In part 2 of a discussion with Preston Sprinkle (Ph.D.), Tim and Rick ask Preston for insight on how Christians can be hospitable in disagreement without compromising on important matters of biblical conviction. They dive into gender neutral bathrooms, inoculation theory, gender pronouns, and the importance of accurately representing views of those with whom we disagree. Jesus made room for others with whom he disagreed, and he did so without needing to agree or condone ideas and lifestyles that opposed his own convictions. This act of hospitality made him vulnerable to criticism, and yet it also helped to produce great humanizing value. This is part 2 of a discussion with Preston Sprinkle on faith, sexuality and gender. See part 1, “LGBTQ+ & The Kindness of God.”
Preston Sprinkle: If I didn't have him on the podcast or you didn't get to know him or just kept him at arms length, then I would never get to know the humanity of that person. It would just be an abstract, two dimensional view that I'm refuting. But when you actually know the person, it doesn't change what you believe necessarily, but it changes how you embody your approach to scripture.
Tim Muehlhoff: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction Podcast. I'm Tim Muehlhoff, Professor of Communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California.
Rick Langer: And my name's Rick Langer. And I'm a Professor here at Biola as well, in the Biblical Studies in Theology department. And I'm also the Director of the Office of Faith and Learning. Well it's a privilege for us to have Preston Sprinkle with us, he's been a professor, he's an author, he's a speaker. And he has spent a lot of his life dealing with issues around faith, gender, and sexuality, and so is privilege for us to have him with us.
Tim Muehlhoff: But you said something honestly that I wrote down and I don't think I'll... It's something you just never think, but when you said it, I thought, I can't imagine being in that situation. This is what you said, I tried to write it down word for word. "People who are intersex, don't drink coffee at church, so they won't have to go to the bathroom." And I cannot imagine sitting through a service and maybe going to an adult fellowship afterwards and the whole time thinking I'm just praying to God I don't have to go to the bathroom because I don't know what to do.
Tim Muehlhoff: So Preston, just for a second, I suggested this one time at a conference, tell me what you think about this. Is this just too idealistic? It was a pastors' conference. And somebody asked me what's one way that I can communicate that we actually care for the transgender or intersex. Here's what I said, "Do you have a bathroom for him?" Literally it took him by surprise, and he goes, well, okay, one, I don't know how we do that and not condone this whole transgender thing with the transgender bathroom. I said, "Could you have a gender neutral bathroom?" And he said, "Well, I think you just backed up the train in one track because how is that not condoning."
Tim Muehlhoff: So what do you think... By the way, I've never been invited back to the conference, but the [inaudible 00:02:05] check cleared. So I also got listed. What's your response? So, to me, that's nonverbal, to me that's visual rhetoric, is hey, we have a bathroom for you here. What's your thought about that?
Preston Sprinkle: So let me give you a little inside scoop on... As a non-trans person, who's listened to a lot of trans people, there's kind of a... I don't know, an unwritten kind of belief in the trans community. And it's this, if we actually are going to go to a Christian Church, the number one thing we look for when we come through the doors is, is there a gender neutral bathroom?
Tim Muehlhoff: Wow.
Preston Sprinkle: If there's not, they're probably not going to stick around. That's if they don't look for a greeter, they don't look for a hip and cool pastor, they don't look for cool music or a cool whatever, a sanctuary, they look and see if I have to go to bathroom, is there going to be a place where I can go without being... I mean, this will apply to a lot of people, but one of my trans friends, who's biologically female believe she's female. Okay. But it has significant dysphoria. She's female, but she's not... If I can say feminine, tomboyish. If you saw her, you might have to do a double-take and say, "Wait, Oh, you're a girl or boy." So when she goes into a female bathroom, which she does, sometimes she gets screamed at by women because they mistake her for a boy. If she goes into a male bathroom, she doesn't think she should.
Preston Sprinkle: She would be conservative on that question, but even then, she might be seen as a female. So to avoid the anxiety of not knowing what's going to happen. And when I walked through these doors, it's just relieves the anxiety to know there's a single soul bathroom where I'm not going to have to even wrestle with that. So when they go to church... And she loves coffee and she doesn't drink coffee on Sunday morning because I might have to go to the bathroom and that's just...
Tim Muehlhoff: So address the condoning concern. I don't want to minimize what this pastor said, so address that. To me, this is like we're saying, okay, we're capitulating the culture. We're going to have a gender neutral bathroom, address that concern.
