How the Church’s Mere Existence is Cast as Oppressive (Introduction to Preparing for the Underground Church, Part II)

(Part II of VII of Pastor Foley’s introductory essay to Rev. Richard Wurmbrand’s Preparing for the Underground Church. To order a print or electronic copy of the bilingual Korean/English edition of Preparing for the Underground Church, including Pastor Foley’s introductory essay and a foreword by Voice of the Martyrs historian Merv Knight, visit Amazon or click here to visit the bookstore page on our website. For Part I of Pastor Foley’s introductory essay , click here.) 


Even in the midst of today’s emerging skirmishes between Christianity and the sexual revolution, it is still hard for many Christians in the free world to grasp that our churches could be driven underground simply because our views on sex differ from the society at large. Yet as early as 80 years ago many enemies of the church were each drawing exactly this conclusion: only sex, not socialism, could destroy Christianity. As the French Surrealists wrote in their manifesto, “The decisive battle against Christianity could be fought only at the level of the sexual revolution.[1]

But why is the sexual revolution the one revolution capable of a decisive battle against the church in the free world? It is because differences in sexual ethics go much deeper than questions about economics or politics. They go to the heart of our understanding about God and human beings. Christianity does not need a particular political or economic system in order for it to function. But it does require a particular understanding of sex. As John Rist puts it, human history is always “conflict between a monotheistic God and a race of men inclined to will their absolute autonomy.”[2] Sex either humbly and faithfully serves God’s purposes, or it accords humans the most arrogant, virulent autonomy.

Sex’s alliance with science and with atheism was its declaration of independence. During the Enlightenment, science narrowed its domain of inquiry to “empirically verifiable facts.”[3] No longer would science consider the teleological cause (that is, the final end or purpose) for which God made a thing. In fact, no longer would science consider God at all, since God is not an “empirically verifiable fact.” This gave rise in short order to the philosophy of scientism, which asserted that not only would God not be considered in science, science—in order to be faithful to the full extension of its principles—must assert that “nothing exists apart from empirically verifiable facts, nothing at all.”[4] When sex is studied in this way, as it was most famously first by the Marquis de Sade and then later by Wilhelm Reich, then sex can’t be for procreation. In fact, according to scientism, sex can’t be for anything.  When science examines sex in this way, as Augusto del Noce notes with concern, “all that is left is vital energy.”[5] Any restraint on that vital energy must be regarded as “repressive.”[6] As Stephen Adubato notes, that “discovery” cast the church decisively in the role of oppressor:

A largely “puritanical” moral worldview was accused of having reduced the human person’s horizon of freedom and fulfillment…. Supported by scientific and psychological evidence that aimed to prove that sexual repression caused damage to the human person, they defended a “free” expression of sexuality that rejected any moral implications: “sexuality is a pleasurable experience and nothing but that… The therapeutic task consisted in changing the neurotic character into a genital character, and in replacing moral regulation by self-regulation.” The Sexual Revolution was preparing to ring in a new era of utopia.[7]

Just as the communist revolution called workers to join in the “struggle against repression” at the hands of their capitalist oppressors, now the sexual revolution calls all people to join in the “struggle against repression” at the hands of their sexual oppressors, the church.[8] Peter Leithart says that the battle cry of the sexual revolution is, “Any limit on our drives is an assault on our dignity. Sexual inhibitions are unnatural, every prohibition a threat to human freedom”:

Sexual revolutionaries thus turn sexual morality upside down. Earlier ideals like modesty, purity, and restraint are now seen as repressive and abnormal. The category of “sexual perversion” must be eliminated. Behind this is the anti-teleology of the new sexual metaphysics: Sex best expresses its essence when it has no goal (e.g., procreation) beyond itself, and so “homosexual expressions, either masculine or feminine, should be regarded as the purest form of love.”[9]

When sex is shorn of (or as scientism would contend, liberated from) any goal, then its physical and emotional aspects—which have historically been “but a tiny part of what we in fact experience as our sexual beings and meanings”[10]—become our experience of sex in total. And since sex is the “vital energy” at the center of the person, the physical and emotional experiences of sexuality become the locus of personal identity. In an act of liberation from the church’s sexual repression, the sexual revolutionary is encouraged to “self-identify” with the physical and emotional characteristics they experience most strongly or attractively. The body becomes “modeling clay,” “raw material at the service of our wills.”[11]

[1] Matthew Hanley. 2016. “Modernity as Metaphysical Collapse.” The Catholic Thing. Emphasis in the original.

[2] John M. Rist, 2014. Augustine Deformed: Love, Sin, and Freedom in the Western Moral Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 10.

[3] Michael Cook, 2016. “Why Did the Sexual Revolution Happen?” Intellectual Takeout.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Peter Leithart, 2015. “Sex and Tradition.” First Things.

[6] Stephen Adubato, 2016. “A Revolutionary Attraction.” Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

[7] Adubato, 2016.

[8] Michael Cook, 2016.

[9] Peter Leithart, 2015. “Sex and Tradition.” First Things.

[10] “It is the ordering of our entire life spans that in fact and properly defines our sexuality in the

sense of ‘setting it up’ and providing the constraints and channels for sexuality’s enactment.” Ephraim Radner. 2016. A Time to Keep: Theology, Mortality, and the Shape of a Human Life. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, Loc. 979.

[11] Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., 2016. “Address at Brigham Young University: Awakenings: Living as a Believer in the Nation We Have Now.” Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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1 Response to How the Church’s Mere Existence is Cast as Oppressive (Introduction to Preparing for the Underground Church, Part II)

  1. vfinnell says:

    Excellent analysis.

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