Why Jonathan Merritt is Wrong on Conservative Christians and the Transgender Debate

By Michael Brown Published on May 15, 2016

I commend author and blogger Jonathan Merritt for reminding us that whenever we hear the words “homosexual” or “transgender,” we are not just talking about issues, we are talking about people — people created in God’s image, yet fallen (like the rest of us), people for whom Jesus died, people whom the church is to called to reach. We can never be reminded of this too much. Unfortunately, Merritt is quite wrong in arguing that “conservative Christians will lose the transgender debate.”

Writing on ReligionNews.com, Merritt offers three main reasons to support his contention: 1) conservative Christians “focus on ideology while ignoring people”; 2) they “prooftext from scripture while ignoring science”; and 3) they “rely on fear while ignoring facts.”

According to Merritt, who himself is same-sex attracted but has previously (and publicly) recognized homosexual practice as sinful, the church will lose the transgender debate the same way it lost the gay marriage debate. He writes, “In the early 2000s I began predicting that the battle over gay marriage was already over. My conservative friends called me crazy, but time proved who was right. Because conservative Christians seem hellbent on perpetually making the same mistakes ad infinitum, today I’m predicting that the transgender conversation is over. And once again, conservative Christians will be the authors of their own demise.”

In reality, the battle over gay “marriage” is far from over (one might even argue that last year’s Obergefell decision marked the real beginning of the battle rather than the end of the battle) while the debate over transgender issues has barely begun.

Not only so, but there is little comparison between the question of whether two people of the same sex should be allowed to “marry” and the question of whether society needs to recognize and affirm an infinite number of gender possibilities.

Let’s review each of Merritt’s points.

Is it true that conservative Christians “focus on ideology while ignoring people”?

Some might be guilty of doing this, just as some Christians focus on theology while ignoring people, but everyone I speak to about the transgender issues is focused on people rather than ideology.

How so?

First, they are focused on the people affected by transgender activism, such as the many schoolchildren who are being negatively affected and whose cases are now coming to public attention, or the women who have been sexually abused in the past and have now become unintended victims of transgender activism.

Do these people not matter? Do we overlook other victims — including innocent little children — because they are not part of the LGBT spectrum?

Second, all the conservative Christians I speak to are interested in those who identify as transgender as well, and whenever I speak at churches or church conferences, I talk about the unimaginable struggles these people endure. And the pastors and congregants want me to address these things because they are Christians and because they care.

Many a time I have asked the hypothetical question, “What do you when a man shows up in your church service wearing a dress and wig, carrying a Bible and saying, ‘Amen’ during the service?”

The answer is simple: Invite him to join you for lunch after the service, build a relationship with him, and help him find wholeness and harmony between his inner being and outer being.

In short, wherever I speak, I tell these fellow-conservative Christians that we need hearts of compassion and backbones of steel and that we are to reach out to the people with compassion while we resist the agenda with courage.

It’s true that I’m only one voice, but I am one of many, and, to repeat, whenever I’m asked to address these sensitive and difficult questions, I’m asked to emphasize the church’s call to compassionate outreach and care. (See here and here for some representative articles, the latter article addressing the question, “Can the Church Embrace the Transgender Community?”)

Merritt next claims that we “prooftext from scripture while ignoring science,” with specific reference to passages in Genesis stating that God made human beings male and female (see Genesis 1:27).

Once again, he is mistaken.

First, it is hardly prooftexting to point to a divine order in creation, one that distinguishes between male and female as well as celebrates those distinctions. In stark contrast, transgender activism often includes (or is itself part of) the larger war on gender, as if “the gender binary” was itself evil and constricting. (For thorough documentation, see in particular Chapter 5 of Outlasting the Gay Revolution.) So, it is good to reiterate the divine order in the midst of the current debate.

Second, conservative Christians are not ignoring science when we refuse to embrace the latest LGBT scientific talking points, and just as Merritt cites several studies which apparently point to a biological or genetic component to transgender identification, there are other studies which say the opposite, while there are still others — probably representing the majority — that embrace an agnostic position. In short, we are simply not convinced that there is clear scientific evidence for transgender identification, other than cases such as intersex individuals (whose cases I always mention) or those with biological or chromosomal abnormalities (whose cases I also mention.)