Preston Sprinkle: Yeah, no, that's good. And just so people know, I'm passionate about religious freedom and I do think there are cultural movements that are anti-Christian and are flat out wrong. I'm not going to deny that Babylon mistreats its exiles. Yes. That happens through many different ways. The bathroom thing to me though, I mean, I think it's just simply an aspect of embodying the kindness of God. I mean, would any genuine pastor not want somebody who's trans identified to make it past the foyer and get into a service to experience the gospel of Jesus Christ? What would you not want that? Would you not want to tear down any kind of superficial barrier so that somebody can come and experience the love of God?
Rick Langer: Let me just ask a practical question on that. Let's assume that the pastor and the leadership in question, just from exactly what you said, I mean, we're not talking about the large auditorium worshiper, perhaps in adult Sunday school class or something like that afterwards, would you recommend having a conversation with the leadership or with the class so you bring the issue up or this one was thing to just let people kind of sort out because I worry sometimes that the kind of sorted out thing will make it more problematic than to say, "Hey let's just talk this as a group once." What are your thoughts on that?
Preston Sprinkle: So, okay. Yeah, I'm going to get... So just to acknowledge, my full-time job in ministry is helping Christian leaders engage the conversation about faith, sexuality, and gender with theological faithfulness and courageous love. So I understand that this is my kind of echo chamber. This is the world I live in. Okay. However, the topic of sexuality and gender is everywhere. 98% of Christians have questions and thoughts and opinions, whether they voice them or not. As a pastor, let me say as a Christian leader, silence is not an option, part of pastoring and discipling your people well is helping them to navigate this conversation, which involves ethics, theology, politics, whatever, to navigate this conversation well. For a pastor to say, "You know what? I'm not going to touch this." I mean, correct me if I'm wrong.
Preston Sprinkle: That seems to be irresponsible as a pastor who's called to help your Christ followers to follow Jesus, well, through thinking, through imposture, through relationships, through sanctification. Questions about sexuality and gender have become some of the most significant ethical questions facing the church. So I would need a counter-argument to say, "Yeah, if you're a Christian leader and helping to disciple your people, yeah, don't touch this topic." Because I just don't...
Rick Langer: So I'm thinking more of a little bit in kind of almost imagine it's a small group home Bible study, and a person's coming in. I used to be the person who kind of assign people and arrange all those home Bible study, so we had 500 people in these groups and we're sorting all this out and sometimes assign people to the group. Well, you have a trans person who's going to a group of 1200 people and they just act like, "Okay, we just assigned you Shirley." Or do you say, "Shirley we need to talk to this group ahead of time because we don't want this to become a thing that becomes awkward for everybody."
Preston Sprinkle: Okay. That's a great question. If the congregation has been thoroughly educated in a grace truth approach to this topic, then the majority of people in that study would naturally know how to... So most sources haven't done that, right? So if they haven't then yes, I think it would be good to prep a group maybe privately or whatever on this conversation, because it could be very counterproductive for a trans person to enter into Bible study. And if the Christians in a Bible study react in a very non-Christian or a negative way, it can not represent the gospel well in that transperson's life.
Tim Muehlhoff: So we had a while of experience. I was working with the church and briefly, and in walked a man who is a cross-dresser.
Preston Sprinkle: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: And yeah, I've been with this question since age 13 and it is kind of wild to think in your life. Okay, I have never seen that in my adult life.
Preston Sprinkle: At church?
Tim Muehlhoff: At church. And he walked in, sat down right in front of us. I've got my three boys with me. Right in front of us and was praising the Lord, raising his hands. And afterwards just had this truly authentic conversation with the family where I honestly don't exactly know what I'm going to say. And there was something wildly refreshing about it to think aren't these the people... Shouldn't church be a place where we process. And I talk about communication climates all the time. What kind of climate do we want to have? But by Preston, honestly, what we get hit with over and over again is, how are you not condoning that man's decision, his lifestyle?
Tim Muehlhoff: And so, give us a little bit of your philosophy of condoning because I went to your website, it's a great website by the way, check it out, Theology in the Raw. You have on Greg Boyd, an open theist, you have an annihilationist, you tackle that topic?
Preston Sprinkle: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: You were the editor of a series on hell, Four Views. And I love how you referred to certain guests. This is my dear friend, and it would be somebody from the trans community. And so what is your thought about that?
Preston Sprinkle: I'm going to get some emails from your donors. Oh man.
Tim Muehlhoff: Give us your thoughts.
