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ALLY IN THE ACADEMY

How natural is ‘Natural Law?’

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First, some good news. This spring the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a challenge to the transgender bathroom policy approved in 2018 by the Boyertown Area School District, leaving students there the right to pee in peace.

Market Square Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg added gender identity and expression to our mission statement, which affirms that we welcome “friend and stranger alike into our diverse and inclusive family of faith regardless of worldly condition of any kind.”

The statement already included sexual orientation, along with race, class and national origin, and those of us who wanted to add the new language had some educating to do. Talking about gender identity and expression is a difficult and challenging conversation to have with folks who haven’t had much exposure to the LGBTQ community.

Now the bad news. The Trump administration continues to roll back the advances in transgender rights wherever it can. An especially troubling effort has left transgender people in the military in a very bad place, along with any transgender American who would be proud to join our armed forces.

Many people use the concept of “natural law” as the underpinning of their arguments against any changes to the longstanding dichotomies of male/female, gay/straight and all the others. I’d like to include right/wrong and good/sinful here as well.

Well, what is natural law, anyway? Thomas Jefferson and company thought the principle was the bedrock of the foundations of our country. All men are created equal, he wrote, and all enjoy certain inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (The Declaration of Independence notes these particular unalienable rights are simply three of many others.)

These rights are endowed by their creator, he wrote, and come from “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” And there begins the debate, beginning with “Nature’s God.” What is the God of Nature—the one in the so-called Old Testament Bible? The New Testament Bible?

It’s clear that many people who decry the concept of gender identity and expression are those who worship the God of the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, and they have a very clear idea of just who/what that God is and just what kind of beings that God created.

Many Christian fundamentalists take literally the Genesis stories of how God created the earth and human beings (there actually are two accounts in Genesis. They also believe the earth was created in seven actual days and that the earth is not nearly as old as science tells us. Therefore, they believe in male and female and nothing else in between or beyond, and they believe that “natural law” is God’s law.

Christian and other conservatives are using their view of natural law to fight against all the social justice initiatives LGBGTQ communities are advocating for. They also are using natural law in the abortion wars, because, according to them, natural law says a fetus is a person and therefore abortion is murder.

Natural law is being used as a cover for fundamentalist and evangelical believers who want God enshrined in our laws, and thus they are challenging the wall between church and state. They will strongly disagree, but I think this means they either don’t believe in the First Amendment or simply don’t understand it.

Back to the Garden of Eden. I wonder what kind of man Adam was. Do you think he was a “manly man,” a “real man”? Was he a “girly man”? And what about Eve? Was she “all woman”? Was she Aretha Franklin’s “natural woman”? What do those terms really mean?

In a country where cultural norms have established clear distinctions between what is and what isn’t considered normal, gender identity and expression remain too complicated for people caught up in their own world view. As always, the answer is information and education. Enough of both will get us through today’s arguments. At least I hope so.