Thursday, April 01, 2021

Discrimination and gender identity

Ok, I know this is not in line with my usual topics! But it is an important issue because it is central to human rights, education and especially to viewing others with compassion and love. Everyone bears the Imago Dei whether they realize it or not. So, in that sense, it is very important to talk about.

In the US there is debate in 2021 about new proposed legislation, commonly termed the "Equality Act". You may or may not agree with the premise and I don't dismiss your opinion. But it is also important to think and discuss such things beyond the political or economic implications in order to think more deeply about how such ideas are good (in the deepest sense) and how they contribute to or detract from human flourishing in a global and timeless, universal sense.

I read recently a piece by the Washington Post titled "Dozens of LGBTQ students at Christian colleges sue the U.S. Education Dept., hoping to pressure Equality Act negotiations". You can find it here. This article provides a perspective on a situation where those outside of a biblical worldview might respond with “How can Christians possibly think that discrimination against those in the LGBT community is right or acceptable?” And, speaking from a biblical worldview, I completely agree. But there are at least 2 serious incoherencies that the article is unable to identify.

The first is that the so-called Equality Act ("equality" is another topic for another day) is purported to be the best solution because it would restrict or terminate state funding for any universities which hold to a biblical and historical view of marriage and sexuality. But in fact it is not the best solution. No law will terminate discrimination nor will it give people new values or motivation for caring for others or valuing people for who they are. Laws do not change beliefs, they simply reflect the beliefs of those who vote for them. Of course this does not excuse those who have been cruel or uncaring to these students who felt discriminated against in these universities! Very few will nor have excused their unkind words or unhelpful actions. But we have to ask ourselves, “Are there individuals who have been discriminated against because of their views on gender or sexuality at non-Christian universities? Was that discrimination a result of government funding or the written policies on behavior or dress codes at those universities? Would limiting or terminating state funding at certain institutions solve the issue of discrimination?” The answers are obvious. So, the only possible and logical conclusion is that financial or legal punishment of a university for its standards of behavior and stated views on marriage and sexuality does not benefit anyone who claims to be discriminated against because of their sexual views.

The second is that the Equality Act creates new victims of those who are trying to be a blessing and support to current victims of a destructive social narrative and furthers the damage to those currently victimized by this destructive narrative. Is it true that a man can be a woman? Is it true that the very nature of my identity can and should be changed by social constructs or by how I feel about myself today? If so, then we are living in a social mirage where nothing is real or as it seems. Is it fair that those most vulnerable in our society, those suffering from gender dysphoria, children and teenagers, those suffering from sexual or emotional abuse resulting from dysfunctional family contexts should be lied to about the value and the nature of being human? Our value does not lie in our sexual orientation, what we do or how we think. Our value lies completely in being made by our Creator who loves us and made us for a purpose. When we attempt to destroy or redefine our identity, the image of God in us, it only results in tragedy, unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others and, eventually, self-loathing. It also promotes a society which does not value human life, does not value the mothers and fathers responsible for creating human life or value the children who are best able to flourish in a home with both a mother and a father who love them most and know them best.

There is another issue that is less important but no less valid. Consider for a moment my options when choosing a university or a coffee shop or an online vender. It might be wise for me to do some investigation to see if their values agree with mine or if they don't. If I plan to spend money, especially several thousand dollars at a university, I would want to know who is benefiting from my investment and the educational philosophy that guides their teachers and course content. If I don't agree with their values or don't want to advance their values with my hard-earned dollars, then I will choose somewhere else to spend my money. There is always another option! Let me be clear that I still am not condoning anyone's unkind or discriminatory actions or attitudes as individuals. But I am always discriminating against certain businesses or organizations because either I refuse to read their material, promote their ideas or buy their products. Is this wrong? Absolutely not. Did these students have a choice about where to go to school? They are free to choose just as they might choose to go to McDonalds or to Chick-fil-A. So I am a bit confused as to why, when they knew the values of their chosen institution, they are not abiding by the agreements they signed to honor those values before they spent their money there. This is similar to nearly every other case of supposed gender identity discrimination when trying to place blame on institutions and not on individuals.

Is it right to deny valid funding or accreditation status for those universities whose values and programs are in line with and serving the needs of thousands of students and American citizens? I don't believe so. All organizations have values and they are entitled to those values when they are not purposefully destructive, promoting hatred or violence against a group of people. When we assume that value statements promote hatred, we are actually doing ourselves a disservice by intentionally or unintentionally interpreting beliefs as aggressive when they simply define boundaries. When I say "You are not my wife" I mean this as a boundary which defines reality, not as an aggression against anyone who is not my wife. If they misinterpret this as hatred, the problem lies with them and not with me. Of course, truth can be communicated in unloving or harsh ways, but truth is always the most loving and helpful for us because it helps us truly understand ourselves and the world around us.

I am currently on the board of an international organization and helped to develop recent additions to their Statement of Values. All board members, staff and volunteers must sign off on this every year, which is a normal procedure to ensure that the values of the organization are understood and will guide beliefs and actions within the organization. I should also mention that this is an organization that serves the educational needs of Christian families in a global context, so everyone involved already has an understanding of these truths. Here are the 2 statements:
  • The Bible upholds the value of the individual as well as biological gender, both male and female, as stewards of the image of God. We hold to the biblical and historical definitions of gender as essential to a healthy understanding of our God-given identity (Genesis 1:27).
  • The biblical definition of marriage, exclusively between one man and one woman in a committed, lifelong relationship, is the only relationship within which the gift of sexual intimacy is properly expressed and where children are best nurtured and prepared for life (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6, Hebrews 13:4, Ephesians 6:1-4).
If you want a statement from me, I will provide it here. But I warn you that taking it out of context is lying to yourself and lying to others about what I have said. Here it is:
  • I am unwilling to sign any document or knowingly support any project or organization that promotes the fallacy that men can be women or women can be men. I will not lie to myself, our society, our children or further complicate the suffering of those with true gender dysphoria by claiming otherwise.
One more thought for us. Relationships can be difficult, irregardless of our values. Christians are called to the 'ministry of reconciliation' as described in II Corinthians 5:17-20. This is not an easy calling but it is essential for me to understand this as it relates both to those within the church and outside of it. Sometimes reconciliation is really hard in my own house between my wife and me because we are so different but have most of the same values. Sometimes reconciliation is really hard with those who have no idea of their value in God's eyes because our values are so different. But working in both these settings and everything in between is a moment by moment task that brings glory to God and a deeper purpose to my life as a follower of Christ. "We love because He first loved us." (I John 4:19)

If you are interested, you can find a good article on other potential impacts of the Equality Act here.