A correspondent recently asked (in a somewhat J’accuse! tone) why I spend all my time writing about LGBTQ matters. In fact, of course, I do not. That I do spend a fair amount of the time I devote each week to writing for First Things on this issue is undeniable. But, mirabile dictu, most of my time is not actually devoted to writing for First Things. Even so, why do I choose to write so much on this topic here? Certainly not because I have a particular interest in such things. Rather, because such things are being used to remake society in a manner that looks set to destroy not simply religious freedom but other basic freedoms as well. Were the presenting cause of this unfortunate turn of events, say, a government-sponsored program to make approval of the consumption of Cheez Whiz compulsory, I would spend my time talking about that particular abomination. But it is sex, and not Cheez Whiz, that has captured the political imagination—and thus that is where those who believe in freedom must focus their attention at this time.
Having said this, I was struck by a recent column by Rod Dreher, wherein he notes the apparent failure of so many Christians to see what is happening politically before their very eyes. And this despite the fact that so many of us spend time writing on the subject and trying to parse the issues. What is the problem? One of the most common reasons is that many Christians do not make a basic distinction between the appropriate individual response to LGBTQ people and a broader social response to LGBTQism as a political ideology with very ambitious goals. And they are vulnerable to this category-confusion because of the way language has been manipulated by the LGBTQ ideologues.
All Christians are required to care for people—the stranger, the sojourner, the one who is suffering, saints and sinners all. The language of love thus resonates strongly with Christians, who are always (rightly) susceptible to its charms. Set that language of love in a world such as ours, where emotional aesthetics trump ethics every time, and it is very vulnerable to being co-opted as political rhetoric because of its power to move people and to place any resistance on the defensive from the outset. And when that happens—Love Wins!—the scene is set for confusion. Well-meaning Christians who rightly want to love and care for their neighbor can quickly become the unwitting dupes of those with much greater social and political ambitions than live-and-let-live. Even those who wish to resist are in a hard place, for they know that the opposite of “love” is “hate”—and so what vocabulary can they draw upon to express their dissent?
In this context, it behooves all Christians to think clearly about the issues and to make that separation between pastoral response to, and care for, the person struggling with issues of sexuality and the larger social ambitions of a movement that has a vested interest in denying any distinction between the personal and the political. A failure to make that distinction and to demonstrate its critical importance will in the long run prove disastrous for the freedom of all. For who in their right mind would be opposed to love?
The politicization of the language of love is perhaps the most significant—and, where freedom is concerned, the most dangerous—development in the rhetoric of the public square for many years.
Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.