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Are evangelicals becoming more open to gay marriage?

I wrote an article about seven years ago on what the bible teaches about homosexuality. That essay begins with a discussion of Brian McLaren’s then recent affirmation of committed homosexual relationships.

It is strange to read that essay now and to consider in retrospect how quickly McLaren faded from evangelical view. At the time, the “emerging church” still had some purchase within the evangelical movement. Now that entire project is defunct and so are its major proponents. They pushed the very edges of the leftwing of the evangelical movement until they pushed themselves right out of the movement. Many of them did so by adopting unorthodox positions on sexuality.

The ascendancy of the so-called “emerging church” seems like ancient history, but it really wasn’t that long ago. How quickly its heterodoxy doomed it to irrelevancy and demise. Evangelicals no longer look to the McLarens, the Tony Joneses, or the Rob Bells for sound guidance on the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

This recent history is the playing-out of Jesus’ words in John 10:

The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers (John 10:3-5).

At the end of the day, the church follows the voice of the Lord Jesus and will not go after the voice of “strangers”—those offering a teaching that is contrary to Christ and his word. Those who do go after the “strangers” are revealing themselves not to have been a part of the fold to begin with. They leave the church because they were Christians in name only.

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19).

Ed Stetzer wrote a really helpful essay last November about how “Evangelicals across the Spectrum Are Clarifying Marriage as a Core Belief.” He shows that evangelical institutions are in the process of making clear what they have always believed about marriage and sexuality—that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that sex is only permitted within that marriage covenant.

Almost immediately, Matthew Vines posted a string of tweets protesting Stetzer’s claims. Vines argues that the evidence shows that evangelicals are actually moving toward affirmation of gay marriage.

I think it is possible that Stetzer and Vines may both be right (sort of). Stetzer is simply observing how evangelical organizations are clarifying and reaffirming the traditional view, and he is right about that. Vines is simply observing the fact that some people associated with evangelical Christianity are embracing gay marriage. And he is right about that.

Vines points to trends among millennials as evidence of his claim. Vines is right about those larger demographic trends, but he is wrong about what they mean. Yes, millennials are far more open to gay marriage than their parents or grandparents. And yes, that will likely influence some within the evangelical movement to embrace gay marriage as well. But what does that mean? It doesn’t mean that the Christian faith is changing its posture on marriage. It means that some people currently associated with Christianity will be leaving us. They will follow a “stranger’s” voice right out of the faith.

It is not hard to predict what happens after the “strangers” leave orthodox Christian teaching. We’ve seen this countless times before. As it happened with the “emerging church” and with theological liberalism, so it will happen again. The “strangers” move on from the faithful, and the faithful move on from the “strangers.” There is a sad parting of ways. But the church remains the church, and the faith remains the faith. The true sheep will follow the voice of their shepherd come what may. The strangers’s ascendancy is eventually forgotten, and the church of the Lord Jesus endures. The voice of the strangers will grow quiet, and their memory will grow more and more distant.

Peter Leithart’s 2013 prediction is proving right:

God has his winnowing fork in his hand, and he’s ready to use it. There’s likely to be a lot of chaff, blown away like mist. But there will be a harvest. We’re being sent into an oven, but Jesus will crush the grain of the harvest so that, baked in the fire of the Spirit, it will become bread for the life of the world.

What we are witnessing in the evangelical movement right now is a winnowing—a parting of ways. It rightly grieves us because no one relishes division or departures from God’s truth. But it is all important that we see what this means. This division is real and necessary for anyone turning away from what the scriptures teach on marriage and sexuality. And all sides would do well not to obscure just how high the stakes really are.

N. T. Wright offers brief commentary on transgenderism

N. T. Wright penned a letter to the editor of The Times of London this morning expressing his thoughts about “gender-fluid” children. Responding to articles about gender identity confusion–and even trans-speciesism–in children, he writes:

The confusion about gender identity is a modern, and now internet-fuelled, form of the ancient philosophy of Gnosticism. The Gnostic, one who “knows”, has discovered the secret of “who I really am”, behind the deceptive outward appearance (in Rifkind’s apt phrase, the “ungainly, boring, fleshy one”). This involves denying the goodness, or even the ultimate reality, of the natural world. Nature, however, tends to strike back, with the likely victims in this case being vulnerable and impressionable youngsters who, as confused adults, will pay the price for their elders’ fashionable fantasies.

