What Pastors Can Do about the Gender Neutral Bathroom Controversy

Sam Rainer

May 15, 2016


Last Thursday the New York Times broke a story that the Obama administration would issue a directive for every public school in the nation allowing bathroom access based on self-identity of gender. It’s a huge story with sweeping consequences.

I don’t often weigh in on political issues. One reason is the purpose of this blog, which is helping leaders in established churches, not bantering on politics. As a pastor, I have people in my congregation with various political views. I’m not afraid to preach issues, but I try not to stir up needless political controversy in my church. However, on this issue, I must speak.

When I was in high school, I played basketball. I identified as a superior player, perhaps six foot eight inches with a slam dunk similar to Vince Carter. In reality, I’m six inches shorter, and my rare dunks looked more like an albatross taking off.

Identity can be detached from reality.

What if a rich person identified as poor and claimed she no longer needed to pay taxes? You might say, “That’s a financial reality. She can’t do that.” But what is the philosophical difference between a financial reality and a biological one?

What if a white person wanted to identify as a black person in order to claim the black experience? It’s already happened, and there was uproar. Rightly so. But what is the philosophical difference between an ethnic reality and a biological one?

What if a young teen wanted to identify as a senior citizen and claim the right to vote prematurely? What’s the philosophical difference between a geriatric reality and a biological one?

What if a dying person wanted to identify as healthy and gain access to life insurance shortly before passing? What’s the philosophical difference between a reality of physical fitness and a biological one of gender?

This identity madness must stop. You don’t get to choose who you are. God made you exactly the way He wants you. And you are beautiful as God made you. You can no more choose your gender identity than you can choose your wealth, ethnicity, age, or health.

So what is a pastor to do? Let me offer some recommendations.

  • Don’t ignore the issue. It’s not going away. Most of your people are paying attention to this issue. It affects everyone. I addressed it from the pulpit on Sunday. Why? It’s a major cultural issue that’s at the front of everyone’s mind. Pastors are called by God to teach their congregations. All churches deserve an answer from their pastors on this issue.
  • Teach with clarity, not nuance. Go right to the heart of the issue and address it biblically and clearly. Don’t hide behind big words or fuzzy nuances. Tell your people exactly what you expect them to believe on this issue. If news reports contain more facts about gender identity than your sermon, then you’re not preaching. You’re dancing.
  • Display a genuine concern for people who identify as transgender. Jesus loves them, and so should you. Crude jokes and snarky sermon soundbites won’t solve the problem. We should care for anyone struggling with gender identity issues. You can put a stake in the ground on this issue while at the same time exhibiting love for hurting and confused people. Truth and love are two sides of the same coin. God’s truth compels us to love others. And to love others, you don’t have to compromise the truth.
  • Give practical advice. The theological foundation is important, but your people likely want to know what to do. I’ve counseled transgender people, as well as their family members. I’m sure I will have many questions from church members if public schools in our community abide by the Obama administration’s directives. Both truth and love require action. You need to help people take practical next steps.
  • Don’t make unnecessary enemies. Stay focused on the gospel. We’re not fighting against flesh and blood. Your neighbor is not your enemy, even the transgender one.

Our culture is changing at an incredibly fast pace. Like a machine running at full capacity 24/7, we can’t keep moving this fast without lots of things breaking. And by “things,” I mean actual people. Broken people need the gospel. We’ve got work to do. The mission of God doesn’t advance by bellyaching.


49 comments on “What Pastors Can Do about the Gender Neutral Bathroom Controversy”

  1. Ron says:

    Nice going, Sam. Interesting approach to the bathroom controversy.
    Maybe I should self identify as a talented and famous novelist?

  2. Jeff Godsey says:

    Very well said. This, like many other issues, need input from the pulpit.

  3. david says:

    Thanks Sam, as I have recently embarked upon a full-time evangelism ministry, DavidBurtonMinistries, I am before many more pastors, lay leaders and churches than earlier when I served on staff with the Florida Baptist convention as state evangelism director. I remember welcoming you into our state. We are honored you’re here. Thank you for the insightful thoughts that you just shared. They will assist me in continuing to discuss this matter with others as I crisscross the nation. Blessings and keep bragging on Jesus!

  4. John May says:

    That is excellent advice not only for pastors, but for anyone in general. Thanks for your perspective.

  5. Roberta Simpson Jones says:

    Yes, yes! Truth and love are two sides of the same coin. Thanks for your help, about an issue that puzzles us all. May we all grasp opportunities, within this situation, to love and to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Thank you, Roberta!

