Antisemitism Yesterday and Today

Religious, social, and political antisemitism has a long history. Even many well-known historic Christian leaders were antisemitic. St. Augustine (354 – 430), the Bishop of Hippo who gave us the belief in Original Sin, argued that Jewish people should be left alive and suffering as a perpetual reminder of their murder of Jesus Christ. Augustine’s anti-Jewish teacher, St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 339 – 397, described Jewish people as a special subset of those people damned to hell. 

The Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) was also fiercely antisemitic. “Set fire to their synagogues or schools,” Luther recommended in his 1543 treatise On the Jews and Their Lies. Jewish houses, he said, should “be razed and destroyed,” and Jewish “prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, [should] be taken from them.” In addition, Luther said that rabbis should be forbidden to teach “on pain of loss of life and limb.”

Much antisemitism has continued because people who could do something about it either simply ignored it or refused to take action against it.

Over the past ten years, there has been considerable criticism of Pope Pius XII (1876 – 1958) and his stance on Nazi antisemitism and Jewish genocide. In 2019, Pope Francis ordered the archives of Pope Pius XII opened, saying “The church is not afraid of history.” Pius XII was pope from from March 2, 1939, until his death on October 9, 1958, thus throughout the duration of WWII.

Since, the Vatican opened its sealed archives on Pope Pius XII’s pontificate in March 2020, research about Pius XII’s role during World War II has intensified. Most recently, according to Nicole Winfield the Vatican correspondent for the Associated Press in Rome, reporting on September 16, 2023, newly discovered correspondence in Vatican archives suggests that Pius XII actually had detailed information from a trusted German Jesuit that up to 6,000 Jews and Poles were being gassed each day in German occupied Poland. The letter from the priest, Lothar Koenig, to Pius XII’s secretary, a fellow German Jesuit named Robert Leiber, is dated 14 December 1942. 

This revelation undercuts the Holy See’s earlier-stated position that it could not denounce Nazi atrocities when Pius XII was pope because it couldn’t verify any diplomatic reports of Nazi atrocities during his papacy.

It should also come as no surprise that procedures leading up to Pius XII’s canonization have now been halted. There will be more very serious study about Pius XII for sure, but right now we need to confront contemporary antisemitism.

Antisemitism, the hatred of Jews as a group or a concept, has existed in different forms throughout history. During the Middle Ages, antisemitism was religion-based and centered on inaccurate myths about Jews and Judaism. 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this hatred evolved into a non-religious form, as the world became obsessed with nationalism and perceived racial differences. During the Holocaust, Jews were persecuted and murdered because of Nazi ideology about racial superiority.

I grew up in a community where people used the word “jew” to mean cheap, stingy, and a cheater. But antisemitism continues to persist to this day. 

Antisemitism in the United States:

Over the past five years antisemitic violence has greatly increased in the United States, and there has been a sharp rise in harassment, vandalism, and assaults aimed at Jewish men, women and children.

  • The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting on October 27, 2018, was an antisemitic terrorist attack in the form of a mass shooting, which took place at the Tree of Life synagogue. The perpetrator killed eleven people and wounded six, including several Holocaust survivors. It was the deadliest attack ever on the Jewish community in the United States.
  • The Poway synagogue shooting occurred on April 27, 2019, at Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, California on the last day of the Jewish Passover holiday. Armed with an AR-15 style rifle, the shooter fatally shot one woman and injured three other persons, including the synagogue’s rabbi.
  • On December 10, 2019, a shooting took place at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey. Three people were killed at the store by two assailants,
  • On the night of December 28, 2019, the seventh night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, a masked man wielding a large knife invaded the home of a Hasidic rabbi in Monsey, New York and began stabbing the guests.
  • On January 15, 2022, a 44-year-old British Pakistani armed with a pistol, took four people as hostages in the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. 
  • In February 2023, two Jewish men were shot when they were leaving religious services at two separate synagogues in the same predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. 
  • Most recently, as reported by Media Matters for America (September 12, 2023), since Elon Musk, took over the company in 2023, X Corp — formerly known as Twitter — has placed numerous advertisements on pro-Hitler, Holocaust denial, white nationalist, and neo-Nazi accounts. X Corp advertisements have also appeared next to unhinged conspiracy theories that Jewish people were responsible for 9/11. [Media Matters for America is a nonprofit liberal organization and media watchdog group.]

The number of antisemitic incidents in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League, increased by more than 35% in 2022, from 2,721 in 2021 to 3,697. Antisemitic hate crimes rose in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, homes to the country’s three largest Jewish populations.

