If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18 NASB)
They will ban you from the synagogue, yet an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering a service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father nor me. (John 16:2-3 NASB)
I was often told the reason people hated Jesus was because he spoke about sin. Especially in the book of John, there are statements such as: “Go and sin no more,” “But because of your sin,” and “Do not be led to sin.”
All of this was used to reinforce my conformity to the beliefs of my church community. However, what if Jesus were hated for who he revealed God to be and not because of his strong teachings about sin?
As I have prepared for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, I have found the Gospel of John to have a lot to say about the hatred that marginalized groups face in this world. It seems that the reason Jesus was hated is the same reason transgender people are hated and killed today:
We reveal the image of God that the world does not want to accept.
Often I would read “Whosoever believes in him” in John 3:16 and think of it as an exclusive statement about those who believe in Jesus the “right” way. I was taught that this type of belief in Jesus meant complete compliance to the morality that I was given from my community.
However, John takes the theme of belief to show the extent of inclusion that the word “whosoever” encompasses.
Inclusion in the Gospel of John
One of the first things that John does is show that Samaritans, the greatest rival of the Jews and people who don’t even worship God “correctly,” fit into the category of “whosoever.” Some of the first believers in his Gospel are Samaritans after they hear the story of Jesus talking to the woman at the well. John goes on to show that royal leaders, the disabled, the hungry, abuse victims — and finally the Greeks — are all able to believe in the things Jesus revealed.
However, that meant that Jesus, while opening the community of faith to those thought to be outsiders, was revealing God as a God of inclusion and love for all humanity. And people hated him for it.
The more I looked at John’s Gospel, the more I started to realize that he wasn’t trying to define morality. (The only time he defines sin is in Chapter 16, in which Jesus says sin is “unbelief.”) He was simply trying to say that Jesus was revealing God to the world. But many didn’t like what they saw and chose to seek Jesus’ death, and the death of his disciples by extension, rather than to accept the version of God that Jesus showed to the world.
This is why Jesus was able to say things such as:
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. (John 15:22)
The sin of unbelief comes from seeing the full presentation of God and choosing to reject what is seen.
Inclusion in God’s creation
As a trans person, accepted by God for who I am, John’s Gospel speaks volumes to me about the way we are treated in the world. If people hate Jesus because of what he reveals about God, what does that say about transgender people and a God that made the creative decision to make us who we are?
This is the document of the descendants of humanity. On the day God created humanity, God made it in God’s image. On the day they were created, God created them, male and female, blessed them, and declared their name to be “humanity.” (Genesis 5:1-2)
God does not create every single person as an individual representation of God’s image. It is humanity as a whole that represents God’s image.
“Male and female” is not an expression of closed categories, since there is no single aspect of creation meant to be understood as a fixed binary. God’s creativity includes dawn and dusk, swamps, blackholes, frogs, mosquitos, algae, and emus. The totality of humanity, which extends past the binaries of “male and female,” reveals the image of God that God chose to reveal to the world.
However, as it was with Jesus, there are people that hate the expression of God that is being revealed to the world in the lives and experiences of transgender people — sometimes to the point that they seek to stamp out our existence.
Failing to understand God
As we move toward Transgender Day of Remembrance, we are continuing to face the reality that so much of the world doesn’t want to accept trans people as a valid expression of humanity. This year has already set a record for the number of violent deaths, hate crimes and restrictive legislation suffered by transgender people.
In a culture that still relies on heteronormativity, defined gender roles and fixed gender binaries to maintain its supremacy over the marginalized, the experiences of transgender people reveal the extent to which our culture fails to fully understand God.
As people of faith, it is not enough to simply accept trans people in churches and communities while not being willing to stand with us as we face hatred and death for simply existing. Taking part in the ministry of Jesus means the continuing efforts of revealing God to the world, which necessitates the struggle to include the totality of humanity as it reveals God.
Jesus said that the world would hate him and his followers. Not because Jesus revealed the depths of the sin in the world, but because he revealed the extent to which God loves and accepts the fullness of humanity — and also uses humanity to be the image of Godself in the world.
As transgender people, we are not hated and killed because we are contrary to God, but because we reveal a God that the world does not want to accept.
Intern pastor at First Christian Church of Decatur, Ga., Rev. Kalie earned a bachelor’s degree in Christian ministry in 2009 and is currently a seminary student working toward a master of divinity with a specialization in Old Testament. She is married with two children.