This week, representatives from high schools across Nebraska will vote on policies to define the scope of participation in high school athletics and other extra-curricular activities. They will consider whether students should participate in sports and other activities according to the sex into which they were born, or according to a gender of their own choosing.
By the time many of you read this column, the votes will have been cast: if three Nebraska regions support the truth that the sex we’re born with matters, the issue will be considered by a statewide assembly of school districts in April. But if three or more districts decide that students can choose or define their genders at will, Nebraska schools will soon be required to permit students who identify as transgendered to compete on the playing field according to their chosen gender.
For the past several months, the Nebraska Catholic Conference has worked tirelessly to promote the idea that our God-given gender matters. That the sexes are different, and that ignoring the sex into which we are born—the “gender identity” God gives us—has real consequences. Parents across the state of Nebraska have contacted their school districts to encourage them to make the right choice. Our governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer, and secretary of state have unequivocally stated that gender matters. And many people have taken this issue to prayer.
Still, if you read this column after January 13th, the votes will have been cast, and Nebraska may be continuing down a path that defies reason, justice, charity, and God’s revealed truth. [If you are reading this before January 13th, click here to make your voice heard.]
To many people, this issue seems unimportant. They ask why “transgendered” students should not be supported in the identities they choose for themselves. They ask if the Church is unfairly persecuting students with gender dysphoria. They ask if Catholics have compassion for those who see and experience the world in a different way than the Church does.
But the truth is that our sex is a fundamental part of who we are. God made us to be male and female, and he created men and women to complement each other—to be partners in love, parenting, and family life. Not one of us can define our own gender—we are male and female because the Lord created us each, exactly as we are, for a purpose.
There are people who, sadly, experience confusion about their sex, or sexual orientation, or personal identity. For psychological, emotional, and even physiological reasons, there are men and women who are convinced that their bodies do not reflect the reality of who they are. This is especially common among young people—many of whom grow out of this confusion as they mature.
We are called to support men and women who experience this kind of confusion. We are called to welcome them into the life of the Church, and to welcome them into our communities and into our friendships. But true compassion does not validate their confusion, or encourage them to deny the reality of God’s plan for their lives. This is especially true of children, who depend on adults to help them understand how to grow and mature into adulthood.
If Nebraska high schools endorse the idea that our “gender identity” is something we choose, they will send students down deeper paths of confusion and darkness. If adults validate every confused feeling children experience, we will deny them the opportunity to grow in wisdom and maturity. If we care about children—especially those who experience gender dysphoria—we will be present to them, we will be patient with them, and we will teach them the truth about who God made them to be.
Our culture has an ethos that endorses every preference or feeling that people experience—especially in the area of sex and gender. Our culture tends to believe that we should “live and let live,” and that we should encourage children to trust and pursue every curiosity, desire, or attraction they experience. But adults have the wisdom to know that many of our feelings and preferences have unhealthy consequences, especially during the turbulence of adolescence.
The Church is called to speak on behalf of all children across Nebraska. We are called to advocate for truth. We are called to share the wisdom of the Gospel, especially the basic idea that if we defy who God made us to be—as revealed in our own bodies—or if we believe that we can define the parameters and meaning of our own existence, we will only experience greater turmoil, greater unhappiness, and greater confusion. The path of truth—although often difficult—is the path of joy, peace, and freedom.
The Church has a great love for those who experience gender dysphoria. And we have an obligation to proclaim and witness to the truth. As our culture becomes ever more relativistic, the voice of truth seems to be heard more faintly, and by fewer people. The Church needs your voice—to proclaim God’s love, to witness to truth, and to express the profound goodness of God’s plan for us.
Advocates of libertine social ethics will not stop with “transgendered” high school sports policies. They will continue to attack the basic realities of humanity, of family life, of God’s great gift of sexuality. And with each victory for relativism, more people will be led into darkness, confusion, and grave harm. But the mercy of God, which brings light, clarity, and healing, is available to all. And each one of us must be a missionary of God’s mercy to a world in ever-greater need of his love.