Anchored Leadership Conference—Letter to Jonathan McKee
November 11, 2018
I appreciated your taking the time to sit with me over lunch last Saturday at the Anchored Conference in San Juan Capistrano and have a conversation.
I think we could both agree that we care deeply about both youth in and outside the church, and that the witness of Jesus Christ be portrayed accurately to the world. This is likely what motivates each of us to do the work we do. I care about moving conversations and ideas along to greater godly truth, and It was to this end that I took the time to fly from Nevada to Southern California and invested almost 11 hours listening to your point of view along with those of Greg, Caleb, Sean, and those on the panel.
I politely listened, took notes, and chose not to be at all disruptive during your event. And, as I pointed out to you specifically, though I strongly objected to some of your points, I did not make any statements, or ask questions during your presentation. I see no benefit in actions that publicly shame others.
Over lunch, I shared one point of concern with you about the pronouns you use for your transgender daughter. I am going to reiterate them here with research or substantiation when necessary, then, I will offer my other points of concern.
As I said over lunch—I was quite confused while listening to you speak about your child. I thought you said that you had a birth son who was currently identifying as female. I had to clarify that with the man sitting next to me because you kept referring to your child as “he/him.”
As I told you, I texted my friend, “Jill”, who is also male-to-female, while you were speaking. I asked her, “If you could speak directly to Jonathan about his usage of the wrong pronouns for his child, what would you like to tell him?”
When we spoke over lunch, I asked your permission to share her comments with you, and you replied, “Sure, why not?”
Again, reminding you of what I read to you, “Jill” wrote:
“Your daughter is your daughter. Her mental health requires that you use female pronouns. No matter how much you are convinced she is your son, she can’t be who you demand that she be.
So it is psychologically abusive to speak of her this way. All the major medical organizations agree. Don’t speak to me about an ‘everything’s okay’ culture and lambast trans people with it when we have conservative evangelicals excusing every awful thing our president has been doing as ‘okay.’
Your daughter is in her rights never to speak to you again if she so chooses.”
“Jill” then added, tell him also:
“His words are violence against her. He needs to realize that if he continues to do this, he is endangering his daughter. It also encourages physical violence against her, especially since he is talking about her in such a public forum. There are people out there who hate trans people enough to try to kill them, and talks like this motivate killers.
I am unable to have these type of conversations for very long, especially if the person I’m trying to reason with is so dogmatic that they won’t even consider another opinion. And in this case, our position is not just an “opinion.” It’s based on science and a consensus among medical organizations about the best way to love a child.
To dig in one’s heels and use pronouns contrary to the gender a person identifies with is psychological abuse.”
“Jill” attended a very conservative seminary for five years, and is a Greek and Hebrew scholar. [REDACTED section]
“Jill’s” input is not just opinion. The best research about positive and negative impacts on gay and trans kids who are embraced/not not embraced and unvalued/valued for who they are (their orientation or gender identity) comes from the Family Acceptance Project.
The core piece of information I want to highlight is this:
To be clear, I absolutely heard you say, and believe you, that you love your daughter. Sometimes, however, our best intentions, especially those done with a level of ignorance and without good and informed education and input, will still cause damage.
I particularly would like to note that people you speak to on this topic will likely imagine you to be fully informed and educated on the issue because you are taking on the role, wanted or not, as presenter and expert.
How you speak about your daughter will be assumed to be the “right” way and the loving way. As I mentioned, I could hear and understand you say “I did not intend to . . . “ but there is so much excellent information available that not taking the time to dig into the facts is no longer an excuse. It is in fact, culpable ignorance.
I believe, as parents and leaders, we are called to both know better and do better.
When you call your daughter “Alec,” you are using what is called her “dead name.”
PART OF LETTER REDACTED FOR PRIVACY
Again, whatever arrangement you arrive at in agreement with your daughter is your arrangement. I am letting you know what is considered to be more standard, more considerate, safer, and more loving for your child. You, as a leader, may what to know what the research and what transpeople themselves say/feel/think as more important than what you imagine might be best and loving.
There are many articles online that address this straightforwardly. Try this one.
Specifically, on the topic of transgender people, I am fairly sure you will have read some popular Christian books that you assume to be loving and true. Here are a few of the standard, recent books that are thought to be the “best” in conservative circles.
I review lots of books and have written what some of my friends call “epic” reviews of those books. Sorry, not sorry.
Here are the books and the links to my reviews embedded:
When Harry Became Sally by Ryan Anderson
God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew Walker
I recommend that you read:
Transforming by Austen Harke
Extensive list of books I have reviewed
My two greatest concerns on this topic are that you do all you can to ensure that your child is safe and feels loved and that you, seen as a leader and expert, are truly well informed on the topic of transgender people.
