A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a seminar where Dr. Dale Kuehne (pronounced like “keen”) spoke on his thoughts on our cultural moment regarding sexual and gender identity. The topic was “Beyond Same Sex Marriage: Thinking Differently About Gender, Sex, and Relationships.” Kuehne lectured and led a “discussion on a biblical understanding of human sexuality and its place in human relational and personal fulfillment.” The attendees, pastors, counselors, and other interested Christians looked at worldviews that have shaped our perspectives on sex and marriage, trying to understand the times we are in, as well as what might be coming in the future.
I found that Kuehne has an unique perspective: he is both a pastor and a professor of politics, ethics, economics, and the common good. Working and ministering in New Hampshire, a region of the country that has been quite secular for generations, Kuehne claims to “see what’s coming” for the rest of the country because it is already happening outside the Bible Belt in certain culturally leading areas and demographics (i.e., urban centers and the younger generation). What is coming, according to Kuehne? He predicts the collapse of the individualistic worldview and the culture that supports it, and the rise of a highly relational culture. He foresees things getting much worse culturally before they get better. He thinks marriage as a hopeful social institution will more-or-less die except in the Church, and when our society wakes up to the ruins left all around, it will turn to the Church for help in repairing those ruins.
Below are my notes from that fascinating, stimulating, sobering, and ultimately hopeful seminar.
What Changed in Our World, and Why? (From Kuehne’s book Sex in the iWorld). Western civilization can be divided into three eras: T-World, I-World, and R-World (the Traditional World, the current Individual World, and the coming Relational World).
I. T-World (common values/worldview in Western Civilization)
A. Aristotle. Instead of going straight to the Bible, Kuehne gave a summary of relationships according to Aristotle.
1. Nuclear family matters. Quality of life related to quality of the family. Family is inescapable, but life is still world living.
2. Neighborhood is a constellation of families. Neighborhood matters. Quality of life related to quality of my neighborhood.
3. City is the place of specialization. Quality of life is related to quality of my city. City matters.
4. All these are relationships of obligation—they are thrust upon us. We are supposed to care for one another.
5. Question: If anybody really knew me, and they didn’t have to love me, would they? Obligatory relationships can’t answer this question. Only friendship can answer this question. Friendship matters.
6. One other relationship matters. It’s the missing piece in our lives. There is nothing you can imagine (people or material things) that if you get it you won’t become bored with it. The only relationship that fulfills is when a being is in eternal relationship with a being that we will never come fully to know (God). This relationship leads to contentment. Without this relationship, life does not work.
7. Marriage should be one man and one woman. Remember the Greeks were promiscuous and friendly toward homosexuality. Sex is an appetite (which is a good thing). Appetites are insatiable. If an appetite rules you, you must feed it more and more (e.g., pornography). Sex is for procreation, and it is pleasurable. If an appetite rules you, you will feed it so much you will ruin it.
8. Modern assumption: I must be able to marry who I am most attracted to because that will make me happy. To deny me is to deny me happiness. You don’t need marriage to make you happy.
9. If you want a good friendship, don’t sexualize it because it makes the relationship more complicated and fragile. Sex is not the glue that holds relationships together.
1. In the OT, the primary relationship is the three-generational family, living in proximity to each other. This creates a social safety net. Family, clan, tribe, neighborhood, city, nation.
2. If you don’t have sex then you can be happy. You have your family to take care of you.
3. In the NT, all this and the church. There will be no marriage in heaven.
4. Today many Christians are losing confidence in Scripture, wondering if we should ignore it. Many think those verses about marriage and sex were true for a certain time, but not today. These passages exist to teach us the Fifth Commandment. If you misbehave sexually (breaking any of the whole litany of sexual commands), then you will mess up your family. For whole generations! Undermines the ability to love/relate well. Sin is behavior that will lead you and your family to death (Genesis 2-3)
II. I-World. Began in the 1960s. The ethic of our moment is very recent.
A. Classical world about agreed epistemology. Truth pursued through theology.
B. Aristotle and church got geocentrism and science wrong. What else did they get wrong? So new pursuit of truth through science.
C. Doubts begin among the philosophers. Science cannot help us derive an ought from an is. If science and philosophy, and also theology can’t tell us what’s true about morality, then what’s left? Personal, individual, subjective, relative truth.
