How should Christians think about social justice, specifically as it relates to the issues of critical race theory, homosexuality, transgenderism, and abortion? Micah 6:8 explicitly says that a God-follower should “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with [his] God,” but how does this apply to things like critical race theory, homosexuality, transgenderism, and abortion? Clearly, every Christian should be concerned with sharing the Gospel, yes, but also with loving our neighbors well by practicing and promoting justice. Such an idea certainly includes social justice. But in order to properly practice and promote social justice, much less answer 24 questions about social justice issues, we must first accurately understand what the phrase actually means. As Ratio Christi president Corey Miller says,
The world as a whole has experienced a redefinition of “social justice” over the last several decades. To use Lewis and Clark College as an example, in their “Glossary of Working Language for Socially Conscious Conversation,” they define “social justice” as “the practice of allyship and coalition work in order to promote equality, equity, respect, and the assurance of rights within and between communities and social groups.”
Typically, social justice carries with it the idea of equal distribution of power, wealth, and outcomes for all, especially those considered marginalized or underrepresented. Someone who recognizes the “oppression” of these marginalized groups and seeks to combat it is said to be “woke” to the injustice around them. Suffice it to say, this understanding of social justice is a far cry from classically informed and biblical thinking.
In order to wade through all the confusion, we must take time to do some cultural apologetics. Here, that begins with understanding what “justice” actually entails. Properly understood, “justice” refers to the right ordering of society and giving someone his due. The 13th century Christian thinker Thomas Aquinas put it this way,
Justice is considered one of the cardinal virtues, with prudence, temperance, and fortitude being the other three. But what exactly is a “virtue”? Other than being something very much lacking in our society, generally speaking, a virtue is a habit that directs us to knowing and doing the good.
Much like “justice,” “love,” “tolerance,” and many other terms, “the good” is often very misunderstood today. So what do we mean by “good” in this context?
Classically understood, good is that which fulfills the end or purpose of some thing according to what that thing is (i.e., according to its nature). For example, a good eye is one that sees well since sight is the end towards which an eye is directed according to its nature as an eye. This is something we discover about the world rather than being something we invent. No matter how much someone wants his eye to hear, it is simply not that kind of thing. In other words, this is a completely objective standard of goodness.
None of this, however, is moral goodness in the sense that social justice would entail. How, then, do we get from sight being the good for an eye to moral goodness specifically?
Moral goodness enters the picture because, as rational social beings, humans are able to know the natures of things and the ends or purposes towards which those things are directed (i.e., the good for those things). More specifically, we are able to know the ends towards which we are directed as human beings. For example, we know that our lungs are directed towards taking in oxygen rather than sniffing paint thinner. To reiterate, this is something we discover and not something we invent. But more than just knowing this intellectually, we are capable of willfully choosing to seek to fulfill that end or act contrary to it. This is known as natural law, where the good we ought to pursue is determined by our natures as human beings.
Christian philosopher Edward Feser puts it like this,
Natural law morality is biblical. It is “the law written on the heart” of which Romans 2 speaks, and it gives context to the moral commands laid out in the Bible. Rather than being arbitrary commands given by God, the good for us is determined by our nature. And as the Author of our nature, God will only ever will what is actually good for us.
Natural law also provides a solid foundation from which to make moral judgments in the public sphere with both believers and unbelievers. Because all humans share a common human nature that is capable of knowing truths about reality, we have objective common ground on which to stand and make the moral case for marriage, the right to life, etc. without simply quoting Bible verses. This is the moral theory that undergirded much of the civil rights movement. It is, in fact, the natural law according to Thomas Aquinas to which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. makes reference in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.
Putting these things together, we see that the good for us is determined by the ends set forth according to our common human nature. A virtue is a habit that inclines us to know and to do the good. Prudence aids in choosing rightly, temperance in curbing irrational appetites or desires, and fortitude in following reason’s lead in the face of fear or danger. The virtue of justice, for our purposes, is the right ordering of society, according to the goods laid forth by natural law, such that everyone (as much as possible) gets his due. Feser aptly summarizes the situation as it relates to social justice:
As will become clear below, a culture that promotes anything contrary to natural law cannot be just. The fact is, this natural law reasoning gives us the needed tools to fight true social injustice wherever it occurs. This is why racism, for example, is always wrong. But it is also why attempting to combat racism with ideas like critical race theory and modern ideas of social justice are completely and utterly bankrupt.
Our Christian convictions undergirded by classical natural law reasoning compel us to fight real racism wherever it is found and to stand for truth, justice, natural rights, and the freedoms they secure. That is why SES is committed to equipping students with the philosophical and theological tools necessary to engage these cultural issues head-on. As we will see, the current popular understanding of “social justice” is the opposite of the good all humans should pursue and is anything but just. We cannot love our neighbors well and lead them to the Gospel if we sacrifice truth and goodness on the false altar of “wokeness” ideology.
PLEASE NOTE: Throughout this piece, you will notice several Catholic thinkers being citied. This is largely because, aside from SES, there are few Protestant thinkers doing good work within the classical natural law tradition. We can agree with these Catholic thinkers on important matters of metaphysics and morality without ascribing to the totality of Catholic theology.
