What J.K. Rowling can teach us about standing firm among the crowds

Social media, the sexual revolution, and the Christian’s faithfulness to Scripture

June 16, 2020

With everything going on in our world, one could easily be forgiven for missing the latest internet controversy. In the midst of a pandemic and mass cultural upheaval over racial justice in America, there are more than a few things occupying our time and attention right now. But something transpired online recently that Christians should pay attention to. A little more than a week ago, J.K. Rowling, the renowned author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, decided to tweet about the issue of transgenderism. And as it tends to do, the internet exploded.

The backlash against J.K. Rowling

Rowling’s initial tweet was a response to the headline of an article promoting the idea of equality for women as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. But in a rather inelegant attempt not to use the word “women,” which the progressive edge of sexual revolutionaries finds, to quote Douglas Murray, “increasingly triggering,” the headline instead opted for the designation “people who menstruate.” And for Rowling, an avowed feminist, this was simply a bridge too far. So she fired off a tweet quoting the article headline with this response: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” Because for Rowling, only women are women. And she denies there is any insult or indignity in saying so.

For those who don’t follow the ins and outs of current discourse related to gender and sexuality, Rowling’s tweet was deemed out of bounds by supporters of transgender ideology because she dared to recognize that biology is definitional in terms of womanhood. The tweet received more than 30,000 replies ranging from expressions of solidarity and support to criticisms, threats, and calls to “cancel” her forever. But it wasn’t just the faceless mob denouncing Rowling. Not only were multiple articles published in major outlets criticizing her failure to adhere to trans orthodoxy, but several actors who starred in the films based upon the fictional universe Rowling created—including Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and Eddie Redmayne—took the opportunity to criticize or rebut her views.

But despite the backlash, Rowling stood her ground. In response to the controversy, she took the opportunity to offer her own extensive reply on her website. In more than 3,000 words, she defended her views and explained her deep concern for issues related to sexuality and gender. And as she details in her reply, as a victim of both sexual assault and domestic abuse herself, among Rowling’s chief concerns with the “consequences of the current trans activism” is its potential to leave biological females, whether grown women or young girls, open to harm. After repeatedly emphasizing throughout the post her support for people identifying as transgender, Rowling offered this appeal at its conclusion: “All I’m asking – all I want – is for similar empathy, similar understanding, to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats and abuse.”

Why Christians should pay attention

Yet for most of her critics, Rowling’s explanation and conciliatory measures were sorely insufficient. And this is why Christians should pay attention. Rowling is a public figure. She acknowledged in her post that criticism is a part of fame and made no appeals for sympathy. But that isn’t really the point. What shouldn’t be missed here is that before Rowling was subjected to ridicule for failing to keep in step with the latest developments in progressive sexual ideology, she was actually a much-lauded ally among those celebrating the cultural acceptance and legal recognition of same-sex marriage. In other words, Rowling was a hero among those at the forefront of the sexual revolution until she wasn’t. As she mentioned in her reply, a few years ago, Rowling publicly drew the line at denying an objective, biological reality. As a result, she has at several points, including this most recent controversy, endured the very worst kind of scorn and vitriol.

This is a lesson for all of us, particularly believers, as we confront issues related to human sexuality. Over the last decade, there has been enormous cultural pressure to abandon the sexual ethics of Scripture. And in the days and years ahead, that pressure is only likely to increase. You may be called a bigot or a hatemonger simply for holding fast to what the church has always believed. You will be called intolerant. You might even be cancelled. But all of that is okay if it means you held fast to Jesus.

If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would one day be defending J.K Rowling, I would have said you were detached from reality. Harry Potter was a huge deal when I was growing up, and it seemed everyone on the planet was reading the books except me. As a youth group kid who took himself too seriously, I used to joke that while my friends were reading about Hogwarts, I was reading Hebrews. And for a while, I was convinced that reading those novels was some kind of gateway to atheism or the occult. 

When it comes to issues of sexuality, Christians must remain faithful to what God has revealed to us in the Scriptures. We can affirm the value and dignity of all people without denying what God has said is true about men and women.

I no longer believe those things, and would timidly acknowledge my own appreciation for her work. But more than being impressed with Rowling’s creative genius that allowed her to produce a mythical world loved by millions of people, I’ve been even more impressed with her resolve in the face of the mob. No one likes being attacked. And it's never easy to stand alone as one is being derided, shamed, and maligned. But so far Rowling has held fast to her convictions. And there is a powerful lesson in this.

For Christians, our moral anchor is ultimately Jesus. Even as we face enormous pressure to shift our positions or alter our core beliefs, we can look to him and remember his example. In his life, Jesus faced pressure from his family, friends, and followers. Not only that, but he was tempted by his adversaries and challenged by his circumstances. Yet at every point Jesus remained faithful. He refused to do anything out of step with the Father’s will. And his people are called to do the same.

When it comes to issues of sexuality, Christians must remain faithful to what God has revealed to us in the Scriptures. We can affirm the value and dignity of all people without denying what God has said is true about men and women. We can love and support people who are hurting without affirming what we know to be false about what it means to be male or female. And we can do so knowing that for some people that will never be enough. Because, as Katie McCoy noted recently, for some, “Expressing anything less than unqualified agreement constitutes a violation—an elimination—of personhood.”

The apostle Paul once said that he aimed to please God rather than men (Gal. 1:10). As we continue to face these issues in the future, embracing the same aim is our only hope. Christians will face pressure to conform to the views of the world. But if J.K. Rowling’s example should teach us anything, it’s that once you do so, you’ll never be permitted to stop. There’s a better way. So remember the example of Jesus, and stand fast.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24