By / Jan 29

A physician that merely diagnoses a problem is not particularly helpful. When we see our doctors, we expect the diagnosis as well as a treatment plan. Typically, effective treatment includes a correct answer to a “how” or “what” question. How did we get to the place we currently are? Or perhaps, what caused this problem in the first place? The answers to these questions take us to the problem’s source. If these questions are answered, then the future—the treatment—seems more plausible. 

Imagine we are not talking about your physical health, but our culture’s social imaginary—what our culture has accepted as normative. For example, how did we get to a place where the sentence, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” (19), is understood as coherent and meaningful? Carl Trueman’s latest work, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, like a good physician, goes beyond a diagnosis and explains the origins of our cultural moment. 

The path of the revolution

Trueman’s thesis is that the modern (or post-modern) view of “self” is the cause of the moral and sexual revolution (22). He believes it is near-sighted and without context to suggest that somehow the sexual revolution appeared out of nowhere in the 1960s. Instead, he argues, the ideas of particular intellectuals from the 18th and 19th centuries have become mainstream, even if undetected. They are the source of this new definition of self which, in turn, is the cause of the sexual revolution. The path of the revolution, according to Trueman, follows three simple steps: (1) the “self” must be psychologized, (2) psychology must be sexualized, and (3) sex must be politicized (221).

Step One: The self must be psychologized

For a culture to conceive that a man can, in any real sense, become a woman, a psychologizing of the self must take place. The statement, “I am whom I think I am; whom I feel I am; whom I say I am,” must somehow be considered sensible. For this thinking to become part of our social imaginary, the teaching and writing of four 18th– and 19th-century men had to be believed, even if unacknowledged—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Charles Darwin. Though most do not know these men’s specific teachings, and some may recognize their names, their ideas have seeped into our culture’s understanding of the world. 

Rousseau taught that men and women are essentially born good but social conditioning has corrupted all (111). Therefore, only through authentic self-expression, no matter the expression, can man and woman be made whole again and find true satisfaction and happiness. In other words, there exists no objective human purpose in this life; each is required to self-create. Toward the same end, Friedrich Nietzsche attempted to persuade other enlightenment philosophers of the consequences of “god’s death.” He convincingly taught that without a god, there is no telos to this life, and therefore the individual must create themselves, including their meaning and purpose (174). 

In contrast to Nietzsche, Karl Marx believed in a human nature; however, he taught that human nature is always in a state of flux based on cultural context. Additionally, according to Marx, because history is a story of the powerful oppressing the powerless, and because traditional morals were a tool of the oppressor, human nature does not include a responsibility to obey any “so-called” objective morality (191). Finally, Charles Darwin, perhaps the most well-known of the four, who was beloved by Nietzsche and Marx, obliterated the telos of mankind. If human life on Earth is not contingent on a creator, as Darwin opined, then the idea of an authoritative purpose to life is unnecessary. 

Trueman summarizes their contribution this way: “Darwin strips the world of intrinsic meaning through natural selection; Nietzsche, through his polemic against metaphysics; Marx, through . . . a radical and consistent materialism . . .” (191-92). In other words, for all of these men, meaning is created, not given, and therefore the modern view of self need not include the material, but only the psychological. Consequently, while “self” used to be defined by a creator’s purpose, a physical body, and one’s responsibility to a community, now it is defined by only a person’s will. 

Step Two: Psychology must be sexualized

Trueman then turns to Sigmund Freud to explain how the psychological man has been sexualized. He explains the main prod of Freud’s teaching as a polemic against civilization’s attempt to socially condition morality in order to curb sexual expression. For Freud, sexual gratification is the highest good for humans; therefore, sexual repression is not morally right, but morally evil. Additionally, he believed that a culture’s sexual ethic leads to inauthentic living. Hence, if “self” is psychological and true happiness is found in my unfettered expression of sexuality, then my true self—my identity—is nothing more and nothing less than the sexual expression I chose for myself. Trueman persuasively shows that before Freud, sex was an activity, but after Freud, sex was an identity. 

Step Three: Sex must be politicized

Perhaps the genius of Rise and Triumph is how Trueman detects the foundation of the politicization of sex. It is no secret, especially for those on social media, that the pre-political no longer exists. Today everything is politicized—education, morals, religion, pandemics, and especially sex. Trueman points to the Frankfurt school of the early 1900s to explain the existence of what he titles the “New Left” (229). He calls this the “shotgun wedding of Freud and Marx” (230). Marx’s ideology was economic, however the Frankfurt school, particularly through Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse’s writings, amalgamated Freud with Marx, resulting in a cultural Marxism where oppression can be, and often is, psychological. 

