December 6, 2023

Don’t Think About Pink Elephants: When Gay Conservatives Go Rogue on Orthodox Christianity

Pink Elephants

Gay conservatives (Pink Elephants) are all the rage

You know the funny little trick: “Quick! Don’t think about pink elephants!

And suddenly, a herd of pachyderm of a particular colour palette are all that you can think about. Try as you might you cannot block them out, loud and incessant as they are with all of their florid trumpeting and vaguely violet stampeding. out of your.

Go on, give it a try: Think of pink elephants and then try not to. You know that you want to.

But, if you will allow me, now that pink elephants are firmly lodged in your grey matter, let’s keep the idea of them the boil. Let’s talk about the pink elephants of conservative politics and their alignment with Christian conservatives, (and I’m nailing my own colours to the mast here).

It’s been a good year or so for conservative Christians in terms of the air cover being provided to them by a whole range of secular conservatives, including a raft of what I will call “Pink Elephants”, namely politically conservative types (in the USA the Republican Party’s animal symbol is an elephant), who nevertheless have cherry-picked the Sexular Age, albeit it’s more modest – indeed conservative expressions.

And this is something picked up by the excellent Bethel McGrew, who has just written a timely article on the matter, in which she highlights what is going to be a growing divide among a group that for a brief moment has made for strange bedfellows – gay conservatives and conservative, orthodox Christians. You can read her article here, and I’ll refer to it more later on.

But here’s the context: Christians are finding that the likes of public intellect and author Douglas Murray (English so not technically an elephant), who is a gay man, goes in to bat for freedoms that Christians need, while all the time mocking the more outlandish expressions of the progressive “woke” framework in texts like his excellent The Madness of Crowds.

Indeed at the recent conservative ARC think-tank conference in London, Murray was one of the stars. Many Christians sat listening to him with rapt attention. He has much to say that is good and wise, and above all, sensible, in an age that has seemingly lost its sensibilities.

Meanwhile over there in Pink Elephant land itself, the likes of Dave Rubin, a gay married man with twins born through surrogacy, has been making an ass out of the Donkeys on the far left of the Democrats. I love listening to Rubin, he’s got an ease of style and a skewering sense of right and wrong (well, to a point).

Both men – along with the formidable Jewish journalist, Bari Weiss, a lesbian woman who is also married and has children with her partner, have bravely gone in to bat against all sorts of critical theory nonsense, as well as the chilling of free speech and freedom of association.

And these people, are championed by Christians who often find that their own faith is Kryptonite in the public square – a case of “But of course you’d say that, you’re one of those backward believers” and the like. It’s very hard to get a voice in a secular setting if you come with a Christian megaphone. The shibboleths and the rules of engagement are against you from the start. So to have such secular, conservative public credibility in your corner (and by credibility I mean non-heterosexual credibility) when debating the crazies, seems almost too good to be true.

When Pink Elephants Go Rogue

But here’s the problem. Pink Elephants are starting to go rogue. And they’re going rogue over the one thing that – you guessed it – sets secular conservatism apart from Christian orthodoxy. While acknowledging transcendence, secular conservative is primarily fuelled by the immanent frame of the “this is all there is” campaign that secular progressives assume, and upon which they are building a case for an earth-bound utopia.

There is a coming split among secular conservatives and orthodox Christians, and it simply be another battle around the same old, same old; The Sexular Age, only this time in the politically conservative camp.

McGrew’s article reports on a growing feud among conservatives in the USA, in which several orthodox Christians in the herd called out the pinkness of the elephant, and challenged the sexual framework that was underwriting cultural conservatives who celebrated the surrogacy births of gay men. And as you read her article, you realise that that got pretty hot pretty quick on all of the socials.

A celebration of the goodness of a surrogacy pregnancy was shot down by a conservative Christian in the mix who asked why we are celebrating this at all.

As I said, read the article to get the full context, but in considering the stoush, McGrew posits this excellent query: Should all conservatives, in the post same-sex-marriage age across the West, simply leave that issue behind and get on with creating a better society according to newly minted conservative values?

Should they, according to the vision of all elephants – be they pink or grey – simply shrug their shoulders before putting those wrinkly shoulders to the wheel and then, working together, try to shift society with the cultural materials that are still permitted to us by the progressives?

Is gay marriage a real thing that we should just hold a hand up to and make a secondary issue for the conservative vision? Or is it, in the words of Douglas Wilson (who I here quote approvingly), a case of same-sex-mirage? Something that doesn’t, indeed shouldn’t, exist and that, in whatever guise it comes, is destructive of the very Western culture we’re all purportedly trying to save?

For Christians, is the sexuality stuff – no matter how elephantine, simply a pretender to the crown that usurps the truly conservative cause, tramples over the structures and becomes a rival to the throne? It would be good for pink and grey elephants to figure that out, and quickly. Because their own happy marriage depends on the answer to that pressing question.

McGrew says:

You could say the question is nested under the bigger question of whether classical conservatives can get along with classical liberals. The National Conservatism conference devoted a panel discussion to this a couple years ago. As it happened, both of the classical liberals on stage (Douglas Murray and Dave Rubin) were gay. Nobody addressed this out loud until Rubin cheerfully decided to bring up “the elephant in the room here.” The whole discussion sort of awkwardly encapsulated our strange new political landscape in microcosm. As new political threats have arisen and old alliances have shifted, these sorts of odd, tentative new alliances have begun to take shape. The still open question is whether they have anything solid to build on.