Preston Sprinkle: Oh man. Yeah. Well, let me just say, I don't know if I'm doing it perfectly or if I could even say this is the way it should be done. From my advantage point, I love to dialogue with people in a genuine exchange of ideas while dignifying the other person and have the freedom to disagree with their ideas if I can provide superior evidence to counter their evidence. And this happens a lot on college campuses, the secular college campuses that... Most college campuses are very liberal, and so they won't have Ben Shapiro or Jordan Peterson on campus, because that would mean they're platforming Nazi-ism because Ben Shapiro, a Jew is a Nazi apparently, he gets accused of a Nazi, which is ironic.
Preston Sprinkle: If somebody's viewpoint is so wrong that it shouldn't even be entertained, then platform it, expose it, show how stupid it is. If I had somebody who believed in a flat-earth theology, if it's so wrong, which I think it is, then expose it. And that's the best way to refute it. Let them spout their ignorance. But if it's worth considering, and even if it's still very wrong, let's let the evidence show that it's wrong. People were going to believe what they believe anyway, whether you platform somebody or not. Greg Boyd is an open theist, here's an actor. So here's what's fascinating. He doesn't actually like that phrase.
Tim Muehlhoff: Right.
Preston Sprinkle: He didn't create it, he didn't invent it. He doesn't use it himself. I would not have known that unless I had him on my podcast. And my understanding of open theism, was categorically different than what Greg Boyd actually believes. I wouldn't know that unless I actually had a conversation with him. Just because I platform him, platform, and he like that phrase, but just because I have a public conversation with him, doesn't mean I'm agreeing with his view. It just means that I'm willing to dialogue with another human being and let's let the superior evidence win out. And yeah I-
Tim Muehlhoff: So, if he's willing to engage you in a way that's civil, fair, so maybe that's a criteria is to say, okay, so we're not going to bring in somebody whose sole purpose is to grand stand. This is one step in their tour and I'm not coming to Biola University to really engage the faculty. I'm coming to do my thing, which is to be really provocative. So maybe we look at that and say, "I'm not so sure we want to do that."
Preston Sprinkle: Right.
Tim Muehlhoff: Just be one more step in your tour. But if a person is honestly willing to engage, then it's like, "Well, then let's do it." But here's can be a little bit of a counter, but what if a person listens to Dr. Boyd, and is actually persuaded by his arguments for open theism, which of course we have very strong opinions here at Biola about open theism. So, how do you handle the fact that maybe one person actually got persuaded, because you gave him the microphone and gave him a platform and now somebody has been persuaded?
Preston Sprinkle: No, that's a great concern. And I want to own that concern, I think it's a very valid thing to consider. I really do. And there are certain people that for that reason, I wouldn't feel comfortable having them on, primarily because I don't feel equipped to offer a counter response to it. And that's where it comes in. I wouldn't have somebody on that... For instance, I mean, I'm not an apologetic, I would have Richard Dawkins on because I'm not equipped in that area. I wouldn't know how to refute them. I'd probably lead people straight to atheism because... But this is not my world. I need to have Sean McDowell on or somebody that knows the argument. So I would not have them on for that reason, but I don't know, yeah, I guess that, that is a risk.
Preston Sprinkle: I mean, if you platform somebody who is saying something that is untrue and I can't offer a better counter response, then first of all, shame on me. If I say, no, that's wrong, but I don't know why then that's not honest. But also, I mean, I think there's also a reverse effect where you ignore, where you don't even converse with certain viewpoints and that can have a counter effect too. People can be believing what you say just because you're the one saying it. They haven't really been taught how to think for themselves.
Preston Sprinkle: So I'm willing to take the risk of helping people to think through an issue. Because look, I know lots of people who homeschool their kids, hyper conservative, whatever, dah, dah, dah, dah, they surround them with, bound... And we homeschool our kids just for... I'm not picking it on homeschooling and we do it. But we know they surround their kids with a thick boundaries of thought. At the end of the day, they're going to go out into the world and they're going to have to evaluate all kinds of viewpoints and, and make up their own decisions. Genuine belief has to come from within, you can't coerce, but genuine belief.
Tim Muehlhoff: So let me tell you about inoculation theory real quick. So inoculation theory was this idea, it's very prevalent in comm theory, that if all you do is give a person one side of the story, evidence for one thing and never present to them the counter arguments, you've actually made them susceptible to the weaker version of those arguments from the other side, it's called inoculation theory. So I do think that unwittingly, some parents and maybe even Christian colleges or universities say, "Listen all we're going to do is pump them with the truth, our students for four short years and hope it sticks." And unwittingly, they may have made them susceptible to the arguments they're going to get outside of college or on the internet. And a weak argument suddenly becomes a powerful argument because they've never even heard any version of the other side. And now it has too much credence.
