What are the ideologies of the sexual revolution? How has it hurt people, and what role has the state played to enforce it? Sean and Scott interview Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse about her new book The Sexual State. Dr. Morse shares some powerful insights about the destructive ideologies behind the sexual revolution and how the church can better love and serve its victims.
More About Our Guest
Dr. Morse is the president of the Ruth Institute, a non-profit organization committed to inspiring survivors of the Sexual Revolution. She is the author of multiple books including The Sexual State as well as numerous pamphlets and tracts, Dr. Morse earned her Ph.D. in Economics at the University of Rochester in 1980. She taught economics at Yale University and George Mason University. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Reason, Policy Review, National Review Online, the Journal of Political Economy, the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, the University of Chicago Law Review and she has been a guest on Fox News, CNN and EWTN.
Scott Rae: Welcome to the podcast, “Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture.” I'm your host, Scott Rae, dean of faculty and professor of Christian ethics, Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University.
Sean McDowell: And I'm your co-host, Sean McDowell, professor of Christian apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
Scott Rae: We're here with our special guest today, Dr. Jennifer Morse. I've known Jennifer for some time through our affiliation with the Acton Institute. She is the founder and president of an organization called the Ruth Institute, headquartered in Louisiana.
Jennifer, I'll let you articulate the purpose and goal of the Ruth Institute in just a moment, but our listeners, I think, would also, I think, be interested to know that you have an academic background. You have a Ph.D. in economics, taught at George Mason University for several years before starting the Ruth Institute and moving into a ministry of travel and speaking and writing, particularly in this area of serving particularly women who have been the victims of the sexual revolution. We're also featuring your new book, entitled The Sexual State, which we'll get into more of the details on that as our discussion goes along. But first, tell our listeners a bit about what is the Ruth Institute and what is its mission?
Jennifer Roback Morse: The Ruth Institute is a global nonprofit organization that equips Christians to defend their beliefs about marriage and family and human sexuality so that we can create a culture of lifelong married love. And we do that through events like this, podcasts, websites, personal appearances by me, and also publications and events that we put on.
Scott Rae: Okay. Let's turn to your book here. I love the title of this, entitled The Sexual State. You've got a picture on the cover of what looks like a view of the church, but it could also be, at first glance, a political institution, subtitled “How Elite Ideologies Are Destroying Lives and Why the Church Was Right All Along.” Tell our listeners, who are the victims of the sexual revolution? Give us some examples of this. What do their lives look like?
Jennifer Roback Morse: Well, yes, and this book opens with a whole series of vignettes of people who have been victimized by the sexual revolution. You could start with divorce, you know, and just think about children of divorce who are always innocent victims of their parents' decisions. You can think about abandoned spouses, people who wanted to stay married but because of the law of divorce that we have in this country, one person can end a marriage unilaterally, and so we estimate there may be as many as 70% of divorces have one party who is reluctant, who would like to stay married if they could.
Scott Rae: Wow, that many.
Jennifer Roback Morse: It's unbelievable. Yeah, it's unbelievable, and actually, one of the terrible ways that we victimize people is we don't even recognize that they exist, so nobody really asks the question, "How many people would have liked to stay married?" We don't really know. I mean, I have one number that somebody found in the process of studying something else, you know, so I don't really know, you know, but that one number is like, "Whoa." It's enough to be serious, right? You've got to take seriously the fact that they're all ... And as soon as I said, when I do this in a live conversation, a live audience, you know, and I say, "The reluctantly divorced," and I explain what I'm talking about, that person who wants to stay married but their spouse ends the marriage and that's the end of it because one person can end it.
When I say that in front of an audience, Scott, I always see people nodding their heads. You know, it's like everybody knows somebody that that's happened to. And yet we have no name for it, we have no data on it, socially, politically, they don't exist, you know, and that's just one topic, that's just divorce. People who participate in the hookup culture and later regret it, people who move in with their boyfriend or their girlfriend and 10 years later figure out that they weren't really going to get married and, "Oh my gosh, I threw my whole life away with this person." You know, you never hear about that, but it happens all the time.
