Last Monday’s Bostock decision from the Supreme Court is likely to have far reaching implications. The majority opinion (authored by Trump appointee Gorsuch, an obvious disappointment) is somewhat open ended, but it is still ominous for Christians who are concerned with religious freedom in the American public square.
The bottom line is that the Bostock ruling expands the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections related to “sexual identity” (e.g., transgenders) and “sexual orientation” (homosexuals). Opposition to transgenderism and homosexuality on moral grounds is now regarded as bigotry, just like racism, “Homophobia” and “transphobia” are now illegal forms of discrimination; they are considered unAmerican and a violation of civil rights policy.
To give a few examples of what this could mean in practice: If a Christian bookstore employee decides to transition to the other sex, or to become a practicing homosexual, the employee can not be fired for that reason. If a gay couple asks a Christian photographer to take pictures at their “wedding," for the photographer to decline on moral grounds would cause him to run afoul of anti-discrimination laws, making him subject to possible fines, imprisonment, etc. If you interact with someone who has transitioned from one sex to another (a biological/scientific impossibility, but this is the ideology of transgenderism), you will be accused of the crime of bigotry if you seek to speak to them using their biologically correct gender pronouns rather than their chosen pronouns. Feelings now trump facts, even in the court system. Basically, the Supreme Court did with the stroke of a pen much of what radical liberals were hoping to accomplish with their proposed Equality Act — but the Equality Act had very little chance of passing anytime soon The Supreme Court could have acknowledged that there is no way Congress’ definition of “sex" in 1964 could have meant anything other than male and female, and then insisted that if the American people want to stretch the meaning of the term to grant special protections to transgenders and gays, they could do so through a legislative process. But once again, an activist court took matters into its own hands, rewriting the law on Congress’ behalf. In doing so, the Court established fake rights at the expense of natural rights, disenfranchised the American people, and undermined free speech. To be blunt, our highest ranking judges can no longer tell the difference between a man and a woman; real women can no longer be distinguished from men pretending to be women. It is sick, sad, and most certainly unscientific.
As with the Obergefell decision that gave us same sex “marriage” five years ago, there is serious category confusion going on in the Bostock ruling. The analogy with racial discrimination, on which the reasoning of both decisions depends, simply does not work. The color of one’s skin is a morally irrelevant and immutable feature of a person. To legally protect persons of different skin color from discrimination makes sense, and can be seen as an outworking of numerous biblical themes, as I have preached in the past. But transgenderism and homosexual practice are different. These are behaviors; they are not creational givens in the same way as one’s skin color. They have a moral dimension. In situations where that moral aspect comes into play, discrimination of some sort may be both just and wise. Of course, those who struggle with gender dysphoria or who experience same-sex attraction are still worthy of love and respect because they bear God’s image. That’s not the issue. But unnatural, anticreational behaviors must be recognized for what they are. The Bostock ruling could easily force us unto situations where we are required by law to approve or celebrate that which God forbids. This is a violation of our sincerely held religious principles, and is unacceptable under both the First Amendment and (vastly more importantly) biblical law.
The Bostock ruling also puts people in danger — especially women. Because it is now illegal to make distinctions on the basis of sex, it is hard to see how men can be kept out of women’s restrooms or locker rooms or off of women’s sports teams, as dissenting Justice Alito pointed out. Alito also pointed out the ruling could jeopardize ministries and institutions dedicated to serving women such as rape crisis centers and women’s shelters. Christian schools may no longer be able to maintain moral standards regarding sex and sexuality, without being accused of bigotry. How could a Christian school teach students that to seek out sex reassignment drugs or surgeries is immoral, without inviting a lawsuit by those who are offended by these claims? Even if the Christian school were to win the case in court (which is questionable), the time and expense invested in legal defense could be deadly. What if a student at a Christian school decides to have a same-sex relationship or transition to the opposite sex? Any discipline will likely now be regarded as a form of illegal discrimination. And what of health care plans and physicians who can no longer refuse to pay for or participate in transgender surgeries without running afoul of the ruling? Bostock did not resolve anything; if anything it has intensified an already raging culture war. The courts are sure to be tied up with these kinds of cases for years as Americans seek clarity over just what counts as bigotry under the new ruling.
Some are more hopeful that the courts will act to protect religious liberties, thus minimizing the effect of Bostock. And it is true the Supreme Court has a decent record in this area in recent years. It may be that the scope of the Bostock ruling will be limited, and churches, Christian schools, and other faith-based ministries will be spared from its consistent application (though private businesses owned by Christians will likely not be). But how long will those protections last? Can they resist the acidic onslaught of the sexual revolution? We should not take religious liberty precedents for granted at this point. Just how sturdy will religious-based protections be now that making moral judgments about transgenderism and homosexuality are legally regarded as a form of bigotry in secular culture?
All this to say: The Bostock decision is actually a far more serious threat to Christians at a practical level than the disastrous Obergefell decision from 2015. We need to understand what it means, how we got here, and how we should be responding. At TPC, we have been trying to lay the groundwork for dealing with these sorts of issues for a long time. I have been preaching and writing on these topics for years. The session incorporated a document into the TPC Constitution that defines marriage and our policies related to these sexual issues in 2014 (see page 38f of the Constitution); many other CREC churches have used all or part of our statement to shore up their own congregational policies on these issues. I also authored a Manifesto that deals with homosexuality, transgenderism, and Christian liberty; that document is now serving as the basis for a denominational statement on these issues. I have a number of other articles, essays, and talks that address these topics from pastoral, legal, and cultural perspectives:
- My essay on Obergefell, also relevant to Bostock.
