Published May 9, 2023
Twelve months ago, Baylor University granted an official charter to an LGBTQ group identified as “Prism.” At the time, I commented that such a group would be unlikely to remain just one more club on campus. LGBTQ activism is distinct in its claim to exclusive rights over who is allowed to opine on sexuality, on identity, and on what it means to be an acceptable member of society. Criticism is not a sign of intellectual dissent but of moral reprehensibility.
To be fair, Baylor’s broader situation is scarcely unique. There is likely not a single college in the United States where there are not LGBTQ students. The question of how to address the LGBTQ phenomenon at the level of official campus culture is going to be a pressing one for administrators, teachers, and other students for many years to come. And the need to be pastoral with regard to individuals but firm with regard to moral principle and political lobbying is going to prove very tricky terrain to negotiate. When Baylor chartered Prism, it was thus really offering itself as a test case for where such official endorsement of an LGBTQ group might lead.
Towards the end of its first year, the group sponsored a program on “queer sex ed,” advertised with an Instagram post that also included the Planned Parenthood logo, a move not explained on the post but no doubt of more than symbolic significance. Abortion, like LGBTQ thinking in general, has relevance beyond the immediate issue: It speaks not just to how one deals with an unwanted pregnancy, but how one understands what it means to be human. The connection between abortion and queerness is obvious. Both involve the basic repudiation of the authority of the human body and its natural functions and purpose.
Setting aside abortion, however, the advocacy of queer sex education makes two things obvious. First, once official sanction is given to a body such as Prism, the moral core of the institution’s approach to sex is effectively eviscerated, an astounding step for a Christian institution. The anti-Christian philosophy of sex as self-expression that underlies the sexual revolution surely finds its most dramatic expression in queer ideology and what Freud referred to as polymorphous perversity has now become mainstream as queer theory.
In layman’s terms, this means that anything goes and any restrictions, any attempts to define normative sexual codes or relationships, are inherently oppressive. In short, Christianity, with its set of sexual taboos and restrictions, is about as opposed to queerness as it is possible to be. C. S. Lewis spoke of the abolition of man. That is what you have when you abolish sexual codes. Yet a Christian university now sanctions this.
Second, it shows that in our current culture of sexual identities and free expression, all roads lead to queerdom. That the course is specifically for queer sex ed, rather than gay sex ed or lesbian sex ed is not coincidental. The T and the Q must inevitably devour the L, the G, and the B because those three initials at least recognize the authority of the sexed body at some level. The T and the Q deny that. Period. That is why gay men such as Andrew Sullivan can be decried as transphobes for making the once rather obvious point that gay men are sexually attracted to other men, not women pretending to be men.
The alliance is philosophically incoherent and must either break apart or homogenize. And the process of homogenization inevitably tilts queer: Once you start playing the game of category destabilization based upon an attenuation or denial of biological reality and upon claims to marginalization and victimhood, it becomes very hard to stop. Queerness, the repudiation of any and all stable categories, is really the only possible outcome.
And there lies the challenge to us all, whether churches, colleges, or other institutions. All congregations and campuses, no matter how conservative, will have young people struggling with, or committed to, the ideas and identities represented by the LGBTQ movement. And all congregations and campuses have the moral obligation of pastoral care for such. All have to provide an environment in which individuals are treated with kindness and respect. These are not the points at issue.
But in doing these things there is also the absolute, non-negotiable need to maintain a normative view of what it means to be human and therefore of what the moral shape of a life well-lived should look like. That too is part of our unavoidable moral obligation as Christians, and that is prior to and foundational for how we understand what it means to be kind and respectful. To be Christian in any meaningful sense, Christian pastoral care must be shaped by Christian doctrine, not vice versa. The road to queerdom rides roughshod over such, and no Christian institution can therefore afford to grant queerness official sanction.
As I commented twelve months ago, loss of football revenue as a result of the NCAA objecting to Baylor taking a firm stand for biblical sexuality is unlikely to be a matter of concern for the school’s budget planning. And that is both tragic and, for the rest of us, sadly instructive.
Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Carl R. Trueman is a fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping civic leaders and policy makers better understand the deep roots of our current cultural malaise. In addition to his scholarship on the intellectual foundations of expressive individualism and the sexual revolution, Trueman is also interested in the origins, rise, and current use of critical theory by progressives. He serves as a professor at Grove City College.