This week, Scott & Sean discuss:

Episode Transcript

Sean: Popular pharmacies offer the over-the-counter abortion pill. AI-generated nude images of minors being considered as child pornography. Understanding and debating Christian nationalism. These are a few of the stories we will discuss today, and we will address some of your questions. I'm your host, Sean McDowell.

Scott: I'm your co-host, Scott Rae.

Sean: And this is the Think Biblically Weekly Cultural Update, brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Scott, this first article grabbed both of our attention, because so many people are talking about Christian nationalism. And Ross Douthit, who's a contributor to New York Times as an opinion columnist, gives four ways of looking at Christian nationalism which I found helpful. Tell us what's in this article and what you make of it.

Scott: Well, I think this was so timely, and you're right, so helpful at scoping out the landscape of all the things that go under the heading of Christian nationalism, most of which, in my view, don't qualify for the name. So, everybody is using the term today to describe a whole host of different things. And Douthit is really helpful in just giving us the lay of the land. So here's four different ways of looking at this, as he describes these. First is what I would call a theocracy, which is, I think, the most extreme form of this, where the theocracy is literally the law of God. The law of God is the law of the land, automatically, without democracy, without debate, without branches of government, no deliberation. The law of God is implemented by the governing authorities. The only theocracies that exist today are in the Muslim world. There are none, that I'm aware of, that are in any kind of Christian space. You have to look really hard to find people who are advocating theocracy from a Christian worldview. But I think there are people who may, the best way to put this, is they're flirting with the idea a bit more than they were in the past. Second one is, I think the one that is probably closest to the way most people think about, most Christians think about, Christian nationalism. That is, America is a chosen nation, commissioned by God for global transformation with the notions of liberty, democracy, prosperity, where essentially Christianity gets subsumed into what is considered a bigger picture of the American experiment with democracy and free markets and prosperity. Now, that's, theologically, this is the place where we can offer the most critique. All right, we'll get to that in just a minute.

The third is the belief, and this I think is, I think is widely accepted in many Christian circles, the belief that American or Western ideals make the most sense in light of Christianity. That Christian principles undergirded America's founding, though not expressed in terms of explicit reliance on chapter and verse of scripture, but more expressed via what we call natural law—which is God's revelation in his world as opposed to in his world. And then the fourth one, I think was maybe a little bit cheeky on Duthat's part. [both laugh] It's where he describes Christian nationalism as being any kind of Christian politics that liberals find disagreeable or distasteful. Particularly, I think, I've seen a lot of this in the last few months, where any position that is a religiously grounded conservative position, such as on abortion or embryos or sexuality or marriage, is automatically labeled as Christian nationalism, which in my view is not really anything of the sort. So, those are the four, I think, major markers or major options for understanding Christian nationalism. Sean, what's your take on this?

Sean: Well, I have a few thoughts. Number one, his definition of number four, any kind of Christian politics that liberals find disagreeable or distasteful is not only a little cheeky, but it's very true. We see this all the time. We saw it in the Alabama ruling when it came to embryos, that one, I believe, the Supreme Court justice within Alabama used a theological argument to defend human life. Instantly, it's like Christian nationalism. And I think what's problematic about that is we also see Martin Luther King Jr. appealing to clear Christian ideals. I remember Barack Obama at one point appealing to same-sex marriage, interestingly enough, by pointing towards God has created us all equally. Now, my point is not to examine these arguments, but I think he's right that there's a segment of those that are liberals or on the left that will not just critique Christian ideas, but really Christian nationalism are using a theological defense for political ideas that they disagree with. So, it's not really infusing faith into politics. It's infusing faith into politics when they disagree with it that they cry Christian nationalism. So that's where I think there's an inconsistency. On the flip—

Scott: It's a new way of dismissing the argument.

Sean: Exactly.

Scott: It's a new form of ad hominem argument.

