Molech, Transgender Children, and the Idol of Politics

The Hebrew Bible does not mince words about the worship of Molech. Per Leviticus, anybody in the land of Israel who gave their children to Molech was to be put to death; not only that, God would “set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people.” In fact, two chapters earlier we read that one reason God expelled the Cananites from their land was because the Cananites let their children “pass through the fire to Molech.” Leviticus 18 makes clear that the expulsion is not just in the past tense; if the Israelites offer their children to Molech, they too will be spewed out of the land and cut off from God.

So who was Molech? According to the notes in my Jewish Study Bible, Molech was the Hebrew name for a Near Eastern god associated with the netherworld. Biblical tradition is uniform that worshiping Molech involved the sacrifice of children. Milton paints a devastating picture of Molech, an abomination and “horrid King besmear’d with blood/Of human sacrifice, and parents tears,/Though for the noyse of Drums and Timbrels loud/Thir childrens cries unheard, that past through fire/To his grim Idol.”

Today, of course, we don’t literally kill our children to worship various deities. But also, we don’t limit our reading of scripture to the narrowest, most literal interpretation possible. Famously, Pres. Kimball virtually canonized[fn1] the idea that the biblical injunction against idolatry isn’t merely an injunction against worshiping gods other than God. Rather, “[w]hatever thing a man sets his heart and his trust in most is his god; and if his god doesn’t also happen to be the true and living God of Israel, that man is laboring in idolatry.” He expressly points to the wealth we have accumulated as our new false god.

Taking Pres. Kimball seriously, I want to stake a claim that some subset of us have made our politics our false god. And recently, specifically, we’ve made our politics into a Molech who demands that we sacrifice our children.

Yesterday, the Utah legislature overrode Governor Cox’s veto of HB11, a bill the prohibits Utah public schools from allowing or competing with schools that allow transgender girls to play on interscholastic girls’ teams.

In his veto statement, Gov. Cox pointed out that of the 75,000 high school athletes in Utah, four were transgender and only one was playing girls sports. Meanwhile, 86% of transgender children report suicidality and more than half have attempted suicide.

So the Utah legislature solved a problem that doesn’t exist by eliminating a problem that does. It’s not my purpose here to go into the substance of why this is terrible from a policy perspective, though. My goal is to underscore that this is terrible from a religious, and from a Mormon, perspective.

Because high school sports are not primarily about winning. The Utah High School Activities Association recognizes that interscholastic sports are meant to, among other things,

• Create learning laboratories where practical life situations, teamwork, sportsmanship, winning and losing, hard work, leadership and cooperation are taught.
• Nurture self-realization and build self-confidence.
• Promote, through participation, higher academic achievement, better attendance, lower drop-out rates and positive citizenship.

Transgender children benefit as much as cisgender children from the goals of interscholastic sport. They need that comradery, that self-confidence, and that feeling of inclusion and competition. In fact, based on the fact that even today transgender individuals are marginalized, that even today politicians are willing to treat them not as people but as political props,[fn2] suggests that they need these opportunities and benefits more than other children (who, to be clear, also need them).

And don’t get me wrong: I’m (pretty) sure not every member of the Utah legislature is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I know for a fact that some LDS legislators–both Democrat and Republican–voted against the override.

But a significant majority were willing to demonize and actively harm a group of children to further their, or their constituents’, political preferences. And if that’s not figuratively passing our children through the fire to Molech, I don’t know what is.

And I understand that the church itself is unwelcoming—and at times hostile—toward transgender members. But bans on transgender children playing interscholastic sports strikes me as incompatible with official church policy, which demands that we welcome transgender individuals and treat them “with sensitivity, kindness, compassion, and an abundance of Christlike love.”[fn3]

So what if we stop sacrificing our children to the Molech of our politics and instead we love, embrace, and welcome them, we allow them to nurture their talents, and most importantly, we recognize their inherent worth as people and as children of God?

[fn1] Yes, I know that “The False Gods We Worship” isn’t technically canon. But it’s been massively influential during the almost 46 years since he delivered it, so I’m comfortable with my minor exaggeration.

[fn2] Transgender children have become political props throughout the country. I didn’t even mention the Idaho legislature’s move to criminalize gender-affirming care. And while Idaho is less Mormon than Utah, I’ve been told that somewhere around 1/3 of its legislators are, themselves, Mormon.

[fn3] Again, you don’t have to tell me that this statement is often more aspirational than it is descriptive. And as a church we need to live up to our aspirations better than we do.

Picture from Patrick Gray. CC BY 2.0


  1. Michael Austin says:

    Great post. I’m just stopping by to drop in this clip from the 1927 silent film, Metropolis, which should always be the starting point for discussions involving Molech:

  2. Thanks, Mike. I’m officially incorporating the clip into the body of the OP by reference!

  3. hurstme1990 says:

    The Eagle Forum has WAY too much influence on our legislators and other elected officials. As long as we elect people who think they have to bend to the far, far right wing of our population, we will continue to have these kinds of decisions.

  4. Important post. Thanks, Sam. Maybe I’ll be surprised, but I expect the comments to turn into yet another referendum on the trans athlete question, deftly avoiding your even larger politics as a false god argument.

  5. Thanks Chris. I hope people don’t try to derail the conversation in that direction because, while that is a conversation that could be had, it’s not this conversation.

  6. Glenn davis says:

    AmeriKa with its draft worshipped moloch

  7. ChicagoLDS says:

    Wut? Preserving fair competition in sports is not “demonizing” anyone. You are just trying to tailgate/fit in with progressive politics. Are you familiar with the 2000+ year old Chinese story about “deer is a horse”? C’mon.

  8. Kimball’s talk was delivered while he was the President of the Church, not some mere apostle. That may not be canon, but it’s something in our church.

  9. ChicagoLDS, to be clear, you’re making a straw argument, but one that’s outside the scope of this post. (If you’re interested, though, this op-ed explains several of the reasons that the moral panic over transgender athletes is not based in substance.)

