Juneteenth and the Meaning of Freedom: A Reflection by PSR Professor Dr. Leonard McMahon
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Dying to the Sins of Hiding — a Sermon by Micah Melody Taberner

This post is adapted from a sermon given by current PSR MDiv student Micah Melody Taberner at PSR’s Community Chapel on March 19th, 2024 

Matthew 16:24-26

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?’” 

Since 2009, each year on March 31st, the world has observed International Transgender Day of Visibility — celebrating the lives and contributions of transgender people. This year, Trans Day of Visibility falls on Easter Sunday. What an incredibly beautiful convergence! In my journey as a trans woman and as a Christian, I have come to understand my transition as a calling from God into renewed life, and, as such, the Easter story deeply resonates with me. 

As I debated what I would speak about for this service, I initially planned to focus on the moment of resurrection itself; however, I felt continually drawn to the image of the cross. As much as I would like to jump straight to the victory of Easter, we cannot arrive at Resurrection Sunday without first passing through Good Friday. I recognize that not everyone here may identify as a Christian or be from the same Christian tradition, and so, I invite you along as I explore the impact of the image of the cross on trans people and the solidarity I personally find with Jesus as he calls us to follow him into the resurrection. 

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” 

What does it mean to take up our cross to follow Jesus? 

Dominant readings of Jesus’ call to take up the cross center on the “virtue of self-sacrifice” as an antidote to the sins of pride, self-reliance, and sensuality. These readings view Matthew 16:24–26 as a command to deny ourselves by emptying our selfhood and elevating God and others higher than ourselves. But what happens when that command to lower oneself is demanded of others already on the underside of gendered oppression? 

Growing up, my church taught that self-denial meant following Jesus into sacrifice by putting to death any “desires of the flesh.” Christ’s sacrifice was understood as undeserved love we must continually repay through our obedience and self-denial. As a trans girl then unknowingly “wrestling against” my gender dysphoria in a community that viewed trans and queer identities as abnormal, I quickly internalized this theology of self-sacrifice as a call to crucify my transness. 

I remember late nights lying awake in bed yearning for others to see me as a girl, imagining myself hanging out with other girls at school—only then to be overcome with immense shame. I would quickly turn to God and pray for him to take away my “desire to be a girl.” I would remind myself of those verses. “After all,” I would say to myself, “what good would it be to gain what I want most in the world, but lose my soul?”  

My supposedly shameful fight against the “desires of my flesh”—my secret desire to be just like all the other girls in my youth group, my war against the transness I had yet to understand as inseparable from my embodied being—became the false cross I bore. 

I am only one of many trans individuals who have been told we must sacrifice our gender identities and conform to the cisgender-heterosexual norm prescribed to us. Rather than a symbol of redemption and hope, the image of Jesus’ death on the cross has often become weaponized to shame trans people into submission to patriarchy. Whether through religious extremist protests at Pride or comments under a trans person’s coming out video, even trans people outside of the Christian tradition have likely encountered the weaponization of the cross. And, in turn, many trans people hide our true selves—attempting to erase signs of our transness that we are told would separate us from God or community. 

A year ago, I encountered a phrase that finally gave voice to that self-erasure and attempt to escape from authentic selfhood: the “sin of hiding.” Susan Dunfee coined the term to describe the effect of imposed self-sacrifice on women. She defines the sin of hiding as “the escape from one’s freedom into other finite forms of existence.” For Dunfee, rather than calling women out of sin, demands to self-sacrifice through continually giving of self to another or acquiescing to the patriarchal status quo are calls to escape into hiding by diminishing her true humanity. 

She writes: 

For, as long as a theology focuses on the sin of pride, as long as it uplifts the one virtueof self-sacrificial love, as long as it worships a judgemental Father in the sky whodemands self-sacrifice and is not known to sound the call that beckons one on to fullhumanity through acceptance of one’s freedom, the full humanity of women will continue to be sacrificed on the cross of self-sacrifice.

Dunfee’s focus in the article is on cis women, but I immediately felt a resonance with my own trans experience and the trans community more broadly. 

Trans people are intimately familiar with the sin of hiding. Internalized transphobia, praying for God to take away our transness, coping through self-harm or addiction, turning to hidden fantasies, crossdressing in secret and then “purging our closets” out of shame, forcing ourselves to conform to hyper-feminine or hyper-masculine ideals so no one can tell we might be trans are all ways trans people attempt to escape the fullness of our humanity.  

