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A Response to Rod Dreher’s ‘Sex After Christianity’

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By Dr. Peter Jones BarbWire guest contributor

A Response to Rod Dreher’s “Sex After Christianity: Gay marriage is not just a social revolution but a cosmological one.”

We live in a time of open opposition to the Christian faith in once “Christian America.” Millennial Christians, raised in the church, are leaving us in droves and if the church does not begin to think clearly and cosmologically, a whole generation could be lost. Rod Dreher, a Roman Catholic journalist associated with the John Templeton Foundation, has written a must-read article entitled “Sex after Christianity: Gay marriage is not just a social revolution but a cosmological one.” (1) Dreher identifies the essence of the collapse of the “Christian” West; considers its dubious future, and suggests a way forward.

Dreher’s thesis is that many Christians fail to see that we have lost the culture not so much because the Church has failed to preach the Gospel but because the culture itself has rejected many of the fundamental elements of a Christian civilization. Dreher cites the brilliant sociologist/philosopher of the Sixties, Philip Rieff, himself not a Christian believer, who saw the old world collapsing around him and stated: “The death of a culture begins when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling.” (2)

The biblical worldview is no longer “inwardly compelling.” The best Evangelicals can do is to rush into the breach with a sentimental discourse about how God loves everyone, without showing to a godless culture the true cosmology on which the preaching of the Gospel depends. The elephant in the room, trampling orthodoxy to pieces, is homosexuality. Its destructive implications for the Christian faith are breathtaking.

As Dreher notes:

[M]any…think that same-sex marriage is merely a question of sexual ethics. They fail to see that gay marriage, and the concomitant collapse of marriage among poor and working-class heterosexuals, makes perfect sense given the autonomous individualism sacralized by modernity and embraced by contemporary culture–indeed, by many who call themselves Christians. They don’t grasp that Christianity, properly understood, is not a moralistic therapeutic adjunct to bourgeois individualism–but is radically opposed to the cultural order (or disorder) that reigns today.” (3)

The scale and velocity of today’s moral and cosmological revolution in the area of sexuality is without precedent. We are not looking at a span of centuries or even of one century. This revolution has taken place within a single human generation–at warp speed. Giving civil rights to homosexuals did not seem a radical move, but even non-Christian thinkers understand the enormous repercussions. Writing in the heart of the Sixties Cultural Revolution, Philip Rieff, mentioned above, in The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966), spoke of the “deconversion” of the West from Christianity.(4)  He identified the sexual revolution as a determinative force for Christianity’s cultural demise. For Rieff, that “the West was rapidly re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation was a powerful sign of Christianity’s demise.” (5) But few saw just how “liberated” sexuality would become–though the Gay Liberation Front Manifesto did, forty-five years ago [see below].

The homosexual agenda is silencing every memory of behavior, speech, religious conviction, and public policy that reminds people that heterosexuality is the God-created norm for human sexuality. Anyone who adheres to such a heterosexual norm dares say so only at the risk of being arrested for discriminatory bullying.

In his article, Rod Dreher recalls a cover story in a 1993 copy of The Nation, which noted that if the gay-rights cause (then “a small and despised sexual minority”) was to succeed, it would need to invent “a complete cosmology.” As Dreher puts it: “…the gay-rights cause has succeeded precisely because the Christian cosmology has dissipated in the mind of the West.”(6)  Dreher adds, summarizing the “new” cosmology: “To be modern is to believe in one’s individual desires as the locus of authority and self-definition.” Dreher is right that the conflict cannot be engaged in moralistic terms but must make an appeal to fundamental cosmology, which I have been calling the conflict between a pagan Oneist homocosmology opposed to a biblical Twoist heterocosmology.