Not to mention the people that the pro-life movement knows about, the women who get abortions and who regret their abortions, right? You know, so there are all these people who have in one way or another participated in the sexual revolution, or their relatives have participated in it, and they have suffered and yet nobody talks about that side of it. The sexual revolution is just one glorious march into the future, you know, and it's all going to be wonderful, and if it is not wonderful yet, it just means we need more sexual freedom here. That's the answer, you know, and so in that sense it's like a rolling revolution that the communist thought about, you know, that we're not there yet so we have to double down and do more and do more and do more. That's what we're dealing with here.
Scott Rae: Let me be a little bit more specific. Let's take the hookup phenomena. Most people in our culture, I suspect, believe that as long as both people consent, that's a case of, "No harm, no foul." What exactly are the harms of the hookup phenomenon?
Jennifer Roback Morse: Okay, so first of all, that thing that you just said, yeah, everybody does think that if there's consent, "No harm, no foul." But the whole theme of the Me Too movement has been that we don't really know what consent means. You know, that sounds good on the chalkboard, all right? But when you get right down to it, it's a very low bar. It's a very flimsy standard because if you've got a significant difference in power in the relationship, what one person considers consent, the other person considers coercion. And we're seeing all kinds of cases of that, whether it's in Hollywood, or in business, or in the media, or in the church, you know, that's everywhere, so I don't even accept that opening premise. And I would ask your listeners to question that premise too, right?
The other way that there are victims of the hookup culture, it's been known for a long time, Scott, that women, particularly teenage girls, it's been studied that teenage girls who have multiple sex partners are more likely to become depressed over their hookups. That correlation has been there for a long time. It's been in the literature, and there are a few people who talk about it, you know, nutty people like us talk about it, but it's been out there long enough that if you were really serious about helping people, you would've taken that seriously and talked about it a long time ago.
But the reason that the girls get depressed is because our bodies are actually meant to attach. We're meant to connect. We're meant for union and communion. Of course, Christianity understands that. Our whole view of the cosmos is that the cosmos was created as an act of love and that every human person was made by God in love and for love, and we're all meant for union and communion. And so now we take this thing that's built into our bodies of sex that's supposed to be about union, communion and creating a family, and we turned that into a consumer good. We're all supposed to be happy now? No wonder people are depressed, you know?
Sean McDowell: At the heart of the sexual revolution, like you said, it's just as long as it's consensual, it's fine. And then another part of it is, as long as you don't hurt somebody, it's okay, and yet what you point out in your book as I read the first few pages is person after person, victim after victim, in stories that we never hear. How come we aren't hearing about these victims?
Jennifer Roback Morse: Right. Well, the stories that I tell in there, once I tell them, you recognize them, right?
Sean McDowell: That's right.
Jennifer Roback Morse: Right. I mean, you know somebody that has had these kinds of things happen to them, right? But the reason we never hear about it is because the point of a revolution is always the revolution itself, so people who analyze leftist revolutions, you know, they'll tell you this, "The issue is never the issue. The issue is always the revolution." That applies to the sexual revolution, too, which by the way, is not just a left-wing thing, which I talk about in the book as well, so think of the sexual revolution as its own revolution, its own whole thing.
If the point is to remake the world into your image, you know, and to create your fantasy ideology, you cannot allow these countercurrents to ever take hold. You can't be dissuaded by a little girl wetting her bed because she's upset that's her mommy doesn't want her anymore. You can't be slowed down by that kind of thing. The people who have been harmed and the evidence of harmfulness of the premises of sexual revolution, all that has to be suppressed, all that has to be actively tamp down, and that I think is the key to understanding the whole sexual revolution, is to see just how much of that we've all been subjected to.