Dunkirk: “English fathers, sailing to rescue England’s exhausted, bleeding sons.”

Tonight, the movie Dunkirk will begin showing in theaters across the nation. I assume that most of you reading this know why this film has been so highly anticipated. It is not merely because some reviewers are already saying that this is the best movie ever made by director Christopher Nolan. It is also because of the story itself.

The tale of the evacuation from Dunkirk during World War 2 is one of the most riveting and inspiring true stories that you will ever hear. It is a story of heroes, common and uncommon. It is a story of national valor and courage, and for that reason the story is beloved and cherished. What happened at this little fishing village in the north of France in 1940? Continue Reading →

Why intersectionality may be at odds with the gospel

Elizabeth Corey’s recent article in First Things may be the best short intro to intersectionality that I have yet come across. I highly recommend that you read it if you have not already. I would like to highlight a couple items from Corey’s observations that relate to my growing concerns with this philosophy of human identity—indeed, two areas where this ideology seems to be at odds with the Christian gospel.

Before doing that, I should stipulate up front that I do not disagree with every aspect of the theory. As Joe Carter has pointed out, intersectionality can help us to understand how an individual may experience multiple layers of discrimination or mistreatment. From a Christian perspective, this insight can perhaps serve as one metric for understanding how sin operates in a fallen world. This rightly evokes our compassion and resolve for justice. Nevertheless, I do not see why we need the total theory in order to maintain that particular insight, and I can think of a number of reasons that Christians might want to unload the theory. At least two of those reasons appear in Corey’s essay.

Reason 1: Intersectionality fosters an unbiblical view of human identity

Corey observes a deficiency in intersectionality theory that goes to the very foundation:

Intersectional theorists begin their work on the basis of a debatable (though never debated) set of characteristics that supposedly constitute personal identity: race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and sometimes others (weight, attractiveness, age). Women are collectively, and as individuals, oppressed. So are gays, lesbians, Hispanics, blacks, the disabled, the aged, the very young, the obese, the transgender—and the list goes on, becoming more complex with the addition and subtraction of multiple traits.

Intersectionality fails to distinguish between social categories that are morally neutral and those that are morally implicated. For example, race and gender are set right alongside sexual orientation. This is a big problem. Whereas the Bible celebrates racial diversity and the complementary differences between male and female, it does not celebrate sexual orientation diversity. The Bible says that all sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage is sinful, but intersectional activists would view such a judgment as oppression when applied to gay or bisexual people. Intersectionality insists that homosexuality is a good to be celebrated and promoted. Likewise, intersectionality defines gender in a way that mandates the celebration of transgender identities. This too is a radical departure from Christian teaching about how integral biological sex is to human identity as male and female. In these ways, intersectionality is at odds with fundamental truths of Christianity.

Reason 2: Intersectionality exacerbates social divisions rather than healing them

It has often been observed that intersectionality creates a kind of “oppression Olympics” among those who hold the theory. Ironically, within college campus subculture, one’s moral authority can be enhanced by intersecting identities of oppression. This kind of a social dynamic incentivizes grievance based on identity. In that way, it entrenches social divisions rather than healing them.

Indeed, Corey talks about one theorist who insists that there can be no peace between intersectionality and those who refuse to recognize the validity of the theory:

At the end there was a question and answer period. I asked whether and how Collins would suggest that intersectionality engage with its adversaries, the hated conservatives. Given the polarization of America right now, did she see some way for the two camps to communicate or find common ground? The vehemence of her answer was startling. “No,” she said. “You cannot bring these two worlds together. You must be oppositional. You must fight. For me, it’s a line in the sand.” This was at once jarring and clarifying.

To refuse to recognize intersectionality is not merely a theoretical dispute. It reveals animus toward those whose identities must be recognized and celebrated. Such refusal is the opposite of “safe space” and must be vigorously opposed.

All of this makes for a cauldron of division. Intersectionality may be good at pointing out what divides us, but it is horrible at bringing remedy to those divisions. No amount of “allyship” ever really rights the ship. Identity grievance endures no matter how many allies come onto the scene.

