Critical Thoughts on Russell Moore’s “The Real Meaning of Transgender Bathrooms”

Critical Thoughts on Russell Moore’s “The Real Meaning of Transgender Bathrooms” May 13, 2016

Russell Moore just wrote an irresponsible article called, “The Real Meaning of Transgender Bathrooms.”

Public Domain, via WikiCommons
Public Domain, via WikiCommons

Moore, a Southern Baptist theologian and head of that denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has garnered a lot of attention recently for his hard-hitting criticisms of Donald Trump. In turn, Trump called Moore a “nasty guy.”

But as progressive-minded as Moore can be on some issues and as willing as he can be to take stands that may not be popular with certain factions of his constituency, on other issues he is just as fundamentalist as, well, most fundamentalists these days.

Case in point: His article published today in response to the guidelines and guidance provided by Departments of Justice and Education regarding non-discrimination policies for transgender persons, particularly around issue of restroom access. The Obama administration says transgender persons should be able to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender/sex with which they identify, without discrimination and unequal treatment.

That seems so logical, so simple, so humane. It’s clearly the best, easiest, most direct solution to the conflict. But it’s also based on the premise that transgender identity is a real thing.

Here’s where Moore comes in.

For Moore, the administration’s guidance and guidelines guidance doesn’t address the problem; it is the problem. The “real meaning” of this development, Moore says, is that (to paraphrase him) a perverted culture has effectively warped the “biblical view” of sexuality and continues its relentless attacks against the clear-cut, obvious, universal, fact of binary sexual difference between males and females. The duality of male/female is absolutely clear to Moore, and–according to Moore–is also clear to everyone else, too.

They just won’t admit the truth.

Moore says,

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?

And later,

Every human being knows that there are important, and necessary, differences between men and women. Without such recognition, women are harmed and men are coarsened.

And in his conclusion:

The truth is that the male/female sex difference is objectively real. Biological science is built off of this reality.

But anyone who has ever done more than a few minutes of research knows that while there are differences between men and women, the many facets and varieties of transgender identity as well as the real phenomena of intersex persons complicates the picture very quickly. For a serious theological engagement with intersex see Megan DeFranza’s Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God.

The simplistic “male/female binary” of which Moore speaks simply does not hold up for everyone. For most people? Sure. But it’s the minority that should especially concern us here. To disregard the very real experience of that minority as not “objectively real” and to shade the complexities and varieties of sexual identity as the consequence of cultural perversion is irresponsible and dangerous.

It’s dangerous because transgender persons, who are subject to bullying, are also susceptible to suicide. As this article points out, one recent (Feb. 2016) scientific study revealed there to be a causal relationship between higher rates of “suicidality” and “access to bathrooms and campus housing” in college students.

This is no light matter. When highly regarded Christian leaders claim that the source of gender dysphoria is our culture’s perversion of or disregard for God’s creational “binary” of male/female, they contribute to the shaming of people whose identity needs to be addressed in healthier and more scientifically responsible ways. And when discrimination is not only encouraged but inscribed into policy, you have the recipe for continued, systemic oppression of already very vulnerable people.

Moore also says this:

The church must teach God’s good creation design of male and female, yes. But, beyond that, the church should teach a Christian anthropology that shows us that living within creation limits is never easy for anyone. We are all seeking to transcend our limits in various ways. The way of discipleship is to settle on the fact that we serve a God who knows more about humanity, and more about us personally, than we know about ourselves.

I agree with Moore’s point about recognizing our limits. I’m also fine with discipleship involving the recognition that God knows more about us than we know about ourselves.

But part of being humble about what we can and can’t know requires acknowledging that we simply can’t get everything we need to know about the world and about humanity from the Bible. The Bible just isn’t a science textbook, whether about cosmology or human biology.

The emotional and physical health and well-being of transgender persons demands that we admit that.

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