    But let’s assume you’re right and that transgender high school athletes have a competitive advantage (and again, they don’t): so what? Jesus didn’t demand that we have a fair and even playing field. In fact, He expressly called out that kind of thinking.

    If we’re required to choose between a level playing field and generosity and love, the choice we’re commanded to make isn’t even remotely ambiguous. The command that we love our neighbor, the command that we not sacrifice our children to today’s Molech, couldn’t be clearer. And it’s deeply disappointing that people are willing to demonize and sacrifice any of our children to the idol of political outrage.

  10. A Poor Wayfaring Stranger says:

    I am a believer in the idea of a final “life review” (the term “final judgment” smacks of a “Did you faithfully play by ALL of our particular set of rules?” mindset with its corresponding severe condemnation and punishment of everyone who isn’t 100% super orthodox) where we will have to answer for the way that we lived our lives. If God is the loving parent we speak of Him as being surely He will be more interested in our relationships that we had with others during this life. Imagine if at this final review people were asked not about how many times they went to the temple or if they paid a full tithe but instead were asked about the way they spoke of and treated others who are/were extremely different than themselves and their family, social and church groups that held/hold sway over them. What if God or Jesus asked us how we treated the LGBTQ+ community. the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, the victims of abuse, people not of our race, socioeconomic status or faith, etc.?

    The legislators who passed a law for a non-problem (allowing trans HS girls to participate in HS sports programs in Utah) and then overrode the governor’s veto (which was refreshing to see) will have to answer for their vote to God at some time or another. Their names and votes will also be on public record for all to see. Of course these lawmakers and the Eagle Forum think that they are pleasing God by passing such Draconian laws. They and the parents and school district administrators who have supported this bill honestly think that they are the self-appointed guardians of purity. However, being a self-designated purity guardian who overtly or covertly goes about naming, shaming and punishing “the others” by whatever horrible means is NOT the same thing as being a true disciple of Christ. Over and over in scriptures Jesus tells us that we are to love all people and leave the judgment to God. He hung out with and demonstrated His love for the least, last and lost members of his society, and that’s what got him in trouble with both the secular and religious authorities of his day and place. The same thing is happening now. Let us learn a sad lesson from this terrible debacle and vow that we will choose to follow the Savior’s example to extend love, dignity and respect to everyone that we meet as well as to stand up for marginalized people and groups that need our support.

  11. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    For those of us who are attempting to moderate* the fringes, it gets a lot more complicated when data is distorted, religious undertones are woven in, and opponents are made out to be villains.

    You can find a reference to <> being modern agents of Molech in 30 seconds of Googling any of the following:
    -Medicaid funding
    -embryonic research
    -gun violence
    -drug legalization
    -climate change
    -not adequately shutting down during COVID
    -not adequately opening up during COVID

    Is there a way to present your narrative in a way that doesn’t demonize your opposition, magnify harms, and increase the rhetorical temperature — or is that solely from the playbook of red-state legislatures?

    *I recognize and concede the point that militant moderates are a contradiction in terms, and it can be difficult to distinguish them from the complacent or inert.

  12. Larry the Cable Guy
    How is this for a way to present this? Is this “moderate” enough?

    This swath of anti-trans legislation will lead to many trans-gender children dying across our nation who otherwise would not have. Many of these sweet kids will suffer, not because they can’t play sports, but because they are being targeted as a further marginalized problem, threat, anomaly, something different than a part of the community by the fact of how they are seen. Why do we have to be moderate when we talk about being kind to children and protecting them from harm? Having grown up closeted trans, I was terrified that someone would see me or know about me, because I felt I would be cast out from my world and my family and or even my heaven. I almost killed myself twice, and worse than that spent decades feeling like I was an empty shell, not really living at all. These bills solve no real problem and make some very real problems worse.
    The bills that actually outlaw effective and compassionate medical care for children are even more cruel, but at the very least, the passage of this particular law will stop one transgender child in Utah from participating in sports, but it will make ALL transgender children feel less welcome and will make all of them more vulnerable. And to what purpose? Sam is right- simply for crass political gain.
    You are right in some ways, we don’t need to mention Molech to demonize these legislators, their actions simply do that all by themselves.

  13. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    Lona, your voice of lived experience is far more meaningful than anything that I might add to this discussion.

    May I point out why — perhaps to my ears only — your message, along with Sam’s, can seem like another hyperbolic volley in the culture wars?

    In matters of LGBTQ+ policy discussion, I think it’s likely a very rare thing for you to use a tone that suggests something like, “there’s not that many of them anyway.”

    When combined with the imagery of these teens lined up at the suicidal cliff, just waiting for a legislative push to send them over, it strikes me that perhaps you have overinflated your point of view, and dialed down anything credible your opponents might have to say.

    Talking past each other is too easily done these days. This is certainly a discussion we need to continue, and I don’t need to be catered to, but there are lot of people waiting for a message that is not simply the preaching of one point of view to its own choir.

  14. Larry, I am absolutely not a fan of the hyperbolic invocation of suicide. In this case, though, there’s nothing hyperbolic about it. According to Gov. Cox, 86% of transgender youth have reported thinking about suicide, while 56% have attempted it. For teenagers overall, those numbers are more in the 17 and 7 percent rates respectively. So we’re talking five to eight times the incidence among trans kids.

    Like Lona said, this type of legislation (especially in the context of a wave of anti-trans legislation) isn’t just about preventing trans athletes from competing (though it very much is about that too). It’s about telling trans teens that they’re not welcome. It’s invoking the power of the state to hurt the least powerful among us. And it is not hyperbolic or extreme to say that the powerful using their power to harm the vulnerable is evil.

