…[T]he eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?Acts 8:36
With all of the attention that some state legislatures are giving to issues regarding the rights of gender nonconforming individuals these days, one might assume that the existence of nonbinary or Trans folk is somehow a new thing or even perhaps some kind of evil plot to somehow undermine God, Christianity, Tom Hanks, or some such accusation. There are those who believe that to be gender nonconforming in any way is incompatible with being a faithful, practicing Christian. I am not one of them, because I believe what I read in the Bible.
Every time I read it, I’m struck by the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch recounted in Acts 8:26-40 for its spirit-driven sending of Philip to the receptive stranger reading scripture. The witness of Philip to Christ has found a soul thirsty for this good news. Suddenly, water appears. The eunuch, with childlike eagerness, blurts out “Look, water! What’s to prevent me from being baptized?” That. That is the question.
That is the question that Philip must answer right there, right then. As the Ethiopian stands before Philip, there can be no denying of who he is: an obviously gender nonconforming person of a completely different ethnicity and station in life – an existence more completely other than Philip’s is hard to imagine – who has heard and believed the Gospel he preached is asking to be baptized. There is water. What else do we need?
We’re told in the very next verse “He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.” This is a little sneaky, from a literary perspective. The close proximity and the vigorous, direct action leads the reader to believe that there wasn’t any hesitation. However, a close reading of the text shows the ambiguity of who commanded the chariot to stop as well as omitting any reference to how long it was between the question being asked and Philip’s positive response. “What’s to prevent me from being baptized,” the eunuch asks. Philip might have well said to himself, “Give me a minute to come up with a good enough reason!”
Ultimately, Philip understood that nothing should come between the Ethiopian answering the Spirit’s call to participate in Christ’s baptism. And, as Paul states, then also sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection – an adopted child of God. The only thing that could have prevented the Ethiopian’s baptism would have been Philip’s refusal to administer it. He would have to decide: obey the Spirit, or capitulate to the fear of standing with the ostracized other. Philip’s faith in Christ helped him to welcome this very different stranger.
It is Christ who allows us to be reconciled to God and one another. We can faithfully be the people who God made us to be, but we often need our differences to serve as reminders of what the Gospel means to us and our ultimate unity in Christ. It is hard enough to identify as trans or raise a gender nonconforming child as it is; the Church should be a place of sanctuary and refuge for any and all. What is to prevent that? Let us consider Christ’s will through prayerful discernment that leads to lives marked with faith, joy, peace, and hope.