On the dignity of LBGTQIA people, there is no third way
If you aren't LGBT affirming, you're a Christian fundamentalist
Preston Sprinkle is the Evangelical author of “Embodied,” a book that helps Evangelicals be kind to trans folks without affirming their gender identity (which is actually not kind at all). Recently, I was tagged in a tweet of Sprinkle’s that expressed a common thought that I have encountered time against while writing Jesus Takes A Side: that the Christian progressives sound just like Christian fundamentalists. He wrote, “The progressive Christian left sounds soooo much like the fundamentalist right I grew up in. Different values; same posture, tone, and passion to demonize the ‘other.’
In my experience and opinion, these critiques of progressive Christians is that they are centered on LGBTQIA inclusion. For these moderates, it is the heat they face around LGBTQIA inclusion that really sets them off. Activists and queer people might call them bigoted, intolerant, or even hateful. And this is exactly “the posture, tone, and passion to demonize the ‘other’” that Sprinkle is talking about.
Instead of engaging with the real lived experiences of queer people and why they’d have in this thinking, he haphazardly lumps them together with fundamentalists. He claims that those fundamentalists, who hate LGBTQIA people, and literally queer people, are the “same.” Advocating for yourself in passion is not the same, in any way, to passionately advocating for the oppression of others. And this false equivalency is why Preston’s argument falls flat on his face.
Sprinkle isn’t unique in his perception that progressives act as fundamentalists, many among the moderate Christian right, the kind that thinks Trump, Christian Nationalists, and the insurrection is a little too extreme, are surprised that many queer folks and allies (not to mention BIPOC and their allies) don’t see their good intentions. It’s as if they are entitled to the care and affection of the marginalized since they aren’t the worst among bigots. But that fact is, for queer Christians, their bodies are not negotiable parts of the Christian tradition. Even if the majority of Christians oppose their humanity and their dignity, they don’t have to tolerate that mistreatment. We are allowed not to relate to or dine with those who oppress us, those who think our very lives are sinful, and that doesn’t make us fundamentalists, it makes us sincere.
Sprinkle is an expert at obfuscating his true message, though. Queer people can often see through it, and allies can as well, but the actual truth he is offering is lost on many well-intentioned “moderate” Christians. His book on trans folks garnered high praise from Evangelical publications, but if you listen to his words, you can see through his veneer right to his bigotry. In his interview with Christianity Today, he was asked this:
What should trans readers take away from your book? And what about non-trans readers?
For my trans readers, I want them to feel seen and understood. I would never presume to tell them about their own lived experiences, but conceptually, I hope they find greater clarity about what science and Scripture do and don’t say. After all, many trans friends will remind me that they aren’t experts on these matters. They don’t necessarily have an airtight grasp of a biblical theology of gender—or even gender dysphoria itself.
Sprinkle is trying to forge a third way between trans folks and transphobes, but fails at doing so. He gaslights them into thinking that he’s listening to their story – that he sees and understands them. Then he argues that he is there to offer them “greater clarity” about science and the Bible and how it contradicts how they understand themselves. Plus, he has trans friends that aren’t experts on those areas – so how could they even know what’s happening in their bodies. Sprinkle basically says “I know how you feel, trans friends, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Agreeing with Sprinkle, Dan White, a “third way” thinker, offers a definition of fundamentalism, which is novel. He wrote in response to Sprinkle’s tweet:
Fundamentalism is not what we believe, it's how we hold our beliefs.
1. Absolutism in Knowledge
2. Self-righteous in Spirit
3. Combative in Dialogue
4. Us vs Them in Orientation
5. Demonizing Other Groups
6. Policing Ideological Borders
7. Using Shame to Ostracize
Not only is this definition not historical — since Christian fundamentalism is literally a Christian school of thought with specific tenets — it’s also vague to the point of being useless.
Very briefly, “absolutism in knowledge,” applies to any strong assertion of fact or opinion – Sprinkle (as he demonstrates above) and White both do that. “Self-righteous in spirit,” is entirely an interior issue – who are we to judge someone’s spirit? I suppose that’s one way to demonstrate being “combative in dialogue,” though. Sprinkle and White both demonize “progressives” and categorize them as in an “us vs. them” binary. Furthermore, they “police ideological borders” by insisting they are not conservative or liberal but have found a third way. Finally, Sprinkle’s condescending tweet certainly is “using shame to ostracize” progressives. While I think Sprinkle’s ideology is in fact fundamentalist, it isn’t because it falls into White’s categories. My point was to showcase the weakness of White’s argument. (For more, check out Will Lee’s tweet thread on this.)
It’s important for those who are not affirming to realize that their “niceness” doesn’t really separate them from the bigots from which they are trying to distance themselves. Whether you oppress me with a smile on your face or not, the result is the same. There is no meaningful, or possible, “third way” path between affirming queer folks and not affirming them. You either do or you don’t, and if you hesitate to answer, or call your opponents fundamentalists, or what have you, it’s clear which side you have taken. There’s no third way and thus no meaningful different between Preston Sprinkle and Dan White and the fundamentalists they critique.