By combining the philosophies of Freud and Marx, a new victimhood was created. Instead of the oppressed being laborers who are exploited for cheap labor, the oppressed are those whose sexual preference, sexual orientation, gender identity, and so on are not recognized and celebrated by the culture at large. These sexual minorities are now victims who ought to be fought for—enter the political scene with legislation to do just that. The process is complete. How did we get to a place where misgendering someone can get you fired? Where schools allow biological men in women’s bathrooms and locker rooms? These were accomplished in three easy steps: (1) the “self” has been psychologized, (2) psychology has been sexualized, and (3) sex has been politicized (221).

Trueman’s end is not just a diagnosis or an explanation of how we got here, but an exhortation to the church—a treatment plan, if you will. He briefly suggests three things that should mark a church in our present moment: (1) the connection between aesthetics and core beliefs and practices, (2) a renewed emphasis on community, and (3) a recovery of natural law and a high view of the physical body (402-7). 

A standard procedure for book reviews is to summarize, praise the good, and charitably critique the deficient. In this case, at the risk of sounding overly flattering, my critique is only that the book was not longer. Though much historical and philosophical ground is covered, Trueman’s mastery of the subject allows him to write in a way that the historian and philosopher respect, yet the layman understands. I am hopeful that Trueman will endeavor to write a sequel, possibly undertaking the practical side of how Christians might speak generously and convincingly to a culture that has redefined self. I could not recommend this book any louder. Every Christian who is paying attention to our cultural moment should have this book in their hands.

By / Dec 10

Sam Allberry brings fresh insight to both a secular and religious audience in his book Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With? His approach and tone in answering this question are primarily geared toward a secular audience, to whom he states, “I urge you to consider carefully, and as objectively as you can, as I try to explain why I think sex matters so much to all of us” (9). His argument at the outset is: “God cares who we sleep with because he cares deeply about the people who are doing the sleeping” (10).

In the early chapters of the book, Allberry sets out to dispel popular notions about sex. For example, he uses the Sermon on the Mount to show that sex was actually so important to Jesus that the sexual act of adultery was not just a physical act but a mental act as well. And he shows that the Bible teaches emphatically that sex is good and should be enjoyed. 

Contrary to what the world might say, Allberry argues that all people believe in some form of sexual restriction. He contends, “Even the most dedicated proponents of sexual freedom acknowledge that some boundaries are necessary; it’s just that these boundaries are so often assumed, and we don’t necessarily recognize that they’re there and that they’re boundaries” (25). Allberry seeks to bring common beliefs that both Christians and secular people would acknowledge in order to show that the Christian understanding of sex is not as antiquated as one might believe.

The Christian sexual ethic

As the book progresses, Allberry goes on to explain the historic Christian understanding of sex within the confines of marriage. While many people view sex through the lens of personal self-fulfillment, sex is ultimately about self-giving. Sex is not simply the giving of our physical body but our emotions and our minds. He explains, “Our culture often claims that we can give someone our physical body without giving them our whole self, but Christians would say that this is not so” (50). Sex within marriage is the only way to give completely of yourself to another person in the way that God designed.

Allberry also points out that the sexual ethic of Christians, while controversial today, actually brought great benefits to many in the Greco-Roman world. First, for example, Christianity taught that men had sexual restrictions, while in the Roman world, men could satisfy their sexual urges in any number of ways. Second, men in the Roman world had all the power in sexual relationships, but Christianity taught a radical mutuality between man and women. And finally, the mutuality between man and woman became the basis for consent which, as Allberry highlights, is “perhaps the most important sexual ethic Western society continues to insist upon” (61).

A picture of a romance 

The book concludes by circling back to the initial question posed in the title of the book. God cares who we sleep with because the story “of who God is and what he is doing in the world—is actually a romance” (124). Allberry uses the image of the bride and bridegroom to illustrate not only the value of marriage but how marriage is a microcosm of a Christian’s relationship to Jesus. In a wedding, nobody is watching the groom. The bride is the focus, and she is beautiful and spotless on that day. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, he wipes away our sin so that we can be presented as a beautiful and spotless bride. 

Also, on the wedding day, the bride and bridegroom make a lifelong, exclusive, legal, and covenant promise to one another. A Christian’s union to Jesus is also a legal transaction. One receives Jesus’s perfect righteousness, and Jesus takes on their imperfection and sin. Allberry explains that “marriage has a purpose for and benefit to the husband and wife, but it also has the wider purpose and public benefit of being a shadow and foretaste of what God is offering to all people in Jesus” (134).

The primary strength of this book is that it could be read by a Christian or non-Christian with both coming away challenged and informed about the Bible’s understanding of sex. He writes as a pastor with a heart for people. While acknowledging the secular views that many people have, he redirects them toward a biblical understanding of sex. Allberry closes the book with this powerful statement that sums up the answer to the book’s question, “God cares who we sleep with because he cares who we spend eternity with, and he wants us to know him and experience his ultimate love forever” (137).

