Gospelbound

The Secular Creed

Episode Summary

Collin Hansen and Rebecca McLaughlin discuss the rise of secular creeds and why Christianity is the original source for true diversity, equality, and life-transforming love.

Episode Notes

Maybe you’ve seen a sign in your neighbor’s yard that reads something like this:

"In this house we believe that:

Black Lives Matter

Love Is Love

Gay Rights Are Civil Rights

Women’s Rights Are Human Rights

Transgender Women Are Women"

If the “we believe” format and propositions sound familiar, that’s because they are. It’s a creed, albeit a secular one, without reference to transcendent moral authority, whether divine or historical. 

Rebecca McLaughlin’s provocative new book, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims, published by The Gospel Coalition, helps us disentangle the beliefs Christians gladly affirm from those they cannot embrace. And she invites us to talk with our neighbors about the things that matter most—what we’re willing to fight for, our vision of the good life for ourselves and others.

Many non-Christians believe these statements will make unity and peace possible. But McLaughlin shows why Christianity is the original source and firmest foundation for true diversity, equality, and life-transforming love. 

Books referenced in this episode: 

This episode of Gospelbound is sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of Faithful Leaders and the Things That Matter Most by Rico Tice. There are many books on leadership strategies and church structures, but this one looks at what matters most: the character and attitude of church leaders. More information at thegoodbook.com.

Episode Transcription

The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

Collin Hansen: Maybe you've seen a sign in your neighbor's yard that reads something like this, "In this house we believe that: Black lives matter. Love is love. Gay rights are civil rights. Women's rights are human rights. Transgender women are women." If the "we believe" format and propositions sound familiar, that's because they are. It's a creed, albeit a secular one, without reference to transcendent world authority, whether divine or historical.

Collin Hansen: Rebecca McLaughlin's provocative new book, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims, published by The Gospel Coalition, helps us disentangle the beliefs Christians gladly affirm from those they cannot embrace. And she invites us to talk with our neighbors about the things that matter most, what we're willing to fight for, our vision of the good life for ourselves and others. Many non-Christians believe these statements will make unity and peace possible. McLaughlin shows why Christianity is the original source and firmest foundation for true diversity, equality, and life-transforming love.

Collin Hansen: Rebecca, thank you for joining me on Gospelbound.

Rebecca McLaughlin: It's a pleasure to virtually be here.

Collin Hansen: Rebecca, how did this particular kind of creed, that we see in various iterations on these yard signs, develop? Just as I look at it, it's not obvious how these topics hang together.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rebecca McLaughlin: I think that is something that folks are only just now starting to realize a little bit. But honestly, I think where most people are today, most of our neighbors, if they are not Christians actually, increasingly many folks who are identifying as Christians are starting to see all of these claims as linked up together.

Rebecca McLaughlin: So the gay rights movement being seen as the civil rights movement, and the current concerns around gender rights being very much linked to the gay rights movement. And what was fascinating to me, as I sat down to write this book, and just to tried to process more clearly and specifically, even for myself, how these ideas got tangled up, it became clearer and clearer to me that part of where we Christians have gone wrong, at least those of us who identify as white evangelicals, which is how I describe myself, is not recognizing the failure, really, of white Christians to repent of totally unbiblical racism and racial oppression over many centuries here has actually all led then to the tangling up of ideas that we see today. I think it's really easy for us to think, "Well, these ideas have all got tangled up by folks outside the church, over there." And in fact, in important ways is I think it's actually been done to us, that we've done this tangling up.

Rebecca McLaughlin: And that the failure of white Christians historically, and all too often today, to recognize black people as their neighbors and as their equals before God, has resulted in the tangling up of ideas, to where folks can say, "Just as the white Christian segregationists of the sixties appealed to the Bible to justify their racism, so today Christians appeal to the Bible to justify their homophobia."

Collin Hansen: Yeah, and we know that, historically speaking, the transition from the 1960s, the civil rights movement, opposed very strongly by so many churches, especially in the American South, we lead straight into then gay rights, the sexual revolution in general, which I guess is overlapping really, but continuing from there. And so it's not a shock that those things would be linked up in people's minds. And we know that's not a fair assessment of Christianity, certainly not global Christianity, not the black church, for the most part, not even a lot of other evangelical churches. But in terms of how people link together religion and politics in general in political platforms, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by that. And I guess that's why I'm so thankful for your book.

Collin Hansen: How do we then begin to disentangle these diverse claims? Is it possible then for us to affirm some of them, or at least one of them, and reject others?

Rebecca McLaughlin: Hmm. I think it's not just possible, I think it's absolutely vital. And I think the way that we should go about sorting through these claims is picking up our Bibles, opening them, and reading them, and seeing what it says. Because I think when we do, we'll find that the Bible gives us very clear direction when it comes to racial justice, equality, and actually integration as well. So that first claim, that black lives matter, is something, as I put it in the book, it's actually a Jesus song. It's not something that is told to us primarily by a secular-progressive folk. It's actually something that springs right out of the Scriptures to us.

Rebecca McLaughlin: And for those of us, if folks feel uncomfortable using that precise formulation, because of some of the other things that an organization bearing that name believes as well, I'd suggest adding the words "to Jesus." Say, "Black lives matter to Jesus." All of us, I hope, if we identify as Christians, wave that flag proudly. And in many ways I think it's to our shame, those of us who identify as white evangelicals, it's to our shame that sounds like in many ears a secular-progressive mantra. And it's because I think we haven't been singing Jesus songs loud enough.

Rebecca McLaughlin: So I think we look at our Bibles, we'll see from the very beginning actually, in Genesis, when God makes humans in his image, and then through the Gospels, through the New Testament Epistles, right all the way into the book of Revelation, we see people from every tribe and tongue and nation worshiping Jesus together. We'll see this vision of racial equality and integration, where people will be not separate but equal, but actually one body together, with people from all sorts of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. This is something that I think as Christians we need to really reclaim by looking at the Bible for ourselves.

