A response to Jonathan Merritt's "3 reasons conservative Christians will lose the transgender debate"

In a recent post for Religion News Service, Jonathan Merritt lays out three reasons he believes conservative Christians will lose the transgender debate. While I believe he is correct - Christians will ultimately lose the debate - Christians should not find his three critiques compelling. (And please note, this article is written to the Christian.)

Merritt writes:

When it comes to conservative Christianity, it seems the more things change, the more things stay the same.

And

By recycling old tactics, conservative Christians are poised to lose the transgender debate in America.

His negative tone here is hard to miss. He believes Christians should change their tune to be less off-putting to culture and not alienate people who are hurting due to struggling with their gender identity. He proceeds to state three reasons Christians will lose the debate.

“They focus on ideology while ignoring people”

His first reason naturally flows from the quotes we just saw: conservative Christians refuse to change their stance, even when confronted with the hurt and pain of LGBT individuals. In large part, he's right. We keep using the same "old tactics" because we have the same old play book - the Bible. Conservatives still maintain that sexual activity outside of a one-man, one-woman marriage is sinful because this is the standard given in Genesis and reaffirmed by Jesus (Matthew 19).

We also maintain that, when one has gender dysphoria (feels like their body doesn't match their self conception), this is not something to be encouraged. Further, it is not the body that needs to be altered to match their psychology; instead the psychological needs to be brought inline with the physical. This is the same stance that should be taken when someone says they feel that one or more limbs of their body do not belong to them. If it’s a physiological disorder to want to cut off your arm because it doesn’t feel like a part of you, then it certainly should be considered disordered when the appendage you want to cut off is a penis. However, non-conservatives encourage the second.

So, on the one hand, Merritt is right: conservatives are not changing their stance in the face of cultural change. But as Christians, we believe morality to be an objective kind of thing. Murder has been and will always be wrong, not because of how anyone thinks about it (or votes), but because God has said it is wrong. Homosexuality will always be wrong for the same reason.

There are two lies Merritt has believed. One: what is right today may be wrong tomorrow. This stands in contrast to the biblical view, which is that God defines what is right and wrong, and as such, moral laws do not change.

Lie number two is that Christian love entails encouraging people in their pursuits and behaviors, even if those behaviors contradict God’s prescription in scripture. As Christians, our first allegiance, indeed the greatest commandment, is to love God, and then secondarily people. But true Godly love for neighbor will never entail encouraging them in behaviors God condemns. Love often looks like telling people what they don’t want to hear out of concern for their wellbeing.

Further, it should not surprise us, though it should concern us, that people struggle with their sexuality and gender identity. The whole world and every part of human nature has been affected by sin. I have my struggles and sinful tendencies as a result of my fallenness, and in the same way, so do LGBT individuals. However, no one should encourage me in my sin, even though not fighting it may lead to an easier life in the here and now. In the same way, it is not loving to encourage others in actions and desires God condemns.

So, by encouraging a non-biblical concept of love instead of the biblical ideal, Merritt is putting his ideology above God’s good for people.

“They prooftext from scripture while ignoring science”

Merritt’s second point is that conservatives use science only when it suits them. He then contrasts Genesis 1 saying “God created us male and female” with the existence of intersex people (people who have ambiguous genitalia or a mix of male and female genitalia). Intersex people are frequently used as the “trump card” by liberals in this debate. Such people account for about 0.05% of the population (according to isna.org).

However, intersex people are a red herring - a distraction - to the transgender debate. Why? Because transgender people do not have ambiguous genitals; they have clearly defined genitals, but they want to live in a way that doesn’t match their physical makeup. Intersex people are not new, and there is good research to suggest that Judaism addressed this even before the time of Christ, and more so: when Jesus addressed people who were born eunuchs (Matthew 19), this very likely could have included or referred to intersex people (I base this on research presented at ETS in 2015). Yet, in this same passage, Jesus affirms a gender binary (“Have you not read that from the beginning He created them male and female?”). Regardless of if Jesus included intersex in the eunuch category, Jesus (who is God) affirmed a gender binary, so we must as well.