By / Nov 12

Every person is created in the image of God. The ERLC affirms the biological differences between male and female reflected in God’s creation. God’s design was intended for human good and flourishing (Gen. 1:27). The ERLC upholds the Southern Baptist Convention’s position on gender identity stated in its summary of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message which says “Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation.”

Allowing biological males to participate in female sports is unfair to women and girls. Athletic competition clearly demonstrates the physiological differences between male and female. Biological males possess distinct physical advantages over biological females, which give them an unfair athletic advantage. These biological differences are the purpose of sports, separated by sex. Opening up sports to males hinders females the opportunity to compete and thrive in athletics.

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Allowing biological men to compete against women and girls disrupts the intent of  Title IX civil rights law. Schools that allow biological males to participate in female sports programs are discriminating against biological females. In order to protect the integrity of women’s sports, only biological females should be allowed to compete.

The ERLC calls on Congress to pass the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2021. The Act would clarify that it is a Title IX violation for schools that receive federal education funds to permit biological males to participate in female sports. Congress should protect women and girls by ensuring they are given a fair opportunity to compete in athletics. 

By / Oct 2

A friend sent me a link to an advice column this week featuring parents who are seeking to raise their child “gender-neutral” but are frustrated that their daughter keeps opting for a wardrobe typically associated with her biological sex. Our culture makes a lot of sex and gender today. In recent years, new words have entered our vocabularies to describe the way our gender or sexual identities align (or not) with our genetic makeup. A little more than a decade ago, words like cis, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming would have been nearly meaningless to the majority of the population. And even if you’re not familiar with these words, you can be sure that your children are or that they will be soon.

Our kids are going to grow in a world that is shot through with confusion about sex and gender and what it means to be male or female. So how can Christian parents help their children navigate this difficult terrain? Doing so will certainly be a challenge. But there is good news. Helping our kids navigate confusion about human sexuality won’t require us to learn much that is new. Instead, we mostly have to embrace something old. 

Made in his image

On our Bibles’ first pages, God tells us a lot about the way that he made us. When he creates Adam and Eve and places them in the garden, he tells us that both the man and the woman bear his image. I love the way that Genesis 1:27 puts it, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:27). The most important thing about men and women is something they hold in common—both are made in the image and likeness of God. So as a starting point, our kids need to know that God made them with a purpose. He made them to represent him in the world and to reflect his likeness in creation.

Made male and female

But in that same verse in Genesis, we learn something else about the way that God made us. Though men and women both bear God’s image, men and women are distinct. Together, they represent the two complementary halves of humanity. And this brings up a second helpful point for kids on this topic. Not only did God make them for a purpose, but he intentionally made them either male or female. It is not uncommon for kids to question, at various times and to varying degrees, why they happen to be their particular sex. Growing comfortable in one’s own body is challenging for everyone. One of the best things you can do for your child is to teach them about God’s design for men and women and reassure them that everyone feels awkward about this at times. Especially today, kids need to know it’s not freakish or weird to feel uncomfortable or to have questions.

Only male or female

One of the reasons this topic can be so difficult for parents is because we sometimes lack the vocabulary to discuss these things together. But truthfully, the basics are pretty simple. When we use the words male or female, we are talking about a person’s biological sex. A person’s anatomy and genetic (chromosomal) makeup determine whether a person is a biological male or female. So when we say that sex is binary, we mean that God makes us either male or female. And what our kids need to know is that this is not an accident. The Scriptures speak often of the special care that God takes in creating and caring for each one of us (Psa. 139:13-18; Matt. 6:25-34). A man I deeply respect once told me that as he prays with his children, he regularly takes time to pray for his sons, “I thank God that he made you a male” and for his daughters, “I thank God that he made you female.” Parents can do their children immeasurable good simply by affirming the goodness of God’s design to them.

Masculine or feminine

Because sex is binary, that means that your child will live their whole lives either as a man or woman. But this doesn’t mean that your child has to conform to various stereotypes about masculinity or femininity. Your son is a male regardless of whether he would prefer to read and practice the piano or camp in the woods and chop down trees. Your daughter is a female whether she prefers pink dresses and tea parties or woodworking and watching football. The reason we are so often confused about this though is because we’ve unwittingly embraced ideas about how our biological sex is supposed to find expression. But the answer isn’t to raise “gender neutral” children; it’s to understand the Bible’s full range of masculinity and femininity.

