The Future

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul….

– Leonard Cohen (“The Future,” 1992)

These amazing lyrics by Leonard Cohen came to mind after my friend, Lydia McGrew, brought to my attention a court case in the United Kingdom. It concerns Eunice and Owen Johns, a Pentecostal Christian couple, who were rejected as foster parents by a panel of the Derby City Council. They were not rejected because they were child abusers, unstable, or lacked the requisite skills or background. In fact, according to one account, the couple has already been foster parents to twenty children.

The Johns were denied foster children because they believe that human sexuality has a certain intrinsic purpose that may only be consummated by one man and one woman within the confines of matrimony, and that it is their responsibility to properly instruct the children in their care of this truth. This, of course, entails that non-marital sex, including homosexual conduct, is immoral. But as we have come to realize in these post-modern times, sex is merely an act between consenting adults while a moral judgment about consensual sex is not an act in which consenting adults may engage, especially if they do so while congregating under a cross on Sunday mornings. Because the Johns could not in good conscience embrace this secular shibboleth, they were denied by their community an opportunity to love and care for vulnerable children who would benefit from their selfless charity.

According to Mrs. Johns’ account, “The council said: ‘Do you know, you would have to tell them that it’s OK to be homosexual?’ But I said I couldn’t do that because my Christian beliefs won’t let me. Morally, I couldn’t do that. Spiritually I couldn’t do that.” And for this reason, the council declared that the Johns were no longer fit to be foster parents. This is why last week they found themselves before the British High Court.

Mr. and Mrs. Johns: Unfit to foster?

Although this case is not being adjudicated in the United States, it does tell us something of the trajectory of the Western culture we share with Europe. It does not portend well for serious Christians, Jews, and other religious believers who want to conduct their lives, raise their families, and educate their children in line with their moral and theological traditions.

In the Prop 8 federal district court case, Judge Vaughn Walker held as a finding of fact that “religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.” He also held that the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman lacks any rational basis. Now take Judge Walker’s comments and think through the logic of the Johns case.

If a married Christian couple is unfit to be foster parents because they would teach their children that homosexual conduct is immoral, then it would follow that a married Christian couple who teaches their natural children the same lesson is just as unfit, especially if the lesson harms gays and lesbians and lacks any rational basis. Moreover, the whole idea of “natural children,” offspring that are the unique responsibility of a mother and a father whose coupling brought them into being, means that accurately identifying such children and their parents and the moral obligations that go along with these roles do not require a state or government.

They are, as they say, pre-political. But since homosexual unions cannot by their nature produce children, any children such unions call their own must be post-political. That is, they require a state and the legal cooperation of heterosexual unions (including in-vitro fertilization) to produce children that gays may adopt. This seems to imply that natural families are the ideal by which we measure, and try to replicate in, other arrangements. For the law to acknowledge this, however, and to suggest that there may be a qualitative difference between pre- and post-political “families” is by implication, according to Judge Walker, harmful to gays and lesbians, and “an artifact of a foregone notion that men and women fulfill different roles in civic life.” For that reason, there can be no “natural children” in a world in which the Johns are unfit to be foster parents.

So, here is the future: if the state can declare the Johns unfit to be foster parents, and thus deny them foster children, because they may teach these children the Christian understanding of human sexuality, then the state, armed with Judge Walker’s premises, can declare any married couple unfit to be parents, and thus remove their natural children from their home, because these parents, in fact, teach their children the same lesson the Johns were forbidden from teaching. For it is a lesson that is irrational and harms others, and thus to impart it to one’s children is a form of child abuse. As Leonard Cohen would put it, “There’ll be the breaking of the ancient western code. Your private life will suddenly explode.”

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies, Baylor University, and 2016-17 Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Among his many books is Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015).