Russell Moore wrote an article May 13 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 war-y 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, 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 wrote, “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. She said,
“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 wrote, "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 wrote, "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 its role nor its 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 wrote, "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 wrote, "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 percent of trans people report being harassed or bullied at school, and 50-59 percent experience discrimination and harassment at work, and 60 percent have been refused health care by doctors or health care providers, and 64-65 percent have suffered physical or sexual violence at work, and 63-68 percent 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.