Scott Rae: Let me ask you another question sort of on this. I mean, your book talks about the victims of the sexual revolution, but you also make the case that the state, actually the government, has an interest in the sexual revolution, and which I take it is where the title of The Sexual State comes from. Can you spell that out a little bit more?
Jennifer Roback Morse: Yes. The premise of the book is that without the state, the sexual revolution wouldn't be what it is. The sexual revolution is not now and never has been a grassroots movement of people demanding condoms for fourth graders. Okay, I mean, people demanding transsexual bathrooms, really? People demanding gay marriage. We can see that today. We can see how much that was orchestrated by left-wing foundations, by the political actors, by the media. You know, we can see how much that stuff has been orchestrated and really thrust upon us, and what I do in the book is I look back to what I consider the three main ideologies of the sexual revolution, the idea that we should separate sex from babies, the idea that we can connect, we can disconnect sex and babies from marriage, and then the idea that the sex of the body is unimportant. I call that the contraceptive ideology and the divorce ideology and the gender ideology.
And if you look at each one of those things, what you'll see in the history of the thing is that it wasn't a grassroots movement, that there were a handful of people usually with some very wealthy backing making this happen, driving it, and the way they had to drive it was to get the government to help them. If you look at Roe v. Wade, for instance, and I'm sure a lot of your listeners know this already because you probably have a lot of pro-life people and pro-life people tend to know this history better than the average bear out there, but Roe v. Wade came in the aftermath of Eisenstadt v. Baird, and Eisenstadt v. Baird was the aftermath of Griswold v. Connecticut. Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 removed the right of any state to have any kind of regulation on birth control or contraception.
And so I spent a lot of time going through the history of that and where that came from. That law, you know, that regulated contraception within the state of Connecticut, that had been on the books for a long time and the people who wanted to overturn it, winning to the state legislature every year, literally every year starting in 1935, they were in the state legislature saying, "We've got to get rid of this law, blah, blah, blah." And the people who were fighting it were sort of ordinary, mostly immigrant Catholics saying, "You know, if you take this, if you can't have any regulation on it, people are going to be having sex up the wazoo and we're going to have no moral standards whatsoever and it's going to be a mess."
For 30 years they beat that thing back. It was only when they got into the court that they were able to overturn it in the court, and so the ordinary people didn't want it, and it backed that campaign to overturn those contraception regulations. That campaign was called by ... CBS News described it as the Yale project; the Yale project because Yale medical school and Yale Law School, they were the people who were driving the campaign to overturn all the regulation, and they were telling people ... I'm sorry, I'm getting excited about this because it makes me so upset. They went into court, they perjured themselves because they went into court and they said, "Look, all we want to do is allow doctors to prescribe contraception to married women who have serious health problems. That's all we want to do. That's all we're talking about."
The very day that they got their court decision, the very day that Griswold was handed down, they were already talking about the next step, which was overturning abortion laws, the very day they were talking about that. That's what I'm saying.
Scott Rae: Okay, that's helpful.
Jennifer Roback Morse: This was not something normal people wanted, you know, and without that piece in place, you guys, without that piece in place, none of the rest of the stuff would've happened.
Sean McDowell: You can always get fired up on our podcast. I love it. And actually, I want you to know when I was reading your book, I listened to your podcast, I've read a number of your books, we had you come speak at Summit, as I read this, I thought, "You know what? You are angry but in a righteous way." I could feel the emotion coming forward as you were writing this. Is that because you had new insights, because we're seeing more victims than ever? What fired you up so much as you were writing this book?
Jennifer Roback Morse: Well, the reason I'm fired up in general about the issue of the family is because, well, it's something that I talked about when I lectured at Biola, actually, you guys had me come out and give a few talks at Biola, and I remember telling people about when I became a mom it was because we adopted a little boy from a Romanian orphanage and then we gave birth to a little girl. Within six months we had two kids, and our adopted son had been in an orphanage for over two years of his life, and then our little girl was born, so we get these two kids within six months and you can see so clearly the kids need their parents. Kids need their parents. Our little boy was extreme condition, he was raised in a communist orphanage, minimal care, you know, we change his diapers a couple times a day whether he needs it or not. You know, that's all kids really need.
