I’m not a reader of The Weekly Standard. But I was directed there this week by my friend Sean McDowell, who had posted a link to an interview with feminist Camille Paglia.
Going straight to the source, I read Jonathan V. Last’s interview with Paglia. I’ve been tracking with a wide-spectrum of opinions on transgenderism as I seek to understand and respond to this emerging cultural reality in ways that bring honor and glory to God. And so today, I’m simply passing on this exchange between Last and Paglia. . . (you can read the full article here). . .
JVL: I keep waiting for the showdown between feminism and transgenderism, but it always keeps slipping beneath the horizon. I’ve been looking at how the La Leche League—which stood at the crossroads of feminism once upon a time—has in the last couple years bowed completely to the transgender project. Their central text is (for now) The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, but they’ve officially changed their stance to include men and fathers who breastfeed. The actual wording of their policy is wonderful: “It is now recognized that some men are able to breastfeed.” Left unsaid is the corollary that some women are biologically unable to breastfeed. Though this would go against the League’s founding principles, one supposes. What does one make of all of this?
CP: Feminists have clashed with transgender activists much more publicly in the United Kingdom than here. For example, two years ago there was an acrimonious organized campaign, including a petition with 3,000 claimed signatures, to cancel a lecture by Germaine Greer at Cardiff University because of her “offensive” views of transgenderism. Greer, a literary scholar who was one of the great pioneers of second-wave feminism, has always denied that men who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery are actually “women.” Her Cardiff lecture (on “Women and Power” in the twentieth century) eventually went forward, under heavy security. And in 2014, Gender Hurts, a book by radical Australian feminist Sheila Jeffreys, created a heated controversy in the United Kingdom. Jeffreys identifies transsexualism with misogyny and describes it as a form of “mutilation.” She and her feminist allies encountered prolonged difficulties in securing a London speaking venue because of threats and agitation by transgender activists. Finally, Conway Hall was made available: Jeffrey’s forceful, detailed lecture there in July of last year is fully available on YouTube. In it she argues among other things, that the pharmaceutical industry, having lost income when routine estrogen therapy for menopausal women was abandoned because of its health risks, has been promoting the relatively new idea of transgenderism in order to create a permanent class of customers who will need to take prescribed hormones for life.
Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave, which I think has been produced by far more complicated psychological and sociological factors than current gender discourse allows. Furthermore, I condemn the escalating prescription of puberty blockers (whose long-term effects are unknown) for children. I regard this practice as a criminal violation of human rights.
It is certainly ironic how liberals who posture as defenders of science when it comes to global warming (a sentimental myth unsupported by evidence) flee all reference to biology when it comes to gender. Biology has been programmatically excluded from women’s studies and gender studies programs for almost 50 years now. Thus very few current gender studies professors and theorists, here and abroad, are intellectually or scientifically prepared to teach their subjects.
The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible. Every single cell of the human body remains coded with one’s birth gender for life. Intersex ambiguities can occur, but they are developmental anomalies that represent a tiny proportion of all human births.
In a democracy, everyone, no matter how nonconformist or eccentric, should be free from harassment and abuse. But at the same time, no one deserves special rights, protections, or privileges on the basis of their eccentricity. The categories “trans-man” and “trans-woman” are highly accurate and deserving of respect. But like Germaine Greer and Sheila Jeffreys, I reject state-sponsored coercion to call someone a “woman” or a “man” simply on the basis of his or her subjective feeling about it. We may well take the path of good will and defer to courtesy on such occasions, but it is our choice alone. As for the La Leche League, they are hardly prepared to take up the cudgels in the bruising culture wars. Awash with the milk of human kindness, they are probably stuck in nurturance mode. Naturally, they snap to attention at the sound of squalling babies, no matter what their age. It’s up to literature professors and writers to defend the integrity of English, which like all languages changes slowly and organically over time. But with so many humanities departments swallowed up in the poststructuralist tar pit, the glorious medium of English may have to fight the gender commissars on its own.
