Franklin Graham's gender wars: Why Christians boycotting Target are missing the point


American megastore Target has come under fire from critics over the last couple of days after announcing that it would no longer be using gender-specific signage in some of its aisles.

In a statement on August 7, Target said that "important questions" had been raised by customers about signs in stores that offer product suggestions based on gender. "In some cases, like apparel, where there are fit and sizing differences, it makes sense. In others, it may some departments like Toys, Home or Entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary," the statement said.

"We never want guests or their families to feel frustrated or limited by the way things are presented."

While many have hailed this decision as a step in the right direction toward inclusivity, others have lamented what they see as a bow to the gods of political correctness. Perhaps none have been so vocal in their criticism as Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, who blasted Target on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

"The Washington Post reports that Target will stop using gender specific signage in their stores. In order to be gender-neutral, they won't be separating things like toys and bedding into boys' and girls' sections. Oh really? And they won't be using pink and blue colors to identify sexes," Graham wrote.

"I think Target may be forgetting who has made their stores strong. It's not gender-neutral people out there – it's working American families, fathers and mothers with boys and girls they love. What's next? Are they going to try to make people believe that pink or blue baby showers are politically incorrect?

"I have news for them and for everyone else – God created two different genders. Jesus said, 'Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female?' (Matthew 19:4). You can't get any clearer than that. If you agree, share in the comments below – and let Target know what you think. Let them know that you are perfectly willing to shop where the genders God created are appreciated."

Some of the comments on Graham's post have to be seen to be believed. "This is going toooo far ~ I won't be back ~ I am so sick and tired of so many people being offended" one follower wrote. "If we believe God is our Creator, we need to realize He does not make mistakes, He created us as either male or female, not gender neutral," another responded.

What appears to have happened here is a perfect example of missing the point. While God indeed did create male and female, he said nothing about what toys they should play with, or what colours their rooms should be painted. I can't help but think there are few things less necessary than ascribing certain toys, books or bedding to a specific gender.

It's ironic that Christians talk about being "counter-cultural" so often but seem to have an obsession with aligning with socially-constructed expressions of gender. Does giving my seven-month-old nephew a doll to play with mean I am countering God's design for All Males Everywhere? Simply put, no.

Some of my earliest memories are of my brother and I playing with Polly Pockets. We also spent long hours in the garden while he tried to teach me to overhead kick (needless to say, I never got the hang of that one), and building various trucks, cars and Star Wars scenes out of Lego. I loved it all, and had my parents separated us, putting us in pink and blue corners to play with 'appropriate' toys, we would have missed out on something special. Telling girls they must stick to fairy castles and glitter while boys play with dinosaurs and monster trucks only serves to compound damaging messages about our worth as individuals.

Of course, there are much bigger debates to be had about gender, sexuality and a whole host of other issues that the Church has ignored for too long. This is not the space for that. But it is perfectly possible to hold to a belief that God created two different sexes, without making the gigantic leap to suggest that we should put limitations, therefore, on how gender is expressed through the toys we give to children. It's a totally arbitrary argument and one that does nothing for the cause of the Church.

This year, 15 million girls will be forced into marriage, while 130 million women have undergone Female Genital Mutilation to date. According to the UN, over 99 per cent of women and girls in Egypt have been subjected to sexual harassment and, frighteningly, an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked into slavery every single year.

Those are terrible statistics, and ones we should be outraged by. As Christians our fight should not be whether we let little Timmy play with a pink balloon, but how we build a world in which men and women are, finally, equal.

Follow @CareyLodge on Twitter.