A Response to Russell Moore’s article “The Real Meaning of Transgender Bathrooms”

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Russell Moore wrote an article today about the Obama administration’s move to protect trans students in public schools across the country. While I disagree with Moore on many topics, I respect him as a compassionate leader and I’ve appreciated the ways he’s challenged the Southern Baptist Convention to seek justice for many who have been marginalized. This article was uncharacteristically culture warry and fear-based, though. It contributes to the narratives that lead to the kind of bullying and discrimination that the Obama administration is seeking to end.

So, Dr. Moore, I’m responding to some of your article here with the hope that we Christians can grow in our capacity to love and care for the trans community. There’s much more to be said, though, and better people to say it than me—particularly these trans Christians who will lead us toward restoration in both society and the church. We all have a lot to learn from them, and I think it’s important to listen to them before we talk about them.

You said: “If anyone had suggested in 2009 that the new president’s administration would seek to target children’s bathrooms for the sake of transgender ideology, the White House would have ridiculed it as a crazy conspiracy theory.”

The government is not targeting children’s restrooms for the sake of transgender ideology. They have been very clear about their desire to protect trans people. Where many conservative Christians see an issue or a war, they see a group of people in need of support. Their explicit intentions were beautifully expressed recently by Loretta Lynch with regard to the bathroom bill in North Carolina: “This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms. This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them – indeed, to protect all of us. And it’s about the founding ideals that have led this country – haltingly but inexorably – in the direction of fairness, inclusion and equality for all Americans.”

She actually spoke the very words I would hope trans people could hear from the church: “But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”

That is very different from what you have described as “targeting children’s bathrooms for the sake of transgender ideology.”

You said: The state here wishes to use its coercive power not simply to stop mistreatment of people but to rescript the most basic human intuitions about humanity as male and female. How, after all, does one win a culture war against one of the most basic facts of science and life: that there are two sexes?

It’s very much possible to affirm the existence of trans people AND believe in the importance of sex and gender. Trans people believe sex and gender are of utmost importance, which is why they transition in the first place.

You said: Children, then, become pawns of the state for the state to teach what is ultimately a theological lesson, not a scientific one.

The state is in no way attempting to teach a theological lesson. That is not their role nor their goal (which is why they’ve been quick to offer exemptions to religious colleges who seek to discriminate against LGBT people like Jayce Marcus). The Obama administration is solely concerned with protecting a group of people from violence and discrimination in public places.

You said: Moreover, the move here toward severing self-identity from biological reality will hardly stop at “gender.” If anything, there’s much more of a case to be made that one can feel to be a different age than one’s doctor’s exam or birth certificate would show. That’s relatively indifferent if all that this means is “You’re only as old as you feel” or “I’m a millennial trapped in a Generation X body.” It’s something else entirely if chronological self-identity is mandated for military service or the drinking age or the age of consent. People and neighborhoods and nations and cultures cannot live this way.

“Slippery slope” arguments like this usually seem to be rooted in fear. I think it’s important to ask: “What is the moral logic of this decision?”  The moral logic of Obama’s move is to protect vulnerable people––in this case vulnerable young people––from violence and discrimination. We can assume, then, that when it comes to situations no one has yet seen of people self-identifying as a different age (something entirely unrelated to the discussion about trans people), the moral logic of a decision around the age of consent will be the same: “What will protect the vulnerable young people?” And they will side with the vulnerable once again.

You said: At the same time, the church should not see everything through the grid of gender. The sexual revolution, chaotically, wants to tell us that gender means nothing and that gender means everything. Neither is true.

A movement to affirm the value and dignity of trans people, and to protect them from violence and discrimination, and to say that they too are gifts to our communities––that we care about their well-being­­––is in no way a movement to say gender means nothing and gender means everything.

Dr. Moore, I respect you and the work you’ve been doing to move the Southern Baptist Convention away from culture warring and toward justice for many people. I know you’re capable of bringing more nuance to this conversation than you’ve shown in this article because I’ve seen you do that around other topics.

In light of the fact that 50-54% of trans people report being harassed or bullied at school, and 50-59% experience discrimination and harassment at work, and 60% have been refused health care by doctors or health care providers, and 64-65% have suffered physical or sexual violence at work, and 63-68% have suffered physical or sexual violence at school, I’m eager to hear your thoughts on how trans people can be protected. I know that, as a Christian, the harassment and discrimination can’t sit well with you. I know you care about the anxious boy who skips gym class or the trans woman who quits her job because it’s not safe for them to simply exist. What are your suggestions for how we can make our communities safer for them? I hope to hear more from you on solutions in the future, because protecting the vulnerable is central to Scripture’s vision for the church.

