Rod Dreher

Sex & The Final Christian Generation

There is a reason why when Christians give up Christian sexual morality, they sooner or later give up Christianity. The Biblical rules of Christian sexual conduct are inextricably rooted in a particular vision of what the human person is, under God, and how believers are supposed to treat the material world, their bodies (and the bodies of others) first of all. Whatever the German Catholic and Anglican bishops think, it is not possible to reconcile contemporary sexual morality, including homosexuality, with Christianity. It simply cannot be done. Those who believe it can are lying to themselves.

That image above is a sculpture of the early church virgin martyr Cecilia in the Roman church that bears her name, in the city’s Trastevere neighborhood. The photo is by Richard Stracke. The sculpture is made from a description of an eyewitness who said the saint’s incorrupt body looked like this when the tomb was opened in 1599.
As I’ve written in this space in recent days, my trip last week to the ruins of the ancient Asia Minor cities, where the Seven Churches of Revelation met, jarred me into considering the vast difference between early Christian ideas about sex and sexuality, and that of the polytheistic Roman world in which the Christians lived. Curious to know more, I bought and read historian Kyle Harper’s 2013 book about how the advent of Christianity caused a sexual revolution in Rome of late antiquity. It’s really quite something. Let me tell you what I learned, and what it has to do with our situation today. It’s more complicated than you might think.

In Rome (the term I will use to describe the entire Empire), sex was seen as something very different than how even post-Christian morality sees it today. Harper says that sexual acts were judged solely as a matter of “social reproduction” — that is, affirming and reproducing the social order. That was an order that gave maximum privilege to freeborn Roman men; freeborn Roman women, though, were strictly confined to matron status. Freeborn men were entitled to have sex with unmarried women not of their social class, and also with men — but they were strictly forbidden from being the passive partner in gay sex. (Indeed, the word “gay” is inappropriate here, as male sexual desire was considered to be fluid; you were not thought to be exclusively homosexual just because you enjoyed sex with males.) The fundamental principle governing sex acts was that “a sexual act was composed of an active and a passive partner, and masculinity required the insertive role.” Sex with boys and girls was considered normal. Slaves and prostitutes were treated as subhuman under Roman law and custom, and were the sexual playthings of free Roman men.

It is hard to overstate the mass suffering this social order caused. Writes Harper:
Slave ownership was not just the preserve of such super-rich aristocrats, though; the sheer extent of slave owning meant that the mechanics of Roman sexuality were shaped by the presence of unfree bodies across the social spectrum. One in ten families in the empire owned slaves; the number in the towns was probably twice that. The ubiquity of slaves meant pervasive sexual availability. “If your loins are swollen, and there’s some homeborn slave boy or girl around where you can quickly stick it, would you rather burst with tension? Not I—I like an easy lay.” Slaves played something like the part that masturbation has played in most cultures: we learn in a book on dream interpretation that if a man dreams “he is stroking his genitals with his hands, he will obtain a slave or slave-woman.”
Nothing summarized the abject depravity of Tiberius as his use of young slave children on Capri. Nero’s reputation for philhellenism and debauchery fused in his three reputed marriages to eastern eunuchs. Eunuchs did in fact come to occupy an ever more important place in pederastic practices of the Roman Empire; Domitian, whose favorite was a eunuch cupbearer named Earinus, banned castration within the empire, but the transfrontier trade was able to pump eunuchs into the empire at a sufficient level that their prominence continued to gain into late antiquity. The outsized villainy of Commodus could be seen in his incest and voyeurism, his three hundred concubines, and his infamous behavior, in which he “polluted every part of his body and hi mouth, with both sexes.
Nobody cared about slaves and prostitutes. They were non-persons. But their presence in society was absolutely required to maintain the social order. Sex for the Romans was all about the erotic embodiment of class and gender roles. Harper puts it succinctly here:
The sexual culture of the high Roman Empire was dominated by the imperatives of social reproduction. The symphony of sexual values, in all its various movements and complex harmonies, was set to the rhythms of the material world: early marriage for women, jealous guarding of honorable female sexuality, an expansive slave system, late marriage for men, and basically relaxed attitudes toward male sexual potential, so long as it was consonant with masculine protocols and social hierarchies. Moral expectations were in tune with social roles, and social roles strictly determined both the points of release and the rigid constraints in ancient sexual culture. The value of a sexual act derived, first and foremost, from its objective location within a matrix of social relationships.

Homosexuality, understood as male-on-male sex, was everywhere present in Rome — but again, it would be an error to think of pre-Christian Rome as the French Quarter with togas. Harper:

Yet despite the vitality of various forms of same-sex erotics in the high empire, it would be a grave mistake to say that the Romans had anything resembling tolerance for homosexuality. The code of manliness that governed the access to pleasures in the classical world was severe and unforgiving, and deviance from it was socially mortal. The viciousness of mainstream attitudes toward passivity is startling for anyone who approaches the ancient sources with the false anticipation that pre-Christian cultures were somehow reliably civilized toward sexual minorities.
The most despised sexual figure of all in Roman society was the kinaidos, an effeminate male who was the passive partner in male-male couplings, and always ready for sex. This is but one example of how the reality of Roman mores confounds any attempt to read contemporary sexual values onto late antiquity. Sex back then was what you did, not who you were. Modern notions of “sexual identity” would have made no sense to the Romans.
Harper writes with banked horror at the enormity of prostitution in Rome, and its connection to the slave trade, and to Roman economic life. Sex trafficking, as we would call it today, was a fundamental part of Roman social and economic life. The historian’s tone is even throughout the book, but he is at his most passionate imagining the immense suffering of countless enslaved women and girls, compelled to service Roman men, even to the point where, in the words of one observer of the era, the exhausted women looked like corpses. Is there any wonder why Christian sexual morality was greeted by the poor as liberation?
It is true that a small minority of Roman philosophers opposed the robust eroticism of their culture, but Harper says it’s a serious mistake to think of the early Christians as simply siding with the few Roman conservatives. Christianity’s conception of sex and eros, an essentially Hebraic one, was radically different, and opposed to Rome’s. For St. Paul and the early Christians, sex was bounded by gender. It cannot be overstated how much they despised homosexuality. And like the Romans, sex expressed a concept of the social order that entailed a concept of the human person. In the world of antiquity, people were fatalistic, chalking up their behavior to destiny written in the stars. Not so with Christians, who taught that every soul bears the image of God, and is morally responsible:
For Christians, there could be no ambiguity about a matter so fundamental, and so eternally consequential, as the cause of sin. Nothing—not the stars, not physical violence, not even the quiet undertow of social expectation— could be held responsible for the individual’s choice of good and evil. The Christians of the second and third centuries invented the notion of free will.
(Harper discusses briefly the teaching of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus on free will, but dismisses it as meaningfully connected to Christian teaching, which was of course vastly more influential.)
Moreover, for the early Christians, sex had everything to do with cosmic reality. That is, it mattered very much to God what one did with one’s body, because He expected His servants to subdue the passions of the flesh to the divinely mandated order. Christian marriage, for example, is an icon of Christ’s relationship to the Church. Prostitution and other forms of porneia (Paul’s catch-all term for illicit sex) are tied to idolatry — the worship of false gods. For the Christian, the sexual disorder of the Roman world was inextricable from its polytheism.
The severity of early Christian writing on sex had a lot to do with the fact that the apostles needed to convince the tiny new religious community to keep itself separated from the corrupt majority culture. After Christianity became the religion of Late Empire, the tone would moderate somewhat. Harper:
Indeed, the strident tone of so much early Christian writing on sexuality was nurtured in an atmosphere where the advocates of the religion were a small, persecuted minority. Christian sexual morality of the second century has a shrill tone precisely because it is the urgent message of an embattled, if confident, group of dissenters.
… For three centuries, Christian sexual ideology was the property of a persecuted minority, and it was deeply stamped by the ability of Christians to stand apart from the world, to reject the world. From the fourth century on, Christian sexual morality would be ever more deeply enmeshed in the world. The break was not necessarily sharp: there were married Christian householders from the earliest days of the church, and the ascetic movement carried on the world-rejecting style of the early church. But the changing center of gravity was decisive.
As Philip Rieff has elsewhere observed, sex was the linchpin of the Christian social imaginary. Harper writes, “Nowhere did the moral expectations of the Jesus movement stand in such stark contrast to the world in which its adherents moved.” The Romans might well have asked the same question as our modern post-Christians: Why does the Church care so much about sex? The answer then, as now, is: Because the way we exercise eros has everything to do with how we regard the human person, and even cosmic reality.
Harper does not like the word “fornication,” for good reason: it sounds so churchy and stilted. Its use by St. Paul, though, refers to all illicit use of sex. Harper:
Paul’s reflections on fornication, like a stone on the river bottom that suddenly catches the light, reveals the unexpected depths of the term’s meaning. Fornication was not just a marker of ethnic differentiation, providing a template of sexual rules setting God’s faithful apart from the heathens. Paul’s understanding of fornication made the body into a consecrated space, a point of mediation between the individual and the divine.
You see? Early Christian teaching did not come out of hating the body, but from regarding it as holy. More:
In the thundering introit of the letter, it becomes evident that for Paul the sexual disorder of Roman society was the single most powerful symbol of the world’s alienation from God. Paul draws on the deeply rooted association between idolatry and sexual immorality: sexual fidelity was the corollary of monotheism, while the worship of many gods was, in every way, promiscuous. But in Paul’s hands the association was transfigured into a fearful comment on the human condition.
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The Most Dangerous Post-Election Lie

My message to believers is: do not wait to be led! It’s probably not going to happen. Educate yourselves, and start forming these small communities of faith, and networks of communities, so you can have a fighting chance of raising your kids in the faith, and enduring what’s to come. I talk about this in both The Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies. We do not have to sit passively by while this wave of darkness and chaos passes over us! There are things we can do, and do together. I think once again about the pastor I spoke to a couple of years ago, who told me he wouldn’t talk about gender ideology to his congregation because he didn’t want to be divisive, and introduce “politics” into the church. That man is going to have to answer to God one day for why he left his flock undefended. If you are part of a church whose clerical leadership is aware and courageous and engaged, give thanks to God! 

I got in late last night from several great days in London, meeting wonderful people, and feeling in the most important respects recharged. I have had perhaps the worst year of my life (I’m talking about the divorce), but at the same time, it was reaffirmed for me in London that I am inordinately blessed by the friends I have. In London, I gave a talk about Live Not By Lies — the lessons we Christians should learn from the suffering underground churches under Communism, that can be applied to our own situation. One of the main three lessons is the absolute importance of creating and sustaining small groups. Over and over, in my reporting for the book, I heard from dissidents who remained behind to live and struggle under Communism, that they could not have gotten through with their faith intact if it hadn’t been for small groups. The underground Slovak Catholic bishop (later cardinal) Jan Chrysostom Korec, told his followers that the state could take everything they have away from them, but the one thing the state must not be allowed to take away is their small groups of the faithful. These last few days in London, making new friends and renewing old friendships, helped me to understand this at a deep level. If you have others who love you, and whom you love, standing with you in the storm, you can endure anything. If it was true for those having to live under hard totalitarianism, how much more true must it be with us? I was making my coffee this morning, and a revised version of a well-known Auden line appeared in my mind: You will love your broken neighbor/With your broken heart.

On the flight back to Budapest, I was trying to sort out the meaning of this election day we just had. It seems clear to me that it likely would have been a Red Wave had Donald Trump not been a factor. He did a lot of good for the conservatives in 2016, but now, he is an enormous liability. True MAGA fans can’t accept it, but the truth is, there are a decisive number of Americans who would vote Republican, and will even vote for Trumpist policies, but won’t vote for Trump, or Trump-adjacent candidates. This is not hard to understand. Trump’s statements since election day reveal once again what we have always known about his character: that he is a reckless, vain man who doesn’t want to do anything other than create a cult of personality around himself.