Though the world is confused about sex and gender, Christians can hold fast to what God has said and affirm the goodness of God’s design

No one doubts King David was a manly man. He killed both a lion and a bear to protect his father’s flock before killing Goliath the giant to protect the flock of God (1 Sam. 17). But David was more than a warrior. He was also a harpist and a poet (1 Sam. 16). If your definition of manhood excludes King David, it also excludes Jesus, who not only fashioned a whip of cords to cleanse the temple and bore the fury of God’s wrath against sin, but wept at the death of his friend Lazarus and routinely exhibited compassion for the lost and hurting. Darrin Patrick used to say that a biblical man must be tough and tender, and I think that is a helpful way to put it. 

The Bible’s depiction of femininity is no less compelling. God made men and women distinct, and a special part of his design for women is their beauty and ability to nurture and care for others. But the Bible nowhere reduces women to objects. Throughout the Scriptures we see acts of faithfulness and even heroism featuring women God used to preserve his people and advance the gospel. The Hebrew midwives defied the authority of Pharaoh. Rahab assisted the spies to help Joshua take the Promised Land. Esther’s courage saved God’s people from destruction. The Bible also recounts the faithfulness of Ruth, the fearlessness of Jael, or the significance of Mary the mother of Jesus. The woman described in Proverbs 31 has noble character, speaks with wisdom, and is clothed in strength and dignity. That is exactly the kind of portrait we should hold up for our daughters.

The beginning

There is much more to say, but my hope is that this provides a foundation from which to engage these conversations with your sons and daughters. Though the world is confused about sex and gender, Christians can hold fast to what God has said and affirm the goodness of God’s design. Aside from pointing them toward Jesus, the best thing you can do for your children to help them understand how God made them is to model biblical manhood and womanhood in front of them. Fathers should be tough, ready to protect their families. But they should also be tender, kneeling down beside the bed to pray. Mothers should bless their children with incredible nurture. But they should also model the incredible range of gifts God bestowed upon women. 

By / Aug 27

Amid the cultural upheaval of COVID-19 and what has turned out to be one of the most eventful years in modern history, a dehumanizing and predatory perversion of technology has been spreading in the darkness of our communities: pornography. While the out-of-sight nature of pornography makes it is easier to shrug off its insidiousness, especially given the social unrest of the moment, the rise in predatory marketing plans and expanded pornography use should not be left alone because of the monumental human dignity implications.

As the coronavirus lockdowns went into effect throughout the world in March, Pornhub, the world’s largest online pornography provider, announced that they were providing users in Italy free access and subscriber privileges due to the nation’s outbreak and isolation. The company has also provided similar access to users in other nations such as Spain and France. In light of the free and open access to this pornographic content, Pornhub self-reported on their official blog that daily usage increased by 38-61% throughout these European countries, which led them to also claim that “people all over Europe were happy to have distractions while quarantined at home.” According to the company’s June analytics report, “worldwide traffic to Pornhub continues to be much higher than it was before the Coronavirus pandemic spread worldwide.”

The company also demonstrates how people are also searching for virus-related pornography. According to Pornhub’s report, there have “been more than 18.5 million searches containing Corona, 1.5 million containing Covid and 11.8 million containing Quarantine. More than 1250 coronavirus themed videos have been uploaded to Pornhub, with many being viewed over 1 million times.”

None of this should come as a surprise because the pornography industry is well-suited for a worldwide pandmeic. As the Economist reports, the industry “has already largely moved online; and its consumers often voluntarily self-isolate.” This pandemic has not created a pornography problem in our communities and homes, but it has esacerbated a deep and disturbing trend of separating sexual desire from relational wholeness and marital fidelity.

The problem of porn

Statistics can only take us so far in understanding the deceptive nature of pornography and how it is ruining so many lives throughout our world. At the heart of pornography use is not just young men and women who are unable to control their sexual desires or openly reject God’s good design for our sexuality. The core of the problem is an acceptance of a worldview and morality that isolates our sexuality from our whole person. This deep division of body and mind from flesh and desires contributes to the growing trend of the normalization of pornography and the perversion of human sexuality.

The unbridled mantra of our day is that the real you is your deepest desires and emotions, cut off from the embodied nature of humanity. As Nancy Pearcey states in her book Love Thy Body, “sexual intercourse, the most intimate of bodily experiences, has been disconnected from personal relations” (emphasis original). This bifurcation of humanity has led to countless perversions and abuses of fellow image-bearers, most evidently seen in the rise of the sexual revolution and the corresponding rise of pornography worldwide.

As the culture around us continues to buy into the lie of the sexual revolution, the Church has a call to proclaim the goodness of the created order and the redemption found in Jesus Christ.

When we separate what it means to be an embodied soul, the use of pornography becomes commonplace because it allows for the sexual high outside of any relational context and reduces humanity down to what writer Melinda Selmys describes as a “wet machine,” which could also be understood as a soulless body or organic machine. The real you—the disembodied ghost— controls this machine in order to pursue pleasure in any way you see fit, regardless of the cost to yourself or others.