13 Responses

  1. Diane Trotter

    You support sin as acceptable. Many use that to negate the Bible’s position on homosexuality. I am a Christian and have taught homosexual students for years. I love them and spent time with them. They knew my belief that homosexuality is a sin. Transgenders, that look like when, would not be questioned for going into the ladies room. Who would know? They look like women. The same goes for the men. It has not been a problem. Obama is no more Christian than Donald Trump.

    I will continue to have compassion for homosexuals but will vigorously support Christian stance against this pathetic directive.

    • Amy

      Wow! You write that you are a Christian but your language is so lacking in grace and love that I question which christ do you follow. The Christ I want to emulate and grow to be like is the one who broke bread with those deemed socially unacceptable, allowed a prostitute to wash his feet with her tears and extended love and friendship to tax collectors. Paul himself baptized a enuch (a person who does not fit into gender classifications) as a declaration that there was no reason for him to be excluded from the Kingdom. The basic rights of all human beings to be protected from violence, oppression and discrimination is a Christian mandate not a pathetic directive.

    • Meredith Indermaur

      Diane, a very wise and learned biblical scholar once told me that it is blasphemous for someone who claims to have the Holy Spirit to negate that very same Spirit in another. I think your words are exceedingly harsh and ungracious. You write of your compassion for the LGBT community, but your words communicate the opposite.

  2. Lynne Watson

    Julie, Jesus called us to both love and to holiness. It seems “sides” want to concentrate on one or the other instead of both. Using Scripture as a blunt instrument is not love but neither is enabling. None of us are living biblically until we learn to live in that tension between grace and truth. Like it or not, God is very specific about both. And until we remember there is a cross in the midst of all this, we continue to fail. Somewhere we have decided we want a cost-less Christianity. And, again, I would say that applies whether you are left, right, or somewhere in between. Christ calls us to be better than we are without him. It’s become pretty ugly out there.

    • Bob C

      Good point Lynne. Julie has reminded us in a previous post that love bears all things. The same scripture also tells us that love rejoices in the truth.

  3. B

    What about the many folks who don’t want men in women’s restrooms? I’d wager that the majority are not comfortable with it. What about the majority? Does the majority no longer matter?

    Why do pro-LGBT Christians insist on forcing LGBT to fit into Christianity? Why not convert to a religion that better suits the person’s values rather than constantly complaining and whining that other Christians don’t revise Christianity to fit a particular stance?

    • Snoopy

      “I’d wager that the majority are not comfortable with it. ”

      Citation needed. Because polls show that the majority of people actually OPPOSE these bathroom bills, and that women oppose them in greater numbers than men do. So for all the white-knighting that men are trying to do on our behalf, the majority of us are fine with trans people in public restrooms.

    • Reggie

      That’s an excellent question, B. It’s because it’s a belief, not a religion that one chooses because they like all the tenants. We believe because there is reasonable evidence for Jesus Christ and that he is who he said he is: God, the creator, in the flesh. We can choose to follow him or reject him, but if the belief is there, it’s there, and we have no interest in a religion. It’s a hard concept to grasp, even by believers.

    • J G

      No one’s forcing LGBT into Christianity, B. Rather they’re adhering to the actions and mindset practiced by Jesus himself when he broke break and communed with the sinners of his day. It is not our position to exclude anyone from our compassion and respect. We hold no right to pass judgment and let our actions be affected by our opinion of another’s lifestyle. We are given one commandment in regards to others: Love unconditionally. Somewhere along the line people decided homosexuality was some top tier sin that required complete distance from. They didn’t mind if Dave lied to his wife about how much he spent on a golf club, but if someone is gay suddenly that’s worth excluding. Modern Christians are pulling up the welcome mat so often they’re hurting their backs

  4. Maria

    One more angle: women and girls who are not LGBT but are**mistaken**for trans because they were born into ethnic groups that have more body hair on average and/or because they don’t primp and preen as much as female beauty ideals in mainstream culture.

    How young do you want your daughters to shave their legs, wear makeup, and do all the other stuff mainstream fashion culture deems “feminine enough” (even shaving or bleaching their arm hair if you gave them genes for growing black or brown hair on pale-skinned arms) lest some other girls (especially girls who don’t go to your church and may have stricter standards for what’s feminine enough than your church and family do) accuse them of being trans and get teachers to throw your daughters out of the girls’ bathroom?

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