Aaron Renn, the Calvinist public intellectual best known today for his “three worlds of Evangelicalism” model, writes of the striking repudiation of pro-life advocacy in this election:
This is just more evidence that we live in what I called the negative world. Conservative Christians need to understand that the majority of the public simply does not agree with their social positions. This is one reason that the culture war approach is obsolete. This is going to be a painful adjustment for a lot of people who are used to thinking of themselves as a “moral majority.”
He goes on:
I think this election shows that the MAGA movement in America is out of gas. Paul Gottfried once said that conservatism was basically a journalism project. That is, it was mostly a collection of op-ed writers, not serious academics, policy people, or a real political movement.
Similarly, one way to describe MAGA is as a social media influencer movement. It’s been long on e-celebrities and rhetoricians, short on serious, competent people who can produce results. The most MAGA/Trumpy candidates in this election underperformed in competitive races. JD Vance won his Senate race in Ohio, for example, but badly trailed the performance of Republican Ron DeWine in his gubernatorial campaign.
DeSantis is an interesting case study in post-MAGA politics. He recognized the unpopularity of the consensus status quo. And he took strong actions against that consensus that were publicly popular while largely avoiding ones that were not. For example, child transgenderization is not popular. On the other hand, most people want abortion to be legal. So he only signed a 15-week abortion ban, which seems in line with public opinion.
In retrospect, he was also the best performing governor of any major state leader during the pandemic. I believe Florida’s death rates were in the middle of the pack. But his decision to mostly keep the schools open is now the conventional wisdom about what should have been done everywhere. And by keeping business largely open as well, he positioned Florida to profit enormously from the shifting landscape. Big time venture capital and high finance – even the very progressive, ESG promoting BlackRock – have streamed into South Florida. This took enormous courage, and DeSantis was vilified by the media for two years over it. Even today they refuse to give him credit even when adopting his positions.
He also seems to have handled the recent hurricane relatively well. And although it is perhaps not something he personally did, Florida seems to have the gold standard for running elections, with its results available very quickly. That’s a big change from 2000. So he appears competent.
DeSantis lacks the natural charisma of many politicians. It’s not clear how he or his approach will play outside of Florida. But he’s shown that an aggressive Republicanism that stakes out popular post-MAGA positions, and which demonstrates courageous leadership and the competent ability to actually get things done can be not just popular but extremely popular. This demonstrates the divergent fortunes of traditional religious conservatism and a possible post-Christian, post-MAGA Republican Party.

Aaron published this on his Substack newsletter, which he’s got a this-week-only special subscription offer extant. I strongly suggest that you subscribe, even if you’re not a Protestant. Aaron is really smart, and he’s not afraid to tell hard truths to his fellow Christian conservatives.

Note that he points out that religious conservatism’s interests and that of the “post-Christian, post-MAGA Republican Party” diverge. This is something that is very hard for older Christians to grasp — I mean, the idea that politics are not the solution. Don’t misread me (I mean, everybody misreads me, but I’m going to make another plea here): It’s not an either/or. It’s not either “throw yourself completely into politics” or “head for the hills.” There are no hills to head to. We are stuck in this thing whether we want to be or not. Christians (and other traditionalists) have to do the best we can within political possibility, while AT THE SAME TIME preparing ourselves and our communities for dark and difficult days ahead. We have no choice. I was telling somebody in London that I find it so much more rewarding to be among younger (under 50) Christians in Europe and the UK talking about this stuff, because they live in more advanced post-Christian societies, and can see very clearly how hard it is, and is going to be. Americans are not quite there yet. We American Christians would do very well to engage British and European Christians who are serious about the faith (I’m not talking about people like the liberal Catholics who are now busy trying to revolutionize the Catholic Church in the name of synodality and accompaniment), to benefit from their counsel.
For me, the trans issue, even more than abortion, is the bellwether issue of our time for Christians. As far as I know, Wes Yang is not a believer, or even a conservative, but he has been a passionate opponent of the transing of America. His Twitter account features stories from detransitioners about how they were lied to and manipulated. He tweeted this after the election:
I’m where he is. This campaign to alienate young people from their bodies, to mutilate them chemically and surgically, and to deceive and sideline parents, is one of the most evil things I have ever seen. And yet, few people seem to care. The GOP certainly doesn’t care. People like Chris Rufo and Matt Walsh have done more to roll this evil back than any GOP politician, with the exception of Ron DeSantis and now, the governor and legislators in Tennessee, where Walsh lives. It is mind-blowing to me that Republicans have not made an issue of this — not because it will help them win votes, but because it is just so damn evil. But then, how many pastors are making an issue of it? How many pastors are explaining to their congregations why it’s bad, and how parents and their kids can resist it? How many people in the pews want to hear it? This is what it means to be a post-Christian country. This is what it means to have bought the modern story that the material world, especially the human body, is meaningless matter upon which we can impose our will, without limits. Again, so many Christians have bought into this story, and know so little about the faith that they don’t understand what they are doing. An Evangelical pastor friend of mine texted me yesterday to say that he had spoken to a group of about 60 Evangelical college students at a big Southern university, and was shocked to find that none of them knew much of anything about the Bible, or the faith. They were blank slates. They didn’t choose to be that way: this is what their parents and grandparents did to them. We Christians — in part because we put too much faith in politics — have created a generation of men (and women) without chests, and we wonder why they consent to becoming men and women without breasts and balls.
You think Pope Francis’s “synodal” church, a church of “inclusivity” and “accompaniment” is going to form Catholics capable of resisting? Read this column by Gavin Ashenden, a former Anglican priest, now Catholic. He saw what this kind of talk did to his former church, and he’s now sounding the alarm. Excerpt:
[I]n the world of Anglicanism, an essential part of the leftist sociological take-over of the church was almost always accompanied by the promise that the Holy Spirit was very much part of the project.  It turned out, at the end of the process that the progressives had in fact  mistaken the spirit of the age for the Holy Spirit. Having seen the ploy used once to such divisive and destructive effect, the ex-Anglicans are hoping to share their experience of the danger this constitutes to the integrity of the Church.
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Monkeypox and the Face of Gay Promiscuity

That’s a pretty horrible picture, innit? It’s a 40-year-old German monkeypox patient whose nose began to rot off after he caught the disease. Turns out that he was HIV-positive and didn’t know, plus was infected with advanced syphilis — also a surprise to him. He told doctors he had never been tested for a sexually transmitted infection. There he was, celebrating diversity like a champ, and now his nose is partially rotted off. Heaven knows who he passed along HIV, syphilis, and monkeypox to along the way.
Meanwhile, New Orleans is so far going ahead with its big Labor Day weekend Southern Decadence festival, an LGBT event that draws 275,000 to the French Quarter for six days of sex, dancing, and debauchery. Decadence was cancelled the past two years because of Covid, but not over monkeypox, though it is certain to be a superspreader event.

