Take a look at this past Sunday’s sermon from a pastor at New York City’s ultra-left Riverside Church. Or rather, take a look at this clip from it:
The homilist, the Rev. Adriene Thorne, says in the clip that the David and Bathsheba story centers David, not poor Bathsheba, and that David’s repentance doesn’t get him off the hook. She concludes by saying that the fact that Scripture calls David “a man after God’s own heart” says that God is a bad deity.
This is how it goes with the woke. Everything — everything — has to be read through the lenses of Critical Race Theory, queerness, and the rest. The drama of David’s life is flattened out to a tidy narrative about contemporary politics, one that calls God out for being a bigot.
If this is the kind of preaching you get at your church, you had better get to stepping before these lies destroy your faith. There won’t be a congregation left at Riverside Church in the decades to come — or in any other church that preaches these false prophecies.
Woke can only destroy, never build. Look at this music teacher, seeking to throw out classical music because it was written by Bad Men — and we know they are bad because they were “18th century western European cis straight white male composers.”
The Controlled Opposition Conservatives and liberals claim that this is nutpicking, but if you’ve studied arts or humanities at the college level, you know that this kind of mindless anti-intellectualism is common today. David Rieff — who, I remind you, is a man of the Left — decries this idiocy here. Excerpts:
The Guardian reports that New Zealand’s arts council has pulled funding for a Shakespeare festival that for three decades had sponsored productions of Shakespeare’s plays by secondary school students on the grounds that the program “did not demonstrate the relevance to the contemporary art context of Aotearoa in this time and place and landscape,” and that “the genre was located within a canon of imperialism and missed the opportunity to create a living curriculum and show relevance”.* The arts council grant represents 10% of the festival annual budget so the festival will survive. But this story is emblematic of the ongoing process of cultural self-mutilation mistaking itself for emancipation taking place across the Anglosphere.
Whatever was wrong with ‘Art for Art’s Sake,’ it was infinitely preferable to the current cultural conventional wisdom, which is that art that does not serve the moral and political ambitions of the present is either irrelevant, as the New Zealand arts council’s statement states explicitly several times, or actually an obstacle to such ambitions, as in the reference to “the canon of imperialism.”
Such a worldview cannot distinguish between the art itself and the history of its uses. This explains the crisis in classics departments in the universities of the English-speaking world: militant young scholars look at the uses Classical Greek and Imperial Rome were put to by Western imperialism and find this much more interesting than Rome and Greece taken in their own right. On this logic, to claim that studying these effects may not be the province of classics departments at all, and certainly should not be its principal concern, is to become complicit in that imperial project.
The New Zealand arts council is making the same argument. Shakespeare “exists within a canon of imperialism,” which, as in the case of the imperialist use of the classics, is obviously true historically, and therefore it is not just irrelevant to the the present, it is toxic to the [desired] future.
Real art, art that inspires across time and space, and can enchant, move, sadden, and delight people who could not be further away from Elizabethan England or the Western Ganga dynasty, is too dangerous, too autonomous, too uncontrollable, which is why it is so threatening to the cultural apparatchiks of the contemporary Anglosphere. And that’s why they are trying, and too often succeeding in strangling it.
This is what the Church Woke are doing to the Bible, which is “too dangerous, too autonomous, too uncontrollable” to them. They have to domesticate it, even if it means throwing out God. Don’t you see how insane this is?
Once you dip your toes in the waters of Wokeness, don’t be surprised if the currents sweep you into its mainstream. A few years ago, the conservative Baptist theologian Denny Burk, among others, were strongly criticized for their negative views of the Revoice conference, a movement within Evangelicalism to make a space for gay and lesbian believers while holding to Biblical orthodoxy. Back in 2018, Burk criticized the movement primarily because he objected to the idea of Christians choosing “celibate gay” as an identity. He certainly favors celibacy for gays and lesbians (and unmarried straights), but he warned that there was something destructive about claiming that status as an identity marker. I’ll admit, I was somewhat skeptical of Burk’s claim. I believe that the churches ought to encourage gay folks in their celibacy, while making sure they are included in the life of the church, and I didn’t quite understand what was so controversial about what Revoice was doing.