Scott: And it's guilt by association. If that's Christian nationalism, I don't have to listen to it. It's bad. That's right. On the flip side, I was at a church this weekend speaking, and I walked by and saw somebody with a Bible, and it had a pin that was a cross with the American flag embedded within it. I thought, that's really interesting. That could mean maybe this person loves America and thanks God for the freedoms that we have as Americans. Or it could be that this person takes the defining symbol of Christianity, the cross, and the defining symbol of the flag, and in an unhealthy fashion merges them together. I don't know by looking at that symbol itself, but I think some of the Christian nationalism critique minimally should cause Christians to say, where are we getting our political commitments? Are we starting with scripture, or are we starting with certain political ideals? And sometimes I think we have had an unhealthy merger there. Now, with that said, the last point that Douthat says, he goes, it doesn't really mean that today's religious conservatives are mostly—they aren't just normal Christians doing normal Christian political things, and they're not foot soldiers of incipient theocracy. I think most Christians are trying to live out their faith and trying to influence politics the way anybody else is. But this is just a reminder to go back to scripture, make sure we're careful and wise where our allegiances are. Insofar as people raise that concern about Christian nationalism, I say let's have that talk and go back and think biblically about it. Now, I've got some other reflections, but tell me what you think.

Scott: Well, I think religion and politics have always mixed in the United States. You know, the abolitionist discussion was essentially a theological discussion. The social gospel around the turn of the 20th century was grounded in scripture. The Vietnam War protests, as you mentioned, the Civil Rights Movement, was shot through with biblical and theological imagery. And many of the ideals that we take for granted today in the West, like freedom, equality, consent for sex, came directly from Christianity, as our friend, Glenn Scribner has pointed out. And were very countercultural in the first century of when the gospel came to fruition. So, I think a lot of the air that we breathe culturally actually comes directly from the inner mixture of Christian faith with the political arena. So, I'm not losing any sleep over the phenomena of Christian nationalism. As long as I think we understand theologically that no nation today is a chosen people in the same way that Old Testament Israel was. God is working today through the multinational, multicultural, multi-ethnic body of Christ to transform the world. He is not working through any one particular nation in the same way that he did with Old Testament Israel. And no nation today has the same kind of covenant relationship with God that Old Testament Israel did. In my view, that's the really important point theologically that we get. Sweden can't say that they are any chosen people, any more than Great Britain can, or India, or any other country can say that. And neither can the US say that. And the kingdom of God will go along just fine, regardless of what happens to the prosperity and the wellbeing of any particular national entity on the planet today.

Sean: Hmm. Fair enough. And I think that's where you're saying his definition number two, you think we should reject. But definition number three, just because there is no covenant chosen nation doesn't mean that principles upon which nations are built, and supposed to be built, cannot be shaped by biblical ideals or at least more in line with biblical ideas. That's moving into definition three. That's some of the arguments that Oskinis has made, is that he's not saying God uniquely has put his stamp of approval on America, but things like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, human rights are rooted in Christian ideas. And we see this expressed certainly not always in practice, of course, but in principle within American ideals, just because somebody holds to that doesn't make somebody a Christian nationalist, I would argue. That's a very different thing. Bottom line, when somebody says they're concerned about Christian nationalism, I say, tell me what you mean by Christian nationalism, because there's such a lack of clarity on it.

Scott: Hear, hear.

Sean: All right. Good stuff. Okay. So, let's move to this next one you sent me. And it says, "CVS, Walgreens to begin selling abortion pill this month." Now, not in all 50 states, because not all 50 states allow the over-the-counter abortion pill, but places like New York, places like California, and other states that do, these pharmacies will be making them available. So, tell us what happened here and what you make of it.

Scott: Well, I'd encourage our listeners to go back to some of the sessions on the podcast that we've had with Donna Harrison, who is talking about the abortion pill and how predominant it's become in the abortion landscape, because roughly half of abortions in the U.S. use these non-surgical means. So, what's happened, just this last week, Walgreens and CVS announced that in six different states, where abortion is legal, they are going to begin making the abortion pill available in pharmacies. This is in New York, Pennsylvania, California, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Illinois. All, I think, except for Pennsylvania, I think, fairly solidly blue states. And so the Supreme Court, this may be only a temporary thing, because the Supreme Court is actually going to rule on this over the summer in a case that challenges the FDA's decision to loosen the restrictions on the distribution of the abortion pill. It's two different drugs, and one of them is available in pharmacies in some states already. It's the first one that is the real point of debate. And there are long medical terms that are difficult to pronounce, so we'll just say there are two abortion drugs.

Sean: [laughs] Fair enough.