I will never be able to understand the death wish of a culture in which a man like the anonymous German exists. Take a look at this collection of articles from medical journals, compiled by Joseph Sciambra (once a promiscuous gay man, now a chaste Christian), testifying to the shocking health realities of gay male culture. For example, according to the CDC in 2017, 60 percent of syphilis cases were found in only two percent of the population: gay men.

I remember being told by the media that gay men were vastly more promiscuous than straight men because society compelled them to be. Normalize homosexuality and grant same-sex marriage, and that would change. I never believed it because I knew perfectly well that gay men were insanely promiscuous not because they were gay, but because they were men. An ordinary male unrestrained by religious or moral scruple, and faced with a wide variety of willing partners who demand no emotional commitment, or even to know one’s name, before having sex — that man will likely behave exactly as most gay men do. Until now, at least, heterosexual men have had to cope with a culture of restraint imposed by women. Randy Shilts, the gay journalist who wrote And The Band Played On (and who later died of AIDS), made this very same point in his book. He said that straight men he’d spoken to expressed envy that gay men could have such a bounty of sexual experiences, because they didn’t live with the restraining factor of women. There was always, always somebody — and usually many somebodys — willing to say “yes” to anything you wanted, any time you wanted.

In the United States, we have had legal same-sex marriage from coast to coast for seven years now. Of course the culture of debauchery has not changed. It never was going to change. And look, if the horrors of AIDS didn’t change it, why should monkeypox?
If all this is normative behavior in the gay male community (note well: I’m not talking about lesbians), then what chance does a young gay male have of not being caught up in it? We live in a culture where, for better or for worse, homosexuality has been largely destigmatized. It seems plausible that if a young gay man wanted to have a normal, “vanilla” lifestyle of dating, courting, and gay marriage, it would be possible. I wonder, though, how likely it is when the cultural norms within the gay male community are so debauched. Seriously, gay male readers, what advice would you give an adolescent gay male if he wanted to avoid falling into that gutter? If you don’t have the ability to use the comments section, email me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com, and put COMMENT in the subject line.
In the late 1980s, during the height of the AIDS crisis, a New Orleans friend who is very liberal and pro-gay, though a heterosexual woman, told me a story about being out on the streets on Mardi Gras day. She said that she and her boyfriend were crossing lower Bourbon Street, the heart of the city’s gay community, when they saw a teenage boy, couldn’t have been a day over 17, staggering drunk (or drugged) and naked through the crowd of men. He had blood and feces running down his leg from his rectum. He had likely been raped. Nobody in the crowd was trying to help him. He was lost and wandering. He disappeared into the crowd of nearly-naked gay men partying in the street. My friend said the sight of that poor kid, who may well have been infected with HIV that day, upset her so much that she asked her boyfriend to take her home, that her day was done.

We never talk about stuff like that. It violates the Narrative. But it happens. It’s not the whole story about gay male culture here, but it’s a part of the story.

UPDATE: Along these lines, here’s a strong essay by Bridget Phetasy about her regret over being a “slut”. Excerpt:
But if I’m honest with myself, of the dozens of men I’ve been with (at least the ones I remember), I can only think of a handful I don’t regret. The rest I would put in the category of “casual,” which I would define as sex that is either meaningless or mediocre (or both). If I get really honest with myself, I’d say most of these usually drunken encounters left me feeling empty and demoralized. And worthless.
I wouldn’t have said that at the time, though. At the time, I would have told you I was “liberated” even while I tried to drink away the sick feeling of rejection when my most recent hook-up didn’t call me back. At the time, I would have said one-night stands made me feel “emboldened.” But in reality, I was using sex like a drug; trying unsuccessfully to fill a hole inside me with men. (Pun intended.)
I know regretting most of my sexual encounters is not something a sex-positive feminist who used to write a column for Playboy is supposed to admit. And for years, I didn’t. Let me be clear, being a “slut” and sleeping with a lot of men is not the only behavior I regret. Even more damaging was what I told myself in order to justify the fact that I was disposable to these men: I told myself I didn’t care.
I didn’t care when a man ghosted me. I didn’t care when he left in the middle of the night or hinted that he wanted me to leave. The walks of shame. The blackouts. The anxiety.
The lie I told myself for decades was: I’m not in pain—I’m empowered.
Looking back, it isn’t a surprise that I lied to myself. Because from a young age, sex was something I was lied to about.
Yeah, me too. I was never any kind of “slut,” if that word can be applied to men. But it took me a while to work out that what the world (meaning popular culture) told me about sex was a lie. I was not especially sexually active in my pre-Christian years, but that wasn’t for lack of trying. What slowed me down was the misery I felt after doing the deed. Everything was clear after that: the lies I told the women, and myself, about what we were doing. I loved sex, but more than that, I really did want it to be about love, real love. I kept trying to tell myself that it was fine for it to be meaningless, because that’s what I was supposed to think. It was a lie. It was only after my conversion, and learning the value of chastity, that I was able to see the true meaning of sex. It kept me away from surrendering my life to Christ for years, because I thought — I had been told — that it was my birthright to enjoy commitment-free sexual pleasure. Hadn’t we put away the hypocrisy of our parents’ generation? Weren’t we, you know, liberated? I believed that with my mind, but my heart, and my body, said otherwise.
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Julian Dobbs, The Based Bishop