If you’ve been paying attention at all to those elements of the rapidly changing culture soup that have been talked about online over the course of the last week, you’ve probably heard some rumblings regarding the latest venture from long-time science educator, Bill Nye. From 1993 until 1998, Nye was a PBS staple with his popular kids’ show, Bill Nye the Science Guy. Nye never disappeared from television, making numerous appearances over the years in an effort to promote his view and theories. He now has a new venture. . . which we’ll get back to in a minute. . .
Interlude. . . for a little bit of social science reality. As we say and teach here all the time at CPYU, culture is both a map (directive) and a mirror (reflective). As a map, it tells us what to believe and how to live. It’s especially powerful in the lives of kids since they are at a very vulnerable and formative stage of life developmentally. Consequently, we need to know what the cultural maps are and where they’re leading our kids. When they lead them in the right direction, we can celebrate and affirm those maps. But when they lead in a direction away from God’s order and design, we are called to issue challenges and correctives in an effort to lead our kids onto the narrow road that leads to life. As a mirror, culture helps us see who we are, the choices we’ve made, and the course we are on.
So, back to Bill Nye and his latest venture that’s been getting so much press over the last few days. . .
Ironically, on the same day that our CPYU family gathered for our annual Celebration Banquet of our mission and ministry to know ulture (April 21), Bill Nye was making culture and mapping life through the debut of his new Netflix series, Bill Nye Saves the World. While the show’s moniker is telling in and of itself, a peek into Nye’s beliefs and the show’s mapping message can be found in Episode #9, titled “The Sexual Spectrum.” During the show, Nye introduces a performance by Rachel Bloom as a “cool little segment” that’s “very special.” Bloom’s performance of the song “My Sex Junk” clearly maps and mirrors emerging societal attitudes on gender, promoting the idea of behavioral relativism, personal choice, a sexual/gender spectrum, and fluidity. . . or as Bloom sings, “there’s nothing taboo about a sex stew.”
I want to encourage you watch Bloom’s performance. I want to encourage you to quietly ponder and digest how her performance serves as a map and a mirror. And, I want to push you to view the performance and the beliefs at its’ core through the framework of a biblical sexual ethic. Then, talk to the kids you know and love. The Scriptures must shape our view and practice of God’s good and glorious gift of sexuality. Our transitory feelings and shifting opinions on sexuality should never be used as the foundation from which to develop a view of Scripture. Overall, we need to be speaking up and framing the issue in God-honoring ways with our kids.
The culture is speaking. We must be speaking even louder.
Last week, the folks at Campus Pride, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a safer college environment for LGBTQ students, released its 2016 Shame List of the absolute worst campuses for LBGTQ youth. As I scrolled through the list of colleges and universities, I began to feel like I was scrolling through one of those old Campus Life guides to Christian colleges that we used to make available to youth group kids and their families. It was not at all surprising that the list was overwhelmingly populated by religiously-affiliated schools. Included on the list was my own alma mater, Geneva College.
The Campus Pride site includes these words about the list from Executive Director, Shane Windmeyer: “Religion-based bigotry is careless and life-threatening. LGBTQ young people face high rates of harassment and violence, especially our trans youth and LGBTQ youth of color. The schools on this list openly discriminate against LGBTQ youth and many of these schools have requested or received Title IX exemptions for no other purpose than to discriminate, expel and ban LGBTQ youth from campus. It is shameful and wrong. . . Families and young people deserve to know that this list of schools are the worst for LGBTQ youth. They are not loving, welcoming, safe spaces to live, learn and grow – and nobody wants to got to a college that openly discriminates against anyone.”
I’ve been thinking about Shane Windmeyer’s words for several days. While my thoughts are still in process and therefore incomplete, here are some initial reflections. . .
Perhaps most troubling to me as I pondered the list is that fact that I know a small handful of the schools listed and believe that Shane Windmeyer’s characterization of those schools is a bit unfair. Granted, I can’t speak for all of the schools on the list. Most are schools I only know by name. Nor can I speak for the far-too-many people associated with many Christian colleges (and other institutions, for that matter) who horribly misrepresent Christ and Christianity when it comes to matters of sexuality. . . either through their own arrogant behavioral hypocrisy and failure to recognize that hypocrisy, and/or through hate-filled approaches to issues of sexuality that would be more like those crazy messed-up folks who show up at military funerals and pride events screaming, yelling, and condemning. The fact is, these people do not represent me, and their actions shouldn’t lead to hasty judgments regarding Christ, Christianity, and all Christians.
