Conference responds to radical cultural shift
By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
Is it really true that Jesus had no opinion about homosexual practice? Can we be sure that the children of same sex couples suffer no disadvantages from their parents’ lifestyles and ideologies? Is ‘transgender’ mainly about individuals who need compassion, or an altering of reality for all of us? Should Christians spend time analyzing and countering the effects of the sexual revolution, or does this detract from ‘Gospel ministry? These were some of the questions being asked at “The New Normal”, a conference organized by Christian Concern which took place at the Emmanuel Centre, London on 11/12 November.
The effects of the sexual revolution on children
The work and personal testimony of American academic Bobby Lopez (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) was the central feature of the gathering. Raised by his mother and her female partner, Lopez began a promiscuous gay lifestyle in his early teens . A crisis of identity followed in his late 20’s, based on his experience of fatherlessness and dysfunction: he subsequently fell in love with and married a woman, and fully embraced faith in Christ. This story was displayed in a powerful drama on the Friday evening, entitled ‘Sunlight’.
When Lopez started to reflect on the realities of growing up with same sex caregivers in the LGB subcultures and tell his story publicly, he was immediately vilified, accused of homophobia, and suffered professional disadvantage. He began to collect testimonies of people from similar backgrounds, challenging the assumptions that parenting by same sex couples and related issues of surrogacy and adoption have no negative effect on children.
The right of people in society to have same sex relationships is not being questioned, nor the genuine love and commitment of some gay couples towards their children. However even in the best cases (as with single parent families), children in these contexts lack at least one of their biological parents, and miss close care and role modelling from one of the sexes. With same sex parenting, however, there is often pressure on children to publicly validate their parents’ lifestyle and ideology, and cases of abuse are more often overlooked for reasons of political correctness.
A UK version of collected accounts was released at the conference, entitled Jephthah’s Children: The Innocent Casualties of Same Sex Parenting (Wilberforce – soon to be here). In his preface to the book, Lopez asserts that same sex marriage, which has had the effect of providing respectability to a hasty social experiment and shielding it from proper scrutiny, is “premised on falsehoods”, and has taken “protections away from the most vulnerable people in the world…children, and empowered the most privileged people in the world, particularly but not exclusively wealthy white men”.
Brittany Klein, co-editor of Jephthah’s Children and another speaker at the conference, agreed that sexual identity politics is essentially in conflict with the rights of children. As a result of this and the wider sexual revolution, the traditional cultural pathways for enabling children to grow into adults with psychological health are being removed in our society. For Lopez, the Christian faith, which teaches sacrifice of self to others and to God’s will, is now directly set against Western consumerism, based on the immediate satisfying of desires. Only one of these worldviews offers a beneficial environment for children.
The presentations at the event, which drew about 200 delegates, used biblical exegesis, literary criticism, drama, social science and philosophy to address some of these issues which have sharp contemporary relevance.
The Bible and early Christian teaching
New Testament scholar John Nolland from Bristol, in his usual calm and reasoned style, summarized the teaching of Jesus and Paul about sexual immorality. It’s true that Jesus talks more about the Kingdom of God than he does about sex, but he talks more about sex than he does about care for the poor, for example. When he warns of the polluting effect of sexual immorality (eg Matthew 15:19), he and his hearers would have in mind all sexual acts outside of covenant marriage between a man and a woman, as clearly taught in the Old Testament. The apostle Paul, operating in a Gentile culture without the strict Jewish sexual ethic, has to be more specific about different kinds of sexual activity that transgresses God’s clear boundaries. For both Jesus and Paul, the teachers of salvation by grace, a profound concern for sexual purity comes from God’s desire to protect humanity, especially the most vulnerable.
Dr Carys Moseley, a theologian from Cardiff, gave a perspective on contemporary ideas about gender from church history. Androgyny and blurring gender distinctions is not new, but goes back to the Gnostics and further back into the cultures surrounding early Israel. The teaching of Genesis about humanity made in God’s image as binary male and female, some Old Testament references to eunuchs and cross dressing, , and writings of the early church fathers may be examples of ‘contextual theology’, countering commonly held views of the time. Just as in that era, so today when people do not have a Judaeo-Christian understanding of God and the universe, there is a collapse of boundaries around sex and gender.
