Last week I was on the phone with an academic who studies family policy, and he mentioned that this new phase of the Sexual Revolution is moving much faster than he anticipated. I thought about that last night when I read the note from the NYC reader who said that her teenage daughter and the girls on her swim team were confronted with a middle-aged man walking out of the shower in the public gym the other day.
Andrew T. Walker of the Southern Baptist ERLC has also been thinking about how fast things are moving, especially at the legal and policy level. He has some sobering words for Christian parents with kids in public school. Excerpts:
Parents cannot be caught flat-footed. Action taken by the courts will inexorably work their way down to every local district and school. Given the nature of the government tying federal education funding with compliance to federal law, this “trickle down” effect will be gradual and incremental, but certain. Schools that believe themselves surrounded by a conservative community may think themselves insulated from cases like the one mentioned above, but funding in exchange for compliance will ensure that, barring a change in administration and court rulings, every school will be made to care and comply in the long-term.
Some parents may think to themselves “We live in a conservative area. The majority of teachers at our schools are Christians.” These facts will not matter. [Emphasis mine — RD] Because the federal government plays a heavy hand in public education in America, the federal government will work to make sure that its values and laws are followed. The nature of government is to ensure uniformity. And uniformity is achieved through coercion, a power that only governments possess. While the government believes its policies are merely a reflection of society’s changing views on sexuality and gender, the adoption of this secular orthodoxy will put Christians in public schools in a precarious position.
We have to see the action taken by the government for what it is: secular orthodoxy that puts Christians in a minority. Not only is the integrity of the Christian worldview at stake, but also the integrity of what it means to be made in the image of God. The idea that human nature is plastic, pliable, and subject to re-definition-at-will is a direct assault on the common good and the norms that make human flourishing possible. Christians must declare, with both compassion and respect, that re-making ourselves in our own image is the very undoing of humanity, for the disavowal of creational limits results in its own form of judgment and human misery (Rom. 1:18-25).
I find that this is something that’s nearly impossible for many Christians to grasp. They literally cannot imagine such a thing coming to their school. If this is what you think, take it from Andrew Walker, who studies this stuff for a living: you are wrong.
What’s more, this is not simply about accommodating minors who think they are transgendered. It is about radically changing the meaning of what it means to be a man, a woman, and a human being. We have gay marriage today because the meaning of sex and marriage has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. Considered one way, gay marriage is only an attempt to bring marriage laws into line with the way society’s thinking about sex and marriage has changed in the ongoing Sexual Revolution. Transgenders and their advocates are getting out ahead of society now, and trying to alter the way we think about the meaning of gender, of human nature, indeed of reality itself. Transgenderism is far more radical than homosexuality. But it’s already passing into the culture very quickly, driven by federal courts, the Obama administration, and popular media.
Trans activist Riki Wilchins, writing in the gay magazine The Advocate, says that the real goal that fellow gay and trans activists should be pushing for is “blowing up the binary.” Excerpt:
What really needs to be contested here is not just our right to use bathrooms with dignity (which would personally be very welcome), but the entire underlying hetero-binary structuring of the world queers must inhabit.
This is the real struggle, and queer activists have been talking about it at least since the 1970s of Gay Liberation, even as the movement it spawned has continued to nudge it aside.
All of which is to say, transgender advocates and their allies are doing incredible work. But they have finally and perhaps unwittingly opened the gender Pandora’s Box, and over the next few years all sorts of unexpected non-binary things, like Maria, are about to come popping out. This is going to be interesting.
That is to say, they want to destroy the concepts of male and female entirely. This is what they’re after, and they’re not going to stop until it is accomplished. If you think the federal courts or Democratic administrations are going to stop it, you have a lot more faith than I do in the moral sanity of American elites.
In his piece, Walker gives some things that Christian parents (and other moral traditionalists) with kids in public school should be thinking about. For example:
1. Christians should take stock of the cultural moment, which sounds harder than one would imagine. With parents busy being employees, spouses, and parents, it is easy to overlook the thousand and one ways that children are being morally instructed and habituated in local schools. Parents should take active roles in discovering what their children are learning and combatting errors where necessary. Christian parents will also need to pay closer attention to ways in which government works to enforce moral norms.
2. Christian parents need to establish a tipping point. This may be the most important response to consider. What actions taken by your local school will be sufficient for you to re-evaluate public education? Is having a teacher reprimand your child for his or her belief about marriage, sex, and gender acceptable? Will you allow them to be in schools where bathroom policies are based on gender identity rather than biological sex? Not establishing a tipping point could leave your child over-exposed to environments they shouldn’t be in. Not thinking about a tipping point is irresponsible and will communicate carelessness about a child’s education and Christian formation. This is not a call to exit the public schools; it is a call to vigilance. It is advisable that spouses have a candid conversation and establish a line in the sand.