But what also left me troubled regarding the list and Shane Windmeyer’s comments is the all-or-nothing nature of his words that I believe unfairly box those of us in who are truly working hard to listen, to understand, and to respond in ways that reflect a humble attitude of repentance (where and when we’ve been wrong. . . and we have been), along with a clear Christ-like approach that oozes grace, while maintaining a proper perspective on God’s order and design for his created gift of sex and sexuality. My own college, Geneva College, unapologetically expects and strives to nurture all students to embrace a consistent Christian faith that is integrated into all of life. . . academics, relationships, play, work, sexuality, etc. Every faculty member and student who is honest will readily admit that to do so is, in fact, a daily struggle. This mission is rooted in the transformative message of the Gospel. In Geneva’s case, the whole of Biblical history and two-thousand years of Christian history continue to come together to shape an understanding and approach to all matters of life in ways that challenge every student on a personal level, while reflecting the way and will of God as revealed in the Scriptures. For me personally, I have struggled, worked, and at times failed miserably to see how the Scriptures do in fact speak to every nook and cranny of my life. . . including sex and sexuality. While it has been a difficult venture that usually challenges my beliefs and behaviors to the point of great discomfort, it has always been a journey that is life-giving and transformative.
To all those who would come to blanket conclusions based on the Shame List, I would simply ask that you understand that in the case of what I believe is true of most Christians, is that we endeavor to be people who represent love, welcome, and safety. This is who God has been to us. We endeavor to be those kind of people because we endeavor to be faithful to God and his revelation of himself in the Bible, which is why we believe that God’s good gift of sex and sexuality are given for a clear purpose and place. I would hope that as we endeavor to serve God and show grace, that you would not openly discriminate against us as we endeavor to follow and serve the God who has revealed himself to humanity in the Scriptures and called us to “come and follow me.” For me, to walk away from a Biblical sexual ethic would require me to turn my back on all that Christ has done in my life, and to jettison everything I’ve believed about everything. To do so would be a clear denial of Jesus Christ. . . which is not an option for me. Likewise, to stand on a corner and scream “God hates fags!” would be a denial of Jesus Christ as well. And in the midst of all of this, I continue to pray that I would be open to understanding where I have been in error in both beliefs and behaviors.
To my fellow followers of Christ, I highly recommend this short little conversation about how to speak to our culture about sex:
A friend sent me a link to this video yesterday. I understand it’s been around for a few days so my apologies for getting to it perhaps a little late. I found it incredibly enlightening and incredibly disturbing at the same time. This is who we are. That’s enlightening. And, this is who we are. That’s disturbing.
When I read the Scriptures I see that a generation can be lost within the span of one generation. It’s not necessarily over the long haul. When I watch this video, I’m thinking the same thing. I remember how twenty years ago we were talking about the postmodern turn and telling youth workers and parents that “we’re moving into a worldview landscape where there is no such thing as truth. Instead, truth is individualized and fluid based on one’s mood and feelings.” We’re here. And while we were only speculating on how this shift would play out in everyday life. . . well, here’s one example.
So, take a look at this. Then let’s talk about it. Feel free to comment and discuss. In addition, this is a great one to talk about with the kids you know and love. . .
Last week at our annual CPYU Banquet, our emcee Greg Anderson offered a few words of introduction right out of the gate. “Who could have imagined when we were here this time last year the changes that would take place in the year ahead.” So true.
Cultural change this last year was fast and furious, especially when it came to sexuality, politics, and sexual politics. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to sort out all the news and what’s behind it when it comes to issues of gender and where we now choose to relieve ourselves.