After the Sixties Cultural Revolution, homosexuality was presented to the general public as a mundane civil rights issue. Surprise! The true intent was to challenge the presumption of “heteronormativity.” In 1997, gay activist Paula Ettelbrick outlined the aims of the gay movement with a clearly-defined “queer” cosmology:

Being queer is more than sleeping with a person of the same gender…it means transforming the very fabric of our society…the goal [is the] radically reordering society’s view of family.’ (7)

With such a vast vision, the contemporary push for homosexual rights is not a democratic sop thrown to a marginal group of people for fair play. Pushed with ethical fervor through notions of “anti-discrimination” “equal rights,” and “equalities” legislation, it heralds the birth of a whole new civilization, which will deconstruct foundational social concepts such as the family and the use of terms like “father” and “mother.” There’s no “live and let live” with this agenda. It affects the entire population. With its demand that homosexuality be treated as a normal lifestyle choice, the pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act, if passed, will federalize civil litigation against Christians and threaten every person living in a God-honoring way with expensive civil rights lawsuits. This will, in turn, hasten the indoctrination of the entire country into the pro-homosexual view. (8) Activists will push until the government imposes coercive sanctions on anyone who fails to affirm the moral goodness of gay unions. As Rieff said: “The death of a culture begins when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling.” (9) Now other ideals will compel cultural normatively.

A leading British theologian wrote to me on April 2, 2014, as Parliament formalized same sex marriage, with the following plaint:

The Rainbow Flag flew over Whitehall this past weekend, and our Deputy Prime Minister urged us to raise a glass in celebration. The Times carried an article about the upcoming marriage of two women who will be known as “Mrs. and Mrs.”…. Romans 1:32 is now, it seems, official government policy. When the waters of Oneism that have been beating the shoreline for many years come fully in, the house on the cliff top collapses with apparent, but not real, suddenness.

This old Western “Christian” world is indeed “coming apart” and in its place rises a “new world” of multi-sexual liberation, systematically promoted by both an ideological pagan Oneism and a determined elimination of the binary structure of theistic Twoism, which Scripture teaches is the way the world was made. Many in evangelicalism fail to see or refuse to see what is going on. Their superficial solutions only compound the problems.

A case in point. (10) George Barna considers David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons (founder of the Q Project) among “a handful of young adults…who understand the church, our nation’s culture and how to bless people with truth and wisdom.” (11) Their sociological study, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity (2007) declares that a generation of young Americans, aged eighteen to twenty-nine, hold overwhelmingly negative views regarding Christianity, and that these views are justified. Specifically, the Millennial generation claims that they do not see Jesus in modern Christians, whom they find… “unChristian.” Their Q Project (a series of high-powered conferences where cultural leaders of many different religious persuasions are invited to lecture) appears to be their answer to the main problem, namely that Christianity is not popular. It is an attempt to be liked, proposing a “cool,” evangelical (small “e”), intelligent, sophisticated, open-minded pluralism, made to win the approval of the progressive cultural elite. Alas, Q lacks a serious biblical cosmology. For instance, in terms of sexuality, Rachel Held Evans, at the Q Focus “Women and Calling” conference (November 2013), exhorted two hundred leading evangelical women to abandon any notions of biblical womanhood and to adopt a sort of a genderless, unisex self-understanding. This throws “red meat” to the cultural progressives who will eagerly adopt a view that eliminates the distinctive image of God as male and female as part of essential biblical cosmology. (12)

Kinnamon and Lyons, though they make this rising generation the authoritative judge of modern Christianity, do grant that “[t]his generation’s world, like none other, is coming unglued.” (13) They note that theirs is a more violent culture, bereft of fathers (14) and stable family structures, unfazed by profanity or sex before marriage, and often enslaved by debt and by drug or pornography addiction. One in four is divorced. Suicide is the third leading cause of death. In addition, “81% believe Christianity is the same as other religions.” (15) Vying for “understatement of the year,” the authors conclude: Millennials “perceive the world in very different terms than people ever have before.” (16)

Here are my problems with the UnChristian approach:

1. Why should we believe that this generation should understand true Christianity? Why base our understanding of the failures of the modern Church on a troubled and uninformed generation, whose likes and dislikes of Christianity come not from informed study but from a deep emotional rejection of the fundamental elements of the Christian faith (including its uniqueness and its teaching on moral purity) and from Hollywood caricatures of Jesus? Is this the generation on the campus of Regina University in Saskatchewan, Canada, April 14, 2014, that cheered the arrest of my friend, Peter LaBarbera, Head of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, for “hate speech,” that is, for distributing literature proposing the biblical view of sexuality and marriage? One student tweeted: “…try that hate speech here and you and I can see who wins in a knife fight. I would enjoy cutting your heart out.” (17)

The conclusion that Christianity is failing is shared not only by Kinnamon and Lyons, but by many in the Emergent Movement. A sense of embarrassment among Christians has produced various attempts to be liked by the culture, which is an exercise in sociology, not theology. Rather than seek a coherent exposé of the Christian worldview, they try to figure out which aspects of Christianity the world might like–environmentalism, social justice and forms of mysticism, for example–and then serve that up as the “true,” loving Gospel. Eventually this desire to be liked flirts with deadly heresy. So I ask: “What kind of report card should we expect from those who hate the truth (as Jesus said in John 15:18-19) and whose minds are warped and crooked (as Paul said in Philippians 2:14:)?

