The Obama administration has issued what The New York Times calls “a sweeping directive telling every public school district in the country to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity.” This directive was issued in a letter that went out today to school districts signed by Justice and Education department officials.
The directive does not have the force of law, since the federal government has no such jurisdiction over local school districts. However, according to the Times, “it contains an implicit threat: Schools that do not abide by the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law could face lawsuits or a loss of federal aid.”
John B. King Jr., the Department of Education secretary, stated: “No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus. We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”
The directive continues: “As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.” A child’s parent or legal guardian must assert a gender identity different from previous representations or records, then the child must be treated accordingly. Schools may provide other restroom and locker room options to students who seek “additional privacy,” but they are not required to do so.
Administration officials add that they are providing “clarity on steps [schools] can take to ensure that every student is comfortable at their school, is in an environment free of discrimination, and has an opportunity to thrive.”
Response to the directive was swift.
Baptist leader Russell Moore tweeted: “If any had suggested in 2009 that the Administration would do this, the WH [White House] would have ridiculed it as crazy conspiracy theory.”
Rod Dreher’s response was headlined, “Obama’s Outrageous Decree.” He predicts that the Obama administration “won’t stop with bathrooms and locker rooms. The federal government is going to mandate the teaching of gender theory, at the risk of having federal funds cut off.” He calls the directive “the first step—a major step—in redefining by state mandate what it means to be male and female, and a human being. Christians, Jews, Muslims and others who hold to tradition will be stigmatized as bigots.”
My purpose today is not to debate the issue of transgender bathrooms. (For my earlier column on this issue, see The Transgender Bathroom Controversy.) Rather, it is to examine responses to the Obama administration’s surprising decision and offer some biblical guidelines.
Supporters will view the administration’s action as a logical extension of settled civil rights legislation and claim that opponents are prejudiced against transgender people. I respectfully disagree, for the following reasons:
One: The directive is contradictory.
The administration claims that it wants to “ensure that every student is comfortable at their school.” A study by the Williams Institute estimates that 0.3 percent of the population identify as transgender (this number includes both adults and students). What about the vast majority of students who are not transgender, many of whom are not comfortable taking showers or using bathrooms with people who claim to be transgender? What about documented cases of sexual predators representing themselves as women to gain access to showers and bathrooms?
Two: It unnecessarily imposes federal authority.
This startling announcement bypasses state and local officials, with no opportunity for dialogue or recourse. It will be seen by many as an imposition of federal will on parents, students, and locally elected authorities. Why did the administration not seek dialogue with concerned parties before issuing this surprise directive?
Three: There are other options.
A transgender student could be provided a single-stall bathroom or private-use shower. Transgender advocates will claim that this approach violates these students’ civil rights. But what about the civil rights of students who are not transgender? Would you want your school-age son or daughter to shower next to a person of the opposite sex?
What biblical principles are relevant to this debate?
One: We must respect our elected officials.
Scripture is clear: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). We are to “pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (v. 7). Even—especially—when we disagree with our leaders, we must speak of them and relate to them respectfully.
Two: We must obey our highest authority.
Where biblical Christians were forced to choose between Caesar and Christ, they paid a high price to choose Jesus. Each believer must search his or her heart with their community and do what seems most obedient to our Lord and his word.
Three: We must preserve our witness.
Our goal is to share Christ with our culture, not to win arguments (Matthew 28:18–20). Over time, the disastrous consequences of moral relativism will demonstrate its fallacies (Mark 7:20–23). But when we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), we earn the right to help those in need (Mark 1:21–34) and lead them to the One who is the Truth (John 14:6).
This is a complicated issue without simple solutions. As this debate evolves, it is vital that we pray for leaders, school officials, parents, and students. Jesus died for us all, whether transgender or not, supportive of the president’s edict or opposed to it.
Billy Graham was right: “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.” Will you do your job today?