November 11, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, November 11, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Obama administration exercises cultural power of presidency in support revision to Civil Rights Act
Yesterday, the White House announced that the Obama administration would support an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This past summer in June when the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states in the Obergefell decision, the proponents of same-sex marriage, announced that their next goal would be focused precisely on this legislation. Legislation that had been known as ENDA in a previous form, but is now being called the Equality Act, and now we’re looking at the fact that the Obama Administration is placing itself solidly behind the legislation. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration had been reviewing the bill for several weeks and as Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post reports, he then said,Show Full Transcript
“Upon that review it is now clear that the administration strongly supports the Equality Act,” he said. “That bill is historic legislation that would advance the cause of equality for millions of Americans.”
In this sense with this announcement yesterday, the Obama Administration comes full circle when President Obama ran in the year 2008 for president; he was opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage, when he ran for reelection in 2012, he was for it. Now, as he is into the second half of his second term and his time is running out on his presidency, he has made LGBT issues a clear priority of his administration. It’s been a clear priority in terms of foreign-policy with the United States State Department and the president putting pressure on foreign governments to join the revolution. It has also framed issues domestically, most importantly now with the White House making this announcement and the fact that the announcement came in the year 2015 is no accident. One of the things to watch in terms of politics is that many politicians, you might even say most politicians actually make statements like this only when they are perceived to be politically safe. That might be the most revealing aspect of this announcement that came yesterday.
By the way, given Republican dominance in both the House and the Senate, it is unlikely that the bill will advance and that what present Obama endorsed yesterday will become law at any point during his administration. But what happened yesterday is very important from a worldview perspective because it tells us that the president believes that there is sufficient momentum behind his announcement that it will be met with widespread support, especially from his own party and from those who had so staunchly supported him in 2008, and especially in 2012. Given the role of the President of the United States and our Constitutional system, it’s actually difficult to exaggerate the cultural power of the presidency and that became very clear, also in the Washington Post story where the reporter tells us,
“The White House’s endorsement of the Equality Act came on the same day that Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to be featured on the cover of an LGBT publication, after he was named Out magazine’s “Ally of the Year” for 2015.”
Now this particular recognition given to President Obama seems absolutely fitting. He’s been identified here by Out magazine, that’s a major magazine of the LGBT community as the ally of the year for 2015. In what sense would they mean that? Well, first of all in the general sense for this president has been very aggressive in pushing the LGBT issues, but it’s also been true in very particular ways. Because when the Obergefell case was being heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, one of the most influential voices arguing before the court for the legalization of same-sex marriage was none other than the solicitor general of the United States, who was a member of the President’s administration. He was doing the President’s bidding in terms of those arguments and everyone on both sides of the issue clearly understood that. President Obama has been using the symbolic power of the presidency in order to encourage LGBT issues throughout this country and internationally. But President Obama’s not been using merely the symbolic power of the presidency, he has been using Executive Orders and furthermore, the political power of the presidency both by what he has done and what he has refused to do, and that latter refers to the fact that he refused to defend the defense of marriage act in court, he refused to allow the Attorney General of the United States to defend that act, overwhelmingly adopted by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton when it came before the court in 2013.
It seems fitting even deserved that President Obama will be recognized as ally of the year by Out magazine and this indicates, again, the great divide in America at the most basic issue of worldview, the most basic issue of right and wrong and how morality is to be defined. Indeed, what is right and what is wrong. The announcement made by the spokesman for the President yesterday at the White House combines both symbolic and political power that is centralized in the presidency of the United States. We’re going be watching to see how this issue unfolds, but this much is clear, President Obama has made his position on these issues very, very clear. He has made his aggressive support of LGBT issues so publicly known and so well recognized that he has made history as the Washington Post has indicated by being recognized on the very day this announcement was made by Out magazine, identifying the President of the United States as ally of the year.
Collision between erotic and religious liberty evidenced in Atlanta fire chief lawsuit
Next, for some time now we’ve been discussing the inevitable collision between erotic liberty, you might call that sexual liberty, on the one hand and religious liberty on the other, and that was also made clear yesterday in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. When Jason Riley wrote a column entitled,
“Christian Belief Cost Kelvin Cochran His Job.”