These are complex, difficult, and head-spinning issues for sure. Running to hide from or choosing to haphazardly lob insensitive and uninformed bombs at those with whom we disagree seem to be popular options, but they aren’t good options for the informed Christian. To be sure, my head is spinning. Consequently, I’m committed to take the approach Paul took when he ventured into Athens (Acts 17). I want to be saturated with a long vein of Biblical truth and orthodoxy, I want to know history, and I want to listen and learn before speaking. It’s so difficult in so many ways. I also want to fulfill my God-given responsibility to teach kids the truth, and I want to protect them from potential harm of any type.
In an effort to be faithful to the Scriptures and redemptive in our approach, a good first step is to “frame” the issue. Maybe we need to close the frame where it needs to be tightened. And maybe we need to expand the frame where it needs to be expanded. Ultimately, for me, it’s James Davidson Hunter’s posture of “faithful presence” (faithful to the Word, present in the world) that seems to be the most obedient and best option. How that’s going to pan out, I’m still not sure. That’s why the first step is to frame this thing with some assumptions. . . or, some realities that we must recognize as we work to take our initial faithful steps onto this new cultural landscape. Here’s what I’m thinking. . .
This is an incredibly complex issue. My friend Steve Garber told me three years ago that this is “the most complex, tender, and difficult issue we face in the church right now.” Face it we must. We can’t jump to quick conclusions or make it too simple. If we do, we risk getting it wrong and never having a voice.
We don’t own the conversation. In other words, the ball is not in our court. It’s the culture that’s having and leading the conversation. We’re aliens and pilgrims, remember? Consequently, we must be invited in. We must listen hard and study hard. In effect, we must assume the posture of a cross-cultural missionary. Read Acts 17.
If you don’t support LGBTQ marriage, LGBTQ rights, or free choice when it comes to preferred rest rooms, you are an ignorant bigot. That’s just the way it is right now. We must stick to the truth and God’s design as sound exegesis and hermeneutical method lead us to a proper understanding of God’s desires for our sexuality, but we must also jettison any extra posture/communication baggage that would warrant the “ignorant bigot” label. In other words, let the offensive Gospel be offensive. We can’t let our offensiveness get in the way of the offensiveness of the Gospel.
We must repent and ask forgiveness where necessary. We must confess our lack of civility, lack of Biblical depth, lack of love, lack of grace, lack of mercy, and lack of neighborliness. We must also confess our own sexual brokenness, otherwise we are nothing but hypocrites. To arrogantly attack these issues without seriously recognizing and addressing our own issues is flat-out wrong.
It’s not just something happening “out there.” These are our kids and our families. These issues are no respecter of persons.
When it comes to kids, you may be the only voice speaking to them about biblical sexuality. If that’s so, you will get pushback. Patience and tact are necessary when basic worldview assumptions are being challenged by what sounds like an incomprehensible foreign language.
Our kids are incredibly vulnerable to the cultural narrative. Remember, two of the main tasks of adolescence are identity formation and worldview formation. The years of childhood and adolescence are formative. So, we must be “forming” them.
The situation has become more complex due to age compression and age aspiration. Simply stated, the stuff we used to face as 18-year-olds, kids now have to process in first grade. And with kids wanting to appear, feel, and be treated as much older than they are, the ante is upped on how young they face these things. Parents. . . take note: You need to have some serious and difficult conversations at uncomfortable ages.
Child-centered parenting has accelerated cultural change on issues of sexual identity and practice. In all honestly, I am baffled by parents who let their kids hold the reigns on their choice of identity at younger and younger ages. . . even pre-school.
We will be forced to face very difficult, uncomfortable, and new situations. Well, we’re here already.
These are not the worst of times culturally. Human sexuality has been broken since Genesis 3:6. Cultural history is filled with a variety of expressions of sexual brokenness. This is nothing new.
This is good for the church. Seriously. For too long we’ve been lazy, entitled, and running on cruise control. . . which has led not only to the loss of our voice, but to ignorance on what we should be saying and doing. God is and will be using this to build His church and advance the Gospel. However, we have a responsibility to seriously, prayerfully, and responsibly examine the Scriptures. . . relying on revelation rather than speculation.