“Love seeks the highest welfare of the people we are called to serve. Love seeks that welfare, love serves that welfare, love sacrifices for that welfare. And that seeking, serving, and sacrificing are three essential foundations of love. It was of course, to this same Corinthian Church that Paul wrote his great hymn of love in chapter 13, If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love… I am nothing. I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. That is what you are Christian if you are without love. American or not – you are nothing without love.”I’ve been this week at the conference of the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word (ACNA), led by Bishop Julian Dobbs. The bishop gave his annual address on Friday morning, and … Lord have mercy, if only ten percent of bishops and pastors talked like this man, we would be living in a different country. I present to you here the entire text (absent a personal remembrance of three recently deceased members of the diocese). Imagine a bishop talking like this! Catholics and Orthodox can scarcely wrap our minds around it. I asked the diocesan communications director to send me the text, which was so extraordinary. Here it is:In the name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.As a young lad, I was forded the great privilege of attending an Anglican boys boarding school from the age of 9. This was an expensive commitment for my parents who both sacrificed significantly for me to have this opportunity. My parents believed that education, respect, formation, opportunity and a valuing of order and tradition were values they wanted to gift and impart into their young son.
It was here, at King’s School and later at King’s College that my commitment to follow Christ began to focus and my formation as an Anglican converged, setting the course for the future determined for me by God. It was here at King’s, worshiping Christ often twice on a Sunday, using the daily office from the Book of Common Prayer 1662, that I began to wrestle at age eleven, with what I come to know as a vocation to serve God in Holy Orders.
Singing in the chapel choir, enamored by the hymns of Watts and Wesley, I would often be transfixed during worship on a verse of Scripture that was inscribed on the northwestern wall of the Chapel of the Holy Child.
Stand fast in the faith, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16, verse 13). What an outstanding choice of scripture to inspire young boys. Virtus pollet – the school motto, virtue prevails, become men, be servants, be leaders, Stand fast in the faith, be strong. This is part of the formation that has shaped some of the DNA of my own episcopacy. As a disciple of Christ in any form of leadership or ministry in the church of this generation, 1 Corinthians 16, verse 13 has a notable sense of urgency, Stand fast in the faith, be strong.
In this pastoral address today, I want us to consider from Scripture what are the foundational exhortations that will enable us to stand fast in the faith in our context across the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word, in our nation and beyond our borders. You ask me, why is this important? I would say to you, as we listen and talk about the issues confronting North America and the world, it appears that the Bible is no longer in vogue. So let us go to the Bible and find out what it says for us today, in our context.
In the final chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul breaks into his final instructions and gives his final greetings with five short, staccato commands, or imperatives that would later be inscribed, in part, upon that northwestern wall of my school chapel.
Look at it again. It is a wonderful text. Be vigilant… Be watchful, that is, stand firm in your faith, be strong, be courageous. And let all that you do be done in love.
It is interesting that each of the five commands pre-supposes some problem, some difficulty, some responsibility, or temptation within the Corinthian Church which makes the commands necessary.
1. Be watchful
Keep awake is the exhortation from Paul. The implication here is that we have enemies ‘out there’ and we cannot afford to relax our vigilance. It seems today, that no believer can ever afford to disconnect, because frankly we do not know when the crisis is going to come and when we will find ourselves on the ropes. Things change, things change in states, in countries, things change in workplaces, things change in families frighteningly quickly and we can find our backs against the wall. Stand up at work for some inconvenient point about honesty or integrity and suddenly your boss says, you are not performing quite as well as you were and maybe the time has come to move on. Tell your parents you are having to make some changes as a result of a Christian commitment and suddenly there is an icy coolness that creeps into what you thought was a solid relationship.
Be watchful! There are real wars taking place today in the realm of ideas. Real wars attempting to control idea-shaping institutions, congregations, seminaries and denominations – and biblical truth—a prize far more precious than any army has ever contended for—is at stake.
At the center of this attack against Christ, his word and his faithful followers is a subtle, wicked, unscrupulous, very powerful archenemy called Satan. He is an adversary who prowls around seeking someone to devour.
He uses politicians, pastors, priests, prelates and anyone he can entice.
One politician recently said in a speech to our nation which advocated for and unreservedly supported and advanced transgenderism, that parents of transgender children should be encouraged to affirm their child’s identity as one of the most powerful things they can do to keep them safe and healthy. How could such advocacy be safe and healthy when 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide.
Transgender individuals are not the enemy. They are loved by Christ. But be watchful, for we are wrestling against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. People of God, there are real wars taking place today for the control of our minds and our bodies. And if politicians are vulnerable – Satan will attack there. If priests and bishops depart the faith once for all entrusted to the saints – Satan will attack there.
Jesus speaks of Satan as a wolf in the clothing or the disguise of a sheep. And he creeps up unnoticed when leaders are at their most vulnerable, when their guard is down.
Be watchful – be vigilant. That is the exhortation from Paul in these verses. For when we lose ground to Satan, it is a tough fight to reverse the trend and bring about the required course correction.
In their 2021 statement to the Church, the bishops of the Anglican Church in North America reminded the faithful that, ‘while questions pertaining to human identity are ancient, a certain vividness around personal identity has been introduced into our current cultural conversation.
Our society has collapsed into a sexual world view which attempts to redefine the image of God in humanity as predominantly one of sexual orientation and behavior.
In the liturgy of the Consecration of Bishops, a bishop commits himself, with all faithful diligence to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word and both privately and publicly to call upon others and encourage them to do the same?
Therefore, I believe that it is my responsibility as your diocesan bishop to provide direction and speak clearly as the Church navigates these crucial and important matters.
The Bible is clear on matters of sexual identity. God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.10 Therefore, any confusion of the sexes is a distortion of God’s created order. Some Christians have great difficulty with these biblical foundations. They will often point you to the experience of a much loved family member and tell you how they have been significantly influenced by someone who identifies him or her self in a way that is inconsistent with their biological sex.
