How Much Liberty
The Sixth Sunday After Trinity
How Much Liberty?
Earlier this summer I watched a video posted to Facebook. A fellow goes to the University of Washington campus with a video camera. He stops various students and asks them questions related to a policy of allowing people to use bathrooms, locker rooms and spas based on their gender identity of choice rather than of birth.
Here are his questions and some of the responses:
What would you say if I said I was a woman?
“Good for you.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“I don’t have a problem with it.”
What if I said I was Chinese?
“Yeah, be who you are.”
“I’d ask how you came to that conclusion and why you came to that conclusion.”
What if I said I was 7 years old?
“I wouldn’t believe that immediately.”
“It wouldn’t bother me that much to go out of my way to tell you you’re wrong.”
“If you feel 7 at heart, yeah, good for you.”
What if I said I was going to enroll in a first-grade class?
“If that’s where you feel, like, mentally, you should be, I feel like there are communities that would accept you.”
“So long as you’re not hindering society or hindering other people, O.K.”
What if I told you I’m 6-foot-5?
“If you truly believe you’re 6-5 I wouldn’t think it’s harmful. It’s fine if you believe that.”
“I feel like that’s not my place as another human to say someone is wrong or to draw lines or boundaries.”
What if I said I’m a 6-5 Chinese woman?
“If you explained why you think you’re 6-5 I’d be open to saying you’re 6-5 or Chinese or a woman.”
For the record, the interviewer is a 5-foot-9 white man.
On the one hand, I think we can go overboard when we rush to declare our own era as the worst in the history of civilization. Many are the perversions and massacres that stain the story of this planet. Abortion and infanticide were commonplace before God took the form of a man and walked on the earth.
On the other hand, I recoil at the nonchalant abandonment of reality, the “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome, manifest on college campuses and all about us, and I fear we have indeed sentenced ourselves to an exile of psychedelic self-delusion unknown to previous generations. I suspect only the faithful remnant will return from this dark world.
It sometimes seems the fall of man is incomplete. We just keep falling.
Adam and Eve violated the one statute God had given them when they ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They had no need of a moral compass as long as they remained in a state of loving obedience to God.
He would be their shield and their guide. He would make decisions for them that served their best interest. He would never let them feel conflict or pain.
But now they know morality, and the knowledge is too terrible for them. Their nakedness, once the badge of their innocence and freedom, has become their shame. God is approaching and they must hide from Him, for they are sore afraid.
What is the meaning, exactly, of the fruit of that one tree?
That question precipitated Eve’s error. For the story makes abundantly clear that God has placed the focus not on the tree but on the prohibition. The power that resided in the fruit was not Eve’s business. The fact that God had put it off-limits was.
Yet she ate. If she could gain knowledge reserved to God she could become divine, and so Satan’s siren song hit home with her. The first deadly sin is pride, and Eve is its first victim. In a flash, Adam becomes the second.
What might Adam have done? At this point, little or nothing, for he has already abdicated his responsibility. As God’s ordained priest, he was the garden’s gate-keeper, charged with defending its boundaries and protecting all within them.
He should have destroyed the serpent, or at least turned him away. He should have protected his wife. In the fifth chapter of his epistle to the Romans, St. Paul makes clear that Adam bears the greater responsibility for the fall. God had made him priest, not his wife.
Even now, Adam does not intervene. He does not wrest the fruit away from Eve or remind her of their duty to their loving Creator. Rather, he tumbles into the dark pit of sin and death after her.
Tasked with instructing her, he instead takes instruction from her. Together, they bring down the covenant curse for disloyalty not only on themselves but on all their posterity.
Have we not just watched as God separated light from darkness, waters above from waters below, water on the surface from the land? God has imposed order on His creation, and we know it to be perfect for it is of God.
The earth is formless and void no longer. It is meticulously arranged according to the divine blueprint.
To sin is to disturb God’s order, to introduce anew the black anarchy God had banished. God had made Adam and Eve free to choose, and now they have chosen to assault the perfection of the creation and to insult the Creator.
Alexander Schmemann tells us that man’s hunger is ultimately for God, the One who provides us with all that is.
Of the fall, he writes that “the ‘original’ sin is not primarily that man has ‘disobeyed’ God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for Him and for Him alone, ceased to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God . . .
“The fall is not that he preferred world to God, distorted the balance between the spiritual and material, but that he made the world material, whereas he was to have transformed it into “life in God,” filled with meaning and spirit.”
