I wonder if I could tell you a story that comes out of riding bikes through the Huguenot section of France this fall. I promise this is a piece of Reformation history that will feel oddly relevant.
So here I am, riding along through beautiful country. I’m so happy to be riding an e-bike. I can hear my industrious husband huffing and puffing along behind me on a regular one. I'm feeling pretty wise.
But what stops me in my tracks are these huge, huge, huge walled towers with no windows, only tiny slits on the side for the shooting of arrows. These round stone edifices sit vacant in the landscape of southern France, bearing witness to a scandal. A silent testimony to Huguenot suffering over 400 hundred years ago.
So, of course, I ask questions. I begin to piece together the history.
When the Reformation arrived in France, groups of Christians began to meet in homes and read the Bible in French—without the priest. This was radical stuff.
Radical enough to get pastors killed, one by one, over the next hundred years. Radical enough to get the men shipped off as galley slaves never to return. And the children sent to convents.
But these towers? Well, that’s where the women were imprisoned for the remainder of their adult lives.
You can understand how these towers began to haunt me as I rode along. I found them seriously unnerving. I felt like I should stop and pray. Or take off my shoes like I was on holy ground. Or something. What these people endured for their faith convictions.
But the longer I rode that week, the more these towers began to feel contemporary.
Like, oh, I am seeing this happen around me now. This same determination to punish and wall off the influence of Christians who dare to hold a convictions at odds with the prevailing culture. It still exists! Granted no one is constructing towers you can see. But there’s a militant, aggressive push to stamp out the influence of Christians who don’t just go along and it is growing in strength. Try talking about traditional marriage or gender distinctiveness. Those convictions can get you labeled a hater or a bigot in a heartbeat.
Labeling is just the first step in denying your voice, and personally or professionally confining you to a small, tight space.
Maybe what rattles me is that I”ve seen up close how this happened in a Marxist society. I remember well my stay with a couple in Bratislava about ten years ago. The wife organized the major Christian group for women in Slovakia. The husband was a (very) competent engineer. They lived in a four room apartment which, at a stretch, had 800 square feet. The dining room table was the living room.
And why? Why after a lifetime of being an engineer was this the material result? For one reason. Under the earlier Communist regime the cost of being a Christian meant that you would never—as in, never—be promoted out of your entry level position. This is one classic historical way you marginalize people who are perceived as a threat.
So at sixty, this faithful couple lived in the same 800 square feet where they began their adult lives at twenty. A totalitarian mindset, whether religious or secular, seeks ways to restrict or punish those who hold an opposing view.
Public shaming is a useful, first-wave tactic—one I”ve experienced myself. I’ve written and spoken on the subject of sexuality for 20 years, and when Obergefell was passed and same sex marriage became the law of the land, I posted online Russell Moore’s sane, thoughtful article meant to strengthen Christians discouraged by the Supreme Court’s vote.
I also have a gay cousin I have dearly loved. I still love. A great guy, really. He decided this was the moment for public shaming on Facebook. It was like being suddenly divorced. I discovered that how little room there is out there to disagree. One is now required not merely to accept other forms of sexual expression—but to celebrate them. Or go silent.
But silence has a cost, too. I can't pretend a silent neutrality when I see people’s lives absolutely shredded by the open, boundary-less sexuality of our day.
Though I truly miss my cousin, I’m grateful for the dose of public shame. It was a fork-in-the-road experience for me. Am I going to just quietly go along—or am I going to put out there, respectfully, what I believe is true? Paying a cost helped to strengthen my spine.
I wish I thought that the cost Christians will pay in our country for holding true to their faith convictions is just the loss of relationship.
But it’s moving quickly to the loss of one’s livelihood (think wedding cakes) or the loss of opportunity (your children not admitted to top-tier academic programs). Witness the effort of Campus Pride to sideline the graduates of 100 Christian colleges which simply hold to the same orthodox views on marriage that have been around for 2000 years. Note that for two years your family grocery store chain—FOOD LION—was a corporate sponsor of Campus Pride. Until the complaints piled in.
Perhaps it will get worse here before it gets better. More towers built in more strategic places. So we prepare our minds and hearts, as these Huguenots must have prepared.
When you walk around the inside of those towers, the ones that housed Huguenot women, you see deep rivulets of initials and crosses carved into stone walls. It must have taken years of intentional effort.
I will leave the mark of my faith and my convictions here, inside the walls of these towers, if it’s the last thing I do.
I’m letting these Huguenot towers inspire me to be clear and unambiguous. Christianity is an incarnational faith. Jesus Christ came in the flesh—and that shapes every part of my life, body and soul. That includes every aspect of sexuality.
I would suggest that real compassion includes inviting another person to follow a path that actually leads to life. After the failed lives of Hugh Hefner and Harvey Weinstein, a Christian sexual ethic starts to look pretty doggone good. It practically glows in the dark.
It’s good to be reminded that wherever the Huguenots fled, revival broke out. I think of how Christians greeted each other in the declining days of the Roman Empire. He reigns from the tree. The way of the Cross is the way of the King.
Still, I cannot ride through the landscape around me now and pretend that confining towers are not being built.