In the remainder of this post we will seek to apply the natural law reasoning above to some specific hot-button social justice issues being faced on a daily basis. Obviously, much more could, and should, be said about each question below. Nevertheless, we hope the information and resources provided will serve as valuable starting points as you seek to be more informed and equipped to remain steadfast in the truth.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been a hot topic of consideration for decades, especially since the tragic events surrounding George Floyd in 2020. But what is CRT? Space only permits some general thoughts on this complicated topic, but suffice it to say that CRT specifically is a branch of the more general category of Critical Theory with influences from Marxism, feminist studies, intersectionality, etc. According to critical race theory scholar André Douglas Pond Cummings, most critical race theorists hold to the following:
Many people claim that critical race theory is an obscure legal theory developed by Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, and Kimberlé Crenshaw that is essentially relegated to the halls of academia. It is a misinformed stretch, according to these people, to attribute to CRT the popular notions of social justice and what we see being done and taught in schools, corporations, and even churches. Is this actually the case? According to CRT scholars themselves, the answer is “no.”
In Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, CRT scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic write,
Because of this alleged systemic racism, all structures of society are infected and must be deconstructed if the alleged racism is to be abolished. Delgado and Stefancic explicitly state that CRT began as a “movement in the law” but has since expanded beyond that to the areas of education, politics, sociology, theology, healthcare, and philosophy. They state,
Finally, it is also evident that the same ideas used to fuel CRT are also used to fuel other social justice issues such as homosexual behavior and transgenderism. André Douglas Pond Cummings goes on to write,
Far from being a legal theory confined to the ivory tower, CRT ideas are being adopted both implicitly and explicitly in nearly every area of society. After all, as Delgado and Stefancic admit, the goal of CRT is to question …
Critical Race Theory has adopted, rebranded, and adapted Marxist principles, including the key principle of division of all human beings into the categories of “oppressor” and “oppressed.” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels introduced their 1848 Community Manifesto with the assertion that,
With these words Marx positioned the totality of human history and thought, human relationship, and human nature as nothing higher than an animalistic struggle for power. Under this view, at any point there exist only two camps in society: “oppressors,” or the camp with power, and the “oppressed,” the camp without power. The individuals populating these camps may change with the successful acquisition of power, but in the philosophy of Marxism there are only ever these two camps, and each individual is a de facto member of either one or the other.
CRT has brought the application of this Marxist talking point to present day contexts and other “oppressed” people groups. While Marx spotlighted material wealth as the means to confer power, critical theory not only focuses on the power of material wealth but also social power to determine which ideological perspectives are accepted as normative, including those ascribed to gender, sexuality, race, science, and governance. Members of the oppressive group therefore “oppress” not necessarily through individual prejudice but through “imposition” of a certain perspective as “normal” or desirable. In short, Marxism and CRT both aim to revolutionize society by marrying their bad philosophy to a strong call to activism. As Feser observes,
The family is where our social nature as human beings is first practiced, and society as a whole is where our social nature is perfected. In a just and well-functioning society, the various aspects of society must all work together for the common good (“good” being understood as the ends toward which we are directed as human beings). Feser recalls the Apostle Paul’s example of the human body’s various parts all performing different functions for the sake of the whole. Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:20-26,
First, notice that this illustration only works because we are naturally able to know the ends towards which our various faculties are directed (the foundation of natural law). Secondly, understanding in this way the individual parts of society as they relate to the whole negates the notions of class warfare and racial warfare. We are all part of one body performing individual, but important roles, for our own flourishing and for the common good. Without such, society would fall apart, the family would weaken, and ultimately the individual would suffer. When each part of the body does what it should and receives its due, this simply is social justice. As Paul concludes in Eph. 4:15-16,
There are two vices related to this idea. They are totalitarianism and equality or equity. Totalitarianism is the vice of excess that puts too much emphasis on the whole of society at the expense of the parts. Communism, for example, would fall on this sword. The parts lose all individuality and importance. They essentially become interchangeable and individually irrelevant. No organism can flourish if its parts are treated in such a way. The individual matters.
By contrast, the vice of deficiency is equality or equity. We probably hear more about this than anything else today. Rather than being concerned with treating all people equally with equal opportunity for success, this vice expects and even demands equal outcomes and equal recognition. For example, in their book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Degaldo and Stefancic write,
Certainly unjust actions and policies like red-lining, for example, must be combatted and stopped, but one cannot engineer a just system that assures “equality of results” for everyone because every person is different. Individual people have different strengths, talents, desires, work ethics, geographic and cultural location, etc. Furthermore, who decides what the equal results should be? Such thinking runs contrary to the reality we read about from Paul regarding the different members of the body. Equity demands that everyone wanting the results of being an eye be treated as an eye. But not everyone is an eye! Nor would society function if everyone acted like an eye. Equal opportunity to fulfill one’s purpose is a far different thing that demanding “equitable” outcomes. As Feser says,
Of course, such “vigorous social engineering” would be unjust as it runs contrary to our nature as humans living and working together as social beings. A society that promotes this unjust social engineering in the name of equality is objectively disordered. The great economist Thomas Sowell puts it this way:
This theory of knowledge has its roots in the Marxist notion that knowledge stems from social position, and therefore “oppressed” people groups have access to special knowledge that “oppressors” do not have. This special knowledge makes the insight of certain groups authoritative. To avoid essentialism, however, proponents of standpoint theory have focused on political perspectives such as “feminism” as the standpoint rather than “women” in general.
Though original proponents believed standpoint theory conferred special insight and objectivity, recent standpoint theorists have abandoned the possibility of objective truth and embraced postmodernism. Would-be empiricism or appeals to a sense of objective truth are viewed as mere ploys to reinforce the subjective reality of those already in power rather than the subjective reality of the oppressed.
