Rebecca McLaughlin led a breakout session during TGC21 titled “The Secular Creed” based loosely on her recently released book by the same title. Framing her teaching within current cultural critiques of modern evangelicalism and its history, she encourages Christians to take the critiques seriously and avoid simply defending our tribe.
She focuses on four points:
– Jesus demands diversity
– Jesus defines sexuality
– Jesus defends women
– Jesus desires repentance
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Rebecca McLaughlin: So thank you so much for coming to this session. I’m speaking kind of on this new bit, which I think all of you have had foisted upon you for free. It’s called the secular creed, engaging five contemporary claims. But I gotta tell you, today’s session is false advertising because I’m not going to engage these five contemporary claims quite exactly. If you want to know exactly how to engage them, you can read the book. But in our time today, we’re going to do something that connects with a lot of those but in a slightly different way. Because I’m English, we’re going to start with Harry Potter. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Harry has this really disorienting experience in his mind his dad as a hero. His father died when he was a baby trying to defend his mother and him. But ever since he’s been going to Hogwarts School, Professor Snape has been telling Harry that his father is a jerk. Harry doesn’t believe it. Professor Snape just hated his father and everything he says about him must be lies. But then, at one point in Harry Potter in the other the Phoenix Harry finds himself inside one of snips memories. And he sees his father bullying Snape. And he comes out of that memory, very disoriented. Because what if what Snape has said about his father is true. What his father was not just the hero, who tried to save him and his mother, but in fact, also a jerk. I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I don’t know about your neighborhood. But across my neighborhood, the last couple of years, people have been putting up signs that read like this, I never small and I’m sorry. It’s so small. In this house, we believe that black lives matter Love is love. women’s rights are human rights. No human is illegal. Science is real kindness is everything. These signs are saying a lot of things. But in case you didn’t realize it, one of the things these signs are saying is you have angelical Christians, you’re jerks? How are we going to respond? My guess is that for most of us, our first instinct honestly is the same as Harry’s, don’t believe it. These people hate us what they’re saying can’t be true. But my friends, the more that I have read about history, and the more that I’ve understood about our present day reality, the more I’ve realized that there are certain respects in which these critiques are ones that we have to take very seriously. There are certain respects in which we need to acknowledge and rather than just defending our tribe, we need to acknowledge that we’ve been jerks. In order to look at that together today, there are four points that I want to make. Number one, Jesus demands diversity. Number two, Jesus defines sexuality. Number three, Jesus defends women. And number four, Jesus desires repentance. Now, let me be very clear. My aim today is not to critique the history of our tribe, on the basis of what secular progressive folks are saying. My aim is for us to look at the history of our tribe, and into our own hearts, on the basis of what the Bible says, and for that to be our standard of truth.
So number one, Jesus demands diversity. We hold these truths to be self evident, proclaimed the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal. There are two problems with that statement. One is a problem for us. And the other is a problem for our non Christian friends.