The reality is that transgender activists expect us to embrace someone’s self-identification absent any scientific evidence, meaning that Bruce Jenner is now to be recognized as Caitlyn simply because that is how he now self-identifies. And should his biology and chromosomes affirm that he is a man, we are still expected to embrace him as a woman.

In that sense, it is transgender activists who sometimes ignore science and who open the door to the very dangerous slope of “perception is reality.” (For a striking example, see my video on the man who became a woman then became a mythical dragon.)

Finally, Merritt claims that conservative Christians “rely on fear while ignoring facts.”

Again, some may be guilty of doing this, but from my vantage point, it is the transgender activists and their allies who want to deny the facts.

How many examples do we need of men walking into ladies’ changing rooms because they now have the “right” to be there? How many lawsuits will have to be filed on behalf of high-school and middle-school girls negatively impacted by the new bathroom/locker room policies?

And what would Jonathan Merritt tell the women’s shelter worker named Candy who called my radio show to tell me how the women in her shelter in Boston have been terribly upset because the government requires that a man who identifies as a woman has to be accommodated at their shelter — meaning, given a bed next to other women and given access to the common showers. But when the women voiced their complaints when this happened, they were told nothing could be done. (This HUD ruling even applies to men who dress as men and look like men but who claim to identify as women, no medical or psychiatric documentation of the alleged transgender identity is required.)

Where is Merritt’s Christian concern for all these women and children? And what of the increasing number of cases involving heterosexual predators who are using these new laws to gain access to bathroom and fitting rooms and locker rooms?

It appears that Merritt, in his desire to empathize with those often misunderstood and put out by the church, has now caricatured conservative Christians as uncaring ideologues. In the process, he has mischaracterized the very group that the transgender community needs the most, since true wholeness is ultimately found in the gospel alone.

As for the stance we must take as followers of Jesus, as I’ve said over and again, we can reach out to those who are marginalized without sacrificing our children on the altar of political correctness and radical LGBT activism.

I invite Jonathan Merritt to join me on the front lines as, together, we resist radical LGBT activism while reaching out to LGBT individuals with compassion.

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  • John_33

    Once again, spot on, Dr. Brown and straight to the point. What I find really surprising is how quickly the courts and government are moving on this issue. They understand that the people are not behind them, so they are trying to rush this through before any real debate can occur. Now the new Chicago Public Schools (CPS) transgender guidelines threaten students with punishment if they “misgender” their colleagues. I wonder how far this will go before things change.

  • MofPennsy

    On that science question…If we treated Evolution as if it’s science, how could this be anything but maladaptive?

  • I don’t see where this article disproved Merrittt in anyway.

    • RoundRocker

      Mr Brown has always had a tendancy to state his opinion as fact and claim victory for his position, no matter how badly he’s lost.

      • Merritt’s points were right on. Brown’s rebuttal actually did the opposite of what he set out to do. For those of us who weathered the anti-gay marriage attack see the same messages and tactics.

  • Kathy Verbiest Baldock

    1) Relationship changes opinions. When the “issue” becomes a person, objections tend to dissipate. Merritt is correct. Those who oppose trans rights likely ignore people over ideology.

    2) Listen to the experts. The professional medical and mental health care experts in the U.S. do not agree with Brown et al assessments. Those who oppose trans rights tend toward misinformation and lack of information. THANK GOODNESS public policy is not based on fringe myth and misinformation and non-science.

    3) Fear tactics have been commonly used by the combo of conservative politics and religion since the 1960s. The LGBT community fell into the crosshairs in the late 1970s and are a convenient voting motivator. There are those in the religious community (without the bump of politics) who motivate with fear. Brown is a classic example. Look at the glut of trans memes, including the one today. Show this stuff to any student of propaganda, and they will identify fear as the motivator.

    BONUS — yay on this not being “open letter” style –so cheesy and easy.

    • I am no longer on Facebook but I did see the meme and it truly drenched in fear and propaganda.