As Wheaton College Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Nathan Luis Cartagena frames it,
The seemingly obvious question about such a position is, how could Cartagena possibly know this fact he says applies to everyone? In other words, if objectivity requires a “view from nowhere,” and no human can have a view from nowhere, how then can Cartagena objectively know that humans are not objective? The position is ultimately self-defeating. As we explain in detail within the ebook below, objectivity does not require a “view from nowhere.” Rather, as human beings with a shared human nature (regardless of skin color or ethnicity), we encounter reality with the same rational faculties allowing us to investigate truth claims, utilize the laws of logic, and come to judgements about the world that take us beyond our limited and subjective perspective and experiences. Objectivity is possible, and we are not left as victims locked within our own subjective epistemological cage.
Because of past colonialism, our history of chattel slavery, hate-filled white supremacy groups, and the underlying assumption that white supremacy is baked into the very fabric of America’s DNA, the ideas of nationalism and being “proud to be an American” are very much frowned upon in CRT circles. The ongoing immigration crisis only fuels these ideas. As Yale-trained retired professor and conservative commentator Carol Swain says about CRT,
More specifically, the problem is that “nationalism” has become a synonym of “patriotism,” and the real meanings of these terms have become conflated. To see why this is problematic, consider the following.
We humans are social creatures by nature. The most basic social structure, the family (as opposed to the individual), is the foundational building block of every society. This is so because, given our nature as human beings, we are naturally dependent for much of our lives on the care of a mother and father. And most families naturally have a number of children. All of this makes the family unit the first and most natural expression of our social natures.
Of course, nuclear families naturally give rise to extended families, which give rise to larger communities, which ultimately give rise to cities, states, and nations. All things being equal, we have the deepest natural obligations to care for those within our immediate family.
Like ripples on a pond, these obligations are then extended out to a lesser degree to those within our extended family, community, nation, and ultimately to others around the world. As Feser points out,
Patriotism no more entails willing evil for other nations than loving your own family means willing evil for your next door neighbors.
When the idea of family is disordered, we see two opposite extremes. First, we hear a lot today about the vice of excess in this area known as “nationalism.” This is the vice of thinking one’s own country or ethnic group is the only one that is important and that other countries or groups can be mistreated in order to benefit your own. Such a view is disordered given that, even though we do not owe other countries as much as we owe our own, as members of the human race we do owe them something as we are able. Given natural law, unjustly mistreating or harming anyone is immoral since we all share a common human nature and thus the same natural rights.
Nationalism should NOT be confused with patriotism, however. Remember the ripples on the pond. All things being equal, we do have more responsibility to our own families and nation than to others, and we can work for the good of our nation while admitting and learning from evils committed in the past. But again, this does not mean we have no responsibility to others.
By way of deficiency in the ordering of family is the vice of globalism. This is thinking too little of one’s patriotic and familial obligations. Such thinking is both immoral and irresponsible. It also has the tendency to regard the nuclear family as optional or even arbitrary. For example, before changing their website several months ago, the Black Lives Matter organization website stated,
Weakening the natural family structure will only ever weaken a society as a whole, and we experience these consequences on a daily basis in our culture. Both the extremes of nationalism and globalism are contrary to the objective good laid forth in the natural law. Any culture promoting these extremes is disordered and cannot be considered just in regards to the proper ordering of family and societal responsibilities.
The short answer is “no.” Since the basis of CRT is ultimately misguided, misinformed, and contrary to the good towards which we are all directed as human beings, it cannot allow for true racial reconciliation, even in principle. In fact, we would argue that CRT breeds racial division rather than unity. But there is a deeper issue at play here. The following is an adaptation of an original article from the Center for Biblical Unity. Used by permission.
A common phrase often heard in CRT circles is “do the work.” The “work” to which most CRT proponents are referring is the work of anti-racism. In other words, speak out (if you’re white), educate yourself, don’t speak (if you’re white … confusing, we know), abolish the patriarchy, confront injustice and oppression, get woke/stay woke. The “works” list can become quite lengthy.
Undoubtedly, the underlying goal of Christian CRT advocates is to promote the value, dignity, and worth of all individuals. They want to create a level playing field, where one sex or ethnicity is not higher or more valued than another. This is a worthy goal. Such a concept, however, is based on the framework of naturalism. CRT addresses what we see and understand from a merely natural perspective—we must use our human interventions to aid/benefit the natural surroundings of others. Again, a worthy goal, but not the supreme idea.
It is difficult to fathom the speed with which the mainstreaming of homosexual behavior has happened. What was once taboo has now become so faddish that one is hard pressed to watch a commercial segment on any television network without seeing a homosexual couple featured in the ad. Much like the Black Lives Matter movement, the “pride” movement has seduced nearly ever major corporation into flashing their rainbow colors at least once a year. Even the Whitehouse has been known to shower its stark exterior with rainbow shades of light. So why does historic Christianity still maintain the objective immorality of this now-en-vogue lifestyle? We could certainly quote a bunch of Bible verses, but if we use the natural law reasoning previously outlined, we can provide a much richer answer to this question that gets to the why behind God’s commands about human sexuality.
First, behavior is not the same as desire. We all have desires on which we ought not act. In this case, however, we are specifically talking about willful behavior and choosing to act on such desires.
