Most celebrity feuds are meaningless, but Ellen Page’s attacks on Chris Pratt are an exception. Page is angry about Pratt’s Christian beliefs—or at least the Christian beliefs she imputed to him based on his church attendance.
She tweeted that “his church is infamously anti lgbtq” and later elaborated that it is “an organization that hates a certain group of people…Being anti LGBTQ is wrong, there aren’t two sides. The damage it causes is severe.” No evidence of animus was offered, except that Pratt’s church appears to gently, almost apologetically, adhere to traditional Christian teachings on sexual morality.
Nor is it clear that Pratt agrees with those doctrines (his response suggests he does not, or is at least wishy-washy). Nonetheless, his attendance at a church that upholds Christian teaching was reason enough for people to condemn him on the grounds that Christianity is bigotry. Welcome to Hollywood today: are you now or have you ever been a member of an orthodox Christian congregation?
No, Christianity Isn’t Comparable to Racism
This anti-Christian animus is also exemplified by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who recently asserted that the lesson of Virginia Democrats’ scandals is that Mike Pence should resign. Cohen—clever man, to detect reasons for Republican resignations in Democrats’ wrongdoing—spent much of his column comparing Christian sexual morality to racism, a trope that has become progressive dogma.
However, there is a contradiction within the claim that Christian opposition to same-sex sexual relations is rooted in hatred comparable to racial animus. Those who championed slavery and segregation engaged in racial essentialism, asserting that race is the immutable core and essence of human identity. In contrast, Christians do not claim that sexual desire is the immutable core or essence of identity. Indeed, we deny that people are necessarily defined by sexual identity.
The essentialism is coming from inside the LGBT movement. LBGT advocates and allies insist that same-sex attraction is inseparable from a person’s authentic self. Christians insist that sexual desire is not an essential aspect of our authentic selves and therefore need not define a person.
Christian teaching distinguishes between desire, action, and identity. We need not be slaves to our physical desires, but can act and identify with what is higher in reason and spirit. Christian sexual ethics is an example of this, as it confines all indulgence of sexual desire to within the union of husband and wife. That this may be an especially difficult task for those with strong same-sex attractions does not make it a teaching of hatred, a truth attested to by the many Christians living chaste lives despite same-sex attraction.
We believe that people find their true identities not through physical desires, which are often sinful, but as children of God through Christ Jesus. Our opposition to identities that are based on earthly desire is a message of liberation, not hate. Of course, non-Christians may disagree with this. But it is dishonest to pretend that these distinctions of Christian moral teaching and theology do not exist.
Does Your Desire Define You?
Page and Cohen beg the question when they accuse Christian morality of being hateful, for Christian doctrine puts into question precisely that which is assumed by the charge of hate—that we are defined by our earthly desires. This refusal to acknowledge the Christian perspective is commonplace, and it does not seem to be only a matter of preserving convenient talking points and claims of victimhood. Rather, many in our culture really believe that desire, especially sexual desire, defines us.
The view that reason is the slave of the passions has supplanted the philosophic and Christian view that desire is to be restrained and reshaped by reason (and, for the Christian, revelation). The conflicts between these views are especially contentious with regard to sexual mores because of the strength of the sex drive and because, as Malcom Muggeridge observed, “Sex is the only mysticism materialism offers.”
Consequently, our culture treats sexual pleasure as the highest human good, and views inhibiting it as an act of malice. If desire is the most authentic, true self, then to label desire as wrong is to reject someone entirely.
The Goal Isn’t Dialogue, But Prejudiced Censure
There is an obvious difficulty to this viewpoint—surely some desires, including sexual desires, are wrong? There are, of course, responses to this point (likely focused on issues of consent and harm), and responses to the responses. But those denouncing Christians as bigots hope to avoid serious discussion regarding sexual ethics. As Page put it, “there aren’t two sides.” Thus, their goal is not dialogue, but censure based on cultural prejudice.
They may succeed. Page, Cohen and their side may drive Pence, Pratt, and the rest of us out of the public square and into obscurity if we do not recant. But winning will not make them any happier. Bullying Pratt into renouncing his church and its creed will not make Page happy.
Identities built on desire and appetite will never be at peace, and will only become more dissatisfied when others seem to be happy. Envy and avarice are easily aroused by our glut of social media and advertisements, and at best there is temporary satiation for them. But this does not last long, nor does it alleviate the general sense of discontent.
Nor will it reduce injustice. When people define themselves by desire, they define others according to how they can satisfy desire. Thus, in the strongholds of social justice, such as Hollywood and academia, people are objectified and exploited amidst an endless babble of platitudes about tolerance and respect.
Hypocrisy, it turns out, is not just for Christians. Sin is persistent, and recoiling from such religious language will not make it go away. Banishing Christian teaching from the public square will not make it go away. Not even a better ethical code, whether Christian or secular progressive, will make it go away. What we need is a savior. Perhaps we should go to church after all.