  15. Larry,
    yes, let’s try to gaslight and minimize the seriousness of suicidality for trans youth, that will be fun.
    The hyperbole, and the misinformation, and the cynical weaponization of a vulnerable group is all on the other side from my perspective. Suicidality is totally a reality among transgender youths in the best of circumstances, these bills will (and have) made it worse. Arkansas experience shows this to be true. Five kids attempted suicide the day after Arkansas legislature overrode the veto on a law blocking gender affirming care. Does that constitute too many or too little to imply we are overstating the danger?

    In my state, Alabama, the senator that sponsored the bill that bans gender affirming care for youth admitted that he had never spoken to a transgender person in his life before writing the bill. It seeks to criminalize not only medical care for trans youth, but even counseling even if it has a smidgeon of gender affirmation in it. If a kid can’t even talk to a counselor honestly about what is going on with them, what kind of world are we creating? This bill will potentially effect over 150 current patients and their families from three states.

    Again, is that too many, too little for us to take notice? Too make such profound reaching laws with such ill-informed experience is cynical, cruel, and dare I say it, hyperbolic. If anything we are not saying or doing enough to protect these kids.
    I sometimes think it is those who try to take comfort in “moderation” who are the biggest problem. Those who try to salve their conscience by saying they are trying to build bridges are our biggest challenge in protecting these kids. So-called moderates, are the ones who could make a difference if they would just commit to a path of clear love and kindness based on clear evidence of what these kids need.
    And the LDS church? well they could have influenced these bills in Utah for the better in a heartbeat if they had encouraged people to legislate in a way that promotes “sensitivity, kindness, compassion, and an abundance of Christlike love.” Instead they are shutting down voice clinics at BYU. If you are not willing to take care of the one, then you don’t really care about the other 99 in the flock either. You are playing politics (see OP). The church is going to have to face what they have done on this some day, but they will not likely do that willingly since they even make it a point of absurd honor to not even apologize about prior racist exclusionary policies.
    I feel congruence with MLK’s comment: “Shallow understanding from people of good will, is more frustrating that absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” Especially when it comes to children.

  16. The actions of the Utah legislature that spark the OP, overriding the governor’s veto and enacting HB11 in the first place, appear to be entirely political which energizes the “politics as a false god” OP. But if that’s too subtle or too easily avoided, I’d like to affirm that athletics or sport is also a false god, as is college scholarships and even education. Valuable and generally positive goods in the world, but not on the scale of loving God and likewise loving our neighbors.

  17. I must admit that this is the most persuasive thing I’ve read in favor of allowing transgender girls competing in girls sports, but I don’t think I’m fully persuaded yet.
    The ban’s preventing transgender children from receiving medical care are wrong. I don’t believe that rapists are cross-dressing and going into women’s bathrooms. I also don’t believe that boys are pretending to be transgender just to place better in sports. But I also feel like the purpose of separating girls teams from boys teams, was to give girls a chance to compete against just girls in the first place. Could you sympathize with a girl who lost to a transgirl – either by not making the team, or in competition – and them thinking that the transgirl shouldn’t have been there in the first place? How justified is that?

  18. jadeer3rd, I’m not trying to make an affirmative athletic case here (though there is an affirmative athletic case to be made). What I’m saying (that Chris said quite nicely) is that even if it were unfair (and again, seriously, there isn’t a way of transgender girls hoovering up all of the awards in sport anywhere), our religious obligation to love our neighbor makes laws like this both wrong and immoral.

  19. But to your point: I always sympathize with kids who don’t win. It’s hard! My daughters are incredible competitive rock climbers. But one is on the short side for her age. That means that sometimes, in spite of her skill—and in spite of her being an objectively better climber—she loses to another girl her same age with a couple more inches of height and wingspan. And it’s frustrating! But it is what it is.

    It’s also worth noting that it’s not like transgender kids are choosing to compete unfairly. My daughters had a transgender teammate. He practiced with the team but never went to a competition because he didn’t want to compete unfairly (and I note that he identified as male). He could have competed but, for personal reasons he discussed with his coach, decided not to.

    Maybe it would be a tighter question where transgender kids weren’t already marginalized to an exponential degree? But in the world we live in, the difference between a cisgender girl who loses one spot and a transgender girl who is excluded from competing at all is compelling.

  20. I like your perspective on Jader’s question, Sam. Also, if we lived in a world where a transgender status were just accepted as another relatively rare human condition, instead of a big scary “otherness,” then perhaps parents and society could more openly recognize and help transgender kids at early ages, so that when they are in their early teens they can be put on reversible puberty blockers, and if they persist in their transgender identity, they can then be transitioned to hormones in later adolescence, all in the context of thorough and open accepted (by every major medical and mental health professional society) counseling and practice. Transgender girls who have gone through this process have no discernible advantage over cisgender girls. Ironically, the same contingents who are legislating against trans participation, are also legislating against the treatments and attitudes that would decrease the sports participation conundrum in the first place. In the words of Ruby Thewes from “Cold Mountain”: “they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say “S**t, it’s rainin’!”.

  21. and Sam, I also liked your use of the word “hoovering.” :)

  22. During the Utah legislative session, there were inclusive discussions about a law on transgender athletes in high schools. Those discussions had produced a framework that would address the question with some degree of nuance. It would have been a starting point for a system that could be developed and refined. In the last hours of the session, proponents of a crude ban cast aside that framework and pushed their hastily drafted bill through the legislature without hearings and with minimal debate. As the governor wrote in his veto message, the bill that passed was “a complete reversal of every discussion, public or private.” It was a brutal exercise of political force.

    Those who passed the bill had it easily within their grasp to make a law that could be a step toward understanding and cooperation, but they chose not to. What mattered to them was the political display in sending the message that they have no patience and no place for trans people.

  23. That is one of the saddest tings I have heard Loursat

  24. Thanks Lona. And I agree—standing alone this law is bad but that it replaced something that was nuanced and thoughtful makes it even more terrible.

