The Briefing 11-09-15

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Supreme Court takes up yet another religious liberty case against Obamacare

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Media's fixation on same sex marriage evidenced in one edition of New York Times

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Mormonism and Reformed Judaism illustrate different religious responses to cultural pressure

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Study on children's self esteem reveals little parents don't already know

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Transcript

The Briefing

November 9, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Monday, November 9, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Supreme Court takes up yet another religious liberty case against Obamacare

 

The Supreme Court of the United States on Friday announced that it will take up yet another challenge to Obamacare and this one specifically an appeal on behalf of Christian organizations having to do with the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate. The background to this goes back to when the Obamacare legislation was passed and as a part of that legislation it required coverage of contraceptives for all women employees and this includes Plan B and other forms of contraception that can indeed sometimes function or are believed to sometimes function as abortifacients. But of course there are some organizations in particular Catholic organizations that are against all use of contraceptives on moral grounds and there are an abundance of evangelical organizations that are very concerned about the potential abortifacient effect. And what we’ve seen is a series of federal court decisions that have split, especially with the decision that came at the eighth U.S. circuit Court of Appeals upholding some Christian organizations in claiming that their religious liberty is infringed by the Obamacare mandate.

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Now there’s more background here that is important. Immediately after the Obamacare legislation was adopted without a single Republican vote in terms of the House or the Senate, the Obama Administration handed down guidelines that offered virtually no exemption to religious organizations not defined as churches or synagogues or mosques. This left a host of religious organizations uncovered by the exemption. After a great deal of public outcry, the Obama Administration came back and carved out a narrow exemption. But in creating that narrow exemption the Obama Administration also required any religious organization that had a convictional conflict with the issue of this contraception coverage to send a letter to the administration to that effect. That would put in play coverage that would come from the insurance carrier or group rather than from the organization. Now as many of us have noted, morally speaking that’s just a shell game, because still the religious organization is paying the insurance premiums and still those premiums are going to cover contraception coverage, including Plan B and other suspected to be abortifacients. In other words, causing an early term abortion by means of medication. This is why so many religious organizations have protested and have gone to court. These include evangelical organizations, colleges and schools and also it includes many Catholic organizations including one in particular, the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns that has been at the center of this controversy.

Richard Wolf for USA Today over the weekend wrote,

“The Supreme Court agreed Friday to settle a widespread dispute between the Obama administration and religious non-profits over insurance coverage for birth control, which is sure to elevate issues of religious freedom and reproductive rights in next year’s presidential campaign.”

The big issue here from these religious organizations is that they are now required to be complicit in the birth-control coverage, even though there supposedly exempt from having to pay for it. It turns out the money is basically a shell game and the letter itself becomes a triggering mechanism for the birth-control coverage, thus involving organizations against their conscience. One of the big issues here is that the Obama Administration could have provided the coverage it intended without doing anything that would’ve violated the conscience of these religious organizations. There’s almost something politically speaking, that is intentional here and that’s what makes this issue so unnecessary and at this point so shocking.

In the most unnecessary fashion the Obama Administration is now going to be facing down the Little Sisters of the Poor at the Supreme Court of the United States. Just think about that. This is the fourth major challenge to the Obamacare legislation to make it all the way to the Supreme Court and it is the second big case in terms of the collision between religious liberty and the Obamacare legislation. In the previous case known as the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision found that closely held family corporations, private corporations could not be required to offer this coverage against their moral conscience. It’s hard to believe that the Supreme Court could find that religious organizations, nonprofits in this case have actually a less significant religious liberty interest than even some closely held private corporations. There’s another really interesting aspect of this as we look to how this case is likely to be judged before the Supreme Court. The Obama Administration had asked the court to take one of these cases coming in terms of just one court and that’s what makes it very interesting. According to USA Today,

“Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Little Sisters, noted the Obama administration had recommended the court grant only one case, filed in Washington, D.C. Instead, the justices accepted all the cases pending before them, which will be consolidated for oral argument, most likely in March.”

This is a really interesting issue. It may tip the hand somewhat of the Supreme Court. The Obama Administration had recommended that the court take just one of these cases, but instead the court has taken all seven and that is really, really interesting because in putting all of those cases before the nation’s highest court, this decision would indicate that all the arguments and the facts in all seven of those cases will be brought into the oral arguments and into the court’s deliberations. The bottom line of this is that that’s good news. Already at this point this is a bigger story in terms of worldview importance than many recognized. By the time the court rules, it maybe even far more important and far larger in terms of significance.