We shouldn’t reason from the uncertain to the certain. We reason from the certain (“God created them male and female”) and then address the uncertain. Fundamentally, this comes down to: Has God spoken, was He right, and is it authoritative? If you answer “no” to any of those questions, at best you’re on express track away from Christianity and having any confidence in the gospel, thought it might take you a while to get there.

I’m aware that I have not fully addressed the existence of intersex people, but they are not in the same category as people with gender dysphoria. More importantly, the existence of a class of people doesn’t tell us anything about the moral rightness of the actions of another group of people. Just because some people have ambiguous genitals, it doesn’t mean that it is a good thing for everyone else to choose their gender or be encouraged to act out of concert with their biology. That simply doesn’t follow.

“They rely on fear while ignoring facts”

Merritt says:

You’ve heard this kind of rhetoric before. Conservative Christians spent years claiming that gay marriage would destroy all marriage, unravel Western society, and ultimately lead to people marrying their animals. Well, it is legal now, and I’m happy to report that exactly zero straight marriages have been affected by the legalization of gay marriage. Additionally, the decision did not trigger a national movement for animal marriage.

He wouldn’t let others get away with this kind of sloppy thinking, and he shouldn’t accept it of himself. The kind of cultural changes that stem from these types of changes are born out far in the future. Marriage as an institution was weakened by the introduction of no-fault divorce. When we took away the permanency requirement marriage (generally speaking), we opened the door to take away the sexual-complementarity requirement as well. Since both of these have been removed, there are two left: the number requirement (how many people?) and the species requirement.

While there are people who want to marry their dogs, this isn’t a widespread issue (yet). However, the polygamy crowd has correctly seen that there is no consistent way to say that marriage must only be between two people, since it is no longer one-man and one-woman. If you believe marriage is up for us to define, we can make it whatever we want. And there are cases in the legal system, even to the Supreme Court, currently pressing this exact point.

Who loses? Children. Study after study has shown that the best environment for a child is in a home with a mother and a father, not just two parents. The two sexes (there’s that binary again) each bring something unique and complementary to the nurturing and parenting of children. Same-sex marriage isn’t even as old as the cell phone, and we have yet to see the full extent of the damage this cultural experiment will bring.

But with regards to the transgender debate, there is legitimate cause for concern with letting people use whatever bathroom they desire. Let’s just discuss the actions of non-trans people. Some straight men are very happy to be allowed to use the bathroom with women. To disrobe in front of them. To watch them.

For men who are perverts in public, they will do worse behind closed doors. The social convention of matching bathrooms to physical sex is for privacy, but also legitimately for safety. When they’re separate, you don’t have to wonder if the male going in the bathroom is dangerous, because he should never be in the room to start with.

While this debate is couched in terms of making trans people feel comfortable, the question is: what about the safety and comfort of non-trans people? From a public policy perspective, we should try to do the most good for the largest group, while seeking not to adversely affect minority groups too much. Are there 14 year-olds who can drive better then 30 year-olds? Yes, but in general this is not the case, so we don’t let any of them drive. In the same way, bathroom policies should weight the good and safety of the largest group of people, and they should be based on objective standards, not how someone feels that day.

If your child identified as a rabbit, would you keep them in a cage and feed them rabbit food? No. If your wife thought her right arm didn’t belong on her body, would you encourage her to cut it off? No. So then, let’s be consistent when it comes to how people consider their sex. Let’s realize that these people do need our concern, our [biblical] love, and they need Jesus. As trite as that sounds, it’s true.

Further, let’s resolve not to win the culture war at the expense of losing Christianity. Neither science nor medicine can tell us what is moral, only God can. So, let’s side with the one who has overcome the world, instead of compromising to try and gain it ourselves.