February 17, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, February 17, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Gender revolutionaries attempt to abandon "heteronormative" words like husband and wife
The moral revolution taking place all around us and reshaping our world sometimes shows up in unexpected places such as the greeting card section or your local card store. What exactly do you call people who are now legally married in same-sex relationships? And the background to this is what took place on Sunday, Valentine’s Day. In Sunday’s edition of the New York Times, Henry Alford wrote a column entitled,
“By any other name would be sweet.”Show Full Transcript
He starts with the question,
“What’s in a name?”
“The answer is increasingly subjective.”
Alford’s article continues,
“I never got used to saying ‘husband,’” said Tony Valenzuela, the executive director of the Lambda Literary Foundation, who married his husband in California in 2008.”
“‘Secretly, for years I kept referring to him as my partner if he wasn’t in the room,’ Mr. Valenzuela said. ‘There’s something deeply heteronormative about ‘husband’ that feels like a betrayal of my very queer identity. Like, if I say it, people will picture him wearing a cardigan reading the newspaper by the fireplace. I do say ‘husband’ more now, but a tiny part of me cringes with shame when I do.’”
Now, embedded in those sentences is an enormous moral revolution, and one that inevitably shows up in our language, and one that as you see inevitably shows up in the greeting card section as well, even when it comes down to what one should call people who are now legally married in same-sex relationships—or even what they call themselves. Now, you also note there was a term here that was inserted by this man as he is quoted in the article. He says about the word husband there’s something deeply “heteronormative” about it. Now what does that term “heteronormative” mean? It means that even using the term normalizes heterosexuality. In converse, it also means that the term only makes sense in a society in which heterosexuality is itself standard, expected, normative. So what this tells us is that the use of the word husband is now problematic among the very people who demanded the right of same-sex marriage. It’s not just husband that’s heteronormative, any number of other words are similar such as wife. But there’s more to the story, as you might expect.
The very next paragraph in the article reads like this,
“The speaker and spiritual coach Robyn Vie Carpenter-Brisco calls her wife, Veronica Brisco, ‘my wusband.’ Ms. Carpenter-Brisco explained: ‘She’s my wife, but she’s like a dude. She’s more like a husband than a wife, so: wusband.’”
When Christians see a story like this we need to step back and ask the question, how does this become plausible? How does this story make sense even to the people who were cited within it? One of the things we need to note is that only very recent people—we’re talking about a very recent slice of human history, extremely so—could even understand the categories that are being discussed here. But the next thing we need to note is that the categories are themselves very confused, even in this article that is trying to bring some kind of clarity. Henry Alford, writing about the eventual linguistic implications of this moral revolution, says,
“A loose approach to relationship titles — not to mention pronouns and proper names — has long existed within the gay and transgender communities.”
Well, of course, but now we need to note that after the legalization of same-sex marriage, the entire society is now being demanded to come to terms with a whole new set of relationships with a whole new definition of marriage and with all the selection of greeting cards. It also tells us a very great deal that words like husband and wife that had been central not only to Western civilization but to any human society—at least until now—that those words had actually been on the marriage certificate. But that’s now gone. A marriage license or certificate now in many states has Partner A and Partner B or Party One and Party Two. Later on, one of the partners in a legally married gay couple said,
“We went with me as Party One and Tom as Party Two, and now from time to time we introduce ourselves to others as Party One and Party Two.”
Later in the article, however, when someone is Party A and Party B, there raises the question, how can there be equality within this relationship if one is identified as one and the other is two, one is A and one is B? Another person quoted in the article, this one, an Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Wisconsin in Madison said,
“My friends Jill and Anna got married this summer in New York City, where the government forms refer to a Spouse A and a Spouse B. Of course, I asked how could someone ever submit to being Spouse B; I mean, what kind of person wants to be on the B list? Then I realized the logic: only a real Spouse A type could be confident enough to take the title of Spouse B and know, inside, that they were really Spouse A all along.”