2. Even worse, UnChristian fails to offer any explanation of the massive changes that it recognizes in passing. They do not ask why this generation thinks the way it does. According to Lyons, Christianity in 1996 had a “strong positive image”–eighty-five percent favored Christianity’s role in society, and the Christian faith was not generating the intense hostility it does today. (18) Mysteriously, “Christians have taken several giant steps backward…,” causing many Millennials to lose respect for the Christian faith.

These are massive affirmations, but, to my mind, the important question is not asked: “have Christians gotten worse in the last generation, or has the culture dramatically changed in an anti-Christian direction?” It is odd that this question is not raised by our bright young authors since Kinnamon makes a huge admission. He notes that “the unconventional [emphasis mine] values of young adults will play an increasingly important role in shaping our society in the years to come…”, in particular, unconventional values concerning sexuality. As noted above, this is the group that “perceive[s] the world in very different terms than people ever have before.”(19) As Kinnamon and Lyons recognize, at one level, it is Millennials who have changed, not Christians. They have abandoned conventional values. But since, for this generation, “hope and change” is always good, we perhaps we need not be concerned.

This essential question I pose–“has the culture dramatically changed in an anti-Christian direction?” is not difficult to answer. The dates correspond perfectly and the polls all agree. Something big did happen to change things, namely a civilizational sea-change, which unfortunately, Kinnamon and Lyons did not consider significant enough to integrate into their analysis. We come back to the heart of Dreher’s extremely useful article, because he describes the problem with such clarity. It is not that Christians have gone backwards. It is that popular culture has abandoned its roots, to move into a world of once and future pagan worship and practice.

Since the 90’s a massive cultural change has occurred. In his best-selling book, The Marketing of Evil, (20) David Kupelian describes a 1988 event where 175 leading gay activists held a “war conference.” Present were Marshall Kirk and Hunter Johnson, who wrote a book entitled, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s.( 21) They saw the AIDS epidemic as the occasion to “establish ourselves as a victimized minority.” Their intention was to “convert the average American’s emotion, mind and will through a planned psychological attack in the form of propaganda fed to the nation via the media…using the mechanism of prejudice to our own ends–using the very processes that made America hate us to turn their hatred into warm regard.” (22) Clearly the inverse was a deliberate attempt to develop a fear and hatred of certain Christians, as the endless characterization of Christians as homophobes now shows.

Kinnamon and Lyons (23) admit that “gay activists have been aggressive in their attempts to change American perceptions, and media has played a significant role.” They also agree that “a new generation of adults has significantly shifted in its view and now accepts homosexuality as a legitimate way of life.” (24)  But this recognized fact is not allowed to play any significant part of the UnChristian analysis or much, if any, place in its response to the problem.

It is the change in public opinion, and especially in Millennial thinking, about homosexuality that is the enormous pink elephant in the room. No one dares speak of it, but the issue is turning our culture upside down, largely thanks to the role of a media controlled by progressives.  In her seminal work on “agenda groups and the media,” Kathryn C. Montgomery, former Professor of Communications at the University of California, writes that, “although a number of lobby groups have campaigned for exposure on the airwaves, the gay lobby has been by far the most organized and best coordinated, soon gaining a reputation as ‘the most sophisticated and successful advocacy group operating in network television.” (25)  In a 1996 article, gay writer David Ehrenstein asserts that “[t]here are openly gay writers on almost every major prime-time situation comedy you can think of.” He goes on to list them: Friends, Seinfeld, Murphy Brown, Roseanne, Mad about You, The Nanny, Wings, The Single Guy, Caroline in the City, Coach, Dave’s World, Home Court, High Society, The Crew, and Boston Common. There are doubtless others. Ehrenstein concludes: “In short, when it comes to sitcoms, gays rule” (26) –with devastating results.