Read the whole thing. I think it’s simply going to be a matter of time before people who want to hold on to their faith, and want their kids to be able to get an education in a morally sane environment, are going to have to take the Benedict Option. But you knew that.
Everything Walker says is important and necessary, but I would like to add something to it. I was reading this weekend a 1978 essay by theologian Stanley Hauerwas, called “Sex In Public,” a copy of which I found online here (please don’t mind the lousy formatting). In it, Hauerwas talks about how impoverished and unimaginative contemporary Christian teaching about sexuality is. He’s not defending the secular status quo, but his remarks in this nearly 40-year-old essay give us Christians today some things to think about, particularly this: Hauerwas’s contention that making Christian sexual ethics plausible to contemporary people “requires a recovery of the political function of marriage in the Christian community.”
What does he mean by this? Excerpt:
The recovery of a political vision of marriage and appreciation for the public character of sexuality are conceptually and institutionally interdependent. By calling attention to the public context for sexual behavior and ethics I am not simply reasserting the traditional concern that sex should only take place in a publicly recognizable institution, though I certainly think that is important, but 1 am making the stronger claim that any sex ethic is a political ethic. This is particularly true of Christian marriage. The vision of marriage for Christians requires and calls forth an extraordinary polity for the very reason that Christian marriage is such an extraordinary thing.
William Everett has recently argued that, in spite of what appear to be immense differences between “biologists” and “personalists” concerning sexual ethics, they share more in common than is usually noticed. For both theories are individualistic, since they focus primarily on how persons should deal with their bodies and private actions and thus fail to give adequate attention to the institutional context of sex. In contrast, Everett argues that we must see that sexuality is shaped by humanly created institutions and that this formation works for good as well as for evil. But the question is not whether “the social formation of our sexuality is good or bad, but whether the institutions in which we live are rightly ordered. An ethics of sex must, therefore, be coordinated with an ethic governing the relations among institutions familial, economic, ecclesial and political.”
What Hauerwas is saying here is that we cannot think of sex as somehow separate from the society in which we live. The problem (or, a problem) we Christians today have is ecclesiological. That is, many of us think of the church as a voluntary association of individuals who come together for their own spiritual benefit. That ecclesiology cannot possibly hope to compete with the Sexual Revolution, and with the economic forces that capitalize on it. Hauerwas:
How we order and form our lives sexually cannot be separated from the necessity of the church to chart an alternative to our culture’s dominant assumptions.
Hauerwas cites a book advocating “open marriage,” written by Nena and George O’Neill. He does not think much of the book; emphases below are mine:
Yet, ironically, the O’Neills’ account of “open marriage” requires a transformation of the self that makes intimate relationships impossible in or outside of marriage. Many conservative critics of proposals like “open marriage” tend to overlook this element, because all their attention is directed to the sexual implication – namely, that premarital and extramarital sex is not condemned. But that element has long been written into the very structure and nature of romanticism. What the “conservative” must recognize is that prior to the issue of whether premarital or extramarital sexual intercourse is wrong is the question of character: What kind of people do you want to encourage? Hidden in the question of “What ought we to do?” is always the prior question “What ought we to be?” The most disturbing thing about such proposals as the O’Neills’ is the kind of persons they wish us to be. On analysis, the person capable of open marriage turns out to be the self-interested individual presupposed and encouraged by our liberal political structure and our capitalist consumer economy.
I am content at this point simply to suggest that the “romantic” assumption that sexual expression is a “private” matter in fact masks a profound commitment to the understanding of society and self sponsored by political liberalism. Thus, more and more, human relations are understood in contractual terms and the ideal self becomes the person capable of understanding everything and capable of being hurt by nothing.
Read the whole essay. What I take from it is Hauerwas’s connecting sexual individualism with both capitalism and political liberalism. Under conditions of sexual individualism, sustaining marriage becomes very difficult — and a country that cannot sustain the fidelity that makes marriage possible is a country that will throw away its capacity for social solidarity.
This is something important for Christians to think about as we prepare for the post-Christian era now upon us. We are not accustomed to pondering the connection between sexual mores and political values, as well as economic practices. But Hauerwas shows how they are related. The Church (= followers of Christ) is called to be a different society than the one in which we find ourselves embedded. If we are going to teach our children how to live by Christian sexual morality, we are going to have to teach them more comprehensively how different the City of God is from the City of Man, so to speak. It will be very difficult to teach our children to live by Christian sexual morality if we do not teach them how being a Christian requires them (us) to live by a different political and economic code within our society. We can’t catechize them one way about sex, and allow the broader culture to inculcate within them its values about how to regard ourselves as political and economic actors. Sexual individualism is the eroticization of political and economic liberalism. The post-Christian world understands this better than we Christians do.