Scott: So at this point, it looks like a prescription is required from a physician in order to obtain it, like any other thing you would get from a pharmacy by prescription. Though, I think that could change in the future. The big change is, in the past, when this has been made available in certain states, like in California, you have to go to the physician's office or place where you're examined in order to get the prescription. Or sometimes you could do this by mail. But now, it will make it much more convenient to get the abortion pill, whether it will ever be on the level of an over-the-counter drug. Our friend Donna Harrison has suggested that it already is. Everything I read on this most recent story on Walgreens and CVS says that a prescription is required for it. But I think the big story in this is it is continuing to privatize abortion. And take it out of the hands of physicians who are performing the procedure. Though to be fair, in many cases, use of the abortion pill does require some sort of medical or surgical follow-up. We shouldn't be misled to think that you pop a couple of pills and you spontaneously miscarry and that's the end of the process. That's not always the case. And that's misleading to say that it does. But I think it will continue to be the means of choice for first trimester pregnancies. Now, it's really important that people who are going to use the abortion pill do so under a physician's supervision because the doses that you take depends on how far along in the pregnancy that you are. And this is one place where it's really important to get the dosing right. All right, so I think what we're going to see is this is just another domino to fall in abortion becoming more of a private matter. And I just think this is a very discouraging sign, even though, you know, Roe v. Wade has been overturned and lots of states are restricting abortion. But at the same time, you know, access to abortion in the privacy of your own home is now much more available.

Sean: In some ways, this is inevitable. People have had them shipped from overseas, had them shipped from other states. So, the fact that they're carrying it, like you said, is just the next domino. I'm not super surprised about it. But you and I both live in California, and the moment I saw this, I thought, well, in my town, there's a Rite Aid and there's a CVS. This is enough for me to no longer go to the CVS. Now, I'm not a big boycott guy for a range of reasons. I'm not an activist like that. I'm an educator and a communicator. But how we spend our time and our money matters. And so, I'm not calling for our viewers to boycott this, but I'm telling you exactly how I'm responding. And I think this is a time where we as Christians need to think about how we spend our money and our time and that it does make a difference. I mean, if I heard—one of the tactics is Scott Klusendorf, who's one of the leading pro-life defenders of our day. He graduated from Biola and did our apologetics program. Has a life training institute. When people make arguments for pro-choice, he'll say, trot out the toddler. And if you would do something, you wouldn't do something to a toddler that you would to an unborn, there's an inconsistency that's here. So if I heard that they were passing out bills to, you know, allow parents to give, not bills, but drugs to allow parents to give to their toddler to take their life, you better believe I would stop going there. And I would vote with my time and with my resources. Well, if life begins a conception and they are enabling drugs specifically to end that life, I'm not going in there anymore minimally. What say you?

Scott: Well, yeah, I think this is a very appropriate place to boycott. And I think we, you know, we boycott, I think, not so much for the social impact that it might have, but I think for our own conscience.

Sean: Amen.

Scott: This is why we take this, a lot of times we take the stands that we do. And so I got no problem. And we, I mean, I've done most of my, you know, drugstore shopping at CVS. And now I'm looking for someplace else to go. We get our prescriptions somewhere else from a neighborhood pharmacy. But I think I'm probably not setting foot in CVS or Walgreens for the foreseeable future.

Sean: Fair, fair enough. Anything else in the story you want to cover?

Scott: I’ll just say for our listeners, watch, you know, when May and June come along and the Supreme Court starts issuing its decisions from this most recent term. This is one of the ones to watch for. And I think it'll be very interesting to see if they restrict access to the abortion pill. It would be consistent, I think, with allowing states to do what they see fit. And, you know, we'll see, I think, what the decision is. But I think it would be consistent with the way they've approached the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade to turn it back to the states, to allow the states to regulate this as they see fit.

Sean: That makes sense. Well, there's a lot of stories we will be covering and bringing to you when June comes, that's for sure, from the Supreme Court. You sent me a link from the LA Times for this next article. And I read it a few times to really think through my thoughts on it. And in some ways, it makes perfect sense given where artificial intelligence is headed. But here's where we are seeing the story play out. And the title was about, “Fake nude images highlight gaps in law.” And the first paragraph talks about if an eighth grader in California shared a nude photo of a classmate with friends without consent, the student could conceivably be prosecuted under state laws dealing with child pornography and disorderly conduct. If the photo is an AI generated deep fake, however, it's not clear that any state law would apply. Now, what we're not really talking about here, I don't think, is about whether or not kids should be charged with laws, ya know, minors that stick with them for their entire life. That's a whole question about any sexual crime and what that means. But the larger issue of what AI generated deep fakes now mean, and we're seeing this played out with child pornography, tell us what you make of this article.

