February 18, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, February 18, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Economic interests and profits are driving religious liberty and morality in Atlanta
The intersection of culture, morality, politics, and economics appeared in a pair of stories that were placed on the front page of yesterday’s edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The first of the articles is headlined,
“Pair of religious ‘liberty bills’ merged.”Show Full Transcript
What’s most interesting about that headline is that the term religious liberty appears itself in quotation marks as if it’s something of a term of art, a specialized term that has to be justified by its use or otherwise explained. That tells us a great deal about how religious liberty is actually under threat in this society, when you have to put in quotation marks on the front page of a southern newspaper—that tells you a very great deal. Kristina Torres, reporting for the Journal-Constitution, tells us that the Georgia Senate on Tuesday,
“…upped the volume on a contentious debate over religious freedom and gay rights when its most powerful committee merged two high-profile ‘religious liberty’ bills [again, the phrase religious liberty put into quotation marks] into a single piece of legislation.”
The article goes on to tell us that the issue of these religious liberty bills, especially in light of the legalization of same-sex marriage, has been controversial in the Georgia legislature. And the combination of these two bills together was seen as leading to a greater chance of the survival of the legislation. But the article turns really interesting at this point where the reporter writes,
“But despite insistence by Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, and others that the state’s business leaders backed the move and would support what’s now a new version of HB 757, but business leaders were among those who raised new questions about the effect of the combined bill.”
Now, as I said, this is a story that lands us right at the intersection of culture, morality, politics, and economics. And what we really see in this article is that the big question faced by the Georgia legislature is, what will the business community think of legislation that really has at its center a concern for protecting religious liberty? That represents a massive cultural shift in this country, and one that we need to look at very closely. We have seen that on the issue of the gay-rights revolution, the entire constellation of LGBTQ issues; it has been the business world, particularly Fortune 500 corporations who been pressing now as agents of the moral revolution. And what we’ve seen is that corporations do what they believe to be in their best interest and, given the pace of this moral revolution, most major American corporations don’t want to be seen as lagging behind in pushing for revolutionary fervor, and that’s true even in a state like Georgia, perhaps especially in a modern city like Atlanta. And what we see in this article is full evidence of the fact that when culture and morality and politics and economics collide, economics often has the upper hand. We really get to the substance of this intersection when the reporter writes,
“Corporate interests at the Capitol acknowledged Tuesday that they had offered language to try to improve the bill, with changes made to the bill that helped ‘move it in the right direction,’ according to representatives of both the Georgia Chamber and the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
“However, both groups stopped notably short of endorsement.”
The heads of the chambers of commerce for the state of Georgia and the city of Atlanta released a joint statement in which they said,
“There are still unresolved issues that must be addressed in this bill, in addition to the underlying concerns that remain about the potential adverse ramifications for Georgia’s economy.”
The reporter then says,
“Those ramifications, according to studies by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, could mean a negative economic impact of $1 billion to $2 billion if national groups began boycotting Georgia or canceling conventions and events based on perceived discriminatory efforts by the state.”
The literary critic Lionel Trilling once spoke of what he called,
“The dark and bloody crossroads where politics and literature meet.”
Well, if it’s explosive when politics meets literature, this is a front-page story that gives us evidence that it’s even more bloody—morally speaking—when culture, morality, politics, and economics meet. In so many cases, the person who writes the check has the last say. And in politics and in moral change, we’re witnessing exactly what that means when major American corporations threaten economic coercion against a state like Georgia or a city like Atlanta when it is considering buttressing its protections of religious liberty in wake of the legalization of same-sex marriage. But as I said, this intersection of culture and morality and politics and economics was not in full evidence in just one front-page story in yesterday’s edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but two. Also writing on the front page is James Salzer in an article entitled,
“Gambling interests ante up in big way at Georgia Capitol.”
Rarely have I seen an article that makes these points so graphically and honestly in such candid form. Salzer writes,
“Casino interests have placed big bets on top lawmakers over the past few months in hopes of getting legislation passed to expand gambling in Georgia.”
He goes on to write,
“Casino and horse-racing interests plowed more than $200,000 into the campaign war chests of leading legislators, and they paid for a fundraiser in November for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the Senate’s president.”
