Few public figures have been a greater lightning rod for controversy and strong opinions than Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling. For this reason, she is also an enlightening measuring stick for just how rapidly and drastically cultural ideologies and expectations have changed throughout the last decade.
In her early years as the world’s most successful children’s writer, Rowling was both Christians’ punching bag and progressive culture’s darling. These sentiments were amplified with her revelation that the wise and quirky wizard Dumbledore was, in fact, a homosexual (despite no explicit in-text evidence). While progressives applauded the revelation, many Christians and conservatives were irked. Although lacking today’s fashionable buzzwords, Rowling was accused of “bowing down to the woke mob.” The assumption was that Dumbledore’s coming out of the flying broom closet was a disingenuous and retroactive decision by an author trying to stay popular and keep pace with the changing norms of the progressive worldview.
Just a few spins of Hermione’s time-turner later and the situation is now reversed. Like so many other monuments now deemed outdated, Rowling’s recent criticism of trans activism has led progressives to topple her from the pedestal they placed her on only a few short years ago. Much as a runner who bolts off the starting line only to tire and lose pace halfway through the race, it appeared Rowling couldn’t keep up with the demands of a culture changing faster than you can say “Quidditch.”
Meanwhile, Rowling’s affirmation of the traditional distinction between biological sexes has suddenly placed her as an unexpected ally to many Christians and conservatives, who now rush to order a new set of Harry Potter books to replace the ones they burned in a church bonfire ten years ago.
Somehow, without undergoing any significant change in her own beliefs or convictions, J. K. Rowling has managed to alter her public perception effectively enough to be worthy of the highest grade in Professor McGonagall’s transfiguration class.
While many Christians still feel uneasy about her magical stories, there are at least four lessons the Church can learn from the ongoing J. K. Rowling controversies.
- We Should Be Slow to Assign Motives
“She just made Dumbledore gay because she wants to be popular!” That was the general consensus among Christians and conservatives. Now, with nothing to gain and everything to lose, Rowling has demonstrated that she does indeed have a backbone and will stand firm in her convictions, whether it earns her widespread praise or a barrage of venomous and horrendous social media attacks. Perhaps Christians should be less hasty to assign—and then condemn—motives to another person’s heart.
- Not Everyone We Disagree with Is Insincere
There is a troubling tendency these days for Christians to assume that anyone who espouses secular or progressive beliefs is doing so insincerely, simply as a virtue signal for internet clicks and applause.
Of course, there is no shortage of examples of people doing precisely that. Hollywood celebrities rarely say anything that could be perceived as unpopular or against the grain. The problem comes when Christians assume everyone operates that way at all times. The reality is that people can sincerely hold beliefs with which we vehemently disagree.
- Diagnosing the Right Root Cause
If we assume every person with whom we disagree is merely parroting approved ideologies in order to gain popularity and avoid cultural persecution, it will have significant consequences for how we relate to these people.
There is much talk today about how activists bully people into accepting their progressive doctrines but comparatively little attention given to why so many people willingly adopt these beliefs.
Is concern about the doomsday prophecies of climate change just the result of a younger generation being forced to adhere to the accepted groupthink or are they sincerely concerned about the future of the environment? Is the radical redefining of sex and gender just a byproduct of unchecked tolerance and a crippling fear of being labeled a “bigot” or are there sincere confusions about sexuality and dissatisfaction with the way culture and the Church has dealt with these issues?
To be clear, sincerity is not correlated to truth. A person can be sincerely wrong (after all, some people think pineapple belongs on pizza). A firmly held belief can run completely contrary to reality. We should not affirm or accept someone’s troubling opinion simply because they hold it sincerely. At the same time, understanding people’s beliefs should change the way we talk to them about their convictions and concerns. If we diagnose the wrong root problem, then we will likely provide the wrong remedy.
- We Can’t Please Everyone
When a person tries to please everyone, they usually end up pleasing no one. In a tumultuous culture that redefines norms and changes the rules of the game in real time, a progressive hero can be cast aside as an out-of-touch bigot overnight. Good for J. K. Rowling for not backing down to the pressure. The Church would do well to do likewise. Once we begin to abandon our convictions to keep pace, there’s no end. Either we empty ourselves of any and all conviction and integrity or we are eventually cast aside. Better to be cast aside having stood firm in the truth with integrity than to be rejected after a lifetime of compromise. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “We have been entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Thess. 2:4).