All right, so you had that experience and you go, "Whoa, kids need their parents.” That means kids need their mom and dad to work together. That means it really kind of makes sense that you get married before you start this whole thing. You know, which kind of means you probably should keep your fly zipped before you get married, you know, because that's going to be better for any kids that you might have. Because you know, actually contraception fails sometimes, so contraception doesn't really get you, so you start putting the pieces together, Sean, and what you see is that traditional Christian sexual morality protected the rights of children to their parents.
Now, that may not be what it was all about theologically because there's obviously layers and layers of depth to what the Lord created in terms of male and female and creation and marriage and all of that. There's layers and layers of meaning to that as Saint Paul told us, but at the barest natural sociological level, traditional Christian sexual morality protected the rights of children. And doggone it, I've been writing about this since 2001 and things have gone from bad to worse in terms of the ability of kids to be raised by their own moms and dads, and yeah, it makes me mad. It really makes me mad to have people who will never be touched by it themselves, people who will never be harmed by it themselves, who will never pay the price themselves, for them to continue to promote and advocate for this stuff that's causing enormous suffering among other people. Yeah, it makes me mad. It really makes me mad.
Sean McDowell: You know what? I've seen that in my own father who really began responding to the sexual revolution kind of in the ’70s and ’80s, and he would always say God's commands are for our good. And I saw that righteous anger and I think there's a place for that, so I just want to affirm I think your voice is so important. Let me ask you this, that at the heart of your book, The Sexual State, you're saying that the contraceptive ideology, gender ideology and divorce ideology are not natural. We know they're false, so the state has to step in and control this. Are we coming full circle where people are actually believing these ideologies and we won't need the state? Or is it so contrary to human nature that we'll always need the state to propagate them?
Jennifer Roback Morse: Well, you know, in one sense what you just said is correct, that if the state stopped propping it up, I don't know what would happen, but part of the way they prop it up is with tons and tons of propaganda. And I think many Christians, particularly many Christian parents are horrified by the amount and intensity of the propaganda that we're subjected to. And some of it's subtle and some of it's blatant and in your face, you know, but the core idea is the first thing that you said, Sean, the core idea is that kids actually do need their parents and if you just leave people alone they'll figure that out, they'll see that, and men and women are different. And if you say nothing, people will figure that out, they'll see it, it'll just be in your face, you know, and sex does actually make babies, even in California. Sex makes babies, right?
And if you leave people alone, they will put two and two together and see that sex makes babies, so if you want to build a world where sex doesn't make babies and where men and women are interchangeable and where kids are really going to be fine with or without their parents, if you want to make that world, you've got to be in people's face all the time overriding all this evidence that they're going to naturally stumble across. And so that's what we're dealing with now, you guys, is just decades, literally by now, decades of very intense propaganda convincing us that if I as a woman want to stay home and be taken care of by my husband, that there's something wrong with me for wanting that. And then if I stay with my husband for the sake of my children, that there's something wrong with me for wanting that, so the propaganda is having its effect. There is no doubt about that. We simply cannot say, "Well, it's going to collapse by itself because it's so irrational."
That's not true. We've got to push in order for it to collapse, but I see my book as telling people where to push, where are the critical weak points where the loose joints where if we give it a good swift kick, it'll all go down, you know? And if you buy the book from me, by the way, you can buy it at Amazon or all that, but if you go to the ruthinstitute.org and buy the book, first of all it will come autographed, and second of all, at the end of the book there is the manifesto for the family, a 15-point plan for retaking a family. We have turned that into a pamphlet and that pamphlet will be inside the book if you order it from us, and so you'll have that in your hand, "Hmm. Manifesto for the family, this is what needs to change." And so you can read it in the book or you can get the pamphlet, or you know, but we're not fooling around. We're not fooling around, you guys.