Rebecca McLaughlin: But just as the Bible pulls us very strongly and gives us very clear direction about racial justice, equality, and integration, that often Christians have often failed to take note of, actually also the Bible gives us very clear direction about any sexual or romantic relationships outside male-female marriage. And that it pulls us actually in the opposite direction, on those questions. But the reason today I think that so much of these issues have got tangled up in people's minds is because of Christian sin, of failing to follow through on what the Bible says about racial justice and equality.

Rebecca McLaughlin: To make it a very compelling argument, to say just as the white, sixties segregationists opposed interracial marriage, for example, so now Christians today oppose gay marriage. And I think sometimes repentance can feel to people like a step back or a concession to the secular values of those around us. I think actually it's really a step forward. That if we can, as the majority white church, if we can make it our business to privately and publicly repent of racial injustice, then actually we're, A, much closer to what the Bible is calling us to and, B, we're actually in a better position to say, "Hey, this is why what we're saying today also comes out of the Scriptures," when it comes to sexuality. It isn't just us making our own prejudices and trying to map them onto our sacred texts.

Collin Hansen: This is something, Rebecca, that I remember talking with you about for years. And you and I just agree completely on this, the need for the church to go backward so that we can go forward. We have to go backward, especially on racial issues, so that we can go forward, across the board, but especially on sexual issues, which are such a significant challenge right now to the church.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yeah, it's a little bit like... I learned to drive a car on my husband's very old manual, stick-shift car. And one of the things that was awkward for me to figure out was how to do that strange shifting thing where you pull the gear stick back before you can move it up into the next gear. And that's a metaphor that I use in the book, because I think often, we're in automatic mode. We think, "Okay, we just want to move forward here." And concerns about racial justice can feel, to some, like a distraction to gospel priorities.

Rebecca McLaughlin: I actually think we can't get into the next gear up, when it comes to being the body of Christ on earth, I don't think we can get there without actually doing that work of pulling back in order to move forward, together with brothers and sisters of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Collin Hansen: And all you have to do is look at your local university, and look at the much-talked-about critical studies, and see that some of the common threads that are often identified between racial studies, gender studies, and all that kind of stuff, and the confusion that can result from all of that different confusing of those categories in there.

Collin Hansen: And so we hear so much castigation, but I think it's ultimately confusion, about critical theory. I found a really helpful perspective recently, reading an African-American author, one of my favorite authors who I've known for a long time and followed for a long time. But he was talking about how the jump to condemn critical theory, and say, "Well, we know that social justice is not biblical justice." He said, "That might be a compelling argument, if we could point to some examples of Christians doing a good job with biblical justice." But so often, pretty much the conversation goes, "Well, that's not biblical justice." Yeah, but then what is it? And what does it look like?

Rebecca McLaughlin: Right. And I think this is where I come back to that metaphor of, if when we hear anyone talking about racial justice, or anyone saying, "black lives matter," if our first response to something like that, however it's formulated in terms of words, is to think, "Oh, I feel kind of anxious. This is some sort of secular-progressive, or even Christian-progressive push." We should have been singing that song so loud. It's heartbreaking to think... Many of us who identify as Christians will look back to folks like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and see him as a hero, which he is. When you think about it, if Christians had actually been following the Scriptures on racial justice, there wouldn't have been a need for the civil rights movement. Because Christians wouldn't have done the things that they were doing previously.

Rebecca McLaughlin: And I think one of the sobering reflections, or things that has come home to me, even in the last few months as I've looked back more and more over American history, and I don't say this as a... I say this as an outsider from the UK, but actually not as an outsider whose hands are in any way clean, because my country was thoroughly complicit in all of the above. But if we look back to this mythical time, when America was a "Christian country," I've struggled to figure out when that is. Because presumably it's not during the period of slavery, where people were being brutalized and abused and exploited. Presumably, we would all agree that wasn't America's wonderful, high-moral, Christian point.

Rebecca McLaughlin: It presumably wasn't in the 100 years following the abolition of slavery, when segregation and Jim Crow laws were in place, and black Americans were continuing to face explicit, open, legal repression and abuse. And that takes us to the sixties, and I think for many white evangelicals, it's easy to look back to the sixties as the time when everything started to go wrong, the sexual revolution, then we have Roe v. Wade in the early seventies and abortions were fully legalized across all states. It's easy to sort of hanker back to a time before the sixties, when everything was so much better.

That isn't true, if we actually recognize how black Americans, and other Americans of color, were being treated before then. And on the one hand, I think we need to take time to properly lament that. And on the other hand, I think it should actually make us more hopeful about today, and the opportunities we have now to do something much better, more biblical, and more beautiful than our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents did.

I'm very into my Harry Potter metaphors, so you might have to forgive me this one, Collin. But for those who are familiar with the Harry Potter series, there's one story arc where Harry has watched his godfather, Sirius Black, almost have his soul sucked out of him by a bunch of dementors. And at the last minute, when it looked like there was no hope left, from the other side of the lake, in the darkness, this figure conjured a Patronus spell and sent this incredible stag charging across the lake, drove off the dementors, saved the day.

And in the course of this story, Harry comes to believe that the person who cast that spell and put everything right was his father, who died when he was a baby. It was like, "Somehow my dad managed to be there, and he did this amazing thing."

Rebecca McLaughlin: And at the end of the story it turns out that actually, no, it was Harry who did that. He has to go back in time, and he was the one who was casting the spell. So it looked a bit like his father, but in fact it was him. And I think we're at a moment in history now, where we have the opportunity, as followers of Jesus, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with brothers and sisters in the black church, with brothers and sisters in immigrant-majority churches, with brothers and sisters coming from China and putting their trust in Jesus, as so many thousands are doing. We have the opportunity now to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and do better than our forebears actually ever did.

Collin Hansen: That's encouraging, Rebecca. I like that. One thing that makes a lot of this difficult in the American context in particular is a simple timeline. You look back, and American self-identity is most powerfully shaped by World War II and by the tremendous economic growth and success that comes out of that for the United States, and a sense of unimpeachable moral righteousness, of defeating these enemies of fascism and imperialism. And then you put that right next to godless, atheistic communism, and you can see that American self-identity. And so especially for white Americans, and of course America's military was segregated in World War II, and there's a tremendous cognitive dissonance that comes with, "How can you be this morally upright global power, that's fighting against atheism and fighting against tyranny and fascism and yet still harboring versions of domestic terror, and obviously segregation and subjugation domestically?"