  25. I live in Utah and I wrote both my Representative and Senator and asked them NOT to override Cox’s veto. One of them even wrote me back and thanked me for expressing my opinion. Both of them voted to override. I’m disappointed but not surprised.

  26. There are two ways to interpret the fact that this bill only affects a handful of people. The first is the way Sam looked at it. The second is to recognize that this is a problem that can be confronted now, when it affects so few people, or later, when it could affect many more.

    This legislation is problematic in the details, but demonizing its proponents as merely transphobic heathens isn’t really helpful.

  27. Hey Dsc, two quick things:

    First, I’m not demonizing the legislation’s proponents as “merely transphobic heathens.” It’s actually worse: I’m demonizing them as transphobic professing Mormons and Christians. I don’t know what would constitute a heathen and I don’t know what their obligation to love their neighbor and to care for the weak and oppressed are. But I do know what our obligations look like.

    Second, as Loursat pointed out, this wasn’t a proactive attempt to remedy a problem that doesn’t yet exist but might in the future. This was 100% a performative piece of legislation meant to pander to the base irrespective of who it hurt. And you’ll have to forgive me for this, but I don’t believe that powerful people who hoard that power by hurting the weak deserve any benefit of the doubt. The powerful have a religious obligation to protect and care for the weak and the marginalized and this is not that.

  28. Kristine says:

    Thanks, Sam, for articulating this with such moral clarity, and Chris and Lona for important extensions/amplifications.

  29. John Mansifeld says:

    This is one of those Isaiah 5:20 situations where two parties decry idolatry but disagree as to what is idolatry. Spencer Kimball, in the piece which Prof. Bronson linked and wrote that he takes seriously, included “homosexuality, and all other abuses of the sacred power to create” among those things “[t]he Brethren constantly cry out against” which are “intolerable in the sight of the Lord:” Some view encouraging youth to adopt a “gender” at variance with their sex and to modify their bodies through pharmaceutical and surgical means to be very much like the idolatry of Molech, but others think keeping Bernice from bobbing is the Molech-like abuse.

  30. John Mansfield, that’s way too close to the “better dead than” phrases that are a problematic-to-the-point-of-abusive traditional Mormon talk. I won’t let it go uncommented, uncriticized. No.

  31. John Mansfield says:

    No, Christian Kimball, you pulled out “better off dead” from your perceived rhetorical needs (a common practice), not from anything I wrote or thought.

  32. Roger Hansen says:

    For me the issue is much bigger. Most Utah Mormons (including GA’s) are Republican. And the majority probably voted for Trump. Much of what the Church preaches is aligned with Republican and conservative Christian thinking. My values are not in agreement with either the current Republican thinking or Trumpism.

    For the Utah Senate to overturn the Governor’s veto is deeply troubling. For the Church to not fight against the trans legislation shows a lack of Christian empathy. In fact, through its actions, the leadership signaled that this type of discrimination is okay.

  33. John, I’m going to confess to not being smart enough to understand your allusion.

    I am smart enough, though, to understand that the Utah legislature scapegoated a group of children for a wrong they’re not committing and told those children that they are unwelcome in Utah society. They not only did it without nuance, thought, or compassion, but they deliberately did it without any of those things. There was no pressing need for the legislation and they ignored and discarded legislation that had been put together in conversation with various interested parties in favor of a blanket ban on transgender children’s participation in interscholastic sports. And that they did it in the service of the idol of power.

  34. This is what a federal democracy looks like. Only people who live in Utah should be concerned with what the State legislature does. If the majority of the citizens don’t like what their representatives do they will be voted out. But maybe the citizens of Utah know their reps better than activists from out of state.

  35. To Marks l’s point, this is Exhibit A of why I don’t live in Utah.

    But regardless of me not living there, my concern for the transgender community extends beyond my state’s borders. So be it.

    Since my oldest is in high school sports, I asked her thoughts on this. She astutely noted that there is more to sports than winning, that any stellar athlete would probably still receive multiple scholarship offers notwithstanding a potential loss on their record, and that she [my daughter] would have no problem playing on a team, or against a team, with a transgender teammate/competitor.

    My hunch is that most high school age female athletes would come to a similar conclusion as my daughter, though I don’t have the data to back that up. As noted in the OP and the comments, it’s disingenuous for the Utah legislator to pretend to care about the kids. They don’t. This isn’t about the kids.

    Kudos to Cox for doing the right thing.

  36. Thanks for writing this. I’m so bummed about my small-government-except-when-it-wants-to-meddle-in-kids-sports state right now and so many fellow Christians who seem to think that winning at sports is more important than trans lives. (Even if it were, which is not, that is so not even actually an issue.)

    Kids just want to belong. Imagine your state legislature telling you that you don’t.

  37. Actually, @Mark, we can care about the lives of trans people even if we don’t live in the same state and we can be frustrated when our co-religionists aren’t acting like Jesus.

    And not sure if you live in Utah but thanks to gerrymandering, our legislature is far more conservative than the general population and we can’t actually vote them out.

    But I digress. Back to the point of the post, which was not about democracy but about the fact that a bunch of Mormons who’ve never met a trans person think high school sports matter more than trans kids. And that’s immoral whether it’s democratically legislated or not.

    That’s not what Jesus would do.

  38. There is no blanket ban on transgender children participating in interscholastic sports. They are free to participate in the sport based on their sex–boys on boys’ teams and girls on girls’ teams.

  39. Stephen Hardy says:

    Good view way up there on that horse, Mark?

  40. Mark I, when your viewpoint contradicts reality (see the multiple references in this thread as to why marginalizing and not believing trans kids about their identity is dangerous), you malign people on non-substantive points, like where they live.

