Don’t Put Acceptance First

So, bathrooms. Target. You might have heard people talking about this recently, like, everywhere. People focusing on practical safety issues, people pointing out the need to be more aware of violence against women in general, people trying to work out the complicated relationship between the Christian faith and issues of gender and sexuality.

Target

I’m not one of those people. They are significantly smarter than me, and I think everything I’d say about those things has already been said. Loudly. Many times.

Don’t worry, guys, I figured out a while ago that I can’t solve the problems of the world and I don’t actually know everything. This is just one twenty-something’s take on the aspect of this issue that is most interesting to me: why Target specifically and the American culture in general wants so badly to be seen as inclusive.

Call me cynical, but the nods of brands and companies to the LGBT (plus any other letters that are appropriate to add, I can’t keep up) community seem to be motivated by profit. Or, to put it another way, it is currently really, really cool to be inclusive and welcoming. Even those who would identify as straight and cisgender appreciate this kind of tolerance.

From my perspective, Target’s decision to let people use the bathroom or changing room of the gender they identify with was made—and celebrated—mostly for emotional reasons. Lots of people have given the policy a thumbs-up because they, in Target’s words, want to chorus, “Everyone deserves to feel like they belong. And you’ll always be accepted, respected and welcomed at Target.”

There isn’t actually a lot of logic in the inclusivity policy—no ethical justification of why Target is siding with the minority over the majority, no details about the practical, concerning implications that many saw right away, no explanation of how this will be enforced or what it means. It’s all explained with the simple, emotionally-loaded idea that we don’t want people to feel excluded or marginalized.

Here’s my claim: I’m glad we feel compassion for those who feel excluded…but I don’t think that should be the first thing we prioritize when making decisions. We’ve given it too much weight, kind of like self-esteem (a good concept in theory) was probably given too much weight when making choices about how we raise and educate kids (participation trophies for everyone!).

Target decided to support inclusivity by opening up bathrooms and changing rooms to whatever gender people identify with, regardless of their biological sex. I see that choice like this: inclusivity moved to the #1 priority in decision making, bumping out whatever was at the #1 spot before that, whether that was “the safety of women and children,” “Christian values,” or just “practical cost-benefit risk analysis.”

Do I think it’s good to make people feel welcomed? Yes. Honestly, the Christian church could do a better job of this. I think the reason some Christians struggle to do that, though, is valid: they don’t want to make everyone “feel accepted” at the cost of what they believe to be true.

I can’t speak for the American church in general here because that wouldn’t be accurate, but many Christians and churches I know refuse to give tolerance, acceptance, and inclusivity the #1 priority when it comes to making decisions about what to believe or how to teach and interpret the Bible. That #1 spot is already occupied—by the gospel, by a commitment to speaking the truth in love.

This is not something the general culture understands. It’s not even on the list, much less in the top spot. So, while I think that Christians could often do a much better job articulating the “love” part of “speaking the truth in love,” I also think the church has to commit to being misunderstood and maligned, to having people think Christians are bigoted and hateful because our priorities are different than most of the people around us.

What I’d like to explain to people on the outside whose exposure to our faith is mostly Duck Dynasty or Joel Osteen or whatever, is that when Christians talk in a panicked way about the importance of absolute truth, they’re (mostly) not thumping on a Bible and saying we need to put the Ten Commandments back in courtrooms. At least, that’s not what I mean.

I’m not freaking out about any of these policies because I hate transgender people or want to restore America to being a Christian nation or feel the need to force my beliefs on others. I’m actually not freaking out at all.

I just feel a sense of loss for what we’re giving up.

What does that cryptic statement mean?

It means I’m afraid to live in a world where “respecting” someone means letting them do whatever they feel is right. (I don’t want other people to show me that kind of “respect,” for one thing. I need and value the people who tell me I am wrong or making poor choices.)

It means I’d love it if people, Christians and non-Christians, thought critically about the songs and slogans they’ve turned into rules to live by—are these things good and true, or just catchy? (This applies equally to Republican voters AND tweens belting “Let It Go” in the shower.)

Maybe more than anything else, it means I don’t think our culture is ready for the implications of valuing inclusivity above almost everything else.* I don’t think we’ve done a good job of thinking through what that might look like. If we had, I don’t know how happy we’d be with the future world we’re in the process of creating.