D. World has changed. New taboos:
1. Do whatever but don’t hurt anybody
2. Do what you want as long as it’s consensual
3. Don’t judge anyone’s choices
E. Different view of freedom
1. Old view: Positive freedom means do the right thing otherwise bondage.
2. New view: Negative freedom means from from authority, nature, conformity, limitations, boundaries, and society exists to help us do this. Free from want. Society support is demanded. Personal individual fulfillment is the good and the right.
F. New values are respect, tolerance. They are taught in the public education system. In public education, our children are asking who they are. What is my identity, even sexually?
III. R-World (From Kuehne’s upcoming book “Love in the Ruins”)
A. Talk about sexuality and gender identity You can’t know who you are without a reference point outside yourself.
B. Sociological studies. High school students are having less sex compared to five years ago. Why? They are bored with it! An increasing number of young people are not identifying themselves with their sexual orientation. Otherkin is a trip into the Twilight Zone of gender. Adults and politicians are discussing gender right now. Young people are breaking the boundaries. Much more than LGBT. Transgender is the big tipping point. Gay/lesbian labels are affirming male/female. So is bisexual. Transgender moves to a whole new territory.
C. Transgender. I think I’m a man in a woman’s body. The Roman Catholic Church won’t recognize transgender. Philosophically, looking within for your gender identity is a dead end.
D. If you say that no one else can tell me who I am, than that’s a lonely existence. You’re saying no one can know me.
E. Today and future. Majority of Americans will never be married. Storyline: marriage is hopeless. Losing faith in marriage. Not many young people will aspire to marriage. Storyline: not the delay of marriage, but the loss of hope in marriage. Dynamic: sexual freedom since I can’t be in a lifelong sustaining relationship, not having a gender identity.
F. Human beings are born male or female. The Church’s response: fundamentally humans are made in the image of God. What reference points will we take for our identity? This is our generation’s question. We’ve lost touch as a culture with our biological male-femaleness. We now talk about masculine and feminine traits.
G. Observation: women want a man to help them in their vulnerability. Men don’t know how they are fundamentally different from women.
H. The I-World will not work in the world in which we live in. Christians don’t live in the backward past. We are the future arising from the ruins. Economically, the I-World cannot afford a world without family! Kids who are not cared for by family is socially expensive. Grown kids not caring for elderly parents is very socially expensive. Governments know this more and more. We can’t afford a world without family. Only the USA hasn’t realized it yet. Why? Because we get people to buy our debt. When that stops, we won’t be able to afford a world without family either.
I. The sun will set, but the sun will rise the next day! After the fall, people will rediscover relationships, family, and God. God is calling us forward to the future.
J. The Church’s job is to live according to God’s blueprint. Live in family, community, and the Church.
K. In 20-30 years our culture will wake up and ask the integrity-living church for help. The Church will be the most important institution for helping our culture see the way forward.
L. Right now the Church is the counterculture. If we live so, the mainstream culture will someday come to us. The Church must get deep, real, and call people to loving well, living in relationship with proper boundaries, and practicing holiness in community. No other institution (certainly not the government) can do this.
M. It’s time for all of us to step up about sexuality and gender identity. Time to play hardball. We need to focus most of our energy/time on what we are for, not what we are against.
IV. Resources on Sexuality and Gender
A. Donna Freitas. Published a book of sexuality and sex. She can’t get an academic position.
B. Mark Regnerus at the University of Texas
C. Christian Smith of Notre Dame
V. My questions for Kuehne
A. From a public policy perspective, how can legally support some of the partnership rights asked for by the homosexual agenda—apart from same-sex marriage—without being oppressive? Don’t sanction sexual behavior, but incentivize community and relationships.
B. I imagine a postmodernist homosexuality advocate would strongly object to the virtues extolled of the T-world. From a progressive worldview perspective, how can you diffuse the notion that we are advocating for a world that oppressed homosexuality?
VI. Dale Kuehne Resources
A. Sex and the iWorld (book)
B. Signpostings (Dale Kuehne’s website and blog)
Here is a two-part video interview of Dale Kuehne and his book Sex and the iWorld:
Here is a video of Kuehne speaking about Sexual Economics: