A grown man in the girl’s restroom

We need to be better spokespersons on the issue of transgenderism. It seems the message from conservatives can be boiled down to one question. I’ve seen it all over Facebook, heard it in conversations, and saw that even Ted Cruz was touting it during his last-ditch effort to stave off a Trump nomination:

“Do you want a grown man to follow your little girl into the women’s restroom?”

In a world of sound bytes and 140 character limits, it’s not surprising that conservatives have settled on this as the summary representative of their argument, thinking that their position is so obvious that only a complete idiot would fail to be convinced by it. But it’s not winning hearts and minds, and instead it’s actually feeding the liberal belief that conservatives, and Christians in particular, are bigots and fear mongers who must be repudiated and silenced lest they acquire enough power to force everyone to adopt their restrictive ways.

The question above implies that allowing transgendered individuals access to their restroom of choice will expose others to child molestation and rape. It’s an argument based on fear, and a highly exaggerated one at that. After all, isn’t your little boy just as much at risk from a male sexual predator in places where people must use the bathroom matching their biological sex? Common sense tells us that people who commit such crimes try to do so without witnesses milling about. A man doesn’t have to pretend to be transgendered in order to sexually assault a woman in a public restroom. He just has to have sufficient opportunity to do so where there isn’t anybody around. Truth be told, that probably accounts for most, if not all, public restroom rapes, not someone pretending to be the opposite sex.

The real problem with this “enabling sexual predators” question is that it shifts the focus away from the real issue. The root of the problem is not that a pedophile or rapist could abuse the system. The root of the problem is that it allows and even encourages people to adopt a false reality that stems from and inevitably contributes to serious mental health issues and sin.

Our society says the liberal stance on transgenderism is about equality and fighting discrimination and oppression. Christianity says the problem lies with a society that is willing to deny reality for the sake of the right to self-determination. This is idolatry: the exaltation of self as supreme. Our culture is not really concerned for transgendered individuals. And if our argument can be reduced to, “Do you want a grown man to follow your little girl into the women’s restroom?” then neither are we.

As Christians, we should always occupy the moral high ground in our dealings with a corrupt and sinful society. We can do that by being better advocates for transgendered individuals than society is. We advocate for them by pointing out the cruelty telling people they can change reality to fit their feelings when this approach will not fix their problems and does not work in other areas of life such as finances, employment, or relationships. We advocate for them by affirming the inherent goodness of every individual’s biological sex. We advocate for them by providing and challenging the world to provide real mental health care that affirms that goodness and treats the mind, not “care” that involves mutilating a healthy body.

The next time you’re tempted to make that post on Facebook or throw in that zinger in your conversation, stop and refocus on the central issue of the inherent goodness of our biological sex.

A grown man in the girl’s restroom

We need to be better spokespersons on the issue of transgenderism. It seems the message from conservatives can be boiled down to one question. I’ve seen it all over Facebook, heard it in conversations, and saw that even Ted Cruz was touting it during his last-ditch effort to stave off a Trump nomination:

“Do you want a grown man to follow your little girl into the women’s restroom?”

In a world of sound bytes and 140 character limits, it’s not surprising that conservatives have settled on this as the summary representative of their argument, thinking that their position is so obvious that only a complete idiot would fail to be convinced by it. But it’s not winning hearts and minds, and instead it’s actually feeding the liberal belief that conservatives, and Christians in particular, are bigots and fear mongers who must be repudiated and silenced lest they acquire enough power to force everyone to adopt their restrictive ways.

The question above implies that allowing transgendered individuals access to their restroom of choice will expose others to child molestation and rape. It’s an argument based on fear, and a highly exaggerated one at that. After all, isn’t your little boy just as much at risk from a male sexual predator in places where people must use the bathroom matching their biological sex? Common sense tells us that people who commit such crimes try to do so without witnesses milling about. A man doesn’t have to pretend to be transgendered in order to sexually assault a woman in a public restroom. He just has to have sufficient opportunity to do so where there isn’t anybody around. Truth be told, that probably accounts for most, if not all, public restroom rapes, not someone pretending to be the opposite sex.

The real problem with this “enabling sexual predators” question is that it shifts the focus away from the real issue. The root of the problem is not that a pedophile or rapist could abuse the system. The root of the problem is that it allows and even encourages people to adopt a false reality that stems from and inevitably contributes to serious mental health issues and sin.

Our society says the liberal stance on transgenderism is about equality and fighting discrimination and oppression. Christianity says the problem lies with a society that is willing to deny reality for the sake of the right to self-determination. This is idolatry: the exaltation of self as supreme. Our culture is not really concerned for transgendered individuals. And if our argument can be reduced to, “Do you want a grown man to follow your little girl into the women’s restroom?” then neither are we.

As Christians, we should always occupy the moral high ground in our dealings with a corrupt and sinful society. We can do that by being better advocates for transgendered individuals than society is. We advocate for them by pointing out the cruelty telling people they can change reality to fit their feelings when this approach will not fix their problems and does not work in other areas of life such as finances, employment, or relationships. We advocate for them by affirming the inherent goodness of every individual’s biological sex. We advocate for them by providing and challenging the world to provide real mental health care that affirms that goodness and treats the mind, not “care” that involves mutilating a healthy body.

