September 10, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, September 10, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Provision for 'autonomous birth control rights' of 11-year-olds exposes loss of morality
Some time ago it was observed that when a society begins to minimize its morality when it comes to sex, it often begins to exchange that moral energy for one that is centered on food. That’s at least in the background of a story that emerged at The Atlantic yesterday. The story is by Jacoba Urist and it has to do with school-based comprehensive health clinics and that something that has been in the center of moral concern for some time and yet simultaneously it’s something even many parents really do not know much about. Urist writes,
“This year, students at 2,000 schools in the United States have access to a wide range of on-site health services, free of charge. That’s because those campuses have what are known as School-Based Health Centers, or SBHCs. The clinics, mostly in urban areas, are designed to provide universal access to quality health care, even for students who don’t have insurance.”Show Full Transcript
That very innocuous language is actually revealed to be a severe understatement when it comes to the meaning of these clinics and Urist’s article actually gets to that point. The controversy over the school-based health clinics actually has far more to do with sexual morality than it does with the issue of public health. As Urist writes,
“But the expansion of SBHCs has also stoked pockets of controversy. Some critics want to rein in school clinics because they occasionally provide birth control: Approximately 11 percent of them offer long-acting reversible contraception, such as intrauterine devices and injections, or LARCs, which tend to be especially contentious because they’re longer-lasting and more physically invasive than, say, the pill.”
Now at this point we simply need to observe that the numbers presented in this article aren’t actually the whole story, because as you would read this article you might think that only 11 percent of these school-based clinics offer contraceptives without any parental involvement to minor children. That’s not the case at all. A far larger percentage offer contraceptives of one sort or another. Years ago this emerged in controversy when many parents discovered that their children in particular their daughters were on the pill even though they had no involvement and no knowledge, but to the credit of Urist in this article, she does get to why these controversial clinics are back in the news again. She writes,
“The issue appears to be particularly fraught in the 21 states where minors are allowed to have IUDs implanted without parental consent. Most of those states do not distinguish by age in granting youth autonomous birth-control rights, which means kids as young as 11 could be given access.”
So just to get to the facts on the ground we’re talking about school-based health clinics where millions of American children have access to birth control without any parental knowledge or parental consent. And then you have in 21 different states minors allowed actually to obtain not only the birth control pill, but also to obtain an intrauterine device or an implanted long-term contraceptive and then comes the stunning sentence telling us that these children, some as young as 11 are treated as if they have “autonomous birth control rights.” That’s the very verbiage used in the article “autonomous birth control rights.”
So while we are thinking about the big moral issues reshaping the nation, we simply need to understand that in at least 21 states in the United States you have children as young as 11 able to obtain long-term contraception, including devices that are inserted within their bodies without any parental involvement, much less parental consent. Now keep in mind that these very same children can’t be given an aspirin or an antihistamine without direct parental involvement or appropriate consent. Furthermore, the issue is even more confused and complicated not to say revealing than that, because as Urist writes in her article,
“This expansion has also caused concern. Over the summer, a spate of headlines pointed out the irony that a Seattle sixth-grader [this is a sixth grade girl of course] could theoretically use her lunch break to get an IUD but not a soda or candy bar from a vending machine.”
But then comes the sentence that explains this massive shift in worldview. In other words, this is one of those headlines that requires us to ask the question, what would have to be in place in terms of beliefs for this to make sense? Urist writes,
“Advocates say that both types of school policies—stringent food guidelines and accessible IUDs—stem from a holistic, prevention-based strategy that encourages students to make healthy choices for their long-term well-being.”
Again, let’s take that statement apart from a worldview perspective. Here you have a people who believe that granting to children as young as 11 access to birth control without any provision or consent by their parents can be consistent with what they call encouraging students to make healthy choices for their long-term well-being. Here you have the great worldview divide in America laid bare on an issue that is related to both food and sex. Here you have the school saying it is our responsibility to intervene between parents and their children when it comes to access to birth control and we’re talking here not just about teenagers we’re talking about children and here we’re talking about the fact that these schools and their clinics are increasingly treating minors as young as 11 as if they have, here is the term again, “autonomous birth control rights.” What kind of society reaches this point?