We've never resolved that dynamic. It's very hard, not for African-Americans, they're more clear-eyed on this, for obvious reasons, but for white Americans, it's simply very, very difficult. And that's one of the many reasons, as you've already been saying here, why I think your book is so helpful to do that, because you cast it in a sense of why that's necessary for us to do so as Christians, as part of our evangelistic calling, to be able to love our neighbors and to share the gospel with our neighbors, who are admittedly very confused themselves about how these things are supposed to hold together.

Now, one of the other things you write in here, Rebecca, is you say that, "To show where progressives are wrong, we must also freely acknowledge where they are right." But, Rebecca, wouldn't that trick people into thinking that we can and even should learn from each other?

Rebecca McLaughlin: I'm a big fan of learning from each other. But I'm actually an even bigger fan of learning from the Bible. And if our non-Christian friends want to say things and believe things that I also believe from the Scriptures, that's great news. That's not something... My job is not to differentiate myself from my non-Christian neighbor on every possible question. And the more that I've learned and read even from non-Christian scholars and historians in recent years, and I feature some of this in the book... The more I've understood that actually a lot of the beliefs and values of our non-Christian friends have come to them from the Bible as well. They just don't know it.

Collin Hansen: Right.

Rebecca McLaughlin: So the moral soil that undergirds and all of the claims that you'll see on these yard signs is the idea that all human beings are equally morally valuable, and that the rich and the strong and the powerful do not have the right to trample on the poor and the weak and the marginalized, but actually must care for folks on the margins of society, for folks in minorities of various kinds.

And the idea that men and women are equally morally valuable, the idea that there should be justice and that human beings should expect to participate in that call to justice, that drive for justice, that we should have that longing for justice in our hearts... All of these things come from Christianity. And so when I say, in order to show where our progressive friends are wrong, when the sources really admit they're right, this is not a kind of concession to any progressive agenda, it's a simple attempt to be faithful to what Jesus says. And when we start to do that, we see that there are opportunities to build the right kinds of bridges with our non-Christian friends, and to say, "Hey, I know that you deeply believe in universal human rights. I know you deeply believe in racial justice and equality for women, and care for the most marginalized. These things have come from Christianity. I believe these things as well."

And this is why I think that Christianity actually gives us the best foundation for these ideas, and gives us guidance in terms of how they should play out, which may land us in very different places. So one of the ironies on the yard sign is that claim that women's rights are human rights. And I want to say, "Wonderful, yes, and amen." Women's rights are human rights. And if you define women's rights, if you put as sort of the central plank of women's rights, the right to abort an unborn child, you're actually undermining the basis for women's rights in the first place, because women's rights come from this biblical idea that human beings, male and female, are made in the image of God and are equally morally valuable before him.

It's not a self-evident truth, it's something that science tells us, it's not something that comes from any other particular sources. It comes from the Scriptures. And those same Scriptures say that the weakest and the most vulnerable are actually central to God's moral concern. And that includes unborn babies. So rather than letting abortion stand as a central plank of women's rights, I think actually the cross needs to stand as the central plank of women's rights, the most powerful expression of God coming and being one with us, the true image of the invisible God, coming and taking the most vulnerable place in society on the cross and changing the way that women were seen from then onwards.

Collin Hansen: I love the language you use there, Rebecca, of the best foundation. Because I think that sets up the argument and the discussion very well. I may push you here, as an interviewer, and say, "Best, or also, only basis?"

Rebecca McLaughlin: Well, I've learned a whole lot from the fascinating, and at times infuriating book by Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I think it came out in 2015, or maybe 2014. He's an Israeli historian who I believe identifies as an atheist himself. And he's seeking to give us a history of humanity with the assumption that there is no God. And he'll make some pretty stark and bold claims on the basis of that, including making the claim that human rights are a figment of our fertile imaginations. He says that "Homo sapiens have no natural rights, just as chimpanzees, hyenas, and spiders have no natural rights." He quotes the Declaration of Independence, "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," and he says, "The Americans got this idea from Christianity, but if we don't believe in the Christian myths about God creating people in his image, then why would we believe in universal human equality?"

Collin Hansen: Yeah.

Rebecca McLaughlin: And he, as well as Tom Holland, a British historian who wrote the amazing history of 2,000 years of Christianity in the West, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. Both of those guys, they have different angles and flavors and responses to the reality that Christianity is responsible for what seem today to be self-evident truths, moral truths. And both of them agree that it's only because of Christianity that we believe these things.

And so if human rights are only a figment of our fertile imaginations, then the claim that women's rights are human rights is kind of pointless. If there are no human rights, then it's not really worth making that claim.

Collin Hansen: And we can say that, "Okay, so maybe it doesn't make sense, but it's still intuitive." Only intuitive, because of the residue of Christian imagination in the culture there.

Collin Hansen: Now, I want to know how you disentangle this. Explain the dynamics around oppression as moral authority. From right to left in our culture, it seems like I cannot get a hearing unless I can blame someone for robbing me, of my rights, my freedom, my election, my whatever.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Collin Hansen: Disentangle that for us.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Gosh. I think one of the important insights that we frankly should get from just living as human beings in the world, but we can also derive from various more academic sources, is the reality that we actually need to listen to other people and to take the time to see the world a little bit through their eyes, if we're going to understand the full picture. Because you and I are shaped by our lives and experiences, good, bad, and ugly. And as much as we'd like to think that we are purely rational agents who see everything clear-eyed and utterly rationally, unlike everybody else around us, the reality is we are very shaped by the communities in which we live.

Rebecca McLaughlin: And I think you're right in diagnosing that, on both sides of recent political questions, that there have been folks who have been saying, "We are being silenced. We are being oppressed. Our voices are not being heard. Justice is not being done for us." And I think sometimes that's true, and we need to be careful, especially those of us who honestly, like me, I've lived a very privileged life in many ways, and so I need to be hesitant about quickly shutting other people down when they're saying that. So sometimes I think it's true, other times I think even while we're accusing other people of having a victim mentality, we, too ourselves can have a victim mentality.

Collin Hansen: Right.