Preston Sprinkle: So, from my anecdotal experience, I was raised in a very conservative Christian environment and pros and cons. There's great things about that environment, and I would speak to that and some negative things, but one thing I don't think they did well is, they didn't go out of the way to accurately represent views that they disagreed with. So my environment happened to be a very, if my audience even knows what it means, a dispensational environment. And they would critique the so-called our millennial perspective. And they made it sound like it was from Satan himself. Okay, so they didn't do a good job accurately and graciously representing the other view. Well, what happened? Well, when I left that echo chamber, and I met some actual amillennialists who love the Bible, love Jesus. Believe in the second coming, it made me almost more tempted to be persuaded with that position, because I was like, "Wait, you're not supposed to think that, you're supposed to think this, I don't believe that." Their view wasn't represented well.
Preston Sprinkle: So going back to Greg Boyd and open theism, I want the best, most honest representation of open theism to be presented, because if it's truly so wrong, then it will expose itself. Or maybe it's a little more complex than that. Maybe it's still wrong, but maybe there's some deeper thinking we need to do to show that it's wrong. And so, at the end of the day, I want my audience and myself to think deeply about why they believe what they believe, not just that they believe what they believe.
Rick Langer: I think that's a great example too, where oftentimes things that may be an error, you don't even notice it until you get the good version of it, because you look at the crazy version to say, "Oh, that's just silly." Well, there's issues that come up in open theism about how do we make sense of what God does and doesn't actually do? How do we make sense of the other world are unanswered for all these other things that we deal with that are deep concerns for people in that area. And I don't agree with their resolution, but appreciating the depth of their problem. Sometimes it creates a little bit of humility in me, it just about saying, "Yeah, I don't agree with that answer, I understand mine isn't perfect." Other times it opens up avenues for understatement but I didn't have them.
Preston Sprinkle: Totally. It's hard to humanize the conversation until you get to know the person. So let me give you... I mean, again, I keep... Greg, if you're listening, because I doubt you are, but the first time I met Greg Boyd, was over pizza. We hung out over dinner. He's a pastor and the waitress came up, he engaged the waitress. When we prayed for our meal, he prayed for our waitress that she would see the glory of Jesus. He was conversing with her, he shepherds his people at his church with deep conviction that these are image of God bearers. He's incredibly biblically centered. Now you can disagree with his interpretation of the Bible. That's fine, but he is going to scripture to find his views.
Preston Sprinkle: And again, I disagree with open theism where we disagree with how to interpret various texts, but I learned to appreciate the humanity of him and the Christianity of Greg Boyd, because I got to know the actual person. Well, if I didn't have him on the podcast or didn't get to know him, or just kept him at arms length, then I would never get to know the humanity of that person. It would just be an abstract, two dimensional view that I'm refuting. But when you actually know the person, it doesn't change what you believe necessarily, but it changes how you embody your approach to scripture, which I think is helpful.
Tim Muehlhoff: Hey, can we ask you two very specific questions before we wrap up?
Preston Sprinkle: Sure.
Tim Muehlhoff: So again, I was at that pastor's conference. And let me tell you the two big questions I got right out of the gates. And I feel the pain of this, is when parents will walk up to me and say, "I have a gay son who's getting married and they've asked her husband to stand up in the wedding." And they are just thoroughly conflicted. And you can just feel the pain that's coming from them. They just don't know what to do. I kind of fumbled through my answer and have refined it over time, but I would love to hear what you would say to a person like that.
Preston Sprinkle: Number one, attending a gay wedding, I think it's a gray area. Officiating, I'm a licensed minister, okay, I can never officiate a gay wedding. I think that is putting your stamp of approval. Your public, I would even say spiritual stamp of approval on that wedding. I wouldn't officiate any wedding believer or unbeliever, divorced, remit, I want to be consistent. I don't officiate weddings where I can't genuinely say I endorse this as mediating God's blessing on them. But attending a wedding is much more ambiguous, loose objective. So I think it is a gray area.
Tim Muehlhoff: The same way as standing up in the wedding though. So the dad's going to be the best man.
Preston Sprinkle: No, so that's a little tougher. Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: Is it tougher though? What makes it tougher for you?
Preston Sprinkle: Well, I think if you're upfront, if you're a bridesmaid, groomsmen, participating in the wedding, that's one step closer towards approving. I still think it's a gray area. I just think it's maybe in between sitting in the audience and officiating, you're publicly participating and I've actually gotten this question several times in the last two days. Yeah, so I think, I don't want to violate somebody's conscience if they're like, "I can't do this, this violates my conscience." Then that I would say, then don't do it. I'm not going to encourage anybody to violate the conscience. I will say this, well, in terms of attending, when a parent of a gay child doesn't attend, and we don't build ethics on practicality, but practically, 95% of the time, it significantly hinders if not severs the relationship.
