The secular, postmodern re-shaping of church and society

Dec 11, 2018 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

A detailed and helpful article on Wikipedia begins by describing propaganda as information that is not objective and is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is presented”.

Saturday’s Times [£] featured a story about senior Church of England figures partnering with Government in an Orwellian-style drive to eliminate any means by which people might seek to change their sexual orientation or behaviour if they are not happy with it. The way the story is written bears careful scrutiny as an example of manipulation by subtle propaganda and overt threat.

“Senior Church of England bishops are to begin an inquiry into ‘gay cure’ therapy amid claims that it is still prevalent among religious groups”, we are told, with quotes from the Bishops of Liverpool and Manchester. The implication: something sinister is going on, and who would question the judgement of such eminent Lords Spiritual? The survey will be organised by the Ozanne Foundation, “a Westminster-based charity that promotes equality and diversity in religious organisations worldwide”. It is ironic that Jayne Ozanne, the founder of this charity, has made no secret of her belief that orthodox Christian teaching on sexuality and marriage is psychologically harmful to LGBT people and should be considered abusive and ‘hate speech’ – in other words, the opposite of a culture of liberal tolerance of the ‘diversity’ of different views. 

We’re then reminded of the way the full force of the establishment is behind the crackdown on ‘gay conversion’ practices; the government plans to ban it and the C of E’s General Synod supported this in a vote in 2017. But what are we talking about?

“The practice, otherwise known as conversion therapy, ranges from private prayer, fasting and counselling to deliverance ministry, hormone treatment and, according to the government, ‘corrective’ rape.”

In this sentence, a simple everyday religious practice, prayer, is seen as something potentially dangerous to society. ‘Private prayer’ if it relates to change in the area of sexual orientation, should be banned. Then, the sentence conflates such prayer, offered for example in a gentle church setting in response to a request, with a brutal practice associated with poor and lawless slums in Africa where violence against women is tragically and outrageously a daily reality whether they are lesbian or, much more commonly, not. The issue is ‘conversion therapy’ but the sentence doesn’t actually mention trained professional psychotherapy at all, or any of the carefully researched weight of evidence that sexual orientation is fluid and change is experienced by many people, whether mediated through counselling/therapy, or not.

Campaigners say conversion therapy has done serious harm, the report continues. This is a serious accusation which one would expect would be backed up by some kind of scientifically verifiable evidence. Instead, we hear again of Jayne Ozanne’s no doubt genuine experiences of trauma associated with the tension between sexual identity and the Christian faith she was taught. We are reminded of the recent Hollywood movie ‘Boy Erased’ with its negative portrayal of a supposedly typical examples of ‘gay conversion’ techniques in the US in the 1980’s and 1990’s. And then a quote from Government Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt, who promises to stop practices which ‘cause self-loathing’. It’s not difficult to see that this ‘evidence’ is at best extremely subjective and at worst, based on a work of fiction (a film). This is surely an example of propaganda in its purest form, being used to curtail a basic freedom to seek help with personal change. 

It has long been noted that as human beings we respond at a deep psychological level to images and stories, particularly when we connect to characters with whom we can empathise. This is first a good thing. It has been built into us from creation, and is evidence for the existence of a personal God in whose image we are made. Relationship with him, more than just cerebral understanding about him and the universe, is what we are created for. But from Genesis 3 the human delight in the visual, the complexity of psychology around relationships, and our capacity to envision a future has been manipulated to steer us away from truth and what’s objectively best for us, so that we serve ourselves, and ultimately evil forces, rather than God. Propaganda and fake news began with the snake in the Garden of Eden.


I had nearly finished this piece when I was alerted to a major new development in the Church of England: the publication of liturgies to mark ‘gender transition’. (Press release, and my comment here.) Well that wasn’t such a surprise, as this was accepted by General Synod last year, and then agreed again in February 2018. What is alarming is that the new services, which have been developed by clergy who are transgender activists, have been commended for use by a leading evangelical Bishop. No doubt he will argue that while he believes that God created us male and female, this is a way of offering welcome to those who don’t feel they fit into the traditional gender categories. But in speaking about ‘trans people’ and supporting the liturgies in this way, this Bishop has inevitably accepted the validity of the new ideology of gender, which is incompatible with Christian anthropology, colluding with a fiction which cannot ultimately be pastorally helpful, and based on propaganda and fake science rather than evidence.

Should faithful Christians just accept the decisions of their leaders in these matters, and keep quiet, perhaps focusing on evangelistic courses and foodbanks? Or can we counter this trend? If so, perhaps our challenge is to tell a “better story”. We know that heterosexual marriage and sexually abstinent singleness, living within the physical sex God gave us, are the most effective ways of living a flourishing life as individuals and communities, and for our future. Numerous studies prove that stable marriage and family life, and sexual self-control are beneficial for individuals and society; likewise it is clear that family breakdown is linked to crime and mental health issues, and immorality to sexually transmitted disease. The Judaeo-Christian ethic is commanded and explained in Scripture and has been taught by Christians and Jews for millennia. It makes sense. It is the truth. Surely, if the church demonstrates an attitude of love, and tells a positive and exciting counter-story, society will be convinced of the truth of the gospel and how we are supposed to live our lives?

In this paradigm, ‘truth’ is contained in God’s word, backed up by scientific research based on observation of an ordered world. Truth must be communicated clearly, imaginatively, winsomely with love, but it exists as an entity in itself, like a Platonic ideal, or indeed God himself. God exists and his word is true whether or not we communicate it effectively with love. One plus one equals two, regardless of how effectively and relationally it is taught, or how I feel about it and about myself.

But in the secular postmodern paradigm, things have changed. God, and truth, do not exist outside of the reality which is the interweaved matrix made up of millions of human beings’ individual consciousness and experience. The personal story, and the emotions it evokes, is not just a method of communicating truth. It is truth. If feelings of same sex attraction or gender dysphoria lead someone to embrace a gay or trans identity, this is a discovery of truth, and the church’s job is to affirm it through liturgies. To suggest that someone with these feelings might be able to explore a different direction is seen as hurtful, even abusive, and should be suppressed by law. 

Because of this tendency in us to be drawn to personal constructions of reality and reject Reality, the biblical writers insist that it’s not enough to simply repeat God’s true message, and to find better ways of communicating it, including demonstrating God’s nature through acts of love and mercy. It’s also necessary to enable the faithful community to reject the false messages they are being fed constantly in the world around them. Jesus said “you have heard it said…but I say to you…” Faith must be accompanied by repentance, which is not just a decision to say sorry for bad habits, but a constant turning away from false views about oneself and the world, often inculcated subliminally and on the emotional level.

So a vital aspect of prophetic ministry among the people of God, and from the community of the faithful to the world, has been to be aware of the ease with which we can be deceived, to unmask the false messages with which we are being shaped, and the methods of communication that are used. To turn away from them, and to consciously embrace and be shaped by genuine, objective Truth, even if it involves rejection and even persecution.

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