What is the Biblical Argument for Prohibiting Transgender Military Service?
Cheers and jeers resounded across social media and the halls of political debate when President Trump announced that transgender people would no longer be permitted in the military. Let’s start with some facts.
About a year ago former president Obama announced that transgender people could serve openly in the military. The decision was criticized by many saying it would affect unit cohesion and military readiness. Others panned the decision as a drain on tax dollars that would be needed to fund hormone treatments and sex-reassignment surgeries. And of course there were plenty of privacy discussions.
One thing to be clear about in our “everything is a right” culture is that serving in the military is not a right. There’s nothing in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights that says a person has the right to serve in the military. It is a privilege. If serving in the military were a right there would be no entrance requirements and people could not be disqualified based on bad eyesight, diabetes, or any other physical limitation. But, people are disqualified for any number of reasons, which is further evidence that military service is a privilege and not a right.
Some are concerned that a woman, claiming to be a man, will be given special treatment concerning the physical requirements to enter the military, and to qualify for specific roles within the military. This is a reasonable concern given the nature of military operations and the reality that physical fitness is critical to mission readiness. If a woman claims to be a man is she held to the physical standards of women, or of men? How many biological women can compete physically with men? Does this mean the physical standards for men in the military will be lowered to accommodate women claiming to be men?
One of the dominant themes in the media is the money being spent, tax dollars, to pay for hormone treatments and sex reassignment surgeries. The complaint is that the taxpayers should not have to pay for these services, a fair complaint. A New York Times article reports that more than one Republican lawmaker is seeking to end such services:
“The announcement came amid the debate on Capitol Hill over the Obama-era practice of requiring the Pentagon to pay for medical treatment related to gender transition. Representative Vicky Hartzler, Republican of Missouri, has proposed an amendment to the spending bill that would bar the Pentagon from spending money on transition surgery or related hormone therapy, and other Republicans have pressed for similar provisions.”
The same article at the New York Times argues that the cost of services can’t be considered because the number of transgender military personnel is so small:
“The policy would affect only a small portion of the approximately 1.3 million active-duty members of the military. Some 2,000 to 11,000 active-duty troops are transgender, according to a 2016 RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Pentagon, though estimates of the number of transgender service members have varied widely, and are sometimes as high as 15,000.”
It’s not the quantity of services (and subsequent cost) that I’m concerned with primarily. I don’t think the military should spend a single dime to provide such services. For that matter, I don’t think any taxpayer should be forced to fund such services for another person. For me, however, it’s the moral aspect of the issue and how Christians can think biblically concerning a hot button issue like transgender people and the military that I’m focused on.
It has become clear in the days following President Trump’s announcement that American’s support the decision. It has been mentioned more than once that conservative Americans are tired of being told they are racist, bigoted, discriminatory jerks for not supporting every liberal issue that pops up. Looking back on the lessons from the same-sex “marriage” debates, Americans now know that if they adopt a passive attitude towards transgender people it won’t stop there. The issue will eventually encroach upon and eventually destroy the lives and livelihood of people that want nothing to do with the issue.
After reading many articles and observing chat groups concerning the issue, it is hard for me to make a biblical case for banning transgender people from the military. Certainly God had some requirements for Israel’s military in the Old Testament. But those requirements largely concerned age and health. There was a minimum age requirement, and a maximum age requirement, and a health requirement. In other words, men who were too young, too old, or too ill were not allowed to serve. (Women were completely excluded from military service but that’s another issue altogether.) There’s no evidence that the standards God handed down for Israel’s military are to be adhered to today.
If there’s no clear biblical direction here, how can Christians think biblically about this issue? Can we think biblically?
One aspect of the issue that is worth pointing out is the mental health aspect. This seems to be one of the most prominent discussions taking place around this issue. A recent article on this topic makes a poignant point regarding the mental state of transgender people and military combat:
“Opinions on this vary of course, but being transgender is not a biological issue, it’s a psychological one. If a 98-pound woman was starving herself because she thought she was fat, would you tell her that’s okay so she feels good about herself, or would you gently tell her she’s emaciated, hurting her body, and needs to look to the path of recovery?
“[A] Johns Hopkins psychiatrist believes making drastic physical changes, such as undergoing transgender reassignment surgery, do nothing to help the psychological troubles plaguing the mind of the transgender person — in fact, it can make them worse. That’s why throwing people who are already struggling with their own identity, psychologically and, in their minds, physically, into a combative, war-torn, physically-demanding, mentally-exhausting environment may make units fall apart, thereby rendering the military less effective than before.”
This is a fair statement. The military is an emotionally and mentally challenging place to be; and more so when in a combat zone. The men and women that live in these circumstances need to be prepared, mentally an emotionally, for what they will face. Are we suggesting it is a good idea to send people confused about their biological gender into this world? It’s been reported that 41% of transgender people will attempt suicide. And transgender people are 19 times more likely to die by suicide if they’ve had sex-reassignment surgery. Is a military environment really a good place for this person?
This is a good starting point for how to think biblically about this topic. Am I truly “loving my neighbor” if I support sending him to combat though he is struggling with his biological gender? This may be stretching the command a little far, but it is at least within the realm of consideration.
I confess that I don’t have the answer at this point. I can make a logical, reasonable argument for why it seems appropriate to prohibit transgender people from serving in the military. But, at this point, I can’t make a biblical argument for such a position.
What do you think? Is there a biblical argument here?