Transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner found religion last month, or at least vague traces of it. On the E! Network reality show “I Am Cait” Jenner participated in a “re-naming” ceremony in which gathered friends affirmed Jenner’s newly-adopted female identity.
The ceremony, which took place July 23 in Malibu, California, was presided over by Allyson Robinson, a Washington, D.C.-based transgender activist who recently pastored Calvary Baptist Church on an interim basis.
In her homily, Robinson compares transgender persons to the patriarch Jacob in Genesis Chapter 32, whom God re-names Israel:
“Our whole lives can be marked by struggle — the struggle to survive, the struggle to fit in, the struggle to carve out a place for ourselves in a culture that can seem like a foreign land,” Robinson preached. “We stand at the boundary between man and woman, a boundary we’re often told simply cannot be crossed, and we struggle to live out a destiny written on our hearts as surely as a calling from God Almighty.”
“We struggle, and we don’t let go, and we boldly demand of God a blessing,” Robinson charged. “Today, dear one, God says to you, ‘Yes. I will bless you. I have blessed you. I have blessed you with a new path, a new vision, and new purpose. And with it, I offer to you a new name. Bear it well. And whenever you hear it, remember this struggle, and remember your purpose. Remember who you are and who I am. And remember those who struggle still.’”
The service then went on with a receiving and affirming of Jenner’s new name and a brief closing prayer.
Robinson credits Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber with authoring the litany for re-naming service, but the text of the two services is different. In re-naming Jenner, Robinson borrows opening and closing prayers as well as the brief “Receiving and Affirming the Name” section.
Bolz-Weber originally developed the renaming rite for a member of her own Denver congregation, Asher O’Callaghan, the first regularly ordained transgender minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
However, unlike Bolz-Weber’s service, all but two references to Christ have been excised from Robinson’s, and all of the references to the Trinity have been removed. While I obviously disagree with the intent of the rite, Bolz-Weber was clearly attempting to draw from traditional liturgies in crafting her own. Robinson’s editing pen did away with most of this. It is worth noting that Bolz-Weber’s litany also gave thanks for O’Callaghan’s old name and life as Mary Christine. In Robinson’s rite, Bruce Jenner is nonexistent.
Religious ceremonies marking gender identity changes have begun appearing in recent years, with the Church of England recently rebuffing requests to “re-baptize” transgender persons with their newly-chosen names. Likely there will be more services appearing in the near future with religious tones seeking or declaring God’s affirmation for gender changes.