On the 10th of April 2019 Australian Rugby Player Israel Folau posted his now infamous meme on Instagram, declaring that ‘hell awaits’, ‘homosexuals’ and other sinners. Many people were outraged, condemning the post as ‘homophobic’. Rugby Australia eventually sacked the highly skilled player for his post, finding him guilty of transgressing the players’ code of conduct.[1]

Folau’s post declaring judgement and salvation to homosexuals (among others) may have been acceptable a decade ago, but not any longer.

Folau’s sacking over his Instagram post was a watershed moment in Australian culture. It was the highest-profile case thus far of someone being sacked for merely posting content that criticised homosexuality, in the context of Jesus love for sinners. As SMH Sports writer Darren Kane wrote at the time:

Let me be clear: my view is that the message in what Folau published is abhorrent … But it’s also my opinion that it would be wickedly harsh, unreasonable and completely out of step with the values that we hold dear in Australia to sack Folau.

The Folau case proved beyond any doubt that Australian values have shifted dramatically. Folau’s post declaring judgement and salvation to homosexuals (among others) may have been acceptable a decade ago, but not any longer. Only the affirmation and celebration of LGBTIQ+ identities is publicly acceptable.

This raises an urgent question: why must some identities now be affirmed (while other identities are still vilified)? Why is ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’—something once held as cultural common sense— no longer a tenable position in our society, at least when it comes to LGBTIQ+ identities?

Theologian and Author Carl Trueman explores this question in his latest book, The Rise And Triumph of the Modern Self—Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. [2] His answer is important if we’re to understand our wider culture:

1. Why the Demand For Celebration and Affirmation?

Because when identity is redefined, so too is the need for affirmation.

As Trueman argues, modern westerners now find their meaning and identity not by looking outward (to their nation, family, job etc), but by looking inward to their internal desires. And this has massive implications for how they want wider society to respond to them:

Satisfaction and meaning—authenticity—are now found by [looking inward], and the [wider] culture is reconfigured to this end. Indeed, it must now serve the purpose of meeting my psychological needs; I must not tailor my psychological needs to the nature of society, for that would create anxiety and make me inauthentic.[3]

He continues:

There is therefore an outward, social dimension to my psychological well-being that demands others acknowledge my inward, psychological identity. We all as individuals still inhabit the same social spaces, still interact with other individuals, and so these other individuals must be coerced to be part of our therapeutic world. This era … requires changes in the culture and its institutions, practices and beliefs that affect everyone. They all need to adapt to reflect a therapeutic mentality that focuses on the psychological well-being of the individual. [4]

If our identities are psychologically formed (by looking inwards), then they must also be psychologically affirmed by those around us—else we’ll be psychologically harmed

In other words, if our identities are psychologically formed (by looking inwards), then they must also be psychologically affirmed by those around us—else we’ll be psychologically harmed. This explains, for example,  why it’s not good enough for a cake baker to refuse baking a cake for a gay wedding (even though he might be happy to provide other products and services to individual gay people): refusal to bake the cake fails to validate the identity of the gay couple, and this is seen to cause psychological harm. [5]

This then raises a further question:  why are some identities—such as the LGBTIQ+ identities—now considered legitimate by wider society, and thus worthy of protection from harm (including now psychological harm)?

The answer is that our society’s view of morality has shifted:

[Some identities] are considered legitimate by society because they are recognised by the wider moral structure … of our society.’ [6]

In particular, we now live in a society that:

[P]rioritizes victimhood, sees selfhood in psychological terms, regards traditional sexual codes as oppressive and life-denying, and places a premium on the individual’s right to define his or her own existence. All these things play into legitimising and strengthening those groups that can define themselves in such terms.’ [7]

Thus mere ‘tolerance’ of certain identities—such as LGBTIQ+ identities—is no longer enough. ‘Loving the sinner while hating the sin’ may have made sense in 2010 Australia (and the West), but it no longer makes any sense in 2021 Australia. To withhold affirmation is to say to a person that their identity is not legitimate, and thus psychologically damaging.

In such a society, freedom of speech and religion is automatically suspect, and seen as a threat.[8] Hence the outrage over Folau’s Instagram post, and the termination of his career.

Even traditional sexual mores are seen as psychologically oppressive, and thus harmful, to certain identity groups. Which explains the emotion behind the push to redefine marriage. It wasn’t merely about giving LGBTIQ+ people an option to be recognised as ‘married’ (although it was that): it was about the recognition of gay identity and, according to members of the LGBTIQ+ community, the recognition that they need in order to feel that they are equal members of society.

2. Why Are Some Identities Vilified?

LGBTIQ+ identities are considered legitimate because our society has adopted a new morality. We’ve gone through a moral revolution that prizes a new and different view of the individual.
But other groups of people that don’t align with this view of humanity are not celebrated:

Paedophiles, for example, are currently unpersuasive as a victimized class, given the fact that they appear more as victimizers.’[9]

Christians, too, increasingly find themselves in this class of people that are vilified, because of our view of sexuality and gender. We’re seen as the oppressors, who harm people by espousing and upholding our traditional sexual ethic.

The Fragility of This New View of Identity

An identity that demands other people’s affirmation—to the point of legal and cultural coercion—is not a secure identity. An identity subject to the whims and fashions of wider society is inherently fragile. It’s inherently anxious.

Which is why there’s so much pressure on wider society to affirm it. If our identity is driven by our internal desires and wider society’s acceptance of us, our experience of peace will be fleeting at best.

But in the gospel Christians have an identity that doesn’t depend on the shifting sands of cultural acceptance. Our security doesn’t depend on the affirmation of people, because we have the unchanging acceptance of the One whose view matters more than anyone else’s (Rom 8:31).

Now that’s an identity worth celebrating.

First published at akosbalogh.com

[1] While Folau could have posted in a more sensitive way, Rugby Australia didn’t sack him for using a blunt tone in his post: they sacked him because he was seen to criticise homosexuality.
[2] Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self—Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020).
[3] Trueman, 54.
[4] Trueman, 54. Emphasis added.
[5] Trueman, 54.
[6] Trueman, 63.
[7] Trueman, 63.
[8] ‘Once harm and oppression are regarded as being primarily psychological categories, freedom of speech then becomes part of the problem, not the solution, because words become potential weapons.’ Trueman, 55.
[9] Trueman, 63-64. Of course, there is a push by some to make paedophilia more acceptable.