Scott Rae: It doesn't take much to get that from reading your book. I'm going to help our listeners understand your chapter on the gender ideology a little bit more. What do you mean by that term and how do you see that ideology playing out in the broader culture?
Jennifer Roback Morse: See, the gender ideology, you guys, since you're a part of a theological school, people will know what I mean when I say this, the gender ideology is a manifestation of gnosticism, it's a modern form of gnosticism, because it's an attack on the human body. It's basically saying the fact that we're male and female, that's a big cosmic mistake of some kind.
Scott Rae: Oh, hold it.
Jennifer Roback Morse: It's a cosmic-
Scott Rae: Tell our listeners what you mean by that, gnosticism. Sean and I get that, but-
Jennifer Roback Morse: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Gnosticism is one of the oldest and most persistent heresies and enemies of Christianity, and in this particular form what people are saying is, physical existence is not a good thing. And we the elite, the chosen ones, we have the secret knowledge, which is where the word gnosis comes from, is Greek for knowledge, we have a secret knowledge that will allow us to transcend the body and to transcend all of this, the evils of creation. And in our time, the fact that we're male and female is considered evil. It's considered unjust, right? The left considers it an affront on their concept of equality, the fact that we're men and women, men and women can never be really equal, right? Because the differences are profound and deep.
And people on the right, I'm telling you, some of my libertarian market friends, some of the people we might encounter at the Acton Institute from time to time, you know, they resent male and female also because they're very uncomfortable with the idea that you can't make a baby by yourself, you absolutely have to have another person involved in that, and so their whole individualism thing is upset by that. And so they think it's okay to go buy babies, buy eggs, buy sperm, not Acton, not the Acton Institute itself. I don't want to mislead anybody, but -
Scott Rae: Good to be clear about that.
Jennifer Roback Morse: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But some of our free market friends see no problem with a market for sperm, and a market for eggs, and a market for surrogacy, and ultimately a market for babies, they see no problem with that, see? And so in both cases, the fact that we're male and female, which is written into the cosmos, that God was not making a mistake. I mean, how could you believe that if you were really a Christian? How could you believe that male and female was an oversight or that Jesus being a man was somehow a coin toss? He could have been a woman instead, you know?
I mean, all of this kind of feminist theology, feminist ideology, has at its root a resentment of male and female, and so the different manifestations of the gender ideology, I think that's the common route, and that's why a whole bunch of things that don't seem like they fit together, that's what holds them together I think, you guys, you know? The whole way in which feminism and transgenderism are in conflict with each other in some respects, right? This common route of resenting the body is what they have in common, and until they're willing to deal with that, they're going to be in conflict with each other.
Sean McDowell: That's a really insightful point, that that biblical truth that we are body and soul has just been lost on our wider culture today. I think because of your background in economics, one of the observations that I love that you make is how you show how the sexual revolution is tied up with economics, and in particular, you show how this isn't just a battle of ideas, but there's actually built-in incentive for people in business, media, the university, and in other areas to continue harmful policies that actually hurt children. Could you spell out that connection for us and maybe some things we could do in response?
Jennifer Roback Morse: Yes. Yes. Well, that's tough to take actually, you know, when you wouldn't really think about that, and that's the answer to your earlier question of, "Will this all fall apart by itself because it's so irrational?" Gee, there are a lot of people making money off of it, you know, and there are a lot of people who have a lot intellectually and emotionally invested in the world as it is now. And the simplest point that I could make about this, and I say this as a career woman, as a woman with a Ph.D., as a woman who didn't have my first child until I was 38, the entry into the professions in our culture depends on postponing childbearing, so think about that for a minute. If you want to become a doctor or a lawyer or a Ph.D. or a scientist, if you want to excel in the professions, you really have to put off having kids.
