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Culture Q&A

Nancy Pearcey

Design and identity

Reclaiming a high view of male and female sexuality 

Design and identity

Nancy Pearcey (Steve Gonzales/Genesis)

Nancy Pearcey’s new book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, helps us understand how to respond when a Wisconsin resident born male becomes a high-school prom queen and a Missouri resident born female sues a school district. Pearcey is a professor at Houston Baptist University and the author of Total Truth and other books.

Please take us through the process by which homosexuality and transgenderism became prominent in American culture. Let’s start with an important thing you learned from Francis Schaeffer when you were a student at L’Abri in Switzerland. I learned that the concept of truth has been divided. He illustrated that using the metaphor of two stories in a building. After the rise of modern science, many people concluded that the only valid form of knowledge is science. That’s the lower story: objective facts. Morality and theology were reduced to matters of personal, private, subjective opinion. That’s the upper story, where people say, “That can be true for you but not true for me.” In secular academia, this division is called the fact/value split, and in Total Truth, I showed how it is the main barrier to communicating Christian principles: People don’t even realize you are making objective truth claims. In Love Thy Body, I show how the same split underlies today’s cutting-edge moral issues.

How does that also reflect the secular-sacred split? Tragically, many people have essentially a “Christianized” version of the fact/value split. They treat things like church, Bible study, and prayer as more important (upper story), but don’t know how to bring a holistic Biblical perspective to their jobs, professions, politics, and the rest of life (lower story). One of my grad students said, “I was always taught ‘spirit = good; body = bad.’”

‘Nature has an order, a plan, a purpose, a design. And we are happier and healthier when we live in accord with that design.’

Postmodernists also emphasize the upper story? Postmodernism basically says: Why should I take my identity from my body? What matters is my mind, feelings, desires, choices. This is at the core of arguments for homosexuality. Nobody really denies that on the level of biology, physiology, and anatomy, males and females are counterparts to one another. That’s how the human sexual and reproductive system is designed. So when a person embraces a same-sex identity, they are essentially saying, “Why should my body inform my identity? Why should my biological sex as male or female have any voice in my moral decisions?” This is a profoundly disrespectful view of the body. It gives us an opportunity to go beyond a negative message—“It’s wrong. Don’t do it”—and craft a positive message based on a higher view of the dignity and value of the body.

Christians have been attacked for having a low view of the body, but you’re proposing a high view. It’s widely accepted today that if someone feels an opposition between mind and body, it’s the mind that wins. But why accept such a demeaning view of the body? This is even easier to see in transgenderism: The transgender narrative says your gender identity has nothing to do with your biological sex. A BBC documentary says at the core of the debate is the idea that your mind “can be at war with your body”—that you can be trapped in the wrong body. A recent book by a Princeton professor gives a philosophical defense of transgenderism, yet admits that it involves “disconnect,” “disjunction,” “self-alienation,” and “self-estrangement.” Kids down to kindergarten are being taught that their body has nothing to do with who they are. We need to communicate compassion for people trapped in a dehumanizing, self-alienating, self-estranging view of the human being.

The homosexual rights movement has emphasized biological determinism. How is that changing? The cutting-edge view is sexual fluidity. Psychologist Lisa Diamond, who identifies as lesbian, found that 40 percent of homosexuals and 42 percent of lesbians reported sexual attraction to the opposite sex in the previous year. She also found that about 80 percent of people who came out as homosexual have changed their sexual identity label at least once—to heterosexual, bisexual, queer, or “unlabeled.”

Many people think a secular ethic puts too much value on sex. In reality it places too little value on sex. The hook-up script says sex can be completely physical, without any hint of love or commitment. Rolling Stone magazine quoted a young man who said sex is just “a piece of body touching another piece of body. [It is] existentially meaningless.” The hook-up culture treats humans as purely physical organisms, driven by purely physical urges. No wonder it is leaving a trail of wounded people. They’re trying to live out a worldview that does not fit who we are.

How do we fight the dominant secular view? Every ethic depends on a view of nature. Once you accept the notion that nature is a product of blind material forces, logically you end up with a low view of the body. The implication is that the body has no intrinsic purpose, and therefore the mind can use it for its own purposes. The outspoken lesbian Camille Paglia defends homosexuality in just those terms. She acknowledges that nature made humans a sexually reproducing species, but then asks, why not “defy” nature? “Fate, not God, has given us this flesh. We have absolute claim to our bodies and may do with them as we see fit.” In other words, if our bodies are products of undirected material forces, they convey no moral message, they give no clue to our identity.

To fight the secular ethic, we have to recover a teleological view of nature, from the Greek word telos, which means goal or purpose. It’s evident to observation that living things are structured for a purpose, that eyes are for seeing, ears are for hearing, fins are for swimming, and wings are for flying. The smoking gun is DNA: Every cell in the body is governed by a genetic code, which is language and information. Our bodies are not raw material that we can use “as we see fit.” Nature has an order, a plan, a purpose, a design. And we are happier and healthier when we live in accord with that design—when our biological sex, gender identity, and sexual desire are in harmony.

Love Thy Body includes several personal stories of change. A young man named Sean was exclusively attracted to other men, but today he’s married and has three kids. What changed? Sean said, “I stopped regarding my sexual desires as who I was and started regarding my body as who I was. Instead of trying to change my feelings, I accepted what I had, namely a male body, as a good gift from God.”

You quote Sean saying, “I came to think my feelings relatively superficial in comparison to my physical identity.” That’s revolutionary in our culture where feelings are so dominant. I recently read an interview with a 14-year-old girl who lived as a trans boy for three years, from age 11, then detransitioned to reclaim her identity as a girl. She said the turning point came when she learned that it’s OK “to love your body.”


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  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Thu, 05/24/2018 08:01 am

    Excellent thoughts and insights! These go beyond the immediate context of sexual identity in regards to viewing life teleologically. I would not expect anything less from someone who studies under Schaeffer at L'Abri! And listened!!

    It seems to me to think teleologically and to keep epistemology in the forefront of our minds (how do we know what we know) are critical issues that are reshaped and redefined in our post modern age. We need to get back to these basics and not let our latest cultural fads reshape, redefine, who we are in God's image. There are deep practical implications to all of this as this fine interview points out. And beyond...


  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Tue, 05/29/2018 06:51 pm

    I am reading Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey which argues that Christians should not be intimidated to speak the whole truth.  The fact/value split relegates the Christian worldview to to the same subjective space as those who reject the reality of their own bodies.  Christians should be emboldened to stand on the side of God and science to a world that prides itself on rejecting the obvious.