The next time you’re tempted to make that post on Facebook or throw in that zinger in your conversation, stop and refocus on the central issue of the inherent goodness of our biological sex.

Gay marriage may not be all bad news

In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling establishing gay marriage as a Constitutional right, many of us evangelicals are experiencing a wash of emotions. My initial response was one of fear. Fear that this will someday result in me being fired from my secular job like that fire chief in Atlanta. By my calculations I still have nearly 40 years to go before I can retire, and the possibility that someday it will be determined that people who think like me shouldn’t work with the public is scary. This fear, warranted or not, is sinful and betrays a lack of confidence in God and in the people of God. I have since repented of it, and I remain committed to serving God publicly, come what may.

Apart from my renewed trust in God, I’ve come to realize that this decision from the Supreme Court is not all bad news. Like Joseph being sold into slavery, this too may result in unimaginable blessings in the future. Here are some that I’ve thought of:

Reaching the unreachable
Do you know why Southern Baptists take advantage of the World Cup and the Olympics to share the gospel? One big reason is that it allows us to share the gospel with people who might otherwise be inaccessible to us either because of their home country’s laws or because of the lack of a gospel witness in their community. Just as Massachusetts became a hub for “gay marriage tourism” in the wake of their initial decision to allow it over ten years ago, so too the U.S. can expect an influx of homosexual immigrants coming to the States to be married and experience the freedom and protection that our laws provide them. Many of these people will come from places with little or no gospel witness. We must stand ready to share the gospel with the lost this ruling will surely end up bringing to our communities.

Refugees of the sexual revolution
Wherever there is marriage, divorce does not follow far behind. Proponents of gay marriage may have reveled in victory on Friday, but if they are anything like their straight neighbors, many will eventually experience the agony of defeat that comes from a broken marriage and divorce. Christians will soon see themselves in the position to offer life and salvation to those whom Russell Moore calls “refugees of the sexual revolution.”

The restoration of Christian marriage
The fight over gay marriage was lost long before Friday’s ruling. It was lost when marriage ceased to be honored by all, and churches stopped exercising discipline over unbiblical divorce. Although I hold that divorce is permissible in some circumstances, the vast majority of divorces in the U.S. do not occur under these circumstances. By failing to exercise church discipline in these instances, marriage was undermined. Marriage is no longer a question of gay vs. straight in the eyes of our country. It’s a question of religious vs. secular. No doubt there will be some Christians who buy into the culture’s view that marriage is nothing more than a matter of equal rights. But I anticipate churches will elevate marriage higher than that, showing that it is a living parable representing Christ and the church. I anticipate the return of church discipline over unbiblical divorce. This honoring of marriage will be confusing to the world, but they will know that gay marriage cannot replicate it. And that may open some to the truth of the gospel.

The culling of false churches
I expect that over the next year we will see more news stories about churches and parachurch organizations changing their view on marriage to accord with the Supreme Court’s ruling. The media wants to see this, so when it happens, they will report it. Whether those churches continue to exist or shrivel up and die (as I hope they will), we will have a better sense of who is with us and who is not. We will know who we can work with and worship with and who we must cut ties with. This will be painful, but the vine must be pruned of dead branches if fruit is to grow. And grow it will.

These are only a few of the positives that may come from this. Do you have any additional ones that you see?

Obey King Jesus, Honor Everyone (a pastor’s thoughts on the same-sex marriage ruling)

This morning news broke that is not surprising when given the direction our culture in the United States combined with previous Supreme Court rulings: same-sex marriage is now a right that must be legally recognized in every state.

Here are some opening truths for us to remember: Jesus is still King, God is not surprised or caught off guard, Jesus will continue to build his church until his return, and he has tasked his church to be a continuing witness of his love and grace. With these in mind, here are a few of my thoughts:

First, this does not change how the church should view marriage. On the one hand, Christians have always (if imperfectly) held up marriage as a great societal good. In Genesis 2 it became the first pillar of society given by God. Yes, Genesis 3 tainted it as with everything else, but in Jesus there is a redemptive element to marriage.

The church should not simply be about trying to produce a bunch of heterosexual monogamous relationships under the banner of “marriage.” Instead, under this banner our goal should be to produce such relationships that provide a clear gospel witness. With Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Peter 3, and Matthew 22 in mind, we see several truths: (1) marriage between a man and a woman is a temporary, earth-bound relationship; (2) though we are to hold it in high honor, the greatest focus is to always be living for Jesus; (3) Christian marriage is to be a sanctifying relationship where the husband grows to mimic Jesus more and the wife grows in a greater love and relationship with Jesus; (4) so marriage is pointing us to a greater eternal reality of the relationship between Jesus and his church; and (5)we can never view Christian marriage as separate from discipleship.

Our one man, one woman understanding of marriage is not important simply because God created them male and female in the beginning (though that is part of it). It is vastly important because it stands as a gospel witness of Jesus and his church and is to bring us to greater holiness and Christ-likeness.

