Much of the difficulty that social conservatives have had in the twenty-first century in engaging social issues is that we often adopt terminology and concepts invented by the cultural left that incorporates their own desired re-engineering of culture, and their accusations against traditional society. The result is that we are then speaking in a language in which the revolutionary claims of injustice seem plausible, even compelling.
Several important examples should be noted and kept in mind when we speak. One of the most important is the term that came to be widely used as a result of the topic of this writer’s last article, the Romer vs. Evans decision in 1996, namely “gay rights.” This term incorporates within itself the claim that homosexual inclination and behavior is righteous and should be accepted. The word “gay” has likely become commonly used as a more positive term than the older term “homosexual,” which itself is a euphemism for the Biblical term “sodomy” or “sodomite.” But what the Romer decision gave advocates of homosexuality was the legal acceptance of homosexual inclination and behavior as defining a particular group with rights, if only the right to be eligible for a special status in law with no immutable characteristic, explained in my most recent article. Race and sex easily have immutable characteristics; religious affiliation does not but is at least objective (one cannot claim to be Roman Catholic, for instance, if one is not a member of that church). But by making an individual’s personal feelings and behavior something against which there can be no public or private judgment, the state is now able to decree what is right and wrong in our personal lives in a way it could not before.
It might be thought that social conservatives have always endeavored to control and succeeded in controlling law governing personal morality. But conservative regulation of personal life, like the Ten Commandments, was generally negative, saying what a person may not do. In modern times, there has been the American tradition developing out of the Bill of Rights, saying what one may not be forbidden from doing. But the positive rights analyzed by Isaiah Berlin really amount to a requirement that people be affirmed in ways the state thinks is proper, and is thus a denial of true freedom (to act or not to act).
Notice in particular with the term “gay rights,” there seem to be two affirmations that must be rejected by anyone adhering to Biblical faith – namely a (false) claim to neutrality, and a claim that equality depends on acceptance. The law is not neutral about anything on which it speaks. If it has nothing to say about whether I may paint my house green, then it is truly neutral, and I may do as I please. Otherwise, I have to heed what the law says. Also, the very term “rights,” implies “righteous in the eyes of the law.” Individuals may disagree, but the law is not neutral about whether an established right is a good or bad thing. Whatever is declared a right is, ipso facto, good as far as the law is concerned.
And so we do need to avoid the term “gay rights” if at all possible, as it immediately says that any public or private judgment against homosexuality is wrong. As in my last article, it may be necessary to refer to laws or regulations that are interpreted to mandate acceptance of homosexual behavior, but they should be referred to as what they are, sexual orientation or sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws. Too often we hear the term “gay rights,” when what is really meant is homosexuality (the term which should be used), or “women’s rights,” when what is really meant is feminism or particular feminist claims (which should be called what they are). Both homosexually inclined persons and women have full equality before the law without antidiscrimination laws and rules that mandate no adverse public or private judgment, which really mandate an inequality.
Another term to avoid is “gender.” The use of this term to mean sex is now not only common in the wider world (especially in forms and questionnaires), but is not uncommon in speaking, writing, and forms coming from social conservative sources. The only proper use of this word is to refer to grammatical gender (its original meaning), which is the conventional sexual designation assigned to a noun regardless of its real sexual nature. Thus ships and nations refer to things that have no sexual nature, but in English are referred to by feminine pronouns. English for the most part has natural, rather than grammatical gender, with most nouns in fact expressing the sexual nature of the things they refer to, whereas only a few nouns have grammatical gender in English. Other languages, such as French, commonly have nouns that do not reflect the actual sex of their referents. It says much about the advance of gender ideology in society that it might be necessary in giving this explanation to defend it against attacks on the use of such expressions as “sexual nature” and “natural.” To have any common understanding, and to have any scientific knowledge, it is necessary that words refer to objective reality. The fact that this may offend anyone’s pride is simply irrelevant to truthful speaking. The term for the difference between men and women to be used is “sex,” not gender.
This leads to surely the greatest attack on truth via language – transgenderism. Entirely in line with the doctrine of positive freedom to self-actualize and require legal and social support, the Supreme Court’s Casey vs Planned Parenthood ruling that individuals may define their own reality, and the implication of the Romer decision that personal inclinations are due rights, people today claim the right to require social acceptance of self-defined sexuality. As so often happens with revolutions, the objectives and persons it was supposed to liberate end up destroyed or oppressed. The sexual revolution originally appealed to a “right of privacy” – it now destroys privacy in public restrooms. Women are now being disadvantaged because legal protections they once fought for and enjoyed must now be shared with anyone identifying himself as a woman. One can only wonder what will happen when a “transgender” person claims benefits, such as those for health insurance, which are based on human biology. By the logic of gender ideology, they should have the benefits of the preferred sex. Transgenderism really will make the terms “male,” and “female” entirely subjective, and therefore publically meaningless. We should not comply with the falsehoods of the terminology of transgenderism by speaking “transgender men,” or “transgender women.” There are only women who claim to be men, and men who claim to be women.
We can see perhaps better with transgenderism than anything else, although we should be able to see it with homosexual liberation as well, that legal protection of personal inclinations in fact results in a gross inequality. Life and society must finally function by respecting physical reality. But if personal inclination is given priority, then people who claim identities not in keeping with their biological structure and natural reproductive behavior will be favored by the state at the expense of people who continue to accept the sexual identity of their anatomy.
And so antidiscrimination law and policy simply cannot consistently prohibit discrimination against personal behaviors and inclinations. They are not equal in reality, and society cannot function as if they were. If it prohibits adverse judgment against some behaviors, it cannot do so for all. Nor can “harm” be used as a clear and objective criterion in assessing personal inclination and behavior, as in so many cases that is ever arguable.
Freedom is the right to discriminate. It is the right to pick one thing and not another, and there is no freedom if it can be set aside when someone else is pained. That must immediately be said whenever it is claimed that religious or conscience freedom is a “license to discriminate.” Indeed it is a license to discriminate, and should be. We must not shy away from the word “discrimination” when such a claim is made, allowing it to become a magic word for those opposed to religious freedom. We must immediately point out that all antidiscrimination law takes away some freedom; it substitutes the judgment of the state for private judgment.
The real purpose of antidiscrimination rhetoric, and the law and policy that follows from it, is to enable the cultural left to craft a society according to its own sensibilities, attacking whatever it does not like as “discriminatory.” It is the polar opposite of Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson’s decision in the West Virginia vs. Barnette case (1943), finding that Jehovah’s Witness children did not have to recite the pledge of allegiance:
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
But whatever the law requires, Christians are not free to be complicit in sin. Scripture quite clearly condemns not only homosexual acts, but identification with the opposite sex. Now the law is requiring, in some jurisdictions, not only facilitating homosexual behavior, but use of preferred gender pronouns. This too, must not be complied with, as we are to speak the truth in love, as well as not facilitate sin. It may mean penalties and underclass status for the indefinite future. A hard liberal/left regime was seen with the Obama Administration, which will be only a foretaste of what is to come with another Democratic administration paired with a Democratic Congress, which may well happen. But as disciples of Christ, we must always remember that our first duty is to him, not to the state. Whatever the personal cost, it is our duty to obey God in how we speak, and not speak in ways that incorporate falsehoods. Whatever the immediate future holds, we know that God will prevail in the end.