Recall that the good for a thing is that which fulfills the ends or purposes towards which that thing is directed. It is rather obvious that our human sexual faculties have the dual purposes of procreation and unity. Humans naturally must reproduce sexually, and the offspring that result require the longterm care of a united mother and father. In reality, there are a number of single parent families, but that is certainly not the ideal.
Moreover, it is just as obvious that we are directed towards our opposite for sexual union and emotional bonding. The fact that, for whatever reason, an individual person doesn’t feel this pull to the opposite sex (regardless of the reason) doesn’t change the purpose towards which our sexual faculties are directed given our human nature any more than a person being born blind would mean our eyes aren’t meant for seeing.
Based on the natural law reasoning outlined above, acting contrary to the purposes of one’s various faculties is necessarily and objectively bad. It follows then that homosexual behavior, and by implication same-sex marriage, cannot possibly be good since they are contrary to both the unitive and procreative purposes of human sexuality. Such behavior does not unite one to his complimentary opposite, and it is an obviously sterile action by nature.
Again, this is the case regardless of why someone has homosexual desires. As we’ve already said, we all have desires on which we ought not act. An alcoholic who is “born that way” doesn’t make being an alcoholic good. It simply means he needs that much more love, compassion, and help to overcome his destructive behaviors.
Feser sums it up well when he says,
Likewise, there is nothing in the essence of “same-sex marriage” (however intimate the friendship may be) that demands equality with natural marriage unions. A same-sex friendship simply is not what marriage is, and to act contrary to the purpose of marriage is necessarily to act immorally.
It is the case some animal species practice something akin to homosexual behavior. What exactly follows from this? Some animals also eat their young and kill those with whom they procreate. Surely no one in their right mind would suggest people should do those things as well!
While humans are animals, we are rational animals, which means we have an intellect capable of knowing truth and a will capable of pursuing the good. Since the good for us is determined by our natures as human beings, acting contrary to that good is objectively wrong. In other words, we are not mere beasts!
The natural law reasoning laid out above gives us the foundation to discover the objective and unchanging human rights to which we’re all entitled based on our shared objective and unchanging human nature. To see why, consider this. Because we are by nature social creatures, we rely on each other for our well-being in various ways (both positively and negatively). As Feser observes,
From this understanding we can extrapolate, among other things, the basic rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
This does not mean, however, that we are free to pursue our personal idea of “happiness” without limits. Quite the opposite. We are, after all, naturally directed to pursuing what is actually true and what is actually good. Much like children having fun on the playground, they are free to play anywhere within the bounds of the playground (their “good” if you will), but they are not free to play in the street. As Feser goes on to say,
Therefore, since, properly understood, same-sex marriage is not actual marriage and homosexual behavior is necessarily bad for us, there is no right being violated when such a relationship is not recognized as marriage by the government or other entities.
In our culture, it is common to hear the mantra that love is love. Today, many think “love” means to affirm the beliefs, desires, and even behaviors of a given person. According to this view, one must validate and positively state that same-sex attraction or one’s desire to become the opposite sex (to use two popular examples) are good in order truly to love someone with such desires. Therefore, those who do not positively state that such desires are good are accused of “hate speech,” “intolerance,” being “unloving,” or worse.
Love certainly involves affirmation, but what exactly should one affirm? Ultimately, love is to will the good of another; hence, one should only affirm the good. What is the good? As has been said, it is that which fulfills the ends/purposes of some thing according to its nature. One’s feelings about the good can be wrong, and everyone has desires on which they ought not act. One’s will should follow his intellect, and his emotions should be based on what he knows to be true. He can know, for example, what the good of human sexuality is, and he should therefore pursue that good and help others do the same. This actually goes back to the virtues of prudence and temperance mentioned earlier. As the Apostle Paul explains in the great “love chapter” of 1 Cor. 13:4-8,
Love cannot simply mean affirming someone’s beliefs, desires, or behaviors without question since that would lead to absurdity. Moreover, those holding such a view think it is wrong to affirm things they deem objectively evil, such as hate speech. Thus, they either do not think it is good to love everyone (which is contrary to what they say), or they do not actually believe what they are saying when it comes to defining what love really means.
In logic, this popular talking point is called a category mistake. In other words, it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. Ethnicity is an accidental feature of human beings and has no bearing at all on the procreative and unitive ends of our sexual faculties.
One’s sex, or gender, on the other hand, has everything to do with the procreative and unitive ends of our sexual faculties. As SES alum Frank Turek has said, we should treat equal things equally and non-equal things non-equally. This is why racism and preventing the marriage of mixed ethnicities are human rights violations (because ethnicity is an accidental feature of being human), but failing to recognize same-sex marriage is not (because one’s sex/gender is essential the good of the sexual act).
Sadly, it is true that some people have said and done some very hateful things in the name of Jesus. It is important to note that such people are wrong and misguided. By the same token, it is also important to have a clear understanding of what love actually means. As noted above, it means willing the good of another.
Christians need to understand that all of their personal interactions with those with whom they disagree should be “safe zones.” That is, believers should obviously not bully or hate any person for any reason, and they should always be willing the good of others and thus loving them.
But our critics need to understand that love does not equal affirmation. A truly safe place is one where people genuinely love others, which means they will what is actually good for someone while speaking the truth with gentleness and respect. There is little doubt that those leading the “safe zones” initiative are fueled by love, but it is a misdirected love that promotes man’s will over reality. That is not safe, nor is it love.
