Planet Fitness, Gender Issues, Cultural Boundaries

A recent controversy over a woman being banned from Planet Fitness has yet again thrust the subject of gender identity into the media. A woman reported that a man had been invading the women’s locker rooms and refused to leave, claiming that he identified as a woman. After several consecutive complaints, the woman was banned from the location. As it turns out, Planet Fitness’ judgment-free-zone slogan was not limited to workouts, but applies in a larger context. Your first reaction might be to think that this is ridiculous—and your reaction might be justified. But given the ambiguity over gender identity in the last several decades, you probably shouldn’t be too surprised.

Psychology makes a distinction between sex (physical traits) and gender (psychological identification.) That being said, a person can be born with male reproductive organs, but identify as a woman. Whether or not we agree with this is irrelevant; this is psychology speaking. Sooner or later this issue begins to boil over and demand some sort of answer as to how this should play out in the public sphere. Does sex trump gender in terms of public privileges? If I am physically born a male, but psychologically identify as a woman, what determines my right to enter into a woman’s bathroom? To make matters slightly more complicated, what happens if I am a man who identifies as a woman, and is attracted to other men? Which bathroom is he/she allowed to enter? And the confusion goes on.

Now to some people, this issue is a no-brainer. If you are born with male anatomy, you are a male! You may be outraged that we even need to discuss this. However, we need not let our fairly comfortable disposition in a so-called Christian nation keep us from being blind to the inevitable. The question must eventually rise:

What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman?

My evangelical friends will say that those who love the God of the Bible will have an answer to this question. But who does the culture love? Certainly not God; therefore we shouldn’t expect it to ground it’s morality in God. You could say that the culture loves human rights above all; not realizing that the term human rights is not synonymous with absolute human privilege. All humans should have rights, but not all humans will have equal privileges (hence, men entering into women’s locker rooms). As a more extreme example, some humans, when given certain freedoms, will use them to enslave over humans. Hence the need for cultural guidelines. Somewhere along the line we restrain people from excising freedoms. We have laws and law enforcers for the purpose of keeping abusers from abusing. That’s all fine until we really begin to probe for answers about what is truly right and wrong. Why shouldn’t a man who thinks himself to be a woman be allowed into a women’s locker room? Because it isn’t ethical! You might say. But ethical according to who? The man? The woman who notified the staff? Psychology? The problem is, who sets the ultimate guidelines?  When culture embraces relativism, it removes the original guidelines. It seeks to give each person a section of guardrail and then sets them free to place it where they wish. We should then not be surprised when the designs that we have created do not suit our flourishing—we cannot even agree on which edges we should be guarded from.

To conclude, we really shouldn’t be surprised by this incident at Planet Fitness. You can disagree with it (as I do), but the man who invaded the women’s locker room was simply excising the privileges that the culture-of-psychology permitted him to exercise. When we’ve made a mess out of what it means to be man or woman you can expect these sorts of things to follow naturally. Hence, the need for God. Humans are what God has created them to be. Take God out of the picture, and you’re left with confusion about what humans truly are, and what humans are allowed to be.

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Thoughts on the Fear of the Lord as the Beginning of Knowledge

A popular verse in the Old Testament is Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the Lord the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The word “fear” in this instance is probably not what you’re thinking of when you think of the word today. Unlike a fear of heights or public speaking, the “fear of the Lord” is, in the words of Tim Keller, “sustaining a joyful, astonished awe, and wonder before Him.” Now taking what we know about ‘fearing’ the Lord, you might wonder how this relates to the beginning of knowledge. Certainly a fear of the Lord is helpful, in that it enables a person to live correctly. A correct knowledge of God should result in correct actions in response to this knowledge of God. Fools despise God’s decrees and thus fail to align their life correctly to truth. That being said, I would like to look at this passage from another angle and deal with the word, “Beginning.”

How is it that sustaining a joyful, astonished awe and wonder before God is the foundation of knowledge? Perhaps one way this plays out, is in regard to the philosophical implications of atheism—a system which also has the misfortune of adopting relativism as its brother. Relativism maintains the idea that all truth is relative. What one person claims to be true can be rejected by another, since they are equal beings. Truth is not absolute because it is relative. On atheism a person has no choice but to also adopt relativism; thus all claims about what ought to be, particularly in regard morality, is simply a matter of opinion. If there is no greater authority outside of humanity itself, then there can be no obligations that transcend human opinion. On atheism I may be able to say that something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’—but that is simply relative to my opinion, since there is no ultimate authority (God) on which to ground moral obligations. Therefore, on atheism a person can do something, but there is no reason why we ought to do anything at all. An atheist can object and claim that there is such thing as objective morals, but yet again, that would simply be his word against mine.