The gospel on the other hand is providing an entirely different remedy. Where the gospel prevails, reconciliation between between social groups also prevails. That is what Galatians 3:27-28 is all about:

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The gospel removes hostilities between social groups. It doesn’t foster them. Also, the gospel doesn’t celebrate social identities that are defined by human fallenness and sin (e.g., homosexuality, transgenderism). If the Bible is true, then these identities can only be understood as features of the sinful nature which the gospel means to obliterate and to transform into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

The church is supposed to be a counterculture of gospel unity which bears witness to a world that is divided by countless hostilities. Intersectionality seems to incentivize those hostilities, whereas the gospel overcomes them.

The intersectional case for teenage sodomy

Vera Papisova is the editor of the wellness section of Teen Vogue–the section that published a recent article teaching teenage girls how to enjoy being sexually brutalized by their boyfriends. A few days ago Papisova posted a tweetstorm defending herself. If you want to read her remarks on Twitter, click on the link above. I’ve compiled the tweets in the paragraphs below. She writes:

I am so proud of all of the medically accurate and thoughtful information I publish for @TeenVogue, and I’m even prouder of my writers. Everything in the wellness section is published based on years of research and talking to experts and people of all identities daily. DAILY. All of my writers are marginalized people who deserve to have a platform to speak for themselves, & reach young people who identify w/ them.

As a woman, I have been deprived of so much information that could have saved me from traumatizing and isolating experiences in my life. But I am also white, straight-passing, cisgender. I am grateful for my privilege, and I choose to use it to pull other people up.

The biggest mistake I see in criticism I get on a daily basis is that the world underestimates young people. Let me remind you: Not only do studies show providing information to young people BEFORE THEY NEED TO USE IT is how we HELP people make safer, better choices — We need to be realistic about how difficult & confusing it is to be young, be vulnerable to various systems of oppression, to feel helpless. Young people are ALREADY experiencing trauma, facing mental illnesses, having sex, and dealing with REAL problems. They deserve information. I refuse to be part of a culture that TEACHES anyone to accept feeling alone, unsafe, unsupported, unloved.

Internalized hatred starts early and the more privileged someone is, the more impact their internalized hatred, ignorance, and misguided judgment will affect the population. Privilege DOES NOT exempt anyone from experiencing trauma and pain, but it is also not an excuse to deny others of their life experiences. This is why EVERYONE deserves to have AS MUCH information as we have available about bodies, minds, relationships, sexuality, gender, etc. I will keep asking, “who’s missing a seat at the table?” And I will continue to do my best, which is all I can do, to offer them space.

Thank you @pfpicardi for trusting me with the @teenvogue platform. I am here because I believe in young people, and you should too.

Papisova offers two lines of defense for the article encouraging teenage children to sodomize one another. First, she argues that children need education about how to have safe sex. Second, she argues that failure to provide such education constitutes oppression against minorities.

Sexual-revolutionaries have been making the first line of argument for years. They were making it even way back when I was an adolescent, and it boils down to this; Those kids are going to be having sex anyway, so we might as well show them how to do it in a way that keeps them from getting pregnant or from contracting a disease. One of the chief problems with this argument is that it acts as if the only problem with teen sex is that it might be “unsafe.” It is an argument entirely unconcerned with the moral or spiritual formation of minor children. And in fact it seems to presuppose and perhaps even to encourage sexual promiscuity among children. And I think teens have gotten the message.

As problematic as that first line of argument is, it is Papisova’s second line of argument that is really troubling. Whether she realizes it or not, it is an argument in favor of sodomy among minor children based on intersectionality.

As I have written about before in this space, intersectionality is a theory of human identity that is all the rage on college campuses and increasingly in popular culture. It is the idea that a person’s identity is “formed by mutually interlocking and reinforcing categories of race, gender, class, health, and sexuality” (Carter 2017). Intersectionality teaches that people experience either oppression or privilege based on all such identity categories simultaneously, and it is identities based on gender and sexuality that are coming into play in Papisova’s remarks. She is concerned about teenage girls and boys (gender identities) who engage in a particular kind of sexual act (sexual identity).