The reporter then says,
“When a special legislative panel studying how expanding gambling could boost funding for the HOPE scholarship met last fall, the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition picked up the nearly $500 tab to feed committee members.”
You got that right. So when an official legislative panel studying the moral and social impact of expanding gambling, it was a gambling organization that actually paid the bill for the meals that the legislators ate. This article gives us further evidence, front-page evidence we might say, of how moral change gets reflected in legislative change and how often economic interests, including interests that will directly profit by the moral revolution, are actually behind the effort. The reporter goes on to tell us that about three dozen of Georgia’s top contract lobbyist have been hired in support of gambling expansion in the state. Most of them were evidently hired just in the last several months in hopes of seeing an opening for the expansion of casino gambling and other forms of gambling in the state. The reporter then tells us,
“One Capitol denizen, who doesn’t have a casino client, referred to it as a ‘full lobbyist employment act.’”
In the most interesting section of the article, another lobbyist called the particular legislation at stake here,
“…the ‘red meat bill’ because there are so many lobbyists available to take legislators out for steaks. ‘Everybody gets fed’ quipped Wayne Garner, a former senator turned lobbyist.”
Now just consider that for a moment. The legislation that is being hope for here is called a red meat bill because, as the lobbyists know, there are always plenty of legislators who are willing to be taken out for a steak dinner in order to have the lobbyist make the argument.
“Everyone gets fed.”
What an amazing statement made by a man, who was a Senator, who is now himself a lobbyist. And then the reporter, Salzer, tells us this is all for legislation that may take years to pass. Money always talks in politics. That’s a reality in a fallen world, but when you’re talking about the gambling industry you’re talking about some truly staggering money. For instance, Sheldon Adelson, a major figure on the international gambling scene, according to this report dropped $20 million personally on the presidential campaign in 2012 of former speaker the house Newt Gingrich. That’s $20 million. MGM, another major casino interest, has pitched a $1 billion investment for downtown Atlanta, promising that it will employ more than 3500 employees. An aid to Sheldon Adelson—Adelson by the way, is chairman and CEO of the Sands Casino in Las Vegas—told the newspaper that Adelson might drop some serious money into Georgia because,
“He might be angling to make sure the Sands has a piece of the action.”
Well, that very statement, “a piece of the action,” is something that draws attention to how so much of this works. Authorities in New York estimate that gambling in horseracing interest there spent more than $59 million just on lobbying and political contributions in New York State in the years leading up to the passage of a proposed constitutional amendment to allow up to seven new casinos. That took place, we should note, successfully for the casino operators in the year 2013.
The big issue here from a Christian worldview is understanding and not being naïve about the way that legislation is often made and how influence and pressure is brought upon those in government, legislatures and otherwise. Legislators often find themselves in the position where they are being lobbied, and being lobbied hard, and sometimes they’re not even sure by whom.
But the other insight from the Christian worldview here is that in a fallen world, economic power is often the rawest and most effective form of power that is brought for moral and cultural change, even political change. In so many cases, it’s not the politicians who are driving the economy, its economic figures who are driving the politicians. And that tells us a great deal. We saw this in a similar pattern in recent weeks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland when, as the Financial Times noted, it was the politicians going hat-in-hand to the global billionaires, not the billionaires going hat in hand to the politicians. And when it comes to moral change in a society, in particular in the United States, in this case looking even locally at the intersection, even the collision, between religious liberty and the moral revolution in a city like Atlanta, Georgia, we see that here, even here, maybe especially here, the interest behind the corporate world are now driving more of the moral equation than anyone else, including those who are the citizens of Georgia who are very concerned about the moral revolution. When the words religious liberty put together require quotation marks in a headline that appears in Atlanta, Georgia in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there is full evidence that a moral revolution is taking place. The body of the article just makes that point more emphatically.
An ominous stat for the future of the country: nearly half of California adults are single
Next, in terms of the moral revolution and how it is reshaping American society at all levels on both coasts, there is nothing that is perhaps more startling than the headline that appeared yesterday in the Sacramento Bee, that is as in Sacramento, California. The article is by Philip Reese and here’s the headline,
“Marriage? ‘No thanks’ or ‘Not yet’ say nearly half of California adults.”