Kelvin Cochran, you may remember, was the Fire Chief of Atlanta. That’s was not is, because he was fired by the Mayor of the city of Atlanta because he held to traditional Christian understandings and biblical teachings concerning human sexuality in general and marriage and homosexuality in particular. As Jason L. Riley wrote,
“Kelvin Cochran has led a remarkable life by any standard. He was born into a poor family in Shreveport, La., in 1960 that became even poorer after his father walked out and left his mother to raise six children alone. “After he left, we couldn’t afford to live in the projects anymore,” he once told an interviewer.”
Mr. Cochran aspired to be a firefighter from the time he was five years old and he was eventually appointed Shreveport’s first black Fire Chief in the year 1999. In 2008 he rose to become the Fire Chief of Atlanta, Georgia and in 2009 President Obama appointed him United States fire administrator, the top position in the entire profession. Then Kelvin Cochran return to Atlanta after serving in that federal post and was again appointed Fire Chief of the city in 2010. In 2012 after more than 30 years of service, he was awarded the Fire Chief of the year award by Fire Chief magazine. But a year ago, as Riley reminds us, Mr. Cochran was suspended for 30 days without pay pending an investigation into his behavior. What was the behavior? Well, on January 6 at the end of that period of suspension, Kasim Reed, the Mayor of Atlanta sacked Mr. Cochran and the fire-able offense according to the city was that he published a book in violation of the city’s ethics code and without permission from the Mayor. Now as we discussed when this happened that has never added up. That has never been implausible even on its face. As Riley tells us,
“The reality, according to a lawsuit filed in response to the firing, is that Mr. Cochran no longer has his $172,000-a-year job because of what’s in the book. The suit accuses the city of firing Mr. Cochran for his religious beliefs.”
Riley continues the story when he writes,
“It turns out that when he’s not fighting fires, Mr. Cochran spends a lot of time helping black men turn their lives around and stay out of trouble. He does this under the auspices of Atlanta’s Elizabeth Baptist Church, where he is a deacon and leads a men’s bible study.”
In 2013, he published a small book entitled, Who Told You That You Were Naked? The book was written on his own time, and as we said back when the controversy first emerged, it was really the basis of lesson plans for his Bible studies for young men.
“It explains how the teachings of Christ can help men fulfill their purpose as responsible husbands and fathers.”
But Riley continues,
“What earned the ire of Atlanta officials is that the 162-page tome includes a few passages criticizing homosexual conduct as “perversion.”
We’re talking about the story today because this article ran yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, and that was timed because of the lawsuit that is now bringing old information and new information to light. Amongst the old information we knew back when the controversy first emerged is the fact that Alex Wan, a member of the Atlanta city Council, an openly gay member had said,
“I respect each individual’s right to have their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but when you’re a city employee, and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door.”
Now as we said back at the time that is an absolute abrogation and compromise. It’s in fact an absolute denial not only of religious liberty, but of free speech and it should tell us a very great deal that the political left in this country is now willing to violate both religious liberty and freedom of speech in order to concretized and solidify the moral revolution now taking place all around us. Riley then writes a very important paragraph when he says,
“So the mayor fired someone who disagreed with him in the name of inclusivity and tolerance. And Mr. Wan believes that government employees are entitled to their own views but not entitled to share them with anyone. If this is true, the Constitution’s protections of free speech and freedom of religion are meaningless in practice.”
Now the other reason, I’m drawing attention to this issue today is because of the congruence between the first story and this. Because it is no accident, it’s no coincident in the larger moral frame that on the very same day that the President of the United States, through his spokesman announced his support for what’s called the Equality Act that one of the chief victims of that kind of discriminatory action is also in the news precisely because he’s now filing suit against the city of Atlanta. Now one of the most important things about the filing of this lawsuit is that it will bring all kinds of new information to light. In the process of litigation like this there will be what is known as discovery which means that all of the internal documentations and the testimony by city officials about why Kelvin Cochran was fired will eventually come to light and will do so under oath. The good news is that this lawsuit signals that we haven’t heard the last from Kelvin Cochran. This story is going to be unfolding and we’ll watch it very closely. But we already know this, however, this turns out, it’s really going to be important.
