Regent University in Virginia used to be seen as so conservative that its law school was thought of as part of the vast right-wing conspiracy. (See here, for example.)
Regent has come a long way since those days, in the dubious sense that now they house the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity run by Prof. Mark Yarhouse, who has told us his views on the issue of transsexuality in this recent article in Christianity Today. (I have the whole article. Some readers may find that part of it is behind a paywall.)
Prof. Yarhouse takes a lot of verbiage (talking about different "lenses" through which to see the phenomenon) to give advice that can be boiled down into much shorter compass. What it amounts to is that Yarhouse tries to advise people with "gender dysphoria" to make themselves more comfortable in the "least invasive way possible," but this weasely phrase doesn't mean that he's clearly opposed to their having major genital mutilation surgery or taking drugs to make themselves look like the opposite gender.
Moreover, he's actually pretty supportive of less "invasive" ways of presenting oneself as the opposite gender, if that is necessary to "manage discomfort," and he thinks churches should play along. Herewith a few quotes:
When it comes to support, many evangelical communities may be tempted to respond to transgender persons by shouting “Integrity!” The integrity lens is important, but simply urging persons with gender dysphoria to act in accordance with their biological sex and ignore their extreme discomfort won’t constitute pastoral care or a meaningful cultural witness.
So to give pastoral care, you have to play along with people's pretense to be the opposite sex.
In other church settings, it might be us as laypeople who are called into a redemptive relationship with the transgender person. After all, Christians are to facilitate communities in which we are all challenged to grow as disciples of Christ. We can be sensitive, though, not to treat as synonymous management of gender dysphoria and faithfulness. Some may live a gender identity that reflects their biological sex, depending on their discomfort. Others may benefit from space to find ways to identify with aspects of the opposite sex, as a way to manage extreme discomfort.
"Space to find ways to identify with aspects of the opposite sex, as a way to manage extreme discomfort," aka pretending to be the opposite sex.
Bert...[is] a biological male who for years has engaged in cross-gender behavior from time to time to “manage” his gender dysphoria. He wears feminine undergarments that no one apart from his wife knows about. He has grown his hair out and may wear light makeup, and this has been enough to manage his dysphoria.
So that's just hunky dory, right? Not perverse or wrong or anything. It's just a way to "manage" his feelings of discomfort.
Let’s say Sara walks into your church. She looks like a man dressed as a woman. [LM: That's because "Sara" actually is a man dressed as a woman.] One question she will be asking is, “Am I welcome here?” In the spirit of a redemptive witness, I hope to communicate to her through my actions: “Yes, you are in the right place. We want you here.” [LM: Meaning, we will go along with pretending that you are a woman in order to make you feel welcome.]
If Sara shares her name with me, as a clinician and Christian, I use it. I do not use this moment to shout “Integrity!” by using her male name or pronoun, which clearly goes against that person’s wishes. It is an act of respect, even if we disagree, to let the person determine what they want to be called. If we can’t grant them that, it’s going to be next to impossible to establish any sort of relationship with them.
Got that? If you don't play along with "Sara's" pretense to be a woman, you are just being mean and disrespectful and can't develop a "redemptive" relationship with him.
Yarhouse doesn't say whether we also have to address someone as "Your Majesty" who claims to be a king, in order to be a "redemptive witness."
Certainly we can extend to a transgender person the grace and mercy we so readily count on in our own lives. We can remind ourselves that the book of redemption in a person's life has many chapters. You may be witness to an early chapter of this person's life or a later chapter. But Christians believe that God holds that person and each and every chapter in his hands, until that person arrives at their true end—when gender and soul are made well in the presence of God.
Implication: Since people with this serious mental problem won't have their twisted feelings all go away until they get to heaven, it would be mean not to play along here on earth with their pretense to be members of the opposite sex.
At no point in the article does Yarhouse deal with serious practical questions that immediately come to mind: If "Sara" insists on using the women's bathroom at your church, do you tell "her" not to do so? Wouldn't that be "unwelcoming," especially since you are calling "Sara" a female? If "Sara" uses the women's bathroom and women complain about their and their children's privacy, is the pastoral staff supposed to chide them for being insufficiently loving, welcoming, and "redemptive"? How far is this carried? If "Sara" wants to go on a women's retreat for which women will share dormitory facilities, do you go along with this and tell your church women to cooperate? Do you send "Sara" with a group of your girls to act as their live-in cabin counselor at camp? Should Christian colleges house "Sara" in a women's dormitory, assigning "her" to be the roommate of a woman?
I gather that some Christians are advocating that everybody install single-user, locking bathrooms to accommodate transsexuals. Are churches and church schools now morally required to do that, despite the fact that many church budgets are strained already? In any event, even if money were no object, such a "solution" merely gives rise to the question whether or not Christians have to be "redemptive" in accommodating transsexuals in other ways. Single-user, locking shower rooms aren't a "thing" yet at my local YMCA, much less at cash-strapped church camps. And into what cabin do you put the boy-who-thinks-he's-a-girl?
The bottom line is that Yarhouse shows with every word he utters that he simply doesn't much care about the rest of the church members--about their privacy, about the normalcy of the church social environment, or anything of the sort. And here's a thought: How "redemptive" are you being to the tough, unchurched, no-nonsense electrician who visits your church and finds that a man in drag is sharing the bathroom with his daughter and that everybody at church refers to the man as "Sara" and tries as hard as possible to stifle their revulsion and make "Sara" feel welcomed as a woman? Like most liberals, Yarhouse seems concerned with saving (and accommodating and placating as a means to their salvation) only the designated victims of the left. His focus on the mascots is so zoomed-in that he can't even see the normal people who need Jesus but who will be understandably disgusted and driven away by the recommended accommodations.
