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By John D. Pierce

SURVEYHere’s the bottom line: Conservative Christians are the least flexible when considering social change and the most likely to blame their steadfast resistance on God.

Most Americans (6 out of 10) don’t believe it is morally wrong for someone to identify with a gender different from the sex they were assigned at birth. This is according to a recent survey of 1,000 Americans by LifeWay Research.

A majority (54 percent) of evangelicals, however, believe it is morally wrong to identify with a different gender, according to the survey. Only 26 percent of Catholics and 35 percent of both Jews and Muslims agree with evangelicals on this point.

Also, evangelicals (at 61 percent) are almost twice as likely as other Americans (32 percent) to believe it is morally wrong for persons to use surgery or hormones to transition to the gender with which they identify.

The question of why surely brings a quick response from evangelicals: We believe the Bible.

However, that same reason — or excuse — has been used to justify resistance to all kinds of social change including slavery, racial discrimination, gender equality and more. So there must be something else at play beyond so-called biblical fidelity since those other firmly-held biblical positions have eased (thankfully) to various degrees over time.

My assessment is simply that evangelicals fear social change more than the population at large. In fact, social conservative Christians seem to possess more fear in general than others.

When facing social changes that cause discomfort, the default method of operation for many good church people is to ignore any fresh revelations of natural and social sciences, to seek out an authoritative figure trumpeting the preferred position, and to claim to hold firmly to the Bible over culture.

There are always some cherry-picked verses to which one can cling— and a Pied Piper to follow.

Such an approach allows for upholding oneself as spiritually superior while avoiding the hard work of getting to know the persons and issues related to the cultural shift. It is always easier to quickly oppose than to honestly explore.

As a result, the so-called Christian position on social issues is often less about the real issue or biblical revelation. More often it is simply: If I’m uncomfortable, it must be wrong.

Not surprising, the survey revealed also that those identifying as Christians were less likely to actually know a transgender person — and, therefore, to know such struggles in a personal way .

So it comes as no shock as well that American evangelicals are the primary force behind legislation that targets transgender (as well as gay and lesbian) persons and is designed to be punitive rather than address real problems.

But what might be a far better and truly Christian response to social change?

Perhaps confessing one’s personal discomfort, yet expressing a willingness to get to know the persons behind the issues as well as the insights available through natural and social sciences, and honestly exploring the biblical revelation rather than chasing down a few isolated verses that seem to support one’s forgone conclusions.

Then an upcoming survey might reveal something truly shocking: that American Christians are primarily thoughtful and compassionate rather than fearful and resistant to change.

John Pierce

About John Pierce

John D. Pierce is editor of Nurturing Faith Journal — the signature publication of Baptists Today, Inc. He is also publisher of Nurturing Faith Books and Resources. Previously he served as managing editor of The Christian Index and as Baptist campus minister at Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State University. A native of Ringgold, Ga., he is a graduate of Berry College (B.A.), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and Columbia Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He speaks frequently in churches, consults with congregations concerning communications and holds interim pastorates.