  6. “Jesus loves them, and so should you. Crude jokes and snarky sermon soundbites won’t solve the problem.”
    I appreciate your heart toward this issue, excellent advice for all church members.

  7. Marty laszaic says:

    I would like thank you for bringing up important issues like this so people can have a better understanding from God’s word. Thank you again Marty.

  8. Jim Crosley says:

    I’m thinking on preaching on this subject, perhaps even in this week. Do you have a link to this message?

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Jim, all our messages are found at WestBradenton.org/messages. The message will be posed some time this week. Thanks!

      1. Jim Crosley says:

        Thank you. I’ll be looking for it to be posted on the website.

  9. I agree wholeheartedly

    I believe that at the root of the gender identity confusion is an unwillingness to accept God’s decisions, even about something as basic as human sexuality.


  10. Sam… Good thoughts!! Can you share what you would view as “practical steps” if and when our local schools choose to obey the Obama directive?

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Timothy – Excellent question. My wife and I sending our first grader to public school next year, and our school system here works on a case-by-case basis with those who identify as transgender. For right now, we don’t have to worry about lots of boys in the girls locker room. If that time were to come I would 1) talk with the school administration about their next steps to see if we can work out something. If that was not possible, then I would 2) consider a private school option. Obviously there are 3) home school options as well. Some Christian families 4) may choose the remain in the school system as missionaries no matter what happens. It’s early right now, and we don’t know how many school systems will respond long-term. Other options will be available in the future, I’m sure.

      1. Thanks Sam! Excellent ideas and balance of “truth and love” for our parents.

  11. Brandon says:

    Today I’m self identifying as a professional builder…guess I’ll get back to work on my storage shed…

  12. Dixon murrah says:

    The American College of Pediatricians transgender ideology study found it to be very harmful to children.

    1. Rainah Ness says:

      Do you have information to help one access this report? When I did a search, the initial links were from liberals who were lambasting this report (of course). I’d rather not wade through their tirades to find that the report isn’t even online…. Help?

  13. Travis Tyler says:

    Wait so does this mean that your new nickname can be the “albatros”?

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Call me whatever you like…

  14. Annie Nelson says:

    I am so glad that you speak about topics like this from the pulpit. We need more pastors like you that aren’t scared to talk about uncomfortable issues and link them to the scriptures in guidance. I wish that I had a pastor like you when I was young to help with my “growing up” and youthful decision making. I am truly blessed that I get the opportunity to listen to you every Sunday and increase my awareness and spiritual growth. Thank you for all that you do!! Most of all, thank you for your dedication and love to Jesus Christ.

  15. Candace A Lazzaro says:

    I hope that you remember that when you invite transsexuals into your church that there might be a hurting family behind him as well. I strongly believe we need to love the sinner be he or she a transsexual or whatever. However, there might also be a wife (or husband) and children who are left bewildered, frightened and suffering as well. I don’t know about the womentoman who do this, but I run a ministry for wives and x-wives of transsexuals and I’ve heard (and have lived) some pretty painful story from wives.

  16. Bob Patterson says:

    This is really excellent! Thank you for sharing it!

    I wonder if you can entertain the following scenario in a future blog post – I’d be really interested in hearing your thoughts. What is a pastor to do when someone who has already gone through gender reassignment surgery comes to your church and wants to join? This may sound like a hypothetical, but it’s not. I know a pastor in NYC who had this happen to him. His was a Christ-like response of stating that God loves all, and that they would welcome any believer into their fellowship who was saved and Scripturally baptized by immersion, regardless of what may have happened in the past. (even if the past included gender reassignment surgery)

  17. Chuck says:

    When addressing tough issues we like to do that in a teaching environment where people can ask questions and get their questions answered. I’ve found preaching it is just a one way conversation. I want our preaching platform to be about proclaiming the gospel. I do believe we need environments for teaching on these topics. When we make hot issues like this our preaching platform, we may get 80% of the people there saying Amen, but the the other 20% are saying,”I knew this was a judgemental and hateful church.” All because we are making issues like this our preaching platform. I’m just saying we need other environments to teach Biblical truth where people can dialogue and grapple with God’s Word.

    1. Deb says:

      Amen! Unfortunately, my church does not do much teaching outside the norm of evangelism.

    2. AMP says:

      Seems the only thing holding the church together these days is a common bond in clearly identifying that LGBTQ is sinful. All held together by the famous scripture: “love the sinner; hate the sin!”. I’m glad we are putting a lot of energy into this message because it is being heard far and wide and our parishioners can recite it by heart. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our….hating of the sin.

