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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