So writes Schmemann.
And here we are today, arguing about whether the boys should be allowed in the girls’ bathroom. I fear that we as a nation are bent on abandoning the last vestiges of God’s order for His world. And most within the churches of post-Christian America have no idea how near we are to the edge of the pit.
Our enemies have succeeded brilliantly in framing the hot-button issues of our day in vocabulary of “individual rights” and the language of “culture wars.” Christians, we hear, are clinging by our fingernails to an outmoded code of morality in an effort to impose the abuses once visited on women and racial minorities on those whose “lifestyles” differ from ours.
What conceivable legitimate objection can we have to same-sex marriage or gender reassignment? What business is it of ours, anyway?
I must admit that before I came to saving faith well into my fifth decade of life, I agreed. Why should I take any notice of what consenting adults do in private? Let’s just live and let live.
But today I am a man under orders. I cannot condone what my Lord condemns. And if the creation story teaches us anything, it demonstrates that deviant sexual practices are a direct assault on God’s order.
The theme of fertility oozes from every verse. Little wonder. The Scriptures did not appear in a vacuum. In the land of Canaan, new life and reproduction were the be-all and end-all. In Egypt to the west, the gods busied themselves overseeing various aspects of nature.
The annual flooding of the Nile produced a fertile strip on either side sufficient for feeding the nation.
In Mesopotamia to the east, the gods focused their attentions on propelling local armies to victory in wars against opposing city-states. The Tigris and Euphrates furnished abundant water for agriculture.
But when Israel crossed over the trickle that is the Jordan River into Canaan they found the gods of the various peoples pouring all their energies into generating rain. If the clouds wafting in from the Mediterranean Sea did not scrape their bottoms on the mountains and release precious water, calamity loomed.
The pagans engaged in sex rituals at their temples to arouse their gods and entice them to send down effusions of moisture. A lack of rainfall meant a shortage of food, even famine, and undernourished people reproduce poorly. Fertility in the land and the animals and the people was the paramount concern, worry over it a constant oppression.
The Israelites who received the Scriptures from Moses’ hand knew their need as well as they knew their names and they grasped with no difficulty whatsoever the imperative of reproduction.
When the God of abundant life made the fish of the sea and the birds of the air He created them after their kind and in abundance and He blessed them and bade them “be fruitful and multiply.” He made the farm animals and the wild beasts in abundance and when He formed Adam and Eve He blessed them and commanded them as well to be fruitful and multiply.
They were to push back the boundaries of the garden to the ends of the earth and fill the creation with worshipers of the one true God. Fertility was crucial.
After the fall, the task becomes more onerous but the mandate no less vital. The fertility theme saturates the Hebrew Bible. For those Jews of old, their posterity was their immortality, a stream of descendants that kept the name and the memory alive.
Beginning with Sarah, wife of Abraham, one important woman after another is seen to be barren and desperate in her shame. Each story illuminates for us God’s mercy and blessing when, just as all seems lost, He “opens her womb” and she brings forth a son.
Israel’s ordeal in the wilderness following the making of the golden calf teaches us the peril of disobeying God and worshiping an idol . . . but it offers a picture of divine mercy as well when He fortifies His covenant people with manna and quail and with water from a rock.
To survive and to fulfill their mandate from God they must have their Father’s blessing on their fields and flocks and herds and they must grow into a vast multitude to flood the earth with praises of God on high.
Same-sex marriage fits nowhere in this scheme.
Let’s lift this matter out of the spiritual realm and examine it in a strictly physical context. We in America are a bit slow. We’re a decade or a few behind our European cousins but we’re making up ground quickly.
Home-grown Europeans, as rabid as Americans in their materialism, have for some years been reproducing at a level well below the replacement rate. The fewer the children, the bigger the house, the faster the car, the better the vacation.
Muslim immigrants, meanwhile, continue to birth children at the same prolific rate as in their countries of origin and their population is swelling. Before the recent influx of refugees from the Middle East, demographers predicted a Muslim majority on the continent by the year 2050.
I maintain they will dominate well before then because their populations are clustered in the major cities, where political power resides. Last month, London elected the first Muslim mayor of a European capital.
Once-Christian Europe has trampled the mandate to be fruitful and multiply and it will soon be overwhelmed by believers in a hostile religion dedicated to establishing a world-wide caliphate. Europeans are scratching their heads and wondering how, having abandoned religion, religion can be the cause of the demise of their cultures.