Education policies based on manipulation of myth and emotion
Sex education material, increasingly explicit and designed to encourage children to think positively about same sex relationships and transgenderism, is being introduced into schools; parents and teachers who complain are branded as ‘bigots’. Researcher Brian Hadley gave a detailed overview of some of the materials being used in primary schools, from organisations such as Equalities Primary and Educate & Celebrate. Common themes include what Brian referred to as ‘love confusion’, where the lesson plans involve a dangerous blurring of romantic love, friendship, family connections and sexual arousal, and ‘gender confusion’, where young children role play the opposite gender, and are taught that being a boy or a girl is just about ‘ how you feel’.
Patricia Morgan, who has written a number of books of social research including ‘The Marriage Files‘, explained how the unquestioned narrative of bullying of LGBT youth is used to drive education policy. A certain proportion of the population is ‘gay’ from birth, probably 10%, the argument goes. The ‘heteronormativity’ of society makes this minority feel like outsiders, indeed many are bullied simply for being gay. This is the reason for low self esteem, sexual promiscuity and even suicide among gay young people. The solution is to make all schools and workplaces completely accepting of LGBT behaviours and attitudes, and to downplay and minimize traditional family structures.
But as both Hadley and Morgan showed, all of these arguments are based on myths. Sexual orientation in young people is notoriously fluid, rather than an innate characteristic like race. The 10% figure was first put forward by the ‘sex researcher’ discredited paedophile Alfred Kinsey in the 1950’s, and has consistently been refuted by more recent research. Rhetoric about ‘homophobic bullying’ being more prevalent and nasty than bullying for other reasons, is not backed up by facts. In particular, data on tragic cases of youth suicides is being falsified to claim peer disapproval about sexual orientation as a major factor, when every suicide has a much more complex background.
Morgan traced the origin of this theory to gay activists in San Francisco in the 1980’s, whose assertions about suicide were based on ideologically driven research without proper controls, but whose results are still used today. The ‘suicide’ argument is emotionally powerful and shuts down debate. But if it is actually not true that external disapproval is causing distress to young people identifying as gay (disproportionally to other forms of bullying), then it needs to be challenged. Bullying should be countered by the promotion of civility, not unreality and immorality.
Many other thoughtful presentations continued the theme of a ‘new normal’ of thinking about sex and gender affecting government, media, education and church. For example, Dan Moody (author of ‘The Flesh Made Word’) spoke on the crisis of identity and language that results when a male legally becomes a ‘she’. Mike Davidson from Core Issues Trust showed a clip of a soon to be released documentary film ‘Voices of the Silenced’, which compares our current situation with that of the first Christians in sexually anarchic Rome. Lisa Nolland gave a snapshot of what is being taught in secondary schools, and also highlighted the imposition of the LGBT agenda on developing countries, through the UN. There were opportunities for discussion in plenary and in breaks. Special appreciation was shown at the end to Andrea Williams of Christian Concern who co-organised and chaired the event.
Four reasons to care
Why should this issue matter to Christians? Firstly, truth. As with all wars, in this clash of worldviews it’s the first casualty. It’s not just the suppression of the Bible’s teaching, but deliberate denial of reality for ideological purposes. The role of the church should not be simply to create community around faith in Jesus, but establish the foundation of a counter-cultural worldview based on God’s word.
Secondly, love. Christians should care for all, especially for the most vulnerable. The ‘rights’ of adults to pursue certain sexual and family lifestyle choices are now accepted in the West, driven by compassion for those previously persecuted. But the rights of children affected by these choices appear to be ignored. True love and compassion would place the needs of the ‘little ones’ above the desires of adults.
Thirdly, freedom. For many decades we have taken for granted the blessing of religious liberty in this country. This freedom is increasingly under threat, as children are compelled to accept and celebrate LGBT dogmas, and registrars, bakers, prison chaplains and others are punished for expressing their Christian beliefs.
Lastly, hope. It can appear as if orthodox Christians have lost the battle, and all around us is confusion and the darkening of minds. The church does not need to capitulate to the world’s thinking, or retreat into a ghetto. Conference delegates were challenged to make our communities places of truth, and compassion for people loved by God and needing rescue and care. We can have confidence in the Gospel of transformation, standing with the majority of the world who have not conformed to the ‘new normal’ of the West.