  41. @John Mansifeld: “Some view encouraging youth to adopt a “gender” at variance with their sex and to modify their bodies through pharmaceutical and surgical means to be very much like the idolatry of Molech, but others think keeping Bernice from bobbing is the Molech-like abuse.”
    Which part of the biology is most important, the outer bits, or the identity in the brain?
    When the two are incongruent, transgender people suffer, they have high suicide attempt rates.
    Which is easier to change, the outer bits and presentation, or the brain?
    Changing the outer bits through surgical and pharmaceutical methods results in a decrease in dysphoria and self harm and better well-being and happiness for trans-folk. this is supported by the best evidence and experience brought together in every major medical and mental health professional organization.
    Trying to change the brain, is known as conversion therapy, and it (a) does not work, and (b) causes harm to its victims.
    Which approach is most like Molech-like abuse, the one that tactually helps the trans-child feel better, or the one that increases self-harm>
    Your phrase, “keeping Bernice from bobbing.” is cruel and mean and abusive. Preventing or maligning transgender people from expressing their gender presentation to the extent and in the way that they deem necessary actually causes harm (see multiple reference in my post “I am worried about Jessica” a few years back here on BCC).
    Which does the Lord look on more, the outer bits or the heart? If you need to keep yourself from bobbing to fit your faith or your outlook, fine. But leave Bernice, whoever they are, out of it.

  42. and remember, no one is dong these surgeries on kids, that is a false flag.
    reversible puberty blockers in early adolescence.
    sometimes hormones after age 16, in the setting of comprehensive family/personal counseling and support.
    Stop calling effective medical treatment abuse

  43. John Mansfield says:

    Bernice is the protaganist of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story which used to be somewhat well known, but that was a hundred years ago. (Two weeks ago I was walking a street in Baltimore where he lived for half a year, three blocks up from where I would live 56 years later.)

    Conversion of the heart, mind, and soul is something those who would follow Jesus Christ are called to do, and he even spoke of it as a kind of death: “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honor.” Which part of us to give up, and which to keep eternally? Which encouraging voices to heed, and which to flee that seek not our true wellbeing but instead to serve their idols?

  44. So John, in this context, when you say that a person should lose his life to gain eternal life, was Christ talking about suicide? Because that what trans people are at risk for to a huge degree from untreated gender dysphoria. That is dangerous talk. Stop it.

  45. the cure for gender dysphoric suicide is transition. my prayers were answered and i felt peace and happiness when I transitioned. all those years I thought I had to lose my life to find it. In a way I did. But it came after almost literally dying. To any trans kids out there… do NOT listne to John M or any other holy holy holy who says that you got to die. That kinda talk John is dangerous. I am serious. I know through personal experience. And I also know the Bernice bobs her hair story, but it has been a long time, thanks for reminding me. No thanks for your dangerous inept and cruel misapplication of the parable of the grain of wheat.

  46. John Mansfield says:

    No, Christ was not talking of suicide. Neither am I. Your attempts to color views of my words through threats of suicide and libels that I am a murderous abuser are not unusual; they are what can be expected for anyone who doesn’t bow the knee to your idols.

  47. You are not murderous, just clueless. just think how someone feels who is on the brink of suicide because their life feels empty and worthless because their whole world, including the guy talking at the podium says they have to lose their life to find it, including, in the context of giving up any hope of living in the true gender of their heart and spirit. I can tell you, it is dangerous, I have been there, I am not just making this stuff up. you don’t have to bow your knee to my viewpoint, just try not to hurt anybody. perhaps Christ’s words could apply to y’all conservatives who think they know what is going on in someones’ spirit, just because the outside looks one way. Maybe y’all could give up (or let die) of your own perceptions and biases in the interest kindness and inclusion. as for me,. I am at peace

  48. John, nobody said you were a murderous abuser. Lona said your words could be dangerous for trans people who see them. That is true, and Lona is right to ask you to be more careful.

  49. In fairness, I guess I sort of shrilly demanded that John be more careful instead of “asking.” I could have done better. Thanks Kristine.

  50. Thanks Kristine.

    And everybody: I’ve been fairly heavy-handed in moderating until I just got too busy today to spend much time here. So going forward, some ground rules: you certainly don’t have to agree with me. But I’m not going to accept any comments that denigrate transgender individuals or the transgender community broadly. If you do, your comment will be deleted. Eventually, at least.

  51. Inferior says:

    Many thanks for this superb example of the “Motte and Bailey” fallacy. May I have your permission to use it as a teaching example?

    I would have found this post more persuasive if it had been:(1) an argument, that is (2) rational, and (3) honest.

    For those curious about the “Motte and Bailey” fallacy, I recommend these 2 articles:

    Click to access SHATVO-2.pdf

    The former is tailored to Latter-day Saints. The latter is reviews even more rhetorical techniques common to “By Common Consent.”

    I hope you find this useful.

  52. Lona, thank you for speaking up. It shouldn’t be your job but I appreciate that you do it anyway.

  53. “And Jesus saith to them . . .: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.”

    Probably safe to say that while Christ wants us to love others, He might be more neutral on whether trans-children get to participate in interscholastic athletics. I don’t know the mind of Christ on this matter, but then again, you don’t either, so charging other viewpoints as un-Christian seems . . . un-Christian!

  54. Inferior says:

    I agree, thor.

  55. thor and Inferior, I’m having a little trouble responding to you because you seem to be arguing against something I didn’t do in the OP. In fact, I explicitly declined to make an affirmative case for trans kids participating in intermural sports. Not because there isn’t an affirmative case for it but because that wasn’t what I was trying to do. So if you’re not convinced of the affirmative case, that’s fair because I didn’t make that argument.

    And thor, I suspect that you’re right that Jesus isn’t particularly concerned about who plays sports. But I suspect that cuts both ways—-I doubt He cares if people feel their sports are fair.

    But the thing He does care about is how we treat the marginalized. Scripture is abundantly clear that we owe the marginalized special deference. And the Utah legislature decided instead to stomp on the transgender community. And you may feel it’s unchristian for me to call them out on that, but I don’t particularly care. Scripture is filled with people calling out the powerful for their treatment of those without power and I take that kind of obligation seriously. The members of the Utah legislature who voted for this bill and the members who voted to override the veto affirmatively harmed transgender children in Utah and told the transgender community that they aren’t welcome. And that deserves nothing but condemnation.