While all Christians should show compassion and empathy when possible to the personal experiences of others, the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word cannot and will not recognize personal experience as revelatory. We believe that our identity must be grounded in the truth about creation which is revealed in the Scriptures and in God’s Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.
This biblical truth is under attack today within our culture and from within the evangelical church. As a result, I have appointed a task force in the diocese, chaired by The Rev. Matthew Kennedy, to help us wrestle with what it means to be created male and female in the image of God. I have asked the task force to prepare guidelines to assist us in our ministry with individuals who are already in our congregations or come to the diocese in the future and are wrestling with sexual identity.
In their report, which the clergy will receive tomorrow, the task force says this, ‘God is the author of all good things. The world that He has made includes men and women and our Lord said that from the beginning God made human beings “male and female” (Matthew 19:4). Yet this is a cultural moment when there is increasing confusion about the significance of this order and about whether Christians should think about being male or female as something that is given and fixed, or as something that is to a substantial degree malleable and self-chosen.’
Thank you Matt and the members of your task force, for your focused work.
Let me tell you why this is so important. The Holy Scriptures have been given to us by God and as a result, the word of God written is extraordinarily precious. The bible tells the world what it does not wish to hear. We should not expect to be embraced by those whose thoughts and deeds contradict the truths of our faith. Nor should we seek to make our faith more palatable, lest the salt lose its savor. As Dr. Carl Trueman has written, ‘Accommodating the world’s demands is a fool’s errand.’
I urge you to establish a framework of discipline in your life that has regular and robust biblical study and reflection. We build our beliefs and ethics, not from the loudest or the most appealing voices in the public square, academia or the corridors of power; we build our beliefs and ethics from a robust engagement with Scripture.
This is why I urge you to participate in a weekly bible study group in your congregation to study the Bible and build accountable relationships with other Christians. We need faithful friends!
Friends who will love us. Friends who will encourage us. Friends who will pray regularly for us and friends who will bark loudly like watch dogs when they perceive in us the first glimmerings of compromise. People of God, be watchful!
2. Stand firm in the faith.
Staying awake, keeping our guard, maintaining our vigilance – yes, indeed! Paul adds (vs.13) Stand firm in the faith. Stand firmly planted against all the pressures to conform. Stability is a much desired quality in almost every sphere of our lives.
About 6 weeks ago, I was visiting Holy Cross Anglican Church in the Historic Third Ward in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As I waited for the plane to depart on my return journey, the pilot informed the passengers that our flight was delayed in order to reconfigure and stabilize our aircraft. The plane I was on was a small aircraft and it required the crew to accurately compute the center of gravity so that the plane would appropriately level off in flight.
Some days later, I sought the wisdom and experience of U.S. Air Force pilot, Colonel Karen Love to explain the situation to me. Karen told me the center of gravity ensures the plane flies within its specified parameters. Without proper balance, the plane might be nose low or nose high upon leveling off at altitude. She said, the pilot must be cognizant of aerodynamic balance and stabilization to ensure maximum flight fuel and course efficiency.
It seemed to me that Karen was saying… the plane needs to be stable!
Paul exhorts us to be stable. Aerodynamic balance! Maximum flight fuel and course efficiency! Stand firm, stand fast in the faith. Do not deviate off course.
… Most of us admire people who have a stable character, a stable personality and stable convictions. I believe that ‘stability’ was one of the attributes that Jesus admired the most in John the Baptist. In Matthew chapter 11, Jesus speaks to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? And He gave three possibilities. A reed shaken by the wind? Did you go out to see a person who is swayed by public opinion and blown about in the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Someone living in a king’s palace? What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Somebody who lives under the authority of the word of God. In those three options you have everybody in this room. Every one of us is one or other of those three descriptions. What is it that rules your life? Is it public opinion from the outside? Is it your own pleasures and passions on the inside? Or is it the word of God from above?
The two Books of Homilies [which are a gift to us all today and are beautifully being rediscovered in the Anglican Church] are valuable in a multiplicity of ways and show how Anglican doctrine shifted during the Reformation. These homilies were intended to raise the standards of preaching by offering model sermons covering particular doctrinal and pastoral themes. I strongly commend the Books of Homilies to you.
The “Homily on The Reading of Scripture” states that, ‘…as drink is pleasant to them that be dry, and meat to them that be hungry, so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of Holy Scripture to them that be desirous to know God or themselves, and to do his will.’
Stand firm, do not deviate. For when the Church deviates from the word of God the consequences are catastrophic!
On October 14, last year, I received a very early text message from our Director of Communications, the Rev. Marc Steele. The information Marc sent me was personally painful and the consequence for the church was, in that moment, unfathomable! My friend and confidant, bishop and former keynote speaker at this missions conference and synod had converted to the See of Peter, the Church of Rome.
After spending his entire adult life within the Anglican Communion—including thirty-seven years as an Anglican bishop, Michael Nazir-Ali was received into the Ordinariate of the Catholic Church at Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory Church in London on October 31, last year.
In Michael’s own words, this was a ‘dramatic step’.
In a recent article, Michael wrote this, ‘One problem with the Anglican Communion was its lack of unity based in apostolic continuity. Each time an “agreement” was reached on important issues and accepted by the respective communions as consonant with what they believed, some part of the Anglican Communion would take unilateral action that cast doubt on the strength of the agreement.’
Michael wrote, I had often boasted that Anglicanism, although reformed, had by divine providence retained both the sacred deposit of faith and the sacred ministry.
He cites the apparent lack of authority, the ordination of women as priests and bishops, the ordination of individuals in active homosexual relationships, the breakdown of the discipline of marriage [especially amongst clergy and bishops] and a lack of clarity concerning personhood and the protections due to it at the earliest and latest stages of life as indicators which “epitomized a tendency within Anglicanism to capitulate to the culture rather than sound a prophetic voice within it.”
‘A tendency within Anglicanism to capitulate to the culture!’ That’s interesting!
One of the many reasons why I am so sensitive to wokeness and this pattern of capitulation within the Anglican Church is because I am, and many of you are, refugees from a church that lost her way when she began to succumb to appeals for compassion, tenderness and a capitulation to culture as the justification for dismantling the faith ‘once for all entrusted to the saints’.

