In these days gender confusion and aberrant sexualities, the PCUSA has yearned to take the lead, but has sometimes been eclipsed by other mainline denominations who beat the heirs of Calvin and Knox to the front of the cultural line in championing LGBTQIAPK (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersexual, Asexual, Pansexual and Polygamous, and Kinkiness) causes.
Today, it is the United Methodist Church blazing the path that soon, no doubt, PCUSAers will travel down, “walking and leaping and praising tolerance.” According to a Juicy Ecumenism blog post by my friend and Methodist renewal worker, John Lomperis, the Northern Illinois Conference of the UMC earlier this week commissioned for deacon’s orders the first “openly non-binary trans person” for ministry. No doubt they are very proud of themselves.
The individual in question, biologically a female, does not personally identify by either natural gender, and goes by the name M Barclay. Having rejected the feminine pronouns “she” or “her,” Barclay demands to be referred to by the use of “singular they pronouns.” This is rather amusing, since “they pronouns” were specifically constructed in the English language to express plural rather than singular objects.
However, M Barclay can find New Testament precedent for such conflation of singulars and plurals, should she wish any biblical support. In Mark 5:7ff., Jesus is having a conversation with a conflicted man, who refers to himself alternately in the singular and plural. His opening words to Jesus are, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, by God, do not torment me.” Jesus replies, “What is your name?” (the “you” referred to here is singular in the original Greek). The man replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Mark picks up on this numerical confusion in his narration: “And he begged him (Jesus) eagerly not to sent them out of the country…; they begged him, ‘Send us to the swine, let us enter them. So he gave them leave.”
Of course, the confusion in this story is related to the fact that the man in question is possessed by a plethora of demons, and so sometimes the man is in focus during the conversation, other times the demons. Finally, when Jesus exorcises the evil spirits from the man, the numerical confusion is cleared up. From that point on, the former demoniac is “clothed and in his right mind, and spoken of in the masculine singular from that point on by all who know him.
So, M Barclay can find some biblical precedent if she wants personal pronouns referring to her to be of the “singular they” variety. However, as a self-identifying non-binary trans person, she may not like the company she’s in biblically, unless she ultimately receives from Jesus the same help the former demoniac did. One can always hope — and pray.
While we’re at it, perhaps we can expand our prayers to the PCUSA leadership and that of the other mainline denominations, whose minions are Legion. What a wonderful transformation it would be for Jesus to set these leaders free, that they may find themselves clothed and in their right minds, seated with gratitude at the feet of their true Master!