What that means is that if you've got two women who are equally gifted and one says, "I value my kids," and the other says, "I value my career," the woman who values her career, her career is going to take off compared to the woman who values her kids, and that's the woman who is going to be more visible in the culture. That's the woman who's going to be more likely to be on the Supreme Court and more likely to be the star newscaster. And the woman who values her kids, she may have a fine job and a fine career, but she's going to be a competitive disadvantage compared to the woman who doesn't have her first child until she's 40 or something.
And so that all by itself with nothing else, if there was nothing else going on, that all by itself tilts the playing field towards the culture being continually impressed by how wonderful the sexual revolution is, because the people who are most visible and occupy the positions of power and authority and who have the biggest microphone, these are people who postpone childbearing, which most likely they didn't do by living like nuns and monks until they were 40. Most likely, you know, they participated in some form of contraception plus abortion. And so when you look at that, it kind of makes sense why some of the people in the media get so angry, why they're so upset when pro-life women say, "Hey, over here, pro-life women, we count too." You know, they tend to discount them.
Scott Rae: Yeah. One of the parts that I love is towards the end of the book where you're pretty strong in encouraging victims of the sexual revolution to tell their story.
Jennifer Roback Morse: Yes.
Scott Rae: I suspect we have some of our listeners here who I think would correctly consider themselves victims of a sexual revolution who need to tell their story. How would you encourage them to do that? How should they go about doing that?
Jennifer Roback Morse: Well, we have something on our website, the Ruth Institute website, we have something called Tell Ruth the Truth, which is a blog where people can submit their stories in 700 words or less or whatever and tell what happened to them. And that can be anonymous, it can be as anonymous as you want, and we'll put it up there and people can see it.
Scott Rae: It's a great place to start.
Jennifer Roback Morse: Yeah, that's one simple way to start. And there are other things coming out now. A friend of mine wrote a book called Primal Loss, which is a compilation of stories of adult children of divorce. And that is a gut-wrenching, powerful book, so that's another example, but at the level, the ordinary person driving down the freeways in California, what I'd like you to think about is that when these issues come up, don't be afraid to tell somebody, "You know what? I tried that and it really didn't work." And I think you guys teach, so you know our millennials really respect authenticity and they believe stories, right? They believe that, and they care about testimony.
So, your testimony, you may be embarrassed that you did whatever you did or it didn't go according ... You know, and you know it wasn't what God wanted for you and you're ashamed, embarrassed, or whatever, but by telling a young person, you know, "Look, I did it and I would have been better off if I had done what God wanted me to do in the first place," that would have been ... You don't know what kind of impact you might have on a person in your life, so I would really encourage people to just have that on their hearts in your daily life. And more broadly, I think that we can and need to begin forming an activist cadre of people to speak out in a systematic, organized manner, and if anybody's interested in that, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get you signed up.
Scott Rae: That's really helpful because I'm sure there are a host of women who are listening to this who really resonate with what you're saying and just are looking for an outlet to tell their stories. I'm very appreciative to have the website of the Ruth Institute and these other mechanisms available to them.
Well, Jennifer, this has been so helpful, so insightful. We commend your book to our listeners, called The Sexual State. It's just incredibly insightful stuff, and we so, so appreciate the work of the Ruth Institute in serving and serving well those who have been victimized by the sexual revolution. Thanks so much for coming on with us and our prayers go out for your continued work and the work of the Ruth Institute.
Jennifer Roback Morse: Well, thank you so much for having me on, guys.
Scott Rae: It's been great to have you with us.
This has been an episode of the podcast “Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture.” To learn more about us and today's guest, Dr. Jennifer Morse and the Ruth Institute and to find more episodes, go to by biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's biola.edu/thinkbiblically. If you've enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening, and remember, think biblically about everything.