Tim Keller & Myxomatosis Christians

I don’t know a lot about Tim Keller, except by reputation. He seems to be a very fine man, and devout Christian. I couldn’t imagine saying a bad thing about him, but some of you Evangelicals who follow him more closely than I do might disagree. All I can say is that Winsome World Christians are failing to prepare themselves, their families, and (if pastors) their flocks for the world that exists today, and the world that is fast coming into being. Again, I am thinking of the pastor I argued with who believed that he didn’t need to speak about gender ideology to his parish (“I don’t want politics in my congregation”) because, as he explained, if he just keeps winsomely teaching Biblical principles, all will be well.

So, David French. You might have seen his vociferous defense of the renowned Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller. It highlights David’s strengths as a polemicist, and the admirable loyalty of his character … but also his weakness as a reader of the signs of the times. Caveat: David is a friend, and though I disagree with him on a lot of things, I am not joining the Hate David French crowd. I believe David is always worth listening to, even when he’s wrong. And even when he’s wrong, I prefer listening to him make his case with respect and even kindliness than I do people who are on my side ideologically trying to sneer their opponents into submission.
Nevertheless, David is quite wrong here. Let’s get into it.
What prompted French’s essay? This piece by James Wood, an editor at First Things, talking about how much he admires Tim Keller, but how he believes Keller’s time has passed. Excerpts:
Keller’s winsome approach led him to great success as an evangelist. But he also, maybe subconsciously, thinks about politics through the lens of evangelism, in the sense of making sure that political judgments do not prevent people in today’s world from coming to Christ. His approach to evangelism informs his political writings, and his views on how Christians should engage politics. For years, Keller’s approach informed my views of both evangelism and politics. When I became a Christian in college, both my campus ministry and my church were heavily influenced by Keller’s “winsome,” missional, “gospel-centered” views. I liked Keller’s approach to engaging the culture—his message that, though the gospel is unavoidably offensive, we must work hard to make sure people are offended by the gospel itself rather than our personal, cultural, and political derivations. We must, Keller convinced me, constantly explain how Christianity is not tied to any particular culture or political party, instead showing how the gospel critiques all sides. He has famously emphasized that Christianity is “neither left nor right,” instead promoting a “third way” approach that attempts to avoid tribal partisanship and the toxic culture wars in hopes that more people will give the gospel a fair hearing. If we are to “do politics,” it should be in apologetic mode.
But times changed. More:
At that point, I began to observe that our politics and culture had changed. I began to feel differently about our surrounding secular culture, and noticed that its attitude toward Christianity was not what it once had been. Aaron Renn’s account represents well my thinking and the thinking of many: There was a “neutral world” roughly between 1994–2014 in which traditional Christianity was neither broadly supported nor opposed by the surrounding culture, but rather was viewed as an eccentric lifestyle option among many. However, that time is over. Now we live in the “negative world,” in which, according to Renn, Christian morality is expressly repudiated and traditional Christian views are perceived as undermining the social good. As I observed the attitude of our surrounding culture change, I was no longer so confident that the evangelistic framework I had gleaned from Keller would provide sufficient guidance for the cultural and political moment. A lot of former fanboys like me are coming to similar conclusions. The evangelistic desire to minimize offense to gain a hearing for the gospel can obscure what our political moment requires.
Keller’s apologetic model for politics was perfectly suited for the “neutral world.” But the “negative world” is a different place. Tough choices are increasingly before us, offense is unavoidable, and sides will need to be taken on very important issues.
You do need to read Aaron Renn’s account if you haven’t already. It’s important to understand why Wood takes the view that he does.
Wood writes in sorrow, and with clear respect and affection for Keller. French responded angrily, though.
Excerpts from his rebuttal:
There are so many things to say in response to this argument, but let’s begin with the premise that we’ve transitioned from a “neutral world” to a “negative world.” As someone who attended law school in the early 1990s and lived in deep blue America for most of this alleged “neutral” period, the premise seems flawed. The world didn’t feel “neutral” to me when I was shouted down in class, or when I was told by classmates to “die” for my pro-life views.
And if you want empirical evidence that New York City wasn’t “neutral” before 2014, there was almost 20 years of litigation over the city’s discriminatory policy denying the use of empty public school facilities for worship services. The policy existed until it was finally reversed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2015.
Even growing up in the rural south, I wasn’t surrounded by devout Christianity, but instead by drugs, alcohol, and a level of sexual promiscuity far beyond what we see among young people today. Where was this idealized past? There may have been less “woke capital,” but there was more crime, more divorce, and much, much more abortion.
This misses the point about Renn’s “negative world” distinction (again: read Renn’s piece!). Here is a capsule of Renn’s belief:
In recent decades, the church has passed through three eras or worlds in terms of how American society perceives and relates to the church. These are the positive, neutral, and negative worlds, with the names referring to the way society views Christianity.
Positive World (Pre-1994). Christianity was viewed positively by society and Christian morality was still normative. To be seen as a religious person and one who exemplifies traditional Christian norms was a social positive. Christianity was a status enhancer. In some cases, failure to embrace Christian norms hurt you.
Neutral World (1994-2014). Christianity is seen as a socially neutral attribute. It no longer had dominant status in society, but to be seen as a religious person was not a knock either. It was more like a personal affectation or hobby. Christian moral norms retained residual force.
Negative World (2014-). In this world, being a Christian is now a social negative, especially in high status positions. Christianity in many ways is seen as undermining the social good. Christian morality is expressly repudiated.
Renn is not claiming — it would be absurd to claim — that there was no hatred of Christianity in Positive World. Nor is he claiming that Christianity is everywhere hated. He’s generalizing about American culture — and he’s absolutely right about Negative World. I have far too many conversations with people who are senior within American institutions, both public and private, who tell me in detail what’s happening in their professional circles. I have described America as a “post-Christian nation,” meaning not that there are no Christians, but that Christianity is no longer the story that most Americans regard as explaining who we are. You might think that’s great, you might think that’s terrible, but it’s simply true.
Christians who count themselves as progressive on woke issues — LGBT, race — don’t experience Negative World as intensely, if at all. And, if you have been a vocal Never Trumper, as David French has, you gain a lot of points in Negative World with the people who run it.
Similarly, it’s a mistake to claim that because some social indicators (crime, abortion) are better today than they were when David French and I were growing up in Positive World, that this was a golden era for which Christians like Aaron Renn, James Wood, and me long. The point we make is not about the supposed Edenic qualities of the past. We have always had sin and brokenness in this country, and always will. The world is always in need of conversion, and the church is always in need of reform and repentance. The point was that in Positive World, Christianity and its ideals were held generally by society as something to be aspired to. If they weren’t, the Civil Rights Movement — led by black pastors! — would not have been possible, at least not in the form it took.
Today, in Negative World, not every workspace or social gathering site is uniformly negative, any more than in Positive World, Christians experienced welcome in, say, Ivy League law schools. The claim is a general one. I recall meeting a Portland (Oregon) megachurch pastor backstage at a Christian event two or three years ago, and him telling me that when The Benedict Option came out in 2017, he and all his friends thought Dreher was an alarmist. No more, he said. The pastor told me that the church did not change, but everything around them did. They went from being seen in Portland as sweet, essentially harmless eccentrics to being a fifth column for fascism. He told me that they are now trying to figure out how to live the Benedict Option — and he said that what is happening in Portland is going to come to most of America eventually.
I can tell you from abundant personal experience that very many conservative, or conservative-ish, pastors and lay leaders are afraid to draw the obvious conclusions from what they see around us. I just returned from spending a couple of days at a great conference of the Anglican Church of North America’s Diocese of the Living Word. Such brave and faithful and kind people there, and such inspiring pastors. But in several conversations, I heard confirmation of what I have heard from many others within church circles, and seen myself: far, far too many conservative pastors and lay leaders are desperately clinging to the false hope that we are still living in either Positive World or Neutral World, and that if they just keep calm and carry on preaching and pastoring as if all was basically well, everything’s going to calm down.
It’s not. It’s accelerating, and thinking that it’s not is pure cope. If you have the time, watch or listen to this recent podcast discussion with Jonathan Pageau and Paul Kingsnorth, which touches on these themes. They talk mostly about the totalitarian uses of today’s technology, and discuss at times how this is going to be used against all dissidents, including Christians. Paul talks about the relevance of the Benedict Option, and says we might even need to go further, to the “Anthony Option” — meaning, heading to the desert, like St. Anthony the Great, the founder of monasticism.
Anyway, back to French:
It’s important to be clear-eyed about the past because false narratives can present Christians with powerful temptations. The doom narrative is a poor fit for an Evangelical church that is among the most wealthy and powerful Christian communities (and among the most wealthy and powerful political movements) in the entire history of the world.
Yet even if the desperate times narrative were true, the desperate measures rationalization suffers from profound moral defects. The biblical call to Christians to love your enemies, to bless those who curse you, and to exhibit the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—does not represent a set of tactics to be abandoned when times are tough but rather a set of eternal moral principles to be applied even in the face of extreme adversity.
Moreover, Christ and the apostles issued their commands to Christians at a time when Christians faced the very definition of a “negative world.” We face tweetings. They faced beatings.
Wait a minute. French is certainly correct that we Christians have to love our enemies, and all the rest. And he is right that far too many besieged Christians today put that aside (a temptation of mine, I confess). But loving one’s enemies does not mean that one should close one’s eyes to the fact that they are enemies, and wish to do us serious harm. The wealth and power of American Evangelicals is something true for this time and this place. It won’t always be true. I spoke to someone at the ACNA conference who told me about a Cuban immigrant he met not long ago. She told him, “I come from your future.” He asked her what she meant by that. She told him that she can feel “in my bones” the coalescing in the United States of the totalitarianism she fled in her homeland.
Over and over and over, people who fled to America to escape Communist totalitarianism say the same thing. This is why I wrote Live Not By Lies: to relay their message, and to encourage the churches in the West both to resist while we can, and to prepare for when and if that resistance fails. The position that American Evangelicals have today will not last. Christianity is in steep decline in America, especially among the young. This, combined with the rising persecutorial sense among the woke left, who run American institutions, means that the road ahead for Christians who have not been tamed by compromise with the world will be a very, very hard one.
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Saving Your Child From The Village

