“What do you mean when you say ______”? I asked this question five times to an individual in the Glenwood Hot Springs. After overhearing my conversation with a friend about our fidelity to Jesus, he said, “Yeah killing people in the name of god is one of those things, yeah?” In an increasingly postmodern, privatized, and polarized time, this question may be one of the most important diplomacies we can offer to a divisive and anxious generation[1].

In her own stunning, meek, and cogent way, Rebecca McLaughlin engages the five contemporary claims of the secular creed (see below) in her book by the same name, The Secular Creed. This creed is most commonly seen on the yard signs that begin with the title “In this House we Believe”. Soberingly, the question is not are we living by a creed, but which one are we believing that impacts our living?

Historically, brief statements of key doctrines have been around since the Shema. They often focus on God and the way of salvation (Deut 6:4; 1 Cor. 15:3-5). The Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds were concerned with what’s true about God as well as the person and work of Jesus. In contrast, here, this creed centers not on God, but diversity, equality, and people’s right to be themselves. Rebecca doesn’t offer a callous or dismissive approach, a hammer to pummel these signs into the ground and out of sight but advocates us to examine each claim and understand “what do you mean when you say ______”, as well as getting on our knees to disentangle each assertion with humility, tenderness, grace and truth.

Examining Each Claim

1 – “Black Lives Matter’. The key question that begins the chapter is “how do we” relate, in sensitivity, to those 3 words that carry centuries of ache and injustice? Some view this as the spearhead of progressive ideals. Others see Jesus as the first and enduring example of breaking through every barrier while upholding what we first have in common, our humanity. Esau McCaulley, a black theologian, says as we trace our Biblical lineage, we see “African blood flows into the promised blessing from the beginning, as the fulfillment to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”[2]

Fairly, when non-Christians hear about a pastor embroiled in an immoral (sexual) scandal, they are not surprised. Here’s a sobering line for us all, ‘when we hear about violence against a group we deem suspicious, we look for evidence that they deserve it. When it (violence) comes from a group we align with, we look for reasons why it is justified.’ And, still, Jesus devastates this us/them mentality. We do not dismiss people’s anguish. Love across racial lines isn’t a modern progressive ideal; it started as biblical one. As we listen to black theologians, we see them calling Americans to be more biblical, not less. Yes, repentance still matters. And, yes, we have a long way to go. The brilliance of Rebecca, in each chapter, shows us the secular sinkhole. She shows us how today’s leading atheists cannot provide a convincing reason for their high moral beliefs. Yes, Black Lives Matter. At the same time, it’s ok to examine the undergirded philosophy that carries a multiplicity of meanings.

2 – “Love is Love”. Simply put, this is not a coherent statement. Holistically, we all need different kinds of loves.[3] This creed implies that sexual/romantic love is the only spoke in the wheel that makes the world go round (contrast; see 1 John 4:8). Louis Crompton, a historian and a queer studies pioneer states: “Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstances.”[4] The Bible celebrates same-sex love, yes, but not in the way our western individualism does. Like Augustine argues, when our loves are rightly ordered and expressed, they swell to the mighty river in Revelation: the river of God’s passionate love for us. In this original diversity, creation of new life comes through love across differences.

3 – “The New Civil Rights Movement.” Many say we are on the ‘wrong side of history’. Yet, from an atheist perspective, there’s no grounding to believe in human rights. No basis for love across differences, and no meaning to right or wrong beyond our shared imagination – at a certain time. Rebecca continually draws us to the works of Dawkins, Yuval Harari, and Tom Holland (historian, not Spiderman) on both what the outworking of “blind, pitiless indifference” produces in us and how we are all more shaped by Christianity that we think we are. Yes, we can and should repent of prejudice, but not our theology. Rebecca, compellingly, states that this new movement is not the same as the Civil Rights movement.  “Before we conclude that all this history of Christian sin means we should throw out Christianity, we must remember that human equality is ultimately God-given.”