Rebecca McLaughlin: One of the things that I'm still adjusting to, having moved from the UK to the US, is the sheer size and influence of evangelical Christianity here. In my country it isn't true. I was reading the New York Times this morning, and it featured a recent news article about a very prominent evangelical leader leaving her denomination. And I thought, "Gosh, in the UK this would not be mainstream news."

Rebecca McLaughlin: People are just not that interested in evangelicalism in the UK, broadly speaking. And here they are. So I think sometimes it's easy, especially for those of us who identify as evangelicals, to feel very beleaguered and marginalized, when actually our voice is much bigger and stronger than we realize. So to get back to your original question, I think it's right to pay attention to people if they're saying they have been oppressed. I think that's especially important, and again, I'm still playing catch-up myself even, when it comes to patterns of abusive behavior that churches and Christian organizations have allowed to continue. In meaningful and important ways, we need to listen to victims and to take seriously what's said.

At the same time, we need to be careful not to inhabit a world where we ourselves almost desire a victim status in order for our voices to be heard.

Collin Hansen: I want to give an example of exactly what I do have in mind. Because you did a great job there, Rebecca, of just talking about how incredibly complicated this is, of... One of the reasons we're talking so much about oppression and victimhood is because of real oppression and real victims who are only now gaining their voice to be able to talk about these things. Okay? We're also talking about this now because of Christianity, because Christianity is what values the weak, and values the poor, and there was no intrinsic value to those statuses in the Roman Empire, before Christianity.

Collin Hansen: So at the once, this is an eminently Christian phenomenon that we should be embracing, and yet at the same time, somebody I know and love whispered into my ear on January 6, 2021, "I wish I were in the Capitol building with those people. Why won't anyone just listen to them?" It was a narrative of oppression. I'd imagine a lot of the people, if they're listening now, and they have one of these signs in their yards, they say the people on January 6th as the oppressors. But that's not how they saw themselves. They saw themselves as the oppressed, as the marginalized, as the weak, as those whose election who had just been stolen.

What it speaks to is that the currency of moral authority is oppression. And you simply cannot get a hearing without that, but then it weasels its way in to make the oppressors position themselves as the oppressed.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Right. So here's what one of the things that concerns me about that, the whisper into your ear, Collin. And one of the things that I found disturbing and depressing on January the 6th and around it. You kind of have to choose your narrative. Either the election was stolen from you, because actually the majority of people who voted, voted with you, in which case you're actually part of the majority, you're not part of the oppressed minority.

Collin Hansen: Yeah.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Or you're part of an oppressed minority and the democratic system is not working for you, because the majority of people don't side with you, and so you need to take some other kind of action. I don't actually know how you can hold both of those things together. It's just not coherent.

Collin Hansen: This is what I've been trying to figure out for the last five years, Rebecca. Somehow, many evangelical Christians have convinced themselves that they simultaneous hold every level of power in the government as they did in 2017 and 2018, and at the same time are incredibly persecuted. And it's simply confusing to try to disentangle that. But my point is not to single out just that group of people. Simultaneously you will hear from the left, "Of course, we dominate media, and we dominate the academy, and we dominate now sports. We dominate all of these spheres of culture, and yet we are the persecuted, oppressed ones."

How are we supposed to figure out, "Wait. Who is the oppressed here?" Because Christians think they're the ones being oppressed because the government is leveraging their power to be able to foist these views of a minority on a population, but obviously transgender people feel as though they are persecuted and oppressed, because their number one talking point is the suicide rates for transgender people, as the justification for why they should be treated differently. So I just find these overlapping oppression narratives to be incredibly difficult to disentangle.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yeah. Okay, so just before, can we talk about transgender questions in just a minute? Because I want to give a different answer-
Rebecca McLaughlin:
To your first question. So your first question was, "Okay, what I'm seeing is people tend to oversimplify things." Both on the right and on the left, saying that they're on the side of the oppressed. Whether that's them personally or those for whom they're advocating.

Collin Hansen: Good point, yeah.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Now what drives me crazy is that, broadly speaking, folks on neither of those ends are actually listening to a category in America who legitimately have been most systemically oppressed, which is black women.

Collin Hansen: Yeah.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Now, if folks on the religious right were to listen to black women in America, they would find they are the most likely people in America to identify as Christians. They're the most likely people to show up to church on a Sunday, they're the most likely people to read their Bibles, to pray, the most likely people to hold core evangelical beliefs, and actually they're some of the least likely people to affirm LGBT identities.

So that's what folks on the right would realize, is that this doubly oppressed category of folks in America, broadly speaking, are actually in exactly the same places they are on many important issues and questions of beliefs. So why are they so alienated from them? Well, then we need to take a hard look at ourselves and the history of racism in America.

Folks on the left, likewise, need to listen to the voices of black American women who, they, all day long, would say are some of the most important voices to listen to, who have been historically silenced and that's true. But actually today, are my white, liberal, secular-progressive friends really listening to the majority of black women in this country, who own Jesus as their Savior and would actually like to spread that news to others? Not really.

And here's what I've noticed is happening. And it's almost like it's a conspiracy on both ends, or a marriage of convenience between the left and the right. It's in the interest of both sides to only platform progressive black voices. Now, I don't want to say that there should be no platforming of progressive black voices and that there should be no room to hear from black people, for example, who would be affirming of LGBT identities. Maybe black Christians who affirm those things. I think it's important to hear from those folks, sure. However, we must recognize, that is not the majority view of black Americans or in particular black Christians.

And when we only hear representative voices, or seemingly representative voices, we only hear the kind of black voices that are honestly palatable to white liberals.

Collin Hansen: Right.

Rebecca McLaughlin: We're doing the very thing that my white liberal friends would hate to realize that they're doing, which is silencing the voices of black Americans. But equally, I think it's convenient, sadly, for some of my white brothers and sisters in Christ, it's convenient to not hear from Bible-believing black Americans, because then it really is about the history of racism in this country and it's not about a progressive takeover and silencing of the Bible. So that's to your first question.

Collin Hansen: I want to underscore for people, that you used an intersectional category reference there to doubly oppressed. Okay.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yeah.