Let’s think first about the problem for us. At the time, when those words were written, There was a time when people from my country were transporting millions of African people to this country as slaves. The labor was exploited their bodies were physically and sexually abused. They were sold away from their families, their husbands, their wives, their children. This is a terrible thing to be happening at a time when a supposedly Christian country was proclaiming that all human beings are created equal. And what happened after the abolition of slavery? Did we then suddenly start living by this truth? No. We then had Jim Crow laws and segregation. We then had a situation where black people couldn’t go to the same schools or work the same jobs or live in the same neighborhoods or even ride on the same seats on the bus as white people. It wasn’t until the 1960s, the civil rights movement, the black Americans were starting to get any measure of justice. So when white evangelicals like me, look back to the 1960s, at the time when everything started to go wrong. We’re acting like the lives of our black brothers and sisters don’t matter. That is a problem for us. But what about that problem with a statement for our non Christian friends, we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal. The problem is that is not a self evident truth. It is a specifically Christian claim. So the Israeli historian call Yuval Noah Harare, who wrote a best selling global best selling book called Sapiens a brief history of humankind. And in it, he’s very clear, he says, the Americans got the idea of human equality from Christianity. But if we stopped believing in the Christian myths about God creating human beings with equal souls, what does it mean that human beings are equal? He says that homosapiens have no natural rights. Just as chimpanzees, hyenas and spiders have no natural rights. He says, universal human rights and equality are a figment of our fertile imaginations. This is a problem for our non Christian friends, because you see, they think that biblical Christianity is a roadblock that needs to be knocked down, if we are going to create a world in which human beings are truly considered to be equal in which there is love across racial and cultural difference. But instead, Biblical Christianity is the foundation on which those very ideals are built. We see it first. In Genesis when God creates human beings male and female equally in his image. We see a bill throughout the Old Testament, you see when Jesus steps onto the stage of human history, and demands that we love each other across difference. We don’t often hear what Jesus is saying, because our racial and cultural and ethnic divides are different from those of his day. So when we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, we think that it’s a story about loving the stranger who’s abandoned by the side of the road, and it is. But Jesus could have told that story, where it was a priest and then a Levite, and then a just good Jewish man who came along and save the day. And instead, he cast a Samaritan as the moral hero. In answer to the question, what does it mean to love my neighbor who is my neighbor? He told a story of love across racial and ethnic difference. He didn’t just teach it, he lived it. With him, did Jesus have his longest recorded private conversation at all of the Gospels? To him? Did Jesus first reveal Himself as the Christ in John’s gospel
to a Samaritan woman, who’d had five husbands and the man she was now living with was not her husband.
If we look at the book of Acts, we look at the day of Pentecost, literal day one of the church, when the spirit is poured out on the apostles, Luke tells us that there is a crowd there are people from every nation of the heaven. He specifically mentions places that in modern day terms would be Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and Libya. He says that on that day, 3000 people from that cry, try that crowd were baptized. So when were the first black Christians in the church? Was it in the colonial era? No, it was literal day one of the church. Then in Acts chapter eight, we meet the first individual known black Christian, the Ethiopian eunuch. Do you move he’s writing it in his chair. He’s reading the scroll of Isaiah, when the Spirit sends Philip to help him with his Bible study. This guy’s humble enough to let somebody stranger come in and teach him the Bible. He’s eager enough that as soon as he sees water, he wants to be baptized. And I love how Luke tells us that this man went on his way rejoicing. This black man’s life matters so much to God, that He sent an apostle to help him with his Bible study. Jesus demands diaper diversity. Look at the New Testament letters that we described as Christians as yes as a family brothers and sisters, which and that is profound. But it’s even more than that we’re talking about as one body together. When we fail to love brothers and sisters in Christ across racial and ethnic and national and cultural difference, we are tearing Jesus’s beautiful body apart, and he will not stand for it. But just as Jesus created diversity in the first place when he made us with all the differences that we have. So he is also delivering diversity to remember that beautiful vision in the book of Revelation of people from every tribe and tongue and nation worshiping Jesus together. That’s our destiny. But it is also becoming our reality. Right now today, Christianity is the largest and most diverse belief system in the world. By 2030, experts think that there’ll be more Christians in China than in America. By 2060, people think that as much as 40% of the world’s Christians could be living in Sub Saharan Africa. So in my lifetime, black Christians could actually be the largest racial group in all of the global church. People think that Christianity is declining globally, it’s not the places where Christianity is declining is actually among white Westerners, like me. But Jesus is beautiful, building his beautiful, diverse body, across the world. And if we look at America, black Americans are substantially more likely to identify as Christians than their white peers. They’re more likely to attend church every week, they’re more likely to read the Bible, they’re more likely to pray, they’re more likely to hold core evangelical beliefs. Sometimes white Americans worry that immigration is eroding America’s Christian heritage. Actually, immigration is a much needed blood transfusion for the American church. And the kind of immigrants that you want, I hate to break this to you and not people like me, white western folks coming from Western Europe, some of the least likely to be bringing the Gospel with them. But people who are coming here from Africa, people who are coming here from Latin America, people who are coming here increasingly, actually from China, are brothers and sisters bringing the Gospel with them. So that’s my first point. Jesus demands diversity. Second point is this. Jesus defined sexuality. A few months before COVID hit, I was invited by a church in Missouri to come and speak and do a couple of seminars for them one science and one and gender and sexuality. And a few days before I was due to arrive, I found out that a protest had been organized by the local LGBT community against the the seminar that I was doing on gender and sexuality. And this was a new thing for me. And one of the women who was a local activist and was helping to organize the protest, posted on Twitter a few days before I came that I had a PhD in English literature, I was not qualified to talk about gender and sexuality. I said, you’re probably right, I’m actually even less qualified to talk about science. But I would love if you were available, I would love to meet with you for coffee when I’m in town and to learn more from you hear from your perspective. So she graciously agreed to meet with me. And she said, Can I bring my partner I said, I would love to be here.