Alongside this division of body and soul, another dehumanizing effect of pornography is the objectification the person on the other side of the screen (or even headset, in light of the explosive growth of VR porn in the last few years). One of the ways this manifests itself is in the faceless nature of pornography and the obession over the body. God designed the face to play a major role in how we see each other as individuals and subjects, worthy of respect and honor, and made in his image (Gen. 1:26-28). As the late philosopher Roger Scruton describes in The Face of God,

“The underlying tendency of erotic images in our time is to present the body as the focus and meaning of desire, the place where it all occurs, in the momentary spasm of sensual pleasure of which the soul is at best a spectator, and no part of the game. In pornography the face has no role to play, other than to be subjected to the empire of the body. Kisses are of no significance, and eyes look nowhere since they are searching for nothing beyond present pleasure. All of this amounts to a marginalization, indeed a kind of desecration, of the human face.” (107)

Scruton goes on to show that this desecration of the face leads to a “canceling out of the subject,” rendering sex—especially in a pornographic culture—“not as a relation between subjects but a relation between objects.” Through the use of pornography, we naturally objectify the other because we are not concerned with them as a fellow human but rather as an instrument that leads to our sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure becomes the primary goal of the user rather than a deep and intimate connection with another image-bearer as a whole person. 

Predatory porn

The dehumanizing effects of pornography affect those on both sides of the screen. Not only is the viewer dehumanizing themselves by separating the goodness of sexual intercourse from its proper context, but there is also a victim who is portrayed and treated as nothing but a simple object of desire. These victims often see sexual acts as the only way to provide for themselves or even as a way to attain fulfilment or freedom.

During this pandemic, some people are turning to various pornographic websites like IsMyGirl to earn extra income. This particular site offers predatory promises by signing up to become a model. According to a March press release, the company opened up lucrative “opportunities” for furloughed or out-of-work McDonald’s employees. The popular pornography platform stated, “in an effort to help McDonald’s employees, and to make sure they can continue to provide for themselves and their families, we want to help provide them with a legitimate option.”

This “legitimate” option is nothing less than asking others to sell their bodies in order to make ends meet during these extraordinary times. But as the culture around us continues to buy into the lie of the sexual revolution, the Church has a call to proclaim the goodness of the created order and the redemption found in Jesus Christ.

While it may be tempting to overlook those stuck in cycles of pornography use or even the industry itself, Christians have the mandate to speak out against the predatory practices of the entire pornographic industry. Part of this mandate will mean that some believers will need to address and seek help for their own pornography addictions. For others, it will mean speaking out against these dehumanizing atrocities in order to expose the lies and predation of the porngraphic industry. 

The Christan moral witness proclaims that sex is not designed for a temporary high, online exploit, or even a late-night addiction. We are more than just machines. We are people created in God’s image. We are embodied souls who are offered redemption by the God who took on flesh himself in order to save us from ourselves. And our hope in the midst of this porn pandemic is that what is hidden will come to light in the fullness of time. As the church, we must be ready to proclaim the forgiveness found in the light of Jesus Christ while working to welcome, defend, and care for the vulnerable among us. 

By / Jun 16

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.

By / May 8

No corner of society is exempt as our nation grapples with the complexities of work during a pandemic. Our church services and school classes moved online. Americans in every industry had the hours of their shifts change, are working from home, or, sadly, for tens of millions, were laid off as jobs evaporated. In Washington, D.C., Congress is in and out of recess, balancing the need to legislate with the safety of its members and staff. Most executive branch employees, whose work is not directly related to the coronavirus response, are also working remotely. And beginning this week, the Supreme Court traded in the bench and marble columns for a conference call line.

The Supreme Court is famous for its tradition and decorum. The court kept their proceedings insulated to those in the room even through decades of technology advances that placed the Senate floor live on CSPAN and White House meetings as they happen on Fox News. There are no cameras in the courtroom. Press and the public who make it inside take notes with a pen and paper. The audio of the oral arguments is recorded and released with a transcript after the gavel strikes.

This makes what began on Monday of this week all the more remarkable. The nine justices dialed in to connect by phone with the lawyers whose cases they would hear, and the public was able to listen in real time. The Supreme Court adapted to the circumstances and carries on with its work.

This year’s docket is full of significant cases for issues the ERLC engages ranging from religious liberty to medical standards in abortion clinics to the defintion of “sex” in civil rights law. The following is an overview of some of the key cases on which the ERLC filed an amicus brief, also referred to as a “friend of the court” brief, and will be decided in the coming months.

Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Two of these cases of interest will be heard and decided between May and June. The first is Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was heard this week on May 6. This case, yet again, considers the religious exemption from the HHS contraceptive mandate. Although such an exemption to this mandate was previously honored for religious organizations like the Catholic Ministry, Little Sisters, a few states sued in federal court to remove it. Jeff Pickering of our Washington, D.C., office covered the arguments in an article earlier this week. We are urging the court to guarantee this religious exemption and protection of conscience once and for all, consistent with their prior 2016 ruling.  

Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morissey Beru

The second case to be heard this month is Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morissey Beru, set for oral arguments on May 11. After the contract of a teacher performing religious functions at a faith-based school was not renewed—the reason given by the school was poor performance—the teacher sued. This case debates whether the First Amendment’s religion clause allows courts to second-guess a religious organization’s employment decisions when the employee performs religious duties. The ERLC filed an amicus brief asking the court to maintain protections of the ministerial exception and to protect religious schools from this kind of government intervention.  

Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC

The Court will also be ruling this term on Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, which was consolidated with two others, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and Altitude Express v. Zarda. This set of cases raises the question of the meaning of the word “sex” under federal civil rights law dealing with employment discrimination. The Court will be answering the question of whether Title VII prohibits discrimation based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This opinion could have sweeping effects, and the issues at stake will continue to fuel legislative battles following the opinion. The ERLC filed an amicus brief in these cases alongside other religious institutions that contend "sex" in Title VII does not include either classification of orientation or identity. 

June Medical Services LLC v. Russo

The next case the ERLC filed an amicus brief on is June Medical Services LLC v. Russo. This case seeks to determine the constitutionality of a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to meet the same medical standards as all other ambulatory surgical centers, which includes securing admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. This case is the first time the Supreme Court has taken up an abortion-related case since the addition of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. While this ruling could have an impact on the viability of abortion clinics to remain open in Louisiana, that’s not the primary issue the justices are asked to consider. The ERLC’s brief argues that this case is simple: states have the right and responsibility to ensure the safety of their citizens. This includes protecting women from the haphazard practices of abortion clinics that not only kill unborn children, but also prey upon women in crisis. We hope that the court will uphold this common sense law that simply brings abortion clinics in line with the same safety standards applicable to all others in the medical community they claim to belong to.  

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue

The final case, which has already been argued and an opinion is pending, is Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. This case deals with the ability of student aid to be used at private religious schools. The ERLC filed an amicus brief arguing that religious organizations should not be discriminated against and should be eligible for generally available and religiously neutral student aid. This case is an important opportunity for the court to protect students from religious discrimination.  

While we worked diligently and now pray earnestly that the Supreme Court will make decisions that uphold life, religious liberty, and the freedom of conscience, we ultimately place our trust in God to fulfil his plans and use us along the way. As the psalmist declares, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psa. 20:7 NIV).

ERLC intern Hannah Daniel contributed to this article.

By / Apr 30

This summer will mark five years since the Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. Ahead of that decision, Christians were facing mounting cultural pressure to embrace the aims of the sexual revolution. Specifically, Christians were being challenged to jettison the traditional sexual ethic that has been a marker of orthodoxy throughout the church’s history, which spans two millenia. But if anything, in the years since the Supreme Court found its way to recognize a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the pressure upon the church to compromise its views of human sexuality has only increased.

Some Christians have, in fact, evolved on the issue. One of the more shocking things to me personally was watching author and pastor, Josh Harris, take up the mantle of the LGBT movement. Growing up, I was profoundly shaped by Harris’ ministry, particularly his works on relationships and sexuality, so seeing his marriage come to an end and his subsequent overtures toward pro-LGBT causes has been both painful and disillusioning. Others, of course, were less shocking. There have always been Christians, even in positions of leadership and influence, who appeared uncomfortable with the Bible’s sexual ethics. Over the last several years, dozens of these men and women have either signaled or publicly announced that they no longer hold such views.

But even as some have forsaken the Bible’s teaching on issues related to sexuality, the majority report is just the opposite. Across the United States, millions of Christians have shown no signs of softening their commitment to the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality. And while this is surely puzzling to some observers, there are at least three reasons that we should expect this to remain the case — not simply in the short term, but forever.

1. A Christian view of sexuality isn’t subjective

The first reason that Christians won’t opt for a different view of sexuality is because this isn’t actually an area where choice is a significant factor. Those who are committed to a high view of Scripture recognize that God’s revealed Word is the only standard for our faith and practice. We are not free to revise or ignore the testimony of Scripture. And in matters related to sexuality, whether speaking of sexual orientation or sex and gender, the Bible sets forth clear and ample instruction.

The Scriptures declare that God has, from the beginning, made each person male or female (Gen. 1:27). A person does not choose his or her sex; existing as either male or female is a matter of biology. But more than that, it is a matter of design. Human beings are not simply the products of reproduction, but creatures that exist because of a Creator. And we don’t get to choose our sex any more than we choose to be created.