Secularization of America shown in diminishing size of Christian groups on college campuses
Next, we continue to see the evidence of the secularization of American culture and a story appeared in Florida Today this week the makes that point in a rather interesting if concerning way. The reporter, Caroline Glenn tells us that college Christian student groups are now being depopulated or at least diminished in terms of membership and participation on many major college and University campuses. The epicenter for this story is none other than the state of Florida, and in particular the campus of the University of Central Florida, which is now considered to be one of if not the largest single University campus in terms of population in the United States. Glenn writes about several different Christian groups that have seen their membership decline even as the enrollment in that University has grown and has grown massively. She writes about the Central Florida Wesley foundation, that’s a United Methodist ministry to college students, it had once been very large, it’s now down to about 80 members. According to the report,
“The Wesley Foundation has lost 36 percent of its members since 2007.”
Groups representing Roman Catholics and even Mormons have seen similar declines as has a group representing the Eastern Orthodox on the campus of the University of Central Florida. Glenn then writes,
“What’s happening on college campuses echoes a national trend. No matter the denomination, age, race or region, the Pew Research Center found this year that 5 million fewer Americans, or roughly 173 million people, call themselves Christian today than in 2007.”
Glenn also cites the fact that,
“The Pew survey of 35,000 adults found that this group [the unaffiliated] has multiplied to 56 million since 2007. The numbers for atheists and agnostics, specifically, doubled to 7 percent.”
The numbers of atheists and agnostics have also multiplied dramatically, some say doubling in the last decade or so. Evidence of an increase in secularization has also pointed to an increase in the number of openly secular students. Glenn tells us of the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Florida has grown also by,
“Leaps and bounds since its 2012 founding when members met in a virtual broom closet.”
They’re not meeting in a broom closet anymore. But two major reservations come to mind when looking at this story and both of them to the credit of the reporter are included within the material. For example, first comes University of Central Florida world religions lecturer, Jeanine Viau, she pointed out that simply looking at the numbers don’t tell you the whole story, because in many of these surveys people are simply checking off the box, it really doesn’t represent a very complex understanding of what religious position or convictions one of the individuals may or may not have. She insists Christian communities are not on their deathbed. She points out that even with the registered decline in the number of people who identify as Christian that still amounts in America to 173 million people. That’s no small number. But a more serious reservation comes later in the article when very perceptively it is pointed out that the Pew data, though showing that affiliation numbers have fallen does not show that participation numbers in many situations have fallen much at all. Which is to say that the number of people who have actually been going to church and been deeply involved in churches is not necessarily falling at anything like the rate of the fall that is coming in terms of affiliation or in other words, the box people are checking off in terms of these surveys.
In the final analysis, there really is something to the secularization of America. We perceive it in so many different ways, and the pew research data overwhelmingly demonstrate the fact that that is taking place. But it’s not taking place as much as some people want to claim. And as this story points out, there’s usually far more than a headline can indicate. We’re also once again, looking at a circular equation. The moment students arrive on a college campus they are more likely to be influenced by secular authorities, including faculty and other intellectual authorities in the academic context. But it is also demonstrated that those who are that stage of life tend to be at the most secular point of their lives over the lifespan. Now whether or not that’s different for this generation time will tell. But in the meantime, we’ve got to take this information very seriously, but we’ve also got to look beneath the surface. What’s not reflected in this article is the main point the Christian should gain from looking at an article like this and that is that the academic context of the American college and University campus as one of the great mission fields on the world today. An article like this should not make Christians retreat from witness in the American college and University context, but rather to understand why it is so strategically important, it always has been, but especially so now. That’s the main point Christians should get from looking at a headline in an article like this.
