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.
“As Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, in like manner committing sexual sin and going after each other’s flesh, they are set before you as an example of suffering justice and eternal fire.”
Thirdly, Jude deals with the sin of sexual immorality by pointing to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This destruction is only a shadow of the destruction that will come on the ungodly in final judgment, for at that time the fire of judgment will be eternal.
Friends, we live in a culture that glorifies sexual immorality, not unlike the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Our culture has rejected the idea that sexuality is meant to be enjoyed within the confines of a marriage relationship. To understand why this is, we must understand what sexuality represents. Sexual relations between a husband and his wife represent the sealing of their marriage covenant, which is why we say that a marriage is not consummated until after sexual relations have occurred. Covenants, both in Biblical language and in the larger ancient world, were confirmed by the shedding of blood. The shedding of blood when a husband takes his wife in sexual relations and her hymen is broken is representative of the confirmation of this covenant. Afterwards, when a husband and a wife come together to the marriage bed, they are renewing the covenant which they made with each other before God.
This is why marital infidelity is so heinous in the eyes of God. For not only does it break the emotional and spiritual trust that is to be held within a family relationship, but it is a breaking of the covenant which was made by bringing someone who is not a member of the covenant into the covenant relationship. This is also why pre-marital sex is considered a sin, for it pretends to confirm a covenant that has never been made.
Throughout scripture, God uses the illustration of marriage to represent his covenant with his people. He is the faithful husband and Israel is the wife who falls repeatedly into sin. When the church worships idols, she brings an outsider into the marriage bed. To confirm the covenant with his people, God shed his own blood—the blood of Christ on the cross—thus, when God’s people fall into idolatry, they are simply playing at a covenant that does not exist.
Just as God uses the illustration of marriage to represent his relationship to the church, his faithfulness in his marriage to the church is to be modeled in the marriages of his people. Given that we live in a culture where the divorce rate amongst believers is as high as it is in the culture, it would seem that we don’t tend to take this very seriously. Friends, the faithfulness that you demonstrate within your marriage sends a message to the world about what you think of God’s faithfulness. If you want to send a message to the world that we must take our covenant with God seriously, then you must do so by demonstrating to the world how you take your covenant with your spouse seriously.
The sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah and the sexual immorality of our culture today mocks the covenant relationship that God has with his people. It makes light of the blood that was shed to confirm such a covenant. And, it downplays the idea of the covenant itself. The penalty for these two wicked cities and for all of the surrounding cities was for God to rain down fire upon them, wiping them from the face of the earth. And, this is the same judgment that faces those in our own culture that chase after sexual immorality—in the day of judgment. Our culture has exchanged the truth of God for a lie. We have adopted the idea that momentary pleasure is better than lasting pleasure and physical pleasure is better than spiritual pleasure. The pleasure that God offers in himself is eternal and infinitely satisfying. The pleasures of the flesh are fleeting and leave you unsatisfied and with a guilty conscience. Which will you chose?