A few other points from your presentation:
At one point, you showed some video clips from a talent show with a young man who had once tried out for a coveted spot, failed, and returned several years later, this time, performing in drag. Though you never said it, nor were the clips you selected clear, I strongly believe the young man was doing drag. You presented him as a “gender confused” person, perhaps your way of indicating a transgender person.
There is a difference between drag and being transgender: one is performance art, the other is gender identity. You conflated them. Before you present that series of clips again, I would strongly encourage you to listen to his story, and present it accurately.
Over the bulk of much of your presentation, you alluded to a narrative that went something like this: devices, social media platforms, music, and movies have pushed sexual promiscuity forward and thus, youth, being entrenched in those media and movements, are emboldened to test out the sexual orientation/gender identity waters that may have once been off-limits. You seems to infer that LGBTQ youth are more numerous and spurred on to this “new” frontier because they live in a more sexually charges culture.
Making such an inference of a causal link is sloppy, and you were quite unclear in even making that link. I am a note-taker (you may have noticed). I look for and hear connections. You moved from one section to another without connecting thoughts and reasoning. You just dropped LGBTQ into the sexually charged mix without substantiation.
I would propose that some of the online resources you say increase sexual awareness have saved the lives of many LGBTQ youth. Especially those kids and young adults living in conservative church environments who may not be aware that there are other kids like them. They are frequently alone and isolated, living in shame and fear. The internet has allowed these kids to find resources and community.
These kids find resources like Gay Christian Network (now Q Christian Fellowship), The Reformation Project, affirming churches, sermon, and the like. I know I have been receiving mail from young LGBTQ folks for over a decade when they find my Youtube videos and blog. I have been told “you (my online messages) saved my life” hundreds of times.
I imagine that your presentation is effective in causing fear and shock about sexual messaging in today’s culture. I would however encourage that you be more cautious and not fall off the cliff into sensationalism. I am sure you intended that we be shocked by the lyrics etc, but there is a point at which it is too much, and really, overly vulgar. Maybe look for balance?
Incidentally, there was a quick glimpse of a slide in a series of a girl that was be the target of bullying. There was a message to her that read “you need the D.” I hope you are aware that “D” is slang for “dick.” Was that really necessary?
You suggested that Christians as either being positioned as haters or affirming in this conversation about sexual orientation and gender. I don’t see non-affirming people as “haters.” I think this is typical of those I work alongside. What I do commonly find however, is that there are those who are not well educated and informed on these topics which does not allow them to make wise choices and decisions.
During your talk, you offered Dr. Paul McHugh as an expert on transgender issues. Oh my!
McHugh is widely popular in conservative circles, but that does not mean he is well-informed or operating out of available expert information. McHugh has been largely dismissed outside conservative environments. One can be a pioneer and still be misinformed. I offer this one article, but there are dozens of others. Look for them and make your own informed decisions about McHugh and the usage of his data in your presentations. He has a nasty habit of misusing research and studies. A really nasty habit of it. In fact, I point this out in several places in my book reviews linked above. Kids will check your information out. When you use people who are considered to be junk scientists, you lose credibility.
You ended your presentation by encouraging others to empathy. Empathy is walking alongside. It is learning; listening far more than telling, and being willing to risk being wrong.
I hope you do read my book that I gave you. There is likely lots of information in it that you may not be aware of, have considered or linked together. There is even a chapter on sex, gender, and orientation that you may find helpful.
I also encourage you to invest time in two videos I recently created in Austin, TX. They are long, but they are filled with research, history and insights. Part 1 and Part 2.
I imagine this letter shares a lot of information, and some of it, though tough, may even be unwelcome. I get that.
As I mentioned when we spoke, I would hope you might drop your defenses, you are not the victim, nor the one being damaged. Please choose to learn, investigate, and do better. The lives of LGBTQ youth are at risk, great risk. Many of these children/youth are sitting in your presentations and hearing your shaming and ill-informed messages that wholly condemn them. You may believe you are couching your words in love and empathy, but please believe me, that is not how they are likely falling on the ears, souls, hearts, and spirits of the most vulnerable.
These kids will in all likelihood leave the church and leave the faith under your teachings.
Know better and do better.
Incidentally, when I left the conference on Saturday afternoon, I went to a retreat hosted by Open Door, Evergreen Baptist Church, Rosemead, CA. This is the LGBTQ Christian group I was with until Sunday evening.
These too are the people of God, just as they are.
UPDATED NOVEMBER 13, 2018 I received a very kind response from Jonathan McKee. His response indicated that he is open to information that he has not been aware of. I appreciate and commend such responses.