By Rosaria Butterfield - Posted at TableTalk:
A few years ago, during an open question and answer session on a college campus, a student accused me of hate speech. She referred to something I described in my lecture, when in 1998 I was in my kitchen confessing to my transgender friend Jill that I was starting to believe that the gospel was true, that Jesus is alive, and that we were all in trouble.
This student approached the microphone and blurted: “That’s hate speech! When you described your transgender friend putting her hand over yours as you shared your new faith in your kitchen, you mocked her! You actually said that your transgender friend had large hands!”
I paused, perplexed, and asked, “So . . . it is hate speech to say that Jill’s hands are large?”
The student practically exploded off the floor: “Of course it is!”
“Jill stands six foot two without heels,” I explained. “I’m five two. My hands barely cover an octave on the piano. Compared to mine, Jill’s hands are large. Large is a descriptive adjective.”
The student tossed her own hands in the air in exasperation and declared: “Transgender women are hurt by such insensitive observations. It’s hateful.”
Me: “Why is it hateful to say Jill’s hands are large?”
Her: “This is what leads LGBTQ+ people to suicide!”
Me: “But the size of Jill’s hands is a measurable, objective truth.”
Her: “Who cares about truth? Your truth isn’t my truth. Your truth hates my reality!”
How did we get to a place where it makes sense for a person to reject truth not because it’s false but because it hurts? How did we get to a place where we label people—image bearers of a holy God—as knowable primarily by their political and social group, as if that is their truest and most indelible virtue? Under what worldview could my words cause suicide but the genital mutilation that allows a biological man to masquerade as a woman cause celebration and affirmation?
This exchange grieved me. It still does. This college student is the fruit of my life as an unbelieving professor. I had been a university professor living in serially monogamous lesbian relationships during the 1990s. This student’s response calls to mind Jesus’ famous exchange with Pilate after His arrest. Jesus said: “I have come into the world that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice,” to which Pilate dismissively responded, “What is truth?” (John 18:37–38, NKJV). Pilate audaciously stared Truth in the face and walked away, but he didn’t deny its reality. How have we arrived at a place where students on elite college campuses perceive objective truth as a threat to personal safety and authentic selfhood?