Published January 25, 2022
Conservative Christians were right. Again.
Among the latest examples is a New York Times story admitting that the trans kids craze is hurting children. Readers who rely on the Times were presumably surprised to learn that, as Abigail Shrier summarized on Twitter, “teens requesting cross-sex hormones” are “vulnerable to peer influence,” subject to “irreversible fertility loss,” and “may be in emotional distress.” They also “may de-transition.”
These truths were obvious even as academia, the corporate media, Big Tech, Big Business, and the Democratic Party went all-in on transitioning kids. It was conservative Christians, joined by a few nonconformist allies such as Shrier, who challenged this ruling class orthodoxy and for it faced brutal social and professional retaliation.
Now, after thousands of children have been harmed, our herd-like elites are starting to admit we might have had a point. We have not won yet, but this shows our defeat is not inevitable. Christians should learn from this as we navigate public life and proclaim the gospel in an increasingly hostile nation.
Evangelicals Must See Cultural Realities
There are lessons here for all orthodox Christians, but American evangelicals, whose traditions are particularly rooted in this nation, may especially need to reckon with the anti-Christian reality of the culture we live in. Writing in First Things, Aaron Renn argues that evangelicals have failed to “develop strategies designed for the negative world in which Christians are a moral minority and secular society is actively hostile to the faith.”
He claims that although many divisions in American evangelicalism are rooted in how different subgroups responded “as the standing of Christianity has gradually eroded,” each of the main evangelical approaches of the last century (culture war, seeker-sensitivity, cultural engagement) is inadequate for the difficulties we face.
Both the culture warriors and the seeker-sensitive evangelists presumed a more Christian culture than we now have, and each is struggling to adapt. But Renn suggests it is the cultural engagers who are “most at risk from the transition to the negative world.”
It is not just that believers working in cultural high places worry for their livelihoods or social position, although those concerns are reasonable. It is also that cultural engagement requires cultural access, which depends upon the cooperation of America’s secular elites — bringing an evangelical perspective to The Atlantic requires the magazine’s cooperation.
Evangelicals attempting high-level cultural engagement are therefore pressured toward “synchronization with secular elite culture.” They are tempted to tell the elite world what it wants to hear, rather than needed gospel truths.
Stop Selling Other Christians Out for Elite Approval
Worse still, because they “are keen to show the world that they are not at all aligned with the Trumpist culture warriors … they have declared their own culture war … against other evangelicals.” Examples abound. David French was not always an accuser of the brethren, but now he mostly looks at fellow evangelicals to falsely denounce them to the world.
As this illustrates, evangelicals engaged with elite culture often go far beyond legitimate calls for accountability within the church. Rather, they cease to be witnesses to the world and become apologists for it, judging the church according to the world.
They thereby neuter the influence they compromise to preserve. Flattering the world will not win it for God. Just as the biblical prophets were especially stern toward the sins of the powerful and wealthy, so too should Christians with ruling class audiences speak more prophetically, not less, against elite secular culture, which enables and endorses a multitude of systemic abuses.
For instance, the exploitative and immiserating sexual culture endorsed by our elites has had a lot of victims, from the unborn to Playboy bunnies to those hurt by hookup culture or scarred by transgender ideology. This is why even those who despise conservative Christians have to keep admitting we were right about sex.
How Christian Ethics Can Persevere
Although sexual ethics are a cultural flashpoint, all of Christian moral teaching is ordered toward genuine human flourishing. Christian social conservatism is rooted not in crude endorsement of the status quo, but in permanent truths about human nature, family, and community. Recognizing this, we should trust that the truth and goodness of Christian ethics will continue to be rediscovered, even amidst a hostile culture.
This will be aided by consideration of the material conditions that hinder or sustain faithful Christian life. For instance, living chastely is harder in an elite urban world of careerism and delayed marriage. Raising a family is more difficult when housing is prohibitively expensive. Identifying and challenging these systemic barriers to Christian life will protect our communities, and provide alternatives to our toxic culture.
Proclaiming and living the gospel are acts of succor for, and solidarity with, those victimized by the dominant secular culture. This is part of why we should not pin our hopes for a revival of American Christianity on engagement with the ruling class that dominates the culture. Instead, we should pay more heed to the majority who are outside the ruling class, perhaps especially to those who have little money and status. However, this requires outreach and cultural engagement that cares less what NPR and The New Yorker think.
Thus, although we should not abandon all engagement with elite culture, we must be vigilant against the temptation that it carries to sell out, slander fellow believers, and downplay gospel truths that are uncomfortable for our ruling class. Believers plugged into elite circles must have the humility to recognize that revival may arise among the weak, and be must be willing to sacrifice their status and influence for the sake of the gospel. In this, they will stand with the weak and wounded in our culture, such as those victimized by the craze for childhood gender transition.
Those who are afraid of losing their influence among the elite by speaking up, especially on sexuality, should recall the example of John the Baptist. He was martyred for speaking the truth about marriage to the powerful; surely Christians today can stand for children and families against the secular elite.
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor to The Federalist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.