Scott: Well, this is fascinating. It really got my attention when I read it over the weekend in the Los Angeles Times. This is a Beverly Hills, California middle school in, what is called in the article, the new face of bullying. Just a new way to bully people and what's come to be called face swapping apps. So, students' faces attached to AI generated nude bodies and were shared around the student body of the school. Now the law, you're right, the law does not specifically label this as child pornography. Although some legal experts who were in the site of the article made it clear that the student who was victimized by this could sue for damages under current law in this, as I take it a form of slander or defamation or something like that. And in one particular Texas school, a student posted the face of one of their teachers in the school attached to an AI generated nude body. So I think that, you know, that ups the ante a bit even more. These are often called, “undressing apps.” So, you can take a picture of someone that you've captured on your phone, apply the app and the app will remove the pixels that represent clothing and simulates what the person would look like nude when the original photo was taken. So, you don't even have to deep fake a new body onto them. You can just buy the app, undress them photographically.

Sean: Gosh.

Scott: So, as one commentator put it, this is now an example of AI tools that have escaped Pandora's box and can be used not only for bullying, but also for blackmail, for extortion. It's often referred to as, “non-consensual deep fake porn.” And they saw the article sites in the first nine months of 2023, there were more than 113,000 deep fake porn videos uploaded to 35 different sites. And to this point, only six States have outlawed this. And the conclusion of some of the some of the writers that contributed to the article was now there is no such thing today as content that cannot be copied and manipulated. So this is just, I think an example of artificial intelligence sort of hitting the wild, wild West, where they're just not laws yet. And the technology has raced far ahead of the law here in ways that, you know, that leave not only kids, but just any individual really unprotected from some of the harm that can be brought on this.

Sean: Here's one take that I had, and I'm curious your thoughts on it. There was a sportscaster a few years ago, who somebody somehow snuck in, got a camera, took video or images of her nude, posted it online. And eventually this person got caught. And when I look at that, I'm like, what a devastating, evil, terrible thing to do to a person. If somebody is going to doctor an artificial intelligence image of somebody, in the way that you described this technology does, I think that the punishment should be just as great as if you actually go in and take the real nude images of this person somehow and send them out. I think the effects on culture are the same. People can't really tell what's real and what's not. It's profoundly disturbing and painful to that individual. I think in a case like this, we need to have strong laws that outline that and make examples of people who do it right out of the gate. That's my take. Do you agree? Or do you think that's a little over the top?

Scott: No, I think we should take this really seriously. And part of the reason for that is not only can it be used for bullying and for destroying somebody's reputation, but it can also easily be used for blackmail and extortion. And that's really serious stuff that's coming down the pike with this. And I'm not confident that we can work into the technology something like a poison pill that's going to make this unable to be shared, for example, or unable to be done. I think the technology is going to stay ahead of the law for some time to come. Now, I think it is promising that in California and some other states, you can sue for damages that have been caused to your reputation. I think that may be the most helpful way to put some breaks on this. But I think the idea of these laws being enforceable on a widespread scale, I'm not super optimistic about that anytime soon—given the state of the technology and how it continues to stay ahead of the legal deliberations. So, I think being able to sue for damages is probably the most promising way to do this, though it's imperfect. But I think if some of these cases do go to the jury, the jury should smack the offenders hard.

Sean: I agree.

Scott: —in the verdicts that are delivered. I think one of the hard parts is you go back in time and somebody could cut out from a magazine a picture of somebody's face and tape or glue it on somebody else's body. And we all knew that it was fake. It was like, haha, maybe I don't appreciate that if it's inappropriate, but no harm done because we all knew it was fake. In this case, we don't know what's real and we don't know what is fake. And increasingly, it'll be difficult to determine. So, that's why I think the consequences should be just the same as really taking pictures of somebody in their private space that you have no right to take. But as always, we will follow this story. Now, one more story—

Scott: I was going to say, welcome to the age of disinformation.

