Category Archives: gender

We Know Better, Part 4: Being Human

We are in a crisis of human identity. Both anthropology (the study of human nature, cultures, and experiences) and epistemology (the study of knowledge and the search for the truth particular matters) are being debated in unprecedented ways.

In this essay, I am NOT advocating to any reversion to cultural-historical functions for women and men or calling for coercive rules for how adults peaceably regulate their lives. A pluralistic, free, and virtuous society rests on freedom of conscience and voluntary association(s). In the spirit of the title of this series, I am asking that we pause from our misplaced anger and unreflected compassion and realize that we do know better about sexual identity.

There is no place for bullying or harming any person of any identity. But declaring criticism of these ideologies, “violence” is itself an attack on freedom of conscience.

When a Supreme Court Justice appointee refuses to define the word woman (an adult biological female is the proper answer), the triumph of subjectivism is almost complete. When even secular feminist thinkers are excoriated for not affirming every current fad of gender anarchy, we are in trouble. When normative biological sexual identity is defined as “cisgender(ed)” and any hints of the differences between boys and girls are called out as “toxic” – we are in trouble.

As I share my thoughts, I come to this with decades of education and interaction in the epicenters of gender reflection: Santa Cruz and Berkeley, CA. All of my academic degrees and much of my work has been amidst the ever-changing currents of what is politically/publicly acceptable. I have laughed and cried, served and worked with women and men of all faiths or none, and all manner of sexual attractions and identities. Each person is a divine image-bearer and offers much to our world. And, until recently, my deepest convictions were at least somewhat respected and tolerated. After the Supreme court decision of 2015 affirming gay marriage (with the Justices admitting that many will disagree and must be allowed such freedom), it seemed that everything desired by proponents of non-traditional lifestyles was in place. No discrimination, no persecution for private behavior, and access to all privileges and services others enjoy.

But the radical proponents of gender anarchy were not done. Suddenly our culture wars metastasize and there are now scores of identities that must be publicly celebrated, and children must have the right to alter their body’s chemistry and even eliminate signs of their biological sex, without permission from parents! Now the real agenda of the radical Left is exposed: destruction of the biological/nuclear family. Mom, Dad, and biological children in a unit of loving cooperation is now seen as hindering progress toward “the collective” and a remnant of outdated religion. Never mind that in all civilizations throughout all of history, parents and children (and their extended clans) are the heart of human identity and flourishing.

The pagan-secular Towel of Babel is now a transhumanism of complete subjectivity.

When feminists Martina Navratilova, J.K. Rowling and Naomi Wolf are excoriated as “TERFs” (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) and biological males can choose new bathrooms and compete in female sports simply by declaring a new identity, we are in trouble.

Friends, we know better. With rare exceptions, the DNA and physiology of male and female are innate and unchangeable. There is HUGE range of behaviors and dispositions (and neuroscience affirms a range of conditions) of males and females, so stereotyping is unhelpful and unscientific. If adults desire a certain identity, name change, and have a range of affections, that is their private business. But asking rational and religious people to promote such ideas and actions is coercive and a violation of conscience.

Friends, we know better. Children and adolescents are in a constant state of development and expecting them to have the faculties for choosing their gender and ripping such choices away from family systems is cruel and unjust. Research for more than half a century places the number of long-term same-sex attracted and bisexual people at somewhere around 5% of the population (Kinsey’s bad research and his 10% figure from the 1950s have been repudiated many times), for men and women over 25. The explosion in adolescents identifying as bi- or trans- is clear cultural conditioning. When school officials hide children “transitioning” from parents, this is a complete violation of family preeminence over the state.

We know better. Biology matters. Public schools have no business imposing their ideologies on students and hiding their agendas from parents. Ethical statements about sexual identity and practices are not violence. Let’s affirm liberty for all – including the liberty to make moral proclamations without fear.

In the Vacuum, there is Opportunity: Three Insights for America’s Future

Last October I predicted a close election and that many unhappy with the Trump Administration would hope for the best in a Biden Administration. Well, disappointment is now rife on both sides, with thoughtful women and men thoroughly frustrated with the state of our nation. In this moment is an opportunity for a new centrist consensus of conscience, a reaffirmation of key ideas, and new collaborations across the chasms that social media expands.

An astounding reality confronts me as I travel and speak with people in local communities across the USA. The anger and divisions fueled by the 24/7 news cycle and social media do not reflect the experiences, ideas, and principles of most people that wake up each day, raise their families, and work hard making our world a better. Yes, real political, religious, cultural, and ideological differences abound, but most folks are good neighbors and desire a more peaceful and prosperous future. In my own neighborhood, we have many types of families and diverse cultures and vocations, yet there is a goodwill that extends to all and a desire to help one another.