 

Media's fixation on same sex marriage evidenced in one edition of New York Times

 

Next, from time to time we hear the complaint that conservative Christians just talk too much about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. That’s a criticism that might at some point, in some places be warranted. But now we need to consider where most of this conversation is really originating and why anyone who has any moral concern about this culture simply can’t ignore the fact that so many of these issues are now arriving right at our doorstep. Let me offer you a piece of very interesting evidence and all of these articles come from just one day’s edition of the New York Times, in this case Sunday’s edition. I’m holding in my hand six, count them, six different articles in one day’s edition of the New York Times all pressing this issue in one way or another. For example, in the arts section there is an article by Alexis Soloski on a play, a play that is indicating just what might come next in terms of what would follow same-sex marriage. The headline of the article,

“Equality, Then What?”

And the article is not just about one play but several. As the subhead says,

“New plays look at fresh challenges of modern gay life.”

In particular, challenges that have arisen after the legalization of same-sex marriage, including the fact that many gay couples now have to face the marriage question in a way that wasn’t necessary before. Again, that article appeared in the arts section on the front page of that section, it was just one of six articles. The second was in a special section of the paper on philanthropy and in that section there was an article by John Hanc entitled,

“The gifts of inclusion.”

The subhead,

“To many charities the sexual orientation of donors is increasingly a nonissue, but that doesn’t mean things don’t get complicated at times.”

That has to do in terms of the origin of the story with controversy over a gift that was given and then returned to the Girl Scouts of America having to do with whether or not the funds could be used for transgender scouts and transgender programming. But that’s just two of the six. On the front page of the Sunday styles section of the newspaper was an article by Aimee Lee Ball entitled,

“The symbols of change.”

Here’s the subhead,

“Public venues are recasting the traditional men’s, women’s room, resulting in an abundance of signage and vocabulary.”

This is very clearly about the transgender revolution and the intersection of that issue with bathrooms. That’s just three of six. The book review section of the Sunday New York Times includes a review of a book that is entitled,

“Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family.”

The book is by Amy Ellis Nutt, the review is by Lisa Miller. The subhead of this article,

“A family rises to the challenge when their son insists he is a girl.”

Another article on the transgender revolution. In the editorial pages of the paper known as the review section, Frank Bruni, a columnist who is openly gay and who often writes about these issues, writes about the vote last week in Houston, Texas, turning back a so-called nondiscrimination statute. The headline of his article,

“Sex, Lies and Houston.”

That’s just five of six articles in a single day’s edition of the New York Times yesterday. Then comes the sixth article, it’s found in the news section. The headline,

“New church marriage rules distress gay Mormons and their supporters.”

The article has to do with changes to the Mormon handbook and we’ll talk more about that in just a moment. The big issue is that in one day’s edition of the New York Times there were six different independent articles on either homosexuality or the transgender revolution. The reason I raise this and point to this particular development in just one day’s edition is because so often we do hear people, especially in the secular culture, saying that conservative Christians think too much, worry too much and talk too much about the LGBT revolution. But what I want us to notice is that this is coming at us as an onslaught that simply can’t be ignored. We’re looking here at just one newspaper out of the thousands in America, although in this case, the most influential newspaper in the world and when we’re asking who is really pressing the issue, let’s just notice there were six articles in just one day’s edition.

It reminds me of a morning in which I got a phone call from a major reporter of one of the nation’s leading newspapers. He called early in the morning and asked me three questions. The first question was about homosexuality, the second question was about same-sex marriage, but it was the third question that was astounding. This reporter asked me, why is it you talk so much about same-sex marriage and homosexuality? I simply had to ask him, whom called whom here? I didn’t call him early in the morning to raise these issues. He called me. He did catch the irony and to his credit, he did acknowledge that he had made the phone call and he had asked the questions, but that illustrates the quandary of the current Christian predicament in terms of this secularizing culture in the midst of a moral revolution. We simply must answer the questions that a secular culture is asking of us, and for that matter, our own children and our own church members. But at the most fundamental level, this is not an issue we have raised, this is not an issue we have created, this is an issue with which we are addressed and the big question is  will we respond with courage and conviction and faithfulness.