Behaviors such as homosexuality are not called immoral or sinful simply because God is against homosexuals. He’s not! Rather, willing for someone to act contrary to the good is ultimately to promote hate and destruction. Such an attitude would be the opposite of love. That is something God cannot do and something His followers should never do.
It should come as no surprise, as many foresaw years ago, that transgenderism has followed closely on the heels of the increasing acceptance of homosexual behavior. More than just confusion about how a person should legitimately use his sexual faculties, transgenderism is a deeper confusion about what it means to be a human in the first place. This confusion is lived out from the upper reaches of the U.S. government to the high school locker room and church youth group. It has reached the place in our culture where it has become almost faddish. Some young people even feel guilty if they aren’t tempted to identify as the opposite gender, or no gender at all. How can we think well about some of the common questions related to transgenderism?
The following is intended to be descriptive in terms of what is happening, or has happened, in our society concerning the term “gender.” Most words or terms are conventional. That is, their use (not meaning in a sentence) to refer to something is generally agreed upon by those that use, study, and speak the language. Over time that use can be broadened to apply to something else or can be entirely changed. We seem to be experiencing such a broadening of the use of the term “gender” that some may hope will change its use entirely. In the past, one of the uses of gender, grounded in its grammatical role in language and knowledge of persons in the world, was to refer to the maleness or femaleness, which corresponds to a person’s biological sex and the characteristics associated with each. But a change seems to have first been introduced by Ann Oakley, in her book Sex, Gender and Society (1972), who suggested gender was a social construction. Others have argued that if this is true, gender can then be deconstructed, which requires that the term be separated and distinguished from one’s biological sex. The American Psychological Association (APA) acknowledges this:
This distinction makes it possible to use the term “gender,” or more specifically “gender identity,” to refer to a person’s internal feelings of being male, female, or any anything else. This leads to the use of the term “transgender,” which the APA acknowledges as “an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.” Now, for some, it is apparently unclear on any level what it means to be male or female.
Is there any warrant in reality, that is, metaphysically, for using the term “gender” in this way? The following is adapted from a much longer blog post by SES alum Cynthia Suffern.
All human beings, regardless of their sex or “gender identity” share a common human nature or essence. What does that mean exactly? Aquinas claimed that essence can be considered in two ways. First, the absolute essence of man’s being is, as Aristotle called him, a “rational animal.” Secondly, an individual’s particular being can be refined by the accidents attributed to him that flow from his nature.
Aquinas classified three general types of accidents. First, he described a property or proper accident as a characteristic that is caused by the principle of the species, such as risibility in man. The second and third types of accidents are caused by the principles of the individual and either have a permanent or impermanent cause in the subject. The accidents which have an impermanent cause are those such as the ability to speak, sit, and walk. These are called separable accidents. Each of these properties seem vital to human functioning. However, if we think that the accident of walking is vital and a man loses his ability to walk, that does not actually diminish the fact that he is a human being. Thirdly, those accidents that are caused by the principle of the individual and have a permanent cause in their subject include masculine and feminine. And these he called inseparable accidents.
Nominalists, who deny universal essences, might claim that male and female are purely separable accidents and not permanently adhering in a human being. Aquinas showed, however, that these inseparable accidents, such as male and female, must continue to be caused in the person for him to remain what he is, both generically and individually. Barry Brown, in Accidental Being (University Press of America, p. 92) explains,
For example, a woman’s female sex separates her generically from male humans. And a woman’s other accidents, whether proper, inseparable, or separable, distinguish her from the other members of the female population. And the cause of these inseparable accidents persists in sustaining its effect on the subject’s being. Therefore, Aqunias said that these inseparable accidents such as gender have a “permanent cause in their subject,” by which he means it endures or persists in its actual causation. So human beings are created with an inseparable accident of being male or female in their nature and they are continually caused to be that kind of individual.
Therefore, the nominalist view, which places gender solely within the realm of particular individuals who can be defined in a myriad of ways through linguistic discourse and gender fluidity, is at odds with Aquinas’ metaphysical grounding for gender. But to those who embrace Aquinas’ explanation of the unity and necessity of human nature within male and female will be able to see how the nature of each individual is not just functional but “ordered to the temporal and spiritual progress of the human species toward its end.” As Jacques Maritain suggests, the form of the human soul individuated by matter into two genders at the moment of creation is crucial to understanding humanity and fulfilling God’s purposes both in this life and in the life to come as men and women (Untrammeled Approaches, University of Notre Dame Press, 1997, p.159).
This question assumes the body is something a person has as if it could be another one or something else. This would be similar to the worldview being assumed for laughs in some older Disney movies like The Shaggy Dog or Freaky Friday when someone “real self” swaps places with an animal or another person. But the understanding we have presented is that the individual human person is a composite of soul and body.
It is a metaphysical union in which the soul is the immaterial substantial form of the material body. And this body has accidental qualities. As we have seen, a person’s biological sex is an essential accident as every human exists as either male or female. Mutilating one’s body to alter the appearance of genitalia does not change who one is by nature. As a soul/body unity, you are, and forever will be, either male or female. As John Hopkins psychiatrist, Dr. Paul McHuch, notes, gender dysphoria is a real issue that must be met with love and real medical attention, not with surgery. SES professor, Dr. J.Thomas Bridges concludes,
We certainly can make wrong decisions or mistakenly pursue something we think is good or right even when it is actually bad or wrong. We can sin or violate God’s natural and eternal law. But given our understanding of what a human being is, we cannot be born at a wrong time, a wrong place, or with a wrong body as these are not our decisions to make. Rather, they are made for us by an infinitely loving and sovereign God. If one thinks he is in the wrong body, he must change, or seek help to change, his thinking, feelings, etc. to correspond to what God has created and intended for him to be. This and only this will be good for him to pursue since it points him to that which is actually true and good.