Sean: There you go. Yeah. We thought there was fake news in the past. We have not seen anything yet. It's coming. Let's have wisdom, Lord willing. All right. So, this last story we didn't mention earlier, and it's not so much about the story. I've been holding on to this for a month and I thought that this week would be appropriate just to bring it up because it sure seems like Trump has secured the nomination to be the Republican candidate. Looks like Biden is the Democratic candidate and we're going to have a face off between them. Although, surprise you should come. This is an opinion essay in the New York Times. And the title is, “We were friends for years. Trump tore us apart.” Now, I realize people who write articles don't often get to title them. Sometimes the team does so people will share them and read them. And in the story, there's a lot more in this article we won't get to. But as I read it, I thought, can Trump actually tear a relationship apart? Couldn't Biden actually tear a relationship apart or any political figure? And my answer is no. Any public figure, politics or not, doesn't have the power to do that. Now, some politicians and figures can make it awfully more tempting for us and more likely to pull out, maybe, let's just say less of our better angels and divide over things. But it's not Trump or Biden or any other politician who does that. It's us who allows Trump, again, and or Biden or any other figure to divide our relationships. And so the reason I just want to bring this up is we're almost certainly heading into one of the most polarized, divisive political campaigns we've ever seen—at least in my lifetime in America. And Christians are all over the map on this. One of the things you and I are going to come back to is, how do we engage in discussions on ethics, on religion, on politics with family, with friends, in a way that is edifying and Christian and respectful. And so it doesn't unnecessarily divide us. Now, if somebody is going to be preaching at me all the time and break a relationship with me because I don't hold their political views, there's nothing I can do about that. I had somebody cancel me recently because of certain views I hold about sexuality—like I will not be in a relationship with you anymore. I'm like, okay, I can't change my views on this. So, if somebody is going to do that to an individual, we can't control what other people do, but we can control when and where and how we have political discussions. And I'd say let's not lose the forest for the trees. So have political conversations, but choose the right time, choose the right place, have it seasoned with grace. And just remember, especially if you're a Christian, you are an ambassador for Christ. What you post online, how you treat people in person matters. So if you're listening to this and you've had a relationship destroyed by some political figure, my heart goes out to you. I'm not trying to make light of that. I wanted to bring up this article ahead of time to say let's Christians engage in this political moment, Christianly and biblically and differently, which doesn't mean compromising convictions. Speak truth, elections matter, but let's approach it with kindness and hope for you, the spirit of love towards people who see the world differently.

Scott: Yeah, my goal coming out of this political season is to see the gospel have more respect than it did before we entered it. And then primarily would be done by the way we talk about the issues of the day, the issues that we are voting on. And there are a lot of people who are watching, those of us who name the name of Jesus to see how we handle these conversations in this upcoming political season. And I think politics has been divisive for a long time. And the reason for that is because politics is fundamentally a moral enterprise. It's about how we order our life together. That has moral overtones and we feel passionately about some of these things and rightly so. But the way we express and communicate our passion for these, that has to be done with kindness, with humility, and with graciousness. I think we have to have the humility to think, you know, some of the political views I hold I could be wrong about. And I don't hear a lot of that. And in the political conversations I'm involved in, I am more interested in winning over a person than I am owning their argument. I would much rather keep a relationship alive by the way we talk about this. And I don't sacrifice convictions to keep relationships alive. You don't do that. But it's a very old adage that you can talk about anything except religion and politics. Presumably because religion is supposed to be private, which we know it's not, it's intrinsically a public thing. But we don't talk about politics because it's the potential to be so divisive. And I've started thinking about, you know, over the last decade, for example, who has disappeared from my life because of politics. And my wife and I can both name a handful of folks. Now I think, you know, I don't know to what degree it's our fault for that or not. I'm willing to own that if it is. But they're just, I think it's more that political differences have just forced us apart from people that we used to spend time with. And so, one of the goals that I have for this political season is to reconcile some of those relationships and to say, you know, what we care about and what we have in common is bigger than the things that we disagree about. And we can disagree with love and with charity and continue to have a fruitful relationship at the same time.

Sean: That's a great word. I was reading another article this morning, The New York Times by Pamela Paul, talking about how these scholars had come together in the Berkeley, Stanford, San Francisco area across all perspectives on DEI statements. And she said, the goal was to partly persuade, but to listen and understand and calm down some of the rhetoric today. And at the end of it, she just said, you know, we're not going to settle these issues between the people—conservatives, progressives, liberals. But she said maybe substantive dialogue that's thoughtful and respectful is a positive step forward. And I thought there's a lot to be said for that. And I wish in many ways, Christians would start leading the way in modeling that.

Scott: I love what our colleague Tim Muhlhoff says about this, that one of the rules he has in his classes is that you don't get to critique anybody's position until you have restated it to their satisfaction. You listen until you can do that. Then you get the right to critique. I think that's a good rule of thumb.

