CNN reporter Devan Cole created a stir last week when he said, “It’s not possible to know a person’s gender identity at birth, and there is no consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth.” If there's any confusion in determining male or female at birth, aside from any genetic defect, one's sensory faculties must either be seriously deficient or there's a lack of courage to state the obvious.
Welcome to the post-truth culture.
When people who are charged with telling the truth, otherwise known as journalists, boldly assert that gender is unidentifiable at birth (it's actually knowable at around week 10 in utero via noninvasive prenatal testing screening), we are in bigger trouble than we realize. But journalists aren't the only ones supposed to tell the truth. So are pastors, of which there are approximately 6000 in Kentucky. Yet when it comes to questions of truth and human identity, including gender identity, their voices have become marginalized in the public square.
Some 2,700 years ago, the prophet Isaiah gave a glimpse of society where truth stumbles in public. "Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey" (Isaiah 59:14-15).
Who knew that cancel culture is that old?
It's clear that our cultural ethos is dramatically shifting. But truth doesn't shift on its own. Nor does it shift simply because pastors' voices aren't welcomed or heeded in the public arena. Truth is chiseled away one word, one court ruling, one journalist's opinion at a time. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court redefined marriage by removing the opposite-sex requirement. In 2020, the Court expanded the categorical definition of biological sex to include the term sexual orientation or gender identity for civil rights purposes.
Now we're on the cusp of embracing the idea that gender is self-defined, an essential human right protected by law. President Biden's Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, and the Equality Act recently passed in February by the U.S. House of Representatives, elevates homosexual and transgender identity to protected status. Such actions makes one wonder if something of an idol of self is in the works.
A 21st century American idol may not be gold and silver deities found in Isaiah's time but are often fashioned in the mind, girded up by intellectual hubris, and occasionally receive Congress’ stamp of approval. When people turn from the living God, they turn away from the source of unchangeable and objective truth. The Psalmist warned the Israelites about the folly of turning from truth and devoting themselves to idols. Those who worship them, become like them—mouths that don't speak, eyes that don't see, ears that don't hear, noses that don't smell, and hands that don't feel. (Psalm 115:5-8) In other words, people ensnared in idol worship become something less than human.
The consequences for any society embracing such falsehood looms large. Girls' athletics competitions will be crowded out by boys who identify as girls. Women's-only spaces that afford privacy and safety will be opened to men identifying as women. Public ministries, including foster care, adoption agencies, and women's shelters, will be forced to align their values with the novel understanding of gender identity. Religious professionals, including therapists, counselors, and healthcare workers, will face a crisis of conscience if they're forced to facilitate gender transition therapy. Redefining truth to conform to individual desire impacts everyone, including those committed to walking in the truth.
Our cultural moment demands that people committed to the truth engage the public realm. This means pastors should teach from the pulpit the doctrine of the Imago Dei and related biological and sociological realities. It means people in the pews embracing orthodoxy and walking it out in public. It will undoubtedly be uncomfortable and difficult for many, but what will be more uncomfortable is to allow our neighbors and co-workers to hurt themselves because they embraced a fiction.
Richard Nelson is the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center.