Collin Hansen: So now we've checked off critical theory, now we've checked off intersectionality, so everybody can go ahead and cancel us on the right after this. But here's what I get at with intersectionality. It is very easy to turn intersectionality on its head as a Christian and ask very hard and illuminating questions.

Collin Hansen: For example, when the intersectional oppression of sex or sexism or homophobia or transphobia or whatever intersects with race-

Rebecca McLaughlin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Collin Hansen: Which category wins?

Rebecca McLaughlin: And right now, race loses.

Collin Hansen: Every single time, race loses.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Right. And this is why I think we're in this position, where we are only... When I say we, secular-progressive folk only want to hear from... I'm sorry, secular-progressive white folk only really seem to want to hear from black people who agree with them. And they don't want to... Well, I think honestly they just don't know that is not the majority view of black Americans, and certainly not the majority view of . . . 

Collin Hansen: They would know if they asked.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Indeed, indeed. I'm trying to be, I'm being gracious.

Collin Hansen: No, I understand.

Rebecca McLaughlin: I actually don't think they know, and part of why they don't know is because of this conspiracy of the right and of the left. So part of what needs to happen here, Collin, I think, is for those of us who care about Christianity in America, those of us who care about the Scriptures being upheld, those who care about biblical sexual ethics, those who care about evangelism going forward, we need to get behind, support, listen to, learn from, and broadcast black Christian voices who are singing Jesus's songs.

Not literally... Literally would be wonderful as well. But not only to sing, but to speak for the gospel. And I think that's where many of us need to do some real work, actually.

Collin Hansen: This is why... I'll give a specific example here. I'll credit the AND Campaign, and I'll credit Justin Giboney here specifically. Coming out of Democratic politics in Atlanta, before he founded the AND campaign, he did what I've seen so difficult for so many others to do. He came out as a Christian with the AND Campaign against the Equality Act. And there is tremendous pressure for Democrats and for African-Americans, both those categories, to go along with that.

Because what I'm trying to help people to see is that the real power here is progressive sexual politics. That's... Go ahead, you jump in.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Right. Yes, but it's fueled by the engine of true historical injustice.

So then again, thinking about how have we got to where we are today? Where, for example, not using... I think we're not far off a situation where me not identifying myself with my name and my preferred pronouns could be seen as, at best, socially inept amongst many of my friends, or at worst, if you're in a workplace situation, non-permissible, to not identify as "Collin, he/him, Rebecca, she/her."

So how have we gotten to this situation where, even raising questions about transgender identity from a not-100% affirming angle, is seen as essentially a hateful act of violence? And I think the answer is in a couple of different places. Number one, the suicide attempt rates among transgender-identified people are very high, especially amongst adolescent girls who are not identifying as female. It's around 50%, the suicide attempt rates, which is completely heartbreaking. Whatever anybody thinks about anything, we Christians should lament that situation.

Now from a perspective of those who would want to say that transgender identities are good and to be affirmed, the reason for that high suicide rate is purely down to societal oppression, and not to do with any other underlying mental health situations that these young people might be in. Now on the other side, it's easy for those of us who may not agree with affirming transgender identities to say, "Well, it must purely be down to mental health issues that were already there, and nothing to do with societal oppression." And I don't think we need to do a stark either/or there.

But if you think from the perspective of a secular friend who sees themselves as an ally of transgender people, number one, their suicide rates are incredibly high, and that's due to societal oppression. Number two, and I remember Elizabeth Warren doing this when she was standing as the Democratic nominee, and wanted to list transgendered people who have been murdered in the past year... Again, it's something that every Christian should lament. Anyone who's murdered, it's a terrible thing. But the message at the moment is that transgender people are being murdered at a disproportionally high rate, again due to the societal oppression, and that this means that folks in this situation today are, in all reasonable senses, in equivalent position to black people being lynched under Jim Crow.

Now, one of the problems with the narrative is that actually, as far as any data I have seen, transgender people in this country are not actually murdered at a disproportionate rate. And there was a study done at Harvard a couple years ago that I think I quote in the book, where they were saying... It's possible that numbers have been miscalculated, so I don't want to say, hard and fast, this is definitely not the case. But it is certainly not evident from any of the data, that transgender people are murdered at a disproportionate rate right now. And sadly, many of the transgender people who are murdered are black, which places you at a higher risk of homicide in this country, and/or engaging in the commercial sex trade of one form or another, which again places you in a higher risk.

Again, those lives absolutely matter and should be lamented. But they're not evidence that this is a new Jim Crow situation, where transgender people are being murdered in the streets left and right because of being transgender. But it helps me to understand the feeling of righteous anger that the secular ally has when they're wanting to defend transgender people. Because in their minds, the transgender rights movement today is today's civil rights movement.

And those of us, which I hope is all of us, those of us who look back at the civil rights movement and think, "Dear God, how is it possible that Christians were on the wrong side of that?" It's heartbreaking. And those of us who would like to think, that were we back in that situation historically, that we would have been marching on the right side, it's easy then to think, "Okay, what's our battle today?" And for many folks, it's transgender identities. Now, I think the Bible pulls us in very different directions, as I mentioned earlier, when it comes to racial justice, equality, and integration and when it comes to sexual or romantic relationships or identities that take us out of the male/female model that the Bible gives us.

But I think it's important for us to understand, and this is true, honestly on any issue and in any conversation. We're never going to persuade somebody else if we don't actually understand why they believe what they believe, or why they're thinking how they're thinking. And I think as Christians, we need to work hard to understand why we believe what we believe, and make sure that it's biblically based and not just what our parents or grandparents told us, and we haven't measured it against the Scriptures. And we need to work hard to understand why those on the other side of the fence from us believe what they believe, and where the seeds of that righteous anger come from. Otherwise, I think for many Christians today, it's just completely confusing and blindsiding, because we can't see that connective tissue, and I think we need to recognize that it's there.

Rebecca McLaughlin: At the same time, and I'm honestly fascinated to see how this plays out in the coming years, but whereas in some ways the gay rights movement went down relatively easily with secular, liberal folks, the transgender rights movement is a whole nother kettle of fish.