Now, at this point let me clarify. This is not intended to be a humorous article. This is intended to be taken straightforwardly and seriously as representing one of the new, very complex, moral dilemmas that modern Americans face. But this is evidence of the kind of confusion that is inevitable in the wake of the kind of moral revolution we have been experiencing. It’s a revolution that eventually will show up everywhere, including the greeting card section and including now Sunday’s Valentine’s Day edition of the New York Times where it is presented as a very serious moral quandary, what same-sex couples should call themselves or should require others to call them. And the article then goes on to detail even more complexity and a great deal more confusion.
The article also makes clear that once you add transgender to the mix, the situation just gets infinitely more complicated and confusing. In the article we read,
“Transgender people and married gay couples may need to get into the habit of laughing off their interlocutors’ fumblings. For their part, the interlocutors may do best to be alert and to be willing to make tiny adjustments. Some married same-sexers want to be called wives or husbands; some, partners; some, ‘hersbands’ or ‘wusbands’ or ‘husfriends’; some, ‘support staff.’ Ask them.”
The most basic issue in all of this is the fact that a moral revolution like this that turns the very structures of creation that God gave us on their head, turning the world upside down, creates absolute moral chaos. It’s even a chaos that shows up eventually in etiquette and in language and in greeting cards and, for that matter, picture books for children. It’s a world in which the words husband and wife and mother and father and boy and girl and brother and sister have become largely meaningless and always controversial. Even those who are determined to give themselves over to this moral revolution even to lead it aren’t sure even the vocabulary that should be used.
The Supreme Court may have ruled, and the law may now reflect, that same-sex couples can be married, but neither the Court nor the law can make a same-sex couple husband-and-wife. The confusion represented in this article over language is actually indicative of a far more foundational confusion, a foundational confusion over what it means to be human, what it means to be married, what it means to be husband-and-wife, what it means to be male and female, man and woman, and that’s a confusion that won’t be limited to this debate over terminology.
Doctors treat transgender patients according to biological gender, can't escape design
Next, along similar lines, yesterday’s edition of the New York Times in the Science section had a front-page article entitled,
“Patients Facing Barriers in Care.”
Abby Ellin writes,
“Transgender people often have difficulties with doctors and hospitals.”
Just to summarize the situation, she begins with this incident.
“After a skiing accident in January left him with a smashed knee, Beck Bailey, a transgender man in Greenfield, Mass., spent 15 days in a Vermont hospital undergoing a handful of surgeries. As part of his normal routine, Mr. Bailey gives himself regular shots of testosterone. But the endocrinologist on duty in Vermont told him that patients should not take testosterone post surgery.”
So here you have a medical professional who is dealing with the standard medical care after this kind of orthopedic surgery saying one ought not to take these kinds of hormones after that kind of surgery. But here you have an individual identified as a transgender man who, according to the reporter,
“…explained that he couldn’t just stop his hormone treatment. But the doctors were so resistant that he finally had them call his primary care physician, who explained he should resume his usual protocol.”
Well, the terminology confusion in the first story is now represented in a treatment confusion in this story in which medical care is now being redefined because transgender patients are now in a situation that medical professionals have never faced before. Christians looking at an article like this or a situation that is here described need to begin with a sense of chastened, humbled heartbreak in understanding the portrait of humanity that is being demonstrated to us here. For example, the reporter tells us about one individual described as,
“…transitioning from female to male.”
And in this article it is explained that this individual, transitioning from female to male, was diagnosed before the transition as carrying the gene for breast cancer. When this patient asked the doctor if the hormone treatments for this kind of transgender transition would be problematic with breast cancer, the doctor said he had no idea because there was no research basis. And that, we should note, is being presented in this article as the problem. But of course human beings do not have a research basis going back in history in this kind of medical situation because it has never existed before. The Christian worldview reminds us that truth persists and it shows itself even when it is denied. And that shows up in this article in a very clear, indeed a very graphic way. It shows up in the instructions now being given to physicians that when patients are transitioning from one gender to the other, they still for the remainder of their lives will need to be tested and screened for cancers that have to do with the original gender. And what does that tell us about what doesn’t change?
