At The Daily Beast, Jay Michaelson excoriates the resolution on transgender passed by Southern Baptists earlier this week. His article is riddled with factual errors, not the least of which is the fact that he seems not to have read the actual resolution. Instead, he quotes from an early draft containing elements that did not end up in the final resolution. To wit, there’s nothing in the resolution about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but Michaelson criticizes it as if there were.
Michaelson titles his article “Southern Baptist Convention: Trans People Don’t Exist.” He then alleges in the article that Southern Baptists deny the existence of transgendered persons. Yet no draft of the resolution ever says any such thing. In fact, the resolution acknowledges that “about 700,000 Americans perceive their gender identity to be at variance with the physical reality of their biological birth sex.” That is not a denial of their existence. On the contrary, it affirms their existence as a given.
But the worst part of Michaelson’s analysis is not his numerous errors of fact. The worst part is his inflammatory suggestion that Southern Baptists are motivated by animus rather than by conviction. He writes:
By taking positions on public, secular law that are based on non-rational misreadings of sacred text, the Baptist Convention’s resolution is harmful to the idea of democracy itself.
Not as harmful, of course, as it is to transgender people who find themselves trapped in communities ruled by this cruelty and ignorance.
This kind of rhetoric mischaracterizes the actual spirit of the resolution. Again, here are some actual lines from the resolution:
RESOLVED, That we extend love and compassion to those whose sexual self-understanding is shaped by a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:15–16); and be it further
RESOLVED, That we love our transgender neighbors, seek their good always, welcome them to our churches and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership (2 Corinthians 5:18–20; Galatians 5:14); and be it further
RESOLVED, That we regard our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn acts of abuse or bullying committed against them…
There’s no question that the Christian conviction on display in the resolution is counter-cultural and perhaps even a minority view. But it can hardly be fairly described as “non-rational,” “cruel,” “ignorant,” and “harmful.”
I understand that Michaelson and many others will be offended by biblical teaching. But their offense should not be used as a pretext for mischaracterizing the resolution and demonizing Christians as “harmful to the idea of democracy itself.” We do not owe our ideological opponents agreement, but we do owe them the respect of faithfully representing their views. We also owe them the benefit of the doubt, the possibility that their views may not be flowing from animus but from deeply held conviction. Michaelson’s article fails both of those obligations. We can do better.