Papisova checks her privilege up front, noting that she is a “white, straight-passing, cisgender” woman. According to this brand of identity politics, it is the responsibility of the privileged to become an ally of the oppressed. That is why Papisova writes, “I am grateful for my privilege, and I choose to use it to pull other people up.” Failure to become an ally makes one complicit in oppression at some level. Because oppression is wrong, everyone is morally obligated to become an ally. Among other things, becoming an ally means affirming the sexual orientations and gender identities of marginalized people. Being an ally means providing such people a “safe space” just to be who they are. And that is why Papisova concludes, “I will keep asking, ‘who’s missing a seat at the table?’ And I will continue to do my best, which is all I can do, to offer them space.”

Papisova’s remarks are filled with boilerplate language from intersectional activism. And it is why Papisova believes she needs to be educating minor children on how to safely sodomize one another. In this intersectional worldview, it is oppressive to withhold such information from minor children. Indeed, the true ally is morally obligated to share such information with children or risk doing them harm. If this argument seems strange to you, you need to know that it doesn’t sound strange to a generation of college students who have been indoctrinated by this ideology.

And it is precisely here where this ideology concerns me as a Christian. This brand of intersectionality cannot be reconciled with a biblical worldview. Intersectional activists define allyship in terms that require affirmation of homosexual and transgender identities. And yet faithful Christians may never affirm lesbian and gay sexual behavior. Nor can they ever define human identity as the sum total of a person’s fallen sexual desires. Because the Bible teaches us to love our neighbor (which is not the same thing as “unconditionally affirm your neighbor”), faithful Christians can never be an ally in the way demanded by intersectional activists.

And in this case, Christians are morally obligated to oppose what Papisova feels morally obligated to defend—the practice of sodomy among minor children. If someone wants to argue that my conviction in this regard amounts to “oppression,” I suppose I will have to live with that. But what I cannot live with is the idea that the sexual degradation of minor children is okay. On the contrary, if I am to love my neighbor as Jesus commands, I must oppose with all of might both the degradation and the bankrupt ideology that underwrites it. And so must you.

Standing against a destructive misogyny threatening our children

Sexual perversion is firmly entrenched in our cultural mainstream, so it takes a lot these days to astonish me. But I am astonished today. In the span of twenty-four hours, I have come across not one but two separate unrelated articles about teenage girls who agree to be brutalized during sexual encounters with teenage boys. Both articles indicate that this is a growing trend among adolescent children who becoming sexualized at younger and younger ages.

Last week, Teen Vogue published an article instructing teenage girls how to enjoy being sodomized by their boyfriends. The article is so vile that I am not even going to link to it. But among other things, it tells these minor children that such activity is normal. It gives detailed instructions on how they can learn to enjoy it. For those teenage girls who are still reluctant, Teen Vogue reassures them:

Anal sex, though often stigmatized, is a perfectly natural way to engage in sexual activity. People have been having anal sex since the dawn of humanity. Seriously, it’s been documented back to the ancient Greeks and then some. So if you’re a little worried about trying it or are having trouble understanding the appeal, just know that it isn’t weird or gross.

Let’s just pause here for a moment and ponder this. A major publication marketed to minor children is instructing them on how to enjoy being sodomized by other minor children. If this doesn’t fill you with grief and outrage, nothing will. God help us.

How did we get here that this kind of brutalizing conduct has become the norm? Many of you already know the answer. It is because of pornography. Countless teenage boys have spent the better part of their adolescence marinating in hardcore pornography. This material has decimated them. Their sexual preferences and tastes have been definitively shaped by this material, and they are bringing these expectations to any female who will agree to them.

And that brings us to the second article, which has a decidedly more realistic take on what is happening. Allison Pearson writes about a conversation she had with a group of mothers about how to raise healthy and happy children. The conversation turned to talk about sex. Pearson writes:

A couple of the women present said that they had forced themselves to have toe-curlingly embarrassing conversations with their teenagers on the subject. “I want my son to know that, despite what he might see on his laptop, there are things you don’t expect a girl to do on a first date, or a fifth date, or probably never,” said Jo.

A [doctor], let’s call her Sue, said: “I’m afraid things are much worse than people suspect.” In recent years, Sue had treated growing numbers of teenage girls with internal injuries caused by frequent anal sex; not, as Sue found out, because she wanted to, or because she enjoyed it – on the contrary – but because a boy expected her to. “I’ll spare you the gruesome details,” said Sue, “but these girls are very young and slight and their bodies are simply not designed for that.”