    • Jennifer Hartline

      You speak of “trans rights” as though they should be an extra-special category, more deserving than everyone else. What rights do “trans” folks have? The same as anyone else: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. To be treated with respect as any person. That does NOT mean they are entitled to “rights” which supersede and trample on others’ rights. Men do not enjoy any “right” to use women’s facilities. And if you are a person with a penis, you’re a man, and you have no business being in the bathroom or locker room or dressing room with my daughters. Period.
      There is also no “right” to require our entire society to abandon common sense and natural law, nor to adopt a bizarre new set of pronouns and letters and acronyms when referring to a man or woman. I object to the takeover of every part of society by the “LGBT” ideology, such that now our schools are being told they can’t even refer to children as “boy” or “girl” anymore. That is madness! I object to the crazy notion of “assigned” gender at birth, as though the doctor just pulled a gender out of a hat and forced it upon the poor infant. That is madness.

      • Kathy Verbiest Baldock

        No, I do not speak of trans rights as “special rights.” That may be how YOU refer to them.

        Rights for black Americans were not “special rights.” Title IX, as approved by a REPUBLICAN congress denies federal funding to those who deny several classes of rights, including gender identity. Not a special right, but not longer able to deny an equal right.

        • Paul Burgett

          But yet here you are propagating a position that denies the rights of the vast majority of society in order to cater to the struggles of a few. Let me ask you this, Kathy, and please, I’m being sincere: what is the criteria to determine a person’s gender, as you understand the transgender movement to interpret it?

        • Jennifer Hartline

          But the point is, “trans” people already enjoy the very same civil rights as everyone else. Why must they be afforded special considerations that end up denying the right of others — namely, the basic right of girls and women to NOT share dressing rooms, locker rooms, and bathrooms with men? Why must our entire society now suddenly turn everything upside down to appease and accommodate the “LGBT” ideology? Why the sudden mandate that we must all cease to call children “boy” or “girl”? Why the insistence that we must now tell young children that they can choose their gender? This is madness! Now suddenly, because the “LGBT” ideology says so, people must surrender all common sense, sound science, natural law, human biology, and bow to the whim of a delusion that says gender is fluid, it’s all in your mind, and feelings trump physical reality. I will not. Sorry.
          And btw, to compare this madness to the genuine struggle for rights and freedom of black Americans is ridiculously insulting to the people who were enslaved, hung from trees, beaten to death, and considered 3/5ths of a person. There is NO comparison at all.

          • DavidRauschenbach

            Men who identify as women have been using womens’ bathrooms, fitting rooms and changing rooms for years with the the other occupants being either ignorant of or indifferent to their presence.

  • I know that I am a steady antagonist of Dr. Brown’s writings and thoughts on the issue of LGBT Civil Rights. Sometimes it may come across that I am attacking him personally but please know that I am not. I truly try hard not to attack the person.

    Words like bigot, homophobe, and hater (I make it a habit not to use the singular version of those words) do indeed come across as attacking the person instead of attacking the ideology . Can I show love to those like Dr. Brown who attack the freedoms of the transgender community?
    Can I reach out to them and yet resist their anti-transgender activism?
    Questions to work out, I guess.

    In regards to this article, Dr. Brown states that John Merritt is wrong for stating that Conservative Christians will lose the Transgender debate because:

    1.They focus on ideology while ignoring people—Merritt stated, “Rather than consider their Bible’s calls to protect and defend the least of these, conservative Christians attacked some of society’s most vulnerable members. ”

    2.Conservative Christian discussions about transgender issues often skip over science and use scripture to prooftext their positions.

    3.They rely on fear while ignoring facts:

    I will deal with only number 1.

    In response to Merritt’s first point Dr. Brown refuted this claim with, “First, they (conservative Christians) are focused on the people affected by transgender activism, such as the many schoolchildren who are being negatively affected and whose cases are now coming to public attention, or the women who have been sexually abused in the past and have now become unintended victims of transgender activism.”

    This response by Dr. Brown plays right into Merritt’s third point. Fear is at play here. 12 States have had transgender rights laws on their books for years, and not including employers are required by law to allow transgender employees to use the restrooms that fit their gender identity and yet there has been no increase in assaults by men dressing like women. There has been an increase in assaults on transgender people.

    Dr. Brown also brought to light the case of 50 something families in one school district fighting against one transgender student. And this is proof that Conservative Christians are not ignoring people. These 50 families are not the victims, this one transgender child is.