But remember the point that a society that no longer moralizes on sex begins to moralize intently on food, keep in mind the fact that this school system that is at the center the story in Seattle would allow an 11-year-old girl to have access to an IUD without her parents’ consent, but they wouldn’t allow her to get a soda or a candy bar from a vending machine because that would not be good for her health. But the substitution of a morality about food for morality about sex is not something that’s limited to the school-based clinics; it’s something we are seeing broader in the larger American society. We have people in some social circles who don’t believe there’s any binding morality when it comes to sex, but they are increasingly convinced that there is a binding morality when it comes to food.
From a Christian worldview perspective, the idea that anyone would have so-called autonomous birth control rights is something of a concern. Here we’re talking about the separation of marriage and children and yet we’re not just talking here about marriage and married couples, we’re talking here about children as young as 11. When you take the logic of that statement and extend it to fifth graders you have genuinely entered a zone of moral insanity. And it doesn’t mean that the other 29 states don’t have these comprehensive school-based clinics where children may have access to birth control without parental consent, it means that in those cases, there is at least at present not access to these long-term implantable kinds of birth control devices. And finally on this issue, the very fact that you have all of this being justified from what is called,
“A holistic prevention-based strategy that encourages students to make healthy choices for their long-term well-being.”
Just keep in mind that behind that sentence is an entire worldview that suggests that sexual morality is passé at least when it comes to teenagers and even children as young as 11, there’s no binding sexual morality, there’s no need for parental consent. There are so many deep and urgent moral issues here. But we need to note, most importantly that this makes sense, not just to a peripheral fringe in this culture, but increasingly to those who are making the decisions about what takes place in our public schools. Furthermore, even though these clinics may be based in the public schools, the mentality represented by this worldview is hardly limited to that arena. This is the kind of decision or policy that makes sense to an increasing number of our neighbors and that’s what should cause us the deepest concern.
Discrimination against Christians lauded as sound business practice clear double standard
Next, an article from recent days that comes from the business section of the New York Times. We’ve been talking about how many headlines lately have been related to the question of whether or not a Christian operating from a Christian worldview has the right to operate his or her business by those very principles. But what if the situation is now coming in the reverse, coming from the other side? What about if the question isn’t having to do with the photographer or a florist or a cake baker with the central issue being a same-sex wedding, what if the issue is serving a Christian organization, when the business or the people behind the business are operating from a very different worldview? As it turns out the business pages of the New York Times reveal that at least for many in this society, that’s a completely different issue with a completely different set of rules.
This amazing story comes with the headline,
“When Turning Away Customers Will Help the Bottom Line.”
It’s by Caitlin Kelly who writes,
“Turning away sales can feel like sacrilege for business owners, especially when their business is new or their cash flow is tight. But longtime entrepreneurs say that being selective about whom you work with, and on what terms, is a crucial step in building a successful business — and a step that is increasingly complex.”
Now keep in mind that this very newspaper has editorialized against the right of Christians to say they are not going to provide professional services in order to celebrate and join by artistic expression in a same-sex marriage, which they do not believe to be morally right. But in this very story comes an account of something that comes from the other side, and you’ll note, it’s not criticized it’s basically celebrated. Here you have the story of Jane Parmell, the founder and co-owner of events by TFL, it’s identified as an event planning firm in Coney Island. She says,
“In the weeks after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, [the company] was desperate for sales. The storm hit her three-story building hard, destroying all of her inventory: $12,000 worth of balloons, satin ribbon, chair covers and other accessories.
“Around that time, she began looking into the background of a potential client — a religion-based organization she preferred not to name — and made an unequivocal decision to forgo the revenue.
“They were very anti-L.G.B.T., and I found that very unnerving,” she said, referring to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. She is proud of the diversity of her staff and clientele.
“The client was “very confused” by her refusing the order, until Ms. Parmel tactfully said, “I don’t think we share the same belief system.”
Kelly then wrote,
“New York’s laws prohibit discrimination based on religion or creed, but Mr. Bowen said he doubted Ms. Parmel’s choice would run afoul of those rules.”