*Stuffy Philosophical Footnote for the Dedicated Reader: It’s always a good thing to consider what the logic of one decision might lead to in the future. I’m not going to speculate here because someone would call me on the logical fallacy of Slippery Slope. (It’s worth noting that even one of my favorite websites on logic uses gay marriage as their example of the Slippery Slope argument.) I always like to point out, though, that sometimes the slope is slippery. Sometimes the dominoes do fall, one by one. That’s just affirming that we often take the general logic we embrace and apply it to other areas. You have to do this kind of reasoning carefully, not using dumb fear tactics to bully people into your point of view…but it does need to be thought through.

10 comments

  1. I could be wrong on this, but I think the phrase that can summarize this idea is “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

    Contrary to what appears to be the conventional wisdom being pushed these days, you can in fact love your fellow man without tolerating their behavior. In many cases, failure to tolerate someone’s behavior that you know is wrong or even harmful can actually be the best way to show your love for them.

    That is ultimately the mindset behind parents who choose to discipline their misbehaving children and see to it they get a proper moral compass to guide them on their own path in life for one, if I’m not mistaken.

    1. I actually think I like the way you articulated that idea in your own words in the second paragraph: loving people without tolerating their behavior. (Mostly because I think it can seem judgmental to imply that we see the rest of the world as “sinners,” instead of people just like us.) I agree totally that saying or doing the loving thing might not be what the other person wants. I love people who haven’t “tolerated” some of my shenanigans for the boldness it took for them to say hard things.

  2. So I would argue (like you kind of hint) that actually, this “Target-style inclusivity” is not actually inclusivity, it’s just marketing. Because a significant (specifically younger gen) portion of the population now values inclusivity, Target is trying to capitalize on that. So I’d say it’s still a cost-benefit analysis done by Target, and it came out in their favor to be trans inclusive. The reason they didn’t do this 30 years ago, or even five years ago, is because it wasn’t as profitable to them. It’s always calculated.
    I totally agree that making inclusivity your driving value-system has some serious issues! But I guess when it comes to bathroom bills, this feels a whole lot like the whole Christian right thinking that videos or TV shows that talked about gay bullying were pushing a crazy gay agenda and needed to be avoided/boycotted, and then when we started saying “Uh, we love gay people, we love the sinner just hate the sin” everyone said, “Yeah right”. Like, you could argue that talking about gay bullying led to an overall acceptance of gay relationships which led to legalizing same-sex marriage. BUT, on the filp side, if Christians had been at the forefront of anti-gay bullying campaigns, when we said, “Yeah, actually we’re not so keen on legalizing gay marriage but we love gay people” we would have had a platform.
    So yeah, we have to be willing to go against mainstream culture, but we also have to actually take seriously the words to love and not fear, and when culture makes dramatic shifts, too often we respond in fear and miss our opportunity to speak truth into the situation.

    1. Good case against capitalism, Steph! I’d say it’s possible Target was just doing this as a marketing ploy…although I would also say that at the very least, the people in charge at Target almost certainly support the ideals of inclusivity, even if that wouldn’t have been enough to make the policy change on its own.

      Here’s my thing: in practice, it’s often difficult to say things like, “We disagree with the gay lifestyle, but we’re leading anti-gay-bullying campaigns” because we tend to fight for what we love. There was a Day of Silence at my public high school, and virtually everyone who participated was all about tolerance and support of the gay lifestyle. If I, as a Christian, had worn a rainbow T-shirt that day with everyone else, there wouldn’t really have been the chance for me to articulate the nuances of what I believed. That, anyway, was what I struggled with. We discussed the day in a few of my classes, and I was very outspoken about the need to defend gay teens from bullying, but wholesale participation or leading the charge could have been easily misunderstood. Whether that was my perception or the actual reality, point being, I think that’s the way a lot of Christians feel.

      For the trans bathroom thing, I do feel compassion for the danger/discomfort a trans person might have in going to the bathroom of the gender they no longer identify with. It’s just hard to hold onto both “I think the transgender lifestyle is wrong and actually dangerous” (in the fact that I think elevating personal desires over physical reality, much less moral absolutes, is an extremely damaging idea) AND “I support the transgender community’s right to choose a bathroom.” If you have thoughts on how I could hold this in tension effectively, that would be great.