- A shorter, more pastoral treatment of how we should respond to the legalization of gay “marriage."
- An essay on various facets of the sexual revolution.
- An analysis of the “Revoice” (gay Christian) movement, which Kevin Fox helped me put together.
- An assessment of Jesus’ teaching on lust in Matthew 5.
- A talk I gave at a conference earlier this year on why “black fathers matter” and how the combination of the sexual revolution and the welfare state produced our current mess.
- A couple conference talks from the last few years on the culture wars – how Genesis explains them and why they are inescapable.
- Of course, you can also find all my old sermons on family and sexuality in one place on the recently redesigned TPC website.
All that to say, your leadership at TPC takes these issues very seriously. We are not just passively watching our culture go to hell in a hand-basket. We are seeking to speak to these issues. We are bringing them before the Lord in prayer in various venues. We want to teach you, as our congregation, how to think about and counteract these movements that are causing so much damage to our culture. We want you to be able to teach your children about these things. More than anything, we want Jesus to be honored as Lord in all of life and we will continue to contend for his crown rights over our land, just as we seek to bring our own personal lives into submission to his reign.
It is safe to say the Supreme Court has handed down many disastrous decisions in our nation’s history, including wretched opinions such as the Dred Scott case. But in the last 50 years or so, we have seen the Supreme Court undermine the family and a biblical view of sexuality in almost every way. The Supreme Court has given us legalized baby murder (close to 60 million killed since 1973), the disaster of same sex “marriage” which makes an open mockery of God’s design for the family and of chastity, and now a ruling that completely does away with male and female as meaningful categories and forbids us to make moral judgments about homosexuality and transgenderism. The sexual revolution is working itself out to a twisted consistency in our culture. I know we have all watched the recent rioting and looting in horror as lives and property have been destroyed, but these rulings of the highest court in the land over the last generation represent a much more damaging and vicious form of moral anarchy. These ruling are doing far more damage to the people of our nation than a burning building or a ransacked store. You need to educate yourself on what these rulings mean, why they are wrong, and how we can work to subvert them, so that truth, justice, and beauty might prevail. We need to continually pray that God would be merciful to us, not only in forgiving our land of these great abominations (which certainly cry out for his wrath to fall upon us), but that we might be instrumental in healing our land by discipling her people.
What should our strategy be? I do not discount the value of direct political action in the so-called culture war; that kind of work is valuable and has its place. But that kind of activism has not amounted to much in recent years, as our culture continues its slide into sexual darkness and confusion. At TPC, we have always insisted that our most important forms of cultural engagement are liturgical and missional. When we gather for worship, we pray for God to change the world and he answers our cries (though not always on our timetable). In liturgical warfare, we use weapons far more powerful than any tools available to us in the culture war; indeed the enemy has no counter-measure that can match the power of a praying church. But liturgy is not our only response. We also seek to reach the culture by wisely and winsomely preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God — that is, doing both apologetics and evangelism, bringing God’s Word to bear on people's lives and the issues we all face. We seek to serve those in need, to exercise hospitality, to build community, to show the love of Christ to those around us. Proclaiming truth and showing compassion go hand in hand.
But, following a recent article by Kevin DeYoung, I’d like to mention another tactic to employ in our quest to transform the culture: have a lot of kids and raise them up to love and serve the Lord. DeYoung puts it this way:
Here’s a culture war strategy conservative Christians should get behind: have more children and disciple them like crazy. Strongly consider having more children than you think you can handle. You don’t have to be a fertility maximalist to recognize that children are always lauded as a blessing in the Bible…
[I]n the not-too-distant future, the only couples replacing themselves in America will be religious couples. Although there are many good reasons to have a baby, at the end of the day, as Jonathan Last maintains, “there’s only one good reason to go through the trouble a second time: Because you believe, in some sense, that God wants you to.” The basic reason countries stop having children is because they’ve come to see offspring as a liability rather than a source of hope. As Christians, we know better.
Do you want to rebel against the status quo? Do you want people to ask you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15)? Tote your brood of children through Target. There is almost nothing more counter-cultural than having more children. And once we have those children, there is almost nothing more important than catechizing them in the faith, developing their moral framework, and preparing them to be deeply compassionate lovers of God and lovers of people and relentlessly biblical lovers of truth...
I understand that many couples will be unable to have all the children they want to have. We have to allow for God to work in mysterious ways that we would not have planned. And yet, in so far as we are able, let us welcome new life... Presidents and Supreme Court justices will come and go. A child’s soul will last forever.
The future belongs to the fecund. It’s time for happy warriors who seek to “renew the city” and “win the culture war” by investing in their local church, focusing on the family, and bringing the kingdom to bear on the world, one baby at a time.
I would say this is something we are seeking to do at TPC, as evidenced by the number of short folks you see running around on a Sunday. Having children and raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is a political act, indeed, a politically transformative act. Children are arrows in the hands of a warrior (Psalm 127). So take this as an encouragement: We are fighting the cultural battles God is calling us to, as we have children, baptize them, and disciple them. Keep up the good work, and trust God to change the prevailing winds in our culture over time.