Westminster John Knox Press, 214 pages
Reviewed by Brenda Walker
Austen Hartke’s passion for inviting others to find themselves reflected in Scripture shines throughout this book as he takes us on an exegetical journey. Along the way, he introduces us to transgender and gender-expansive people, creating space for their voices, insights and experiences in congregations.
He reveals gender variance among biblical characters as well as the scriptural basis for the inclusion of gender-expansive people in the church. Ultimately, he offers the joyful celebration of the gifts transgender people bring to the faith community.
In response to the oft-cited binary of Adam and Eve, Hartke points out the complexities that undergird the parallel poetry of the creation account. Night and day give way to dawn and dusk. Land and sea represent all manner of in-betweens (such as marshes). The fullness of God’s creation, which is beyond our imagining, applies to discoveries of galaxies and unknown planets, even as it also pertains to the intricacies of the gender spectrum.
One of Hartke’s gifts is the way that he invites us to engage with Scripture, not in isolation, but in relation to the stories of the lives of transgender people. He describes the impact of encountering the Galatians 3:28 passage when he was 20 (“in Christ there is no male nor female”). As he continues with an incisive exegesis, he also gives voice to several First Nation Christians who share insights with regard to Paul’s argument for freedom in Christ from gender binaries and cultural divisions.
Toward the end of the book, Hartke offers a meditation on the parable of the 99 sheep, suggesting they may have been part of the reason the lost sheep got lost in the first place. When Jesus goes after that lost sheep, he’s telling the flock that we’re not complete without each other. Hartke then proceeds to provide practical and concrete help for congregations, actionable steps for individuals to take in working toward trans inclusion and encouragement and advice for people who are transgender. This “trans-affirming toolbox” is an impressive and extensive list of resources.
I recommend this book for anyone who wonders what the Bible has to say about gender identity as well as those who desire current information about the terminology used for gender expression.
This slim volume is only the starting point of a larger ministry to transgender Christians and allies. In early 2020, Hartke founded Transmission Ministry Collective (transmissionministry.com), an online community dedicated to the spiritual care, faith formation and leadership potential of transgender, nonbinary, genderqueer and gender-expansive Christians.
I am grateful for this book. “Transforming” has become a foundational resource for me as I begin the next chapter of my ministry, helping faith communities become informed advocates and safe spaces for transgender people and their loved ones. I consider this book to be such essential reading that I now own it in audiobook, e-book and print formats.
Brenda Walker, a retired PC(USA) pastor living in Richmond, Virginia, is the author of the forthcoming “Martine: A Memoir.” It tells of her transformation into a trans ally as she discovers that her oldest sibling, who died in 1982 under mysterious circumstances, was transgender.