  56. Sam,
    Thank you. “But the thing Christ cares about is how we treat the marginalized.”
    That is so beautiful, and tender for me. I lost a job last year (voted out of a partnership really, totally I feel would not have happened if I were not trans). White male privelge evaporated, new position is a positive setting, but at 2/3 the pay, Expenses greater than income, and retirement savings in danger of dwindling, not a good look at 55. having to work constantly to bridge the gap and meet my commitments, but grateful I am able to do so. Not able to see my kids and step-grandkids hardly at all because of this (due to time constraints), which breaks my heart. The point is not to say “woe is me,” I am so lucky in most way, my life now feels like it is truly alive and blessed, and not just a shell, I no longer curl my white male privileged shell up in a corner at 2 am wishing it would die, but feel joy each day I go out (and stress lol). My real point is really this, to say thank you Sam, your last comment touched me so sweetly, to be recognized that Christ, and even more palpable, that a fellow traveler cares about how my (somewhat marginalized) self is doing. Even more important to think about the trans youth, who are even more vulnerable than me. Tearful a little, tender, and very grateful for that witness.

  57. Thanks Lona. I appreciate your sharing your experiences here; that makes the discussion much more tangible and real!

  58. The case of transgender girls placing first and second at a Connecticut state championship hasn’t been mentioned, which is odd because I thought it was what started the whole debate nationally. We wouldn’t be talking about it at all if it was never an issue, if all trans girls declined to compete as girls.

    That it’s only a few cisgender girls who’d get screwed in the name of inclusion is not much of an argument. The saying isn’t “Injustice anywhere is okay, just so long as it stays below a 99% threshold.” Scholarships aren’t participation trophies; whether you’re bumped to second, third, or fourth place, somewhere down the line someone isn’t going to get one (unlike in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, where they all end up with the same reward).

    And how can sports (specifically, sports that affirm their gender identity) be SO important to transgender girls, but an idol for cisgender girls who have the audacity to hope to win or get a scholarship from them? Can’t have it both ways.

  59. Laurel,
    In the case of this legislation, a nuanced bill was being discussed and was dumped for politcal theater (see Loursat’s comment above). There are ways to make it more fair and still not exclude transgender as a class. As I understand it now, the law that was passed even excludes transgender girls who have been on puberty blockers since the beginning of puberty from participating in girls sports, even though they have no discernible advantage over cisgender girls at all. Other steps based on how long people have been on blockers or hormones before participating can be worked out to some degree without just banning all transgender girls as a class. Like Sam says, the concern here is not fairness. The message sent in this law, and the way it came about, rushed at the close of the session, was simply to send a message that transgender people don’t belong. It was done for political gain, not for fairness, so you also cannot have it both ways.
    Also happy transgender day of visibility day everyone. now I think I am going to go look in the mirror. :)

  60. Hi Laurel. I’m having significant trouble deciding whether your comment is sincere or it’s an ideological drive-by but, for the sake of discussion, I’m going to assume sincerity and answer you on that level.

    And my response would be this: there’s a substantive, non-trivial difference between being told your chances of winning are lower and you’re not allowed to participate. (And it’s far from clear that transgender girls competing leads to the first result, but assume it does.)

    The first one sucks. It’s no fun not to win. But also, that’s part of sports: sometimes you don’t win. If you’re only playing because you think you will win, or even if you’re only playing because you think you will win and that will lead to a scholarship, that risks, as Chris said, moving athletics from the awesome-things-we-do category to the idol-we-place-above-others’-well-being. (Also, as a side note, I suspect that taking one spot lower in state competitions doesn’t substantively reduce a chance at scholarships, though that’s not central to my point.)

    On the other hand, being told, “You’re not welcome here” actually sucks. And it sucks more when you’re generally marginalized. And the legislature flatly telling transgender girls that they’re not welcome in Utah intermural sports is the powerful telling the marginalized, You don’t belong. Or, perhaps, You’re not a person to us; you’re just a prop to satisfy our based. And that represents real harm, again, to a marginalized community that we have a religious obligation at the very least not to harm.

  61. Thanks, Lona, for explaining a bit about the nuances referred to in Loursat’s comments. I should explain I am not supporting the specifics of this legislation, but responding to a smattering of what I consider to be poor arguments demonizing anyone who thinks fairness should be taken into consideration. It sounds like there WERE some in the legislature trying to be fair to both sides, and they were bulldozed in the name of politics. Not disagreeing on that point at all.

    Sam, not sure what struck you as insincere, but thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. I’m a longtime lurker and occasional commenter, so, in the immortal words of Train, “This is not a drive-by.” I’m a libtard struggling to see why social justice and feminism are suddenly idols. Again, trans participation in sports is not what’s in jeopardy — only gender affirmation in sports.

    If “Oh well, sometimes you lose” is, in fact, the Christlike approach to the cisgender girls who lose (meets, games, scholarship), why not drop the supposedly arbitrary separation of male and female in sports altogether? We’d be doing cisgender girls a favor by removing potential idols, right? Or, if that doesn’t quite sound right, why not? Same principle, just different numbers.

  62. Thanks Laurel; I actually think questions of separate girls’ sports are worth examining. My understanding is that the big reason we have separate sports by gender is a question of access, not of fit. Most of what I’ve read says that pre-puberty, boys and girls shouldn’t be separated. After? I know rock climbing better than other sports and honestly, setters could set in ways that wouldn’t advantage boys or girls. The boys tend to be stronger and better at muscling through things, but the girls tend to be more strategic (and take that with a HUGE grain of gender stereotyping). If setters always set for strength, the boys would generally win. But if they set more broadly, there wouldn’t be an obvious advantage one way or the other. Not all sports are like that, but at least some are.

