SBC ethicist fires shot in gender war

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission head Russell Moore says the transgender question is about more than sex.

By Bob Allen

A California law letting transgender students in public schools choose access to boy's or girl's restrooms and sports locker rooms has put Southern Baptists' new ethics head in the center of a national debate over LGBT politics.

Russell Moore, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission since June, argued in a Washington Post “On Faith” blog that the transgender question is not just about sex but also "what it means to be human."

russell moore mug"This is, it seems to me, the question at the heart of the transgender controversy," Moore said in a commentary published Aug. 15. "Are we created — as both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus put it — 'male and female' from the beginning, or are these categories arbitrary and self-willed?"

Moore said conservative Christians do not see persons who feel alienated from their biological sex as "freaks" to be despised or ridiculed. "But we don’t believe this alienation can be solved by pretending as though we have Pharaoh-like dominion over our maleness or femaleness," he added.

"These categories, we believe (along with every civilization before us), are about more than just self-construction, and they can’t be eradicated by a change of clothes or chemical tinkering or a surgeon’s knife, much less by an arbitrary announcement in the high school gym," he said.

The Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest gay-rights organization, denounced Moore's comments as "anti-transgender."

"Scripture compels us to understand one another and to grow,” said Sharon Groves, HRC’s director of religion and faith. “Mr. Moore’s words seek only to silence and further ignorance and discrimination against transgender people.”

Groves said transgender people “are part of every faith community, from the clergy to the congregation.”

“Mr. Moore does not speak for me, as a person of devout faith, nor does he speak for so many LGBT people and our allies,” Groves said.

Jeff Krehely, vice president of the HRC Foundation, said Moore's words "further ignorance and discrimination and add a burden to those already struggling with transgender bias.”

Moore, formerly a theology professor and administrator at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a series of blogs in 2009 advising young pastors on how to respond if a transgender person sincerely wants to be saved. In it he maintained the gospel is good news for "prodigal sons, even for sons so lost they once thought they were daughters."

Moore recommended that a pastor counseling a new convert with a man's body who wants to become a woman start by using his masculine name.

"Joan is not going to 'feel' like John, and that’s okay," Moore advised. "But the pastor must start ministering to him by helping him identify what peace looks like, what the destination is to which he’s headed. And that’s as a man."

Moore said transgender Christians must recognize the sin they are leaving behind "is a root-level rebellion against the Creator."

"God’s creation is good, and he does not create generic persons, but 'male and female,' in his own image," he said. An individual trying to change that assignment "has established himself as a god, determining the very structure of his createdness."

Moore compared the transgender person’s temptation to one of the sins he has repented of as a Christian, “covetousness.”

"Coveting seems natural to me," he wrote. "Not coveting is unnatural to me. There’s not a day that goes by in which coveting isn’t the easier, more natural thing for me. But I fight against covetousness because God is conforming me into the image of Christ."

Moore said the same would be true for someone struggling with gender identity.

"Don’t give up on him if he has setbacks, and don’t give up on him if he still 'feels' like a woman for the rest of his life," Moore advised. "Keep pointing him to the gospel, and to the faith that hears and acts."

In the Washington Post article, Moore said that "our transgendered neighbors" will disagree, but "discipleship means an acceptance of who we are as men and women, and that our selves are not separate from our bodies."

"We should expect such disagreements," he said. "But we believe we can no more surgically alter our gospel than we can surgically alter our gender."