Here’s what Burk says today:
World magazine went to the recent Revoice conference, and was startled by what it saw. Excerpts from the World report:
Revoice has changed, too. Speakers have always emphasized homosexuality as an identity, not just a behavior. But this year, such assertions from the dais seemed more insistent, with speakers assiduously using civil-rights language to present radical change as settled truth. That identity rhetoric extended to transgender ideology. Speakers frequently referred to “sexual and gender minorities” and used preferred pronouns, along with terms such as women “assigned female at birth.” The group’s reach and influence are growing, but leaders now emphasize parachurch activities. Speakers frequently referenced ongoing rejection within the church and encouraged attendees to form their own spiritual communities in local Revoice chapters.
Critics have long warned that Revoice’s messaging is deceptive and erroneously conflates Biblical teaching and the good news of the gospel with cultural messages about sexuality and gender. Now, they say those seeds of error are leading Revoice further from Biblical orthodoxy and undercutting the Creation ordinance, “male and female he created them.”
“Sin is progressive, and what we’re seeing with Revoice is the progression of that sin,” said Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian feminist and tenured English professor at Syracuse University who is now a pastor’s wife and mother of four.
Subtle debates about the nature and moral status of same-sex attraction are one thing; the arrival of preferred pronouns, of which the use of the plural they/them for an individual is the most ridiculous example (excepting the royal “we” of the British monarch) is well beyond subtlety. Ordinary Christians might be excused for not following the ins and outs of discussions of sexual concupiscence, but the arrival of gender confusion is something all should be able to grasp.
Sadly, this development is predictable. My hope in not signing Nashville was that dialogue would continue and that those heading down the celibate gay Christian path would hear the concerns of those who think that such is a pastorally wrong move. Observing from the sidelines in the years since, it strikes me that dialogue can only take place when opponents treat each other as people of good faith. My knowledge of debates surrounding Revoice and Side B is not exhaustive, but it is hard to find one high-profile critic of the movement who was taken with real seriousness by Revoice advocates. Any criticism seems to have been derided as stupid, as failing to understand the subtleties of the case, as deliberately misrepresenting Side B, or simply as hateful.
This is how it goes with the woke. You either agree with them, or you are a Hater who does not have to be taken seriously, because plainly you operate from a position of bigotry. This is why wokeness pollutes and destroys everything it touches. Its first casualty is the ability to think.
In what was one of the most widely read essays I’ve ever written here, this 2013 “Sex After Christianity” piece said:
The magnitude of the defeat suffered by moral traditionalists will become ever clearer as older Americans pass from the scene. Poll after poll shows that for the young, homosexuality is normal and gay marriage is no big deal—except, of course, if one opposes it, in which case one has the approximate moral status of a segregationist in the late 1960s.
All this is, in fact, a much bigger deal than most people on both sides realize, and for a reason that eludes even ardent opponents of gay rights. Back in 1993, a cover story in The Nation identified the gay-rights cause as the summit and keystone of the culture war:
All the crosscurrents of present-day liberation struggles are subsumed in the gay struggle. The gay moment is in some ways similar to the moment that other communities have experienced in the nation’s past, but it is also something more, because sexual identity is in crisis throughout the population, and gay people—at once the most conspicuous subjects and objects of the crisis—have been forced to invent a complete cosmology to grasp it. No one says the changes will come easily. But it’s just possible that a small and despised sexual minority will change America forever.
They were right, and though the word “cosmology” may strike readers as philosophically grandiose, its use now appears downright prophetic. The struggle for the rights of “a small and despised sexual minority” would not have succeeded if the old Christian cosmology had held: put bluntly, the gay-rights cause has succeeded precisely because the Christian cosmology has dissipated in the mind of the West.