Sean: Amen. Good stuff. Again, doesn't mean don't vote, doesn't mean don't have political convictions, doesn't mean don't engage people in conversation. And it doesn't mean there's not a time to be firm with people. But let's lean in relationally and see if we can be healers and peacemakers during this season, if at all possible. All right, let's go to some questions here. This is like a multi-part question. I don't know if you want me to ask all this. Let me do my best and you can kind of weigh in here, Scott. This came in, it said on a recent cultural update, Scott said, "I think adultery is probably one of those things among consenting adults that should not be a matter for the law, even though I think it's fundamentally immoral." Here's my question: how do you come to conclusions about what moral issues Christians should or should not advocate for in their political engagement? In fact, maybe let's just keep it right there. Let me state it again and then you can weigh in on the other two if you want to. But why would you choose, say, the life issue but not divorce as one that seems to matter politically for you? And how do you make those distinctions and decisions?

Scott: Because fundamental civil rights aren't at stake. The right to life is a fundamental civil right that needs to be protected by the law. And I think in general, there are probably some exceptions to this, but in general, I would say that those things that impinge on fundamental civil rights should be protected by the law and the ones that should not as a general rule. This person has some follow-up questions that I think we're trying to press that point a little bit further. This person is asking, "Do you think that Christians should support laws that make sure employers pay their employees according to contract?" I assume you do. I'll take that as a premise and not a question. If so, does that mean that it's more important that we as Christians stand for the honor of economic contracts over honoring marital covenants? And I would say not necessarily. Here's the way I'd answer that. Both economic and marital covenants should be honored morally. And in that sense, they're on the same level playing field. The question is about the law enforcing that moral commitment. Of course, the law should enforce legitimate contracts of all sorts. I would not call an economic contract a covenant because I'd say marriage is different than that. But not just employment contracts, but contracts of all sorts. Because if the law doesn't enforce those, it destroys economic initiative and the motivation for entrepreneurs to take risks in starting businesses. Contract enforcement is one of the main structural linchpins of a flourishing economic system. It's not as clear what the benefits of enforcing marital commitments with the law accomplishes. Now, I think we can put there are lots of things we can do to encourage people to sustain their marital covenants. But I don't think that's a place that the law should necessarily be involved unless the wellbeing of children is specifically at stake. That's where the law I think should have something to say about custody arrangements, for example. And what happens to children in that. But among consenting adults, I don't think that's a place for the law. And I think it's fundamentally different from economic contracts, which I would not refer to those as covenants.

Sean: Fair enough. Good stuff. Anything else in response to that one or are we good?

Scott: I think we're good on that. We have to ask our listener who wrote that in, if we're good on that.

Sean: I'm sure he'll let us know if we don't, which we appreciate pushback. All right, so now we're getting questions from our cultural update, but also from our regular episodes that we release in the week. And this is from a regular episode, a recent interview we had with Christina Dent. And this person writes in, “I have a question about the argument used recently in the Christina Dent episode dealing with drug decriminalization. She states that outlawing drugs as opposed to regulating distribution leads to more damage overall. This is similar to the argument made about the consequences for Roe versus Wade. It was claimed that outlined abortion would lead to unsafe abortions, which will endanger the lives of many.” And then here's a specific question, “What are the moral differences between these actions, drug use and abortion, and how should those differences affect the government regulations over either one?”

Now, I decided to just email Christina directly and see if she would possibly weigh into this since this is rooted in her argument. And she gave us a wonderful email back. So, I'm just going to read her. Are you okay with that, Scott? She gave permission.

Scott: Go for it.

