all now, but I did use it.) My loss of faith in God's people was directly related to the fact that I found out that "the world" was not as evil as Christians made it out to be. The nonChristians I knew seemed more Christlike than a lot of the Christians I knew.
Fortunately, I also took a Sociology class that year in which we read The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. That book single-handedly kept my hope in the Church alive. Without it, I'm not sure where I'd be. Stark explored the earliest days of Christianity and how it rose from being viewed as a local cult to a respected religion. He gave many reasons, but one of them, boiled down into colloquial language was, "Christians cared for people no one else cared for."
Just writing that phrase brings me to tears now. That is the legacy Jesus left with his disciples, a legacy we should still carry: care for all people--women, victims of attempted infanticide, the elderly, those suffering from plagues, prisoners. The early church was truly a ragamuffin bunch because these people were not only taken care of, but they became members of the Body of Christ. They were grafted in, given a place at the table, and given a mission. In short, they were valued.
We can talk about if or when this legacy became uncharacteristic to many Christians. In my experience growing up, Christianity was not for the outcasts, it was for the in-crowd. I now know that the Christians I knew growing up did not/do not represent all Christians in the world. I have since learned that the roots of the abolitionist movement, women's rights, and civil rights were found in the hearts and minds of Christians. I have learned that without Christian churches and missionaries, many around the world would not have food, clean water, medicine, or education. It turns out that our legacy has not been relegated to the food bank closets in our churches; it is living, breathing, and changing the world.
So I say, "Hallelujah!"
But I also say, "Brothers and sisters, there's more work to be done."
If I believe the Church must work to bring dignity, respect, and love to intersex individuals (which I do!), then I believe we must begin by not talking about them in the dark. We must acknowledge that they are fully human, that they matter, and that the Gospel is for them, just as it is for you and me. We must also acknowledge how they affect us--why they make us uncomfortable, what sins in our own heart they illuminate, and what they say about God. And we must examine what the Bible says.
We're getting there, friends. But for now, let's all pray for dignity, respect, and love to rule in our hearts as we proceed.
Male and Female God Created (Most of) Them: Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6