 

Mormonism and Reformed Judaism illustrate different religious responses to cultural pressure

 

Next, I mention the news about developments within Mormonism and in Saturday’s edition of the New York Times, Laurie Goodstein reported the story with the headline,

“Mormons reinforce stand on same-sex marriage.”

As she reports,

“Children of same-sex couples will not be able to join the Mormon Church until they turn 18 — and only if they move out of their parents’ homes, disavow all same-sex relationships and receive approval from the church’s top leadership as part of a new policy adopted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Goodstein went on to explain,

“The new policies are an effort by the church, which has long opposed same-sex marriage, to reinforce and even harden its doctrinal boundaries for its members at a time when small but increasing numbers of Mormons are coming out as gay or supportive of same-sex marriage.

“At the same time, the church has recently been taking a tolerant public stance supportive of laws that ban discrimination against gay people in employment and housing.”

David Campbell, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame and a co-author of “Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics” said,

“The church is walking a fine line between on the one hand recognizing the reality of changing mores in American society externally, but internally holding the line on its own doctrinal rigor — its own beliefs and teachings.”

Mormons and evangelical Christian share some concerns about the family and about marriage of that there can be no doubt. But at the fundamental level, the doctrinal level, there can be no doubt that there is a vast chasm between biblical Christianity and Mormonism. But when it comes to the family, even though we have many shared convictions, there is actually a different theological dynamic at work. Reference to this came up in the Sunday article in the New York Times on this development, citing Scott Gordon, president of FairMormon, a volunteer organization that supports the church. He said,

“The idea of family is not just a peripheral issue in the Mormon church. It’s core doctrine. It’s a central idea that we can be sealed together as a family and live together eternally.”

As he said,

“That only works with heterosexual couples.”

The Mormon understanding of sealed marriages and of a family sealed eternally is directly at odds with the New Testament teaching when Jesus said that in the age to come, there will be neither marriage nor giving in marriage, but that doctrinal innovation, which is at odds with biblical Christianity is rooted in the fact that Mormonism looks to Scriptures beyond the old and new Testaments, in particular three documents including most centrally the Book of Mormon. But this points to another issue that ought to have evangelical attention and that is that the world is watching and in many cases the world seems to be absolutely shocked when a religious organization actually defines itself in terms of its convictions and in the case of Mormonism, very core convictions. It’s very hard to imagine how any informed person can be shocked that Mormon authorities have defined their understanding of marriage in this way and have applied it to the issue of same-sex marriage in such clear and uncertain terms.

But there is one aspect of this that’s interesting and that’s reflected in both the Associated Press story and in the New York Times story, and that is that the Mormon authorities have also been speaking of a more welcoming approach to same-sex couples and to those in the LGBT community. This article indicates that if religious conviction does not change that that kind of welcome is not understood to be very genuine. That’s just the terms of the current debate as we face it. But there’s something else going on here and that reflects a very different headline in the same newspaper. Friday’s edition of the New York Times on the other side of a theological divide, here comes a headline,

“Transgender rights policy is embraced by Jews.”

Richard Pérez-Peña writes about not all Jewish groups in America, but in particular the most liberal, that is Reform Judaism. As he writes,

“The largest Jewish group in North America adopted a broad transgender rights policy on Thursday, not only stating its own commitment to equality, but also urging synagogues and other Jewish groups to be advocates for transgender rights and to take steps like training their staffs on accommodating transgender people.”

Now in one sense, reformed Judaism is like the left wing of liberal Protestantism. Reform Judaism doesn’t require belief in God, just believe in Judaism and even though it is the largest group in terms of American Jews, it is Orthodox Jews who actually represent a growing population in the United States, and particularly in some centers of Jewish influence such as New York City. Pérez-Peña writes,

“The new stance was not particularly controversial within a group with a long history of recognizing the rights of gay and transgender people; it approved the resolution on a voice vote, without opposition, at its biennial conference this week in Orlando, Fla.”

But it’s a final paragraph in this article that should have our attention. Pérez-Peña writes,

“Reform Judaism is especially prominent in the United States and Canada, where it claims 1.5 million adherents in almost 900 congregations.”

Here are the especially important words,

“It is the most liberal of the religion’s major wings, and emphasizes adaptability to the modern world, rather than strict adherence to ancient rules.”

