To Answer LGBTQ Ideology, Nancy Pearcey Seeks Truths Grounded in Science
Known for her rigorous research, Nancy Pearcey is respected across lines that divide. Her latest work Love Thy Body tackles the trends consuming society today.
Every parent has faced the questions in recent years. “Love is love,” right? Isn’t being transgender just another lifestyle? Or even: Why was there a boy in the girls bathroom today at school?
One scholar has grappled with current trends in sexuality for decades. Formerly an agnostic, Nancy Pearcey ended up working closely with Christian thought leaders Francis Schaeffer and Charles Colson. Today, as a professor at Houston Baptist University, she guides students to root out contradictions in popular movements.
With insights from biology, psychology, philosophy and the like, her new book Love Thy Body reveals how the hookup culture and LGBTQ ideology have devalued human identity. Pearcey offers a caring approach that has given her a platform beyond Fox News where she often appears. Even voices on the left seek her out.
After addressing a packed audience at The Heritage Foundation on her latest work, Pearcey spoke with The Stream in an interview.
Dividing Body, Mind and Soul
The Stream: Your book presents many big ideas on sexuality and science. How have your students responded to it?
Nancy Pearcey: These ideas are new even to my graduate-level students. They have not heard this paradigm elsewhere. Mostly coming from a Christian background, all they’ve had are some Bible studies and moral teaching of “This is right, this is wrong.” They come into the classroom without a strong sense of why this is right or wrong.
Your view of the body depends on your view of nature. Start with a view that nature is a product of blind material forces, and you end up with a low view of the body. If Charles Darwin was right — that our bodies are the products of purposeless, undirected forces — then the logical conclusion is that the body is just matter.
The body becomes just a collection of cells, organs and tissues — no different from any other chance configuration of matter. You end up with an ethical view that there is no status or dignity to the human being.
As our culture becomes more secular, it’s not enough to know: This is what the Bible says. Moral assertions are not enough to talk with secular friends or even other Christians. Today, students go off to college and everyone they know is sleeping with their boyfriend or girlfriend.
Now we have to show the moral truths we live by. We have to understand the ideas behind transgenderism, homosexuality, abortion and sexual ethics. Love Thy Body brings secular humanism back to its scientific roots.
Fallout in the Next Generation
The Stream: With this new iteration of the sexual revolution, what impact have you seen on young adults today?
Pearcey: When writing Love Thy Body, I knew people who were struggling with same-sex attraction and transgenderism. The chapter I thought would be straightforward was on abortion. After all, millennials are more pro-life than their Baby Boomer parents.
To gain perspective on these sensitive issues, I engaged with many different people in reading groups. They included undergrads, graduates, previously homeschooled and our College of Biblical Studies, which has 80 percent minority students. My grad students were going through the chapter on life issues. Gradually, three of them shared they had abortions in the past.
One had been raped in her dorm room at a Christian college. It was her former boyfriend who was angry with her at breaking up with him. That was his revenge. Now this girl was pro-life, yet she was so distraught about what her church would say. Her first thought was: My church will shun my parents. She was worried enough about protecting her parents, she took the first available appointment to get an abortion.
Isn’t the church where young men and women should be able to work through these issues? Yet our reading group was one of the first places she ever admitted it to anyone. I realized anew that you cannot deal with these issues as abstract moral topics. In your church group, your classroom and among your friends, there are people struggling.
These talks actually changed the tone of this book. This happened again when I taught this manuscript to a college class. I recall there was a young man who didn’t say much the entire class. As students finished the final exam at different times, I walked out to the hallway to say goodbye to them.
On that last day of class, he told me he struggled with same-sex attraction. It turned out he hadn’t even told his mother yet. Whenever we deal with these topics, we need to keep in mind the personal stories.
The Stream: How does your work speak to those struggling with these difficult issues?
Pearcey: I asked my student that in the hallway. He said the book gave him hope. It’s the positive message on sexuality that makes a difference. Instead of one more time hearing it’s wrong, they need the reasons why to live more in tune with the body.
A former lesbian was part of the book launch team. She said, Even though I had become a Christian, decided that lifestyle was wrong and left it behind, you’ve given me a whole different way to think about it. It’s giving people a high view of the body, positive reasons to affirm their biological identity as male or female.
By seeking to overcome same-sex identity, you’re respecting your body. Certain truths help bring personal empowerment and wholeness. Intrinsically, God has created me to relate sexually to the opposite sex. I accept that as a good gift from God. I know I will be healthier and happier when I live in alignment with my biological sex.
It’s that inner unity and coherence that gives hope. It’s not just about doing what is morally right, rather a holistic notion of gender, sexual desire and biology being aligned.
Current Issues, Historic Roots
The Stream: Why does Love Thy Body focus more on how these trends affect individuals rather than society?
