Transgenderism in public schools: What the latest news means for Christian parents

February 23, 2017

On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced its decision to rescind a May 2016 mandate introduced by the Obama administration that called for sweeping changes on how public schools accommodate transgender students under federal law.

With the decision to withdraw the guidelines, the federal government will now resume its original understanding of “sex” to refer to biological sex, rather than the amorphous and subjective “gender identity.”

What happened?

When originally introduced, the Obama administration’s guidelines elevated a student’s gender identity (their internalized sense of gender) as the lawful equivalent to a person’s sex. This action resulted in situations where biological males who think of themselves as female were allowed to use female restrooms or locker rooms and vice versa. The consequences of what could follow this policy were potentially grave. As attorney and National Review writer David French observed, there were “implications for free speech, science education, religious liberty, and federalism. In other words, arguing that a man can’t get pregnant or a woman can’t have a penis could create a ‘hostile environment’ or be considered discriminatory harassment. Teachers and administrators would be required to participate in and cooperate with the lie that boys can be girls, and girls can be boys. The curriculum would have to reflect that fact, sports teams would have to conform (with limited exceptions), and schools would be legally and formally opposed to orthodox Christian beliefs regarding the very nature of men and women.” 

French’s concerns are why Christians were upset at the Obama administration’s unilateral action to upend local authority and enshrine in law contested viewpoints on what it means to be a man or woman. It is not controversial or wrong to teach the historic and biblical view that gender is based on one’s biological sex, and that biological sex is both objectively known and cannot change. If progressives want to debate the merits of their beliefs about gender identity and transgenderism, now is the time to allow for such debate — not shut it down using the federal government as a cudgel against other citizens.

It is worth noting that the Obama administration made this move by lawlessly reinterpreting “sex” to broaden it to include gender identity in order to give it the umbrella of protections in Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination. All of this was done without congressional approval, which the Trump administration cited as one of its reasons for rescinding the guidelines.

Loving our gender-confused neighbor

The decision to rescind the transgender guidelines does one main thing: It gives authority on how to handle transgender accommodations back to local schools. It puts schools and viewpoints on equal ground once again.

On social media, critics of the Trump administration’s actions allege that transgender students will be subject to increased bullying and harm without these protections. In short, if you oppose the Obama transgender mandate, you’re seen as cruel and uncaring. The strong denouncement coming from progressives is the result of investing immense energy in seeing transgender ideology advanced without allowing for dissent. But Christians should dissent. While Christians should extend compassion, empathy, and love to gender-confused persons, Christians cannot accept wholesale the assumptions behind the transgender worldview because they are incompatible with biblical Christianity. Love always rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6), and while the world will disagree with our assumptions about what is loving, it is not loving for Christians to endorse a worldview that leaves people confused, deceived, and living outside boundaries that God imposed on creation.

But accusations of cruelty assume that disagreement must mean disparagement. The parents I know who have expressed concern about growing transgender acceptance have no interest in demeaning transgender students, but are concerned about their children’s privacy and the implications for free speech and religious liberty that come from disagreeing with newfound social policy.

What is important to remember is that local schools are still allowed to make decisions on how best to accommodate transgender students. Moreover, the “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the Trump administration makes clear that rescinding these guidelines “does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying, or harassment. All schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment.”

The letter is right to make this claim. No student of any distinguishing characteristic is deserving of mockery, bullying, or intimidation. Christians believe that Jesus’ words in Luke 6:31 are relevant and apply in these circumstances: “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Christian students and parents should be the last segment of the population that engages in cruelty toward their neighbors, including neighbors confused about their gender. It is a sad testament to our society’s decline in civility that serious discussion cannot proceed without questioning motives.

Why Christians should care about good policy

Christian parents with kids in public schools should be thankful for the Trump administration’s actions because it bars the federal government from treating citizens with a different belief on debated issues over human anthropology as outside the mainstream.

There are ways to resolve this dispute at the local level without bringing the heavy hand of government coercion into the equation and in the process, penalizing different beliefs about how men and women are made.

Restroom and locker room policies separate men and women based on privacy concerns. Individuals of the same biological sex share the same anatomy. Sharing the restroom with those who are of the same sex and who have the same anatomy enhances the possibility of embarrassment or vulnerability from viewing the opposite sex in a state of undress. For the sake of protecting women against sexual assault by those who would take advantage of these laws or preventing biological men from viewing women in a private situation, restroom, or locker room, it is prudent to base access on biological sex distinction.

When it comes to school-age children, it is extremely unwise to put children in a situation where they could be exposed to the genitalia of the opposite sex or where their own genitalia could be exposed to a member of the opposite sex.

Cultures will vary on the level of awkwardness someone may have at seeing a member of the opposite sex who they don’t know in a state of undress or using the restroom. But those variances do not cast aside the safety and privacy concerns of parents, who may—and should feel able to—strongly protest such a circumstance.

Men and women are different (Gen. 1:27; 2:18; 5:2). This difference manifests itself in biological distinctions. For reasons of modesty, safety, and privacy, men and women should continue to use separate bathroom and dressing facilities. Furthermore, it is not the role of the government to devalue the legitimate opinions of others by forsaking their interests.

Let us remember that this debate isn’t about transgender men or women using the restroom of their choice. Instead, the restroom wars are merely a proxy debate for a larger conflict about what it means to be male and female.

The policy debate over transgenderism glosses over a much more fundamental set of truths that society wants to suppress: Men cannot become women and women cannot become men. As Christians, we’re told God created us in his image. God made men and women as equal, but distinct. These distinctions are beautiful, good and are a testament to God’s wisdom in creation. Rewriting laws to conform to the spirit of the age cannot rewrite the laws of nature and nature’s God (Ps. 24:1).

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Andrew T. Walker

Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24