This is what totalitarianism means: the infiltration of politics (cultural and otherwise) into every aspect of life. In Huxley’s Brave New World, the Savage was the only sane person there because as an exile, he had been raised ignorant of the corrupt totalitarian culture and its values. I heard the other day about a family — a conservative Christian family — that has been devastated by gender ideology wreaking havoc in the lives of their children. It sneaked up on them. Catastrophe. I mean, honest-to-God destruction of young people’s bodies and souls, and of family relationships.

A reader comments on the “Gender Identity And Your Kids” thread:
There’s a certain kind of conservative who looks at this trend [the corruption of fandom by gender ideology obsessives — RD] and says, “Good riddance. Unplug it all. Now your lazy nerd kids can spend all day at the gym lifting weights, or learn to play a musical instrument, and won’t be wasting time on the fandom of some media-marketed TV show or book series.”
I totally understand this impulse as a utopian ideal, but I also think there’s a horrible lack of appreciation for how difficult it is to raise kids in a world where they are uncomfortable with participating (or forbidden to participate) in popular franchise fan culture. My children are homeschooled and constantly desperate for more peer interaction. When they meet other kids at the park, or the roller skating rink, or on vacation, they are bombarded with aspects of pop culture from which they are being excluded — and they know it. Last month my brother passed along a collection of books and comics that my nephew was reading, and within a few weeks my 9-year-old came to us to confess that one of the books had “the f-word” in it. It ended up featuring a protagonist who was a pre-op transgender boy. At at this point I’m not even sure if her uncle gave it to her out of ignorance, or if he knew but did it anyway as a way to subvert our overly protective parenting style. I don’t have the heart to start a confrontation over it, given the cultural and ideological stress I have with my siblings already. Do you have any idea how wretched I feel that I can no longer trust my own brother as a screen for children’s literature content?
Right now my girls are super-enthusiastic about a book series… and I know they are just a few books away from the one that introduces a lesbian character. We started watching a TV show… and I already know which season has the gay wedding. Every new property (whether it’s original or the rebooting of a Gen X classic) is simply obligated to pay out a wokeness tax now. I’ll let my children watch this stuff with my supervision sometimes, when we can talk about it along the way. But I can’t let them enjoy unsupervised spaces with peers, certainly not in virtual spaces, since those peers are not going to exercise similar discretion. I essentially have to ban my kids from having friends unless those friends are very carefully vetted and supervised, and now I feel trapped in a helicopter-parenting Defcon-alert holding pattern.
It’s hard to exaggerate how besieged the current culture makes me feel as a parent of two daughters leaving elementary school age. I have unceasing dread of a giant industry devoted to prying my children away from my world, my culture, and my values, and to convince them that I’m the sociological equivalent of the stock villains being defeated weekly in their prepackaged media products. I want to give my children the freedom to explore and discover friends without oppressive surveillance, but all of the friends they meet want to create secretive phone-driven modes of contact with them for private conversations. Am I doomed to become a CIA operative, using spyware to catch my preteen daughter having illicit chats about testosterone and top surgery? Will I be the stereotypical killjoy parent, demanding that my girls stop seeing any friends I regard as “a bad influence”? I’m staring into an abyss that has swallowed so much of my world and the things in it that I once loved already, and has designs on my girls as well.
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