God Does Not Make Mistakes

I've had a couple of conversations about trans identity where someone has said, as a way of rejecting those identities, "God does not make mistakes." So let's talk about how trans people are not mistakes.

Script/Transcript

Please note that this is a script rather than a transcript and may not match the video exactly. Also, please note that the script was written to help make the video, and may contain errors—typos, awkward wording, and so on—that were corrected as it was being read.

Recently, I’ve had a few conversations about trans identity, both in person and online, where someone has tried to—well, I’m not exactly sure—not quite deny trans identity, but at least call it into question by saying something like God does not make mistakes.

So let’s talk about God and mistakes. And let’s talk about how God does not make mistakes, but does make trans people.

Part I: A Simple Ethical Principle

I want to start with a simple ethical principle: nobody is a mistake.

I don’t think that people who say God does not make mistakes are saying that trans people are mistakes. But they are skirting that idea a little bit: the moment someone responds to the existence of trans people by saying that God does not make mistakes, there is the implication that trans people might be mistakes.

So it seems important to say that nobody is a mistake. No matter who you are, and no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are not a mistake.

Now, as a Christian, I take that further. Not only is nobody a mistake, but everybody is created in the image of God. And we are called to treat everybody as a bearer of the image of God.

And I know that when we get into it, that raises a bunch of questions like What about Adolf Hitler, or Osama bin Laden, or Donald Trump? Are they created in the image of God? Do we have to treat them as bearers of the image of God?

And the answer to those questions is yes. And Christianity is hard. And how we treat those people are bearers of the image of God is an open and difficult question that I’m not even going to try to answer here. But the fact that the question exists might put some things in perspective. We might not know how to treat those people as bearers of the image of God, but surely it must be easier to treat our trans neighbors—who are not those people—as bearers of the image of God.

So, the simple ethical principle: nobody is a mistake. And the piece that takes that further: everybody is created in the image of God and we are called to treat everybody as a bearer of the image of God.

Part II: The Argument

The argument that I think that people who say God does not make mistakes are making, as I understand it, and in the most charitable form, goes something like this:

One: There is something about you that is consistent from your birth (and maybe even before) to your death (and maybe even after). That something is what makes you you even as you change over the course of your life. An essential you as it were.

Two: That essential you is intimately connected to your body and, specifically, to your gender. Your body is a man body or a woman body. And your essential you is a man you or a woman you.

So far, while this still limits people to a gender binary (man or woman), and that is problematic, I don’t think that it’s exactly transphobic. I think that, in a sense, a lot of trans people and a lot of transphobic people agree that trans identity is rooted in a (perceived) mismatch between someone’s essential self and someone’s body’s gender. The difference comes from whether someone thinks that mismatch is real.

Three: If your essential you does not match your body, then that would mean that the creator who made you made a mistake. That creator gave you the wrong body; or that creator gave you to the wrong body. (And that creator, of course, is God.)

Four: God does not make mistakes.

Five: Therefore, the problem cannot be a mismatch between the essential you and your body. Instead the problem must be something else.

And, of course, this is where things start to get openly transphobic. This is where people start talking about mental illness, social contagion, grooming, and more.

Part III: The Things We Do to Bodies

Here’s the basic problem with this argument: bodies change a lot over time, and while some of those changes are natural, a lot of those changes are not. We do a lot of things to bodies. And what I don’t understand is why gender is one of the very few ways that someone’s essential self and someone’s body are inalterably linked.

I don’t have a comprehensive list of how we change bodies, but here are a few examples from a few broad categories of how we change bodies:

We change bodies for athletic reasons. I’m defining athletic broadly here, but the training that we put soccer players, gymnasts, and ballet dancers through causes changes to those bodies. And when those athletes are young and their bodies are still developing those changes can be permanent.

We change bodies for cosmetic, cultural, and religious reasons. No one is born with pierced ears. No one is born with neck rings that bend the collarbone and create the illusion of an elongated neck. No one is born circumcised (well, that’s not exactly true, aposthia is a rare congenital condition in which the foreskin is missing). But the point is that people change bodies for reasons that are linked to tradition.