What to do about antisemitism:

We need to combat religious antisemitism by clearing-up problematic and incorrect biblical interpretations. 

  • For far too long too many Christians have promoted a false understanding of God in the Hebrew Scriptures (the “Old Testament”) as a God of wrath, stressing that the “correct” understanding of God in the New Testament is the Christian God of love.
  • Our biblical translations and religious language need, as well, a corrective and thorough updating. This is particularly important when we realize how New Testament mistranslations have supported antisemitism. In most New Testament translations there is still a major translation problem. The historical Jesus, “Yeshua” as he was known, belonged to the Hebrew religious tradition. He was a Galilean from Nazareth. His home territory, Galilee, was part of the province of Judaea. 
  • There were no “Jews” in the days of Jesus. The word “Jew” came into existence centuries after Jesus. The inscription on Jesus’ cross, often abbreviated as “INRI,” stood for Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum. It meant “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Judeans.” NOT “King of the Jews.” Pontius Pilate, responsible for the jeering inscription, was the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judea.
  • The Gospel of Matthew has been interpreted, in many Christian traditions, in an antisemitic way because the Greek and Latin words ioudaios and iudaeus have not been translated as “Judean” but incorrectly as “Jew.” The Gospel of Matthew has often been regarded as a great contributor to the development of antisemitism, particularly because of the charge of Matthew 27:25. This so-called “blood guilt” text has been interpreted to mean that the Hebrew people of Jesus’ time and afterwards the “Jewish” people bear responsibility for the death of Jesus. 
  • I clearly remember the Roman Catholic Good Friday prayer, as it existed before 1959: “Let us pray also for the faithless Jews, that Almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord.” [A note regarding the spelling of Iesus and Iudaeorum, the letter “J” did not exist until the sixteenth century.]

Recent popes and the Second Vatican Council held October 11, 1962 – December 8, 1965) have endeavored to improve Jewish-Christian relations. In 1964, Pope Paul VI (pope from 1963 to 1978) became the first pope to visit Israel, and in 1965, the Second Vatican Council issued the Latin document “Nostra Aetate,” (“In Our Times”) which denounced antisemitism and said Jewish people could not collectively be blamed for the death of Jesus. The promulgation, on October 28, 1965, of Nostra Aetate may be the most important moment is post-Holocaust Jewish-Christian relations. Memorable lines are these: “Since Christians and Jews have such a common spiritual heritage, this sacred council wishes to encourage and further mutual understanding and appreciation. This can be achieved, especially, by way of biblical and theological enquiry and through friendly discussions. Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (see Jn 19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion.”

We need to combat religious antisemitism by denouncing faulty history and improving historical education. 

There is, for example, considerable falsehood being taught about the Holocaust.

One of the newer forms of antisemitism is the denial of the Holocaust by revisionist historians and neo-Nazis. Austin App (1902-1984) professor of medieval English literature who taught at the University of Scranton and La Salle University is considered the first major U.S. American Holocaust denier. App wrote extensively in newspapers and periodicals, and he also wrote a couple of books which detailed his defense of Nazi Germany and Holocaust denial. App’s work inspired the Institute for Historical Review, a California center which was founded in 1978 with the sole purpose of denying the Holocaust. 

On September 16, 2020, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany announced the release of the U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey. In the survey, one in ten young U.S. Americans believed that the Holocaust never happened, while 23 per cent thought it’s a myth or that the number of those killed has been exaggerated. Nationally, 63 % of the survey respondents did not know that six million Jews were murdered, and 36 % thought that “two million or fewer Jews” were killed during the Holocaust. Additionally, although there were more than 40,000 camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust, 48 percent of national survey respondents could not name a single one.

Unlike many other bigotries, antisemitism is not merely a social prejudice. It is a dangerous conspiracy theory about how the world operates. 

People who embrace conspiracy theories to explain their problems lose the ability to rationally solve them. And so, Jews, who make up just 0.2 % of the world’s population, become the scapegoats with people believing that “the Jews” run the banks, that “the Jews” dominate business, and that “the Jews” dominate politics and are threat to the world security.

Scapegoats of course get used and abused. As early as August 1920, Adolf Hitler blamed “the Jews” for everything that was wrong with the world. Germany was weak and in decline due to the “’Jewish influence.” According to Hitler, “the Jews” were after world dominance. And they would not hesitate to use all possible means. In this way, Hitler took advantage of the existing prejudice that linked Jewish people to monetary power and financial gain.

