I am still a Christian…despite transphobia and ableism
1 Corinthians 12: 12-26 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect, whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
I am still a Christian despite transphobia and ableism. Why? Because the body of Christ is trans and disabled.
Let’s go back a few steps. My name is Alex and my pronouns are they/them. I don’t use these pronouns to be difficult, and I don’t tell people to make a point. Rather, they are simply a part of the truth of who I am. I also have two hidden disabilities: I am autistic and have hEDS, a complex condition that affects joints, skin and digestion; I experience very regular pain.
My transness and my disabilities may seem separate but both make it a little more complicated to function in most churches as both binary gender and ‘normal’ physical and learning abilities are an implicit part of church culture. The words ‘brothers and sisters’ pepper our liturgies, and many church’s weekly events often include ‘men’s breakfasts’, ‘women’s fellowships’ and so on. As someone who looks relatively young I am regularly expected to be able to walk long distances, and shift tables and chairs. This is so normative that ministers joke that the most important bit of our ministerial education was when we were taught how to stack chairs…
But this reflection isn’t about complaining. Rather, it is about why I am still a Christian despite the transphobia and ableism that I experience in church. I am still a Christian because the body of Christ is trans and disabled. That might sound radical, but traditional Christian theology teaches that the body of Christ contains the members of the Church. St. Teresa of Avila said, ‘Christ has no body now but yours.’ Feminist theologian Elizabeth Stuart began to argue, in the 1980s, that Christ’s body is ‘stretched’ to contain all genders.
The body of Christ – post resurrection and Pentecost – contains the bodies of all Christians. Bodies that are male, female, intersex, trans and/or non-binary; bodies that are able, differently abled, and/or disabled. The body of Christ includes me. I don’t say that in order to argue that it is ok to be trans, but as a fact: a fact that matters. I can’t simply choose to leave the body. Even if I left the earthly Church, I would still be a part of the body of Christ. The Church is not its flaws or even its gifts. It is a fleshy, breathing, living organism that thrives on diversity and – at its best – acts out God’s vision of a radically liberated and liberative world. So, I commit to being an active, working, transforming part of the body whilst and as I can. That is what being a Christian is all about.
Christ has no body now but ours. Ours are the diversity of brains with which Christ thinks, Ours are the breadth of mouths through which Christ communicates, Ours are the mix of hands and feet, mobile, hypermobile and immobile through which Christ acts.
be in our body, that we might be united in our diversity
be in our brains, that we might think differently
be in our mouths, that we might communicate differently
be in our hands and feet, that we might act differently.
Christ has no body now but ours. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Alex Clare-Young is a Special Category Minister in Cambridge City Centre and a member of Downing Place URC.