Supposed Starbucks furor reminder not to confuse church's business with that of corporate America
Next, sometimes the most important thing we can say about a story is that it simply isn’t so and shouldn’t be so. That’s the case with a supposed national controversy over Evangelicals highly offended and now becoming activists over the fact that Starbucks has decided to offer plain simple red cups without any holiday message this Christmas season. Emma Green writing at The Atlantic tells us that the fury, if indeed there is a fury was sparked by one evangelist online complaining that Starbucks was trying to take Christ out of Christmas by offering cups that were just plain red. Almost immediately, you had at least some in the media saying that evangelicals were complaining that somehow they were being discriminated against in terms of this action by Starbucks and that somehow Starbucks was taking Christ out of Christmas and that somehow it would be morally and theologically preferable to have some kind of holiday greeting that was explicitly or implicitly Christian on Starbucks cups. It turns out by the way that Starbucks has never offered a holiday cup that was in any way directly referencing Christmas. There is no doubt, however, that we are watching in the secularization of the culture, the secularization of advertising and corporate messaging as well. But when it comes to Starbucks, this is a company that has always positioned itself on the cultural left with something of a vague New Age spirituality, it has never identified with cultural Christianity in any way. There’s no real shock to anyone that knows Starbucks that Starbucks would be offering a cup that’s simply red, indicating some symbolism of the holiday season but without making any kind of theological statement whatsoever.
Without doubt this does point to the larger secularization of the culture and that means that corporate interests and advertisers no longer feel like they have to give a tip of the hat to Christianity during the time of Christmas, as well as other holidays of the season. One explanation of this just might be religious diversity in the United States. I don’t actually think that’s the big story. I think the bigger story is the loss of cultural Christianity and the fact that major corporations no longer feel that they actually have to give any kind of tacit tip of the hat to Christmas or to Christians during the holiday season. But from a theological perspective, I’m old enough to remember when seriously minded Christians complained about the fact that so many corporations were trying to use Christian symbolism and even Christian language at Christmas when they actually didn’t mean it. Now it seems that some evangelicals have turned the table expecting corporate America to become evangelists or at least to somehow ratify our theological beliefs in terms of advertising and holiday packaging.
It represents evangelical weakness and a very weak argument to somehow argue that Starbucks has astounded us by coming out with something that isn’t explicitly or implicitly Christian when after all that’s been the story of Starbucks all along. We can certainly lament a kind of cultural loss when it comes to secularization, but let’s be really, really careful that we are not easily bought off by corporations that just give some kind of implicit affirmation of Christianity and water down the Christian gospel in doing so. Evangelism is our business, coffee is Starbucks business. It’s best that we keep those responsibilities clear and we understand that evangelism is our responsibility, it’s our job.
Veterans Day reminder to give honor to whom honor is due
Finally, today is Veterans Day and that’s November 11. It has been that way for a long time, pointing back to November 11, 1918, when World War I came to an end. That war was originally called the war to end all wars. It’s not anymore because it didn’t clearly end all wars. In fact, it didn’t even end with a surrender, it ended with an armistice and that became the setup for what became the second world war. But that armistice was declared as being in effect in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918 and it did so only after millions of soldiers had died on both sides in that horrifying war. Armistice Day was declared in 1919, it was made a national holiday in 1926. It is different than Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a national holiday to remember those who died in the uniform of our country. Veterans Day is a day to remember all those in uniform now living who served. It is the necessary companion to Memorial Day and it is a very important day, morally speaking in the United States. It reminds us to that the liberties we know and the liberties we prize were bought indeed with a price. Bought at the price of those who were willing not only to put on a uniform, but to enter into the nation’s armed forces in order to defend our freedoms and they did so by the millions. The last known statistics go back to 2013, when there were 19.6 million veterans of the military living in the United States, 2.1 served in the Korean War, 1.3 now living in World War II, 4.7 in peacetime only, 7 million served in Vietnam ,5.2 million now living served during some era of the Gulf War. But Veterans Day is so important that it is better not just be a day that government offices are closed. It better be a day when our hearts are open, that too, is our moral responsibility on Veterans Day.