My church office received an email today that called me out for what was printed in the local newspaper reporting on my involvement in the City Council meeting last Monday.
A woman named Kathy wrote this:
Dear Pastor Mikels,
Reading the newspaper Tuesday morning, I felt quite sad to read about your objections to our community protecting the rights of transgendered people and your positioning yourself as one who should judge them. I do not believe discrimination against anyone is right. Your suggestion that transgendered people are not submitting to nature or nature’s God–and therefore subject to discrimination–is highly and inappropriately judgmental and hurtful.
I hope you will refrain from this line of speaking about others.
The irony of our current social climate is that a person can say in one sentence, “I do not believe discrimination against anyone is right,” and then in the next sentence call someone’s behavior “highly and inappropriately judgmental and hurtful.” Not only is the first sentence pragmatically impossible, the accusatory tone of the second sentence invalidates the claim of the first.
Nevertheless, now that I have entered into this world, I’m committed to this dialogue. I don’t feel a burden to defend myself, but I feel a deep burden to help all of us think through these issues lovingly and rationally even if we can’t discuss them biblically.
It took me 45 minutes to craft a reply, but this is what I wrote:
Is it okay for me to give you a phone call?
I’ve been working for months to build a dialogue with the Lafayette Pride office to express my love and concern for people in the LGBT community, and to have conversations about how the faith community can do a better job of showing that love even if we disagree with their lifestyles. They haven’t replied yet, but I’m still working on it.
Furthermore, I have friends in the LGBT community, and I think if you gave me a few minutes of human-to-human time, you would see me in a different light.
After all, that’s really what all of this debate is about between “religious freedom” and “tolerance.” I think it all really comes down to the fact that people aren’t treating each other as humans but as categories.
For example, you have categorized me as someone who believes I should judge transgendered people, and yet I do not judge them nor do I want to. You have also categorized me as someone who thinks it is right to discriminate against transgendered people, and yet that too is inaccurate.
Sadly, I don’t think you see me as a human being who cares deeply for the people around me both those who are like me and those who are different from me, and in that regard, I think you might be discriminating against me.
If we had a chat over a cup of coffee, I think you would discover some things about me.
- I don’t buy into statements that are given to me by other Christians without wrestling through them personally. As a result, I don’t buy the statement that some Christians throw around that gender confusion or transgenderism is a sin. Additionally, I don’t believe that granting civil rights protections to transgender people will suddenly endanger women in our society and increase the chances for sexual exploitation in our bathrooms. I firmly oppose both the fear-motivated statements and the naively traditional statements.
- I also don’t buy into statements that are given to me by the secular media or by the modern “spirit of the age.” As a result, I don’t buy the statement that the only way for transgender people to live is to fully express their “true gender identity” as opposed to the one they were “assigned at birth.” The reason I don’t buy that statement is that I have known VERY effeminate men who were able to find great joy in just being really sensitive men. I have also known at least one woman who lived for many years as a transgender man only to later realize that there was great joy to be found in embracing her biological femininity. She has since completely turned around and embraces womanhood as her “identity.”
- I DON’T oppose anti-discrimination laws for any category of people. In fact, I think there are many categories that are underrepresented. Our laws say nothing protecting the rights of people who cannot work on a Holy Day. Sure there are “religious” protections on the books, but at least in Indiana, an employer can fire an employee who refuses to work on Sundays. Furthermore, I think it is wrong for an apartment complex to refuse to rent an apartment to a biological man who is dressed as a woman.
- Finally, I DO realize that there are some forms of “discrimination” that are allowable (and encouraged) in a pluralistic society. For example, Hollywood is allowed to discriminate in hiring when it comes to personal appearance. More attractive people make more money. Should we outlaw that discrimination? I don’t think so. It’s sad that it exists, but it should not be illegal. Additionally, a college whose declared purpose is to educate students in the Islamic faith should be allowed to discriminate in hiring when it comes to a person’s adherence to the Koran, and I don’t think Purdue should be forced to hire professors who deny Darwinian Evolution. In other words, SOME discrimination in our society is necessary, and SOME discrimination in our society is healthy. In fact, in order to live in a pluralistic society, we CANNOT outlaw every single act of discrimination as if it were even logically possible to do so.
In conclusion, the reason I opposed the amendment was not because I want to encourage “discrimination” against transgender people but because I think the issue in the amendment is ill-defined and unclear in two ways:
- The scientific understanding of “gender identity” is unclear. Psychiatrists are still trying to wrestle with what the DSM-5 calls “gender dysphoria” and the right way to treat it. As a result, the societal implications of fully embracing “transgender” as a category of human being are unclear. Some good science indicates that transgenderism is actually a birth defect of sorts resulting from low incidence of androgens in the body during gestation and infancy (see my blog article for the link). However, there is other good evidence that gender dysphoria is a condition that can be remedied either through psychological counseling or religious experience. Therefore, to categorize transgenderism as a protected class would be to completely ignore the science indicating transgender people might actually be better off if they could find joy in their assigned gender.
- The religious exemptions in the proposed Lafayette HRO only cover issues of employment. If a church-run school or homeless shelter wished to have sex-segregated bathrooms, showers, or locker rooms, according to the letter of the HRO, those organizations could be found guilty of “discrimination” against transgendered students. I grant that Target should have the right to desegregate its bathrooms. Much of Europe already has only unisex bathrooms, and people live there just fine. However, I think churches, mosques, church schools, and yes, businesses run by conscientious religious people should have the right to create sex-segregated bathrooms if they wish.
The media tends to always put people in two camps. Either you are pro-choice or pro-life. Either you are conservative or liberal. Either you are for love or for hate. The problem is that no one is ever one or the other. We are all real people with pains, hurts, loves, and passions.
And if we all stopped calling each other names, we might be able to understand each other. Luckily, we now live in a society where the vast majority of Christians no longer use rude and offensive language when speaking of LGBT people, but we now live in a society where people of religious conviction and a social conservative perspective are labelled as bigoted or hateful.
No matter what you believe, I will show you respect and hear you out, so again, I ask if you would share a cup of coffee with me.
Attempting to live with Grace and Truth,
P.S. If you are interested to read my statement to the City Council in full, I posted it to my blog here.