What about those born intersexed with no clear answer as to their sex? First, while those born truly intersexed make up about 0.018 percent of the population, they are still valuable and loved human beings. The fact that some people are born intersexed, and thus present a more complicated scenario regarding the good of their sexual faculties, does nothing to the argument laid forth any more than people born blind (or with no eyes at all) entails that we cannot know that the purpose of eyes, and thus what constitutes their good, is seeing.
Generally speaking, truly intersexed individuals are genetically either male or female even when their physical characteristics are ambiguous (though there are very rare and complicated cases). Hence, the problem in this scenario is an epistemological one (i.e., the ability for someone to immediately know an intersexed person’s particular sex) rather than a metaphysical one (i.e., an intersexed person being either male or female). Genetic disorders happen, but this does not mean that we should pretend that human beings do not exist as either male or female and ignore the fact that these genetic disorders truly are disorders. Regardless, intersexed individuals are not mistakes. Rather, they are valuable human beings loved by God and who can be used by God. Our gender and the use of our sexual faculties are not the most important aspects of our lives. Seeking our ultimate good, which is only found in Jesus Christ, is our true end.
The answer to this question requires the use wisdom and assessment of specific situations. Specific contexts may require a different answer, and of course, there is always the matter of Christian conscience as well. For example, if people have recently adopted the use of preferred pronouns that do not correspond to their bodily sex, and you know them well, you may be able to use the situation as an opportunity to explain what is truly good for them given God’s revelation, both via creation and the Bible, and why you cannot use their preferred pronouns. Given that common practice and reality is against their attempt to draw attention to themselves, a little resistance may be acceptable, needed, and used to bring correction.
What if such correction doesn’t work? Again, Christian conscience comes into play. Thus we offer some general thoughts for consideration. If your correction doesn’t work, of if you don’t know the transgender person well and need time to develop a friendship, you should follow the apostles’ advice. Paul cautions Christians to not cause offense to those outside and inside the church (1 Corinthians 10:32; 2 Corinthians 6:3) in the context of doing ministry. So, if we as Christians are aware that the use of certain words will cause offense, we are admonished by the apostle to not intentionally cause, or continue to cause, such offense.
That is not to say that you must use the person’s preferred pronouns. There are ways to communicate respectfully with someone that does not intentionally offend the person nor violate your own conscience. And, of course, you should be willing to apologize if unintentional offense is caused.
The bottom line is this, without violating Christian conscience and with causing as little offense as possible, we want to preserve the opportunity for having deeper conversations about reality, the good, and the Gospel. Once that door is open and we have the opportunity to explain our position or answer questions (1 Peter 3:15), we should take full advantage of that opportunity. Be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, prepare to speak, and give a reasoned explanation of God’s creation, the effects of sin, and the need for people to properly see who and what they are in light of creation and the Gospel.
It is in this context that a person should understand we only intend their good by the words we used in sentences that accurately describe them as God created and intends them to be. This is to direct them towards their wellbeing, to accept themselves the way God has created them, and embrace redemption through Jesus Christ. Our use of preferred pronouns should not be to reinforce a wrong view, but to gain an open door to minister to someone and introduce them to the Savior who can change their wrong views about themselves and adopt the truth about themselves as a person created in God’s image who is loved with an everlasting love.
This is a very serious issue and serious accusation. Does what we have said lead others to kill or harm themselves due to a lack of affirmation of their disordered desires?
First, there is nothing that should drive people to the point of harming themselves. True bullying, abuse, and other injurious behaviors are always wrong. There are usually other factors co-occurring, however, that would cause people to harm themselves even if that is manifested in one particular feeling or behavior. In fact, Dr. McHugh, referenced above, stopped performing sex-change operations years ago because most of his patients still suffered from the same social and emotional problems they had preoperatively.
Furthermore, people are not their desires, and the reason for those desires makes no difference as to their goodness or badness. It is the planting of the false seeds of thinking that people are merely what they desire, and that those who do not affirm those desires do not love and accept the one with those desires as a valuable person, that is leading people to harm themselves.
Moreover, while humans are not their desires, as we have said, they are also not merely their bodies. A human being is a body/soul composite creating a complete person, and to deny the truth of one’s body or the truth of one’s rational soul would be to deny the truth of what makes a human a human. The reality is that if one has the body of a male, then he is by nature a man. The same holds true for females and female bodies. Thus, the good of one’s sexual faculties as man or woman is determined by one’s nature. The fact that some people desire the same sex, feel like they are the opposite sex, and some people do not desire sex at all is completely irrelevant to what one is by nature. If one’s feelings or desires do not match what he is by nature, then those feelings are simply misdirected and do not correspond to reality. For me to pretend that someone’s misdirected feelings or desires do correspond to reality, when in fact they do not, is not to love that person or will his good. In fact, to pretend that his misdirected desires are good would be effectively to will his annihilation (willing him to be something he is not), but that would be hate, not love.
