Great restroom debate is upon us

The United States is in the midst of a great restroom debate because of the emergence of transgender issues, but it seems we should not fight cultural battles in our restrooms.

South Dakota’s legislature passed a bill requiring students at public schools to use bathrooms and locker rooms that matched their sex at birth, but the governor vetoed it. North Carolina passed and the governor signed a broader bill that requires people to use the public restroom corresponding to birth gender. Seven other states are said to be considering such proposals.

This issue is focusing on public and school restrooms now, but it will come to churches, as well. What does a church do when a visiting transgender woman enters the women’s restroom and one of the women in the room knows the person used to be a man? Of course, it also could happen the other way, with a transgender male entering the men’s restroom.

Most of us would want to be kind and considerate to such a church visitor, but many of us also would feel uncomfortable.

Yet again, in a rapidly changing culture, we are forced to deal with situations many of us had not imagined just a few years ago.

The Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas spoke to the transgender issue in a February 2015 resolution. It specifically responded to a need faced by Texas Baptist universities, but it also had words for the broader issue.

The resolution said “God created humanity as two genders, male and female, and this includes Jesus’ own affirmation (Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6). . . .” It further noted, “in the Bible gender is based on biological attributes and is seen as a gift from God and immutable.”

Board members expressed “great concern with the emergence of the transgender agenda and the notion that one’s gender is determined psychologically, not biologically.” They also affirmed “that in creation God made male and female as biological gender assignment.”

This is a good statement reflecting what I suspect the vast majority of Texas Baptists believe regarding the biblical testimony on the transgender issue. The resolution also added an important point, expressing a “desire for all people, including those who consider themselves transgender, to be treated with love and respect but that such love and respect not be construed as approval for every behavior.”

The Christian Life Commission often stresses that both truth and grace are important. Most Texas Baptists probably see it as truth that God created two genders — male and female. We affirm the importance of that truth, and it guides our understanding of ethical behavior.

We also stress grace, and it is important that transgender persons know and feel our love and respect. We all are sinners, and we need one another.

It may not seem practical, but some form of genderless public restrooms is probably in our future. Privacy will be important. We have privacy in our bathrooms at home, and it is only reasonable to have some privacy in public facilities.

Privacy, however, presents some new challenges, especially in schools, where the thought of closed private restrooms raises the possibility of various kinds of dangerous behavior — bullying, violence, drug use, sexual promiscuity, etc.

It is likely we may have restroom stalls like today that provide a level of privacy without complete privacy, with sinks being shared by all. Human ingenuity knows few bounds; solutions to the problem will be found.

These kinds of solutions honor the personhood of individuals. They are much better responses to the transgender challenge than seeking to make laws that require people to use certain restrooms.

I can envision a day when a transgender person begins attending one of our churches regularly, uses restroom facilities that do not stigmatize, and begins to understand and experience the love of God through that church.

Anything is possible when people encounter God’s love, truth, and forgiveness. Greedy people begin to give. Mean people become kind. Adulterous people give up their sexual sin.

When such transformation happens with a transgender person, I suspect we will see them begin to embrace their biological gender and understand that they simply did not initially fit some cultural expectations. It is OK for a man to be nurturing and sweet, to care more about fashion than sports. It is OK for a woman to be physically strong and drive a truck, to care more about hunting than shopping.

We’ve already gone a ways down the road of that cultural change, but it is easy to misunderstand the pull of cultural expectations on some people who do not feel they fit neatly into expected gender patterns.

To identify with a gender other than one’s birth gender does not make one that other gender, thus transgender. It simply makes one different from the cultural norm.

Each of us and all of us are much more than our gender. We are children of God, created in God’s image for divine purposes.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

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