Identity confusion, another area in which they hold a slight lead over us, could be a factor. A clue arrives from Brighton, on the southern tip of Great Britain, a town in which I once spent a pleasant, sunny summer’s day at the races.
City Council sent a letter to hundreds of families telling them which school their child would attend in September and asked them to respond with which gender their child preferred. A note next to the tickbox for male/female explained that the national recording system only gives two options for gender and instructed them to help their children choose the gender they most identified with.
Brighton, it turns out, is a notoriously inclusive city. The latest controversy comes just three months after the council sent a gender survey to students at one school with 25 options to choose from. As well as traditional options of ‘girl’ and ‘boy,’ children aged 13 to 18 were also invited to select from a list that included ‘genderqueer,’ ‘tri-gender,’ ‘gender fluid’ and ‘intersex.’
After some parents howled, the questionnaire was called a mistake and withdrawn.
And on our own shores the federal government, aflame in its arrogance, has threatened public schools with loss of funding if they do not throw the bathroom doors open to one and all.
At the University of Washington – and all around the United States – young people are flinging themselves body and soul into the trap of the denial of differences. Technological advances and women’s liberation have swung open the doors of the job market to all; the elimination of distinctions in work roles has fostered the fiction that male and female are identical in all ways except regarding sexual organs.
Next comes the notion that anyone who chooses may switch sexes in the interest of finding happiness. Governments are codifying this new attitude, even as they are corrupting the once-hallowed institution of marriage by opening it to persons of the same sex.
Our Supreme Court’s decision a year ago in Obergefell, which makes same-sex marriage the law of the land, is sending shock waves through the culture. For one, mothering and fathering have given way to an abstract parenting, which can be whatever you choose it to be. A parent is a parent is a parent.
Trouble is, God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. He made them to correspond to one another that they might replace themselves over and again.
One striking thing from those University of Washington interviews is the number of times students began their answers with the words “I feel like . . .”
Steeped in the postmodern culture, they have come to majority convinced that feelings trump all. We must not be surprised. In their world, reality is not what is but how the individual reacts with what is.
There can be no overarching narrative such as the Bible’s that explains the relationships of man and man or man and woman or man and nature – and certainly not of man and God — because the objective reality their ancestors knew has given way to a constantly shifting matrix in which right and wrong are transitory at best and illusory at worst.
If, that is, one can speak of best and worst.
Moral concerns do exist but they are internally discerned, not handed down on stone tablets from the summit of Mount Sinai.
Beloved, I have dragged you off into the muck of the culture wars this morning for a reason. There’s a great deal more going on here than the potty politics roiling the surface.
When God made man male and female He created the family. To deny the distinct and reciprocal natures of man and woman is to undermine God’s rationale for the family. Gender roles are at the heart of human identity and thus of relationships within the family.
How much liberty can we endure? When our freedom as moral agents mutates into license to cast away the identity God assigned us we join Adam and Eve in thumbing our noses at our Creator. To deny the identity God gave us is to repudiate the image of God within us.
We have seen that God in His infinite power makes distinct beings that merge with other beings without forfeiting their natures. A God who is Father, Son and Holy Ghost has made male and female to become one flesh. Two become one while remaining two. Jesus Christ took on a fully human nature without surrendering His fully divine nature.
In the same way, the human body and soul are at the same time fully integrated and yet distinct. To alter the body in such a fundamental way as to change its God-given gender is to rupture its relationship with the soul.
God designed sexual attraction in the context of the cultural mandate: Be fruitful and multiply. To obliterate the sexual identity God gave us is to turn sex into recreation apart from procreation, fleeting pleasure that produces no lasting treasure.
Rebellion against the nature God gave us is rebellion against God. To tamper with our gender assignments is to enthrone man as lord. And to enthrone man is to depose God.
I do not fulminate in this way to win your vote or even your approval – though I do hope to gain the latter – but to drive home the point that Christians get the Bible wrong when they get the beginning of it wrong.
If we are to see the world from a godly point of view we must hold fast to the meaning and the implications of the creation story. We must know how to identify the lies the culture is teaching our children and grandchildren.
We must be able to present to them a coherent rationale for why we believe what we believe. We must show them that there’s a better argument than one that begins with “I feel like . . .”
Sad to say, we must convince them that a 5-9 pasty white guy cannot be a 6-5 Chinese woman. Not in God’s world. Amen.Posted on: July 21, 2016Ed Fowler