Here’s what I mean. Yesterday I finished reading Matthieu Pageau’s short, dense, and provocative book The Language Of Creation: Cosmic Symbolism In Genesis. To be clear, this book is a symbolic analysis of Genesis, not a work of culture-war apologetics. But reading it, I understood better both why the Bible teaches what it does about sexuality, and why we who defend the Bible are fighting a losing war in post-Christian America — even in our churches. Let me explain.
Pageau (brother of Jonathan, the icon carver) talks about the cosmic significance of male and female in the Bible:
The basic pattern from which all of reality was modeled. Pageau says in Biblical cosmology, “the universe is a series of embedded representations of its cosmic principles.” This means that matter matters, that order is woven into the very fabric of reality. To deny the gender binary is to deny not only biological reality, but the meaning of reality itself, and how the universe works. More Pageau:
This might sound strange to you, but remember, this is a book analyzing what symbols meant to the people who wrote the Bible. If you loved Jordan Peterson’s great lectures about Genesis, you’ll also love this Pageau book. We who bind ourselves to the Bible — Jews, for the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and Christians for both Old and New — are also bound to its cosmology, though we never hear our preachers and teachers talk about this stuff. In The Benedict Option, I quote the leading scholar of Late Antiquity, Peter Brown, saying that in the world into which the Christian church appeared, people believed that the human body
was embedded in a cosmic matrix in ways that made its perception of itself profoundly unlike our own. Ultimately, sex was not the expression of inner needs, lodge in the isolated body. Instead, it was seen as the pulsing, through the body, of the same energies as kept the stars alive. Whether this pulse of energy came from benevolent gods of from malevolent demons (as many radical Christians believed) sex could never be seen as a thing for the isolated human body alone.
This has been destroyed. How many people — even Christians today — understand that sex and gender are intricately connected to the divine cosmic order, and to transgress against the givenness of this order is to invite catastrophe? Matthieu Pageau explains that purity laws in the Bible are about maintaining stability. To violate the purity laws — including with sexual sin — is to bring chaos into the community and, if it spreads, to cause the social order to collapse. We are living through the truth of that Biblical insight. We have come to believe that matter doesn’t really matter, that disobeying the Bible’s sexual proscriptions is simply a matter of what you can get away with in your group, and rationalize within your own conscience. In fact, we have gone so far away from Biblical cosmology that we don’t even think of sex and the human person in a cosmic way — that is, as an inextricable part of a greater order, to which we are bound and responsible.
To center and uphold queerness as the pinnacle of progress, as the Nation essayist did in 1993, and as our society has achieved, is to unavoidably negate the Biblical cosmic order. There is no way around it. And, let us note without hesitation that the victory of LGBT folks in this front would never have happened without heterosexuals first demolishing the basis for Biblical sexual order with the Sexual Revolution. Look around you at the chaos and destruction. It’s going to get much worse before it gets better.
In that 2013 essay, I wrote:
Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology. 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.
It also remains to be seen whether we can keep Christianity without accepting Christian chastity. Sociologist Christian Smith’s research on what he has termed “moralistic therapeutic deism”—the feelgood, pseudo-Christianity that has supplanted the normative version of the faith in contemporary America—suggests that the task will be extremely difficult.
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Will we be able to keep Christianity without Biblical cosmology? Can we reconcile Christianity with the Sexual Revolution? No, and no. Emphatically not. It is one thing to fail to harmonize with the divine order; we call that “sin,” and we’re all guilty of it to some degree. But it is an entirely different thing to deny the divine order. Christian sexual morality does not come from a few phrases in St. Paul’s letters. It is built on the deepest conceivable foundations. If you don’t know that as a Christian (or a Jew), then you should. Reading Matthieu Pageau is a good place to start.
UPDATE: Just posted. I believe Team Francis is ultimately going to queer the Catholic Church’s moral teaching. And then what? Schism? The Great Apostasy?