Anyone who works in a university environment these days–especially in a public university whose state support continually evaporates–has heard about the concept of “safe space”. It’s an idea promoted by LGBT advocates where parts of the campus are designated as safe for such people to be without fear of opposition. The problem with that is twofold. One is that what’s a safe space for one group of people is a dangerous one for another. The other is that campuses, with the current corporatist ethic run amok, are becoming safe spaces from independent thought of any kind.
The idea of a “safe space” per se isn’t a bad one. Back around the turn of the millennium, while attending a meeting of the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries, I remember a speaker saying that church should be a safe place for hurting people (and that covers just about all of us) to live and move and have their being. People being what they are, which is fallen, that’s not always easy, but the more we make it our aim the closer we can expect to reach our goal.
But it’s reasonable to ask: safe from what? There are many dangers that we meet in this life, but with the forward march of the LGBT community there’s one thing in particular that churches need to learn in a hurry if they expect to survive intact.
In an earlier post I noted the following:
The one letter that never gets into this collection is “A” for abstinent. The whole concept that someone would voluntarily abstain from sex for any reason is anathema to just about everybody in this deal: gay, straight, in between, you name it. It’s particularly odious to those who, as noted earlier, define their lives by their sexual preference (and the activity that goes with it). It’s the main driver why a) the LGBT community hates real Christianity the way it does and b) that hatred resonates with the heterosexual community.
Churches have dealt with the blow back from the sexual revolution for a long time. They’re trying as always these days to figure out a way to “take a stand”. It’s hard to take a stand when you don’t understand the ground you’re defending, and a little historical perspective is in order here.
Those of you who studied Greek and Roman mythology will recall that the gods and goddesses, like their human counterparts, were male and female. They cavorted with and married each other, and when that wasn’t enough they went down and did the same with people. That mythology was the religion of classical antiquity, which included the paganism against which prophets such as Elijah stood against.
Into this world came Yahweh, who had no consort and no equal and, strictly speaking, no gender either. He set forth a way for Israel that dispensed with the fertility rites of the neighbours. That didn’t sit well with neighbours like Jezebel and it didn’t go down well with Israelites like Manasseh either, but captivity and exile drove the message home. When the time came for God’s son (also eternally generated without sex) to come into the world, he did so by asexually conceiving him in a virgin.
By the fulness of time when Our Lord came into the world, the centuries of the wide-open sexuality that dominated the classical world was starting to wear a little thin. Christianity triumphed in a world which had grown weary of its obsession with sex, and the genderless God brought the civilisation past a purely sexual/fertility cycle.
As in ancient Israel, that didn’t sit well with many. The growth of secularism has been a resurgence in paganism with all the sex-obsessed business that goes with it. It’s little wonder that one doctrine that is attacked mercilessly is the Virgin Birth: the idea that the world could be saved without sex engenders hostility in Christianity’s opponents as little else does.
But it’s not easy to deconstruct a civilisation, even when the wind is at your back. It takes determination and people who don’t mind breaking eggs to make omelets. That has come with the LGBT community, who are as opposed to abstinence heterosexually as they are to their own. Acceptance of their idea ultimately is a reversion to paganism and the end of meaningful Christianity. It’s also the end of the civilisation; a civilisation whose highest pursuit is the next hook-up isn’t going to get very far in any other way.
Christianity in the West has tried to manage the changes the best it can. Evangelicals in particular, who claim (with some justification) a higher level of commitment, have tried to accommodate these things with stuff like “beauty pageant Christianity“. It’s also shocking in many ways how Evangelicalism has tried to become a “waist down religion” like Mormonism. But the game is up.
A driving force behind the transgender movement is the search for identity. For all of the bawling about the fixed nature of human sexuality, as one Christian counsellor pointed out to me human beings are sexual: how they express that changes from person to person and even in time. If we make the “discovery” (and that’s a duplicitous way to put it) of sexual identity the centrepiece of life, then ultimately we will have to force people to engage in a variety of sexual activities to make the discovery process experiential. Sex is too powerful a force in human life, and the process too easily manipulated, for this process to result in anything else but a general disaster, where people’s little remaining autonomy is destroyed and adverse unintended consequences become the norm.
What churches need to be a safe space from is the idea that there is no meaningful life apart from sex. Part of that, of course, is to rid the church of child predators. The campaign to do so in Roman Catholicism, comforting as it is and should be to the victims, has been pushed by people who, in the long run, have the opposite result on the agenda. But another part is to present abstinence not as a void but as God’s way to getting people through a hormonally tumultuous period, and also by setting instant gratification aside to pursue life-long and eternal goals that get them beyond the next hook-up and bring enduring happiness.
That’s not going to be easy. Evangelicals in particular like to try to edge up to the culture to “win” it. But our culture is destructive except for those at the top (and it is for them in another way). We need to make that clear.
It will be a costly road to take. As noted earlier, there will be those who won’t take it. But in the end it will be worth it.