We change bodies for medical reasons. Among many other specific reasons, we repair cleft lips and cleft palettes in infants and children, we fix diaphragmatic hernias in infants, and we treat neonatal diabetes. We even change atypical genitalia to help people match an assigned gender.

And here’s the thing: even if the someone’s essential self and someone’s body’s gender match—even if someone is cisgender—sometimes these changes are gender-affirming (meaning they being that person’s body closer that person’s understanding of their own gender) and sometimes these changes are gender-denying (meaning that they push that person’s body further from that person’s understanding of their own gender).

For example, a double mastectomy following a breast cancer diagnosis in a cis-gender woman is often gender-denying because it means removing part of the body that is characteristically feminine. And breast reconstruction after that mastectomy—or as part of the same surgery—is often gender-affirming because it helps the body return to a more characteristic femininity.

But, hormone therapy to reduce breast tissue in a cis-gender man with gynecomastia is often gender-affirming.

And the same idea applies to all sorts of other things—from shaving your legs to getting a penile implant—that people do to make their bodies more closely match their perceived gender.

That’s why bills that ban gender-affirming care ban it specifically for trans people and not for everyone. That’s why the law in Iowa has to specify that minors in Iowa cannot get gender-affirming care: “for the purpose of attempting to alter the appearance of, or affirm the minor’s perception of, the minor’s gender or sex, if that appearance or perception is inconsistent with the minor’s sex [at birth].” (SF 538) Because we are all doing all sorts of gender-affirming—and gender-denying—things to our bodies all the time.

Which just brings me back to the way that I initially stated the problem. Given all of the things that we do to bodies—and all of the ways that we affirm and deny our own genders through those things—why is gender one of the very few ways that someone’s essential self and someone’s body are inalterably linked?

Part IV: Why Gender is One of the Very Few Ways that Someone’s Essential Self and Someone’s Body are Inalterably Linked

Nope. I got nothing.

Part V: God Makes Trans People

Remember that simple ethical principle that we started with? Nobody is a mistake: we are all precious children of the God who is love, and we all bear the image of God.

everybody is created in the image of God and we are called to treat everybody as a bearer of the image of God.

I really do believe that. I really do try to believe that.

And I also really do believe that God does not make mistakes. I also really do try to believe that.

So what if God just makes trans people?

What if God just makes non-binary people? What if God just makes people across the broad spectrum of gender identity? Just like God makes people who are not yet ballerinas, who do not yet have pierced ears, who do not yet have repaired lips. Just like God makes all sorts of people who are not yet what we will one day become.

There’s this scene in the Gospel According to John where Jesus and his disciples come across a man who was born blind. The disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Saying that the man’s blindness was the result of sin—that it was a punishment for something—was there way of not saying that God had made a mistake and messed up the eyes.

And Jesus answers, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” And then goes on a bit of a discourse. But in the end, he makes some mud, spreads it on the man’s eyes, and tells the man to go wash in a pool. And, when the man does all of that, he is able to see. (John 9:1-12; but it’s part of a bigger story that takes up all of chapter 9.)

The man’s blindness was not a punishment and it was not a mistake. The man’s blindness had a purpose. In this case, Jesus met that purpose and revealed God’s works in him by healing him. But that purpose could have been met by others, too. God’s works could have been revealed in a community that cared for the man, that shaped their little corner of the world in a way that worked for him, that loved him.

And maybe God makes all of us not yet what we will become so that this deeper work—this love—can be revealed.

God does not make mistakes. God does make trans people. And the question for Christians is: how do we—cis people and trans people and non-binary people and non-gender conforming people and people all across the broad spectrum of gender identity—reveal God’s deep work of love together.

Conclusion: Our Job is Love

I’m going to end where I usually end things: our job—our job as humans and our job as Christians—is love.

Whether God makes mistakes, how our essential selves do or do not align with our bodies, and other questions are interesting. But once we start talking about how we treat people, they all provide the wrong frame.  So the question in front of us is: given that trans people exist—and trans people do, in fact, exist—how do we love them?

And while I’m sure there’s a whole other video that I could do about that, it really isn’t any different from asking how we love anyone else.