Her patients were deeply ashamed at presenting with such injuries. They had lied to their mums about it and felt they couldn’t confide in anyone else, which only added to their distress. When Sue questioned them further, they said they were humiliated by the experience, but they had simply not felt they could say no. Anal sex was standard among teenagers now, even though the girls knew that it hurt.

I was reluctant to write about this because it is so awful and embarrassing even to acknowledge. But there it is. It is reality, and it is all around us. A generation of young men are destroying themselves by the darkness of pornography, and now they are foisting their desolation on young women who desperately want to be loved by a young man. The sexual revolution which promised to liberate has given birth to a destructive misogyny that is now being soft-pedaled as “normal” by the likes of Teen Vogue.

I have said this before, but it is worth saying again. Porn use in our culture is a civilizational calamity. The sexual revolution promised us more sex and more pleasure. It has actually delivered to us a generation of men who think of women as objects to be used and abused for their sexual pleasure. It has not given us men who know what virtue and honor are. It doesn’t teach men to pursue their joy in self-sacrificially loving and being sexually faithful to one woman for life. It teaches young men to use women for sex and then to discard them when they become unwilling or uninteresting. This means that it has given us a generation of young men completely unprepared for marriage and for fatherhood. And if you lose marriage and fatherhood, you lose your civilization. We have sown to the wind, and our children are reaping the whirlwind—not least our daughters, who are less likely than ever to find a man who hasn’t been corrupted by this.

As a father and as a Christian I am feeling the weight of this. I know that porn use is the pastoral challenge that defines our generation. This brokenness is all around us and among us. It is the burden of far too many of the boys and men sitting in our pews. I don’t know of any other problem that has done more to subvert manhood and marriage than porn use. It is killing us.

A word to Christian parents: Your responsibility here is very practical. If you are giving your children unfettered access to screens and online content, you are giving them away to this darkness. Your job as a parent is to push back against the currents that are trying to overwhelm your children. Don’t give your small children and adolescents a smartphone. No matter how much they beg for it. No matter how much your friends and neighbors look at you as strange for not getting with the program. Don’t do it. Children are being introduced to this content at younger and younger ages. It will be all that you can do to keep them away from friends and acquaintances at school who share this material on their own smart phones. The last thing that you need to do is to give them their own pipeline to this sewage. Don’t be so naïve to think that they won’t find this material. They won’t have to find it. It will find them unless you stand in the way.

I agree with Rod Dreher:

Parents have to build an anti-smartphone culture for their kids, and help each other stick to it. Eventually the kid will become older teenagers, but one hopes that they will have been morally formed to have self-restraint when it comes to pornography access on the thing.

Christian parent, building an anti-smartphone culture begins in your home, so start there. Your kids are not going to avoid this content by accident. They are only going to avoid it on purpose. That means that you have to be planning how you are going to train them to be vigilant over their own hearts (Prov. 4:23). This will take time—indeed an entire childhood—to form. And you will need to teach them how to handle technology as they grow into young adulthood. You will need to introduce access with intentionality and with limits. As you are doing so, they need guardrails from you to keep them on track until they can take the wheel themselves as young adults.

Mom and Dad, let’s agree together to be weird and countercultural for the sake of our children. They desperately need us to be this for them whether they realize it or not.

—————

Denny Burk is Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College and is the President of The Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.


UPDATE #1: The editor for the wellness section of Teen Vogue has made a defense of her editorial decision to include this article in the magazine. I respond to her defense here.

UPDATE #2: D. C. McAllister has published a very helpful article at The Federalist outlining the health risks involved with this type of sexual behavior among young women. She writes:

Anal sex is a very high-risk sexual behavior, more so than vaginal intercourse and oral sex. As reported by the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, a Guttmacher study found that 25 percent of the women they interviewed had been forced to have anal sex. “Coercion and violence notwithstanding, many participants reported pain and discomfort, including emotional distress, during anal intercourse.” A study from the UK concurs: “Young people’s narratives normalized coercive, painful and unsafe anal heterosex.”

In HuffPo, Naomi Wolf said when she visited several college campuses, “anal fissures were the number one health problem women were having because everyone was doing anal when they were drunk and had just met, which is not the best way to do anal. It’s a very delicate thing. So, the scripts are being set by porn.”