But the headline in this case is an understatement. The opening sentence in the article is actually even more revealing. Reese writes,
“California is on the verge of becoming a state where most adults are single, a sea change that has accelerated in the last 15 years, the latest census figures show.”
This article has to register hugely on the moral Richter scale, so to speak. We’re talking about California, the most populous state in the United States, becoming for the first time in its history a state in which the majority of adults are not married. They are unmarried, in one way or the other. As Reese writes,
“About 51 percent of Californians over 18 are currently married, down from about 74 percent in 1960. Over the same period, the proportion of California adults who have never married has more than doubled, rising from 13 percent in 1960 to about 34 percent today.”
Then he goes on to write,
“Count the 700,000 or so Californians who are separated and California already is a majority-single state.”
That is a state in which the majority of adults are not married. Reese then writes to explain a few of the factors behind this phenomenon. As he writes,
“First, Californians are increasingly waiting longer to get married. In the 1950s and 1960s, the median age at first marriage for women nationwide was about 20; today it is close to 27. Second, California legalized ‘no fault’ divorce around 1970. Since then, the proportion of adults currently divorced has doubled from 5 percent to 10 percent. Third, more Californians today choose to live together and raise families outside marriage.”
Now, if you’re looking for a single snapshot, a single article that might appear in a newspaper or in some kind of media event that will tell us of the scale and of the scope of the moral revolution of the cultural change around us, it’s hard to imagine anything more revealing than this. There is nothing that is a greater and clearer indicator of the moral condition of a society than the situation as is related to marriage. When you’re talking about California, let’s just look at this article honestly. If you go back to 1960s—let’s face it, that’s not prehistoric times—you’re talking about 74 percent of Californians in the year 1960, of adult Californians that is, being married. That is three out of four. Now, it’s just 51 percent, and as the reporter says, if you add those who are now legally separated, that’s 700,000 in California, you’re already actually over 50 percent.
Now before leaving that paragraph, we need to recognize something genuinely explosive. Here you have an article in a secular newspaper—this is the leading daily newspaper in California’s capital city, Sacramento—and it’s dealing with what it recognizes is an interesting phenomenon, even a potentially troubling phenomenon: the majority of California adults being unmarried. But the paper is doing its dead-level best and its reporter not to make any moral judgments, no overt moral judgments at least in one sense, is just trying to present statistical information. But when we look at the article, you’ll notice among the reasons cited why the factors behind this phenomena, and you’ll notice the second one was California’s legalization of no-fault divorce in around 1970. That was a massive part of the moral revolution. In my book, We Cannot be Silent recently released, when I deal with how we arrived at the reality of legal same-sex marriage, I point out that it would not have been possible had marriage not already decades before been fundamentally redefined by the acceptance of divorce. And there is no single sign of that acceptance that is any more powerful than California, about 1970, legalizing so-called no-fault divorce.
One of the things we need to note in hindsight and in humility is the fact that most of the people in California then that were legalizing what they called no-fault divorce, they didn’t accept, they didn’t acknowledge that they were fundamentally weakening and redefining marriage. They claimed to be driven by humanitarian concerns in terms of divorce law. But what it actually produced, and what many of us have been underlining for a very long time, is a redefinition of marriage that weakened marriage by making every single marriage tentative or temporary. Just fast-forward history to the Supreme Court decision in 2015, and marriage was redefined by defining it as potentially a man and a man or a woman and a woman, rather than just a man and a woman, as had been true throughout human history. But we need to note that that was preceded by the development and legalization of no-fault divorce, as it was called, that redefined marriage from being a permanent commitment, a permanent social institution that was represented in substance as a covenant, to what was merely then a contract to be entered in to or exited from at will by either party. And that’s a really sad commentary. But it also shows us how changes that are made as far back as 1970 might not show up in their full moral effects for decades. After all, we’re talking about 45 or 46 years ago. But now you have the Sacramento Bee informing us that, for the first time in history, California may become a state where the majority of adults are unmarried. As a matter of fact, it’s really not a question of if, it’s just a question of when, as this article makes very clear.
