Posted by MeganFinnegan at 6/15/2009 12:23 PM EDT

Last Sunday, I heard a word uttered in the sanctuary of a Catholic church, a word that I would never have expected to hear spoken aloud during Mass, and that word was “transgender.”

To my further surprise, the word was not tossed out with disdain or incredulity, nor was it used as an example of the misguided or sinful. It was not put in quotation marks. It was not even a part of the homily. The lector merely included it during a prayer for intentions.

“For all parents of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children,” it began. Here I caught my breath and looked sideways at Tim, next to me in the pew. I was prepared for some intolerant, petulant prayer to God to help parents of these deviants keep them in line, scare them straight or whatever it is people think works. I was prepared to sit down, to pointedly stay silent, or maybe even walk out, depending on the second half of that sentence. It continued: “that they may see and appreciate God’s gifts in their children.”

I was so startled that I almost forgot to join in the response: “Lord, here our prayer.” And I meant it.

Afterward, I realized what surprised me more than anything was the Church even recognizing the transgender community. Many Christians denounce transgender individuals as severely misguided and wrong to alter what God created (the nice disapproval) or as disgusting perverted freaks (the nasty kind). I don’t know what it’s like to be born in the wrong body, but I do know that sexual reassignment surgery is no picnic, and I can’t possibly imagine any person would go through that unless they were profoundly, religiously convinced that they were making themselves whole.

Last night, the Brooklyn Pride parade sashayed its way through my neighborhood. My initial feeling toward the parade participants was contempt – not for being gay, but for making parking exceedingly difficult over the weekend. The grumpiness quickly melted away, however, as the first of many tall dark and handsome men in drag waved at me with an enormous grin from the Marriage Equality New York pickup truck. I smiled and waved back, thinking what a beautiful bride he made. Several church groups marched in the parade, and the New York Metropolitan Church pasted their slogan everywhere: “God made us queer.” I knew without looking for it that no local Catholic parish was represented in the parade, and it made me think about the Church’s position on gay rights.

I once heard a priest explain the Church’s position on homosexuality like this: “The Church is rational. Homosexuality does not make sense. It does not fit into the rational plan that God has set up.” The Church does not, at least, waste time trying to convince gay people that they’re choosing the wrong path willfully. It fully acknowledges that some people are born gay, or “with homosexual tendencies,” as people like to say. It simply holds that these same people must never, ever act on their feelings, or else they would be going against God. It’s the same, say defenders, as people who are born with an inclination toward drugs or alcohol. Sure, it’s hard, but you have to deny yourself!

The place this argument always falls flat is in the thing being denied. Yes, those inclined toward heroin or child pornography, regardless of whether these proclivities are due to nature or nurture, should do their best to restrain themselves. Why? Because these things are harmful. People on heroin hurt their bodies, their relationships, their ability to work or interact or have much of a meaningful existence. Child porn – enough said. We get it. So if a person is born attracted to the same sex, they should refrain from romance, because that would cause… what? Happiness? Fulfillment? Commitment, love, satisfaction, a sense of family, togetherness, cooperation, sharing, selflessness, fun? Or is it because a same-sex union cannot produce children? At what point do we realize that there are enough unwanted children in the world to go around three times to people who can’t have children naturally? You’d think that a religious institution that condemns birth control and abortion would embrace a group of people who need help from others to form loving families. Maybe that’s part of God’s plan.

First of all, the idea that we can know and explain God’s reasoning for everything created is itself an irrational idea. Some people point to examples like the intricate balance of the earth’s ecosystems to show that everything falls into a plan. If even the tiniest insects have a purpose, surely we can figure out why everything is the way it is. When faced with a slave trafficker or a mass murderer, this person then points to the presence of evil in the world to explain the deviation from The Plan. It’s all rather convenient, but I don’t buy it. Belief in The Plan with capital letters strips us of responsibility and motivation; it downplays the gift of free will. It doesn’t explain things like conjoined twins or transgender people.

If God plans everything, then people born in the wrong body are part of that plan, and we must wonder why God would do that. It doesn't seem to fit, but there it is. Perhaps what it tells us is that we don't fully understand the plan.

So what does it mean when the Church speaks of the gifts given to LGBT people? And why pray specifically for their parents? Is it because a life of self acceptance begins with one's parents? (Yes.) Is it because the Church realizes the full social implication of the idea that God doesn't make mistakes? (Maybe, hopefully.)

The same priest who explained away homosexuality was quick to point out that we should love, respect, and accept homosexuals. A gay man once said to him, in response to that, That's nice, but how can you respect us while telling us we're wrong. The priest shrugged, and smiled, and said, You have a point. His hands (and mouth) were inhibited by his collar. But maybe slipping some compassion into a prayer for intentions will go further to revolutionize the church than any raucous outcry. It will seep its way into a very old religion until we cannot possibly explain how it used to be that we thought any of God's children were made wrong.