“I do not know any country where, in general, less independence of mind and genuine freedom of discussion reign than in America.” — Tocqueville, “Democracy in America”
Alexis de Tocqueville was the great French chronicler of the early United States. Nearly 200 years ago, he spotted a basic tension in our national character. It’s this: Americans place a big stress on individual rights. But we’re also big conformists. The dynamic of self-assertion and fear of being out of step with the herd is one of the key contradictions of American life.
Nobody wants to be told what to do. But most of us urgently want to be inside the constantly shifting range of acceptable opinions.
A good example happened last week.
On Tuesday, August 29, a group of prominent evangelical scholars and pastors — including respected public voices like Russell Moore — issued the “Nashville Statement.” It’s worth reading in the original, rather than reading about it. Nothing in the document is shocking or belligerent.
On the contrary: In its preamble and 14 articles, the text simply reaffirms historic biblical beliefs about marriage, chastity and the nature of human sexuality. Critics might question its timing or structure or wording. Some evangelicals have done so. In a normal time, though, the Statement would be a non-story.
But we don’t live in a “normal” time. We live in the midst of a culture war. A methodical effort is now playing out in the mass media to recast biblical truths as a form of “hate,” to reshape public opinion away from those biblical truths, and to silence anyone who stays faithful to Christian teaching on matters of sexual behavior, sexual identity, family and marriage.
The message is simple: Conform to the new herd dogmas or enjoy the consequences. Which explains the river of public contempt that was quickly poured out on the Nashville Statement.
Happily, three days after the Statement, Cardinal Robert Sarah approached some of the same issues from a Catholic perspective in the Wall Street Journal. Sarah stressed that “to love someone as Christ loves us means to love that person in the truth.”
Sexuality is a gift from God with beauty and purpose. Within marriage, sexual intimacy is a source of unity, joy and new life. At the same time, Scripture is clear about the destructive nature of promiscuity in any form. The call to chastity applies to all persons, whatever their sexual inclinations.
Sarah especially noted that “In her teaching about homosexuality, the Church guides her followers by distinguishing their identities from their attractions and actions.” Persons deserve respect and understanding as children of God. But “same-sex relations [are] gravely sinful and harmful to the well-being of those who partake in them. People who identify as members of the LGBT community are owed this truth in charity, especially from clergy who speak on behalf of the Church….”
In other words, we need to speak the truth with love. Truth without love becomes a weapon. But no real love, no authentic mercy, can exist divorced from speaking the truth.
Having said all of the above, what’s the point of this column?
It’s this: God exists. His Creation has a natural order. Our sexuality is part of that life-giving order. Sooner or later, nature defeats ideology. It doesn’t matter how strong or widely shared or persuasive a bad system of ideas might seem to be. It will always lose. The trouble, as we learned in the last century, is that foolish and perverse thinking can take a long time to die. And it can ruin countless lives and poison whole societies in the process.
Sex intimately informs our idea of what and who we are as human beings. Sexual behavior and relationships are never purely private matters. They always have social implications and consequences. The dysfunctions in our nation’s current attitudes toward sex thus amount to a kind of mental virus, a flight from reason and common sense.
There’s plenty of evidence for what I’ve just said, and it’s worth examining. I’ll recommend two excellent places to start. In fact, both are “must-reads.”
The first resource is Ashley McGuire, a founding editor of altFem magazine (altfemmag.com), and one of the most gifted young writers, cultural critics and lecturers in the United States. She’s also a wife and mother, and she brings all these skills to bear in Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female (Regnery), published earlier this year.
The title is impish, and McGuire writes with style, energy and sardonic irony. She starts from the premise that “Somehow, it has become a violation of the accepted code of conduct to suggest that men and women are different, and to act accordingly.”
Then she proves it with a news tour of the cultural front lines — documenting one vivid, factual example after another of our current delusions about sex and gender, and the human debris they leave in their wake.
The second resource is Mark Regnerus. Professor Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas, Austin, is well acquainted with today’s new sex orthodoxies, and the cost of questioning them. Sexual behavior is among his fields of study. Unhappily for him, his work has challenged the groupthink of many of his colleagues. As a result, he’s been the target of sustained, ugly (but unsuccessful) personal and professional attacks.
Regnerus’s latest book is Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy (Oxford University Press). It’s an important, well-written, deeply absorbing piece of scholarship on the modern mating market – vital reading for anyone who wants to understand the dynamics of current American sexual behaviors, with the hard social research Regnerus provides to back up his conclusions.
Anyone in marriage and family ministry, or the adult formation of men and women, should have a working knowledge of this text.
I’ll end with a news item and a thought.
Here’s the news item. Professor Amy Barrett is a distinguished (Catholic) law professor at the University of Notre Dame. She’s also a White House nominee to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In confirmation hearings on Wednesday, September 6, Democratic Senators repeatedly raised thinly veiled questions about Barrett’s suitability to serve linked to her Catholic faith.
But the day’s signature line came from Democrat Dianne Feinstein. The senator worried to Barrett that “dogma lives loudly in you” – this, from a person whose dogmatic decibel level on abortion “rights” could break windows.
Here’s the thought. A great many faithful Christians still do let their convictions “live loudly” in their hearts and actions. It’s called witness. What it takes is a little courage. So maybe they — and all the rest of us who seek to follow Jesus Christ — should turn up the volume.