      But I totally agree that many Christians respond too quickly out of fear, which is silly because, um, hello, sovereignty of God. Christians have very rarely been in charge of major shifts in our culture, but God always is.

      1. Yeah, so I resonate with that, Amy, because it’s something I’ve been wrestling with a lot lately- teaching at a public university in the sociology department, I feel like I’m “assumed” to be in a certain camp on certain issues, and so that makes me think more about how what I am saying is perceived, and what I need to say, and when. To use the context of gay rights, when it’s just me, Steph, the Christian, saying, “Jesus loves gay people” I feel that means something different than Professor Steph of the sociology department saying, “Jesus loves gay people”. So I do wrestle with what to say and how and when. But I guess lately I’ve been wondering if it really matters, and what things are worth defending in what moment. And I think the worries come in large scale “making statement” type situations rather than in personal interactions. Something I’ve been wrestling with lately is trying to figure out what is more important- for Christians and gay people to know that Jesus loves gay people, or for Christians and gay people to know what Jesus thinks about a gay lifestyle. Obviously I think both are important. My instinct says both Christians and the culture at large know that Christians don’t support gay lifestyles, the Church has been pretty terrible at communicating that Jesus loves gay people (to gay people but also just to themselves! I think a lot of Christians don’t even know that Jesus loves gay people!). I had a gay student tell me the other day that when she came out to her conservative Christian family they disowned her and said she was going to hell and was despicable and now she has totally rejected everything about Christianity. And I said, “I’m a Christian, and I want you to know I’m sorry for how your family responded, and I don’t think that’s how Jesus would have responded to you.” I don’t know, I worried about it afterwards like maybe I should have also said, “And i don’t agree with your lifestyle either, and I don’t think Jesus does” – but I didn’t. And I’m trusting that Jesus isn’t done chasing her. And I’m like 56% sure what I said was okay. Because she had already heard that Jesus + Christians didn’t approve of her lifestyle, but she honestly hadn’t considered that Jesus loved her.

        Like, I want to see a headline one day that says, “Crazy Conservative Baptist preacher leads the charge on bringing “day of silence” to local Texas school” and then in the article, the preacher would say something like, “This is something I care about, because Jesus cares about stopping LGBT bullying. I don’t think the Bible supports gay life styles, but the Bible definitely does not support bullying, and this is an area where we can join together and support the honoring of image of God in our LGBT neighbours.”
        Something else I’ve been thinking about is why does perception matter? Like am I worried Christians will think i’m a crazy liberal if I support the day of silence? (in which case it’s more about proving my identity to the group and not about love). Do I think I will be “guilty by association” (it doesn’t work that way). Am I worried other gay people will think I support their lifestyle and that will cause them to sin further? (If they don’t know Jesus, they don’t know Jesus, and they’re dead in sin anyway. And me making a statement about their lifestyle isn’t going to change any minds most likely- that has to happen in context of relationships anyway).

        I guess I’m also just feeling pushed into the “just be loving!!” camp because I have several friends who are gay who started out with a conservative understanding of scripture, and have now turned to a more liberal interpretation just because there was absolutely no welcome in the church for them, no support, no support of singleness, no attempt at understanding, meanwhile the gay community is standing outside the door like, “We love you!” So I feel like the church is just shooting itself in the foot and pushing people away on these issues. 😛

        1. The short answer is, “I don’t know.” As far as where the line is and what we as Christians should say, I know we can’t go wrong if we’re seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance…and I know for sure the answer is going to be the same for every situation.

          The long answer may be several years in coming, but it involves more thinking about the questions, “Is love/holiness/justice/something-else the attribute of God we should lead with when sharing the gospel?” “What does love look like in a broken world?” and “Does how we are perceived matter/should be something we’re concerned with? And what does that look like?” So thanks so much for helping me think more about this. Always appreciate your perspective and the much-needed challenge to love others more.

