Culture Friday: Transgender rights and the state of theology


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 26th of October, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Culture Friday and time now to welcome John Stonestreet. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning, Nick!

EICHER: I noticed a lot of commentary this week that the Trump administration is about to reverse a change the Obama administration made. It has to do with the way the government enforces a law Congress passed back in 1972 to fight sex discrimination. It’s known as Title 9.

The Obama administration unilaterally changed the legal understanding of Title 9 sex discrimination and applied it to the concept of gender. Specifically transgender. And the change had massive ramifications. Under the Obama change, for example, schools would be under pressure to permit transgender girls, meaning biological boys, to use girls’ restrooms. That sort of thing.

The news this week was that the Trump administration is planning to scrap that interpretation. In other words, return to the original understanding that prevailed beginning in 1972, when the law passed.

The New York Times reported this development, and called it, I’m quoting now, “the most drastic move yet in a government-wide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.”

Missing from this reporting was that federal civil rights law makes no mention of transgender people. But that’s a journalistic quibble I have.

My question for you, John, is that when government acts in circumstances like these, and I’m talking about administrative policy changes that usually fly under the radar, it tends to provoke a firestorm of discussion if it involves a hot-button political issue. “Drastic, government wide!” “Roll back of civil rights!”

Is there a way to talk about what the Trump administration is proposing in a calm, reasonable way? Or is that just impossible where LGBT issues are concerned?

STONESTREET: Well, I think Christians can. I think we not only can but I think we should. I think we have to. I think it’s not only something that would be a wise thing to do, but it would be something that is what Christ actually calls us to do. And that gets difficult because these are issues where there is a lot of hysterics right off the bat. And there’s a reason why there is a lot of hysterics. There’s just a lot of unwillingness to actually talk about the issues by most people. And I think it’s on both sides, but I think it’s mainly on the side of those who are LGBT activists. They’ve identified themselves with the great human rights causes of history. So at that point there’s no other conversation. The conversation gets taken off the table because if you’re on the other side of them, then you’re on the other side of civil rights. You’re on the other side of justice. You’re on the other side of humanizing people who are different than you and all the other language.

And so that’s really what we’re dealing with is that as one pamphlet put it several years ago, you’ve already been framed. You’ve already been put into a category there. We saw this just recently with the College of Charleston professor who won the women’s world cycling championship for a particular age bracket. And if you look at the picture of the winners, what you see is a man surrounded by two women and it’s observably different on almost every level. The first place finisher is taller, he’s stronger, he’s built like a box. He’s wide, he’s athletic, and the ones on either side are female cyclists. So, they’re in a cycling outfit and you can kind of pick out female features that way and they’re about half his size and so on and so on. But when questioned about it, the professor said even if it’s not fair, this is about trans rights. It was almost like coopting language from post-Apartheid South Africa. It doesn’t matter if it’s fair, we have to make things right again. We have to realign things and trans — it should never be an issue to begin with. End of conversation from that side of the aisle.

And that’s what’s happened here. I mean, the New York Times breathlessly reported that Trump was going to define transgender people out of existence. Well, how could that possibly be true unless in 2016 when the Dear Colleague letter came out, the beginning of 2016, President Obama defined transgenders into existence. Now, no one believes he did that, but how is it possible that President Trump will define them out if President Obama never defined them in? It’s just this sort of language doesn’t make any sense. And also kind of the hysterics that we’re going back to the dark ages. I mean, look, this is a less than five year old policy and it was a policy that was forced on institutions and it created so many more problems than it solved.

And it also put things like sex and gender firmly planted, to borrow a book title, firmly planted in mid air. I mean, it’s now indefinable. What the New York Times reported the memo said, I mean, it’s important to note that no one has seen it, so we don’t actually know. But if it’s an accurate reporting job on actually what it says, then the policies under Obama were unadministerable.

Now, I’ve got to say one more thing, too, Nick, and not to belabor the point here, but it’s an important thing to say this wasn’t law. The attempt to hijack Title 9 and Title 7 has been a long time coming and it was attempted in many different ways and when it didn’t work, President Obama basically did it by memo. That’s not even how law is supposed to work. So we can at least be excited that an incredible government overreach will be reversed by this memo.

EICHER: I just started looking into the latest survey on The State of Theology. It’s an annual survey, and Ligonier Ministries has been doing it for several years now. I was talking with a friend there and he told me they were shocked to find for the first time a majority of evangelicals agreed with this statement:

God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

So, don’t miss that: for the first time, the survey found 51 percent of evangelicals agreeing with that. And it’s just one example where, as Ligonier says, a majority of evangelicals express views that are contrary to the Bible.

Now, there’s a lot there to unpack in that survey. But I was interested in your commentary this week marking the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The late founder of Ligonier Ministries, R.C. Sproul, signed that statement, as did your organization’s founder, Chuck Colson. That statement was, as you say, a landmark document. But what’s your take 40 years on, whether acceptance of Biblical inerrancy has retained a strong hold on those who claim the mantle of “evangelical”?

STONESTREET: Those who claim the mantle “evangelical” is now undefinable. So that’s where the problem is. It’s impossible to know. Evangelical is one of those of those words now that is used for a number of reasons. For some it’s used because of the historic context and the desire to kind of grab onto what evangelicalism has always stood for, which many people understood as Beddington’s Quadrilateral of being about conversion and Bible and evangelistic and so on. That’s why some people do it. Other people do it because it is the best way to publish is to say you’re an evangelical and then say but I disagree on same-sex marriage or say you’re an evangelical and then say you’re a witch or say you’re an evangelical—I saw that this week, sorry, it’s Halloween—and there’s a number of those. The Washington Post will quickly put you on their front page, even if you have absolutely no audience, no crowd or whatever and very little influence if you claim that title and then claim to move away from the center on issues, particularly sexuality.

That said, it’s not a statement on inerrancy that’s going to hold people to orthodoxy, because statements don’t catechize. Statements can draw lines and so therefore they’re helpful, but catechism has to happen elsewhere. Formation has to happen elsewhere. And so what we’ve had is several generations of specifically evangelicals who hold to inerrancy but then have taught the Bible in marketing based ways or self-help based ways or prosperity based ways or narcissistic self-absorbed kind of people as the center of the universe sort of ways. And if every time a generation hears the Bible taught they’re the center of reality, then it’s not going to be hard to imagine that Christians move away from historic Christian positions that they don’t like or that don’t feel good to them. And I think at the end of the day, that’s what it is. We’ve turned faith into the story of us and rather than the story of us being about the story of God and his restoration of all things. So, to me, it has a lot more to do with how the Bible is taught than what we have professed the Bible to be or what we have articulated the Bible to be. It’s much more about how we handle it. The Bible is a book to be not looked at but looked through and I think that’s been kind of the big shift is that we say good things about the Bible but then we use it in quite pagan ways.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday, John, thanks so much. We’ll talk to you next time.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.


(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) The National Center for Transgender Equality, NCTE, and the Human Rights Campaign gather on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, for a #WontBeErased rally. 

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