Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act” with every Republican voting for it and every Democrat voting against it. The bill would change the Title IX legislation to specify that, when it comes to athletics, “sex shall be recognized based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” This change would be significant considering that Title IX was passed in 1972 in order to prohibit “discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities that receive federal funding.”
At the heart of the debate between the two political parties is who is most in need of protection from discrimination.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy spoke for the Republicans in arguing that “there’s a reason why there’s men and women’s sports. . . . It’s about fairness.” Florida Republican Greg Steube, one of the bill’s sponsors, added that Congress first passed Title IX “to enable women to have an equal playing field in athletics.”
It’s telling that even those who oppose the bill have largely abandoned the argument that biological males have no innate advantages over biological females in athletic competitions. Instead, they’ve mostly made the debate about discrimination against transgender athletes.
As Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin, argued, “Trans kids deserve the right to be equal members of their school communities, learn sportsmanship, and challenge themselves outside of the classroom, including by participating in school sports.”
While there is nothing prohibiting biological males who identify as girls from competing against other males, for those whose focus is on protecting transgender students, that is typically not an acceptable compromise.
Ultimately, it is unlikely that the new legislation will go beyond the House. The Senate has indicated they will not take it up for debate and President Biden has already stated that he would veto the bill if it somehow managed to reach his desk. Still, the nature of the legislation and what it says about the polarization and politicization of the transgender debate is emblematic of the state of our culture today.
Which side needs the most protection?
One of the primary reasons that the transgender issue is so polarizing is that both sides believe they have the moral high ground on this issue. Both parties are advocating for a segment of the population that they see as under attack. The question then becomes which group’s rights—in this case, women or biological men who identify as women—should be prioritized.
Transgender students are clearly in the minority and do face frequent judgment and bullying. Consequently, in a worldview where the highest priority is protecting the most marginalized—the default position of many on the political left—it’s understandable that Democrats would see the new bill as a threat.
Conversely, women have spent decades fighting for equal opportunities with men, and the primary purpose of Title IX was to ensure that they would have a level playing field on which to compete. Allowing biological males to compete against them has proven repeatedly to eliminate any such opportunities. Ensuring that the law accomplishes its intended purpose and that women are not forced to play in an environment in which they start at a distinct disadvantage is a higher priority for Republicans.
Both sides genuinely believe they are not only correct but that their position on this issue is morally essential, and understanding this point is crucial to responding well to the debate.
A mistake we can’t make
One of the most dangerous aspects of political conversations today is the way in which people tend to assign evil intent to the positions of those with whom they disagree when it is often—though not always—incorrect to do so.
As Christians, we cannot afford to make this mistake.
It’s all right to think that someone is wrong, especially when their position goes against a clear teaching in Scripture. It’s not all right to conclude that he or she is a bad person simply because they believe differently on a given issue.
Our highest calling is to help others know Jesus and, while a key part of the gospel message is an awareness of our sin and our need for his saving grace, people are generally more receptive to that message when it doesn’t come in the form of open disdain and unfair accusations.
Taking the time to understand another person’s position and looking for ways in which we might find common ground for discussion will provide a better foundation for productive dialogue than assuming that the other person is either a fool or a villain. Yet far too many Christians continue to use those latter categories for describing people with whom they disagree on topics like transgender rights.
How to turn the world upside down
It seems like common sense to me that it’s not fair for women to be forced to compete against biological males in sports.
That said, I also feel like it’s common sense that, when you look at all the evidence, creation had a creator, and that Jesus is God. However, a significant proportion of the population disagrees with those conclusions as well, and they are unlikely to change their minds if we act as though they are fools or bad people for holding those beliefs.
The primary means by which the early church “turned the world upside down” was the authentic faith of those who followed Jesus rather than by bullying the world into believing Christians were right (Acts 17:6). Historically, that approach has tended to change whenever Christians feel like they have the power to pressure people to believe as they do, and the results have never been good.
Christians in America used to have the numbers and influence to expect the culture to go along with us on most subjects. Perhaps part of God’s redemption for society’s shift away from that past will be forcing us to get back to a better, more biblical way of sharing the gospel with those who need to hear it.
Let’s start today.