While many churches grapple with the impact and affects of same-sex “marriage”, a different but related issue is surfacing. It’s the push to recognize so-called “gender identity”: denying biological gender and demanding acceptance of one’s perceived gender. This means, as the name suggests, that a man who chooses to view himself as a woman will expect to be viewed and treated as such at all times and in all circumstances. And the failure to recognize this gender malleability as perfectly acceptable behavior will come at a cost.
Recent developments reveal the dimension of this threat to churches and ministries. In one recent case, a man teaching music and religion courses at a Catholic school in New York decided, after 32 years, that he was a “transgendered” woman – which is to say a “woman” in a man’s body. His decision violated Catholic theology and, not surprisingly, the school terminated his employment agreement. The teacher filed suit, claiming discrimination on the basis of so-called “gender identity,” which is now protected under New York law. The school asked a court to dismiss the claim based upon its right to hire and fire according to their beliefs. But a trial judge denied their request and forced the matter forward to trial.
Or consider another development. The State of California recently enacted legislation requiring public schools to allow students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their “perceived” gender. Under this law, the boy who merely claims to believe he is a girl (it’s not likely anyone will check to see if he is sincere) is free to change clothes and shower with the girls, regardless of how the young women may feel. How much further will this go? Will boys be forced upon the rosters of girls’ teams and even use up scholarship money designated for girls? Will girls who object be forced to undergo “sensitivity” training so the boy does not feel bad? We have already seen evidence that the approach may be to re-educate the uncomfortable young women away from their “stereotypical gender thinking.”
If all this is not shocking enough, it may be that Christian and other religious schools will be pressured to accept these changes. What happens to a Christian school that plays sports in a league that includes public school teams? Will these Christian schools be required to “accommodate” the visiting teams this way as the price of playing in a public school league? Or might some state official require that Christian schools accept this development as the cost of public university scholarships?
These and other questions arise as we enter the brave new world of gender-blender politics. And as we know from experience with marriage redefinition, those who disagree with this radical new government orthodoxy will be told they believe the wrong way, and that their religious beliefs are merely another form of religious bigotry.
The starting point for protecting churches, Christian schools, and other religious ministries against this new push is to solidify their protections by clarifying their beliefs in their bylaws and policies. For example, religious institutions that believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, or that derive beliefs from their church teachings, need to clearly state and affirm those beliefs. If a church believes that God created humanity male and female according to His design and purposes, it follows theologically that pursuing a course based upon gender confusion violates scripture that such behavior separates us from God, and that such behavior should not be celebrated as liberation from God’s creational design.
Furthermore, churches and religious nonprofits will do well to require both employees and volunteers to recognize and affirm biblical standards, and to make clear that departure from these standards will be cause for immediate termination of employment.
Beyond the issue of hiring and firing, churches should not be surprised to face potential conflicts arising during regularly scheduled worship services. What should a church do when a member or stranger attends services wearing clothing of the opposite sex? Is the person a sincere seeker or attending to disrupt services? If it is a disrupter – how should a church deal with the matter? Churches are private religious organizations, and as such have the right to demand the person leave the property – by police escort if necessary. Despite the church’s private status, such a person may claim the church is a “public accommodation” since it is open to visitors, and that removing the person from services violates state or local laws.
Since these issues will likely grow more serious in the near future, churches need to be informed. Churches are no stranger to hostility from a culture departing from biblical truth. Instead of being shaken or surprised by these developments, churches must take proactive steps now to protect themselves while there is still time. Alliance Defending Freedom has resources to help your church get started on this process. If you find your church, school, or religious organization confronted by a particular situation, please contact us so an attorney can review your case.