Escaping into hiding does not eliminate our true selves. We merely sublimate our core need to express our gender identity into other outlets, all of which fall short of our whole personhood. I want to be clear: the sin of hiding is not the fault of gender-expansive individuals. Rather, it is a systemic sin–it is the end result of a system that imposes violence on trans and gender-expansive bodies. Often, hiding is a necessity. Trans people escape into hiding to survive. 

Why am I focusing on hiding in a service recognizing Trans Day of Visibility—a day dedicated to celebrating trans visibility, joy, and expression? 

Because we cannot celebrate trans visibility without recognizing the forces in society that attempt to keep trans people invisible, even to ourselves. And we must recognize how truly important visibility, self-expression, and communal solidarity are for trans flourishing. Because the systemic sin of hiding denies people their full God-given agency and humanity, the antidote is healthy pride through self-acceptance and self-love, and allowing our true selves to be seen and embraced by others. Part of the antidote is visibility for ourselves and visibility to others.  

Rather than demanding we sacrifice our transness, our Father who loves us beckons gender-expansive people onward to whole personhood! If we are called to deny ourselves of anything, it is our sin of hiding. Jesus invites us to put to death the sin of hiding—to let God roll back the stone from the tombs of shame others have created for us and to emerge, embracing the beautifully trans, whole people God has created us to be. 

But trans visibility is a double-edged sword. As much as visibility has been healing for trans individuals and brought new collective power to the trans community, it comes at a cost. Within a culture that devalues trans bodies—especially those of Black, Indigenous, and Brown individuals—following Jesus out of hiding into wholeness and visibility is to take up our cross as we face potentially lethal violence.  

As many trans people have experienced, being our authentic selves can cost us dearly. Gender-expansive people are routinely forced to choose between sacrificing their gender identity or sacrificing their safety, family, community, income, health, and housing. Facing these genuine risks to safety, it is entirely understandable why so many feel forced into hiding. Yet, while we are in that hiding place, Jesus gently and compassionately calls trans people outward into our full humanity. And we can take courage in that call. Jesus does not call us unknowingly into suffering, but as one who has lived through rejection and violence and experienced the resurrection at the end. 

Jesus comforts the trans man who just lost his family and childhood friends after coming out, for Jesus, too, was rejected by his home community of Nazareth. Jesus embraces the nonbinary person in shock after their pastors accused them of being an apostate and removed them from communion. He, too, was falsely accused and exiled by his religious community. Jesus weeps alongside the trans child pleading with God at 2am to take her transness from her, for he, too, pleaded with God in Gethsemane at the midnight hour. And Jesus stands in solidarity with every trans person currently facing state-sanctioned oppression, violence, and possible death—encouraging them to press on to the resurrection. 

Dying to the sin of hiding is costly but incredibly worth it as we follow Jesus beyond Good Friday into Easter Sunday, into the resurrection—boldly living into our beautifully trans selves in love, joy, and freedom.  

To my dear trans and gender-expansive siblings who currently find yourselves in hiding: You are seen, you are loved. God sits with you in solidarity. God embraces you not in spite of your gender identity others may tell you to hide, but in the fullness of your being. And when you are ready, when you feel safe, God will walk with you step by step as you share your gender identity with the world. 

 I close with a verse that brings me courage in my continual process of coming out of hiding: 

 Hebrews 4:14-16 

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin [of hiding]. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 

 

Micah Melody Taberner (she/her) is the Co-Executive Director of Community Engagement for Transmission Ministry Collective—an online community dedicated to the holistic care and leadership development of transgender and gender-expansive Christians. She is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity at Pacific School of Religion. As a transgender, bi-racial Latina follower of Jesus, her greatest passion is helping individuals and communities explore the intersection of their own identities and faith. In all her work, she loves using art, music, and storytelling to build relationships and stir cross-cultural dialogue.
Transmission Ministry Collective (TMC) is an online community dedicated to the holistic care, faith formation, and leadership development of transgender and gender-expansive Christians. We’re an organization created by and for trans people, creating a space where we can be connected to others, grounded in our identity and faith, and empowered to lead. Our programs include an array of support groups, a 24-7 moderated chat server, a leadership development initiative, and educational and faith formation events for both trans folks and those wishing to practice allyship.
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