Well, we can learn a lot from our understanding of contemporary and historic realities…


Community Reflection and Growth: Synodality

Certainly, one of the most important – and most positive – developments in the Catholic Church since the 1960s is the synodality movement. Very frankly, if synodality does not work, I suspect the current Catholic exodus will accelerate. 

The Catholic synodality movement is a series of high-level conferences of bishops, lay, and religious people to discuss a broad range of contemporary theological and organizational questions concerning the Catholic Church. Catholics in many countries have already had a series of national synodal gatherings. 

The next big Synod will be held at the Vatican on 4 to 9 October 2023. There there will be an even mix of participants from six different continents. In total, 363 people will be able to vote in the October Synod, according to the Holy See Press Office. Among them, 54 of the voting delegates are women. But only 54. In addition to the voting members, 75 other participants have been invited to the synod assembly to act as facilitators, experts, or assistants. Curiously, as historical theologian Massimo Faggioli (born 1970) observed in La Croix International (13 July 2023), “Representatives of academic Catholic theology from the United States and Germany are almost completely absent. Comparatively speaking, theologians from the UK, Ireland, Canada, and Australia are more present.” Why? Yes, that is an important question. 

The final Synod at the Vatican will be in October 2024. A final synodal advisory document will be voted on by synod assembly participants in 2024 and then presented to Pope Francis. The pope can decide, if he wishes, to adopt the text as a papal document or to write his own at the conclusion of the synod.

The contemporary synodal movement, with its theme of “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission”, will go down as an historic event – positive or negative — in the life of Pope Francis who is close to eighty-seven years old and has now been pope for ten years. Just before the October Synod, Francis, on 30 September, will appoint 21 new cardinals, bringing the total number of cardinals with the right to vote in a conclave to 137. 

Right now, opposition to the October Vatican Synod is growing within far-right Catholic groups. Last month, the Societies for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, or TFP, and its sister organizations released The Synodal Process is a Pandora’s Box, a book by two political activists, Chilean José Antonio Ureta and Peruvian Julio Loredo de Izcue. In the United States retired Cardinal Raymond Burke (born 1948) has praised the Ureta and Loredo de Izcue book. He stressed, as reported in the National Catholic Register (23 August 2023), that Catholics have always professed the church to be “one, holy, and apostolic.” But now, Burke observed it is “to be defined by synodality, a term which has no history in the doctrine of the church and for which there is no reasonable definition.”

Describing the German Catholic Church’s “Synodal Path” as a process that sowed confusion, “error” and division, Cardinal Burke said that with the upcoming synod assembly at the Vatican, “it is rightly to be feared that the same confusion and error and division will be visited upon the universal church. In fact, it has already begun to happen through the preparation of the synod at the local level.” Cardinal Burke was once the head of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (Latin: Supremum Tribunal Signaturae Apostolicae) – from 2008 to 2014 — the highest judicial authority in the Catholic Church.

Both U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke and U.S. Archbishop Joseph Cordileone of San Francisco (born 1956) and well known for his outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage have strongly criticized the German Synodal Way.

The German Synodal Way, I suggest, was actually very clear about the direction the Catholic Church should take. Called Der Synodale Weg, it was a series of conferences that began on 1 December 2019, and finished on 11 March 2023. It brought together 230 members, made up of bishops as well as an equal number of lay members from the Central Committee of German Catholics.

The majority of the assembly endorsed that:

  • Women’s ordination should be allowed by the Vatican.
  • The laity should have more influence on the election of bishops.
  • Homosexual partnerships/unions should get a public blessing ceremony.
  • The Roman Catholic catechism’s teachings on sexual ethics should be reformed.
  • Homosexual sexual acts within same-sex unions/partnerships should be theologically accepted and not classified as sinful behavior.
  • Married priests should be allowed.
  • There should be changes to the labor laws of the German church to prohibit the firing or refusal to hire people based on marital status.

On 10 March 2023, Bishop Georg Bätzing (born 1961) who is chairman of the German Bishop’s conference, expressed satisfaction at the end of the synodal assembly. As reported on the Pillar Catholic website, he said: “The synodal way is a concretization of what Pope Francis means by synodality. Above all, it is an expression of a lively, colorful, and diverse Church.”

Pope Francis was actually a bit more critical. As reported in Crux on 26 January 2023, during an interview with the Associated Press, Pope Francis warned that the German Synodal Way is both “elitist” and “ideological.” He also said that it is neither helpful nor serious, and contrasted it with the Vatican’s Synod on Synodality. He urged that Catholic Church members to be patient, to dialogue and to accompany these people “on the real synodal path” and to “help this more elitist [German] path so that it does not end badly in some way, but so is also integrated into the Church.”

