Nancy Pearcey is a best-selling, award-winning author who serves as professor of apologetics and scholar-in-residence at Houston Baptist University. She is also editor-at-large of The Pearcey Report and a fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Previous positions include visiting scholar at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute, professor of worldview studies at Cairn University, and the Francis A. Schaeffer scholar at the World Journalism Institute. She is the author of several books, including Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality. The following is an abridged transcription of Pearcey’s two-day presentation to Cairn faculty and staff during the annual faculty workshop in August 2021.
After high school, I went to Labri, the ministry of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. This was the first place that I encountered apologetics and the first time I encountered Christians who talked about there being valid arguments, reasons, evidence, and logic supporting Christianity. Schaeffer’s form of apologetics spoke to postmodern young people—including myself—in a way that no other apologetics did, and he heavily influenced my own approach to apologetics.
This influence is evidenced in my book Love Thy Body. I wrote the book because while the secular culture speaks highly of body positivity they actually have a low view of the body. This is surprising for most people. They think if you don’t believe in God and the physical material world is all that exists, then you would expect that person to have a high view of the body. So surprisingly, it’s just the opposite, and it’s consistent across the many cultural issues of our day: transgenderism, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and even hook-up culture. Even more surprising for most people is that Christianity provides a high view of the body in its approach to all of these issues.
Transgenderism Devalues the Body
Out of all of the topics I’m going to cover, this is perhaps the most obvious example of a low view of the body. Transgender activists explicitly say that your gender identity has nothing to do with your biological sex and that being biologically male or female is not part of your “authentic self.”
A BBC documentary says, “At the heart of the debate is the idea that your mind can be at war with your body.” And of course, in that war, who wins? The mind wins. Philosophers sometimes picture this war using the metaphor of two stories in a building. It was Schaeffer who introduced this metaphor to the evangelical world. In the lowest story is what we know by science, and in the upper story, we put anything that cannot be known empirically. Applying this to the transgender debate, biological identity
is in the lower story and personal sense of self or gender identity is in the upper story. It’s perfectly possible, then, for your gender identity to actually contradict your biological identity. This leads to fragmentation and self-alienation.
This fragmentation is evident even from the language they use. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation defines “transgender” as “a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex the doctor marked down on their birth certificate”—as if it were an arbitrary choice instead of an observed scientific fact. But the Christian ethic rests on a positive view of the body, because we know we have a good God who made the world with intentionality and purpose.
Homosexuality Devalues the Body
Even my homosexual friends agree that on the level of biology, anatomy, physiology, and chromosomes, males and females are counterparts to one another. That’s how the human sexual and reproductive system is designed. To embrace a same-sex identity, then, is to contradict that design. It’s to say, “Why should the structure of my body inform my identity?” ” Why should my biological sex as a male or female have any say in my moral choices?” We need to help people see that this is a profoundly disrespectful view of the body. It pits the mind against the body and says it’s only the mind and feelings that count. Christianity gives an ethic that overcomes that inner division, that split in the sense of self in the body. It leads to self-integration instead of fragmentation. It leads to an inner sense of holism and unity.
My book Love Thy Body is full of personal stories. So let me give you one of my favorite stories. Sean Dougherty was a man who grew up identifying as exclusively homosexual. But today, he’s married to a woman, has three children, and is a Christian ethics professor. He explains, “I stopped defining my identity by my sexual feelings, and I started to regard my physical body as who I was. My goal was not to change my feelings, which rarely works. Instead, my goal was to acknowledge what I already had, a male body, as a good gift from God. And eventually my feelings started to follow suit.” In other words, he acknowledged his embodied existence as fundamentally good. And that’s really the question at the heart of this debate: Do we live in a cosmos operating by blind, purposeless, mindless forces, or do we live in a cosmos created by a loving Creator, which is therefore fundamentally good?
Christians are making a positive case that biblical morality respects our biological identity. The biological correspondence between male and female is not some evolutionary accident. It’s part of the original creation that God pronounced very good.
Abortion Devalues the Body
We usually talk about sexuality issues separately from the life issues of abortion and euthanasia. But there is an underlying worldview—namely a devaluing of the body—that connects them.
A few years ago, an article appeared by a British broadcaster who said she had always been proudly pro-choice until she became pregnant with her first baby. She said, “I was calling the life inside me a baby because I wanted it. But if I hadn’t wanted it, I would think of it as just a group of cells that was okay to kill.” To her credit, she realized that that didn’t make sense. So she began to research the subject. She concluded, “In terms of science, I have to agree that life begins at conception. But perhaps the fact of life is not what’s important. It’s whether that life has grown enough to start becoming a person.”
Do you see how the concept of a human being has been split in two? Professional bioethicists agree that life begins at conception. The evidence from genetics and DNA is too strong to deny it. So how do they get around the science to support abortion? They argue that you can be “human” at one point, but not a “person” until sometime later. They argue that merely being human is not enough to qualify for legal protection. The fetus has to earn the right to life by becoming a person, usually defined in terms of mental abilities, some level of self-awareness, cognitive functioning, and so on. Once the concept of personhood is separated from biology, there is no objective criteria. It becomes completely arbitrary. Every bioethicist draws the line at a different place, depending on their own private views, values, and personal preferences.
You can see how this view can easily extend to euthanasia and assisted suicide. Secular bioethicists say that if you lose a certain level of cognitive functioning, then you are “only a body.” You’re only in the lower story (to use this two-story diagram), and at that point, you can be unplugged, your treatment withheld, your food and water discontinued, and your organs harvested. Being human is no longer enough for human rights.
That view implies a divided concept, a fragmented concept of what it means to be human. It also asserts that the body itself has no particular dignity or value. On the other hand, the pro-life position is holistic, not fragmented. It says the body itself has meaning and dignity and is part of who you are. You can’t separate them.
Hook-Up Culture Devalues the Body
Once again, the way to understand the secular understanding of sex rests on a divided concept of the human being. It rests on the assumption that sex can be purely physical, cut off from the whole person without any hint of love or commitment. Young people know the script all too well, even if they don’t really like it.
In my book, I give several very poignant quotes from college students like Alicia, who says, “Hook-ups are very scripted. You learn to turn everything off except your body. You make yourself emotionally invulnerable.” She’s almost verbally describing the dualism with the line separating who you are physically from who you are as a full human self.
Critics of the hook-up culture, which includes a lot of Christians, often will say it gives sex too much importance, but in reality it gives sex too little importance. In Rolling Stone magazine, a young man said in an interview, “Sex is just a piece of body touching another piece of body. It is existentially meaningless.”
The hook-up culture expresses the mentality of a worldview that says your body can be treated as purely physical, driven by physical impulses and instincts. No wonder it’s leaving a trail of wounded people in its wake. People are trying to live out a secularist ethic that does not fit who they really are. Even science shows the interconnection of body and person with the discovery of hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin. These are hormones that are released by sexual activity, and they produce a feeling of connection, a sense of attachment. They are sometimes called bonding hormones. A UCLA psychiatrist says, “You might say we are designed to bond.”
How should Christians respond? In all of these cases we should ask, “Why should we accept such an extreme devaluation of the body?” Christians have a wonderful opportunity to show that a biblical ethic is based on loving your body. The Bible’s high view of God’s created order is one reason that it truly is good news. Francis Schaeffer used to say the message of Christianity doesn’t start with salvation; it starts with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and, therefore, this creation has great value and dignity. We are called to honor our body, to respect our biological sex, to live in harmony with the Creator’s design, and to recognize that the body has intrinsic purpose and meaning.