    In watching how this will all play out, it is quite clear that it is dejavu. This is the exact same formula used to attack lesbians and gays who wanted to marry. The same fear, the same ignoring the facts, the same focus on ideology (gay activism), the same whipping up Conservative Christians to logic defying tizzy.

    Brown’s rebuttal didn’t disprove Merritt’s points at all. This article proved Merritt right.

    • davidrev17

      “Again, I’m not saying that gay couples don’t love each other or that they don’t love the children they raise. I’m simply saying that whenever they read the Scriptures regarding marriage and family and parenting as God intended, they cannot possibly relate to the stories, instructions, parables, and illustrations the way a heterosexual couple can because the Bible is a heterosexual book. As summarized by New Testament scholar Robert Gagnon, “Indeed, every narrative, law, proverb, exhortation, poetry, and metaphor in the pages of Scripture that has anything to do with sexual relations presupposes a male-female prerequisite for sexual relations and marriage.”15

      — Dr. Michael L. Brown, “Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality.” (Chapter Four: “The Bible is a Heterosexual Book.”)


      Does the above quotation come close to distilling the very “ideology,” with which you’re so obviously in volitional struggle? Because if so, please be kind enough to provide one-and-all with the actual “source-origin” into which your own anti-ideology is objectively, thus normatively grounded, or anchored? Do tell, please sir!

      • brothergc

        if you debate with the REV your wasting you breath he belongs to a church that supports gay marrage , preverts the scripture to his point of view , when faced with a question he doen ot want or can not answer he will eveade you , skirt the question . I have seen him many times attach Dr brown on his website he is little more then a wolf in sheeps clothing

      • An argument of exclusion is not a valid argument. What about modern marriage, Latinos, Industralized societies, and on and on.

        As for my beliefs they are grounded on the Love of God, the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the guidance of The Holy Spirit, the resources of The Bible, and the voices of my fellow Living Epistles.

        • davidrev17

          I believe you meant to say, the “fallacy of exclusion,” as opposed to the “argument of exclusion.” Plus, your clumsy, though purposeful equivocation proved true-to-form – just like I was warned about early this morning, found just below, as you totally avoided having to deal with my point-blank question. And as for your beliefs: are you suggesting that God IS the “Author of confusion”; or perhaps He’s grown forgetful, or confused, in His greatly advanced age as the “Ancient of Days”???

          However, and fortunately for you, since bringing-up such problems about “excluded things” – though no doubt referenced erroneously – the formal burden of proving your assertion, rests upon you alone; which simply means, “that it must be shown that the missing evidence [of which you stated is lacking, in the paragraph I cited from Dr. Brown’s, “Can You Be Gay and Christian”], will without question, actually bring about a change re: the conclusion stated,” i.e., that “the Bible is a heterosexual book, from start-to-finish.”

          So, all you need to do, is cogently state the purported evidence of which you’ve inferred, has somehow been “excluded” from consideration, in order to conclusively demonstrate that the bible IS NOT a heterosexual book, from beginning to end; thus soundly refuting, or dismantling the evidential argument given in chapter four of Dr. Brown’s book entitled, “The Bible is a Heterosexual Book.”

          The “adding-to,” and the “taking-away-from,” ANY words found throughout the 1,189 chapter’s comprising the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, is a very serious sin in the eyes of the immutable sovereign Creator; even warned against in several places in both Old & New Covenants, or Testament’s Gerald. And I say this, because it’s abundantly clear from your collection of posts, that you seem to have little, or no problem, with engaging in this type of blasphemous activity!

          So, if you’re unable to overturn the entire body of internal biblical evidence, of which overwhelmingly supports the sound inference from Scripture alone, that “the Bible is a Heterosexual Book, from beginning to end” – and it’s absolutely certain that you can’t even come close to framing such a response – then I humbly suggest you keep your blasphemous “opinions” in-check, when it comes to debating very important theological issues.

          Perhaps it would be enormously beneficial for you, if you actually read “Can You Be Gay and Christian,” Gerald??

          • My point still stands, to argue that the Bible is a heterosexual book and this invalidates the relationship between a same — couple, is quite ridiculous. Why because in all honesty the authors had no concept of —uality, orientation, marriage as we know it and etc. Marriage was not as we see it now. Women and children were property.

