“So ... we just throw all sorts of flack into the air to create distractions and red herrings, effectively distracting from the issue at hand. It's not about bathrooms, like it wasn't about water fountains or bus seats.”
That was the public status of a friend of mine recently. The usual plaudits were exchanged in the Facebook echo chamber, but I felt queazy. My friend is a follower of Jesus. I know him well, and I know he loves God. But this?
For those who don’t understand the context, in Alberta, like many places, a new law has been instituted that allows school students to use the bathroom/change room of the gender they identify with. It has been contentious as many parents are deeply concerned, and my friend was responding to the criticism aimed at the new law.
As I have pondered my queasiness over the last few weeks, not wanting to write in some knee-jerk reaction, two points have unfolded themselves again and again. The first is in regards to the statement itself. It is certainly an apples-to-oranges sort of comparison, and, at best, misleading. Comparing the racial segregation on buses and at public water fountains to bathrooms and change rooms is obviously silly. You do not (or, at least, you should not) expose your genitals on a bus, but you certainly might in a bathroom or change room. So, yes, in part, it definitely is about bathrooms, and I think my friend knows that. As the father of a baby daughter I can’t fathom pretending it’s not.
Unfortunately the statement goes farther. In fact, it gets rather ugly. He has essentially tarred “dissenters” with a racist brush. It is effective at shutting down opposition because nobody wants to be labeled a racist—or, at best, no better than one. But it is another nasty sleight of hand, for the emotions and thoughts we have around gender are deeply formed by many, many things, and the discussion far from settled fact. The experiences we have had, good and bad, the lies and truths we believe, the family we grow up in, the broken and healthy feelings we have, the spiritual warfare going on around and in us; these are the tip of the iceberg that form what we think and feel. In contrast to something like a genetic trait such as skin colour, it seems absurd to compare the two with such carelessness. In fact, it seems ridiculous that I even have to point this out to a friend who loves Jesus and wants others to know him as well. No, there is nothing True about this statement at all; it has no whiff of the kingdom, nothing of Jesus in it, because even if he was right, slamming people in this manner is exactly the sort of power-play the world uses to intimidate others, and, it is exactly the sort of thing he claims to be fighting against. Oh the bitter irony!
But the irony runs even deeper as he uses an argument about the acceptance of physical traits (ie. anti-racism), to support gender issues, which is about the right to deny a physical trait. You really can’t have it both ways. Either normal physical traits are good, in which case his bathroom rant falls apart, or we get to pick and choose, in which case the door is wide for racism. This sort of flawed thinking is common place in the extreme arguments that are being trumpeted in our culture. And it makes his statement not only misleading and nasty, but ultimately self-refuting.
Yet, that brings me to the second point that keeps nagging me. I can’t shake the feeling that pointing this out resolves little. I know people are confused and it can be helpful to reveal the ridiculousness foisted upon us through emotional manipulation. But what I really desire is for people to know Jesus, and thereby find healing. I don’t see that going on in these arguments. And as I ponder the kingdom impotence around these debates, a strange and powerful thought bursts in my heart: I have nothing; I feel empty and foolish. I believe deeply that there is something very wrong in the radically progressive movement assailing us today; but I have nothing. All my words fall flat, and I feel a little as perhaps Paul did, in that I don’t want to convince people with clever arguments; I want the power of God to show itself. I want to see healing.
In truth I’m tired. Exhausted from the unending culture wars. They are shot through with the stench of flesh—sweaty, oily flesh. Christians too often smell the same. Every time I try to write about these issues I smell the same; or, at least, that is when I notice it. In twinkling moments of winter-sky clarity I think about Jesus telling Pontius Pilate that he could call legions of angels to his aid—but his kingdom is not of this world. It doesn’t reek of sweaty, oily, flesh; it is the perfume of the cross, of blood, of the power and mysterious wisdom of God.
So what is the power and mysterious wisdom of God when applied to sexual brokenness? What does it look like in response to the latest controversy around bathrooms? Surely there needs to be a voice of sanity in the midst of the cultural asylum we’re constructing, plank by plank, and beam by twisted beam. Surely there are those who know, speak, and live that wisdom. Or perhaps we miss those voices because they echo His voice; and His voice isn’t in the wind and the storm, but is a still small voice.
Yes, where are the prophets? I’m just a pharisee … at present. But where are the prophets with needle-point pupils, who can cut the iniquity apart with grace, and reveal Jesus in the midst of it all. The prophets with calloused hands and mysteriously warmed hearts, who strip the scales from lust-blind cultural eyes, that we might see that evil is not good, and good is not evil. Surely, surely, there are prophets like these; not prophets of flesh and doom and condemnation, but prophets of Christ, who hobble about with spiritual limps; outward signs of the sort of humbling that comes when you meet God, and you feel as though your face is melting from awe and overwhelming love. There is an echo of that face-melting nearness of God that escapes those needle-point eyes, and makes us face the reality that God knows … He knows—and it changes everything. Where are the real prophets?
In this prayerful lament I have been reminded that Christians cannot confront the brokenness of the world unless we are sufficiently broken first. What I mean is that unless we’ve been broken by God, shattered like clay pots so that the aroma of Jesus can find outlet from us, then all the culture sees, tastes, and smells when they meet us will be that familiar, sweaty, oily, stench; and we will be locked endlessly in mostly ignorant, rhetoric filled arguments; and for the odd clever point we make they will come back with an emotionally charged rejoinder; and our self-righteousness will grow as we dig our heels in, just as their self-righteousness grows as they dig their heels in; And in that piteous state, we will be increasingly as the Pharisees, who, when confronted with the eternal doctor, refused to admit they needed healing. We must remember that Jesus is the Truth, and being right without being surrendered usually ends up very wrong. I pray we all find an encounter with God that makes us feel as though our faces are melting; and that we begin to live in that place.