We simply have to ask the obvious question, how can that possibly be true? Here you have a news story that tells us that the reason she turned down the organization was because of its religious beliefs related to LGBT issues. Furthermore, to quote the woman herself, she said and I use her own words,
“I don’t think we share the same belief system.”
It’s hard to imagine a statement that would have been more clear and affirming the fact that she was indeed discriminating on the basis of belief and religious conviction. Now at this point we simply have to observe that this is a woman according to this report who is running a private business and she’s making decisions about how her own worldview would inform those with whom she can and cannot work. Services that she believes according to her own worldview that she can and cannot extend, based upon clients with whom she may or may not agree. In the case of this religious-based organization she says she didn’t agree with their beliefs and to quote her again,
“She said that she didn’t share the same belief system.”
So here you have a very interesting development, the New York Times runs this article, not in terms of the news page, but in the business pages as if this is a straightforward business story and yet it tells us about the fact that some businesses are deciding they actually boost their reputation by deciding not to do business with certain potential clients or customers. This is the same newspaper, however, that has condemned believing Christians for making the very same arguments coming from the other side. At this point we have to avoid our own inconsistency. This woman is running a private business, so far as we should see it, she should have the right to discriminate on the basis of those whose belief systems are so disparate and different than her own that she cannot violate her own conscience by doing that business. But we need to recognize that that runs both ways, and so does the New York Times. They can’t make the argument that discriminating on the basis of a belief system when it comes to a caterer who is pro-LGBT is fine, when a Christian caterer making the same decision going the other way is unconstitutional and illegal. But this tells us a great deal about where we have arrived in terms of this country in its moral revolution. We’ve arrived at the point where a business writer for the New York Times finds it noteworthy that some businesses are trying to boost their reputation by refusing to do business with religious organizations that do not join the new moral revolution and it also tells us that they’re ready to tell Christian business people that they can’t do the same thing. This logic evidently runs only one way. That’s how the coercive power of a society works in the midst of this kind of moral revolution and it’s extremely revealing that this story got very little attention as it appeared in the business pages of the New York Times. For some people this is just the new shape of doing business. You can only wonder if they’ve even recognized the inconsistency.
Vatican streamlining of annulment raises question of whether Rome will join sexual revolution
Finally, we’re all going to be paying increased attention to the discussion having to do with the visit of Pope Francis to the United States. There are so many issues for us to consider, to observe and to discuss. But the Pope made news in recent days by the fact that he through the Vatican made the announcement that there’s going to be a streamlining of what’s known as the annulment process in the United States. That in itself is very revealing. One of the things we need to note is that the Vatican is setting up a series of headlines before the Pope actually arise in the United States. We also need to note that there is a huge worldview divide, not just between Catholicism and evangelicals, or between Catholicism and secularism, but within organized Catholicism. The Roman Catholic Church now faces the reality that many of its own adherence or at least those who identify as Catholic do not believe in Catholic teaching, especially when it comes to issues such as sexual morality.
In preparation for the Pope’s arrival, The Pew Research Center conducted a very important body of research indicating that and as they reported just a matter of days ago, an incredible percentage of those who identify as having a relationship of the Catholic Church indicate that they do not agree with that church when it comes to his teachings on marriage, on sexuality, on gender identity and a host of other issues as well. The diversity among Roman Catholics in the United States on these issues was reflected in a report on the study by Tamara Audi for the Wall Street Journal in which she wrote,
“Roman Catholics in America overwhelmingly believe it is best to raise children in a household with a married mother and father, but most also consider families composed of unmarried or same-sex couples acceptable.”
Later in the article she writes,
“About 84% of Catholics say it is acceptable for children to be raised by unmarried parents.”
They went on to say,
“Almost half—48%—say that situation is as good as any other, while 35% say it is OK but not ideal [for children to be raised by unmarried parents or by parents who are identified as being of the same-sex].”
The language in the Pew study is of interest not only to those are watching Roman Catholicism, but to evangelical Christians who understand some of the same issues are playing out within our own circles. For instance, in the cover to the pew study, they say that U.S. Catholics are open to nontraditional families. But they continue by saying and this is a very important line,
“45% of Americans—are Catholic or [here’s the key term] connected to Catholicism.”
