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Culture war or cultural appeasement?

There is no third alternative

LGBT activists march with a gay pride flat in Salt Lake City, Utah Associated Press/Photo by Rick Bowmer

Culture war or cultural appeasement?

It is shocking but sadly not surprising to read Abigail Shrier’s report on the clandestine efforts being made by middle school teachers in California to recruit students to LGBTQ+ clubs. Given the logic of contemporary identity politics, it makes perfect sense. If we humans are defined at a fundamental level by the direction of our sexual desires or by the gender we feel we are, rather than the sex our body “imposes” upon us, then educators have a vested interest in helping students realize their identities. That is what modern education is all about: the facilitation of the process of self-realization. Of course, previous generations might have looked askance at adult teachers surveilling childrens’ online activity (and let’s use the word ‘children’ rather than the superficially adult term ‘student’) and then using that as a basis for clandestine meetings with the children to talk about sexual desires. But that era is long passed. Yesterday’s creepy voyeurism has apparently become today’s best educational practice.

Perhaps most fascinating is the fact that the teachers developed ways of disingenuously being able to plead ignorance about whether a child had attended such a group. Think about that. According to the underlying philosophy of identity with which the school is operating, the children’s identities are bound up with their sexual desires or gender feelings. That is a large part, the most important part, of who they really are. But the school does not consider itself to be under any obligation to tell the parents about any of this. In other words, the school regards itself as having a greater right to know who the children really are than the parents. To put this another way, the school thinks it owns the children. That is an imaginative philosophical power-grab of remarkable and horrifying reach.

It is also a reminder that Christians cannot hide from what is happening. Because identity politics is concerned with—to risk stating the obvious—identity, it must inevitably touch the lives of everyone. Which identities are legitimate, which are not, and who is allowed to decide between them, are the pressing issues of American politics today, affecting everything from abortion and euthanasia to marriage, family, and education. The California teachers’ strategy is simply one example of the power struggles that are the inevitable products of such demands.

Christians should not be so naïve as to think that if they send their children to Christian schools or even homeschool their children that they will be immune from this. If a child owns a smartphone, then that screen will become the most influential thing in their life. Just read Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage if you are skeptical of that claim. You—like me—might well find the term “TikTok and YouTube Influencers” to be inherently ridiculous, but sadly, the phrase speaks to a worrying truth: Any charlatan who happens to make good online videos can have more influence over our children than a loving parent or an inspiring classroom teacher.

Our culture’s obsession with identity means that the culture war will demand we take a stand, one way or the other. Those evangelicals concerned to appease the cultured despisers of their religion have recently found the accusation of “culture warrior” to be a convenient, if somewhat lazy, canard to be thrown at those who express concern about the radicalization of educational policy in the United States. Christians who stridently shout the pieties of progressive culture with as much martial language as they can muster are, of course, never seen by themselves or their fanbase as warriors. No, They are merely courageous Valiant-for-Truths. Yet those who express concern about racial and sexual ideologies being promoted in schools are dismissed as angry, hysterical fundamentalists, ironically by Christians whose approach to matters such as racial identity leave no ground for any response to queer theory. Culture war or cultural appeasement? When teachers are claiming a right to ownership of children’s identity, I suspect there is no third alternative at this point.

Carl R. Trueman

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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