The 4 to 9 October 2023 Vatican Synod, like its predecessors, it will be held behind closed doors with carefully tailored information fed to reporters concerning what’s happening. Russell Shaw, veteran journalist, writing in the National Catholic Register (12 September 2023) asked a key question about the Vatican Synod starting next month: “If the synodal Church that Pope Francis wants is to be the open, transparent affair he speaks of, is a closed-door synod, with tight controls on the information flow, the best way of launching it?” 

And so, we remain observant and alert. This synodal story is hardly over. The Catholic Church may not be a democracy, but for too long the organizational structure of the Church emulated the structure and style of Constantine’s fourth century Roman Empire. Early Christian communities, however, were not that way. They belonged to communities of equals. Their leadership was anchored in solidarity with the community not above the community but part of it, walking and discerning together.


Contemporary Catholicism and Fundamentalism

This week I return with some contemporary reflections about fundamentalism. People have asked me if U.S. Catholics have now become fundamentalists. Hardly. But some of course. Many U.S. Catholic bishops, however, shaped and influenced by the theology of Popes John Paul II (pope from 1978 to 2005) and Benedict XVI (pope from 2005 to 2013) show signs of ardent fundamentalism. Their fundamentalist responses are a reaction to their fears about social change, which they cannot understand, and the continuing decline of the Catholic Church in the United States over which they are losing control. Catholics now make up about 20% of the U.S. population – down from close to 24% in 1965.

Ever since the Catholic, Joseph Biden, entered the White House in 2021, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been wrangling and wringing its hands about his position on legalized abortion, same-sex marriage, and gender issues. Much to the added consternation of many U.S. bishops, according to the Pew Research Center, 63% of U.S. Catholics believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. A June 2022 report by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, raised that to 64% of U.S. Catholics, 40% of them Republicans. This is almost identical to the 65% of all adult Americans who hold that view. 

The poll also found that 77% of U.S. Catholics said Communion should not be denied to someone who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. That should not be surprising, as more than two-thirds of U.S. Catholics now support same-sex marriage, in opposition to church teaching. Gallup, curiously, has found that, over the past 20 years support for same-sex marriage has consistently been stronger among Catholics than among the American population as a whole. And more than 90% of U.S. Catholics now back Transgender Rights

In terms of U.S. Catholic decline, the data are not positive: 

  • More than two dozen U.S. dioceses have now entered into bankruptcy proceedings, the vast majority in the past decade. Of those dioceses, 12 are in the midst of the proceedings as of July 2023, while 17 have completed the process. 
  • Ongoing revelations of clerical sexual abuse and lost credibility in episcopal leadership have led many Catholics to simply walk out the door. Many who temporarily left due to Covid have now made their exodus permanent.

And the exodus has clearly not stopped.

  • Researchers at Georgetown University have found the number of Catholic priests in the U.S. has dropped by more than half over the last five decades.
  • Seminarian enrollment in the United States has been on a decades-long decline as fewer young men seek out the priesthood and the number of active priests in the U.S. continues to dwindle. Those who do become priests today tend to be right of center or far right of center.
  • As of 2022, 43% of Latino adults identify as Catholic, down from 67% in 2010. 
  • In 2021, the Archbishop of Cincinnati announced that 70% of Catholic churches would be closing there in the next several years. In May 2023, the Archbishop of St. Louis announced the closing of 35 parishes. Already in November 2015 the Archdiocese of New York announced that it would consolidate 368 parishes into 294, reflecting a national trend of parish closures in the United States caused by low attendance, a shortage of priests and financial troubles.
  • Nationally, Catholic school enrollment has declined by more than 430,000 students since 2008.

The word “fundamentalist” was first used in print in the United States, in 1920, by Curtis Lee Laws, editor of The Watchman Examiner, a national Baptist newspaper. But the term “fundamentalism” was extended to other religious traditions around the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1978-79.

In general, all fundamentalist movements arise when people are confronted with an unsettling disruption of their “normal” way of life. Sensing societal chaos, they develop strong feelings of anxiety and fear about losing control over their lives and losing personal and group identity. Fundamentalists are uncomfortable with and reject the realities of changing anthropological, sociological, and theological understandings.

