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Transgender tide

A professor at the University of Louisville says he lost his job for advising parents to help their children embrace their birth sex

A little over two years ago, I wrote an article about the growing push to affirm transgenderism in children and teenagers. National Geographic had just published an issue praising the movement, and featured a cover photo of a 9-year-old boy dressed like a girl.

Ken Zucker, a secular psychologist in Canada, had recently lost his longtime position at a mental health center in Toronto for suggesting parents should try to help confused children become secure with their birth sex.

During that time, I spoke with Allan Josephson, a professor and psychiatrist at the University of Louisville, who offers similar counsel. He told me Zucker’s firing had been “an incredibly sobering experience for many professionals to see.” Many realized: “If that could happen to him, perhaps it could happen to me.”

Two years later, Josephson says it’s no longer a hypothetical scenario.

On March 28, attorneys for the legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Louisville on behalf of Josephson. They say the school effectively fired the professor over his once-mainstream views.

The turmoil began in November 2017, when Josephson spoke on a panel at the Heritage Foundation about gender dysphoria and children. By then, Josephson had been chairing the university’s division of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychology for nearly 15 years.

During the Heritage panel, Josephson said the notion that gender identity should trump biological reality when classifying individuals is “counter to medical science.” He said parents should listen to their children with empathy and then “use their collective wisdom in guiding their child to align with his or her biological sex.”

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Image from video

Jordan Peterson (right) speaks with David Nasser at the March 29 Liberty convocation. (Image from video)

Whirled Views

Law of Liberty

A moving display of law and gospel punctuates Jordan Peterson’s visit to Liberty University

During a remarkable convocation service at Liberty University on March 29, psychologist and best-selling author Jordan Peterson unexpectedly encountered the desperation of someone who wanted to change his life, but who seemed lost to know how to begin.

As Peterson talked with Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. and spiritual director David Nasser about his book 12 Rules for Life, a man attending as a visitor rushed the stage with a pleading cry: “I need help! I just wanted to meet you. I’m unwell. I want to be well.”

Security escorted the man offstage—and, one hopes, to some form of help—but his plea seemed to hang in the air after his cries faded away: “I want to be well.” 

Those words should pierce the heart of any Christian who understands Jesus is the only one who can make broken people well. 

But those words seemed to pierce Peterson too. The Jungian psychologist doesn’t embrace saving faith in Christ, but he does squarely face the brutal reality of suffering in the world. 

The no-nonsense, fatherly admonitions he offers for facing suffering and taking responsibility have captivated throngs of readers and followers on YouTube. 

Many have become interested in Christianity because of Peterson’s secular wrestling with spiritual truths. 

But in this moment at Liberty in Lynchburg, Va., Peterson seemed to feel the weight of those who have come to look to him as a kind of savior, perhaps because he offers wisdom that resonates but doesn’t always satisfy. When Nasser later asked Peterson how he could pray for him, Peterson teared up. He said he doesn’t want to pay “an undue price” for the mistakes he knows he will make as he continues to try to go good in the world. 

It’s impossible to read someone’s mind or heart, but Peterson almost seemed to be saying: “I want to be well.”

The encounter caused me to think about a visit that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., made to Liberty during the 2016 presidential campaign. Sanders was respectful to the students, and the students respectfully received him. But after the student body sang a version of the Apostles’ Creed that proclaimed the school’s Christian beliefs, Sanders answered during his opening remarks: “I believe …” in abortion and gay marriage.

Sanders was respectful, but defiant. Peterson was respectful, but distressed.

Nasser, the spiritual director, applied the only balm suitable for Peterson’s wound: As he prayed for him, he asked God to reveal Christ to Peterson—not just as a great and noble man, but as a Savior for his soul. 

(And Nasser earlier told the students that Peterson’s 12 rules have great wisdom, but “they all stop short without the Ruler.”)

The man who rushed the stage reminds us of a blind man in the New Testament who cried out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Peterson reminds us of the rich young ruler who seemed to be genuinely interested in Christ—even moved by Him—but unwilling just yet to give up what he thought made him rich. In the young ruler’s case it was money, but in Peterson’s case it might be his own wisdom. 

The New Testament reminds us of Christ’s posture toward the rich young ruler, who was seeking Him but not fully ready to follow Him: “Looking at him, Jesus loved him.”

It’s a love most worthy of imitation by Christians living in a world full of broken people not yet yielding to the only one who can atone for their sin. We bear the good news of the gospel: Christ can make you well.

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Whirled Views

Words to the wise

Christian journalism—and Christian conversation—can sometimes be painful, but Proverbs offers a template for words that heal

One of the most memorable emails I’ve received in my work as a journalist was from someone unhappy about a story I wrote on climate change. The reader was blunt. “I can’t decide,” he wrote, “whether you’re evil—or an idiot.” 

I confess I was more amused than angered by this email. And we ended up having a cordial exchange when I responded to the reader’s concerns. In the end, he told me he had decided I wasn’t evil—probably just an idiot—but only in the classic sense of the word, which means “uninformed.”

Like most other writers, I’ve received plenty of barbs over the years. Many are more saddening than amusing. Recently, I wrote a story about the tragedy of parents and doctors pushing conflicted teenagers toward transgenderism. An activist declared on Twitter that I was “a cancer on society.” I found myself grieving for this person rather than grumbling at the insult. 

It isn’t news that our public rhetoric is filled with toxic words. But what makes words toxic? I’d submit it isn’t just because words might be critical or controversial. Criticism is often necessary, and controversy is often inevitable. No, words become toxic when their primary goal is to hurt for the sake of hurting. 

Non-Christians aren’t alone in this. Indeed, as Christians we are sometimes masters at this sinful art, both in public and in private. How can we check that impulse? In my writing, I often think of Proverbs 12:18 as a grid for choosing my words. The verse says: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

So this is a good test: With the words I choose, is my goal to hurt or to heal? Either way, the words might still be painful. A sword thrust usually wounds or destroys. But a scalpel often lances a wound in order to heal it. In the moments when I must use words that might hurt or offend for the sake of truth, I should still ask: Am I using a sword or a scalpel? Am I seeking to land a blow or to speak in a way that promotes healing by pointing to the truth?

I often fail this test, and I’m sure I fail more in private than in public. Why do we so often fail with the people we know best or love most? We sometimes push each other’s buttons like a thousand little sword thrusts—not usually aimed at seriously injuring, but also not terribly concerned about unnecessarily wounding. 

During a sermon series on the book of James, my pastor offered three helpful questions for deciding what to say to or about each other: “Is it true? Is it loving? Is it necessary?” 

All of this takes wisdom, since the truth does sometimes hurt. And thankfully there is also grace for our failures. The Apostle Peter recognized this when he pledged his allegiance to Christ after Jesus shared hard words of His own. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter asked. “You have the words of eternal life.”

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