So there I was sitting in a coffee shop in Columbia, Missouri and talking with these, these two women who were raising two little girls together. And first I asked him to tell me their story. And they told me that they had met in church and middle school, that they had found safety and comfort in each other that they weren’t finding in their home environments. They told me how they had been directly hurt by the sexual sin of some leaders in that church. And the reason they were wanting to protest against my event the next day, was because they were profoundly concerned. Because of the very high levels of suicide attempts among LGBT identifying youth. They were worried that what I was going to say, would not be safe. Now for these women to share their story with me, I thought, I’m going to share my story with them, and it’s going to build a whole lot of trust. I told them that I have always been attracted to women, that if I were not a Christian, I would very likely be married to a woman today rather than to a man. But that I chose him to marry man unhappily married to a man, mainly because of my my Christian conviction. And I thought this would bring down some barriers. Instead, they told me that they thought my story was harmful. And honestly, I wasn’t expecting that. And I was on the edge of crying. So then one of the ladies said to me, so how can you be sure that what you’re going to say Tomorrow will be safe? And I said, I don’t know that it’s going to be safe. Jesus said that anyone who wants to follow Him must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him It isn’t safe. The more I have thought for myself, the more I have read the Scriptures, the more I’ve reflected, the more convinced I am. That actually the cross lies at the heart. of any Christian understanding of sexuality. We see it again at the very beginning. The first notes come to us from Genesis when God creates male and female in his image. We see in the Old Testament prophets as they time and again compare gods to a loving, faithful husband in Israel to his often unfaithful wife. We see a when Jesus steps onto the stage of human history and declares that he is the bridegroom. We see it in Ephesians chapter five, when Paul presents human marriage, as a tiny little picture of Jesus’s love for His church. And we see it again in the book of Revelation when a great multitude shots at the wedding of the Lamb has come. And Jesus, his marriage to his church brings Heaven and Earth back together. This is why marriage is male, female, and why husbands and wives are called it to different roles. Like Christ and the church. It’s a love across difference. Like Christ in the church. It’s a love built on sacrifice. by Christ in the church, it’s a life creating flesh uniting, never ending exclusive love marriage is meant to point us to Christ. But it’s also meant to disappoint us. Because even the best human relationship could only ever be a tiny echo of Jesus’s love for us. And we also forget, Christian marriage was countercultural from the first. In the Greco Roman world, men were not expected to be faithful to their wives, let alone to pour themselves out and sacrificial love for them. It was fine for them to sleep with other women and often with other men as well. If pressure marriage feels countercultural to us today, it did in the first century, too. And if we are asked to tell somebody why we believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, let’s tell them the gospel. There is no other truly biblical way to answer that question. But we must remember as well that marriage is not the only relationship designed to give us a tiny taste of God’s love. This is my commandment. So Jesus that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this than that he laid down his life for his friends. Paul, who spoke so highly of Christian marriage, that he said it was like a scale model of Jesus’s love for His church, said the singleness was even better. Why is that? It wasn’t because he thought that it was good for us to be alone. No. It’s because he takes seriously what the Lord says to us about who we are together in Christ. Paul calls us brothers and sisters, comrades in arms. He calls his friend and Nisa missed his very heart.