4 – “Women’s rights are Human Rights”. Rebecca argues this is a poisoned chalice. The central plank of women’s rights, abortion, rots their foundation. Jesus’ longest recorded conversation with an individual is a Samaritan woman of ill repute (John 4:7-30). Many things that have been fought for under the banner of feminism can and should be affirmed. And, there are some that are inconsistent with the way of Jesus. Paul Offit, a non-Christian professor of pediatrics called Christianity, “the single greatest breakthrough against child abuse in history.”[5] The central plank of women’s rights is Mary’s unborn child, who grew up to be a man who valued each of us so much to die on a Cross so we could live.

5 – “Transgender Women are Women”. The opening part of the chapter is both comical and salient, sketching out how ‘Harry Potter’ has become political. As an honest synthesis, today psychology is eclipsing biology. In theological terms, anthropology is the new (old) soteriology of our day. To say this claim (#5), itself is contradictory, and then leads to women having no meaning anymore. To say gender identity is a more important or deeper part to ourselves than male/female sex difference is to alienate us from our bodies. This does not offer hope to those who experience an incongruence. Jesus upholds the design patterns that go back to Genesis and makes room for those who do not feel at home within their own bodies. At the same time, He offers us a hope, a new reality, even if we feel out a joint. That is perplexingly good. There is One who did for you what you could not and cannot do for yourself.

While a blog post cannot capture the nuances, illustrations, or footnotes of an incredibly well cited book, it can be like air conditioning on a hot day. If you feel stifled by the heat of these ideological slogans, then pick up this book to receive cool air, maybe even the ‘aroma of Christ’ for our day. With bended knees, malleable hearts, and readied mouths to speak the truth in love.

[1] Jonathan Haidt; The Anxious Generation.

[2] Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope (Downers Grove, Il: IVP Academic, 2020), 102.

[3] C.S Lewis. The Four Loves.

[4] Louis Crompton, Homosexuality and Civilization (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 114.

[5] Paul A. Offit, “Why I Wrote This Book: Paul A. Offit, M.D., Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine”, Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, March 17, 2015.

Greg Navitsky

Greg Navitsky

WGA Staff

While growing up in Arlington Heights, IL, it wasn’t until the start of my senior year did I start to wonder if Jesus was worth considering. For me, it took the intellectual, communal, and personal components to come together to say – yes – to Him. I like to say He captured the restlessness of my soul and like a guitar restrung my heart with the cords of eternity and it hasn’t gone back since.

Shortly after coming to know Jesus as my greatest hope and reality, my father died. Since then, I’ve taken great comfort in Corrie Ten Boom’s words, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God, you’ll be at rest.”

Then, not long after that, a family member came out to me. For the first time this dimension of life – spirituality and sexuality – wasn’t an abstract concept, this was and is a person. After attending to them with grace and truth, an odd phenomenon kept happening to me, or has it been for something? Individuals would continually trust me with their questions, wounds, and curiosities about their sexuality. At this point, it’s climbed to 15+. From there, I’ve invested the better part of eight years being engaged with individuals and immersed in the dizzying array of literature on these areas of our personhood.

I’ve found Elizabeth Elliot’s words to have great bearing on our cultural moment: “Faith doesn’t eliminate questions, but faith knows where to take them.” Two prayers that have grounded and guided my life are: “I long to have faith and obedience like those I see in the Scriptures, and I long to preach the gospel to the nations.”

Those are my life’s aims. Among my love of books, reflection, and nurturing meaningful relationships, I enjoy good coffee, jazz music, golf, snowboarding, the movies, pizza (pepperoni), cooking, the mountains, and the beach as well as traveling.

I hold an MDiv from Denver Seminary, and I hope to gain more clarity on pursuing a PhD in the coming years.

I’m humbled and honored to join the WGA staff and contribute to the on-going space they are curating for every person, every story, and every beautiful and broken aspect of our human experience.

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