The last thirty years have seen massive advances in technology and sweeping cultural changes. “Globalization” now forces rural Denmark book shops to compete against a Seattle retailer with 24-hour access to the very homes and pockets of its customers. Not long ago, military theorists were buzzing about how information technology promised a “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA), a new (hopefully less bloody) kind of warfare.
Christians today wonder what has happened to their world. In just a few years, society has enthusiastically redefined marriage. Cities have rushed to hold annual “Gay Pride Parades.” Afghan and Iraqi insurgencies seem to have cooled some naïve enthusiasm for the RMA, but an even more staggering “Revolution in Sexual Affairs” is taking place, marked by two disturbing features. First, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) activism betrays a fundamental redefinition of the idea of “rights.” And second, there is a clear movement toward trivializing gender and other differences. Taken together, they bode ill for culture, especially women.
“Rights” As Coercion
Once, “rights” meant freedom from coercion by society. In this revolution in sexual affairs, however, LGBT activists now have “rights” to coerce Christian bakers to either bake cakes with messages celebrating something they reject, or face crippling fines. This new conception of “rights” entails forcing others to say what you want, even if it violates their conscience.
Recent suggested changes to school team sports in Alberta provide a similar example of “rights” as coercion. True freedom of association means being free both to associate with those of one’s choosing, and to refrain from associating with others. The effect of the new Alberta Education guidelines is to coerce non-transgender schoolgirls to associate as fellow girls with boys, simply because they claim to be girls.
Alberta Education permits schoolgirls uncomfortable with males invading their privacy in changerooms to segregate themselves into a non-gender-specific washroom instead. See, in our new world, segregation of a “minority” is acceptable, provided that the “minority” is those who reject the LGBT agenda. It’s hard to avoid the impression that this “segregation for you but not for me” is less for accommodating principled disagreements and, much like the Islamic jizya (a tax on non-Muslims in fundamentalist Muslim societies), is more for making ideological enemies “feel themselves subdued.” The LGBT lobby’s aim is to force those who dissent either to “repent” by affirming their agenda, or be “segregated” into an ostracized minority.
“Rights” are being redefined as cultural warrant to coerce others to do things for you. It really isn’t about “rights” at all, but power. This has terrifying implications for women in particular.
If transgender activists are correct, gender is not about physical differences but is rather a mere identity statement. Masculinity and femininity are something that can be put on or taken off, like makeup or clothing. Being male or female, then, is not inherent to what we are, any more than being a football player or wearing Calvin Klein is inherent to what we are.
The problem is that if personal identity is so fluid, individuality becomes meaningless. If gender differences, being critical components of individual identity, are no longer anchored by anything objective, then individuality itself loses a great deal of its significance. And when this happens, the preferences of the collective inevitably begin to override the interests of individuals. The euthanasia debate’s recent shift from speaking of a “right to die” to a “duty to die” is but one disturbing example.
This revolution in sexual affairs means trivializing even fundamental physical distinctions like gender. If men can be women, then women—who enjoyed societal protection as an objectively, biologically identifiable group—will no longer meaningfully exist, and neither will women’s rights. Those who do not fit this forcibly homogenized society, like the “inconvenient elderly,” or uncomfortable 14-year-old Alberta schoolgirls, will be ostracized or worse. The only remaining meaningful distinction will be between those who have power and those who do not.
What will happen to women in this new world where, on the one hand, having “rights” means being able to coerce others, and on the other, it’s socially unacceptable or functionally impossible to talk about women as a distinct population group? What if others–say, fundamentalist Muslims–exercise their “rights” through coercion like LGBT activists, while political correctness prevents society from even recognizing women as vulnerable? One might look to Rotherham, England, where authorities have allegedly ignored—out of fear of being politically incorrect—systemic sexual abuse of women by Muslim men.
When “rights” become means to coerce others, when political correctness prevents common-sense distinctions between the needs of different groups of people, and when the only meaningful distinction among people is between those with power and those without, women suffer first and suffer most.
A Better Way
Fundamentally, the only One who truly can claim “rights” is the One who created us. As the old catechism puts it, the chief end of man is to glorify God. As rebels against his authority, we forfeit any claims to “rights.” But God became a man, Jesus, who did perfectly and sinlessly glorify his Father, and has been given the exclusive right to rule all of creation. A Christian conception of “human rights” is not about man, but begins with God as creator and ends with Jesus Christ glorified.
If rights naturally belong exclusively to God, we only possess them derivatively. We have no authority to redefine such rights, and rights lose coherence apart from a connection with God. Genesis 1:26-28 recounts how human beings are made uniquely in the image of God, and not as undifferentiated beings but as male and female. Even sinful people remain divine image-bearers, and this correspondence to God is not only why murder is wrong (Gen. 9:6) but also why human beings can, on God’s behalf, punish it with force. In other words, both human rights and the legitimate human use of force (including coercion) are anchored in God’s right to worship.
Glorifying God demands that we uphold a vision of humanity made in God’s image as male and female. Being made in God’s image means that value and worth belongs to each human being regardless of ability, strength, or any other distinction. Being made male and female in God’s image means that human beings can display meaningful, permanent distinctions without being any less valuable for it.
The revolution in sexual affairs would have the Church pretend that human worth comes only from power, from what one can do—whether it is accessing a washroom, playing on the girls’ team, or serving as a pastor. This is a lie. The biblical truth is that we, as men and women, are infinitely valuable because we bear the image of an infinitely valuable God. That is so much better than the new sexual revolution’s mess of pottage.
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