And he says he was among the Thessalonians, like a nursing mother with her children. None of this is sexual. All of this is ours in Christ. People talk today about the LGBT community as a place where non traditional family is modeled, where you see real love between groups of people who are not biologically related to each other. Friends that should be a distinctive of the church. If somebody leaves a gay relationship, in order to become a Christian, they should find more love here and not less. Is that what our churches are like? I think all of us married or single, same sex attracted or entirely opposite sex attracted. Whatever our age, whatever our stage, all of us will benefit if we actually start taking christian ethics seriously when it comes to how we should love each other. When I left those women in Columbia, Missouri, we read laughed together and we hugged each other. And they made it clear that nothing I had said had changed their support for the protest against my event the next day. And a few days later, one of the women posted on Twitter that she felt genuinely sorry for me that I have never experienced love and passion with another woman. I texted my best Christian friend Rachel about this and she replied, she’s wrong about the love. This brings me to our third point. Jesus defends women. The woman caught in adultery. The sinful woman of the city who weeps on Jesus’s feet Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet, learning with the other disciples, and then wasted all that expensive perfume, pouring it on Jesus’s feet. The Disabled women whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath, the bleeding women who touched Jesus, His garment, the prostitutes who flocked to him, What do all these women have in common? Jesus defended them. Jesus defended the right of a notoriously sinful woman, to weep on his feet. Jesus defended the right of an unclean woman to touch his garments. Jesus defended the right of a spiritually hungry woman to learn from him. Jesus defended the right of a disabled woman to be healed on the Sabbath because she too was a daughter of Abraham. Jesus shouldn’t have been seen dead with the Samaritan woman at the well. And yet he offered her living water. Jesus shouldn’t have been seen dead with that sinful woman of a city. And yet he held her up as an example of love. Jesus shouldn’t have been seen touching the dead body of that 12 year old girl. And yet he took her by the hand. And he said to her Talitha Kumi, I say to you, little girl, arise. No wonder women flocked to him. No wonder they’ve been flocking to him ever since. As far as we can tell from historical records, the Greco Roman empire into which Christianity was born was majority male, due to a combination of women dying in childbirth, and the selective abandonment of little baby girls. But the early church from all the records that we can tell, was majority female. In fact, Christians were marked as only being able to attract women and slaves and little children. What about today? If you look at the global church, today, it is majority female. And that’s not just because women are generally more religious. For men. If you compare Christianity to Islam, you’ll actually find it as a distinctive of Christianity that women are so much more likely to identify as Christians to go to church to engage in religious practice than men. Look at the church in China today. Which like the Greco Roman Empire has a gender imbalance because of the selective abortion of little baby girls.
The church in China is majority female. Look at the church in America today. People sometimes talk about intersectionality my not my non Christian friends will say you know, one of the things that we need to do is to listen to black women.
I say amen. But the problem for my secular friends is that if you listen to black women in America, you will find an awful lot of people telling you that Jesus is Lord. You will find people who are telling you that it is in fact the exclusive truth claims of Christianity on which any kind of love across difference can be based. Jesus defends women. Now, if we look back at our yard sign here, women’s rights and human rights, we all know what that’s trying to tell us. The central plank of women’s rights for many of our non Christian friends, is abortion. But I believe that actually the central plank of women’s rights is the cross. The Greco Roman world, women were not considered equal to men. It’s been far from a self evident truth throughout all of history. It is something that Jesus himself established. And when we insist coming out of the Bible, and we insist that actually people from every tribe and tongue and nation are equal, when we insist the men and women equal, we’re drawing on the same basis when we insist that an unborn baby in a mother’s womb is also created in the image of God.
Now, let me be clear, if there is no God, then an embryo is just a collection of cells. But if there is no God, then that’s all that you and I are to.