In the same way, the Bible only has one conception of marriage: the union of man and woman (Gen 2:24). As the Scriptures teach, the marriage bond is reflected in the sexual union. Sexual intimacy between husband and wife is the manifestation of the reality the Bible calls the “one flesh” union. And like one’s biological sex, the biblical vision of marriage is not subject to revision.

2. Compromising on sexuality is unloving

God is our Creator. And the God who created us is benevolent and kind. In his Word, he instructs us about how we are to live our lives. And the instructions we find in the Scriptures teach us how to live according to the “grain” of God’s design. Conforming one’s life to the pattern of God’s design is the key to flourishing. This is especially true when it comes to issues of sexuality, which have so much to do with our sense of identity and fulfillment.

Conforming one’s life to the pattern of God’s design is the key to flourishing.

All around us the culture says that freedom and satisfaction are found in the absence of constraints. In terms of sexuality, the message is even more specific: embrace your impulses, follow your heart, and seek pleasure wherever you believe it to be found. But God’s Word offers a completely different vision. Rather than solemnizing our search for pleasure, the Bible presents an ordered vision of sexual fulfillment. Sexual pleasure is not to be sought with abandon, but reserved for a relationship marked out by a covenant. More than this, seeking pleasure beyond the bounds of God’s design leads to brokenness.

To sin is to miss the mark, or to deviate from God’s design. And Christians are never free to bless deviations from God’s design. Same-sex marriage will undoubtedly grow familiar to our society, but even so, Christians holding to the ethics of Scripture will not substitute what seems normal with what is true. Whether facing pressure to compromise concerning same-sex marriage, transgenderism, or other issues, Christians must continue to dissent while lovingly pointing back to the goodness of God’s design. To do otherwise is to sow confusion into the hearts and minds of those who are out of step with God’s design.

3. The Judgement Seat is worse than criticism

Given the enormous pressure to accommodate alternate expressions of human sexuality, there will no doubt be more Christians who capitulate to these pressures in the future. But most will not, because to do so is terribly short-sighted. As Russell Moore often remarks, Christians do not live in view of the next 50-100 years, but the “next trillion.” Being on the right side of the culture at any given moment in time may bring temporary relief from one’s burdens, but much more important is the goal of being on the right side of Jesus. And his judgments on these matters have not changed.

Christians must always be cognizant of the fact that they will one day stand before God to give an account, for their lives, their actions, their beliefs (Heb. 9:27; Rom. 14:12). To deny or reject what God says is true in order to satisfy one’s critics or win the applause of men is to fundamentally miss the call of discipleship. Jesus’ words to those who would follow him are well known: deny yourself and take up your cross (Matt. 16:24). No amount of praise is worth embracing the sins for which Christ died.

There is no excuse for calling good that which is evil, and leads to hell. And for this reason, we can have confidence that the people of God, both now and in the future, will continue to stand firm not only with regard to human sexuality, but the entire witness of Scripture. This is because one cannot remain in submission to God’s Word while compromising the truths his Word clearly declares. God forbid we ever try.

By / Jan 8

The world of relationships has been dramatically altered by social media, dating apps, and online dating sites. Furthermore, the sexual revolution clashes with a biblical understanding of sexuality and the meaning of relationships. Ben Stuart speaks at the ERLC National Conference on navigating life and love in the modern age.

By / Jan 3

Recently, our church hosted an event called “Truth Talks,” covering the issues of gender and sexuality and led by Dan Darling and Josh Wester. Our purpose for the event was to help students and parents navigate these important topics from a biblical, Christ-centered perspective and to provide context for ongoing conversations between parents and children and within our congregation. We believe making disciples of Jesus and loving our neighbors well means helping Christians walk with people who share various views and live diverse lifestyles.

The statements included here are my takeaways from the event. I’m not sure which are direct quotes from Darling and Wester and which are my own summary statements. So let’s concede that the profound ones are theirs and the other ones are mine. I trust they will all be helpful.

