How will Stonewall training affect theology?

28 June 2019

In part two of her two-part series on academic free speech and the LGBT agenda, Carys Moseley discusses the silence of UK theologians on the issue and urges theology departments across the country to start speaking the truth.

Last week I looked at how academic freedom is being threatened by transgender awareness training given by the LGBT charity Stonewall in over 40 universities in the UK. As several of these universities have departments of theology which either train ordinands for Christian ministry or accredit such training by independent theological colleges, we need to discern what sort of effect this Stonewall training could have. Specifically, we must also ask why staff in theology departments are not saying anything.

The silence of the theologians

Absent from the list of 30 signatories to the original letter calling on universities to challenge Stonewall were the names of any theologians or known Christian academics. However, several theology lecturers did sign the counter-letter supporting Stonewall and LGBT ideology.

It appears that theologians are out of touch with the reality of the threat that transgender ideology poses to academic freedom, free speech and religious freedom. Either that, or they know it all too well and prefer to hide rather than speak out.

Why does Jordan Peterson outshine theologians?

The School of Divinity at Cambridge University famously disinvited Canadian psychology lecturer Jordan Peterson from taking up a visiting fellowship in the Psychology of Religion, on the grounds that he did not truly respect ‘diversity’. Peterson responded with a searing attack on the school, saying that it deserved to decline into irrelevance and die off due to its lack of respect for free speech.

Peterson shot to media fame precisely because he objected to the gender identity law being passed by the Canadian Senate (Bill C-16) in the first place, on the grounds that it would coerce academics like him to use preferred pronouns or get sacked – exactly what the Stonewall transgender awareness training is accused of doing.

Interestingly, none of the staff of the Cambridge Divinity School signed either letter for or against Stonewall’s transgender training for university staff. Perhaps they are now lying low after being put in such a harsh spotlight. Maybe they have been discouraged by administrators from speaking out.

There is a reason why Jordan Peterson is an intellectual superstar on social media, popular with large swathes of the general public: he challenges a whole raft of policies that have deeply influenced universities over the last forty years. As a psychologist and a psychotherapist in private practice, he is very well placed to do this. The truth is, Christian theologians should be doing the same.

Those who know academic theological education will know that students are often encouraged to adopt a critical attitude towards the modern world, studying the presuppositions of its guiding principles in different spheres. And in light of this, are then taught how those attitudes can help safeguard the modern world’s moral and scientific achievements and prevent social breakdown. Yet Christian academics in the UK have been mostly silent on the vicious onslaught of lies coming from the transgender movement. Why? Why is it that Jordan Peterson, the virtuous pagan, speaks to packed-out audiences about how to live and make good decisions, but no Christian theologian manages to do the same?

It is perhaps relevant that most academics appear to take free speech for granted, partly because the kind of discussion which they foster is often very specialised as well as abstract, and thus not an easy target for those who would court publicity in the media to attack free speech I can’t think of any academic based in a university who has conducted a truly critical study of LGBT policies in the UK. Indeed it would be nearly impossible for them to do so nowadays because such a study would face severe censorship on the grounds that it was ‘harmful’ or even ‘hate speech’.

Why aren’t theologians in universities speaking out?

It is hardly a secret that theologians in universities have long been divided over LGBT issues. Already twenty years ago Christian academics were ghost writing criticisms of transsexualism because they feared losing their jobs in the near future. That future has now arrived. To be precise, these academics – Christian believers – feared being sacked not only by university administrators but also by theologically liberal and agnostic colleagues. This is a problem with alarming relevance for many church denominations and networks, because many send candidates for the ministry and also lay workers to study in university theology departments, or in colleges accredited by universities.

The denominations that have the closest ties to universities are the ones most compromised on LGBT issues, creation and the Book of Genesis – the Church of England, the Church of Scotland and the Methodist Church of Great Britain being three of the biggest culprits.

Are students being used?

All this means that candidates for ordination from these churches are very unlikely to speak out – if, that is, they have sound spiritual discernment of the situation. The truth is that students with more traditional views may be discouraged from articulating them in coursework, in order to evade any falling-out or controversy that could jeopardise an academic career. But what is an academic career worth when it requires you to lie about who is male and female, and to accept sexual sin as if it were good? This cannot be good for student morale.

