Skip to main content

On this solemn day, the 14th Transgender Day of Remembrance, I would like to share this with you

…And the eunuch asked two pregnant questions.

A passage that has become very significant to transgender Christians is Acts 8:26-39, the story of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. The narrator of the story explains how Philip was instructed by an angel to intercept a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, a eunuch, on the dusty road from Jerusalem to Gaza.

Why this detail of the person’s sexual otherness is in the account may not be readily apparent to us. It seems a bit odd, after all, how did Philip know this intimate detail? It’s not as if this person had the word “eunuch” tattooed on their forehead. Perhaps the possible lack of facial hair, high-pitched voice, or even attire my have been the clue. But why out this person in the narrative?

This story, therefore, requires that we do a little queering in order to get at the significance and the importance of the story for us today.

We are told the official was reading aloud from the book of Isaiah as he rode in his chariot. Philip overheard him and asked him if he understood what he was reading, he replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” Philip is invited to ride in the chariot so he can unpack the passage.

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
    and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
        so he does not open his mouth.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
        For his life is taken away from the earth.”

At this point, the eunuch asks the first pregnant question: “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip spoke, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 

We can infer that the eunuch believed Philip, and as they were going along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water!” Then asked the second pregnant question: “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

Philip proceeds to baptize the eunuch and the Holy Spirit snatches Philip away and we are told that the eunuch went on his way rejoicing.

On the surface, this is an amazing story, Philip is instructed by and angel, cleverly, the narrator uses the story to link Jesus to the Isaiah passage, and then Philip is tele-transported to another location. 

Now, let's queer this story so we can see why these two questions and this story is so significant for not only transgender and gender-variant persons, but for the church.

Though the narrator only includes two verses from Isaiah 53, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the preceding verses had also been read by this eunuch and not just the two that are quoted. Lets look at verses 2 & 3:

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.

So, when the Eunuch asks about whom the prophet is talking about, himself or someone else, he is asking a very pregnant question, he is really saying:

So much of this person’s life parallels my own life, as a eunuch, I have experienced rejection and people look at me with derision and disgust. I have felt stricken and cursed, just like this person the prophet is describing. 

What we can also glean from this story is that not only did Philip’s explanation helps us connect Jesus to Isaiah, but for the eunuch, it connected him to Jesus’ suffering. He could trust in this Jesus, in a savior who was well acquainted with all his ways.

The second pregnant question he asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” is the one that should resonate for us today. In this question, the eunuch is really saying:

I have made something of myself and I have a good job, despite my sexual otherness. But in the area of my life that is most important to me, my faith, despite the fact I have lived my life the best I could, my faith community sidelines me and I am not an equal. I went to Jerusalem at great expense and risk so I could celebrate the Passover, but I could not enter the temple grounds, for I am considered ceremonially unclean. I am not an equal. In this new Jesus movement, am I also going to be sidelined, or will I be a full participant?

This is what we can assume from Philip’s immediate willingness to baptize this person proclaimed: “Nothing prevents you from being baptized…you are an equal and full participant!”

This is the same baptism of which Paul said in Galatians 3:27-28: "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." 

I pray these two pregnant questions will give birth to new understanding in the church today. Tradition tells us God used this sexual-other person to established the first church in Africa and became its bishop. 

The church today needs to return to this lived out equality, where all are welcome, including gender-variant persons.

Popular posts from this blog

Behind the scenes of "Ask a transgender Christian"

A young woman I greatly admire is Rachel Held Evans. She is an amazing author, blogger, speaker, wife, mother and a seriously articulate Evangelical Christian who is not afraid to enter into conversations that would make many others run and hide in their little dogma houses.

Earlier in September of 2012, Rachel contacted me to see if I would be willing to be interviewed as part of her popular blog series titled "AKS A…" Would I be willing to be the target for "Ask a Transgender Christian?"My new friend Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network (GCN) and author of the soon to be released book"Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate" suggested me as the person to ask. (In the same way, Justin is the person Rachel chose for the "Ask a Gay Christian" interview.

Having followed Rachel for several months, my initial reaction to her email was one of disbelief and trepidation, given the level of intellectual and t…

Cats and dogs seem to matter more to the ruling BC Liberals than trans persons.

The Apparent Hypocrisy of British Columbia’s Elected Liberal Government
The same week that Transgender advocates and allies stood in front of the BC Legislature in support of the introduction of a private member’s bill aimed at protecting the rights of transgender people, the BC Liberal Government announced an order-in-council that adopts the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s Codes of Practice for both kennel and cat breeding.

Indeed, this is very good news for dogs and cats in British Columbia.
Yet, this same Government has sat intentionally on it’s laurels, refusing to pass an exact version of the “trans rights bill” on three previous occasions. This is the fourth time the Honourable Spencer Chandra Herbert, MLA for Vancouver-West End, introduces this bill. The bill would amend the BC Human Rights Code (BCHRC) to include “gender identity and gender expression.”
Having “gender identity and gender expression” included in the BCHRC will afford increased protection, safety, and …

Witnessing a Birth of Sorts

When the moment to start life anew comes, it usually happens in the quietness of one's spirit. Yesterday, February 21, 2012 will mark the moment my friend Tori took that step in the most unassuming way.

In 1999, about the time I was being assessed and diagnosed at the Vancouver Hospital's Gender Clinic, I made a couple of calls to a support group in the area. Their brochure listed a phone number and stated calls could be made on Thursday nights if you needed to speak to someone, otherwise you could leave a message and someone would get back to you. The woman who answered was friendly and explained the purpose of the group an how one would go about attending their meetings and other events. Membership was reserved for those who had been vetted and approved by the membership committee. Confidentiality and security of personal information was very high on the group's priority list.

Given the group's stated purposed was to provide a safe place for heterosexual men to cross…