Preston Sprinkle: And so I've had one friend of mine say, why not be possibly wrong on one day and have a thousand opportunities to be involved in the life down the road, rather than taking your stand on this one day and very likely miss out on many other relational opportunities down the road. I had one parent that was told by her pastor, "Don't attend the wedding." So she didn't attend. And now her gay son or maybe his gay daughter, got married, whatever, adopted kids, and now she has technically grandkids. And she's not allowed to see them. So she has no opportunity to embody Jesus towards her grandkids because she was told to not attend this wedding. So with parents of gay kids, I don't want to violate anybody's conscience, but I would highly encourage them to attend.
Tim Muehlhoff: We did, in Winsome Persuasion, Rick, remember we did a whole thing on table fellowship, Jesus's table fellowship. Which is an interesting that this was public. Most of them were public the people would walk by and here is Jesus having a fellowship, sharing a meal with people that were known sinners.
Rick Langer: Tax collectors and prostitutes.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yep. And so that's interesting that he was able to separate the condoning thing, we're kind of back to. So you already laid the groundwork for the second one a little bit. What about the pronoun issue? And explain what I mean by the pronoun issue?
Preston Sprinkle: So some people who identify as trans will prefer a pronoun that doesn't align with their biological sex. So a biological female might prefer to be called "He" or "They." Those are actually different. One of my friends who is biologically female, who has severe gender dysphoria, but is a sold-out believer in Jesus. They prefer to be called "They." When my friend is referred to as "She," it flares up their dysphoria to the point where they're deeply tempted to start slicing themselves with a knife, which happens quite a bit. I'm not a psychologist, I don't know how to navigate that, all I know is that's just what happens. They also don't want to be called "He" because they believe they're not a "He." So "They," is neutral territory, it's a way to not succumb to a cross gender identity, which they don't believe in, but it's also a way to avoid being called "She," which for whatever reason, flares up dysphoria and leads to self-harm.
Preston Sprinkle: So when you understand, I guess my first response is, ask somebody why they [inaudible 00:26:41]. It take me a long to ask, "Why do you prefer a different pronoun?" Which can be a pastoral opportunity. I'm of the persuasion that you should meet people where they're at. What I do know is that if you refuse to refer to the pronoun that somebody prefers, that is a quick way to sever the relationship. And if my ultimate goal is to be in relationship with somebody, then I should be willing to, I think, meet them where they're at. Now having said all that, there's counterarguments to that. If you say, their preferred pronoun that doesn't match their biological sex, you're reinforcing error in your line.
Preston Sprinkle: And those are valid concerns. I'm not saying this is an easy question, but I do think there's better evidence and arguments in favor of meeting somebody where they're at, using the pronoun they prefer. And maybe if they're a Christian or get saved, or whatever, maybe the long-term discipleship goal, one of the long-term discipleship goals is that they would align with their biological sex even in terms of pronouns. Maybe it takes one year, two years, five years, 10 years, 20 years. Those of us who struggle with anger, have we arrived, discipleship sometimes can be incomplete even into the grave.
Rick Langer: The story you just told is a great one for me to think about, because I never would have imagined that being an issue that sat behind a pronoun.
Preston Sprinkle: Right. Yeah.
Rick Langer: And I realized, as you mentioned before, my ignorance, not of the nature of all these things out there, but the story of the person I'm sitting here talking to, and that's a great example of the value of listen first and listen to learn, understand, then you'll know a whole lot better what you're doing when you are or not using the pronoun, because you know why it matters to them and how it matters to them. So thanks a ton for the things you've shared. It's been a blessing for us to have you with us.
Tim Muehlhoff: And again, your content, you'd be the first to say your content can be debated. There's two sides to the issue. So Thank you.
Preston Sprinkle: Thank you so much for having me, I appreciate it.
Tim Muehlhoff: Hey, thank you for joining us at the Winsome Conviction Podcast. If you've enjoyed this episode, we encourage you to subscribe to the Winsome Conviction Podcast on Apple podcast, or Spotify or wherever it is, you get your podcast. Check out Winstonconviction.com, and you'll get a bunch of different resources. But we're here to resource the church, we're here to resource Christians, your small groups, that's really what we're all about. So again, thank you for joining us. We don't take it for granted.