Political power usually reflects the loudest voices and craftiest image-makers, not the thoughtfulness of most voters. This said, it is stunning seeing how uninformed and poorly-served the public is from most media outlets, with ideology and opinion driving the presentation of cherry-picked facts and the hard work of investigation taking a back seat to talking points published by think tanks funded by elites promoting their narratives. Their goal is power and personal destruction is permitted so the “narrative” goes forward.

Is there a pathway toward peace? Can our deep divisions and suspicions be healed? After much listening, I have discovered three insights for the American experiment in virtue-based liberty go forward. These are not simplistic and the require much effort. If pluralistic and principled liberty is going to survive, here are the necessary building materials for the “road less traveled” ahead.

First, we must rediscover humility before God and toward one another. Humility is not self-hatred or false displays of flattery – it is a disposition that removes oneself from being the center of the universe and deeply listens to one’s neighbors. Humility allows new facts to inform our opinions and the stories of others to enhance our perspectives. Humility engenders peace as people are heard, not just tolerated. We need moral and spiritual awakening in individuals that leads to the transformation of local communities.

Second, we must reaffirm the search for objective truth and stop hiding behind fabricated constructs and narratives that avoid inconvenient facts. Ecological issues are real, but our planet will not die in a decade. Class, gender, and race issues are real, bit substantial progress has been made globally and nationally in the past half-century – we must not allow the agitation of a few to destroy the progress of many.

Third, we must promote bipartisan political dialogue leading to principled compromise and stop assuming lock-step alignment of very public servant with the party line. It is out of forging a third way that new wisdom emerges and improvements are made. There is SO much waste in our governmental systems – let’s have wise business minds helping us balance budgets. Let’s listen to real community activists that demonstrate what works so all can flourish.

It is time for thoughtful people to stop being victims of unelected autocracies. It is time to hold politicians accountable and call on journalists to do their jobs with integrity. Above all, we need to own the future of our nation one conversation and community event at a time.

The Way Forward, Part Four: Sanity about Being Human

We are in an anthropological crisis. What does it mean to be human? Do male and female identity have any meaning? What does “the science” say about human identity? Is the biological family still the key unit of society or do children belong to “the collective?” For people of faith, how do truth and toleration unite for a peaceful world?

In coming essays, I will speak to the issues of sexual identity and practice in more detail. For this work, I want to offer three guiding principles for a sane way forward regarding human identity and how we see “the other.” I am writing as a Christian, and as a public thinker desiring for all others the liberties that I claim for myself. Having firm theological convictions is not intolerance.

The first step toward sanity is love and respect for every individual we meet. Love means that we desire their best. Respect in this context is seeing identity and potential, not necessarily instant trust. The reason we love and respect each person is that they are created in God’s image. Every person possesses inherent value, regardless of class or culture, gender or race, ability or social situation. The Bible’s opening chapter contains the most dignifying words about being human (selections from Genesis 1:26-28):

“Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.
And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the heavens
and over the livestock and over all the earth…

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God, he created him,
male and female he created them.”

And God blessed them. And God said to them
“Be fruitful and multiply…”

Notice the order of the poetry. We are created in God’s image. We are given work to do: overseeing (not exploiting) creation. And thirdly, we do this as male and female, equally bearing God’s image/likeness. Identity, purpose, gender…the order matters! From the earliest moments of recorded history to the present, people of all cultures and faiths and have found ways to misinterpret, rebel, and subvert this beautiful passage. We allow blood and soil to lead to subjugation of other groups. Sinful structures define male and female in ways that oppress the latter and pervert the former. The church has mostly failed in her history of welcoming men and women as equal partners and inviting all classes and cultures into a beautiful community of love and justice. There is hope…and it is found in the second principle.

The second step in the path forward is understanding that the person and work of Jesus Christ creates a new humanity liberated from the unjust ideologies and systems created by power-hungry sinful people. The Christ Event includes:

  • The divine affirmation of the goodness of being human – in body and spirit – for in Jesus Christ, God is forever one of us! (John 1:1-18)
  • The joy of Jesus as he willingly offers himself as the ransom of liberation and reconciling sacrifice, atoning for the sins of the whole world. (Mark 10:45; Romans 3:21-31; I John 2:1-2) Everyone we meet is worth Jesus’ sacrifice.
  • Jesus’ resurrection announces victory over death and hopelessness, and offers a preview of our future. (Romans 8:28-30; Colossians 1:15-22). Everyone we meet can receive the gift of salvation and be part of a new community anticipating the future.
  • The Holy Spirit is God in and with the church, empowering her for worship and witness, comforting and convicting of sin, and giving gifts to all, regardless of past transgressions or particular identities. (Acts 2-4, 11-15; I Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 1:13-14)