We have to say that true knowledge of how we ought to live and what we ought to do is ontologically grounded in God. According to Proverbs, fools despise this wisdom and instruction, and it is also fools who say “there is no God.”[1] Without God we’re left in the dark about the true nature of humanity, the objectivity of moral principles, and the purpose of life. Without the fear of God we’re free to pretend we have the answers to ultimate questions—but we’re really only taking a shot at it. Therefore it is vital, in order for us to have a true knowledge of life, we must have a fear of the true God.

[1] Psa 14:1

The Cure for the Boring Testimony

It’s pretty standard in Christian small groups to share a personal testimony about your life and the events surrounding your conversion to Christianity. For many people, sharing their personal testimony is—if they were to be honest—a little bit dreadful, in the sense that there isn’t much of a story to be told. They weren’t drug dealers, prostitutes, or murderers before their conversion to Christianity. Frankly, most of them were children.

I once heard the story about a woman who was in the porn industry before she was converted to Christianity. Since her experiences enabled her to know first-hand the kind of conditions that surround other men and women in the industry, she was able to use her testimony as a way of reaching out to others who may be trapped or recovering from being in the pornography business. Now married, her husband has helped her establish a ministry for the sole purpose of aiding those who are still dealing with the repercussions that follow. I was encouraged to see that someone who had been in the same awful place as many men and women around the world, was using her experiences to help spread the gospel and minister to the hurting and to the broken. Who could nominate a better person to reach that people group, than someone who had been part of that group themselves?

A slight danger

Christians might hear a story like this and think, “This is how God takes a broken life and uses it for something incredible.” It’s true, God is capable and often does use people’s experiences to reach the hurting for his glory. Think of the story of Joseph in Genesis. Joseph is despised and betrayed by his brothers; he is sold into slavery; he is forgotten in prison. But at the end of story, when the broken bones are mending and tears of reconciliation are falling, Joseph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”[1] God is fully capable of bringing good from evil, which is precisely what has happened in the story of Joseph. In a similar fashion, God is able to take the horror of our circumstances and turn them around for the purpose of good—if it is his will. However, there is a problem when we begin to think that we must have an ‘interesting’ testimony in order for this to happen. While trying not to be too critical, the problem that I began to notice as I listened to the woman who was a former porn star was that her entire life was still built on the porn industry—not in the sense that her ministry was geared towards the porn industry (it was), but in the sense that she identified herself as the ex-porn star. Everything would rise and fall on that.

There is absolutely nothing wrong using our testimonies to reach those who have living through similar experiences. Stories can be instrumentally used for this purpose. But a story of a person’s life is not the point of a testimony. Take a brief look at part of Paul’s story:

“Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”[2]

Whatever achievements Paul had in Judaism were nothing compared to the riches of knowing Christ. Paul would have trumped any testimony you or I could give, and yet his focus is razor sharp: It’s all about the power of the gospel.

You are not your testimony

There is the danger of a person’s testimony overshadowing the purpose of the testimony. The purpose of the testimony is to point to Christ; regardless of the content. That does not mean that we cannot use our stories for God’s glory; it means that our aim is to make Christ the central figure of the story, not us. I’ve come to realize that almost every time I’ve had the opportunity to share my own testimony that I tend to place the emphasis on me instead of Christ. I forget that my past, present and future should be arrows pointing to the cross.

Whether you’ve grown up in the church or lived a life worthy of its own movie script, the purpose of your story, and the central figure of the narrative, is always Christ. Paul was no longer Paul, persecutor of the Church. I am no longer Zack, Prisoner of ________. We are all free through Christ[3], new creations[4], and sons and daughters of God[5]. The cure for the boring testimony is to set the focus onto Christ. What your life may or may-have-not been is simply a build up for the climax of the story: the power of Christ in your life. Remember that entertainment is not the purpose of a testimony, Christ is. Remember that you are not your testimony, you are Christ’s.

[1] Gen 50:20

[2] Phil 3:4-8

[3] Rom 8:2

[4] 2 Cor 5:17

[5] 1 Jon 3:1