Sean: Okay. She said this. She said, “Drug use has been positioned in our culture as a moral issue for decades, just as abortion has. I've told people for years that I think the issue of what to do with drugs lives in the same part of the brain for most conservative Christians in the US that abortion does. It did for me too. The difference is that at its core, abortion is a moral issue with no way around it. And at its core, drug use is a morally neutral issue. They're not the same category of question at all. Though the cultural messaging on both of them has been black and white lines of morality. Semandias feel the same gut reaction when we talk about shifting how we approach drugs as we do when we talk about abortion. It feels like moral ground is being given up. With abortion, it is. With drugs, it isn't. I would argue again,” this is Christina, “that we would be gaining more ground back by approaching human suffering in a much more healing way.” Now she gives a little bit more here that helps. “Certainly there are more implications if someone's drug use hurts other people. But the act itself of ingesting something into your body is morally neutral. Most people take legal drugs regularly to feel better physically, like Tylenol, or mentally like an antidepressant. The American obsession with sugar is a quick emotional lift. Even when we talk about harder drugs like heroin and cocaine, they have been, and in some places still are, used in medical settings. There's nothing morally different between them and a host of other medications and pharmaceuticals used in hospitals every day. Even fentanyl is used every day in every hospital in this country and has been for decades. Fentanyl overdose happens when it's unregulated on the street, making accurate dosing impossible.” Here's her conclusion, “Drugs themselves are morally neutral and ingesting a drug is morally neutral, not so with abortion. So, I can wholeheartedly support and approach the drugs that reduce overall harm, making the case that I think it's also the most Christ-like way to approach drugs by trying to reduce harm to people made in God's image. With abortion, that same argument runs into deep moral waters immediately.” I got nothing to add to that. She clarified her position beautifully. Scott?

Scott: Just a couple of things.

Sean: Okay.

Scott: I mean, I think so. I suspect some of our listeners may want to think a little harder about the notion that ingesting drugs is morally neutral. I think what she means by that, if I understand her response correctly, is that the drug itself is morally neutral because most of these drugs have, do have beneficial uses, although the use to which you put, you know, some forms of cocaine, for example, I think would be hard to say that there's a beneficial use of some of that, but fentanyl was a good example. It does have beneficial medical uses, but it has destructive uses too. So the use for which it's intended is what determines whether it's morally acceptable or not, not the act in and of itself. I think that's what she means by that.

Sean: Yeah.

Scott: I would approach this maybe a little bit differently. And I think that the person whose writing is making a comparison between abortion and decriminalization of drugs and the harm that is produced by criminalizing abortion and decriminalizing drugs. And I think the premise that underlies the argument for abortion is a faulty one. And that is that I don't think it's the case that abortion being becoming more restrictive and illegal in some place would lead to more back alley unsafe abortion. There's no empirical evidence to show for that. Even before 1973, the vast majority of abortions were done by licensed physicians in licensed medical facilities. The back alley, I, in my view, the back alley abortions argument is a red herring that distracts us from the real issues at hand. So, I don't think the comparison is quite accurate here. The harm that comes from, I think, from drugs being illegal, I think is clear. And I think what she made out in her book, though she does not deny that, you know, drug addiction can be very harmful in and of itself.

Sean: Good, good, helpful distinctions. All right. If you have further questions on that, you're going to have to send them to Christina through her site and interact with her. I'm sure she'd be happy to engage you. All right. This last one has two parts. So, let me state the first one, give my sense, you give your second one, and then we'll wrap this up. But this is a great question that actually came to me personally about our episode, but through my website. And here's what this person writes on a recent cultural update. This was a couple of weeks ago. Sean stated that if a couple considering marriage doesn't want to have kids, they shouldn't get married. This raises two questions. First, my wife and I married in our 40s, each with children from earlier marriages. At our age, we didn't want to have more kids, in part because of the increased risk of birth abnormalities. Also, my widowed mother and her widower friend got married when they were in their 70s and had a wonderful 18 years before they died. Clearly, they were past child-rearing age. So, let me just say a couple things. First off, saying that a couple considering marriage shouldn't get married if they don't want to have kids is a principle about the nature of marriage. Are there exceptions to this? If so, what are they? That is something I'm open to. And I suspect that you and I, Scott, might differ over what some of those exceptions are and why. But that is a general statement about the purpose of marriage. Then we can enter into conversations about what kind of exceptions we might allow. Now, a couple in their 70s is clearly past the age where they can give birth, barring divine intervention like Sarah and Abraham. Naturally, it's not going to happen. So they get married, engage in sexual union together. They are engaging in the sexual act that in principle is open to procreation, even though their bodies are not in a place where they can bear children. They're doing nothing to stop the nature of that union. But if a couple in their 30s or 40s doesn't want to have kids, now they're choosing to engage in a sexual union that is a procreative act, but choosing to stop from having kids in that union. So, there's a difference between the 40 year old couple and the 70 year old couple in terms of the birth control or other means that they do to prevent having kids. That's one distinction. And then we'd enter into the question when it comes to their 40s, is it okay to not want to have kids in part because of the risk of birth abnormalities? Well, that's a conversation we're going to have to have. I somewhat hesitate to just make a blanket statement that it's always okay to do so and that there's a certain kind of, and Catholics will talk about this, certain ways that people can try to strongly minimize having somebody get pregnant without birth control and yet are still married and engaging in sexual union. I lean towards that, but when it comes to severe health concerns and abnormalities, that is a conversation that we could have. So, my question here is they say, in part, because we don't want to have abnormalities, I would say what are the other parts that are part of this conversation? And let's talk about it in counseling. But I air towards the side of having less exceptions given the nature of marriage and the nature of the sexual union than probably many Protestants do. Your thoughts?