  63. thanks Laurel

  64. [January 19, 2022] “The NCAA Board of Governors on Wednesday voted in support of a sport-by-sport approach to transgender participation that preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete. The new policy, effective immediately, aligns transgender student-athlete participation for college sports with recent policy changes from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and International Olympic Committee.”

    This strikes me as a responsible supportable approach. Sport-by-sport, balancing fairness, inclusion, and safety. It doesn’t guarantee that I will agree with every balanced approach for every sport. Nor does it suggest easy binary decisions based on an unreal belief about the world. It does introduce enough variables and nuance to take account of real people with real lives in the real world. Not incidentally, it makes the whole scholarship question a diversion because NCAA, Olympic and Paralympic competition includes transgender participation so whether or not, or however, transgender participation changes the competitive standards for athletic scholarships, it’s a done deal without regard to any action by the Utah legislature or any high school level decisions.

    It is important to my sense of fairness and Christian ethics that the sport-by-sport approach explicitly recognizes the existence, legitimacy, and importance of transgender student-athletes. An alternate approach that seeks to divide the world into cleanly and “obviously” separated men and women denies the existence of some people and fails to recognize their importance. Using Sam’s terms, it fails to recognize their inherent worth as people and as children of God. An approach that starts by recognizing the inherent worth and existence of transgender student-athletes is something I can debate without throwing Molech barbs. An approach that denies the inherent worth and even existence of the transgender student athlete warrants “sacrificing our children” kind of rhetoric.

  65. Sam, agreed, there are some sports where the separation does seem to be arbitrary. Thanks for hearing me out.

  66. Thanks Chris. I was just looking (for other reasons) at the standards laid out by a bunch of sports. And honestly, the guidelines promulgated by various sport governing bodies seem to take good (if sometimes varying) approaches. And that’s probably the right way to go about things—instead of a blanket ban at the legislative level, allow individual sports, with access and familiarity with the sport and the people, to make decisions that try to balance respect, access, fairness, and inclusion.

  67. Sam – I should have clarified my comment from yesterday as directed towards the comments pushing the “un-Christlike label”, and not the post itself.

    Piggybacking on Laurel’s discussion, there are legitimate arguments on both sides that don’t exclusively rely on animus towards trans-children. I think Christ encourages us to wrestle with these issues (which is likely WHY he renders to Caesar things that are Caesar’s), and while the wrestle may leave bruises, it makes us better disciples.

    If my child woke up tomorrow and identified as trans-gender, the 86% suicide rate statistic would be foremost in my mind. I’ve known enough CISgender high school athletes who struggle with identity and self-esteem DIRECTLY related to the athletic competition (or from over-bearing parents who over-emphasize the importance of it (looking at you Texas football)), that I’m not sure I’d want to push a transgender child with heightened self-esteem issues into that environment. I recognize this is tangential to your argument, but my experience is that interscholastic athletics is not a panacea of good feelings and welcoming, but is often cutthroat. YMMV.

  68. @christiankimball, really appreciated the insight about the difference between recognizing the existence of trans athletes vs forcing them into their assigned-at-birth group, which negates their existence. I think that’s a helpful way to understand how a legislative ban differs from the NCAA rules. Maybe the NCAA rules aren’t perfect but at least they aren’t trans-erasing.

    @thor, I said the ban wasn’t Christlike and I’m sticking to that. As for sports being a harsh environment, maybe, but I’m just as concerned about the trans kid who can’t play but wants to as with the trans kids who don’t care about sports but have just been told by the legislature that’s supposed to represent them that they aren’t allowed to exist.

  69. As far as sports go, the solution could be relatively simple in my mind. Let all trans people, whether trans-man or trans-woman, compete in men’s sports. Nobody likes unfair advantages, and most everyone likes an underdog. Win-win, trans people can compete in whatever sport they want, and people will be cheering them on.

  70. Steve, if I had a trans daughter I’m pretty sure she would think being forced into men’s sports was erasure.

  71. Nobody is forced to play sports. Why would being allowed to participate in men’s sports, make someone think it was erasure of what they did?

  72. Kristine says:

    Presumably it would be similar to the way you’d feel that your identity was being erased (or not acknowledged) if you were only allowed to play girls’ sports.

  73. Steve, your proposal is just as blunt as what the Utah legislature passed and would equally discount the identity and worth of trans athletes.

    And it doesn’t have to be blunt. As I said earlier in this thread, individual governing bodies of various sports have come up with standards for their sports, standards attuned to what the sport itself is. You may or may not agree with the conclusions these governing bodies have arrived at, but all of them I’ve looked at show deep concern for all of the athletes in the sport and work hard to combine inclusivity and fairness.

    Because no, nobody is forced to play sports. But the Utah legislature has forced some number of children not to play sports and, in doing so, has told the transgender community that they are unwelcome and unworthy.

  74. I guess we need to be more specific about what we are calling identity.

    For sake of argument let’s grant that gender and sex are correlated but not inextricably linked aspects of a person. This as I understand it is the foundational argument for why people transition – their gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex, and so they desire to present as the sex that accords with their gender identity.

    The division between men’s and women’s sports is due to the physical biological sex differences in males and females. The division is not due to men/women gender or social differences.

    If the person has a gender identity as a man or woman and transitions to present as closely as possible to a biological man or woman – that is not the same thing as actually being a biological man or woman.

    Let’s take the example of a person who was born as a biological male, but due to their gender identity – identifies as a woman and presents as such. Do they:

    1) Identify their gender as a woman and as someone who desires to present as a woman
    2) Identify their biological sex as a woman

    If it is #1, with the knowledge that sports separation is based on biological sex differences, and not gender differences – this should not challenge their gender identity as a woman.

