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An alarming shift in public opinion

Steven Wedgeworth | A new study reveals changing American attitudes toward children undergoing sex-change procedures

A protester in Austin, Texas, last year Associated Press/Photo by Eric Gay (file)

An alarming shift in public opinion

A new study shows that only 43 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 65 disapprove of sex-change procedures for adolescents. Importantly, this survey did not ask about whether adults should have the freedom to pursue such a medical procedure. Instead, it specifically limited itself to children and teenagers. Should minors be able to take hormones or even undergo irreversible surgical procedures to alter their bodies? Most of the respondents answered either “Yes” or “I don’t know.”

This shows that there has been a massive shift in public opinion on this matter over the past decade. It is extremely discouraging for those of us who hold a traditional and Biblical view of the human body and divinely created sexuality.

Mark Regnerus and Brad Vermurlen, both out of the sociology department at the University of Texas at Austin, consulted data taken from 2018 to discover public opinion in the United States toward “hormonal and/or surgical interventions for adolescents seeking medical treatment for gender dysphoria.” They found that while the largest percentage of those interviewed either “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” with such procedures, this did not constitute an overall majority. Twenty-three percent either “agreed” or “strongly agreed,” while another 31 percent said they were undecided.

Regnerus and Vermurlen explain that they took their data from the 2018 Post-Midterm Election Study. A pronounced anti-Trump (and thus, likely anti-GOP) turnout at the polls could have possibly affected the results. It is also possible that some of those who responded “Neither agree nor disagree” simply did not want to make their opinion on the matter known. Therefore, we can’t necessarily assume that these numbers accurately reflect the overall American public. Still, the results are jarring. The study also went on to categorize the respondents according to their religious and political views, and these results should be of concern to us all.

Public opinion is rapidly changing, and unless a person has a very strong and self-conscious position on the fixed nature of human sexuality, they are likely to be persuaded toward the emerging sentimentality.

Notably, the single most decisive factor in a respondent’s opinion on the permissibility of sex-change procedures in young people was religious identity and behavior. This variable proved more important than age and even more important than political affiliation. Respondents who stated that religion is more important “than anything else” registered an 80 percent disapproval of adolescent sex transitions. This is 8 percentage points higher than the metric for those who described themselves as “very conservative” and 11 percentage points higher than those who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. The religious group that registered the strongest opposition to sex change among minors? Evangelical Protestants.

Eighty-one percent of evangelical Protestants either disagree or strongly disagree with the idea that children and teenagers should be able to access medical procedures to change their biological sex. Mormons came in second place with 80 percent disapproval. Astoundingly, Roman Catholics only disapproved at 35 percent, with a full 25 percent agreeing that minors should be able to medically transition to another sex—2 points higher than the survey’s overall percentage of approvers.

While the solid showing among evangelical Protestants might encourage readers who share that label, the overall findings of this survey are extremely unsettling. Just a few years ago, we would have expected an overwhelming majority of Americans to oppose invasive and irreversible elective medical procedures for children. And even today, many of us would like to think that the Christian response would be more consistent. The reality, however, is that public opinion is rapidly changing, and unless a person has a very strong and self-conscious position on the fixed nature of human sexuality, they are likely to be persuaded toward the emerging sentimentality.

We can draw a few more lessons from this study. While religious identity is important, the kind of religious identity is even more important. Despite its robust intellectual capabilities, Roman Catholicism is not currently imparting its official doctrine of human sexuality to many of its members. Evangelical Protestantism, however, is having strong success, even while it is routinely lambasted by the most prominent figures in the U.S. media.

This in turn might tell us that our current moment of cultural division and so-called tribalism is also serving to bring at least some religious groups into greater uniformity on issues of human sexuality. While many have lamented the fact that evangelical Protestantism is elevating certain ethical questions nearly to the level of orthodoxy, Regnerus and Vermurlen’s study might indicate that this is actually a strength. Clarity and a strong emphasis have meant that evangelicals know their religious position on sexuality and largely claim it as their own. More “adjustable” religious traditions, on the other hand, end up looking more like American culture at large, or to put it another way, more like the world.

Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the rector of Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Ind. He has written for Desiring God Ministries, the Gospel Coalition, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and Mere Orthodoxy and served as a founding board member of the Davenant Institute. Steven is married and has three children.


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