            Is the Bible only for farmers? There was no mention of industrialized societies? Ridiculous I know.
            This really goes to how one views the Bible and its scriptures. Do we believe that God wrote each scripture, did God tell the human writers what to write, or did the human writers feel empowered by God to write.

            Honestly, this topic is not same — marriage, it is on the fair and equal treatment of our transgender brothers and sisters.
            Biblical evidence? There is very little biblical evidence to support the mistreatment of our LGBT brothers and sisters.
            If you want to continue to engage with me please stay on topic.

          • davidrev17

            There’s actually zero biblical evidence for the mistreatment of any human being, let alone those identifying with the designation, LGBT. And it’s obvious that Dr. Brown et al. surely don’t advocate for the mistreatment of those disenfranchised LGBT individuals either.

            But what is really a tragic problem, for all involved, is when people like you, begin to interpret the Bible in the all-too-typical bush-league, subjective “eisegetical fashion, by “twisting and distorting” the Scriptures, in order to try and make it say what “they” want it to say.

            The Bible is not a buffet Gerald, whereby mankind just picks-and-chooses what they want to accept from it; nor was it ever meant to be! The Word of God is eternally binding upon every “soul,” of whom God Himself has literally “breathed” into existence here on planet earth. (See Ezekiel 18:4)

            And as for my continuing to engage you…count on it. I’m here to stay!

          • My points exactly. The Bible is not a Buffett. I like to use the analogy of people using scripture like posted notes. Cheers

    • Mo86

      “Can I show love to those like Dr. Brown who attack the freedoms of the transgender community?”

      Can you show me where Dr. Brown is attacking the freedoms of the transgender community?

  • I want make sure I get this warning to those who do not agree with religious based bigotry and interact on Dr. Michael Brown’s articles and his webpage, it will go far beyond disagreement and beyond the internet. Some of these people are really scary and believe what they are doing is right. They will not think twice about taking this off of the discussion boards and into the emails and on the voice mails of some of the people that you are affiliated with. I have already started warning the people that I am connected with. Behaviors like this come with the territory. So does messages like the one below which you can find on the Ask Dr. Brown site on the Why Jonathan Merritt is Wrong on Conservative Christians and the Transgender Debate article.

    “brothergc said: May 17, 2016 at 8:04 am
    “mabe what needs to happen ( I hope not ) is that one of Rev Geralds children gets voilated by a ——– preditor who used transgender as a excuse to gain access to them in a restroom. bet he would be singing a different tune then

  • To all of those who post on Dr. Brown’s articles and you 1. disagree 2. use your real name: Some followers of Dr. Brown will take this disagreement off-line. They will email and call some of the people that you are affiliated with. They will even make comments like this:

    “brothergc said: May 17, 2016 at 8:04 am
    “mabe what needs to happen ( I hope not ) is that one of Rev Geralds children gets voilated by a ________ preditor who used transgender as a excuse to gain access to them in a restroom. bet he would be singing a different tune then”
    Do I think Brown demands that his followers attack those that disagree with him in this manner? No Do I think he creates an environment that nurtures this type of behavior? Yes
    But I come here because intolerance and bigotry in God’s name must be challenged. I will not be intimidated.

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  • Nichole Lathrop

    To say that “the authors had no concept of sexuality, sexual
    orientation, marriage as we know it and etc.” means that God had no
    concept of “sexuality, sexual orientation, marriage as we know it and
    etc.” since God is the author of the Bible and man was only the
    instrument God used to put his Words onto parchment. Biblical evidence
    to support the mistreatment of LGBT brothers and sisters? Try re-reading
    the Biblical accounts of what God did to Sodom and Gomorrah where God
    destroyed each and every person, except Lot and his two daughters. And
    as I recall, there is mention in the Bible of more than farming…retail
    outlets (which Jesus threw out of the Temple), boat builders,
    construction workers, hoteliers, etc. I find it really funny how you
    cannot seem to answer a direct question with a direct answer. Maybe it
    is because you know that the TRUE answer runs contrary to the LGBT
    agenda and therefore elevates God to the position He belongs!

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