Rebecca McLaughlin: And the two places that it's on a collision course, even with folks who would see themselves as secular liberals: one, when it comes to feminist thinking, and two, when it comes to traditional gay and lesbian thinking. So I mention in my book that J.K. Rowling has been, by many people, canceled because she doesn't want to say that transgender women are women in all the respects that that statement could be true. So for example, whereas she, in expressions which honestly would have been completely normal liberal fare a few years ago, she would say she has no problem with somebody who is biologically male dressing as a woman, using a female name, expecting to engage with others as a woman, in the vast majority of instances. She does think there are certain spaces that should be reserved for women, for example, women's prisons, women's shelters for women fleeing domestic abuse. I think women's sports teams, there's some real controversy around biological males participating in women's sports.

And Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry Potter in the series came out against J.K. Rowling on this and said, "Transgender women are women." That's kind of the shibboleth of the movement right now. You need to be able to say that to be truly on board, and to be truly, I'd say "one of the boys," but that's a slightly unfortunate expression. But the problem is, once you say that a biological male is in every respect able to be as much a woman as I am, we've actually ripped the heart out... We don't know what the word woman means. We've ripped the heart out of the definition of a woman, and all we've really got left is stereotypes.

Collin Hansen: Yeah.

Rebecca McLaughlin: And for years, feminists... And I talk in the book a little about feminism, because I think Christians have to some extent thrown babies out with bathwater when it comes to feminism, and there are things that we as Christians should really affirm in the midst of feminism, and other things that we shouldn't and that we need to think more carefully than we have.

But just on the basic level to say, "Okay, if my female body is not what defines me as a woman, than what does?" Is it having long hair? Is it wearing a skirt? Is it enjoying some things more than other things? We've actually ended up in a situation where, if we affirm cutting-edge transgender thinking, we've taken decades of steps back in terms of giving women in particular, but men as well, girls and boys, the freedom to be male or female in the way that fits them best. We're in a situation where, if you're really, really, really a boy, then you'll dress a certain way, play with trucks and not dolls, etc. If you're really, really, really a girl, you'll do this, and that there's maybe some sort of spectrum of possibilities in between.

I would say, from a Christian perspective actually, I know I'm a woman, however much I may or may not... Frankly, there are many traditionally female things that I don't really jive with. I don't like wearing makeup, I don't enjoy shopping, I'm not into a lot of the traditionally feminine things. I'm just not. That's okay, because there's nothing in the Bible that says that I should be. In fact, God created me with a woman's body. That's what I need to know about the situation. There's something tremendously liberating about that.

Rebecca McLaughlin: But there's the clash with traditional feminists in today's transgender thinking, and there's also interestingly a clash with some traditional gay and lesbian activists, who are saying, number one, they should be allowed to define themselves as same-sex attracted, and not be accused of being transphobic if they're saying, "You know what? I'm actually not attracted to men who identify as women or women who identify as men."

Collin Hansen: We've written on that recently, at The Gospel Coalition.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yeah.

Collin Hansen: And this is the reason for the dramatic uptick in bisexual identity. Because if you're seen as only preferring... If a woman, and only preferring a woman, that's seen as being transphobic.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Well, I'm sure that's part of the story. I think it's also a reality that bisexual people are by far the larges proportion of same-sex attracted people that there are. Just experientially.

Collin Hansen: Sure.

Rebecca McLaughlin: So it may be a more palatable identity, but it's also just crazy-

Collin Hansen: But then that would, correct me if I'm wrong here then, Rebecca, that would also then extend to the removal of the convenient fiction of a fixed preference, for most people.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Oh yeah, yeah. So that, there's a woman called Lisa Diamond, who I wrote about in Confronting Christianity, and I'm quoting again in this book, because she's very interesting. She's a lesbian herself, a professor at the University of Utah who studies sex and psychology in various forms. And she has been writing for a while now and researching sexual fluidity, the reality that people... Some people experience a very fixed pattern of attractions, to where they are only attracted to men or only attracted to women, and that's the story of their whole life. Other people actually experience change over time, and it can go in either direction. So it could be, as a teenager you found yourself very much drawn to people of your same sex, and then later in adulthood you end up being actually comfortably heterosexual. Or it can go in the other direction.

Rebecca McLaughlin: So I don't think that's especially news, but it's news that... I think we're catching up on the news at the moment in that respect. The idea that somebody is just born with a fixed sexual identity or sexual orientation is not the leading thinking now of folks who would identify as gay or lesbian and have real expertise here.

Collin Hansen: Which was a surprise, when somebody in my life identified as transgender and said, "I'm sorry, but you can't say anything about this, because this is a fixed identity." And I thought, "Wait a minute... No." I mean, that's not even what transgender activists are saying today.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Well, some are and some aren't.

Collin Hansen: Right. That's the confusion.

Rebecca McLaughlin: There's a lot of crosstalk, and what I try to do in the book in the chapter on transgender questions is, rather than just high-level summarize things, I tried to quote from specific people and specific organizations and say, "Hey, this is what these folks right now are saying," and I didn't want to misrepresent them, I just want to hear from them right now.

Collin Hansen: Right.

Rebecca McLaughlin: And understand that there is a lot of confusion, because the statement, "Transgender women are women," you can't hold that together with the idea that somebody could have a growing and changing and dynamic sense of their own gender, which also something that is often voiced by folks who advocate for transgender rights.

Collin Hansen: Well, you identified, Rebecca, two of the collisions: feminist collisions, gay-lesbian collisions. I'll add a third one, which is parental rights. That's a whole different deal. It's one thing for your child to grow up and to come out of the closet as gay or lesbian. It's a whole nother thing to be faced with the questions about gender therapies, hormone treatments, sex reassignment surgeries, for pre-teens or teenagers. And of course, in your native UK, that's been the major controversy there as well.

Collin Hansen: And I think it will continue, because you would have thought, "This is just going to sail through." But it ran into that problem, and all of a sudden, NHS is saying, "Wait a minute. Are we doing this? What age, and what sort of consent is required for this?" And also, there is very little understanding of the permanent psychological and biological effects of this.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yeah, yeah. We do need to ask ourselves, if somebody is not old enough to vote, are they old enough to make decisions that will render them permanently infertile, for example? That would mean that they would never be able to breastfeed a baby, if they would have a baby one day. I think there are real causes for concern, even for folks who don't have any other reasons or moral questions, over transgender identity.