  1. God created humans distinctly male and female by design and for a purpose, and we each, therefore, possess profound dignity and worth. No one’s background or behavior diminishes their value as human beings.
  2. As Christians, we believe the Bible and yield to its teachings even when those teachings make us uncomfortable. We can expect the Bible to challenge us, but our sensibilities do not lord over the Scriptures. Instead, we submit to the Bible as an act of faith in the God of the Bible.
  3. Sex is powerful. It’s very good when experienced in the context of biblical marriage between a man and a woman. It’s extremely harmful when experienced in any other context. In the sex act, we give a part of ourselves away. Within a covenant marriage relationship, that is a wonderful thing. Outside of biblical marriage, sex creates pain, insecurity, and brokenness.
  4. In the Gospels, Jesus affirmed gender distinctions in the marriage relationship as described in the Old Testament account of God’s creation of man and woman. As the Apostle Paul described the nature of Jesus’ relationship with the Church in his letter to the Ephesians, he affirmed the wonder and mystery of biblical marriage between a man and woman. So marriage is not an archaic notion, but an institution established and affirmed throughout Scripture and practiced for thousands of years. 
  5. We cannot claim to follow Jesus and ignore what he said about marriage and sexuality. Whether the issue is an unbiblical divorce, sinful heterosexual behavior, or a homosexual lifestyle, for example, following Jesus necessarily means honoring the commands of Jesus and, by grace, following them in every area of our lives.
  6. Not every natural desire (e.g., sexual initmacy) should be pursued or fulfilled. We do not determine what glorifies God or even what is best for us. God does that, and he has preserved and given us the Bible to show us the way.
  7. When we turn to Jesus, place our faith in him, and become a Christian, Jesus saves us from the penalty of sin, but we are still being saved from the power of sin. Sexual temptation, and the struggle with other temptations for that matter, are a natural part of the human experience, generally, and of walking with Jesus, specifically.
  8. We affirm biblical manhood and womanhood, yet many cultural stereotypes of masculinity and femininity are not biblical at all. So when boys or girls struggle to fit into those stereotypes, we direct them back to the Bible. We affirm them, their unique bent and interests, and show them that God knit them in their mother’s womb, and that they are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psa. 139).
  9. Feeling uncomfortable in the body we were born with is not completely uncommon or unreasonable. We are fallen creatures, marred with a sin nature. Discomfort is part of our story, but it is not beyond Jesus’ redeeming work.
  10. Children and adolescents will often struggle with their identity. The overwhelming number of children who struggle with gender identity work through it and find peace with themselves as they grow into the late teenage and young adult years. So show patience with them. We love and encourage them. We pour God’s Word into them and show grace and kindness as they learn how God has designed them.
  11. People who struggle with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria, as well as those fully involved in a homosexual lifestyle, are people, fellow human beings whom God stamped with his image. They possess dignity, and they are worthy of respect.
  12. Speaking the truth is not bigoted or unloving. Being bigoted is bigoted, and being unloving is unloving. As Jesus’ followers, we look to Jesus as our example, and Jesus was never a jerk. Faithful Christians treat all people with compassion because loving people is not a compromise. It’s a command.
  13. People may think a biblical worldview of marriage, gender, and sexuality is weird and freakish. That’s because it is weird and freakish. That’s okay. Many things Christians believe are outside the cultural mainstream. For example, we believe that God in Christ robed himself in flesh and came to earth as a baby born of a virgin named Mary. It was miraculous and outside of the norm, but we believe it. And not only do we believe it, but as odd as it may be, we orient our entire lives around that belief. 
  14. Expect hardship and even rejection for your faithfulness to Jesus and his Word. The opposition of other people does not invalidate sound theology or undermine historic Christianity. Jesus said to expect persecution, and he promised to be with us every step of the way. So believers deny ourselves and stay the course as we invite people to experience new life in Jesus and to follow him with us.
  15. Many people who have adopted an alternate lifestyle are broken, hurting, and lonely. They, along with others, are skeptical of God and of Christians. They aren’t sure anyone will ever truly love them. So when we show kindness and respect, pray for them, and pursue genuine friendship, we offer them a more complete and compelling picture of the gospel. Loving our neighbors cracks the door open in a way that lets Jesus shine in and allows the Holy Spirit to do his work to redeem and restore.
  16. No sexual sin or brokenness (heterosexual or homosexual) is beyond God’s willingness or ability to redeem through the person and work of Jesus. So we faithfully show and share the gospel, inviting every person to come to Jesus.

Whether we are baking a cake, playing on a sports team, operating a school, running for public office, serving a church, or telling a story on the big screen, questions around gender and sexuality now dominate many everyday conversations. We care about these questions, we advocate for just laws and policies that protect religious freedom, and we speak the truth in love in the public square. 

But followers of Jesus care most about people, not just issues. We do not withhold love for individuals, for example, based on a person’s gender, sexual preference, or sexual history. Instead, we understand that sin mars the image of God in all of us, but it does not make any of us subhuman. 

Our theology tells us that God loves people and has provided redemption from sin through his Son Jesus for anyone who turns to him. That Good News not only tells us that God’s grace is greater than all of our sin, but it also gives us freedom to love other people in the same way God has loved us. 

So as we pass on the faith to the next generation, we pass on a clear and compelling word from God. We stand firmly rooted on millenia of biblical orthodoxy related to marriage and sexuality. Husbands and wives reflect the beauty of the gospel and the glory of God in marriage. By honoring marriage, we honor the Lord. And by honoring our God-given design, we honor one another. We then live out our faith with confidence by loving our neighbors, whoever they are and whatever choices they have made, trusting Christ in us to bear witness of his own redeeming grace.