Answering Challenge 28: “It’s wrong to discriminate on the basis of gender identity.”

Part Three of Critical Conversations answers 27 different challenges people raise, trying to show that Christianity’s position on marriage and morality is wrong. 

Here’s number 28.

The Challenge:

“Transgendered people should have access to the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice, because it’s wrong to discriminate against people based on their gender identity.”

The truth your teen or preteen needs to know

The idea, “discrimination on the basis of gender identity,” is so mixed up, it’s impossible to pass a law or set a policy to prevent it that doesn’t actually cause it. The rule itself is so broken, there’s no other answer but to discard the rule.

Digging Deeper

Parents, no matter how obvious the answer to this challenge might seem to you, for your children it might not be so clear after all. The culture they’re immersed in — not including any solid Christian training you’ve made available for them at home, church, or school — has really primed them to reject discrimination everywhere. So it isn’t enough just to tell, you need to explain.

But don’t worry. Like almost everything else covered in Part Three of Critical Conversations, this explanation is easy. There’s more than one approach you can take, and I’ll share more tomorrow. First let’s take a look at how impossible the whole idea is to begin with.

Consider this dialogue:

A. I say it’s wrong to discriminate against people based on their gender identity. The law should let transgendered people use whatever bathroom or changing room they think fits who they are.

B. I’m not transgendered. Should the law let me use whichever facility I want?

A. Why would you want to do that?

B. I don’t. I’m just asking what the law should let someone do, if they wanted to do it.

A. That doesn’t sound right. Then the law would just let men use women’s rooms, even if they didn’t identify as women. That’s not what these equal access laws are for. It could get creepy. 

B. So whether someone has the right to use the other facilities depends on  their gender identity, right?

A. Right.

B. But I thought you said that was wrong.

A. Wrong? What do you mean, wrong?

B. It’s giving people a right or taking it away depending on their gender identity. That’s discriminating on the basis of gender identity. You said that was wrong. 

Now person A is in a pickle, and there’s no way out of it. If we write a law to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender identity, that law automatically discriminates on the basis of gender identity. It causes exactly the same thing it was intended to prevent! There’s no way around it. The only answer is to admit there’s something seriously wrong  with the whole idea to start with.

Discrimination isn’t always wrong, after all. (There’s a topic explaining that in Part Three of the book.) When it comes to bathrooms and locker rooms, you can’t avoid it. Consider the options:

  1. You set the rules according to biological sex.
  2. You set the rules according to gender identity.
  3. You eliminate all the rules.
  4. You build one-person bathrooms for everyone everywhere.

The first one discriminates based on biology. The second one discriminates according to gender identity, as we just saw. The third one discriminates against everyone who wants bathrooms and locker rooms to be places for modesty and privacy. The fourth one discriminates against everyone who wants to avoid spending money and messing with property so foolishly!

So when people set laws and policies, they have to choose as wisely as they can, but they’re never going to be able do it without discriminating one way or another. It’s just a fact of life.

Tips for Talking With Your Teen (or Preteen)

Your child may never have faced a pickle like this dialogue before, where the problem has no answer. They might think you’re pulling a logical trick, and that it’s up to them to work it out. Their friends might think the same thing when your kids try to explain it to them.

An analogy from school might help them understand what’s going on:

Suppose your PE teacher said you had to shoot twenty baskets in thirty tries to get a good grade — but you had to do it with a ball so big it couldn’t go through the hoop. Could you do it? No one could, not even the best player in the world. Or suppose your math teacher said that in order to pass, you had to prove that 2 times 2 equals 22. Could you do it? No one could, not even the world’s best math expert. Why not? Because the rules were set up to be impossible from the beginning.

The solution isn’t to try harder at making the shots or running the math problem. It’s recognizing there’s something wrong with the rules. They’re impossible.  If anyone has any sense they’ll toss them out.

In the same way, if you start with the rule, “Don’t discriminate based on gender identity,” you’ll always end up with an answer that discriminates based on gender identity. You can’t avoid it. So you do the same thing: you recognize the rule is an impossible one. There’s something wrong with the rule. If you have good sense, you’ll toss it out.

Once they’ve become comfortable with that idea, you could role-play the dialogue with your child for practice, letting him or her be person A the first time, and then switching so you’re person A after that.


Can You Overcome the Rhetoric? Christianity Is Good!

The rhetoric flies fast. “You’re haters!” “You’re on the wrong side of history!” “You supported slavery with the Bible, and now you’re supporting discrimination against LGBT people!” “How can you be so intolerant?” “How can you think your morality is better than other people’s?” 

Can you still believe Christianity is good?

There’s only one way to avoid hearing these assaults on the faith: lock the windows, bar the doors, and turn off the TV and the Internet. Or if you do go out, make sure you don’t interact with anyone but fellow believers.

If your kids go to school, though, they’re hearing these things. If they’re on social media, if they’re watching any TV, if they’re on a sports team, they’re hearing these things. Chances are you’re picking it up too, in the news media, at work, or in your own social media conversations.

Staying locked in a Christian bubble isn’t the answer. We need to face these charges. If they were true, after all, we’d have to apologize and repent, because if we’re as bad as these accusations say we are, then, well, we’re really pretty bad. And honestly we can all be bad sometimes. We always need to examine ourselves.

But when it comes the the way of Jesus Christ, Christianity practiced the way the Bible teaches and intends, these charges aren’t true. We can face each one of them calmly, non-defensively, and say, “No, actually, you’ve got your facts wrong. That’s not true.”

And it isn’t just that Christianity isn’t as awful as these charges claim. Christianity is good. It’s very good, when practiced biblically. Jesus Christ is incredibly good. He’s the model of truth and grace, fully present and fully active in one person (John 1:14). He loves. He sacrifices himself. He came to us with extraordinary power, yet by his extraordinary love he only used that power for others’ good, never for his own benefit. This is most unusual. Jesus is most unusually good.

His effect on the world has been most unusually good. Christianity (despite rumors to the contrary) has been history’s greatest influence for ending slavery, improving the lives of women and children, getting science started in its earliest years, promoting human rights, spreading education and health care, lifting economies, and encouraging love even toward enemies.

Yet there are even charges saying we’ve been the worst of all influences in several of these areas. They’re wrong, thankfully.

The point is, Christianity is being attacked for being an immoral influence. If it were true, I wouldn’t want to be a Christian. Would you? It isn’t true — but the rhetoric is out there, and it’s convincing a lot of people, including a lot of Christian youth; maybe even your own children.

Can you overcome the rhetoric? Critical Conversations answers dozens of these sorts of questions, in a parent- and teen-friendly format. For others I recommend Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World  or almost any of Rodney Stark’s works. I’ve got a longer list of suggested resources at the end of Critical Conversations.

Image source: Russell Shaw Higgs, who I pray will read some of the same recommended material someday.