Without going into some of the graphic detail in this article, there is one sentence that is so laden with moral meaning, it is so revelatory just in even reading the words, that I need to read it. The sentence in the article comes from the Director of Education and Training Programs at the Fenway Institute in Boston, also a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who said this. Here are the words,
“All transgender women still have a prostate gland, and a good clinician will need to learn about the current anatomy and provide appropriate preventive screening and care.”
Now, when you reflect upon it, that’s an absolutely astounding sentence. Here you have a professor at the medical school at Harvard University simply reminding us that all transgender women still have a prostate gland. They are still, we should note, biologically and genetically male, not female. Well, every biblically-minded Christian must celebrate gender as a part of the goodness of God’s creation and must understand that a part of God’s gift to us in our creation is making us male or female, as every biblically-minded Christian has to understand that God alone has the sovereign right to determine who we are, and that is a part of our embodiment, not something that is separated from it.
And even as every biblically-minded, gospel-minded Christian looks at an article like this and recognizes that the only corrective to this is the gospel of Jesus Christ, we also have to understand that in an article like this, what we’re seeing revealed is a denial of the obvious, the obvious that’s reflected when a doctor simply has to say, “Oh, by the way, all transgender women still have a prostate gland.” And so it turns out that the truth persists and shows itself in unexpected ways, even when it is confused or denied.
Lastly from this article, keep in mind that sentence that I read and understand the revolution in meaning. A world turned upside down when advice to physicians has to use the term “current anatomy.” When you think about it, that’s one of the most troubling combination of words we could imagine.
Texas baptists divide on abortion demonstrating worldview runs deeper than identification
Next, I mentioned the fact on The Briefing a few days ago that Cal Thomas had said in a column in USA Today that religious labels simply aren’t enough when it comes to candidates running for office. Simply having a religious identification like Catholic or Baptist or Presbyterian or virtually anything else isn’t enough to tell us much about the worldview of the candidate. And a similar point was recently made in two articles that appeared from the news site Baptist News Global. In both cases they point to the fact that the term “Baptist” simply doesn’t tell you enough, even when it comes to an issue like abortion or the sanctity of human life. Bob Allen, reporting for Baptist News Global, wrote back on February 5,
“Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists joined hands in a Feb. 3 legal brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a 2013 Texas law regulating abortion.”
As Bob Allen of Baptist News Global reports, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has joined others, including National Association of Evangelicals and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, in writing friend-of-the court briefs in support of the Texas laws, those are laws that restrict abortion. But the headline of the article is this,
“Baptists take sides in Texas abortion case.”
This means that, according to the article, there are Baptists who are arguing for the sanctity of human life and for the legal restrictions on abortion in terms of the Texas law and there are Baptists arguing against it; and that’s true not only in Texas, but at the national level—for instance, with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention decidedly pro-life and other Baptists at the national level representing a counter argument, arguing for abortion rights and arguing against the legislation now under controversy in Texas. Allen writes,
“A Jan. 4 brief by parties including Baptist-affiliated Judson Memorial Church in New York City asks the Supreme Court to ‘preserve a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy in accordance with her own personal or religious conscience.’”
He then explains that Judson Memorial Church is aligned with the Alliance of Baptists as well as the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches. And, as he says, the church,
“…has been involved since the 1960s and 1970s in helping women, especially the poor, to obtain medically safe abortions.”
That’s one way to put it, but the Judson Memorial Church, as it is now known there in New York City, has been actually ground zero for the abortion-rights movement going back for decades. As Allen reports,
“Along with groups including the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the Judson Memorial brief argues that “any genuine efforts to protect the health and well-being of women seeking abortions must aim to increase the accessibility and affordability of safe abortion care.”