Another factor in the silence of university-based theologians regarding the ongoing onslaught of transgender ideology on free speech could be the fear of driving away prospective overseas students from more conservative countries. Theology departments have for many years relied upon the much higher fees paid by overseas students to stay afloat. This is because the decline of the so-called ‘mainline’ denominations over the past 150 years – basically due to their embrace of liberal theology, source criticism of the Bible (denial of the authenticity of the authorship of the Biblical books), and evolution – has led to an insufficient number of students coming forward from the United Kingdom. In blunt terms, overseas students are being used as cash cows, and there is an uneasy culture clash between them and many academic staff.

Theology department members who signed the letter supporting Stonewall

Half a dozen lecturers in departments of Theology who are connected to Christian denominations signed a counter-letter to the letter sent to the Sunday Times supporting Stonewall. It is right to expose them here given that their names are available in the public domain. Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, Church History lecturer at Oxford University, signed it. Dr Frances Clemson, Lecturer in Theology and Ministry at Durham University signed it, as did Dr Gerard Loughlin from the Theology Department at Durham. Dr Susannah Cornwall from the Theology Department at Exeter University signed it. Dr Dawn Llewellyn is Senior Lecturer in Christian Studies in the Theology Department at Chester University signed it, as did Professor David Clough, Professor of Theological Ethics and, until last year, President of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics. No lecturers in any other departments of Theology and Religious Studies signed the counter-letter.

Professor MacCulloch is well-known as openly gay and supporting gay rights within the Church of England. His fame as a historian of the Protestant Reformation has undoubtedly given him a media platform which has helped normalise the cause of LGBT rights within the Church of England. Frances Clemson is also a supporter of gay rights within the Church of England. Gerard Loughlin is a lay Roman Catholic, openly gay and a proponent of Queer Theory (essentially, philosophy that normalises homosexuality and transgenderism) within Christian theology in universities. Susannah Cornwall is an intersex rights activist working within the churches. She has collaborated in the past with Professor Stephen Whittle, a female-to-male transgender who is Professor of Equalities Law at Manchester Metropolitan University, the UK’s most influential transsexual rights activist and a member of the Methodist Church of Great Britain. David Clough is a Methodist local preacher. Dawn Llewellyn is a founder member of the Institute of Gender Studies at Chester University. She writes on motherhood, voluntary childlessness and Third Wave Feminism and Religion.

Time to rethink theological training

All of this is highly relevant for churches that send ordinands to be trained in universities or university-accredited institutions. Recently, the British Academy, one of the major grant-making bodies for research in the humanities, has warned that Theology and also Religious Studies are under threat in universities in the UK. The truth is that this could have been said years ago by anybody familiar with these fields, partly for the reasons I have just outlined.

The silence of most members of theology departments in the face of this Stonewall training needs to be challenged. The Christian responsibility to tell the truth and not to lie, and thus to reflect the truthfulness of God the Creator, is under serious threat. Unless Christian theologians with links to British universities speak out very soon against transgender ideology, they will be complicit with it, and theology departments and colleges will quite simply deserve to close down for good.

We need to know whether any staff members in theology departments took the initiative to invite Stonewall in. This is important because already the Church of England collaborated with Stonewall to create its anti-bullying policy. It was also a Church of England primary school that recently invited Mermaids in to give staff and governors training. The freedom to tell the truth about how God describes His creation is at stake here. This is a first-order Gospel issue.

Truth-telling is essential for healing transgender confusion

This is a turning point for Christian theology and related fields in the United Kingdom. The basic challenge is this. Christians in British universities must stand up against this transgender training, because God requires Christians to be truth-tellers and not liars. Ceasing to lie is one of the marks of conversion (Ephesians 4: 25). It is also an absolutely essential character trait in healthcare and pastoral care. This is very important because Christians – true believers who adhere to the mind of Christ on all things including creation – hold the key to healing and liberation of all people from transgender confusion.

We must not allow telling the truth about who is male or female to be driven underground. We must act now before it is too late.

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