An Open Letter to President Obama, Governor McCrory, and other Interested Parties: Bathrooms and the Strange Legacy of Sartre
Presuppositions govern our perspectives on life and until we recognize that, we tend toward intellectual dishonesty at best and our debates tend more toward sophism than truth. Once we recognize that, we can engage with much more humility in honest conversation…that is, if we are willing. Sadly, honest and civil conversation around politics and religion, I am told, is a rare thing in our current society. People prefer to yell rather than to earn the right to whisper. My hope for this letter is to whisper.
To do that, I must be up front as to where my presuppositions lie. If you have read much of my blog, that ought to be obvious, but in case this is new to you, know that I am a Christian pastor in an old German-Reformed congregation. I consider the Bible to be the true revelation from God, with every word inspired through many authors across many generations, but all by one God. Thus, I affirm doctrines like that of inerrancy and infallibility when it comes to the Bible. That puts me amongst a group that are often labeled as “fundamentalists,” and that may be accurate, but if it is, my fundamentalism is much more akin to that of Gresham Machen than to that of Pat Robertson. I value intelligent dialogue, not mere rhetoric to gain influence.
As I said, my hope is to whisper, but perhaps it is more than that, my hope is also to interject a perspective into the conversation that I have not heard much of in the news that has covered the debates around bathrooms and who uses them.
The Simple Solution
Of course, I ought to note that there are simple solutions to the question at hand, yet simple solutions are often not what people strive for in American politics. One solution, which would favor the view of the political right would be to change the labeling of bathroom doors from “men” or “women” to “XX” or “XY.” Chromosomes are things with which we are born and they do not change as a result of a “gender identity” decision or even as a result of gender reassignment surgery. The chromosomes with which you are born are chromosomes with which you will die.
The other option, which would favor the political left would simply be to convert all bathrooms to single-use bathrooms to be used by anyone when the need arises. This is certainly how the vast majority of us live when we are in our homes, we could certainly adapt to that in public institutions without that much grief, though obviously there would need to be some remodeling work done to achieve this end. A variation on this can be found in many places in Europe where there are common restrooms for both men and women. In these areas, there are private stalls for use, but common sinks that both men and women share. I confess that as an American raised in the conservative countryside of rural Maryland, the first time I encountered a bathroom such as this, it took some getting used to, but it still wasn’t long before I adapted.
But we don’t want Simple Solutions, do we?
The reality is, this is not really a question about bathrooms, is it? While I do not know the current statistics, I would imagine that the population in America that would identify as transgender is relatively small. That does not mean that the question of how to accommodate those who are “transitioning” should not be taken seriously, it rightly should. But it seems odd that so great a battle has been waged on this matter in our culture. Surely there are overall relatively few people “challenging” which bathroom to enter. As to the other side of the debate, I would imagine that a male who presented himself as a female would receive little attention (if any) for using the ladies room in a public place. I would suggest that the same would apply to a woman who presented herself as a man.
Presuppositions and Principles?
Permit me to suggest that the real question behind the matter of bathrooms is the question of public acceptance. Will we, or will we not, accept the notion of gender choice in our society. Those who are proponents of the LGBT community would say that society as a whole must accept their lifestyle choices as legitimate and thus bathrooms and other public accommodations must be made. Those, particularly, like myself on the Christian right, would say that gender is not fluid, but is tied to biological sexuality (remember the Chromosomes above?). This is the real question at hand, though I suppose it might be easier to fight over bathrooms than to tackle the question seriously (and yes, that is a rebuke of both sides).
Lewis or Sartre?
So, which comes first? In Sartre’s work, Existentialism is a Humanism, he argues that at the heart of the existentialist perspective is the notion that existence precedes essence. In other words, we first come into being and then we are given the awful freedom and responsibility of giving meaning to that existence. Even so, according to Sartre, giving meaning belongs primarily to the individual. Applied to gender, the cultural grandchildren of Sartre would state that defining their own gender identity is part of giving meaning to one’s own existence.
In contrast to Sartre, C.S. Lewis, who is oftentimes claimed by Existentialists as one of their own (though I would disagree with that claim), when discussing gender and sexuality in the novel, Perelandra, describes sexuality as an outward expression of an inward reality (the inward reality being gender). Thus, existence and essence are inextricably bound together, but with essence preceding existence — borrowing the notion of St. Augustine that essence begins in the mind of God.
So, who is right? Clearly, I lean toward Lewis. To be fair, our culture leans toward Sartre. I appeal to the Bible as my ultimate authority; our culture tends to appeal to experience and personal expression as its ultimate authority. Which is right? I suppose that both sides of the conversation are equally committed to their position, but while I have been known in other contexts to vigorously debate the rationality of appealing to the Bible as one’s ultimate authority and in turn, submitting to its precepts, I promised that I would whisper, so I will only point out the different starting points that each side of the debate holds.
I will say, though, that one of the problems in the conversation is that terms have not been well defined and are often confounded with one another. Sexuality and Gender are prime culprits. Sexuality deals with one’s biology. This includes, but is not limited to genitalia. It also includes inner organs that are germane to males or females respectively as well as those pesky chromosomes. As chromosomes do not change nor do the actual organs a person has in their body, “gender reassignment” ought not be referred to as a “sex-change” though that is often the term that is applied.
In contrast to sexuality, gender is defined more by societal norms than it is by one’s biology. This deals with our roles, our manner of dress, and the way we interact with one another. Historically, gender has largely been tied to biology (as Lewis would affirm), but in today’s world, the question that is being raised (largely thanks to Sartre and our Existential culture) is whether we must bind them together or if they can be treated seperately. Curiously, if one separates the idea of gender from that of sexuality, gender then becomes solely a matter of self-expression, and the idea of “gender-reassignment surgery” becomes as much of a misnomer as the phrase “sex-change surgery.” The surgery itself becomes nothing more than a cosmetic modification to make it easier to appear as the gender of one’s choice.
Laws have two purposes. The first purpose is to punish wrong-doing. The second purpose is to discourage people from behavior that is immoral. Herein lies another point of debate. How is immoral behavior defined. Clearly, I would appeal to the Bible. Society seems to appeal to social expectations, a view that I believe is fraught with danger given the fickle nature of said expectations and the sinful nature of man. Each law, though, at its very core, must answer the question, “How am I rewarding moral behavior and punishing behavior that is immoral?” And yes, with that in mind, every law legislates someone’s morality on some level.
From My Point of View
Given that I have already shared my presuppositions, it should be obvious as to where my point of view lies. The Bible is clear that homosexuality is immoral in the first place and it seems to me that much of the draw of Transgenderism is the notion of making homosexual desires more acceptable in the eyes of the culture. Even if not overtly intended to be a gateway into homosexual behavior, living life in gender roles different than those which would normally be bound to one’s sex is a form of deception, which, too, is an immoral action according to the Bible.
Whispering and the Conversation in Front of Us
The real question is whether or not we can have a dialogue on this matter in a productive way while still whispering and not raising our voices or our fists. Personally, I am very concerned that the opening up of bathrooms is little more than a first step — a minor skirmish in a larger campaign — towards something that not only will radically change the nature of the culture around us, but will also invite young men and women to express themselves and their urges in even greater immorality. I fear too, that it will be the loudest voice and not the most sound argument that will win the day and the whispers of truth will be drowned out and forgotten.
Normally I try and stay out of the fray when it comes to the frenzy around popular scandals and sensationalistic stories. Maybe I should make more social commentaries than I do, but guess that I would rather immerse myself more deeply in God’s word and trust people to have a little common sense that can be applied to a situation strange or otherwise. Yet there has been an odd buzzing around evangelical circles and I am feeling compelled to at least comment in the hopes that this buzz will go along the wayside sooner than later.
It seems that recently, Atlanta pastor, Louie Giglio was first invited and then disinvited to offer the benediction at the second inauguration of President Barak Obama. It is said that the invitation came as a result of Giglio’s work to raise awareness about sex trafficking in the United States. The disinvitation came as a result of a twenty-year-old sermon where Giglio presented the Biblical testimony that homosexuality is sin. And now, it seems that every major figure in evangelical Christianity along with major figures in the liberal establishment are offering us commentaries — folks, enough already! Yet, let me ignore my own advice and make a couple of comments:
1) Why in the world would the Obama Administration invite an evangelical evangelist to offer the benediction? And why, oh why, did Giglio accept said request? Think about it. Perhaps it would be flattering to be asked to offer such a benediction, but there comes a point when one ought to decline.
Though I have never been asked to offer a prayer at such an auspicious occasion (and don’t expect to be), as an area pastor I do regularly get asked to pray or offer a benediction at community events. In these cases, the first question that I ask is always, “Am I allowed to pray in the name of Jesus Christ?” If the answer is, ‘no,’ then my answer is ‘no’ as well. Inclusivity in presidential politics is no new thing to the scene and clearly guidelines and rules would be established for such a benediction that would water down the intentional Christian spirit of the prayer.
One might counter that this is a pluralistic nation in terms of religious beliefs, and indeed it is, but I am not a pluralistic pastor — I am a Christian pastor, and so is Louie Giglio — and thus my loyalties lie with Christ and any authority I have to offer a blessing upon the lives of others also comes from Christ.