Having a transgender friend is a fantastic opportunity to express the love and life changing power of God. One should do all the normal and good things friends do for and with each other. As in all friendships, we should become aware of what upsets and offends our friends and what brings them delight and joy. But we should be aware and sensitive to that which results in offense because they are transgender. The better we know them and they know us, the more influential we can be in their lives, directing them towards what is their actual good. It is here we must use wisdom to maintain the friendship without compromising or being silent on our conviction regarding the truth of transgenderism. If you can balance your acceptance of the person as a friend with your friend’s awareness of your Christian convictions, then in that context love (i.e., willing someone’s good) can be effectively maintained.
Abortion is one of the most hotly debated issues of our time. With the overturning of Roe, there were legitimate fears of another civil war given the deeply entrenched national divisions surrounding this subject. “Reproductive justice” is an issue Christians cannot, and need not, shy away from. We must coherently, persuasively, and graciously make the case for life in this very confused culture.
As we said above, the right to life and to not be coerced into doing evil are the most basic natural rights. The issue here is that the unborn inside the womb is not the woman’s body. While it may rely on the mother’s body for nourishment at this stage of its development, the developing baby is both a philosophically and scientifically separate individual. Philosophically, we know the unborn is not developing into, say, an endangered baby owl. If it were, it would magically find protected status since, remarkably, we are able to know what develops inside the eggs of endangered owls! We also know the woman doesn’t become a man if there is a developing male baby in her womb. The mother and baby are not the same.
Scientifically, at the moment of conception when the male sperm, with 23 chromosomes, and female ovum, with 23 chromosomes, unite to form a forty-six-chromosome human being existing with all the genetic information (DNA) needed to develop. No additional or new genetic information is added.
Therefore, the unborn developing baby should in no way be considered a part of the mother’s body when it comes to individual rights. The developing baby is something other than the mother, but what exactly?
This type of question is necessarily a philosophical one. We maintain that a human person is a body/soul unity. That is, the nature of what it means to be human is that an organism has both a rational human soul (i.e., the immaterial form of humanity that provides the principle of organization for the human body) and a physical body. His soul makes him human; his body makes him this particular human.
The person is not identical to the soul or the body, but both, in union, constitute the human person. The central question of abortion, put in philosophical terms, is when does union or harmonization of soul-body take place? All one should say at this point is that for a human rational soul to be present, it is necessary for there to be a material substance (i.e., body) with the potential for a rational soul’s operation.
Further important clarification is between internal and external causes. A house for example is put together by builders using material such as wood and metal, based on a plan. The house cannot put itself together. The house has no internal active principle that grows and develops it fully into what it is. The house requires an external cause, i.e., the builder. However, a natural living substance must contain an intrinsic cause or immaterial form that moves the substances’ matter in potentiality towards its developmental ends. For a human being, this form must be the rational soul present if there is an organized material body with the potentiality for rational thought to be moved to the actuality of rational thought. This does not negate the need for outside support for development (such as a womb providing nutrients from another person) but does reveal that an immaterial soul must be present once the material body has all it needs for the development to be what it is.
In short, only the active potential for rational operations in the substance need be present to constitute a human being. The actual rational operation need not be there. For example, we do not cease being humans when we are unconscious and not actively exercising our rationality. As such, there must be an immaterial internal form that guides the development of essential bodily matter (i.e., organs). The question of if and when such is present must come from another area of study, namely biology.
As we have seen, at the moment of conception with the formation of the zygote, this new human person has all the genetic material needed to set this tiny life in motion. There really is no sound case to be made that the zygote is not living. All things being equal, it is doing what living humans do at the zygote stage of development. Princeton University has an interesting list of referenced quotes that “illustrate the fact that a new human embryo, the starting point for a human life, comes into existence with the formation of the one-celled zygote.”
While it is true that some natural law thinkers like Aquinas didn’t think an unborn baby was a human from the moment of conception, their conclusion was due to a lack of knowledge about biological human development not because they thought the unborn baby was something else that became human at a later stage of development. As Feser observes,
Note well that once we have established that a zygote is a human person, accidental features of a zygote compared to a fully developed human are irrelevant. The number of cells contained in a zygote is fewer than a new born baby, but a new born has fewer cells than an adult. This cell quantity is accidental to what a zygote is. The same holds true for other things, like rational thought or taking in oxygen, that the zygote has only in potential. As we have said, an unconscious person not actualizing his rationality, or a person holding his breath underwater not actualizing his oxygen intake, do not cease to be humans.
To summarize, a developing baby is a living human person from the very moment of conception. Therefore, according to the natural law reasoning above, every developing baby has a right to life.
If abortion is outlawed, self-induced abortions and abortions performed by non-physicians will likely be extremely rare. This was the case before Roe v. Wade. Also, medical advancements and wider available care, make it very unlikely that women will be harmed if abortion is outlawed at the federal or state level. Most people follow the law (even if they do not like it), and such would help create a culture that values a human being in the womb and seeks to preserve and protect life. The exceptions of a few people harming themselves by breaking a law should not become a basis for removing the law (making it legal). For example, we should not remove stop signs because some people choose to drive through them without stopping and end up getting hurt. The most likely outcome from outlawing abortion is that millions of babies, many of which will grow up to be women, will be saved.