In 1996, when Christianity was still socially popular, only 28 percent supported same sex marriage. In 2013, the figure was 52 percent–nearly twice as high. Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute notes that “in 1988, only 12 percent agreed that gay couples should be allowed to marry and 73 percent disagreed.”(27)  This change is especially notable among the Millennials of whom 74 percent now approve of the homosexual life style and homosexual marriage. (28)

Why were Hollywood and the media so eager to produce this change and to manipulate the rising generation? What are these elite opinion-makers really normalizing? Nothing less, in my opinion, than a powerful neo-Marxist cosmology–, that is, a re-interpretation of Marxism for the 21st century. (29) The “Gay Liberation Front: Manifesto” lifted the flap years ago, and is currently employed to great effect. (30) Peter Tatchel, a gay leader in the UK, sums up the vision of the Manifesto as “critiquing…homophobia, sexism, marriage, the nuclear family, monogamy, the cults of youth and beauty, patriarchy, the gay ghetto and rigid male and female gender roles.” (31) With incredible prescience and consistency of vision, the Manifesto says:

equality is never going to be enough; what is needed is a total social revolution, a complete reordering of civilization. Reform,…cannot change the deep-down attitude of straight people that homosexuality is at best inferior to their own way of life, at worst a sickening perversion. It will take more than reforms to change this attitude, because it is rooted in our society’s most basic institution–the Patriarchal Family. (32)

Though they may remain unnoticed for the moment, contemporary hard-Left progressive American “socialists” have the political and cultural winds in their sails. Their programmatic book, Imagine Living in a Socialist USA (33) is hailed by Paul Buhle, author of Marxism in the United States (34), as “the best, most insightful, and most lively work on socialism to appear in a long time.” (35)  Among the authors is Frances Fox Piven, a prominent theorist of both socialism and “community organizing.” Piven was a former mentor to the young Barak Obama, who, together with him, was a member of Chicago’s “socialist” New Party, which followed closely the playbook of neo-Marxist, Saul Alinsky. Imagine Living states clearly that socialism is not just an economic program for income redistribution but a social agenda of radical egalitarianism. This version of Marxism is “neo” because it goes beyond the liberation of the worker (which it still includes), to a liberation of the psyche and of sexual fantasies. It is a “cosmology,” and in its views on sexuality, it is stated quite openly that this is a wholesale program of “identity politics” (36):

…our conception of socialism is not limited to restructuring work and economic activity. It embraces altering the full range of social, cultural, political and familial structures and power relations… all the institutional forces that affect our lives. (37)

In its views on sexuality, the Manifesto states that:

•the current norms of male and female will be things of the past;

•LGBTQ people will have the same access to “all cultural, social, political and economic structures”;

•marriage will be for all with no special privileges attached to it;

•sexual relations between 16 year old boys and 40 year old men will be seen as positive and healthy–[so the official honoring of a known sexual predator, Harvey Milk, (38) with a state holiday, his own commemorative stamp and the award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was not a mistake];

•normalization of the activities of “sex workers.” (39)

This new “sexual” agenda is an essential element of a “post-capitalist” transformation of all of human society, and a remaking of human “identity.” Whether it will succeed is another question, but we are dealing with a neo-Marxism so committed to a classless egalitarian society that it must eradicate by any means possible embodied gender distinctions, which are the final bulwark of creational difference, written into our DNA. The goal is no longer a classless society but a classless mind and a genderless body–no longer just a fair deal for the worker but a transformation of the human psyche! At this point, such a powerful cosmology takes on an unmistakably religious character.

I will leave the final comment to Dreher, who puts his finger on the problem: Our Western culture has adopted the “complete cosmology” of that “small and despised sexual minority” in the 1960’s, which “just possibly will change America forever.” Dreher recognizes that “Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology.”

He recalls for us the importance of biblical cosmology, without which our witness will be in vain. Holding to that cosmology is our only hope for the future:

In classical Christian teaching, the divinely sanctioned union of male and female is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His church and ultimately of God to His creation. This is why gay marriage negates Christian cosmology, from which we derive our modern concept of human rights and other fundamental goods of modernity. Whether we can keep them in the post-Christian epoch remains to be seen. (40)

Dr. Peter R. Jones is the executive director of truthXchange, former Professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary in California, and a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He is the author of numerous books and articles; his latest book is One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (Main Entry, 2010).