The third guiding insight for sanity about being human is the biblical hope of a new community of joy and justice, embracing all cultures and empowering worship and work on a renewed earth. The poetry of Revelation offers these visions for all who believe (Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 21:3):

You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals,
Because you were slain,
And with your blood you purchased for God
Persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priest to serve our God,
And they will reign on the earth.
And there before me was a great multitude that no one could count,
From every nation, tribe, people, and language,
Standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Look! God’s dwelling place in now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”

This destiny is not automatic, for this future rests on people freely saying yes to the good news of Jesus Christ. This said, we have a beautiful trifecta of truth guiding our relationships. Everyone we meet is made in God’s image. Everyone we meet is worth the sacrifice of Jesus. Everyone we meet can enjoy a destiny that is anticipated today in community.

Let’s ground our thinking and actions in God’s design, deliverance, and destiny instead of our preferences and prejudices and we can foster foretastes of a beautiful future.

Toward Principled Compromise: Reimagining the Common Good, Part Two

Continuing our conversation on the common good and better pathways for solving seemingly intractable problems, here are some more arenas crying out for creativity.

Education: Current Reaction: Write off a portion of student debt without reforming the bloated, inefficient systems that lead to the debt. A Better Way: Let’s open trade school avenues for high school grads (with remediation in general education available) so that we can fill the millions of job openings with skilled workers and prepare a new generation of qualified women and men for the exciting changes ahead. Let’s get out of the loan business altogether and increase scholarships for qualified students, while making schools much more efficient, focused and less political. Avenues for redeeming poor K-12 experiences through community colleges are worthy of support, and we must repent of the immoral practice of accepting loan money for students ill-prepared for higher education.

Education (K-12): Honor teachers, pay them better, reduce overhead costs, and rid schools of foolish programs having nothing to do with a real education for the future world of work. Learn from successful charter schools. Give parents choices, for a competitive landscape will improve quality. Federal ethics and general guidelines matter, but administration is always better locally and we should eventually have a very small Department of Education.

Climate Change: Recognize that the American carbon footprint continues to decrease while China, Russia, India, and others are responsible for most emissions and pollution. Recognize that all the current UN and treaty solutions, even generously interpreted, only minimally reduce global temperatures. This does NOT mean a return to old policies, but a wiser approach to environmental sustainability without exaggerated apocalyptic rhetoric and economically destructive solutions, including coercive transfers of wealth.

Gender and Sexuality: Affirm adult freedom to identify as they choose, while acknowledging the sincere beliefs of billions of people who hold more traditional beliefs. Toleration is not affirmation – it is living peaceably with different views of the world. End the war on the biological nuclear family and work on the crisis of fatherlessness (something President Obama cares deeply about) and help a new generation understand that their choices of intimacy and welcoming a child include immense responsibilities. 

And two deeper issues (for future essays): We need conversations on anthropology and epistemology. With compassion and respect, we need robust dialogue on what it means to be human and biologically male and female, and the implications for the family, education, and society. Epistemology speaks to the nature of knowledge. We are in a crisis concerning objective understanding of reality. Living with deep differences of perspective is a sign of liberty and maturity. Refusing to listen to other perspectives and attempting to suppress opinions (I am not speaking about direct evils or threats) is unhealthy for our future.

There are thoughtful pathways forward, if we have humility and love, listening ears and clear heads.

Two Questions

As we consider the turmoil in our streets and online, there are two guiding questions that may help us with a civil and insightful conversation. First, what does “there” look like as we aspire for a more humane, just, and loving world? Second, what are some practical steps toward this vision?

It is much easier to agitate and destroy than it is to build just and sustainable structures that help offer a flourishing future for all. Tearing down monuments to an unjust past is emotionally understandable. Yet, thinking deeply how to teach and understand the many narrative of American history will require more thoughtfulness that current reactions.

Conservatives tend to ignore the historical and systemic shortcomings and focus on personal opportunity and responsibility in achieving the ideals of the Founders and Framers. Some (not all) progressives find it hard to affirm anything positive about the past but offer few practical and economically feasible solutions for all the crises we face.

What does “there” look like? I long for a day when every (of every color or culture, class and gender) person – from conception to coronation – lives in a world with access, equity, and opportunity and can, with the help of others, flourish personally and add to the goodness of our world. “There” includes immigration reform, so America is hospitable and welcoming immigrants ready to contribute. Neither open borders nor separating families are good solutions.

Practically, serious reforms are needed in all sectors (business, criminal justice, education, political accountability, mental health, strengthening families, and more) so that these pathways are created and sustained. We can forge and better future without extreme deficit spending and defunding law enforcement.

Will we find the courage and wisdom to get past anarchy and ignorance, nostalgic and utopian dispositions and work toward justice? The road ahead is perilous but full of promise.