I think it's also important for us as Christians, and I try to clarify this in the book, to distinguish between things that Christians shouldn't do themselves, and things that we should spend a lot of time and energy making sure other people don't do.

Collin Hansen: Yeah.

Rebecca McLaughlin: I think there are complex questions there, but somebody, for example, could strongly believe what the Bible says about sexual ethics and say that a Christian should only have sex with somebody they're married to who is of the opposite sex. And at the same time, they could say, "Yeah, I think that non-Christians who are in gay marriages should have legal protections."

Collin Hansen: Right.

Rebecca McLaughlin: And I think sometimes we've smooshed these things completely together. And what I'm often saying to my kids is, "Hey, Jesus's people should live differently from people who are not following Jesus." And we shouldn't expect or impose or enforce Christian ethics on folks outside the church in a broad-brush kind of way. Sometimes we should. I'm not saying in every... To some extent, as we touched on earlier, all ethics ultimately are going to spring [crosstalk 00:55:16] from one source or another. And I think Christianity is the foundation ultimately for much of our legal system, so I'm not saying it has nothing to do with the laws.

But I think also it's important for us to distinguish between, "Hey, it's vital for me to live this way under Jesus, to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to live a certain way under Jesus," but it doesn't necessarily mean it's vital for me to fight to make sure that nobody else lives in that way. I may often be in a more faithful position if I'm showing love to people outside the church who have made choices that Christians shouldn't make and inviting them to consider Jesus.

Collin Hansen: I think, Rebecca, if I understand you correctly, and understand this book, which I'm excited about, I think people can tell that, is that, if you see this sign in your neighbor's yard, it's probably not an invitation to egg the house, or to go over and start screaming about politics, or debating about gay marriage, as an example. It's an invitation...

I see it as a huge "Evangelize me" sign in the neighbor's yard. Because these are people who are thinking about important and ultimate things, and they're willing to stand publicly for what they believe in. Which means, to me, they may be willing to answer some questions that I might have. And as you and I know, Rebecca, from evangelizing, one of the best ways to initiate an evangelistic conversation with somebody is to simply ask them questions about what they believe. That's the most natural place to be able to start. And rare is the person for whom you would do that, who would not then think, "Oh, why is this person asking me these questions? I wonder what this person thinks." It's an invitation to dialogue. It keeps the conversation going. So at least as I understand your book, that's the spirit in which it's written.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yeah, and I think that often, as Christians, seeing signs like that, we tend to go one of two ways. We'll either look at the sign and think, "Well, that sign includes some things that I know the Bible doesn't affirm, and so I want to knock it down. I want to get out my hammer and I want to swing it," not necessarily literally, but at least in terms of my thinking and how I want to raise my kids and how I want to engage my neighbors. "All of this has got to go, because some of it, I can see, doesn't fit with the Scriptures."

And there will be other folks who will look at a sign like that and think, "Okay, I'm deeply aware of the history of injustice toward black Americans and the ways in which Christians, like white Christians, have been tragically complicit in that, and I've been told that this is all a package deal together, that if I affirm that black lives matter, then I also must affirm that love is love and that transgender identities are as valid as any other, and that abortion is every woman's right." Like all of these things hang together, and so I can't pick and choose from this menu of potential beliefs.

And I actually think both of those fall massively short of what the Bible calls us to. I think instead we need to get our ideological Sharpies out and think, "Okay, let's look at each of these issues on its own terms, and understand what Christians do and don't affirm within this," so that we're then in a position to disentangle it, both in our own minds and in conversation with friends. And I think, honestly, if we're not willing to acknowledge and affirm and repent of the ways in which, at least for those of us, like me, who are white evangelicals, the ways in which our theological forebears have massively sinned when it comes to race, I don't think anyone should really listen to us about anything else. I think actually that's a place where progressive folk are right.

But just as the way that we become Christians in the first place is to repent of our sin, I don't think it should disturb us, if we find ourselves needing to repent of our sin. In fact, if we're going to our non-Christian friends and saying, "Hey, you have a whole lot of sin to repent of," and I'm not willing to repent of my own sin or the sin of my sort of tribe, what kind of witness is that? It's certainly not what the Bible calls us to.

I love how Paul in his first letter to Timothy, right after talking about gay relationships as being something that is against God's law, along with a whole bunch of other things that he was saying were against God's law, he says, "This is a trustworthy saying, worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." If we don't go into every conversation, about those yard signs or anything else, knowing that we are the worst sinner we know, most probably, I don't think we've barely grasped the gospel for ourselves. So why would we think that we can share it with anybody else?

Collin Hansen: Hmm. If you're discipling teenagers, especially juniors and seniors in high school, get this book. If you're doing college ministry, get this book. If you're discipling young adults, get this book. I think Rebecca's given you a good example of what the problem is for a lot of young people, who are trying to work through what they're learning about the hypocrisy of many previous generations of Christians, including our own as well. On top of all of the different messages they're hearing, especially on sexual issues, that are contrary to what they've been learning from their families as Christians and their churches. This challenge, of disentangling these forms of diversity, I think is one of the most urgent discipleship challenges for young people today.

And I think you guys have gotten a glimpse on Gospelbound today of the kind of conversations Rebecca and I have fairly often. As editor and publisher and author, I have the privilege of being able to hear these ideas from Rebecca and learn from Rebecca as I have here, as I have for years, and to be able to share them with others. So I encourage everybody to check out The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims. You can pick it up at The Gospel Coalition, from our store, store.thegospelcoalition.org as well as everywhere else you're going to find those books.

Rebecca, I've got three quick questions for you here in the end, okay? All right, where do you find calm in this storm, Rebecca?

Rebecca McLaughlin: Oh, well, Jesus obviously. It's so nice to have, and I truly prize this and thank God for it. I have a handful of people in my life, of whom my husband is one but not the only one, I think that's important, who know me and love me, who know the most embarrassing, shameful secrets that I have and love me still. And who, when I completely bomb in the public square, or get canceled by every possible platform, will still love me and still be here. And I find that immensely calming and comforting, in all storms. I have Jesus and I have his arms around me, and the arms of a handful of people I'm really close to.