And that is aside from the questionable premise that it is merely a matter of morally neutral "discomfort management" for a man to be encouraged by his therapist to wear women's undergarments or "in some respects" to present himself externally as a woman. No doubt Yarhouse, being a clinician, thinks he is an expert and can speak to whether such perversions and fantasy role playing are, in fact, helpful to patients in the most important senses of "helpful." Laymen who think that encouraging a man to pretend to be a woman isn't actually helping the man are merely "shouting 'Integrity'" and being unredemptive. And besides, they aren't psychological experts, so what do they know?
My questions about practical issues in churches and their affiliated organizations are not mere snark. For many decades, churches have been deliberately building a sub-culture, with much prayer, toil, and financial sacrifice. This sub-culture includes church camps, colleges, Christian K-12 schools, Sunday School activities divided by gender, women's retreats and other women's ministries, two-week worldview camps for high school and college students, and more. Every single one of these requires a firm notion of gender. At the most minimal, gender-segregated classes often discuss sexual and other gender-specific issues in ways tailored to the single gender's desire for a measure of privacy from the other gender. At the most extreme end, people are actually living in roommate situations, sharing shower facilities and sleeping and changing rooms. You cannot accommodate men pretending to be women and vice versa in these situations without seriously compromising the sanity of your organization and forfeiting the trust of your constituency.
I never thought that a time would come when I would have to wonder whether an evangelical college, perhaps even a college thought of as relatively conservative, would assign a man pretending to be a woman to be the roommate of a woman, but we are approaching the time (if it hasn't already come) when that is a serious question.
If a professor at an evangelical college can't be bothered to address such questions, much less address them firmly and sanely, in an article intended to tell churches how to cope with transgenderism, we have a major problem.
Let me also add: For years we were told that homosexuality was something we could minister to in a kind and loving way because of the distinction between act and orientation. We were lectured endlessly by more progressive Christians (and even some less progressive Christians) on how it isn't a sin to have homosexual feelings but only to act on them. This itself left unaddressed a whole host of questions such as whether a man with same-sex attraction should be sharing shower facilities with other men. The idea that the act-orientation distinction was a cure-all for the practical problems was always foolish, especially when combined with the notion that Christians "shouldn't discriminate" on the basis of mere orientation.
The pragmatic insufficiency of the act-orientation distinction is greatly exacerbated in the case of "transgenders," since by definition someone who "is transgender" is someone who acts in certain ways. Yarhouse suggests that some of these might be secret behaviors, but he also endorses Christians' accommodating overt pretense of being the opposite gender. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the act-orientation distinction. It is a straight-out demand that churches cooperate with particular acts and patterns of acts. Yet even here, even as he demands that we accept the behaviors of transgenders, Yarhouse is still trying to leverage the act-orientation distinction for his own purposes:
Yet we should reject the teaching that gender identity conflicts are the result of willful disobedience or sinful choice. The church can be sensitive as questions arise about how best to manage gender dysphoria in light of the integrity lens.
The "integrity lens" is otherwise known as common sense. Yarhouse, throughout his article, relegates it to the position of just one "lens" through which to see these issues. Note that here, the emphasis is on a) not saying that transgender people are engaging in sinful choices and b) sensitivity. Yarhouse slides quickly from implying that feelings of conflict are not sinful choices to strongly implying that transgender behaviors, such as presenting oneself as the opposite gender, are also not sinful choices but rather neutral coping mechanisms. Nor does he deal (a notable omission in a clinician) with the obvious feedback mechanism whereby continuing to affirm one's "gender identity" as the opposite sex and to present oneself in that way almost certainly creates more and more feelings of conflict with one's biologically given sex.
I am continually confounded by the speed with which Christians are rushing to accommodate the craziest innovations of our time. It cannot be said too often: You cannot allow the fear of being thought mean to drive your policies, or you are a sitting duck for the manipulation of the left. When this gets to the point of lecturing churches, in the name of "being respectful" and "redemptive," that they should refer to a biological male as a woman, there really is no reductio left. If you can't see that as a reductio of the "niceness as policy principle" method of church governance, there isn't much you can see anymore.
And yes, this may mean that a pastor has to approach a man in drag and ask him not to use the women's restroom at the church. Even if the man calls himself "Sara." That, at a minimum.
May I suggest to readers, especially those who go to medium-sized-to-large churches, that they sound out their church leadership on these issues and come up with a plan for the day that "Sara" walks through the door. This is all the more important given that one state civil rights commission (in Iowa, of all places) has stated that a church service open to the public might not have a "bona fide religious purpose" that would allow the church to escape the reach of public accommodations law. Yes, you got that right: The Iowa Civil Rights Commission thinks you can't discriminate on the basis of gender identity in your church services if they are seen as "open to the public." Naturally, churches want to "bring them in" and use at least some of their services as opportunities for evangelism. Equally naturally, churches should not want this to mean that they have to let men use their women's bathrooms and generally play along with the pretenses of gender-confused individuals. Some legal advice on how to work out this issue is needed quickly and may vary, for the moment, by state.
This is definitely a case of "use your freedoms or lose them." The more quickly churches and religious ministries start rushing to accommodate the transgender agenda, the harder it will be to hold any line at any later point, and the more likely it is that churches, camps, colleges, etc., who don't bend will be crushed. So start resisting now.