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J.K. Rowling’s collision with the culture

The realms of reality and fantasy butt heads in the Harry Potter author’s world

J.K. Rowling Associated Press/Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision (file)

J.K. Rowling’s collision with the culture

Recently, HBO Max assembled the actors from the Harry Potter movie franchise for a 20-year reunion special. For anyone who grew up watching the films, it was a wonderful bit of nostalgia. But there was a glaring omission. J.K. Rowling, the author of the bestselling Harry Potter books, was absent, though clips of interviews she did in 2019 were interspersed throughout. Officially, Rowling and HBO denied that her outspoken comments on women and the transgender movement hovered over Hogwarts. But the truth was obvious.

In the past, Rowling has committed the cardinal cultural sin of expressing concern about the obvious conflict between the rights of women and the transgender movement. Her first crime was to like a tweet by feminist Magdalen Burn, who affirmed the science and reality of biological sex. Her seemingly innocuous affirmation of this tweet invited significant pushback from the media and many celebrities, including actors from the Harry Potter franchise. Unlike many who are easily intimidated after speaking out on this issue, Rowling doubled down, and in a lengthy statement on her website in 2020, she explained her concern, noting that the blurring of biological gender distinctions adversely affects scientific research into the way disease affects men and women differently. She also expressed concern about the exploding number of young people who, having transitioned early in life, were now regretting their decision and seeking to de-transition. 

Since those comments, the vitriol toward Rowling has not abated. It has only increased. Most media outlets cast her comments as hateful and bigoted, with many celebrities, quite predictably, denouncing her. And yet, the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise, both on screen and in print, has not diminished. Rowling will not be canceled. 

There is a certain irony, of course, about where Christians find themselves in relation to Harry Potter. When the books first burst on this scene in the 1990s, evangelicals ranged from entertained to skeptical to antagonistic. The fantasy world Rowling created was seen as an embrace of sorcery and witchcraft. And yet today, it is Rowling’s unwillingness to live in another fantasy, the willing suspension of reality that says gender is fluid, that has evangelicals finding common cause with the iconic author.

Untrue worldviews are always incomprehensible and eventually run into reality.

Rowling has found herself in a massive collision with the culture. Her position is consistent with the unavoidable common sense of God’s natural law, unchanging through the ages. That creation grace shines through the cracks of the secular worldview and its sexual ideologies. The immutable laws of the universe, set in motion by a loving Creator are a signpost to truth, a doorway to discovering God’s revelation about Himself. Untrue worldviews are always incomprehensible and eventually run into reality.

Of course, we will have many areas of disagreement with Rowling, who doesn’t exactly adhere to a fully formed Christian sexual ethic. And yet we can admire her courage in defying the reigning narrative. If the author of Harry Potter can see and state what is plain about biological reality, why can’t Christians, who possess God’s full revelation, do the same? 

Too often Christians seem embarrassed to believe (or defend in public) what the Bible clearly says. But we should not be moved from declaring, to a confused world, what we know to be true and beautiful about God’s unique design for men and women. We are to speak, not with words of condemnation but with words of compassion, communicating that God has a better word for those who struggle with gender dysphoria than the false promises offered by the transgender movement.

To those who struggle with their identity, who don’t feel at home in their bodies, we offer the gospel promise, not of temporary transition but of permanent resurrection at the end of the age, when Christ will renew our broken bodies and make us whole again. We point them to the Spirit of God who is a comforter in affliction who regenerates our sinful desires. This promise may seem like fantasy to a secular world, but it is, thanks be to God, reality.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His forthcoming book is Agents of Grace. He is also a bestselling author of several other books, including The Original Jesus, The Dignity Revolution, The Characters of Christmas, The Characters of Easter, and A Way With Words and the host of a popular weekly podcast, The Way Home. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College, has studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Angela have four children.

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