“Three reasons conservative Christians will lose the transgender debate.” That was the title of an article on Religion News Service last month.
The article, by American journalist Jonathan Merritt, comes along at a time when a number of Christian denominations are debating which bathrooms transgender people can use, along with the older issue of same-sex marriage.
In it, Merritt notes that churches have gone this route before. They started preaching against opposing LBGT rights in the 1960s; in the 1980s, some even proclaimed that AIDS was God’s judgment on LGBT people.
But despite all their efforts, gay rights are a fixture of life in Canada, the U.S. and many other countries.
And now the issue is what bathrooms transgender people can use. Once again, some church leaders are preaching sermons against it.
And just like with same-sex marriage, they will lose this fight, too, says Merritt.
“Sadly, their messages are just as disconnected from reality as their response to the LGBT rights movement decades ago,” he writes. “By recycling old tactics, conservative Christians are poised to lose the transgender debate in America.”
And what are those tactics? Merritt lists three.
First, they focus on ideology while ignoring people.
“When Christians talk about transgender issues, they often frame it as a clash of worldviews or ideologies,” he says. But those in favour of it “use real stories of real transgender people with real struggles who experience real oppression.”
This approach “usually wins in public debates because it touches listeners’ hearts,” he writes, adding that talking about “God’s law” doesn’t work when your opponents are talking about loving couples who can’t “provide health insurance for their same-sex spouse or pass along their shared possessions as inheritance.”
Talking about ideology and doctrine makes Christians appear to lack compassion, he says, and makes them look like they are “attacking some of society’s most vulnerable people.”
A second bad tactic is to “proof text from scripture,” Merritt says, along with discounting science.
Appealing to the Bible doesn’t work in an increasingly secular and pluralistic society where the Bible is no longer seen as a source of truth and authority for many people. And using the creation account in Genesis is no substitute for science for the majority of Canadians.
The third bad tactic is to “rely on fear,” he says, noting that people today don’t respond well to those kinds of messages. Plus, he says, they know that the future of western society doesn’t depend on whether or not people of the same sex love each other.
States Merritt: “Conservative Christians spent years claiming that gay marriage would destroy all marriage, unravel Western society, and ultimately lead to people marrying their animals. Well, it is legal now, and I’m happy to report that exactly zero straight marriages have been affected by the legalization of gay marriage.”
It’s not only Merritt who thinks this way; so does a leading spokesperson for conservative Christianity in the U.S.
When it comes to LGBT rights, conservative Christians “are on the losing side of a massive change that’s not going to be reversed, in all likelihood, in our lifetimes,” said Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Of course, there are still many religious people who see their mission to reverse these changes and bring America and Canada “back to God.” But that is also a losing strategy—not only will they fail to reverse these societal changes, they may also be laying the foundation for the end of their church groups.
The fact is that if these leaders want their groups to exist for their children in the future, they will need to find a way to adapt to our changing culture today. Many of their youth have already made the change; how many will stay in a faith that doesn’t accept their gay and transgender friends?
Similarly, when it comes to attracting non-believers, how many will be attracted to groups that exclude people based on sexual orientation?
To be sure, this isn’t an easy time for many faith groups. They are caught in the transition with some members adamantly opposing change, while others just as adamantly press for it. Some Christian denominations are splitting over it.
But if Merritt is right, the fight is already over. It’s just a matter of how to welcome LGBT people—not if it will happen.
Read Merritt's full article here.
From the June 4 Winnipeg Free Press.
From the June 4 Winnipeg Free Press.