Friday, August 24, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Story Time with Harmonica

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

I’m not even sure how to describe this, but I’m going to give it a go.

Publishers Weekly’s ShelfTalker, “In which children’s booksellers ponder all things literary, artistic, and mercantile,” has a piece on a hot new trend sweeping the nation’s libraries: story time with a drag queen.

Mixed groups of three- to eight-year-olds are invited to come and enjoy a spoken word performance from men like “Harmonica Sunbeam” dressed as women (there is a picture with the article but — fair warning — it can’t be un-seen).

Tom: IC, is it possible to normalize something so bizarre and decadent, even with the power and budget of big corporations and the education system fully committed to it?

Commonplace vs. Normal

Immanuel Can: Well, I think we’ve earned our title with this one: “Too Hot to Handle”. I don’t know many Christian sources today that want to touch this subject. Still, it’s genuinely a “hot” topic, because it’s all over the media currently, so it would be poor sport for us to back off now.

“Normalize,” you say? That word comes from postmodern identity politics propaganda, and is intended to convey the idea that something that should not have been regarded as weird, unhealthy, immoral or “marginal” should now become common and inoffensive in our thoughts. But should it? We must surely turn to the Bible to find out whether or not that’s true.

Tom: Well, exactly. You can make a thing commonplace without making it normal, healthy or right. And many people — most people, I’d argue — will sit still for it, because they are concerned that their ability to fit into society or to make a living depends on appearing to toe the PC line. They just want to get by and feed their families and not find themselves in the middle of any drama. But that doesn’t mean they’re remotely interested in taking their kids to have a drag queen in full regalia read them books like Juli├ín Is a Mermaid or The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, or that they don’t secretly find the attendant celebration of decadence a little nauseating. If you asked most women who accidentally walked into that library with their kids whether they’d be proud if that was their husband up there doing the reading, I think you’d find considerably less enthusiasm than the opinion shapers are prepared to concede.

IC: Perhaps. But such reactions are not durable. People quickly begin to “normalize” all kinds of things, and there are very few restrictions on that. Abortion, for example, has been “normalized” to the tune of well over a billion dead babies worldwide in just the last half century. If people can stand “normalizing” that, what can their consciences not accommodate?

Tom: True, though I think 1,000 years of “normalizing” will not make an effeminate, cross-dressing hubby appealing to the average heterosexual woman. But you’re right, she will definitely learn to virtue-signal her approval for the sake of appearing “normal”.

The Quiet Life and the Gospel

Here’s a question: to what extent is it Christian to interfere with attempts to normalize sin? Shouldn’t we just lead a quiet life and concentrate on preaching the gospel?

IC: That would be to segment our lives into personal and public spheres, reserving our faith for the private. We must be public witnesses, not just to salvation but to the life that follows from salvation, a life that cannot “normalize” sin. That’s not to say we’re looking to the political sphere to save us, but rather that we cannot be hypocrites. If salvation is of the whole person, it’s of the whole person — the private and the public.

Tom: Agreed. This is the difficulty with telling people, “Just preach Christ and leave out the controversial stuff.” Preaching Christ is where we’re all trying to get to, of course. Christ is the only way to God, and any moral teaching that stops short of offering the opportunity to enter into a relationship with him cannot produce the desired result.

But we also have to recognize that people are not uni-dimensional. They have spiritual needs, but they also have behaviors they love that are sinful or selfish. And while the message of salvation often holds a lot of appeal to them, almost everyone is savvy enough to say, “Wait, how would this affect X?”, where ‘X’ is that thing in their life that they know is wrong but can’t bear to part with. That’s the part of the conversation at which the face of the rich young man falls, and he goes away sad.

Between the Sinner and Salvation

That’s one reason Christians can’t just back-burner our opposition to celebrating sin. It stands between the sinner and salvation. And sin, whatever sort it may be, needs to be identified, not ignored or run away from. If we avoid dealing with it, what we’re really offering the world is actually a bait-and-switch.

IC: This is a product of a basic mistake many Christians make: they think of salvation merely as a moment in time, a quick decision by which the sinner escapes hell. And they think of that as uniquely important. But salvation is not merely that: it’s an offer from God to enter into a comprehensive relationship with him, a relationship in which every aspect of life is implicated. It begins with the private life of the individual, but inevitably reaches out into all his personal, material, social and yes, even his political relations. Whatever stops short of that is less than the salvation offer. So we can’t not-have a view of human sexuality, and that view cannot “normalize” what God has declared abhorrent to him.

An Example in Sychar

Tom:I love the way the Lord Jesus dealt with the woman at the well. There are two invitations there: the invitation to ask for living water, and the invitation to “Go, call your husband.” The Lord Jesus did not appear in Sychar with a placard that read “All adulteresses go to hell”, but neither did he fail to note the area in which the woman’s life was most in need of transformation as we might be tempted to do: in fact, he singled it out.

There’s a balance there that we’d be wise to observe. But as we do that, we’re going to have to recognize that some will respond to a gospel that challenges their current practices favorably, as this woman did, and some will respond unfavorably, like the young man who went away sad. There’s no getting around that: we’re going to lose some we’d really like to have won.

IC: That’s true. But Christ told us not to be surprised if the world hates us, so we can’t judge whether or not we’re doing the right thing merely by how the world reacts. Some people will be unhappy. There’s no cure for that. Whatever happens, the important question is, “Are we being hated (or loved) for the right thing?”

Difficult Explanations

Tom: Okay. Say you’re a Christian mother, and you now have to explain to your daughter why you won’t be taking her to the library for this “special event” like the mothers of all her public school friends. How do you bulletproof her against the public celebration of sin without predisposing her to look down on, mock or oversimplify the problem these folks are dealing with?

IC: Can a child understand mental illness? Probably. Can she understand sin? I think so. Armed with these two concepts, she would be equipped to grasp the situation. But a third thing would be necessary, and that’s some explanation of how so many people could be so wrong. That might be the more difficult thing for her to understand.

Tom: Yeah, that is tough, but it’s also something every thinking Christian child has to come to grips with at one point or another, whether it’s about Islam or the Democratic Party or the number of single mothers in North America. He or she has been born into a family and to a greater or lesser degree, the Christian members of that family believe a bunch of things that are fairly fringe views so far as society is concerned. Being right often means not being in the majority. So, yeah, it’s an issue, but with the right family support, it can certainly be overcome. And the thing about reality is that it has a way of being convincing in a way that false ideology does not. The child is familiar with boys and girls, dressing as boys and girls, and in that context, it’s the transvestite and the transgender who are the very tiny minority, notwithstanding the current propaganda bombardment we are experiencing.

Now, that could change over time …

IC: I doubt it. It’s just not a very attractive option for anyone who isn’t already mentally unbalanced or morally debauched. I would guess that the unnaturalness of it will keep statistics modest, no matter how favorably the media may portray it.

Love and Repentance

Tom: Last question. We are often told that Christians need to show more love to people living “alternative lifestyles”. Can you think of a way we can reach out to people like “Harmonica Sunbeam” or “Euphoria” in an uncompromising but appealing way? Chatting them up at a Pride parade seems unlikely to produce positive results …

IC: Is the suggestion that we are supposed to love people who have been in “alternate lifestyles” (i.e. sin), or that we are to love people as they are continuing in “alternative lifestyles” (i.e. persistent, unrepentant sin)? I see plenty of warrant for the former and none at all for the latter. And I would say that that is the scriptural balance: to love the person who has fallen into sin, but to express that love by extending forgiveness and lifting them out of their debasement. There is no love in encouraging those debased by sin to remain in it.

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