Not only is it painful, it has other risks. It can eventually lead to fecal incontinence, and the American Cancer Society reports, “Receptive anal intercourse also increases the risk of anal cancer in both men and women, particularly in those younger than 30.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that “Anal sex is the riskiest sexual behavior for getting and transmitting HIV for men and women.” It “carries a risk 17 times greater than receptive vaginal intercourse. Moreover, receptive anal intercourse even carries a risk 2 times greater than that of needle-sharing during injection drug use.”

The CDC also reports that “in addition to the same sexually transmitted diseases that are passed through vaginal sex, anal sex can also expose participants to hepatitis A, B, and C; parasites like Giardia and intestinal amoebas; bacteria like Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli.”

Given the high risks, do we really want our children having anal sex?

The baker who refused to make wedding cake appears on “The View”

If you are unfamiliar with this story, see my previous post on the topic. Just a few thoughts about this appearance on “The View”:

1. The ladies from “The View” were respectful in this exchange. That cannot always be said in left-leaning pop-culture venues that are typically dismissive of religious liberty claims. That they gave a platform to Jack and Kristen is a win for religious liberty.

2. The baker Jack Phillips and attorney Kristen Waggoner acquitted themselves quite well in this exchange. And this is not exceptional among Christians in the wedding industry who are behind the eight ball right now with religious liberty claims. Most of these people are just normal folks who own small businesses but who can’t lend their creative expression to help celebrate a same-sex wedding ceremony.

3. Kristen is right. If the government can force Jack Phillips to create a message that contradicts his beliefs, then the state can coerce anyone to violate their conscience. Religious liberty is not just for Christians but for everyone. As Russell Moore has recently argued, “Religious Freedom is for Non-Christians Too.”

I think McEnroe is taking heat for no good reason

Earlier this evening, I saw John McEnroe’s interview with CBS News anchors who grilled him about some remarks he made about Serena Williams (see above). McEnroe said in an interview with NPR on Sunday that he believed that Serena Williams would be ranked about 700th in the world if she were playing on the men’s circuit. The anchors suggest that McEnroe is denigrating Serena Willams’s success, that he owes her an apology, and that he made the remark in order to increase his book sales.

McEnroe refuses to apologize, and I think he was right to do so. If you look at the NPR interview, it is clear that McEnroe was not denigrating Serena Williams. He was asked a pointed question, and he gave an honest answer. Read it for yourself:

Garcia-Navarro: We’re talking about male players but there is of course wonderful female players. Let’s talk about Serena Williams. You say she is the best female player in the world in the book.

McEnroe: Best female player ever — no question.

Garcia-Navarro: Some wouldn’t qualify it, some would say she’s the best player in the world. Why qualify it?

McEnroe: Oh! Uh, she’s not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?

Garcia-Navarro: Yeah, the best tennis player in the world. You know, why say female player?

McEnroe: Well because if she was in, if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world.

Garcia-Navarro: You think so?

McEnroe: Yeah. That doesn’t mean I don’t think Serena is an incredible player. I do, but the reality of what would happen would be I think something that perhaps it’d be a little higher, perhaps it’d be a little lower. And on a given day, Serena could beat some players. I believe because she’s so incredibly strong mentally that she could overcome some situations where players would choke ’cause she’s been in it so many times, so many situations at Wimbledon, The U.S. Open, etc. But if she had to just play the circuit — the men’s circuit — that would be an entirely different story.

McEnroe did not denigrate Serena Williams. On the contrary, he called her the greatest female tennis player of all time. McEnroe did not bring the issue up to increase book sales. On the contrary, the NPR reporter raised the question. McEnroe merely answered the questions by stating the obvious. 

It is a fact that men generally have greater muscle mass, denser bone structure, and taller frames than women. That means that male athletes are generally bigger and faster and stronger than their female counterparts. Is McEnroe really supposed to apologize for saying something that everyone already knows to be true? I hope not.

This little episode reveals just how much our culture’s understanding of male and female has shifted. Because of transgenderism or as in this case feminism, people are increasingly willing (and even expected) to overlook the biological realities that distinguish men and women. The result of this drift is that what used to be considered common sense is now considered insensitive. That is what caught McEnroe by surprise. But it doesn’t make what he said any less true. It just reveals a cultural drift toward the absurd.