First published at Reformation21.org

NOTES:

1. Rod Dreher, “Sex After Christianity,” http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/sex-after-christianity

2. Cited by Dreher.

3. Dreher, art.cit.

4. Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud (Intercollegiate Studies Institute; 1st ed., 2006), 121, cited by Dreher.

5. The useful analysis of Rieff by Rod Dreher, “Sex after Christianity,” The American Conservative (March/April 2013).

6.Dreher, art.cit.

7. Ettelbrick Paula. Since When is Marriage a Pathway to Liberation? Quoted in Robert M Baird and Stuart Rosenbaum, Same-Sex Marriage: The Moral and Legal Debate (New York: Prometheus Books, 1997), 168.

8.See Tony Perkins, FRC Action (5 Mar 2014).

9. Cited above.

10.I do not intend to impugn the motives of the two sincere young men I single out, David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons, and I hope that my criticism will be usefully constructive.

11. David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2007), 8.

12. http://juicyecumenism.com/2013/11/21/the-war-on-the-feminine/. A certain pluralism was maintained in that in her talk Kathy Keller, wife of Rev. Tim Keller, did bring the attendees back to Genesis 1:27.

13. Kinnamon and Lyons, UnChristian, 126.

14. Ibid., 139.

15. Ibid., 69.

16. Ibid., 100.

17. “Updated: U.S. Christian Peter LaBarbera Arrested In Canada,” BarbWire (14 Apr 2014):

http://barbwire.com/2014/04/14/breaking-u-s-christian-peter-labarbera-reportedly-arrested-canada/#RJulvTYL3ZppDKRq.99.

18. Kinnamon and Lyons, UnChristian, 24, 38.

19. Ibid.,100.

20. David Kupelian, The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom (WND Books, 2005), 23.

21. Marshall Kirk and Hunter Johnson, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s (NY: Plume, 1989).

22. Ibid., 155.

23. Kinnamon and Lyons, UnChristian 93.

24. Ibid., 99.

25. Kathryn C. Montgomery, Target: Prime Time: Advocacy Groups and the Struggle over Entertainment Television (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 78-9, cited in Gregory Rodgers, “Homosexuality: An Issue For our Time,” (unpublished scholarly manuscript), 160.

26.David Ehrenstein, “More than Friends,” Los Angeles Magazine (May 1996).

27. Cited in Peter Montgomery, “Historic Pro-Gay Equality Shift Led by Millennials–Evangelicals Included,” Religion Dispatches/USC (30 Aug 2011).

28. Anjana Sreedhar, “74% of Millennials Support Gay Marriage,” PolicyMic (25 Mar 2013).

29. Paul Buhle, “Marxism, the United States, and the Twentieth-Century,” Monthly Review, 61 (May 2009), optimistically states: “The realities of a collapsing ecosystem are as fearful as the threats of nuclear war in the first decade of Monthly Review’s existence. Still, there are lots of prospects in front of us and around the corner. Marxism, always unfinished, is going to be a big help in figuring out what they are and what to do about them.”

30. Gay Liberation Front: Manifesto (London: Russell Press Ltd., 1971, rev. 1978), reprinted by Gay Liberation Information Service, London.

31. Hilary White, “The revolution of the family: the Marxist roots of ‘homosexualism’,” Lifesitenews (23 Aug 2013).

32. Gay Liberation Front: Manifesto.

33. Frances Goldin, Debby Smith and Michael Steven Smith, Imagine Living in a Socialist USA (New York: Harper Perennial, 2014).

34. Paul Buhle, Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left (Verso; 1991).

35. Ibid., front cover.

36. Ibid., 100.

37. Ibid.

38. Matt Barber, “Sexual Predator Honored with a U.S. Postage Stamp,” WND (25 Oct, 2013) http://www.wnd.com/2013/10/sexual-predator-honored-with-u-s-postage-stamp/#jj6D3yZ2iLgpHZvd.99

39. These phrases are taken directly from Goldin, et al., Imagine, 100-4.

40. Dreher, art.cit.

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