Furthermore, when one shares the stage in a setting like an inauguration with someone, that offers an implicit endorsement of the person with whom the stage is shared. Why go down that road? How can an evangelical endorse any politician that supports the gay agenda, the pro-choice agenda, and the agenda of those who are seeking to marginalize the Christian voice from civil life (in our schools, our courts, etc…)? What fellowship does light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
2) While my intention is not to slam Pastor Giglio here, it seems odd to me that those pursuing a liberal agenda would have to go 20 years back to find something “incriminating” against him in his sermons. Surely, I would hope, that nearly any evangelical pastor would regularly be speaking in a way that those who pursue sin would find offensive. My grandfather (a Methodist minister) used to say, “if you are not stepping on toes, you are likely not preaching the gospel.”
As preachers, part of our responsibility is to address the sins of our time in a way that reflects God’s word and not the fickle preferences of men. We are to call the culture away from its self-destruction and not chase the culture to the praise of men. We should be calling people to repent of their sins — homosexuality being just one of such wicked lifestyles our world has embraced. We should also be calling people to repent of sexual immorality of all kids, including sexuality outside of wedlock. We should be calling people to repent of pornography, slander, gossip, unforgiveness, anger, pride, adultery, and the list goes on! We should be proclaiming the truth that we are fallen sinners and that there is forgiveness in Christ Jesus alone — there is no other way to the Father but through the Son. Surely that too must be greatly offensive in our politically correct society!
This does not mean we are wagging our fingers at the world, for we point toward our own fallenness as well, and we proclaim that in Christ there is grace and forgiveness — yet Christ himself also calls us to turn away from our wicked lifestyles, not to become comfortable in them or accepting of them. “Go and sin no more” are words from Christ that echo down through the centuries.
When the issue of homosexuality was raised with Giglio, rather than to use that opportunity to speak truth into the culture, he soft-pedaled the matter and stated that the question of homosexuality had not been in his “range of priorities in the past fifteen years.” Really? Surely homosexuality is one of the most significant issues eroding the morality of our society over the past fifteen years…am I missing something? Especially given that much of Giglio’s public ministry has been focused on calling kids to “making much of Christ,” does one not think that one’s lifestyle is part of that? Were one to have a ministry that focused primarily on our older generation (let’s say 65 and up…sorry Mom and Dad!), then it would be easy to see how this social issue would not play a role in the forefront of his ministry because that generation in our culture was largely raised on Biblical moral teachings. The younger generation was not and has been encouraged to experiment with sin. One ought to keep that in as much of the forefront as sex trafficking, the use of drugs, and other self-destructive behaviors. Giglio clearly is committed to the Biblical truth on the matter, given the language of his released sermon, but why has he played down the question when raised?
3) It is true, as people like Al Mohler point out, that Biblical foundations are being eroded from our culture and that society is actively seeking to marginalize the influence and presence of evangelicalism from public life. That said, why do we assume (as evangelical Christians) that having an evangelical pastor pray for our president (one who rejects what evangelicals stand for) will change the current state of affairs? Don’t get me wrong, we are to pray for all of our leaders — in this case, I would argue for conversion — but the public prayer at an inauguration does not seem to be the kind of thing that Paul was speaking about when he wrote those words to Timothy.
And why should it bother us if our president would choose a liberal pastor, a unitarian pastor, or even a Muslim Imam to pray for him at his Inauguration? Why not find someone to speak words that will be meaningful to the man being Inaugurated?
Yes, as Christians we may not like the idea of our Christian presence being lost in the Presidential Inauguration, but is it really there just because a Christian offers a prayer and the President swears on a book he cares nothing for? It is said that of Evangelical Christians in America, only about 20% eligible to vote did, so why bother getting upset now? And why bother getting upset at anyone but ourselves. If we have chosen (as evangelicals) to refuse to be salt and light, then it is we who need to repent for our bashfulness. We have bought into the idea that if we put up the pretense that we are a Christian culture we will be…sadly, the Bible calls that hypocrisy. We are a nation grounded in Christian roots, but we have strayed far from the spot where we began. We need a political revival like the spiritual revival that took place in Josiah’s day, calling people in our nation back to the foundation upon which we began — the foundation that God blessed and made our nation the great beacon of freedom and liberty that is — though as we stray further and further from that foundation, we will lose more and more of that freedom and liberty that made our nation great.
The bottom line is that these kinds of things (disinvitations and the like) are not the problems; they are only symptoms of the problem. We, like ancient Israel, have fallen into a time where every man does what is right in his own eyes — and we are paying the price for that sin. No, I don’t think I am missing something.