Pearcey: Frankly, knowing the social harms is not going to change lives. Maybe people should care more. But if you try to explain to someone how homosexuality is socially harmful, the individual will dismiss you. Sorry, this is what feels right to me. I’m not going to deny my own impulses and feelings because it harms “societal norms.”
For someone who is really struggling with this, it feels like life and death. They’re not going to give up what feels like life to them for some vague impact on civilization. They’re just not. That’s why I spent most of Love Thy Body on how it affects the individual, while the final chapter deals with social harms.
The Stream: Where did these trends and ideas originate?
Pearcey: What the transgender movement is saying — that the body is not part of your authentic self — has a long history. It goes all the way back to Plato, who said the body is the “prison house of the soul.” At the beginning of the modern age, Descartes located personal identity in the mind (“I think, therefore I am”) and reduced the body to a machine.
Then Darwin said nature is a product of blind forces, which means the body has no intrinsic purpose. With this history, you can see why today secular liberalism sees the body as only raw material, which the mind is free to use how it wants. Lesbian feminist Camille Paglia defends homosexuality in exactly those terms.
She writes that nature has made us male and female, but then asks, “Why not defy nature?” After all, “Fate, not God, has given us this flesh. We have absolute claim to our bodies and may do with them as we see fit.” In other words, if our bodies are merely products of material forces, then they convey no moral message, give no clue to our identity and have no inherent purpose we are obligated to respect.
The thinker most responsible for postmodern sexual theory is Immanuel Kant. He believed the mind essentially creates the world as we know it — that the world is a social construction. Judith Butler, founder of queer theory, took that to its logical conclusion: sex, too, is a social construction in her view. In this completely postmodern world, gender is totally disassociated from body and can be anything you want it to be.
I’m always reading social media to see what real people think about these things. Last night on my Facebook page, someone asked, What’s wrong with people being whatever gender they want to be? In a casual chat, there were Judith Butler’s postmodern views on sexuality. It’s permeated the culture.
Concerns about Faith, Hope — and Texas
The Stream: How has your own journey lately informed how you see these trends?
Pearcey: We lived for more than 20 years here in Washington, DC. There tends to be this sharp divide in the Northeast. If you’re not a Christian, you don’t pretend and go to church just for cultural reasons.
When I moved to Texas, it was culture shock. There is a lot of cultural Christianity, and I wasn’t used to that. I’ll give you an example. Talking to an undergrad class, I was trying to get them excited about the truths of Christianity. I was telling the students they needed to be fully committed in order to face the challenges of living in a secularized world.
One of my students said, “Professor Pearcey, Relax — this is Texas.” He felt that we were buffered from these trends because Texas is so much more conservative. But, wait a minute. Houston has a lesbian mayor. You’re not insulated from these trends just because you live in Texas.
Living in the South, cultural Christianity means many people do not grasp the urgency of these issues. You’ll find that in most churches. Christians are prone to live in a bubble: we go to church, to Bible study and have mostly Christian friends. We insulate ourselves from wider trends and never realize that the church has lost ground culturally.
The culture around us easily dismisses Christianity. “You can believe that if it makes you feel better, but don’t bring it out into the public square where we talk about what’s really true,” they say. They do not feel at all compelled to engage with Christians, because they do not think you’re making objective truth claims.
The Stream: You’ve spoken of many troubling trends. Do you have hope for the next generation?
Pearcey: I am pessimistic about where our culture is going but optimistic about what we can do. A culture lives out the logical implications of whatever worldview is accepted.
Francis Schaeffer introduced the evangelical world to the notion of worldview. He stated that we cannot deal with these secular liberal issues one by one. To be effective, you have to see the underlying worldview that connects them all. You have to go to first principles, because worldview spins out the logic of those principles.
We’re entering a cultural shift where the buffer between Christians and the secular world is gone. Cultural Christians, those not that committed, are leaving. They are no longer willing to stand under the pressure.
The next generation of Christians will have to be much more intentional about what they believe and why they believe it. Are they equipped to answer the questions and objections of the secular world?
A friend of mine worked in a large national ministry. She worked in the women’s division where they run conferences and publish Bible studies. She read some of my books and proposed, We need to get content like this in our women’s ministry. She and the rest of the women’s committee talked to the men who were in leadership.
The male leadership said: Women don’t want this. They replied, We’re the women! We’re saying we want it. These women want something that would have more intellectual depth to equip them to speak with secular people. They are seeking to understand and have answers for these trends.
We are challenged today to be more rigorous in our thinking and our commitments. I think that’s a good thing. And that’s why I am optimistic about what Christians can become even as society grows more secularized.
The latest work by Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body is now available online and wherever books are sold. Watch her recent talk at The Heritage Foundation: