Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Standing Up for Objective Reality

We live in interesting times.

Back in 2021, ideologically motivated onlookers in Leeds, West Yorkshire reported a forty-two year old street preacher to the Joint Counter Terrorism Team, resulting in his arrest. The Daily Mail did not specify the offenses with which David McConnell was charged and for which he was eventually convicted, but made reference to “harassment” and “illegally espousing an extreme point of view”. I missed the story at the time, but McConnell appealed his conviction last week, putting him back on the front pages for a moment.

What did this Christian “extremist” do? According to witnesses, McConnell quoted 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 in the presence of a man dressed up as a woman, and repeatedly referred to him as “this gentleman” and “a man in woman’s clothing”, which the gentleman in question apparently found distressing.

In short, McConnell stood up for objective reality. That shouldn’t be such a hard sell, should it?

The Other Side of the Story

David McConnell had been sharing scripture on the streets of northern England without a major incident for more than 15 years prior to his arrest, after what Leeds Probation Service referred to in its pre-sentence report as a “troubled, aimless past”. The report even acknowledged McConnell is now a “hard-working family man”.

Then, eight paragraphs into the story, the Mail allows that the poor trans person whose “harassment” provoked a probe into McConnell’s “terrorist activities” actually triggered his own “outing” by turning a camera on McConnell during his message and asking him point-blank whether he thought LGBTQ people were accepted by God.

Hmm, that’s a little different story than a mean fundamentalist singling out some poor, gender dysphoric soul to publicly abuse, isn’t it? Sounds to me more like McConnell was targeted by an activist looking to get him in trouble with the authorities, which is exactly what happened. Incidentally, the preacher was also assaulted, verbally abused and had his possessions stolen, but Leeds police are less interested in that sort of harassment than the kind that generates headlines and provokes cheering from the media.

So, fellow believer, what would you say in McConnell’s shoes, with the camera pointing in your face, waiting for you to step into the activist’s verbal trap, your next words about to be documented for posterity and the Lord looking down from heaven? That need not happen on the street. It could happen on the job, if you have any sort of public testimony at all. It could happen during a random conversation with a woke neighbor bearing a secret grudge.

I hope I’d do pretty much exactly what McConnell did: quote scripture and tell the truth, wherever that may lead.

A Question of Faithfulness

You tell me: would it be faithful to do anything else? Would any other answer be helpful, loving or constructive? The fact of the matter is that according to the apostle Paul, adulterers, drunkards and homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God.

One of the other, less-talked-about Greek words on Paul’s list of lifestyle choices that will keep men out of eternal fellowship with God is malakos, variously translated “soft” or “effeminate”. A man who presents himself as a woman looking to partner up sexually with another man is indisputably malakos. Perhaps a traumatic history or genetic damage predispose him to such behavior, and we may sympathize with that. A drunkard or even an adulterer may have similar predispositions that drive him to do the things he does. Nevertheless, a time will come when all men will give account for all the bad choices they have made in this life, regardless of their compulsions, predispositions and secret motivations. Presenting as a woman is a choice. According to the word of God, it’s not a good one. McConnell was not inaccurate to call it an abomination

This is what scripture teaches in plain language. This is what most orthodox Christians say we believe. Could a disciple of Christ reasonably say otherwise and not be guilty of cowardice, bad judgment, or at very least, inaccurate reporting? Could he soft pedal the truth with a straight face to a man on his way to hell and not be guilty of selfishness and lack of love, of putting his own safety first at the expense of another?

Better and Less Confrontational Ways

One of the pictures accompanying the article shows a smiling McConnell looking straight into the camera. How much can you tell from a smile? Perhaps not much, but this one looks warm and genuine. A few years ago, I might not have found McConnell a sympathetic character. I might have counseled him to put a little more emphasis on “lifestyle evangelism” or lectured him about how “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone.” I may have opined that there are “better and less confrontational ways to go about witnessing”.

And maybe there are, but I find it increasingly difficult to see how under the circumstances with which McConnell was faced. A few weeks ago, Antemodernist wrote a piece on the importance of doctrinal statements. He views their utility as follows:

“The purpose of doctrinal statements is not merely to organize doctrine. It’s not to figure out what’s important and what’s not. A doctrinal statement, creed, or confession, in practice, is to demarcate borders. Borders that need to be defended from attack. These are military documents in a spiritual war.”

Antemodernist points out that in centuries past, these “borders” were in different places. The enemy attacked different aspects of the faith: the two natures of Christ, the Trinity, the physical resurrection. So doctrinal statements were written defending those doctrines from a scriptural point of view, and rightly so.

Shifting Borders

Today, the borders have shifted, and what’s under attack is the scripture’s teaching about objective reality.

Truth is not a matter of individual opinion, nor does it have anything to do with how we feel. A man may feel like a woman with every fiber of his being. He may dress as a woman, have his body surgically remade to mimic womanhood, take enough female hormones to endanger his own life and adopt exaggerated, feminine mannerisms. He may go on YouTube, posture and pose in full regalia, and his comments section may be full of commendations and approval from peers that deliberately ignore the inevitable “uncanny valley” between what he is trying to achieve and how it actually looks to the world. In the end, after all that effort, David McConnell is right: he remains “this gentleman”. Frankly, if you read the news, he’s as likely to be a pervert, a troll or a violent criminal as a troubled soul trying to express his “authentic self”. If you ask me, “gentleman” is the politest, most generous possible way of putting it while still telling something remotely approximating the truth.

Male and female he created them.” That’s the word of God, and it’s not negotiable. Whether or not we put it in a doctrinal statement, defending that one line from Genesis on the streets today — or quoting Paul’s from 1 Corinthians, for that matter — will also get you in way more trouble than defending the Trinity, the hypostatic union, salvation by grace or even the resurrection of Christ. People may think you’re nutty for believing those doctrines, but they won’t fire you for them, get you arrested for them, beat you up for teaching them, or call you a terrorist for affirming them in public.

A Countercultural Faith

Christianity has always been countercultural. It was countercultural in the first century, and it remains countercultural today. But the points at which our faith meets our culture head on have shifted.

Once I might have said Christians should just preach Christ and avoid controversial, minor issues that might become distractions. Today, I am realizing the existence of objective reality is not a minor issue. If my own sex — the plain evidence of my own eyes when I look in the mirror — can be reduced to a matter of personal opinion, then everything else about reality is up for grabs too, and that includes “the way, the truth and the life”.

Christians need to think long and hard about that one. How will you answer the next “trans woman” who wants to know what God has to say about his lifestyle? The question is a lot more significant than it initially appears.

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