But if there is a God, and if Jesus is Lord, then this collection of cells is beloved. And if we look around our country today will find that the vast majority of women who choose to have an abortion are not doing so because they’re living their emancipated dream. They’re doing so because they are poor and they have been abandoned. How can we make our churches where single mother places where single mothers are embraced and supported, where children find the extended family that they need. I met a woman a few weeks ago who had been raised by a single mother who had strongly considered aborting her, but have chosen not to. And then she had been part of a church for for many years. And she said her mother would tell her story after story of times when married people in the church would make plans with each other in front of her and not invite her. She said that now her mother doesn’t go to church anymore. All of us must work to make sure that single mothers are welcomed and loved and embraced in our churches. And all of us must work to make sure that single people in general and single women in particular, are loved and embraced and welcomed and validated in our churches. We have too often bought into the idea that a woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and a mother. Let me be clear, that’s a very high calling. I’m thrilled and honored to be a wife and a mother myself. A woman’s highest calling is to be a follower of Jesus. Whether she follows Jesus as a single woman all her life, whether she follows Jesus as somebody who is married, whether she follows Jesus as a mother, that is a woman’s highest calling. And we need to defend our sisters, whether they are at home with kids, whether they are single, whether they are working, we need to defend our sisters in Christ.
That brings us to our last point, which is Jesus desires, repentance. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban some moment when Harry and his godfather serious, lying at the edge of the lake outside Hogwarts, and these terrible terrifying Dementors are sweeping down on them getting ready to suck out their souls.
Now, the problem with Dementors is that when a Dementor comes towards you, all your happiness drains away all your hope drains out of your body. And the only way to combat a Dementor is to cast a Petrona spell expects a petroleum. But in order to Cast that spell, you have to think of really happy thought you have to have hope. Hairy and serious, we’re about to have a soul sucked out. When suddenly from across the lake, a figure who is barely distinguishable in the darkness, shouts out expects a petroleum and this beautiful, light filled stag charges across the lake and runs the Dementors off. The course of the story Harry and his friend, Hermione start using a time turner, which enables them to go back in time and fix them things that went wrong that day. And when he realizes that there is some sort of magical possibility of going back in time, he starts to wonder if in fact, the person who caused that betrayal spell across the lake was his dad. The dad who is at that time, Harry’s greatest hero, the dad who died when he was one, but maybe if this kind of magic is possible, maybe could have been the one who cast that spell. And as the story unfolds, here in a minute, sort of retrace their steps from from the day watching their other selves, doing various things and trying to go to Save, save them in those instances. And you get to the point where we’re hairy and serious on the other side of the lake, and the Dementors sweeping down and how you stand in the US as my dad’s gonna come any minute. My dad is going to come my dad is going to come my dad’s gonna come to save the day. But then he finally realizes that it wasn’t his dad who cast that spell it was him. And the reason that he knows that he can do it that he can summon the hope within him to shout out expect him to train them and send that stag charging across the lake is because it’s already been done. People often ask me what hope do I have for the church today? My friends, I have so much hope. But it is not a hope of us. Getting back to some glorious past when everything was right before the 1960s you it is a hope of creating something today. That takes seriously all that the Bible says to us and it is a hope that is founded on the thing that Christians should be the best in the world at doing repentance. You see, when we look at signs like this, we think of all the things that those non believers out there need to repent of. And those things are real. But you can only do repentance for yourself. So what about the things that we need to repent of? What about the ways in which our tribe has failed to live up to biblical standards? Friends, can we be the people today who work to build a church that truly believes that Jesus demands diversity, that Jesus defines sexuality that Jesus defends women? I believe that you and I can have the hope to do that today. Because Jesus has already done the work for us. If we believe that we are Jesus’s body here on Earth, that his death and resurrection can heal all the sickness of this world, that we come to Him through repentance. Then we can be his body here on earth to do that. And to build that, that new world not just trying to dial us back to an old one. So friends together today, let’s do it. Expecto Patronum.