Collin Hansen: I love that, Rebecca. And also, because you know we're all going to get canceled at some point, so it's just inevitable, it seems. Might as well prepare for it now, we never know.

Collin Hansen: Where do you find good news today, Rebecca?

Rebecca McLaughlin: I'm a complete optimist, so I do see hope in all sorts of situations, and in particular, I see hope in the fact that black Americans and immigrants from places not like Europe, actually, are preaching the gospel loud in this country today. Sometimes I have to remind people that immigration isn't eroding America's Christian heritage, it's actually a blood transfusion for the American church. And the kind of immigrant you want, that you pray would come to your country, is actually not a white European like me. Because there's a small chance they'll bring the gospel with them like I did. But you actually, you're much better off with folks from Latin America and from Africa, and increasingly from China. And if people are coming here and not bringing Jesus with them, that's also great news, because it means that we can share the gospel with them. So I find hope in what God's doing in his multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural church.

Collin Hansen: I love that, Rebecca. Last question for you, what's the last great book you've read?

Rebecca McLaughlin: I've almost finished reading Homegoing.

Collin Hansen: Oh. Was this your first time?

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yeah, oh so that's a book you love as well? Yeah, no, well I read Transcendent Kingdom first.

Collin Hansen: Oh, Homegoing is so much better, I think. What did you think?

Rebecca McLaughlin: I'm not sure I can say, actually.

Collin Hansen: They are very different.

Rebecca McLaughlin: I found both of them really moving and challenging and fascinating and heartbreaking. And I think especially, there's a chapter in Homegoing where you see life through the eyes of an enslaved woman who is assigned an enslaved husband who was brought fresh from Africa, doesn't speak English yet. They develop an unlikely love between them, and they get pregnant with a little boy. I'm going to spoil this chapter, but maybe it will be a taster for folks who haven't read it and need to.

They then decide to try and escape for the sake of their son, actually. And while they're trying to escape, they realize that they're going to be caught. And so they give their son to the woman who's helping them escape, and you can't even think about it without tears. And he gets out and they don't. And when they get back, she is beaten within an inch of her life, and then forced to watch her husband hanged. And that is some of the history that we must recognize and lament, if we are followers of Jesus.

Collin Hansen: Wow. I've commended that book so many times, and for the reasons... When you were just starting to talk about that, I started to get chills. You start crying. That's the kind of book that it is, which has got to be one of the... Of course, Yya Gyasi comes out of Alabama, I mean it's where she grew up. She of course comes from an immigrant family, but grew up here in Alabama. Seven-figure advance for that book, and now you can know why.

I've not read anything more helpful, getting the full scope of racial, African-American history especially. And it's so helpful, because so much of it is related to the UK and their role, but also the United States, the American South, but also New York City. And the whole book defies any simple, clean-cut narrative that anybody brings to the table on racial discussions.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yeah, and then Transcendent Kingdom, the reason I loved that book so much, or part of it, was the wistfulness that the main character voices about the loss of Christian faith.

Rebecca McLaughlin: And that she had that desire... Both books I think show how Christianity has been a lifeline for black Americans for centuries and for decades. And how poignant that is, and how heartbreaking it is to see somebody like the main character in Transcendent Kingdom, who can't be a million miles away from Yya Gyasi in some respects, personally and biographically, feeling like they have to abandon Christianity, but actually not being satisfied with any alternative.

Collin Hansen: Now we're going to do a whole separate podcast just on these two books. But you gave language, Rebecca, to what I have been struggling to understand. Because I've been trying to understand the author's perspective, because she's not writing as a Christian, I don't think. It does not seem to be that she is writing as a Christian. She seems to be writing as somebody who was raised Christian, at some level. I think I've seen from her biographer, her dad was not a Christian, if I remember correctly. I could be wrong on this, so somebody can correct me out there on this.

Collin Hansen: But you're right, the wistfulness, because in the end, it's the mother-daughter relationship in Transcendent Kingdom. The mother, who is working through all this tragedy, by her faith, in a white church, a white Southern gospel church, and the daughter is just disconnected with that. And then Homegoing, I find a parallel there in the mother, whose son is lost to drugs in New York. Same thing, holding on to that last thread of hope through Christ, while her family just disintegrates around her. And it's real, to what real people are going through. And it talks about that dynamic of faith, especially within the African-American communities, that I'm peering in on, and just very gripped by that faith that sustains but that is hard to sustain in an atmosphere of ongoing suffering and oppression and just a legacy of, at best, confusion, at the relationship between Africans and Christianity. Did I summarize some of that?

Rebecca McLaughlin: Yeah, I think the hard-to-sustain bit is where I have a question mark, because I think you see some people going the way of Yya Gyasi's main character in Transcendent Kingdom, saying that when she lost her brother to opioid addition, she also lost her faith in God. But then I think you see other people in the midst of the most terrible suffering, who... I wrote about Fannie Lou Hamer recently in a chapter in a book, and the faith, the unrelenting Christian faith of someone who has been brutalized by white people who named the name of Christ, but who think that because she is black, she had it coming, or whatever it was twisted thinking they had. Her trying to witness to the jailer's wife, after she's been brutally beaten in jail, you think, "Jesus must be true, when you see people in her position clinging on to him so hard."

Collin Hansen: Amen. I love that optimist part in you, Rebecca. I've always appreciated how you and I can talk about hard, complex things. We can disagree about things, we can argue through those sort of things, but I'm always encouraged, I always learn, and you always bring that hopeful perspective in the risen Christ. And I think that's why so many people connect with your books. So check out The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims. Obviously, Rebecca's got two other books out as well, Confronting Christianity and then of course also a youth version of that, that's just come out as well. What's that one called again, Rebecca?

Rebecca McLaughlin: Ten Questions Every Teen Should Ask [and Answer] about Christianity.

Collin Hansen: All right.

Rebecca McLaughlin: I think the book is better than the title.

Collin Hansen: Well, again, I've been privileged to read, and to help to edit, and even in some ways, by your kindness, to help shape your books, and that's a great privilege of my career. So Rebecca, again, thanks for joining me on Gospelbound.

Rebecca McLaughlin: Thank you, Collin.