Currently the Justice select committee is hearing oral submissions on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill. Our Parish council submitted, and I spoke about the harm I experienced from these kinds of practices when I was a teenager. Back then (late 90s) the focus was all on homosexuality… well, sexual acts, in particular. It was OK to be gay as long as you never had intimate partners. I never heard any mention of bisexuality, let alone transgender or non-binary identities. I think the existence of gender diversity was off the radar for the PCANZ even when the General Assembly voted in the rule in 2014 that “ministers may conduct marriage only between a man and woman,” otherwise I think that they would have clarified that the couple must be cis-gender.

Things have changed. Perhaps the church thinks it has lost the battle with the state over equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and taktatāpui people, but won the debates in the church, with both leadership and marriage bans in place. Now the conservative parts of the church have turned the focus to transgender people.

MP Ginny Andersen asked Ellen a question after her personal submission on the Conversion Practices bill. Why does the church, which teaches messages of love and inclusion, get so fixated on excluding people?

In their booklet “Across the Divide: A How-To for having tough conversations with conservative evangelical Christians (and surviving)” Soulforce describe this world view: “I am on the right side of the cosmic battle between good and evil: God’s side.” The world is dualistic and ordered. “Individual salvation (rather than collective liberation) is the most important thing in this life.” Within this worldview is makes sense to draw boundaries, and to keep out those who transgress binaries. It makes sense that prominent members of the PCANZ were speaking out against banning conversion practices and rallying their congregations to do the same.

In biblical times there was no concept of transgender or nonbinary identities. However the bible writers did know about rules and boundaries, around gender, social roles, and keeping some things pure and separate. The gospel message outlines a different future that transcends rigid binaries. Galatians 3:2 proclaims, “In the unity of spiritual community there is no longer male and female.” Jesus transgresses boundaries to reach out and include those who experienced stigma and discrimination in his culture.

This Sunday, the service will focus on transgender people, with messages about recognition, remembrance and resilience.

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