The article also cites several other Baptists who signed onto these amicus briefs before the United States Supreme Court. On the pro-abortion side they would include,
“…Marie Allen, a member of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-affiliated Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, and Jorene Taylor Swift, minister of congregational care at CBF [that’s Cooperative Baptist Fellowship] related Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
“…Larry Bethune, senior pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin, a church kicked out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 1988 and now aligned primarily with American Baptist Churches, USA.”
So what does this tell us? It tells us that, in a very basic level, a label simply isn’t enough. We have to look beyond the label to the beliefs that are actually represented, to the worldview that is actually displayed. And here you see that great divide between the liberal Protestants and evangelicals reflected in one denominational label, “Baptist,” and even in one state, primarily the state of Texas, also with national representation including the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and Judson Memorial Church in New York City. It is a split that is deep; it is a divide that is wide, and it is over the most basic theological issues.
That raises a very important question, how could people identifying as Baptist end up so diametrically opposed on a question as basic as abortion? It’s because they actually must be opposed at an even more basic level, and that most important level is theological, and it has to do with the authority of Scripture. Long before you get to the issue of abortion or any other issue, the primary question is, what is the authority for faith and practice? How do we know what God intends for us to believe on these issues? And that’s where the issue of the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture becomes a matter of inevitable divide, a clear dividing line. Protestant liberals went off in their direction beginning in the early decades of the 20th century, and now even with a denominational label like Baptist you have to ask the question, what kind of Baptist? And if indeed Baptists and Presbyterians and Lutherans and Pentecostals and any number of others are divided over this kind of basic issue, we have to recognize there’s a more basic divide even than this.
Brazilian baptists open to abortion connected to liberal baptists in the United States
The other article that appeared just this week is from the same source and with the same reporter telling us that the same divide is found also in a nation like Brazil, where at least some Brazilian Baptist—those who not by coincidence are identified and affiliated with the more liberal Baptist groups identified here—are actually asking for the Brazilian government to reconsider legislation on abortion in light of the Zika virus.
One particular paragraph in this report by Bob Allen points to the fact that when you have a divide this basic, it’s going to show up in any number of issues. The Baptist group in Brazil in this article pushing for abortion rights is described as being related to those liberal groups in the United States that were referenced in the previous article, including a group known as the Alliance of Baptists. In this paragraph we read,
“The Alliance of Baptists of Brazil was begun in 2005 by about 60 Baptists who fell out of favor with the Brazilian Baptist Convention because of their socially progressive views.”
Allen went on to report,
“Differences included theological education, women’s ordination, how to treat gays and lesbians, ecumenical involvement and influence by Southern Baptist missionaries serving with the International Mission Board.”
Operating from a biblical worldview, there are two principles here very much at stake. The first is this: A label is never enough. We have to look behind the label to the actual beliefs, principles, convictions and worldviews that stand behind the use of that name, of that label, of that identification. We also have to understand something else. When there is a deep divide over an issue as basic as the dignity and sanctity of human life over an issue like abortion, it on the one hand never begins there, it begins at a more basic level, and the other thing we need to note is that it doesn’t end there. It leads to division over other issues as well. And that’s because there is a separation at the most basic worldview level, and it won’t be limited to one issue; it will show up in other places. And finally on this issue, we have to note what starts in America doesn’t stay in America. It turns out that liberal theological ideas that may have begun in Europe then come to the United States and then get spread to the rest of the world. That too reminds us of the challenge we now face.
In the final analysis, if we sit down next to someone and find ourselves disagreeing over abortion, the reality is we surely disagree on any number of other issues. And even more importantly, our disagreement more fundamentally is theological before it becomes moral or attached to public policy, which also stands to remind us and we need this reminder that our primary task is not just moral argument, but evangelism.