The nations of the world will define marriage however they desire. Always have and always will. Some cultures throughout the ages have and do view marriage as a sense of property ownership or as part of a political treaty. These are also not Christian and God-defined views of marriages even if between a man and woman. Regardless, we as the church are called to practice what the Holy Spirit gave us in scripture. This is our duty: we obey King Jesus and we hold marriage as a sacred relationship that helps us grow in Christ-likeness.

Second, we must keep looking at the world through gospel-influenced eyes. First Peter 2:17 says, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” And 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”

Yes, biblically speaking, we are to see ourselves in the midst of a war but we are not to see any person or group of people as our enemy. Politicians, the Supreme Court, members of the LGBT community, our neighbors, our family, people spread out across the world—no person is our enemy.

What they are is the same as we were before we followed Jesus. What they are is how we are all born into this world.

They are people created in the image of God, meant to be significant, meant to reflect his glory to the world, but lost, broken, and held under the chains of sin. From the moment of our conception in our mother’s womb we are children of Adam. This means we are children of Genesis 1, 2, and 3.

The only thing that separates us and makes us different, no matter our gender, ethnicity, social class, or orientation is Jesus. If we are in Jesus then we have been redeemed, we have been reshaped, and we have been renewed. We are no longer bound by our birth identity in the flesh. We are no longer children of Genesis 3 but of Genesis 12: children of Abraham, children of promise, and children of God. We have been forgiven, adopted, and restored.

But none of that is because we were more righteous (Romans 3, anyone?). None of that because we were more special (1 Corinthians 1). None of it because of anything we did (Ephesians 2). It is only by the grace of God working in our hearts through the gospel that the Son, Jesus, has freed us (John 8, Ephesians 2). As God has lavished his grace upon us, so he has called us to take the good news of his wonderful grace to others, indiscriminately.

If they disagree with us on marriage, we are to go to them in grace and love and share the beauty of the gospel. If they disagree with us on the proper way to honor God, we are to go to them in grace and love and share the beauty of the gospel. If they disagree with us on ethics, we are to go to them in grace and love and share the beauty of the gospel. If they hold a gun or sword at us and say they will kill us, we are to go to them in grace and love and share the beauty of the gospel.

Yes, we are in a war, but not with people. And our weapons of warfare are not picket signs or bumper stickers about Adam and Steve or the power of legal force. Our belt is the truth of Jesus. Our breastplate is the righteousness of God covering our sin. Our shoes are the good news of peace in, through, and with Christ. Our shield is our faith rooted firmly in the finished work of Christ. Our helmet is the gracious salvation God has given us. Our sword is God’s word which is not to bludgeon but to declare the greatness, love, and righteousness of God in Christ. And it is all bound together with prayer.

Two final sub-thoughts with this: We must look for avenues of grace. Malachi 2:14 describes marriage as a covenant. At the core of the fight in favor of same-sex marriage is a remnant of a godly reality. Those of the LGBT community have fought for this because they desire to share in a greater bond; because at its core they still see something special about marriage.

This goes back to the fact that we are all created in the image of God. God is relational, he is eternally triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is also covenantal. We clearly see in scripture God making a covenant (a relationship built on promises, but something more solid than mere verbal promises) with Noah, Abraham, the people of Israel through Moses, and David, and then a new covenant through Jesus.

In our hearts we long for deep relationships, for covenant relationships because we have been formed in God’s image. Those in the LGBT community long for these things because they have been formed in God’s image.

I do not say this to diminish the reality and consequence of sin, ours or theirs. Rather, this gives us a point of contact. We all have the same longing, just expressed in different ways. We all have the same desire, just corrupted in different ways by sin. We must see the reality of this longing as an avenue to speak the truth of the gospel: no mere person in any relationship will make you feel complete and perfectly loved. Yes, relationships lived out in a God-honoring way can point us in the right direction, but it is only God himself through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit dwelling within that will complete you and bask you in perfect love.

Anyone’s desire for marriage is an avenue to point to the truth of the gospel, and our need for Jesus and his righteousness.

We must be people of prayer. We often hear 2 Chronicles 7:14 quoted in response to events like this: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The thing is, though, God is not talking about the United States. The States have never been, are not, and will never be “my people who are called by my name.” There is only one Christian nation and that is the faithful church itself (1 Peter 2:9-10).

We do need healing. We need healing from our oft divisions, whether over music or personality clashes or lack of grace and love towards God, each other, and neighbor. We do need to turn from our Sunday-Christian mentality that has devalued through its non-practice evangelism and discipleship. We need to reclaim a daily passion for God and love for others.

So we need to pray. We pray to be the people that Jesus has called us to be: missionaries of a wondrous light in a world of spiritual darkness. And we pray that we might walk in the holiness and righteousness of Jesus, not to browbeat those who don’t but to be an example of God’s transforming love and grace.

This is not a day for us to lament our nation. This is a day for us to renew our hope in Christ. Politics, laws, and courts will never change a person, make a nation godly, or win the world for the gospel. The people of Jesus living for Jesus and declaring the good news of Jesus as the Holy Spirit works through them will.