Mainstreaming fornication (a.k.a. “ethical non-monogamy”)

Over the weekend, I came across one of the saddest interviews I have ever seen (see above). It’s an interview on The New York Times Magazine website that features five “non-monogamous” men and women. All five of the persons are involved in sexual relationships with others in the group and with many others outside the group. There are two married couples in the group, and one woman who has no legal tie to either of the couples. The interview describes what their non-monogamous marriages are like, and how they make their marriages work.

What is really sad about this interview is that the dysfunctionality of these relationships is apparent even though it is being presented as simply a new and enlightened way of imagining marriage. In one couple, the husband says he agreed to non-monogamy only when his philandering wife said that she wanted an open marriage. He knew that the only way he could keep from losing his wife was to agree to this arrangement, and that is what he did. Nevertheless, the husband still gets jealous, and he still worries that a more attractive or more wealthy man might take his wife away from him.

In the other couple, the wife seems concerned about the other women her husband is seeing. Nevertheless, she agrees to the open marriage as well and is seeking out her own relationships outside the marriage. But still, she seems uneasy about the whole thing.

One woman is not married but is having an affair with one of the husbands in the group. She is doing this while also carrying on affairs with a number of other men and women not included in the interview. And even though she too has agreed to these “open” relationships, she worries that she doesn’t have a “nesting” partner like the other two couples in the interview. She is a loner in the “open” relationships, and has no legal tie to anyone. She worries that she will grow old and never have a “nesting” partner.

None of the five people in the interview express any moral qualms about what they are doing. Nevertheless, the dysfunction and insecurity are there for anyone to see. The worry about someone stealing their “nesting” partner away. The desire to have a “nesting” partner. What are these but a desire for some semblance of fidelity and faithfulness?

In spite of the slick presentation, there is no avoiding the fact that these relationships are a mess. And they are that way because we were not made for so-called “open marriages” nor for “ethical non-monagamy” (yes, that’s what they call it). Something will always feel wrong in sexual relationships that lack covenant and fidelity. Having a “nesting” partner is just not the same.

What does it say about our culture that The New York Times Magazine sees fit to mainstreaming these relationships? What does it say about us that we are becoming more and more accustomed to this kind of fare in popular culture? Things have changed and are changing, but not for the better. But feature stories like this one make you wonder if anyone has noticed.

“Professing to be wise, they became fools… Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them” (Romans 1:22, 24).

Christians are rightly grieved to see the perversions that are being mainstreamed in our culture. Our culture has not only rejected the heterosexual norm of marriage, but also the norm of monogamy. There is every reason to believe that every other norm will be tested as well. They already are.

The interview above reveals an attempt to sanctify promiscuity by calling it marriage. Nevertheless, marriage is not an infinitely elastic institution that can be reshaped and redefined according to individual tastes. It is not something that can be customized to include unfaithfulness and adultery within its purview. Marriage is the covenantal, conjugal union of one man and one woman for life. Any arrangement outside of that divinely ordained structure will eventually lead to frustration and pain. We cannot alter the nature of marriage, though some are certainly trying. And they do so to their own hurt.

U2: The concert was great–a little preachy, but still great

It’s hard to believe that I have been listening to U2 for over 30 years. It’s also hard to believe that I’ve never made it to one of their showstopping live performances until just last night. My wife and I bought our tickets months ago, just after they went on sale. So we have been anticipating this for quite some time.

I know Bono did not want this tour to be about nostalgia, but for us it certainly was. We wanted to hear them play the old stuff, and that’s exactly what they did. It was lump-in-your-throat spectacular. In fact, I got a little verklempt when “Where the Streets Have No Name” began to ring out (see video above). It was unbelievable. As Bono began singing, a giant UPS jet flew so close to the stadium that it looked like it might land on us. It slightly terrified everyone, which I think only added to the excitement of the performance.

Anyway, our overall experience was a good one. We are earbud consumers of music these days, and it’s good to experience an event with enough subwoofers to shake your insides while you listen. It was a fantastic show. One that we will never forget.

I am not going to write a proper music review here. Nor am I going to reflect on the legacy of the iconic album “The Joshua Tree” (for that, read Mike Cosper’s excellent piece). My aim is to offer some reflections that have less to do with the music itself than with the message of the performance. And there is no question that U2 is trying to deliver a message on this tour.

1. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Bono said that he wanted to bring the “The Joshua Tree” into 2017. Songs like “Bullet the Blue Sky” were originally written to critique President Reagan’s foreign policy in South America back in the 80’s. Bono wanted to take such messages and apply them to current events. But he says that he wanted to do so without alienating red state America who voted for Donald Trump. In his own words, Bono says:

I also think it’s very, very important that people who voted for Donald Trump feel welcome at our show. I think they have been hoodwinked, but I understand and I would not dismiss the reasons why some people voted for him. I think people on the left really need to put their ear closer to the ground. I do this thing where I say, “The party of Lincoln, the party of Kennedy and those in between holding on, those letting go of the American Dream are welcome.” This is the most important line: “We’ll find common ground by reaching for higher ground.”

Even though the political critique wasn’t as severe as it could have been, it was nevertheless very clear. You have to appreciate the effort to mute the criticism, but it was still there. Any Trump voter paying attention would have understood that Bono was coming down on their guy.

2. Related to that last point, Bono fans tend to treat him like a religious leader. When he speaks, there is a worshipful hush and a nodding of heads as the sage holds forth. Bono must be accustomed to this kind of reverence because he presses into it. This show was without question the most preachy one I have ever attended. Don’t get me wrong, I think Bono is a good man. I admire his compassion, his commitment to relieving suffering around the world, his emphasis on forgiveness and love. He puts his money where his mouth is. I think he is sincere and good, and I do not wish to critique him personally.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel there was more platitude than substance. For example near the end of the show, Bono exhorted all of us that we needed to put aside what divides us. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the left or from the right, from the blue or from the red. If we can all just focus on the “one” thing that is more valuable than anything else, we could all be united in spite of our differences. And then he concludes that we all just need to focus on the “one.” And then he went into the song “One” with no further explanation of what the “one” is. It felt like that moment in City Slickers when Curly tells Billy Crystal that the secret of life is “one” thing but then doesn’t tell him what the one thing is. Bono insists that we need to be united in our commitment to the “one,” but he gives us not one clue what principle unites us.

The end result of this leaves you feeling pretty thin. What principle or person could possibly make us put aside our differences? What could possibly make war and poverty cease in the world? What could move the human heart to love when it is currently so given to hate? Inspiring as it is, it is not going to be a U2 concert. Nor is going to be the force of Bono’s personality. Nor is it going to be the music. Bono leaves it to us to find the “one” thing that will put everything right. It seems to me that the “one” thing isn’t a principle but a Person–Jesus Christ the savior of the world. Perhaps that is what Bono wishes to imply. It is hard to tell, however, when he lionizes personalities and principles that foment the very division that he wishes to overcome. Which leads to one final observation.

3. The encore for this show is an ode to women activists. As the band plays “Ultraviolet,” there is a giant screen featuring the likes of Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, and Ellen Degeneres. As I was watching these faces light up screen, I couldn’t help but think: “Hmm. I think one of these things is not like the other.” But Bono explains his rationale:

The future is about women. I really believe that, so let’s make it an ode to women. As you know, feminine spirit is crucial at times when the male hegemony is causing mayhem. After the Second World War, people like John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, whoever … Marvin Gaye, say – that’s a feminine spirit. The 1960s was a feminine spirit, and the 1960s was born in the rubble of the Second World War.

Great leaps forward of consciousness have a feminine spirit. Men start to look like [women], they grow their hair long. It’s a funny thing, the Renaissance. … Whenever you see the feminine spirit there’s usually a jump in consciousness. In the One Campaign we’re leading with, “Poverty is sexist.” It’s a campaign run by women. And I’m just watching, stepping back, to be the kind of town crier that I used to be. I’m still banging on drums, but I’m in the background. The singers are women. I’m amazed by it.

The actual execution of this “ode to women” is pretty heavily tilted toward pop culture icons. But it was very clear that second and third wave feminists are also prominent–Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, etc. And yet, the movement that Steinem and Friedan represent has given us one of the most divisive ideologies on the planet. Whatever your opinion of feminism, we can all agree that it is not the “one” principle that unites us. Not by a long shot.

Bottom line: This was a fantastic concert, and we enjoyed every minute of it even if it was a bit preachy. We didn’t come for that anyway. We came for great music delivered by one of the best bands of all time. That is what we got, and it was a fantastic show.

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