I’m trying to like Southwestern Seminary these days, but Daniel Darling just made it that much harder.
The Fort Worth, Texas, seminary is promoting a piece Darling wrote for the conservative World magazine. Darling serves as director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern and previously was the media spokesman for the National Religious Broadcasters.
A conservative resume, to be sure. But being a bona fide conservative does not give you the right to deny reality while claiming you alone know reality.
In this case, the Southern Baptist seminary professor explicitly denies the reality of transgender identity.
I’m wondering how many transgender Christians he’s talked to or knows. I have corresponded with hundreds, have sat at breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee with transgender friends, welcomed them into my home and church. Every transgender person I’ve listened to, every family member supporting a transgender loved one — all of them to a person — affirm the reality of transgender identity. And some of them are theologically and politically conservative.
But Daniel Darling parrots the propaganda of Focus on the Family that transgender identity isn’t real. How in God’s name can you say someone else’s experience isn’t real?
“This is the ultimate arrogance of conservative evangelicalism today: Believing they alone have the corner on truth and there is no other possible reality.”
This is the ultimate arrogance of conservative evangelicalism today: Believing they alone have the corner on truth and there is no other possible reality.
Darling’s foil for the opinion piece is YouTube star Jimmy Donaldson, known as MrBeast, who is likely the most successful YouTube content creator and monetizer of all time. Donaldson was raised in an evangelical church in North Carolina but left the faith as a young adult — he’s only 25 now — largely because of the church’s narrow views on LGBTQ people. He’s also a noted philanthropist.
But to Darling, Donaldson is a poor, misguided soul because he’s supporting one of his longtime friends and castmates, Chris Tyson, who has come out as gender-nonconforming and begun hormone replacement therapy.
The seminary professor says Tyson’s hormone therapy is a “futile attempt” to transition from male to female. How does he know it’s “futile”? Only because he and his fellow conservative evangelicals do not believe the testimony of the millions of people who experience gender dysphoria — a very real medical diagnosis.
The actual data show hormone therapy saves the lives of transgender people. It keeps them from killing themselves at rates higher than any other population in the world. This is not “futile.”
Darling’s misguided view of reality also appears to be informed by a strict literal reading of one of the two creation accounts in Genesis. (Yes, there are two creation accounts, and they do not tell the same story.)
He writes: “When it comes to the nature of reality, of accepting the givenness of God’s good design for maleness and femaleness, there is no neutral ground. ‘To be a friend of the world,’ James 4:4 warns us, ‘is to be at enmity with God.’”
Throughout recorded history, people have experienced realities other than the strict binary of male and female. And even the creation account Darling alludes to does not say what he thinks it says. If you’re going to be a strict literalist, you’ve got to pay attention to every word. Genesis 1:27 says God created “male and female,” not male or female.
As I argue in my book Honestly: Telling the Truth About the Bible and Ourselves, creation is full of shades and degrees, beginning with the fact that while Genesis says God created daylight and dark, we know of dawn and dusk. Are those not real because they’re not explicitly stated in the Bible?
Darling’s primary concern here appears to be that the popular YouTuber will lead children to believe transgender identity is a real thing. He should also be concerned, then, that every science show on the National Geographic channel will lead children to believe evolution is real.
Six-day creationists and biblical literalists are allowed to believe what they believe — even if most of the rest of us believe they are wrong. But they do not get to demand that everyone else conform to their narrow beliefs that defy science and reason.
Darling warns: “Will MrBeast become one more entertainment outlet intent on indoctrinating young children with transgender propaganda?” He fears MrBeast will “propagandize America’s young children.”
If you don’t like MrBeast, don’t let your kids watch him. You don’t have to accuse him of being a tool of Satan.
In Darling’s view, Donaldson should love his friend enough to tell him the truth as delivered once and for all by conservative evangelicals. He writes: “Genuine friendship isn’t synonymous with affirmation of wrong decisions. Instead, disagreeing is often a form of neighbor love.”
“Since when is it a ‘selfish choice’ to live as your authentic self and experience spiritual and emotional healing?”
Further, he says Donaldson is “affirming Tyson’s selfish choice.” Since when is it a “selfish choice” to live as your authentic self and experience spiritual and emotional healing?
What’s selfish is to believe you and your tribe alone know what is real and what is not real and then demand everyone else accept your version of reality.
Again, with a heavy dose of evangelical arrogance, Darling opines: “Without a relationship with God through Christ and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, it is no wonder Donaldson is yielding to the spirit of the age. The commanding heights of culture will help shape your ethic if you are not anchored to the truth.”
There is more truth to support the reality of transgender identity than there is to support the evangelical view that it is made-up form of selfishness and delusion.
The Bible also is clear on calling believers to live with humility and love. Declaring that transgender identity is not real shows neither humility nor love. You can choose not to like transgender people, but you don’t get to say they’re not real.
By the way, while I stridently disagree with Darling’s opinion, I equally affirm his right to express his opinion. This is what academia should allow. What troubles me is knowing his employer would not allow a professor to express the opposite of Darling’s opinion. And that most everyone in his circle of influence likely agrees with his view of reality without thinking.
Here is where the SBC and all of evangelicalism has blood on its hands. When you deny the reality of others’ existence, you take on the role of the Creator by saying, “You cannot be who you are.”
There is nothing “pro-life” about that.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global. He is the author of the new book Honestly: Telling the Truth About the Bible and Ourselves.
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