A Christian response to a secular society
Review of The Secular Creed: Engaging five contemporary claims by Rebecca McLaughlin
The Gospel Coalition, Austin, Texas, 2021
Published: 30 December 2021 (GMT+10)
Author Rebecca McLaughlin is not someone who shies away from tough questions and controversial topics. Following publication of her first book Confronting Christianity in 2019, which dealt with 12 hard questions for the world’s largest religion, there was 10 Questions every teen should ask (and answer) about Christianity (2021), quickly followed by The Secular Creed: Engaging five contemporary claims (2021). This most recent work, aimed at a Christian audience, is a lot less problematic than her first from the point of view of biblical creationists. The Secular Creed only has two references to evolution; on both occasions McLaughlin declares it would be bad if evolution were our only origin story (pp. 20 and 65).
Leaving that aside, here are five controversial topics which she explores:
- Black Lives Matter
- Love is love
- The gay-rights movement is the new civil-rights movement
- Women’s rights are human rights
- Transgender women are women
The above five slogans are a selection from others of similar brevity, such as ‘Better together’, ‘We are all immigrants’, ‘Diversity makes us stronger’, ‘No human is illegal’, ‘Science is real’, and ‘Kindness is everything’. McLaughlin’s key takeaway message is that these statements are not centred around God, rather their focus is “diversity, equality, and everybody’s right to be themselves” (p. 1)—this is the Secular Creed. She briefly describes two knee-jerk reactions on opposite ends of the spectrum (fully accept or fully reject) and offers a balanced, in-between view instead.
Black Lives Matter
This slogan encapsulates far more than those three short words imply. The official ‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM) website states that BLM “affirm[s] the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum”.1 One wonders if ‘all’ includes unborn lives too. What has Christianity to offer in response to this secular organisation?2
The intuitive response comes to mind, that all lives matter, including those in the womb (which McLaughlin addresses in chapter four). This is not solely the contention of followers of Christ, but according to the Bible all human beings are indeed created equal (pp. 7, 82). That truth does address a more profound issue in the debate. BLM claims to affirm our humanity,1 but what does that mean to its advocates? According to secular thinking, we are just animals, which evolved over three billion years from single-celled organisms and thus, ultimately, we are just a collection of chemicals.
BLM’s rallying cry about the injustice done to enslaved black people is rightly challenged by McLaughlin: “the dehumanizing ways in which black people were treated by white slaveholders were only truly wrong if human beings are truly more than animals” (p. 8, emphasis in original). Let’s be clear: they were very wrong indeed. But in a naturalistic worldview where things come about solely by undirected chemical reactions, who, or rather what, decides what’s wrong and what’s right? Another crucial point that McLaughlin raises in relation is this: “Unlike slavery in America, first-century slavery was largely not race-based” (p. 15). What is it that BLM condemns? Holding black slaves, or holding slaves at all? If they truly care about humanity, then one hopes they would choose the latter.
“Jesus devastates our them-and-us mentality” (p. 12), McLaughlin quips, and reminds her readers of Jesus (a Jewish rabbi) speaking alone with a woman, and a Samaritan at that (see John 4)! We’ve all heard of the ‘Good Samaritan’, haven’t we? And of course the qualifier ‘good’ is required because Samaritans were known to be bad, weren’t they? Well, the Jews definitely thought so; therefore, Jesus, in going out of his way to meet her, was not only seeking to rescue a lost sinner, but was breaking down barriers, erected by people that purposefully try to divide us.
Was the Church an accomplice in past racism and slavery?3 Without a doubt, but as the author points out, “dismissing Christianity because of the failure of white Christians means silencing the voices of black believers and acting like only white voices matter in considering Christ” (p. 17). As believers know, the Church is full of sinners (irrespective of their shade of skin), just as the rest of the world (Romans 3:23). There is nothing that unites people more than our shared sinfulness. McLaughlin references English author and historian Tom Holland, stating that, “our basic moral beliefs about human equality came to us from Christianity, but that they have been deliberately rebranded as secular” (p. 21); see The Bible is the bedrock of civilized society. That is, secularists want human rights without all the moral responsibilities; they reject being sinful.
What is love?
Throughout the book the author gently probes the reader to look at things more closely, in a more biblical way. What about human sexuality? The author is not secretive about her attraction to women, yet she is now happily married with three children.4 Prior to a speaking engagement, she met with two lesbians and shared her walk of life with them. They reacted that her story was harmful, which she found upsetting (p. 25). It is worth asking, how would/should members of a church respond to her story (or to those with similar stories)?
The church is not an exclusive club, but for sinners only, which of course means everyone! For example, it includes people who experience same-sex attraction, and people who are confused about their gender identity (see We’re all ‘born that way’), and everyone else. When around sinners, Christians don’t always (know how to) behave like Jesus did—after all, we are all a work in progress.5 McLaughlin refers to Paul’s first letter to Timothy where practicing homosexual men are listed along with those who, strike their parents (think of the 5th Commandment), are murderers (6th; see also Matthew 5:22), and liars (9th)—and in case anyone thinks they are still innocent, he adds “whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:9–10). Talking about a lesbian friend, McLaughlin says, “The person who leaves a gay relationship to fall into the arms of Christ should feel more love, not less” (p. 40). Believers need to remember that accepting a sinner does not mean accepting the sin.
The author identifies an inconsistency among those who advocate for, and support secularism—e.g. movements like BLM—“when people compare being gay to being black, they typically don’t distinguish between a person’s attractions and actions” (p. 52, emphases in original). The point is well made; we cannot choose the tone of our skin, nor (arguably) can we help who we are attracted to, but we do have a moral responsibility before God in how we choose to respond to those attractions.
At the end of the book, McLaughlin writes, “The Bible tells a story in which our bodies, male or female, are created very good” (p. 102). Nowadays, we know that things are anything but good. We live in a cursed universe and there is a lot of push-back against anything reminiscent of God and the Bible. Yet Rebecca McLaughlin urges us that the Bible is precisely where we find answers to the secular creed; a creed which, by using brief catch phrases, hopes to lure in the unsuspecting reader/listener. She does this in a balanced way using straightforward language interspersed with helpful anecdotes and analogies. Due to its small size, this is a good entry level book for those overwhelmed by all sorts of media hype, and who simply want to know how a Christian should/could approach these topics. Recommended.
References and notes
- ‘About’, Black Lives Matter, blacklivesmatter.com, accessed 3 December 2021. Return to text.
- That Black Lives Matter is fundamentally an atheistic movement stems from their earlier (now removed) statements on their ‘about’ page, that they are a Marxist organisation. Return to text.
- Racism and slavery are not the same thing. See ‘Religious’ racism. Return to text.
- She mentions “my story of having been romantically attracted to women since childhood, but of choosing not to pursue those attractions” (p. 25). Return to text.
- See Philippians 2:13. Return to text.