Published May 11, 2021
The despisers of the body are at it again. In this case, they are in Kentucky, where the Democrat governor’s administration is trying to shut down a Baptist foster care and adoption agency for being, well, Baptist.
There are many similar cases across the country — including one under consideration by the Supreme Court — with Christian ministries penalized for adhering to Christian beliefs about sex and the sexes. Put simply, Christians believe that our physical embodiment as male or female matters, and therefore that men and women are not interchangeable for marriage and family.
Several lessons may be drawn from these cases. First, biblically-commanded care for the orphaned, abandoned, and neglected, including foster and adoption work, often requires involvement with, and even dependence upon, the government.
Second, these conflicts also reveal modern liberalism’s frailty. Under a broadly liberal regime — understood in the general sense wherein nations are described as liberal democracies — we’re promised a neutral framework in which those with radically different beliefs may nonetheless live peaceably together while pursuing the good as they see it.
Yet the government imposition of an anti-Christian orthodoxy regarding sex and gender belies this assurance. In such circumstances, Christians should appeal to our religious liberty rights, insisting that the American promises of tolerance and liberty for religious dissenters must be honored even by a political party that disagrees with us.
But we must not simply be content with protecting our rights. The Christian understandings of sex, gender, and marriage are rooted in more than idiosyncratic religious dogmas. They are based on the experiential reality of human embodiment. Christians, therefore, have a duty — not only on behalf of ourselves but for all — to combat modern ideologies that loathe our physical nature, especially the reality of biological sex.
The truth that our male and female embodiment matters far beyond our subjective preferences and identities is not just for Christians, nor is the corollary understanding of marriage as a union of male and female. Rather, they reflect the experiential reality of our embodied being. Christian groups that stand firm in proclaiming and living by these truths are doing so on behalf of everyone, not just Christians.
We may thereby provide a corrective to our culture’s curious relationship with the body, which simultaneously celebrates and despises it. Physical beauty is all but worshiped, and bodily pleasure — especially of a sexual nature — is treated as the highest good.
Yet the givenness and finitude intrinsic to embodiment are loathed, especially the sexual dimorphism of humanity. This double-mindedness is obvious in the disputes regarding same-sex marriage and gender identity.
Same-sex marriage, for instance, presumes that bodily sex is both essential and unimportant. The difference between male and female is treated as indispensable to the subjective choice of one’s partner, but irrelevant insofar as that choice dispenses with the connection between marriage and the sexual complementarity of humanity.
In a historic sense, this is all both radically distinctive and baffling. Other cultures have condoned some homosexual relations, but they did not confuse same-sex relationships with marriage and its union of the two halves of the human species, the physical aspect of which provides for the continuation of the species.
Indeed, we all owe our very existence to the embodied difference between men and women. And mothers and fathers matter for raising children, as well as begetting them. This is why faithful Christian adoption agencies do not place children with same-sex couples. Doing so deliberately deprives an already traumatized child of either an adoptive mother or a father.
The triumph of the same-sex marriage movement rested not only on the view that homosexual relations are morally licit, but that marriage is severable from the union of male and female. This disdain for the fundamental realities of bodily existence is why there has been such a seamless shift from the campaign for same-sex marriage to the transgender movement. The deliberate effacing of biological sex that was central to the campaign for same-sex marriage paved the way for the more radical claims of the transgender advocates.
Transgender ideology intensifies the dynamic of despising physical embodiment while still paying grudging tribute to it. Transgenderism presumes the reality of sex — otherwise, there would be nothing to transition from or toward — even as it works to efface it. The loathing of embodiment as imprisoning is much more evident, as healthy bodies are declared to be “wrong” and treated as mere material to be mastered and reshaped.
The absurdities that transgender ideology foists upon its adherents (such as using clumsy formulations such as “birthing person” instead of “mother” or “woman”) are efforts to escape the constraints of embodiment. Physical reality cannot be done away with, but, advocates hope, it can at least be stripped of all meaning.
So, for instance, they insist that sex is “assigned at birth” rather than revealed. According to their view, our bodies may be formed without our consent, but they are devoid of meaning and purpose until we assign it to them. In this view, our bodies are of value only insofar as they conform to our wills and satisfy our desires.
This is a rebellion against the givenness of our physical embodiment and the nature of our being. We are finite and limited, and receive existence on terms we did not dictate. Indeed, it is impossible to dictate the terms of our existence before it. A revolt against the structure of our existence will necessarily impose itself on others as it attempts to reorder reality.
Thus, those engaged in this revolt — those bent on remaking bodies, language, and society to accord with their desires — will not bother to persuade if they can command, or to reason if they can suppress. To take the case at hand, they will eagerly shut down foster care and adoption agencies to stick it to nonconformists and dissenters from their new orthodoxy.
Their efforts may beat down the opposition for a time. But the truth about our bodily existence will not go away, no matter how much it is hated. Those who would live, and live well, must do so in accord with the truth about our bodies.
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor to The Federalist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.