  18. Rainah Ness says:

    All so well put. Earlier this week, in other active dialogue, it was asserted that many in the transgender community are not simply denying reality *in order to gain something* (such as claiming to be black to enter into the black experience, or claiming to be older for whatever purposes), but that many transgenders are struggling with seeing their reality in much the same way as bolemics. Bolemics look in the mirror and *see* a fat person. In the same way, it was asserted that some transgenders *see* a person who is not in that mirror. — That said, I personally do believe that this can arise in their lives because of covetousness – perhaps because of an abuse or neglect that impacted them, perhaps not…., but that they need help changing their thinking (e.g. – what Caroline Leaf teaches – which is in line with Biblical teaching on ‘renewing the mind’). Some time back, I heard about a young boy who thought of himself as a girl. He was taken to counseling, and it came out that he felt less attention heading his way in his family whenever his sister’s hair was being brushed. After the family realized the issue at hand, family members focused more attention on the son and affirmed him *as a person*. That took care of his struggles with identifying with reality.

  19. Jim Bob says:

    You left out a question. What if a pastor minded his/her own business in the restroom?

    1. AMP says:

      Bob – there are no “her” pastors.

  20. Sam,
    While identity can be separate from reality, sometimes self-report is the only way for a person to reveal something true about themselves. For example, doctors don’t have a clear way to identity whether someone is in pain until that person tells them. It doesn’t make that person’s pain less real …

    So what about gender? Pediatricians know that there are many disorders of sexual development, where the body/brain does not develop as fully male or female (e.g. AIS, CAS). In no way do we as a church have to get rid of the important concepts of male and female to acknowledge that we live in a disordered world. You mention a number of rightly absurd examples, and in the same manner, we don’t have to acknowledge that gender is a choice. On the other hand, those people who experience gender dysphoria may truly be experiencing disordered sexual development. Why not take the side of grace in an area where so much is still unknown? Yes, we may disagree with many who fall under the broadening transgender umbrella, but we are also making black and white something which is many cases is gray.

    1. Rainah Ness says:

      Well said. When I was in college, the homosexual men were starting to come out of the college in the music department. It was a tragic period of time for them. They came out, and then they came up with AIDS. I in no way made excuses for sin. They knew that I disagreed with them. They were known to encourage each other not to wrestle in front of me, since that had sexual inuendos for them, etc. (which I felt indicated respect). They knew I hung out with the Baptists and Methodists on campus, and that I did not hang with them for obvious reasons. But we had a good working relationship – even admiration societies in areas of work. Through that period of time, and the years following, I came to the strong conclusion that various people do incline towards one type of sin or another – and for various reasons. Some towards self-righteous-effort (one usually has to be a pretty together person, neurologically speaking, to lean in this direction), some towards thievery (this requires street smarts, which some are better at than others), some towards lying (you have to be pretty bright to get away with this over time….., at least for a while anyway), and etc. I believe it is the same with sexual divergencies. The point, in the end, is not their honesty or dishonesty with themselves, but their reliance upon God for truth, grace, mercy, redemption, hope, fulfillment, and on and on…….. If we ask them to be dishonest with themselves, they will be in a state of bewilderment (just ask Dennis Jernigan). Only the truth sets us free. If anyone experiences what Teresa here as referenced as ‘dysphoria’, the last thing they need is to be shamed *for the temptation/confusion*. No one sins simply because they are tempted, period. And we are all tempted one way or another. And we have all fallen in one way or another. But there is only one solution for the problem……. for all of us.

      1. Rainah Ness says:

        oops – didn’t proofread…. when the gay men began coming out of the closet… that is…. (of course…..)

      2. Giovan King says:

        As a clergyperson, Rainah, I have to say that I am grieved to hear you so confused about this issue. I don’t expect to change your mind, but I do acknowledge that there are so many things that are God’s domain, not ours. Calling a transgendered person a sinner simply because he or she is transgendered is stepping full on into God’s domain. Let God handle this, ok?

  21. David says:

    Sam, I appreciate your blog title. I even like the points that you made. What I am missing is the meat of this issue. What did you say to your church? How do you recommend parents talk about this matter? I am not being snarky. I really would like to read your thoughts on the matter.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      David, you can listen to the message at westbradenton.org/messages Thanks!

  22. Dale Simmons says:

    Thanks Sam. Well said.

  23. Smartcare says:

    Great advice! I totally agree with you!

  24. TJ Conwell says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with your approach and advice to others. thank you so much for being faithful and willing to share.

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