  3. Amy, I usually agree with at least half of what you say on here, despite the fact that I have very different political views than you, but I have to categorically disagree on this issue, and its not simply because I am a liberal and therefore think it is “really, really cool to be inclusive and welcoming” (I do, but that’s not my argument). I appreciate the perspective from which you approach this and your attempt to look at it impartially, but I have to disagree with your claim that the Target decision prioritizes acceptance over safety. The claim that cis women and girls are in danger of assault by Trans women is completely unsubstantiated, and the idea that men will pretend to be trans women in order to assault women is absurd– women are assaulted in bathrooms by men, but they just barge in, no disguise needed. In actuality, the Target bathroom policy /is/ about safety–for trans people. According to Lambda Legal, ” If anything, a concern for safety weighs in favor of bathroom accessibility. Transgender people face a uniquely high degree of harassment—53% of 6,450 transgender people reported being harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation in a recent survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.” While your argument is mostly about the comfort or feeling of acceptance that comes with trans-accepting bathroom acommodations, it ignores the very real danger that a trans woman might be in if she enters a men’s restroom. While you may not agree with or understand the reason a transgender person has for their identity (just because you don’t see gender-nonconformity as part of an authentic and positive relationship with God, does not mean it can’t be), I know that you would not condone sending a person purposely into an environment where they are at increased risk of unprovoked physical violence just because they ascribe to an identity you see as a “poor choice”. I hope this didn’t come off as too agressive; I completely respect your right to have different /opinions/ about trans issues than I have, I just wanted to illuminate the /fact/ that when we talk about issues of safety, the safety of trans people is every bit as important as the safety of cis people.

    For a few more facts about how gender identity, bathrooms and safety intersect
    http://www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/transgender/restroom-faq

    1. I’m glad you spoke up, Kristin, and I appreciate how clearly and carefully you articulated your position (you didn’t come off as aggressive at all). Hopefully this post gets people thinking and creates a discussion.

      I’ve actually not yet been convinced that transgender bathrooms will have a negative effect on the safety of women and children, because, like you said, men who want to abuse women have plenty of opportunities to do so anyway without hiding behind a policy. However, from my point of view, we sort bathrooms into biological gender for good reasons. Those reasons include things like modesty and the unfortunate reality that sexual predators exist (even if we’re just talking Peeping Toms and not rapists). Basically, I’m uncomfortable that we even risk that possibility with a new policy designed primarily to make a small minority group feel included. It might play out with no higher rate of abuse in the future, who knows? But it might not.

      Also, I’m in favor of other accommodations like unisex bathrooms, which seem a bit more reasonable without opening up even the possibility of danger to anyone.

      Here’s my other struggle: I can put myself in a trans persons shoes and think about how uncomfortable it would be to use a bathroom with a gender I no longer identify with. I think Christians should view this with compassion, even if they think a transgender lifestyle isn’t biblical (even if they think it’s insane and illogical). Which they haven’t been doing, really. But, at the same time, I find it really disconcerting that we’re working so hard as a culture to be supportive of the trans lifestyle, because, honestly, I don’t think it’s right or even makes sense. It basically trades “who I am” for “who I want to be.” Obviously, issues of sexuality are more complicated than that, but I’m really, really hesitant to support policies that prioritize an individual’s feelings of identity over physical reality. The same goes for those who identify with a particular race that they were not born as—what would that do to the culture? Why would we want to celebrate that? Does it even make sense?

      Okay, long thoughts. But anyway, even if we disagree on this one (particularly the last bit), thanks for sharing your stance. I really appreciate it.

  4. Beside the fact that it costs more, I don’t understand why your idea of Unisex bathrooms aren’t the simple, clear, and most reasonable answer. Seriously, one extra room with a single toilet and sink and you’ve solved the entirety of any issue here. Then you literally appeal to everyone, not a minority OR majority, yeah?

    Heck, just make the Men’s room unisex. I’ve never seen a guy care if a lady comes in to use “our” bathroom because the line is too long on the other side (which seems to happen frequently, but you guys also have couches and stuff, so I don’t claim to understand ladies rooms). It’s like “Okay. Whatever.” And then you do what you came to do and leave, because hanging out in a bathroom seems weird to us. 😛

    1. True…but it costs more. Yay capitalism? I think there’s something to the idea that finances are at least as important as ideology in this case.

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