Now what we should note is that on the one hand that language is intended by the New York Times to be descriptive of liberal Judaism, in this case the group known as Reform Judaism. But in another sense in a mirror image, it’s actually reflective of the worldview of the New York Times and that’s because the distinction that is drawn in that sentence to which I drew our attention, let me read it again,

“It is the most liberal of the religion’s major wings, and emphasizes adaptability to the modern world, rather than strict adherence to ancient rules.”

There’s the dichotomy it draws, a dichotomy between adaptability to the modern world, over against strict adherence to ancient rules. Ancient rules, that’s very interesting language used here and of course it refers to the Old Testament and then to an entire line of rabbinical reasoning that had defined marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman and furthermore, in this particular case, had defined man and woman in very clearly biblical term. So here we have two stories about two religious groups, both of them very much a part from evangelical Christianity. On the one hand, an announcement of a change made by Mormon authorities not adapting to the modern world and then an article about Reform Judaism explicitly and intentionally adapting to the modern world and that a part of the group’s understanding of its theological platform.

The most interesting and important thing for us to note is that these two trajectories have appeared in just the span of a few days, in terms of the New York Times. One is the trajectory towards adaptability to the modern world. That’s the approach of for instance liberal Protestantism that says the modern world gets to set the terms and we have to realign and redefine Christianity in order to meet the demands of the modern world. That’s exactly the approach taken in Judaism by Reform Judaism as this announcement makes clear. Then there is the other trajectory that understands that there is no possibility of such adaptation to the modern world without losing core conviction. But here’s the interesting thing, but it should come fundamentally as no great surprise to us. Which does the world applaud – that is the secular world? And which does it see as hopelessly out of date? These two stories make that pattern abundantly clear.

 

Study on children's self esteem reveals little parents don't already know

 

Finally I’m starting a new feature on The Briefing entitled, Things you already knew but someone paid a lot of money to find out anyway. This comes from an article originating in the Washington Post by Lyndsey Layton, here’s the headline,

“By age 5, children have a sense of self-esteem that rivals adults, study says.”

One of the most interesting things we need to note of the media is how much nonsense follows the words, study says, rather customarily now. Lyndsey Layton writes,

“Children develop self-esteem by age 5, much earlier than previously thought, according to new research that suggests children gain either a positive or negative view of themselves before they begin formal schooling.”

The article continues,

“The researchers found that self-esteem at age 5 is as strong as those measured in adults.”

Now once again, we already knew that but someone paid a lot of money to prove it in a study and that included Dario Cvencek, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, he is a co-author of the study. He said,

“The first five years seems to be a foundation on which children build for the rest of their lives.”

If you’re taking notes be sure to write that down. The article continues telling us that previous tests of self-esteem require children to be able to read and to be able to understand what is meant by being a good or bad person. We are told that researchers,

“Gave the 5-year-olds several flags and played a game in which they were told some of the flags were “me” and some “not me” and asked them to respond with the flags to a series of positive and negative words broadcast over a loudspeaker. [Wouldn’t you have loved to see this?] The children had to combine words and press buttons on a computer to signal whether they associated the “good” or “bad’ words with the “me” flags or not.”

This involved about 230 children from the Seattle area who were involved in the study. According to the researchers,

“About 90 percent of the children had a positive self-esteem”

Now here’s the final part of the article, you’re going to love this.

“Researchers also measured gender identity and found that children with high self-esteem strongly identified with their own gender and preferred their own gender.”

This refers to friendship and play. The article then tells us,

“Although both boys and girls preferred their own gender [and again this refers to play], the effect was stronger in girls.”

Here follows the language,

“In other words, girls with high self-esteem tend to prefer to associate with other girls, and to think that girls are better than boys.”

That is a direct quote. So these researchers actually conducted a study that end up being reported not only in an academic Journal, but in the Washington Post and what did they find? They found that five-year-old children tend to have very strong self-esteem as it turns out, self-esteem virtually as strong as that which is measured in adults. You have to ask the question, have you never met a five-year-old? And then in the other aspect of the study, they discovered that boys generally prefer to play with boys and girls with girls at this age, but then they tell us that that’s particularly important in girls because as I quote,

“Girls tend to prefer to associate with other girls, and to think that girls are better than boys.”

At that point I simply have to say, it’s not only drawing into question whether these researchers know any five year olds, but whether or not they ever were a five year old in which that issue would be abundantly clear.

 

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing