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Culture Q&A

Stephen Baskerville

Connecting the dots

Assessing the interaction of adultery, no-fault divorce, LGBTQ trends, poverty, and church surrender 

Connecting the dots

Stephen Baskerville (Mike Kepka/Genesis Photos)

Patrick Henry College professor Stephen Baskerville is the author of Not Peace But a Sword: The Political Theology of the English Revolution. His most recent book, The New Politics of Sex: The Sexual Revolution, Civil Liberties, and the Growth of Governmental Power, brings a sword to some current debates. Here are edited excerpts of our interview.

Should we mourn the abandonment of that old-fashioned word, fornication? Many churches are deserting their posts, and language is an indication. Even from the pulpit today, let alone in public policy, we don’t hear words like fornication, adultery, cohabitation, even sin. We hear words like misogyny, sexism, sexual harassment. We’ve substituted legal jargon for Christian morality and have allowed political ideology to replace Christian sexual morality. Instead of emphasizing families, pastors, churches, and local communities—moral pressure—we’re bringing in police, judges, and lawyers, the instruments of the coercive state to enforce a new kind of sexual morality dictated by the government.

As Christians and non-Christians approach the elephant, does one group fixate on the long trunk and the other on its massive legs? Christians deal with homosexuality and transgenderism. Non-Christians emphasize issues like campus rape, Harvey Weinstein, allegations. Christians tend to stay away from those. They often don’t talk to each other and don’t see the bigger picture of what’s going on.

In The New Politics of Sex you connect the dots. Our multifaceted sexual revolution has had a huge impact on our society, but scholars, journalists, Christians, and our clergy have not shown the interconnections. Cohabitation didn’t come purely from the culture. It also came from public policy changes like the creation of the welfare state that offered a very clear financial incentive to have children out of wedlock.

‘Virtually all the poverty in democratic countries is the result of family structure. Many churches now emphasize relieving the poor but not building strong family structure.’

It’s almost 50 years since no-fault divorce began in California with a bill signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan. How did that eventually lead to changing ideas about same-sex marriage? It abolished marriage as a legally enforceable contract. The state was saying it can dissolve your marriage over your objections without you having done anything wrong. From then on marriage retained its moral power but was no longer legally enforceable.

That also had an effect on the homosexuality debate? Same-sex marriage activists said, “If you want to go back to the monogamous, legally enforceable marriage of the 1950s, go ahead, and we’ll stay out of it.” Only when marriage became serial monogamy, something you could get out of easily, did it fit the promiscuous lifestyle of many homosexuals.

Were churches sleeping when no-fault divorce emerged? Some churches did raise their voices, but much of their attention was diverted at the time by Vietnam and civil rights. There was very little debate, very little discussion. No-fault divorce, the welfare state, and the cohabitation explosion were all usurpations of the church’s role by the state. Governmental power was inserted into a realm of private life that had been the realm of the churches.

The churches withdrew from private life? And the state moved in. What had been the role of pastors and priests became the role of lawyers, judges, and social workers. The church has never tried to reclaim its turf, and has been a major contributor of secularization, of people feeling the church is not part of their life when it’s not enforcing the marriage contract.

What can be done now? The church has got to step in. Much of the history of the Christian church has been brave churchmen speaking out when the state overreaches its authority. This whole area of sexual morality is, frankly, our turf and God’s turf. The state has a role but is overstepping.

Pastors sometimes do counseling. It’s common when there’s a divorce case that the man often loses access to his children. He goes to the pastor and says, “Look, you married us. Don’t you have something to say about this?” And the pastor says, “I’ll certainly pray for you, and I can help you find a lawyer.” That’s about it.

Why do many Christians talk more about the effects of homosexuality than the effects of single-parent homes? The most destructive trend in our society is raising children without fathers, yet it’s being promoted as a good thing. … The consequences of single-parent homes and unwed childbearing are much more severe than the problems caused by homosexuality. Most of our domestic budget goes to solving problems created by the fatherless.

How many people promote single-parenting as a good thing? Look at an organization called Single Mothers by Choice, or the spate of books with titles like Raising Boys Without Men. Promoting single parenthood as an empowering move is destructive, and the next logical step is raising children by homosexual couples. These different aspects of the sexual revolution feed upon and exacerbate one another.

What ideology are churches up against? The first claim is for unlimited freedom, but there’s also a corollary to that—and we’re starting to see now the authoritarian side to it. Civil liberty violations in the name of sexual freedom, both feminist and homosexualist, are growing. This is much more than just a problem for Christians. It’s a problem, a crisis, for our society as a whole.

Churches and pastors feel enormous pressure. There’s a feeling that the churches have only two choices, either to present a dogmatic Biblical view or to surrender. Churches should combine compassion with Biblical principles and find ways to show homosexuals that God loves them and the church loves them, but at the same time they’re embarked on a very destructive lifestyle and our society is also making destructive choices. We need to be assertive on both of those courts.

Can we apply some lessons from history and sociology? The Puritans emphasized family, and that led to periods of enormous prosperity, political freedom, and social stability. Truncated relationships open the child to hypermasculinity and gangs. We have an epidemic of fatherlessness in our society: How many of those children are developing same-sex attractions because they don’t have a healthy male to identify with?

You also point out the poverty-fighting aspect of this. Churches have always preached relief for the poor. It’s an absolute Christian imperative. Virtually all the poverty in democratic countries is the result of family structure. We don’t have starving children walking around with distended bellies: The people we call the poor in America are poor mostly because of family structure—single-parent homes, for the most part. Christian missionaries fed the poor, but they also taught them morality, including sexual morality: Have children when you’re married, and stay married. Many churches now emphasize relieving the poor but not building strong family structure.

The Puritans emphasized both. The purity in Puritanism was not just sexual purity but purity in things like alcohol, drugs, lust, evil thoughts. Purity is the beginning of what makes us free. In the English-speaking world, it’s what makes us citizens, with purity the rite of passage to be an active citizen: When you’re wallowing in sin and license, you’re literally enslaved, in hock to the devil. You’re only truly free when you have control of yourself.

We need to recapture that understanding? Our rivals in the Islamic world understand this keenly. I obviously don’t agree with their answer to the problem, but they understand that dialectic between purity and freedom, and they’re playing on it. In contending with radical Islamists we need to recapture that element of our political history and our political culture.

Comments

  •  John Cogan's picture
    John Cogan
    Posted: Thu, 02/28/2019 10:19 pm

    Is it even possible to put the sexual revolution genie back in the bottle before Western civilization is destroyed by it?

  • Bob R
    Posted: Wed, 03/06/2019 01:57 pm

    John,

      I doubt that it's possible for US to do so, however, if you look at our history, you can see where such a "correction" has happened before.  The 1920's were referred to as the "Roaring Twenties" because of the moral decadence not unlike to what we are witnessing today.  God intervened by providing a Great Depression for us, that caused such pain and suffering that it drove many back to Him. 

    If you review the films from both eras, you'll detect a decided moral shift; movies from the twenties were so decadent that they led to creation of the Motion Picture Production Code, setting moral restrictions on what Hollywood was permitted to produceThe movies from the thirties, on the other had, often include biblical references that the audiences were very familiar with. 

    The depression also prepared Americans psychologically and spiritually to be able make sacrifices for their country during World War Two, similar to what they had been doing for their families.

    So, long answer to a short question, we can’t; God CAN!  And given our mad rush toward fiscal insanity (Green New Deal, Medicare for All, trillions of dollars of unfunded mandates already on the books), it would seem that a Greater Depression (one that will dwarf the “Great Depression”) is inevitable.  Add to that the military build ups and technical advances in military hardware by China and Russia, and it’s not unlikely that the thirties and forties will soon be repeated, though on a colossal scale! 

    One final frightening thought; in the thirties, most people lived in a rural setting, where food could be grown to help limit the degree of starvation, though there was considerable hunger in the cities.  Also, people had a basic understanding of right and wrong.  Today, a far higher percentage of people live in cities, where authorities estimate there are about three days’ worth of food available.  And I think it’s not a stretch to say our moral climate today is not conducive to the kind of neighborly help provided during the Depression.

     

  •  phillipW's picture
    phillipW
    Posted: Wed, 03/06/2019 09:54 am

    You didn't even mention what I consider Baskerville's greatest work, "Taken Into Custody."  His research into how the family courts are destroying men was compelling reading.  It's a total shame that Baskerville's work and words fall on deaf ears.  I went through a divorce, and had a brother go through several divorces, and I sent him Baskerville's book, because it is the only way to fight this demon that is killing (literally) men and fathers.

    So much else to touch on here, but the main thing is that all we ever talk about is how bad abortion is, but we never discuss the CAUSE of abortion, which is fornication, and adultery.  I totally agree that the church is completely worthless with regards to even discussing these topics, mostly because most everyone sitting in the pews is guilty of these two things.

    Look, to be totally transparent, I am no saint in this category either, as I fooled around prior to my first marriage.  But part of that was ignorance of the truth, and there wasn't a church, preacher, or adult figure in my life that had the courage to tell me that what I was doing was a sin and was wrong.  But what advice did I get, beyond the silence from the church on this?  My father simply said, "wear a raincoat."  I mean, come on.

  •  JEFF's picture
    JEFF
    Posted: Fri, 03/15/2019 08:43 am

    Materialism, covetousness, envy and greed also hurt our children and the poor. With families thinking they need two incomes children go unsupervised. Organizations and associations which cared for the poor have shriveled away. And so the family has ceded our children and the poor to the government.