Earlier this month, the well-regarded theologian and Presbyterian minister Carl Trueman spoke at Immanuel Baptist Church in Sacramento, California. The series of talks were livestreamed on YouTube until, according to the The Wall Street Journal, the social media platform abruptly ended the stream, citing a “content violation.” No further explanation has been given.
As the authors of the piece in the The Wall Street Journal note, nothing in Trueman’s presentation was hateful, violent or vulgar. One can only assume, then, that his offense was a discussion of traditional Christian beliefs about sex and identity, themes that he thoughtfully covers in his book, “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.” To religious adherents, his treatment of sexual expression, individualism and faltering moral codes rings familiar and noncontroversial.
He captured much of this thinking in an essay for Deseret Magazine in June.
Just days before Trueman spoke at Immanuel Baptist Church, we were grateful to welcome him as a speaker at the 2021 conference of FAIR — Faithful Answers, Informed Response — a Latter-day Saint gathering that explores complex issues. His address was a tour de force of clarity, faith, courage and practical wisdom. In none of it was he a messenger for hate or bigotry.
But in California a few days later, Trueman’s voice was cut off by a tech giant. Whether the livestream tripped the algorithm or was flagged by a human being, we don’t know, nor do we know exactly what part of the content warranted the violation.
What is clear, though, is that those of us who hold religious-based beliefs have increasing reason to be wary of Big Tech. It’s chilling to presume that internet media giants, ever tethered to the progressive shifts in culture, might be sidelining, or even censoring, traditional religious beliefs. To its credit, despite the strange disruption in the livestream, YouTube does appear to be allowing, at least for now, Immanuel Baptist Church’s recording of the lecture on its site.
It’s another development in society’s broader rejection of traditional beliefs, a narrative that is captured well in Trueman’s own book. He explains how, from Rousseau’s romanticization of nature, to Freud’s centering of sex as the vital core of human identity, to our unwitting acceptance of therapeutic affirmation as the only legitimate expression of love, we’ve become a society whose actual religious basis is expressive individualism. Despite some lingering echoes of Judeo-Christian observance, we by and large worship personal identity, no matter how outlandishly defined.
We shun any moral code that subjects personal identity (or behavior defined as a direct outgrowth of identity) to even the slightest constraint or social norms. Even those of us sincerely faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ are often more susceptible to this identity worship than we realize.
We instinctively shrink from criticism, or anything short of enthusiastic affirmation of one’s personal choices, sexual or otherwise. And we raise our children on stories of protagonists who defy their parents in order to follow their hearts, which primes them to feel ashamed about commandments and faith when they encourage us to change our personal desires in order to follow God’s desires.
That’s why we invited Trueman to FAIR, and he ended up being exactly the conference speaker we were looking for to help parents. Children are bombarded with both explicit arguments and subtle messages that shape their imaginations and moral judgment in ways that make it very difficult to accept divine authority and parental guidance. I’m the mother of three young children, and my dearest hope is to succeed at building their faith. I was determined to find a speaker that would help parents like me.
Trueman delivered. Now it’s unclear how much longer messages like his will be allowed to survive on major platforms.
YouTube so far isn’t answering Immanuel Baptist Church’s petitions for clarification. We can hope all this is an unfortunate misunderstanding. But if YouTube’s algorithm or monitors really consider it a “content violation” to discuss how bad philosophy poisons our children in the name of unfettered personal freedom, we must work even harder to reach out to families and equip them with the truth they need to live moral lives informed by divine truth.
The problem has changed FAIR’s calculus regarding our own video of the Trueman lecture. Normally our practice is to make recordings of live lectures available on our YouTube channel at least a year after they’re delivered, but out of solidarity with Trueman and Immanuel Bible Church, and a desire to stand against censorship, we’re making it immediately available. We want to help all children grow up in homes that teach them to ground their identity in religious truth rather than the destructive fashions of society. But watch the video fast. Who knows how much longer our society will let it be shown?
Cassandra Hedelius serves on the board of FAIR and lives with her husband and children in Colorado.