Regardless of the religious tradition to which they belong, all fundamentalists follow certain patterns: (1) Religious ideology is the basis for their personal and communal identity. (2) They insist upon one statement of truth that is inerrant, revealed, unchangeable, and to be adhered to without question. (3) They see themselves as part of a cosmic struggle between good and evil. (4) They seize on historical moments and reinterpret them in the light of this cosmic struggle. (5) They demonize their opposition. (6) They are selective in what parts of the religious tradition and heritage they will stress. 

Religious fundamentalists place such a high priority on doctrinal conformity and obedience to doctrinaire spokespersons that they end up sacrificing values basic to all the great religious traditions: love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, and caring.

When Christian belief becomes highly fundamentalized, churches start to become repositories not of grace but of grievances. They become places where something like tribal identity is reinforced, fears are nurtured, and aggression and nastiness become part of a holy cause. In their overwhelming seriousness about “their” religion, fundamentalists do not hesitate to intervene in political and social processes to ensure that society conforms to the values and behaviors required by their fundamentalist worldview. Fundamentalists become their own justification.

What does one do about fundamentalism?

  • The best way to confront the narrow vision of fundamentalism is through broad-based education that emphasizes critical, analytical thinking skills.
  • We need to establish channels for dialogue and support those institutions that promote multi-cultural knowledge and understanding.
  • We need to courageously work against ignorance and speak-out about dishonest or faulty information, especially on the Internet. And speak-out about those who advocate and publish it.


Truth is always complicated by the human envelope in which it is enclosed. It’s not only an intellectual problem, but one at the heart of the gospel itself. It was not sinners who turned Jesus off. It was the righteous religious types who felt they had all the answers.”    Rev. Raymond E. Brown (1928 – 1998), Catholic biblical scholar


Contemporary Transgender Issues

Last week, I told a friend I wanted to write about transgender issues, because it has become such a conflictual contemporary issue, especially in my own Roman Catholic Christian tradition. He immediately replied that it would be a waste of my time because, as he said: “That transgender nonsense is unnatural and immoral.”

Contemporary transgender issues do indeed raise questions about what is “natural” and “moral.” Determining contemporary moral values and behavior, I suggest, requires an historically conscious perspective, because human understanding evolves and develops over time. We certainly see this when it comes to medical science and archaic medical treatments like using leeches and bloodletting. Leech therapy was once recommended for diseases of the nervous system and eyes. Former U.S. president George Washington died on December 14, 1799, at Mount Vernon, when doctors drained out 40% of his blood trying to cure his throat infection.

When people derive moral obligations from “nature,” they are actually deriving them from a very human interpretation of “nature.” The challenge with “natural law,” “human nature,” and issues of human sexuality and transgender is that our understandings of what it means to be “natural” have changed, developed, continue to develop. Women, for example, were once considered “naturally” inferior to men. We are always learning. And there will always be new questions.

Changed understandings do not always come easily. Across the United States, today far-right anti-LGBTQ+ extremists have targeted transgender people and are pushing legislation to remove their rights. So far this year more than 550 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation have been introduced in U.S. states. More than 80 have now become law.

In January of this year, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon U.S.A.  issued an archdiocesan policy titled “A Catholic Response to Gender Identity Theory.” Like policies in other U.S. dioceses, the Portland Archdiocese mandates that all people be treated according to their sex as assigned at birth. It condemns any endorsement of gender identity theory or “any form of gender transition, whether social or medical.” The Portland policy describes gender affirming care as a “totalitarian program that only causes more suffering and lasting damage.”

At least 30 U.S. Catholic dioceses have now released policies about LGBTQ+ people in schools, with the Archdiocese of Portland being one of the latest. These policies reinforce a strict gender binary understanding, such as requiring the use of names and pronouns according to a person’s sex assigned at birth, rather than the person’s gender. Many Catholic leaders follow the old dictum, often attributed to Mahatma Ghandi, “hate the sin, love the sinner” in their approaches to LGBTQ+ people. They encourage kindness toward LGBTQ+ people but still condemn their actions as immoral and intrinsically disordered.

In March 2023, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued guidelines to stop Catholic hospitals from providing gender transition care. The 14-page document, titled “Moral Limits to the Technological Manipulation of the Human Body,” sets guidelines about changing a person’s gender, specifically with youth. The document says Catholic hospitals “must not perform interventions, whether surgical or chemical, that aim to transform the sexual characteristics of a human body into those of the opposite sex or take part in the development of such procedures.” Currently, the Catholic Health Association comprises more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in the United States. (It will be very interesting to see which candidate the U.S. bishops support in the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign. But that is a point for a future reflection.)

