There are a lot of people out there who think that this is acceptable, admirable even. Christians who believe that being trans goes against God* claim that it is in line with their deeply held beliefs to deny service, including healthcare, to trans people. That’s been a pretty common argument among Christians who believe that it is a sin to be LGBTQ. They claim that providing service to LGBTQ people would be to support “sin,” and that they must stand up for their beliefs. But when I read the news that protections for transgender people would rolled back, one of the first things I thought of was the story of the Syrophoenician, or Canaanite woman:
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from
that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is
tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying,
“Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the
house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not
fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the
crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it
be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Matthew 15:21-28, NRSV
In this story, Jesus is travelling through gentile territory when he is confronted by a woman, begging for healing for her daughter. Some translations refer to her as Syrophoenician, others as Canaanite, but the point is she is not Jewish. She belongs to an ethnic group that is depicted as the bad guys in Hebrew scripture over and over. Jewish people did not associate with Canaanites. They did not talk to them, and a Jewish rabbi like Jesus certainly did not heal Canaanite children. It would be expected for Jesus to ignore her and walk on by. That’s what any other first century Jew would have done.
Now there is a lot of debate among scholars over this passage. Was Jesus demonstrating prejudice? Was he waiting for her to prove her faith? Was he playing devil’s advocate? No one is entirely sure why he initially responds to her the way he does, but what’s important here today is that in the end he heals the girl. He doesn’t send her away, he doesn’t force her to convert to Judaism, he doesn’t demand anything of her beyond their brief conversation. Although the rules of his culture say that he must reject her, turn her away, tell her “that’s what you get for being a Canaanite,” he stills helps her in the end.
I will never understand how anyone can read the gospels and think, “Jesus would want me to refuse to provide healthcare to this person because they are transgender.” Jesus showed repeatedly that it does not matter what society says, we are called to love and serve all people. Jesus showed us that all really does mean all. It means the Canaanite woman seeking healing for her daughter, and it means the transgender person in need of medical care. Every time someone went to Jesus seeking a miracle, he provided, regardless of the person’s status in society. Jesus calls on us to do the same. No matter what you believe concerning LGBTQ people, if you are Christian you are called to serve them the same as any other person in this world. It is not our place to decide who deserves our care and who doesn’t. Jesus already taught us, everyone does.
*As a pastor and student of theology I have spent a lot of time studying what the Bible says about being trans and talking to people on both sides of the debate. I firmly believe that it is NOT sinful nor is it against God’s design for the world. My goal in writing this particular blog was to address a particular issue in how trans people are treated by society, not to go deep into the reasons why it is not a sin to be trans. If you do believe that it is a sin, and you are curious about my beliefs concerning what the Bible says about trans people, I invite you to contact me. I would love to dialogue with you about it.