There’s other important, worldview-rich information in this article. For one thing, it turns out that married adults in California, who typically also tend to be accompanied by children, tend to live in suburban areas amongst other families with children. On the other hand, unmarried Californians tend to concentrate in urban areas and in some specific urban areas. For example, a map is offered of the state of California in this article that gives relative percentages of married adults city-by-city. We would not be surprised that the more liberal of these urban enclaves have the lowest percentages of married adults, for instance, Berkeley, California, only 35 percent of adults are married; in Oakland, just 41 percent of adults are married; in San Francisco, again, just 41 percent of the adults in that city are married.
Now, politically and morally, this leads to the question of cause and effect, because there is a very clear pattern, and it has been true for decades now in every state. It comes down to this, single people, single adults, tend to vote more liberal; they tend to vote in a more Democratic pattern. Similarly, married adults tend to vote in a more Republican pattern. And this is particularly true amongst women. For example, women voters who are unmarried trend overwhelmingly democratic in elections whereas the opposite is true among married women, and especially married women who have a husband in the home and children. They tend overwhelmingly to vote Republican.
Now in terms of cause and effect, it’s probably impossible to know exactly how that works. But in terms of substance, we really do understand. Being married indicates a conserving position within the society. Marriage has an effect upon both the husband and the wife and, of course, parenthood just adds to that effect. There is a responsibility. There is a far longer horizon of moral meaning, after all; parents are concerned for their children and eventually not only for their children, but their children’s children, and that brings about a basic understanding of and appreciation for marriage and the family and the structuring of a society that makes families flourish and honors marriage.
To put the matter bluntly, single people would find it far easier not to be really concerned with the long-term moral perspective, nor with making sure that we are leading to a society in which families and marriage can flourish. Oh, and if you’re looking forward through time, that cause-and-effect takes on an even bigger significance, because a society that is trending in the direction this Sacramento Bee article makes very clear in California, first of all, front-and-center in this article towards a majority of adults being unmarried, this points not only in California, but increasingly nationwide to the reality that the leftward shift we are seeing take place in this society is not likely to be reversed in any short order. That convoluted question of cause-and-effect is really important, but the most crucial thing is recognizing this: A society that remains morally sane over time requires married adults, and married adults require a society that long-term remains morally and culturally sane. Regardless of the actual operation of cause-and-effect—and about that we may never know—the reality is the Christian worldview affirms you can’t have one without the other.
Success of "extremely" R-rated 'Deadpool' reveals the moral state of the nation
Finally, shifting to the issue of cinema as one of the driving engines in our culture, several newspapers and websites all over the entertainment world have taken note of the fact that a movie known as Deadpool has now broken all records for R-rated movies. As Brooks Barnes reports from the New York Times,
“In a triumph of audacious marketing, risky filmmaking and cost consciousness — at an old-line movie studio, no less — 20th Century Fox’s extremely R-rated ‘Deadpool,’ starring Ryan Reynolds in a career-defining role (at last), broke box office records over the weekend, taking in about $135 million at North American theaters.”
Now here’s the bottom line on this story. Here you have a movie that didn’t cost the studio all that much and wasn’t expected to do all that well, partly, as this article makes clear, because of its,
“…extremely R-rated nature.”
It nonetheless did; it actually broke all R-rated records in this country. Without going into detail about the movie itself, the interesting thing from a Christian worldview is this. Here you have a movie that was known in advance to be extremely R-rated and yet it has broken all these box office records, surprising even Hollywood—its jaded executives who are very difficult to surprise in these terms. But what does that tell us? It tells us that millions and millions of Americans went to a movie that was known to be,
And that would have to include many people who not only shouldn’t have been allowed in the theater, but certainly shouldn’t have gone to see the movie. Somehow, an awful lot of kids who shouldn’t have been old enough to see an R-rated movie evidently did. The box office numbers tell that story. And many other people who might not have been expected to go to an extremely R-rated movie evidently did. On the one hand, this shows the breakdown of the Hollywood rating system, but that’s been broken down a long time. On the other hand, what it shows more profoundly is the breakdown of moral structures in America, where a movie known to be extremely R-rated breaks all these box office records in a weekend, and it was Middle America who went to see the movie. People who would have been scandalized by the movie just a few years ago evidently paid good money to go to see it this past weekend. You don’t need to be a moral philosopher to know that that tells us a great deal about the moral state of the nation.