Nevertheless, this past August 2023 two Catholic colleges in Minnesota courageously announced that due to the “evolving understanding of gender and gender identity” they are welcoming transgender students. The College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, say on their joint website that they support people who do not identify as binary, including “transgender, nonbinary, gender-fluid, and gender-nonconforming individuals.” The website announcement affirms that all LGBTQ+ people have a place in their academic institutions.

There are no doubts that transgender people have gained greater visibility in recent years. I can think immediately of celebrities like actress Laverne Cox, the former Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete Caitlyn Jenner, and the Canadian actor Elliot Page. They have all spoken very openly about their gender transitions. A very interesting book, in this regard is Transgender History by Susan Stryker. It provides a concise history of transgender people in the United States from the middle of the 19th century to the 2000s. Stryker is Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona.

On March 31, 2023, the White House issued a proclamation recognizing Transgender Day of Visibility. President Joseph Biden stressed: “On Transgender Day of Visibility, we celebrate the strength, joy, and absolute courage of some of the bravest people I know. Transgender Americans deserve to be safe and supported in every community – but today, across our country, MAGA extremists are advancing hundreds of hateful and extreme state laws that target transgender kids and their families. No one should have to be brave just to be themselves.”

Transgender is an umbrella term describing people whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior does not conform to what is typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Gender refers to the social roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women. Gender influences the ways that people act, interact, and feel about themselves. While aspects of biological sex are similar across different cultures, aspects of gender are often quite different.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 5% of young adults in the United States say their gender is different from their sex assigned at birth. About a quarter of U.S. adults say they have a trans friend (27%), while 13% say they have a co-worker who is trans and 10% say they have a transgender family member.

Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling. It is extremely difficult, however, for teenagers. More than 50% of trans and non-binary youth in the United States considered suicide last year. For these individuals, significant problems are finding the social support necessary to freely express their gender identity and getting hormone therapy and sex-change medical procedures.

Transgender people are more common than one might think. According to a 2022 report from UCLA’s School of Law Williams Institute, 1.6 million people ages 13 years and up identify as transgender in the United States. This means that approximately 1.4% of the U.S. population is transgender.

The term “transgender” was coined in the 1960s but didn’t become widespread until the 1990s. Historically, transgender people have been documented in many indigenous, Western, and Eastern cultures as well as societies from antiquity up to and including the present day.

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, best known as Elagabalus, who ruled from 218 to 222 CE, reportedly wore makeup and wigs, preferred to be called a lady and not a lord, and reportedly offered vast sums to any physician who could provide him with a vagina. Shunned and stigmatized by the Praetorian Guard, Elagabalus was assassinated, and his body was thrown into the Tiber River.

Nevertheless, transgender behavior existed in Rome before and after Elagabalus. Transgender practice was tolerated and even respected by the Roman populace when it was practiced by the male-born women priestesses of Cybele, known as the Gallae. 

In the Indian subcontinent hijra is the generic term for trans women and may include eunuchs and intersex people who live in communities. Going back to the thirteenth century, hijras are officially recognized as a third gender neither completely male nor female. Today in general hijras have been born male. Some hijras undergo an initiation rite into the hijra third gender community called nirvaan, which involves the removal of the male genitalia.

The United States Armed Forces have a long history of transgender service personnel. Albert Cashier served bravely in over 40 battles as a Union Army soldier in the U.S. Civil War (1861 – 1865). He was one of at least 250 transgender soldiers who, though assigned a female at birth, fought in the war as men. In more recent years, openly transgender people have served or sought to serve in the military. As of 2021, transgender individuals are expressly permitted to serve openly in the United States Armed Forces as their identified gender.

Transgender Christians in medieval hagiography? The book Trans and Genderqueer Subjects in Medieval Hagiography by historians Alicia Spencer-hall (Queen Mary University of London) and Blake Gutt (University of Michigan) explains that from the fifth to the ninth century, a number of Christians considered “saintly men” across the Greek-speaking Mediterranean world, though assigned female at birth, chose to live out their adult lives as men in monasteries.  

There is no single explanation for why some people are transgender. The diversity of transgender expression and experiences argues against any simple explanation. Many experts believe that early experiences as well as experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the discovery of transgender identities. Transgender people may be naturally straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or asexual, just as naturally non-transgender people can be. 

The historical Jesus did not directly discuss issues of sex and gender. Jesus did stress the fundamental moral principle of loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. That really covers ALL people.