It turns out that at least 10 percent of Americans are defined as those who used to be Catholic and another 10 percent are those who are cultural Catholics of one sort or another. They identify with the church in terms of their heritage, and yet they do not identify with the church at all in terms of active involvement. Furthermore, the study documents that an incredible percentage of those who do consider themselves Catholic and do consider themselves connected to the Catholic Church disagree with that church and do so openly when it comes to many, many issues, including most specifically issues of sexual morality. Many of the nation’s leading newspapers yesterday had headlines including the one found in the New York Times,
“Vatican announces changes for easier annulments of marriages.”
The Catholic Church actually does not use the term annulment they instead use the term nullity, referring to the fact that the church through its tribunals can reach a point in which they declare that a marriage actually never existed. In its current catechism, the Roman Catholic Church denies that divorce actually exists. It says that marriages are indissoluble and it refers to what is called divorce as the claim that a marriage that was a rightful marriage can be ended. And so the church doesn’t acknowledge divorce, but it does acknowledge what it declares to be a nullity, the fact that the relationship that was called a marriage and considered a marriage actually was never marriage in the first place. To outside observers, especially to evangelicals, this looks like a massive setup for hypocrisy and inconsistency. Furthermore, it only makes sense if the church simultaneously wants to deny that divorce is a possibility, while acknowledging that divorce is happening. And that’s pretty much what this comes down to. You have the Vatican responding to the very reality that’s indicated in that Pew report from last week, indicating that there are millions and millions, perhaps a majority of Catholics in the United States who don’t agree with the church on these issues. Furthermore, the process throughout the centuries whereby an annulment has been granted has been cloaked in a great deal of complexity and often in what’s been acknowledged to be a system of corruption.
For one thing, in the United States, you have about half of all annulments granted anywhere in the church granted to those in the United States which would represent only 6 percent of all Catholics worldwide. The Vatican actually claimed in terms of the announcement coming this week on annulments that this was at least partially intended to help the poor, who previously hadn’t been able to afford the annulment process that rich Catholics have been able to gain access to in recent years. And all of this has to do with the sacramental theology in the Roman Catholic Church, whereby those who have been divorced and then remarry are considered to be a adulterers who do not have access to the mass, and to the sacramental grace the Roman Catholic Church claims. But the most important issue in terms of the framing of the Pope’s visit to the United States is that this is setting up the expectation of a massive shift in the way the Catholic Church actually applies its teachings.
But the big question being asked by observers inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church is whether or not the Pope is signaling a fundamental change in Catholic doctrine. Writing earlier this week, Anthony Faiola at the Washington Post indicates that there is a huge sense of anxiety among conservative Catholics at what the Pope’s real agenda is. This is going to be very interesting to watch and from a Christian worldview perspective, one of most interesting things we need to see is that those who are observing the Pope, especially from a secular perspective are trying to decide if he is going to signal the Roman Catholic Church is joining the moral revolution or not. And what is behind that is the hope of many in secular authority in this country that the Roman Catholic Church will cease to be an obstacle to this moral revolution and instead will become an engine for it. And of course behind that is the hope on the part of many of these secular authorities that if that happens inevitably evangelical Christians will be the next to join the revolution.
While there is so much attention to the Pope’s visit there are some good questions for evangelicals to ask. One of them is how many among us are actually more culturally evangelical than confessionally evangelical? How many people with us in our churches actually believe what we teach based upon the authority of Scripture concerning doctrine and sexual morality? Furthermore, how many people who are sitting in evangelical churches actually believe that it’s best that a child be raised by a married mother and father, but who are increasingly saying, but something else can be acceptable too? The Pope’s visit means that these questions are being particularly asked of the Roman Catholic Church and yet we need to note, these are questions that will not be limited to the Roman Catholic Church. The larger questions here afford evangelicals the opportunity to ask if some of the same patterns are detectable in our own churches. We’ll have to answer that challenge on very different terms than the Roman Catholic Church, but it’s really interesting to note, all the secular hope and anticipation that is now invested in the hope that when the Pope comes to the United States, he’s going to declare that the Roman Catholic Church is joining the revolution or at least is no longer going to stand in the way. Any way you look at it, we are set up with a very interesting September.