Published June 14, 2023
With its blasphemous appropriation of the rainbow and its garish parades of cartoon-like sexual stereotypes, Pride Month testifies to one of the defining characteristics of our modern age: it is an age not merely of transgression but also of loud, aggressive, destructive ugliness. All that is sacred must be profaned. That is the message of those who march under the Pride flag. And all that is beautiful must be destroyed. That is the practical goal of the movement, even if it couches itself under the rhetoric of freedom and love and labors under the delusions that the use of such words encourage. Anyone who has looked at the health statistics, medical conditions, and sexually transmitted diseases that characterize the gay male lifestyle will know that such willful destruction of the human body is neither loving nor liberating.
For the Reformed Christian, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is one that has existed since the Reformation: How does a faith that looks with suspicion upon religious art capture the human imagination, an imagination that is fired more by aesthetics than by ideas? The opportunity is perhaps now greater than ever: Now that we inhabit a world pathologically committed to ugliness, Christianity can offer an oasis of beauty to those who have grown tired of the ugliness that presses in from all sides.
How can we meet this challenge? Two Protestant distinctives come to mind. First, our worship service must embody beauty. How do we do this? At a minimum, by making sure that the two things we do every Sunday are done well: preaching and singing. Preaching that is dull or merely entertaining is useless. The preacher whose mind is captivated by the grace of God cannot be either one. From the moment he opens his mouth, it must be clear to the congregation that what the preacher is about to declare to them is the most important thing that they will hear that week. And they should anticipate his words and then respond to them by raising their voices in song, giving melodic assent to the harmony of God’s gospel. If we fail to do either, if we fall short of manifesting the beauty of the gospel in the beauty of our worship, then we fail to manifest that little piece of heaven on earth that is the church in the presence of God.
The second Protestant distinctive is that the sacred can be found in the ordinary. Much is made in some circles of the need for re-enchantment of this world, but it is not really re-enchantment that we need. That can quickly degenerate into superstition or a rather sentimental form of panentheistic mysticism. No. We need not so much to re-enchant the world as to grasp once again the holiness of God and how that makes all things done to His glory holy and sacred too. As the artist Vermeer could find the sacred in the mundane moment when a housemaid pours milk into a bowl, so we should find the sacred in the everyday as we live our lives in consecration to God.
Many do this already, though you will likely not read about them in the pages of The New York Times. Amidst all of the cheap commentary on “white evangelicalism,” “patriarchy,” and their various crimes, what is lost is the fact that the vast majority of churches depend upon the beautiful, humble service of anonymous Christians in order to function. The single man who faithfully empties the trash cans after each service. The soccer mom who bakes cakes for the after-church fellowship. The teens who turn up to photocopy the orders of worship. The families who open their homes for hospitality to others not only on Sunday but during the week. The faithful pastors and elders who visit the sick and the shut-ins. The husband or wife modeling sacrificial grace as they lovingly care for their spouse who has Alzheimer’s disease. You know their names because you know them in your church, even if the members of the politically correct evangelical commentariat never deign to waste their words acknowledging their existence.
Where is beauty to be found? Certainly not in the exaltation of ugliness we witness in the parades that spoil the month of June. But let us respond to this not with the angry and cynical idioms of the world around but rather with Christian beauty—the beauty of serious Christian worship and serious Christian service.
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.
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