The reality is that abortions because of rape or incest are very rare. Regardless of the frequency, if, as we have argued above, the unborn is a human being at conception, then abortion is not justified even if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. The hardship of an unwanted pregnancy does not justify murder. The evil of rape or incest does not justify abortion nor is it removed by abortion. Killing the unborn baby just adds another moral evil to the equation. The rapist is the one who should be punished not the innocent baby. It is the rapist who has caused the pregnancy, and we should prevent another innocent person from being the victim of the violent act of rape. Furthermore, there are many resources to help the rape or incest victim, and adoption is always better than abortion. Just ask those people who were conceived via rape or incest who God is now using to do great things for His glory. Multiplying evils does not erase the evil of the original act.
At no point in development can the unborn human be compared to a parasite or anything else that is non-human. The unborn is not even a potential human. Rather, as we have argued, the unborn is 100% human at the moment of conception. Everything needed to constitute an individual human life is present from the moment of conception. This includes a distinct genetic code, different from the mother and father, that contains all the baby’s physiological characteristics, including its sex. Nothing more is added genetically, nor is anything more needed, after conception. All that is needed is growth and development. The head, arms, legs, and a pulsating heart muscle all appear during the first month. Brain function has been detected at 40 days after conception. The nervous system (ability to feel pain) develops between eight and 13 weeks. By the end of the second month all human bodily systems are present and functioning.
A parasite, by definition, is one type of organism living in, or on, another type of organism for its own well-being and often at the expense of the other organism. By way of contrast, an unborn human being is living and developing in the only natural place an unborn human being can live and develop. All things being equal, and barring unfortunate complications, both the mother’s body and the baby’s body are doing exactly what they are supposed to do given their shared human nature. Even though a parasite is doing what it is “supposed” to do given its nature, it is not natural for the host. Thus, the presence of a parasite is an evil, or a privation, for the host. Such a scenario is the polar opposite of what happens with human pregnancy. The mother’s womb is simply where tiny humans develop, and it is exactly where those tiny humans naturally belong.
As we seek to live out the charge of Micah 6:8, “to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God,” we’ll do well to remember the words of Jesus when He was asked about the greatest commandment. In Matt. 22:37-38 Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole being. Then, in the following two verses, Jesus gives us a tangible way to show our love for God. He says,
Certainly loving our neighbors as ourselves involves taking care of the sick, widowed, orphaned, marginalized, and oppressed. But this is not all Jesus had in mind. Loving our neighbors is not less than these tangible acts. Rather, loving our neighbors involves so much more, and it must always be done in the context of truth and genuine love (i.e., willing someone’s good). Given the natural law reasoning laid out above, we have common ground with unbelievers upon which we can demonstrate the truth and goodness of their God-given design, purpose, and value. In turn, such demonstration provides excellent groundwork for giving reasons for our hope (1 Peter 3:15) and leading someone to the very foot of the cross. Sharing the Gospel is the most loving thing we can do!
The Gospel, however, involves a certain minimal set of truth claims that must be accepted in order for the Good News to be efficacious. In a culture where darkness has often progressed unabated, the minds of the individuals that make up that culture become darkened as well. This creates tremendous barriers for evangelism. Feser puts it this way:
According to a 2013 article from Parenting Magazine, one main reason teenagers were leaving the faith at that time was because
Yes, that was 2013. The confusion and errors surrounding these issues have only been magnified in recent years.
A common sense grasp of reality and the basic precepts of truth and goodness have largely been indoctrinated out of the majority of modern westerners today. The rich philosophical (and biblical) truths that formed much of Western culture (i.e., a classical understanding of natural law) have often been ignored or forgotten. The darkness left in the wake of such moral and intellectual errors has led to a number of obstacles that now stand in the way of someone even considering the truthfulness of the Gospel. It is our job to remove those obstacles so that people can see the Gospel for what it truly is.
In 2 Cor. 10:3-5, Paul says this about the nature of true spiritual warfare,
Spiritual warfare is a war of ideas, and ideas have consequences. In this sense, loving our neighbors inside the ideological public square, as focused on the true and the good in a more foundational and general way, is perhaps the frontlines of spiritual warfare. Fighting for the true and the good in the public arena of ideas paves the way culturally for the seeds of the Gospel to have more opportunity to fall upon good ground.
Moreover, speaking to leaders in the church, Paul says in Titus 1:9-14,
Pastor, are you equipping your flock with sound teaching that goes beyond self-help and biblical platitudes? Are you refuting those who contradict the truth? Are you equipping those you shepherd with the ability to proclaim and defend the Gospel? There are times when fulfilling your calling involves delving into issues that may be considered “political.” If we shy away from such issues, however, then we are not engaging in the war for the minds of our neighbors, and, thus, we are failing to truly love them.
Loving our neighbors involves not only helping meet physical needs, but helping as many people as possible understand and accept the truth of the Gospel just as the Apostle Paul explains in Eph. 4:17-25,
Ultimately, outside of a biblical concept, there can be no real social justice. At Southern Evangelical Seminary, because of our strict adherence to, and deep love for, the inerrant and infallible Word of God, we envision no other source of remedy for the ills of our culture. If we are to seek an end to racism it must be on the basis of Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to equality under the natural law and to the call of Christ on our lives. You cannot relieve any of the shortcomings in our society by simply adding additional moral failures. To attempt to do so will only bring further heartache and division without any hope of rectifying the shortfalls. The clarion call of SES is for the turning of our individual and national heart toward the true God of the Bible as evidenced in the life, death, and resurrection of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. It is through His lordship in our lives that we can ultimately be drawn together at the foot of the Cross as true brothers and sisters in Christ. May that day be hastened in America and the world.