Scott: Yeah, I think we probably do see this a little bit differently. My first response to this is that, you know, Sean, when you originally made this comment on our cultural update a few weeks ago, I didn't think you were talking about couples who were on second marriages and had all kinds of kids or you certainly weren't talking about people in their 70s who were the women who was past menopause. So, I think you were talking primarily about couples in their 20s who were getting married for the first time, did not have kids, things like that. That's the main couple you were talking about. So, I think with that, I think there's probably something to that. I think for the couple in their 40s, if they already have kids, I don't think they're under any obligation to have additional children. And I think we probably see that a little bit differently in that regard. So, I think if they have their own kids, and having additional children, I think, it could really upset the dynamic of the family, for example. It's well known that existing kids, when families blend, they have additional children from the new marriage, the existing kids often feel like the child that the husband and wife had together somehow is more important, more significant than they feel sidelined as a result. I think it has the possibility of introducing some dynamics that could be harmful and hurtful. So, I would not say that this couple in their 40s has any obligation to have additional children. I think obviously the couple in their 70s, I think the idea of them being open to procreation past menopause, I have trouble making sense out of that idea. So, I think that's one of the reasons, it seems to me that menopause is one of those God-ordained phenomena that sort of separates the unitive and procreative aspects of sex. But that's another conversation for another time. I think the caller is essentially on target with this. And so, I would pretty much be in agreement. I think the people we were talking about in the initial conversation were not this couple.

Sean: Yeah, fair enough. I think the one thing I would say is you're right, bringing in other kids into a couple raises the possibility that kids feel a certain way. But I think there's ways to mitigate that wisely and biblically and carefully. And my sister was adopted and my parents were so, I realize that's different, but so careful. Just make sure that each of us felt special and a part of our family and worked against that. So I think some of those concerns can be mitigated. But nonetheless, I feel like this is a deeper conversation you and I need to have to flush some of these out. I'm Protestant in my theology, but as it comes to sexuality, I lean more towards the Catholic theology of the body. And I don't want anybody to hear this talking about Mary or the Pope or any of that. That's not my point. That's just where I lean. So, let's come back to that. Here's the second part of it. And I'll do this pretty quickly. It says second, in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, Paul writes, because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife. Let each woman have her own husband further, he writes, but if they do not have self control, let them marry for it is better for them to marry than to burn. And the question says, don't these verses indicate that there's at least one other reason to marry besides having children? I'd say absolutely. Marriage is not just about having children. It's about companionship. Ultimately, marriage is about, in Ephesians 5, it's a living illustration of what God's love for the church is to be like. So, it's about much more than having children, but no less. So, the mere fact that you can point to another reason of what marriage is about doesn't take away the basis, logically speaking, that it might be about procreation as well. That'd be my simple response. Any thoughts on that one?

Scott: Well, I don't think I would use that verse in 1 Corinthians 7 as a prelude to engagement. I wouldn't say that to my fiance is one of the reasons why I'm proposing to her.

Sean: Well, I had one friend use that justification and they got divorced within a year. So, you're probably into something about not using that as a motivation.

Scott: Yikes, yikes.

Sean: But well, Scott, always fun. I suspect this interaction, people are going to have more questions and pushback, maybe more for me this time than for you, in light of my response, but I have to articulate how I see things. When it's all said and done, whether it's Christian nationalism, whether it's artificial intelligence, whether it's abortion pills, or whether it's marriage and sex, may we think biblically about these issues. That's our hope and our goal and our vision at Biola. And that's what we always aim to do. This has been fun, Scott.

Scott: Enjoyed it.

Sean: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. To submit comments, ask questions, or suggest issues or guests you'd like us to include, please email us at; And we look forward to seeing you Monday when we post our regular Think Biblically episodes and conversations. Until then, remember to think biblically about everything.