McGrew nails it. It’s the new tentative alliances that are being formed in the face of supposedly common threats that is bringing such disparate groups together. And she asks that pertinent, searching question at the end about “…whether they have anything solid to build on.“. And more to the point, for how long.

As I was reading I was saying to myself “Come on Bethel, use the word, use the word!” And the word I was looking for, and to my delight, did indeed find (should I ever have doubted her), was “telos” – or “goal”. What is the chief end of what is being done here? What’s it all for? And not “what”, but “who” is it all for? And, as you may surmise, I have used the term “chief end” advisedly.

The catechism asks us “What is the chief end of man?” And the answer is “To live an ordered, upright life in society, and to ensure that this order permeates a free culture in which differences of opinion, and varieties of practices are neither punished (within reason), or celebrated as mandatory.”

Which, of course, is not the answer. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That is the “telos” of what it means to be human. Here’s how Bethel picked up on “telos” while critiquing a stirring speech by Bari Weiss on ensuring we maintain the values that the West has so long held:

I do agree, of course, that America and the West are good (in many respects, though not all the respects in which Bari does), and that human beings are created equal, and that saying so is, indeed, essential to knowing what we are fighting for. But the very word “created” presupposes design. It presupposes telos—for the soul, for the mind, and, yes, for the body.

And in that statement, McGrew brings a creation order and a new-creation order to bear on the argument. And that, itself, takes the blinkers off the issue. The only thing solid to build on, in terms of the West’s true flourishing, is an acknowledgement not simply of a vague “all created equal” order, which owes more to Deism than Christianity, but to answer the “What” and “Who” questions first. The “all created equal” order is as shape-shifting as it was designed to be. The “all” no longer refers to in-utero children, (something that the fall of Roe versus Wade not only didn’t halt, but confirmed through state-led votes across elephant and donkey states apace).

The “all” in this case, also seems to refer to surrogate children who may grow up happy and well-fed and well-educated and well-travelled and the like. But to even admit that they will become a new form of stolen generation is to risk secular progressive – and now secular conservative – fire and brimstone rained down upon your head.

Expressive Individual Elephants

Which brings us back to that old chestnut – expressive individualism. If the chief end of you is you – then there can be no telos beyond that. Sure a conservative vision of what that looks like may fit your framework a whole lot more snugly and neatly than a progressive vision, but really, who is to say? Who can challenge you on that?

That’s why, as those who challenged the surrogacy issue among conservative gay men found out, the progressives and conservatives are on the same page. That’s why surrogate children gifted to or purchased by gay parents will never be able to – at least no in any meaningful legislative sense – be permitted to discover who their true “other” parent is. Once any “telos” beyond my own personal telos is dismissed, or at the very best, subsumed, the rules no longer apply.

Expressive Individualism is baked into the West in such a way that the only antidote to it is a telos that we did not create. That telos is the biblical “telos” that also has a biblical “fontes”. The creation and new creation parentheses of God’s Big Story hold the human story together. Without them you can pretty much justify what you will, and as we are now seeing, that’s what is happening, even among conservatives.

Orthodox Christians may have enjoyed the shade of Pink Elephants for some time, but be in no doubt that those trunks and feet will stampede at some stage and the results will not be pretty. They already aren’t. And McGrew puts it perfectly when she states about this assumption that we can have the framework of Christendom without the “telos” that the second person of the Trinity baked into it both as Creator and Saviour:

…it’s the flaw at the heart of Douglas’s in many ways excellent The Madness of Crowds. Douglas imagines Western society to be like a train that was chugging along uneventfully, just pulling into its proper station with the success of various civil rights movements, including gay civil rights, when suddenly, suddenly, for reasons unknown, the train picked up speed and careened off the tracks with the arrival of the trans activists. How exactly did this happen? Nobody knows.

Christian Elephants

Yet as Christians we do know. We know it’s because humans worship and serve created things rather than the Creator who is forever blessed (Romans 1). We know that it is because sin shape-shifts and is just as happy to form itself in seemingly positive ways (the good life of comfort and ease) and negative ways (the bad or naughty life of Pride parades and gender-confusion).

Unlike secular conservatives – as accommodating as they are to conservative Christians – even though as we note this is becoming a thing of the past around sexuality – Christian conservatives are not committed to an imminent vision of life. the unseen realm is what truly matters, and one day that unseen realm will become the seen realm upon the return of Jesus.

Sure we have some Venn diagram intersections, but as Trevin Wax so clearly pointed out recently on The Gospel Coalition, the new battleground for Christians is anthropology: What it means to be human, what we are, and who we are for. All the heat will be in that stoush.

And if that is true, and I think it is, then it seems to me that Elephants and Donkeys will, in this area of life at least, increasingly define their common ground not by species, but by colour.

And that means Christians who want to submit to the authority of Scripture, and who wish to to speak the truth in love to idolatrous understandings of what a human is for, and how we do sex and marriage and babies, may find themselves on the wrong end of a hee-hawing stampede. We will have to carve out gospel community, and practice and teach biblical anthropology with donkeys on the left of us and elephants on the right.

So enjoy the air cover was good while it lasts. Our hope is to look to the skies for something – Someone – else altogether.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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