    If it is #2, then they are believing something that is anti-reality, and it is not appropriate or helpful to support delusional beliefs. Trans people, as people, are as strong and capable as anyone else, and desiring to coddle a person as being too fragile to accept truth or deal with reality, is condescending and insulting – and indulging lies will always lead to bad outcomes.

    Therefore, because I believe it is proper and in line with truth and reality that identity aligns with #1, then playing men’s sports should not be a problem with someone who was born biologically male and chooses to present as female, or someone born biologically female who is taking hormones that help them develop attributes similar to biological males.

    In both cases they would on average be at a bit of a physical disadvantage in male sports, or a bit of an advantage in female sports. And I think people would be far more impressed with taking on the challenge as an underdog than having some unfair advantage, and that type of courage would be celebrated. And I think that celebration rather than an overt or silent resentment is better for everyone, particularly the trans athletes themselves.

  75. Also I don’t know how many people here have played sports competitively, but for me it has been a big part of my life. And it is fairly common for exceptional female athletes to play in men’s sports, so it’s not as if this would be crazy or unprecedented either

  76. Kristine says:

    Ah, silly me. I mistook your question as sincere. Glad you got the opportunity to make it clear that you are being willfully obtuse.

  77. @Kristine What about my comment comes across as obtuse? I am completely sincere and genuine in my idea, and you might not like the idea and have your own opinion, but I really think it could be a good solution where everyone comes out better for it.

    Digging in at either liberal/conservative extreme isn’t going to get us anywhere, the truth is usually in the middle, and to me this could be a very reasonable middle ground

  78. Kristine says:

    Steve, it’s not a matter of liberal or conservative. You’re refusing to acknowledge the fact that trans people experience their biology as profoundly and painfully in conflict with their identity. A “solution” that insists that they are mistaken about their own experience does not represent a sincere or reasonable attempt to grapple with the issues at hand.

  79. Why are you putting the comments in moderation?

  80. @steve it’s very different to allow a girl to play on a boys’ team because she excels in the sport or because the sport isn’t available to her than to force a trans woman to play on a men’s team because of her sex assigned at birth. That proposal is both trans-erasing (assumes it’s no big deal for a trans woman to play male sports) AND puts trans women in danger.

    If you forced AMAB trans women to play on men’s teams, they’d essentially have to out themselves as trans every single time they played.

    There’s a good description on this blog about a trans boy who was forced off of the boy’s tennis team because of Texas laws, and the implications for him if he were to play for girls teams:

  81. @Elisa I would disagree with the Texas law as I don’t think it should apply the same way for a trans-man vs trans-woman. The issue is having an unfair competitive advantage as a biological male who identifies, transitions, and presents as a female – since the entire point and creation of the category of female only sports was to level the playing field because of the unfair competitive advantage men have over women physically.

    It seems to me that people are attempting to overly coddle trans-people, and maybe feel heroic in doing so. But coddling people and treating them as weak infants is both not helpful, but also very condescending. We should treat everyone equal when coming to a solution, trans-women’s desires and needs should be weighed and balanced with the rest of the women’s desires and needs, and the same with men, etc.

  82. @Kristine Let me try this again, with some edits to see if it will be allowed to go through this time:

    I did not say trans-people are mistaken about their own experience. I don’t believe that. The premise of my solution specifically acknowledges that gender identity and biology are distinct and not aligned. You can neither ignore the gender reality (that far right conservatives often dismiss), nor ignore the biological reality (that far left liberals often dismiss) if you are going to come to terms with the truth.

    It most certainly shouldn’t be about liberal and conservative, but this post is about exactly that “the Idol of Politics”. And both sides claim they are acting in the best interests of the individuals – but then they burry their heads in the sand to ignore the inconvenient parts of reality that don’t fit their narrative. They both claim love, but I’m calling that out as a lie, because true love doesn’t ignore reality to fit a particular narrative. I agree with the OP that the far right narrative has entered the realms of idolatry, politics has become their religion. But I think the same is true of many people who hold beliefs similar to those made in the OP, only on the opposite extreme. Far left liberal ideology has become a religion for just as many – both sides blinded from seeing their own idolatry when they are so focused on the other.

    Real solutions require facing the hard truths of reality that polarized extremes willfully ignore.

    In addition, I never “[refused] to acknowledge the fact that trans people experience their biology as profoundly and painfully in conflict with their identity”. I believe it is an extraordinarily difficult pain to deal with. I simply believe that the only way to truly deal with hard problems and real pain, is not to fabricate lies or bend reality to temporarily assuage the pain – because that will always come back to bite even harder in the end. To truly be kind, we have to deal with reality head on and bear the anxiety that comes along with hard problems.

  83. I am a new commenter…but I appreciated this piece. Personally, I feel very torn over this issue. My oldest daughter is a fantastic athlete and has been since she was little, but my youngest daughter will never be able to compete athletically because of her biology/genetics. It has been hard watching her unable to participate in sports when she would dearly love to do so. She doesn’t have many friends and is often teased, although not nearly to the extent a trans child would be. We have tried to focus her energy on music and theater, and find other things she can participate in. The truth is, there are many other kids who just don’t have the body necessary to “make the team” and it is heartbreaking. I guess maybe trans kids will be forced to accept that fate as well.

    On the other hand, if only “a few” transgender girls (say, 10 per state) decide to compete in a sport like swimming or track, that could drastically change the dynamics of the sport. Even if only 3 of the 10 are dominant that actually is a really big deal. Especially if NCAA rules allow transgender women to compete and accept scholarships. I agree that this issue is virtually non-existent now, but I am not convinced that it will remain so. I am also not sure that trans girls dominating cis girls in sports (assuming they will…but?) is actually going to be beneficial to the trans girls’ mental health. Are cis girls going to embrace trans teammates who have obvious physical advantages? I’m thinking of the highly publicized CT track runners and the PA swimmer who looked very different, physically, from their competitors. I don’t know…I am thankful for the thoughtful article and comments!

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