Dana Rivers may well have within him the potential to become the most popular teacher in the history of the Antelope, Calif. school system. After all, in the eight years he's taught at the high school, students have consistently named him the best teacher they've ever had. But the career educator may never find out just how good a teacher he might have been, and that would be a good thing.

Until the current semester, Rivers was David Warfield, a solid professional educator whose greatest contribution was developing an award-winning program for unmotivated students. But this fall, he reported for duty in a dress, high heels and eye liner. He announced that he had been undergoing hormone treatments in preparation for a sex-change operation in the near future, and went before the media saying he didn't see why this should preclude him from carrying on with the duties of his profession.

This prompted the school board to place Rivers on paid administrative leave, pending formal dismissal — and no small number of students, parents and teachers to rally in support of him keeping his job.

Rivers' supporters — and much of the media covering the developing story — want to know what harm could possibly come from an upstanding and productive individual exercising his “personal choice” to determine his gender. So what is wrong with this picture?

Well, for starters, it's a clear case of an adult in position to exert a strong influence over young people putting his own interests before those of the young people.

But, even more fundamentally, according to the natural law, we judge the morality of an act, not primarily by the effects which it may or may not have, but in regard to whether the act itself is in accord with our nature. Boiled down to the act itself, “transsexual ism” violates the integrity of the body (by mutilation), blurs the inherent distinction between male and female, and denigrates the proper goal of sexual desire, procreation.

But merely saying these things does not do much to help us, as Christian evangelizers, to explain our faith to a culture that views “tolerance” as the most sacred of all values. To explain why something like this is both wrong and harmful, we must have a firm grasp of the errors that inform our society's approach to moral matters.

First, our society no longer takes nature as the standard and limit of desire and action. Instead, desire itself has become the standard, and technology (including medical technology) the means to remove natural limits which stand in the way of our desire. We no longer ask, “Should we do it?” but “Can we do it?”

The problem with such an approach is simple: once the limits of nature have been overthrown, the only limit is technical power. Since technical power increases almost daily, our society continually stretches the limits of the morally acceptable. But that amounts to morality with only provisional limits, which is the next worst thing to no morality itself.

Compassion is misplaced when we do not distinguish between giving someone what he strongly desires, and giving him what is actually good for him. Only the latter is true charity.

Second, there is a tendency in our culture to overlook “private” matters, no matter how outrageous, in the lives of those who do well in public. Increasingly, that includes continuing to tolerate aberrant “private” behavior even when it's carried out in public. The error behind this principle can be seen clearly in regard to sexuality (where it is most lavishly applied in our day and age). Even though the sexual act itself is private, it is the very origin of society. How we regard sexuality will determine, in great part, the order and character of public life. This is why the marriage ceremony has been regarded by sane societies as a public act.

The devious aim of the public/private defense is the smuggling in of a moral deviation for the sake of eventual public approval, and hence integration into the public order. We have seen the same tactic used in the successful moral normalization of artificial birth control, abortion, divorce, pre-marital sex and pornography, and now it is being applied to advance the normalization of homosexuality and euthanasia.

Third, our society tends to confuse misplaced compassion with true charity. Compassion is misplaced when we do not distinguish between giving someone what he strongly desires, and giving him what is actually good for him. Only the latter is true charity. One hundred years ago, it would have been unimaginable to offer abortion to an overwhelmed mother; today the culture cannot imagine living without this “option” and viewing it as morally neutral, if not morally right in many cases.

To return to Mr. Warfield, it is not a question of how strong his transsexual desires are or how long he has had them. Charity should be directed to helping him, by an offer of spiritual counseling and support, to change his desires (insofar as he can), and bear his affliction (insofar as he cannot).

But, so long as this individual persists in acting out his selfish and scandalous “expression” while on the job of teaching young people, let us demand that he not be permitted to set foot in a classroom.

Benjamin D. Wiker teaches at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California