May 24, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, May 23, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Study reveals younger Republicans have a more conservative sexual ethic than older Democrats
In a nation as large as the United States, there are always going to be competing worldviews. But there has been, in the case of the American experiment, a dominant worldview that goes all the way back to the beginnings of America as a nation. That worldview was built upon an inherited European tradition, a tradition that was birthed in Christendom with an understanding of truth and reality and authority that was explicitly based in the Christian religion. But now we’re watching a new dominant culture take shape in the United States. It is a far more secular culture; in many ways, it is being defined in open opposition to that inherited traditional culture that had been shaped by Christianity. But one of the facets of this current cultural moment is an increasing polarization.
The big picture is polarization between cultural conservatives and cultural liberals. It is also a polarization that is partisan and political, separating, at least in general terms, Democrats from Republicans. It’s also becoming clear that Democrats are separated from other Democrats and Republicans from other Republicans, because what we are seeing is a massive social transformation that is, at least at this point, rather confusing. What does become clear is that the two major alternative worldviews show up in unexpected ways.Show Full Transcript
One of the most important think tanks in the United States is the Brookings Institution. It is a generally left-leaning institution that is, however, highly respected in terms of its research among both conservatives and liberals. Richard V. Reeves and Nathan Joo, writing for Brookings, talk about what is now a divide over the issue of cohabitation before marriage. And as they point out, it is a partisan divide; it’s also a generational divide. That actually makes the story even more interesting.
As they wrote,
“There is a marriage gap in America. This is not just a gap in choices and actions, but in norms and attitudes.”
That’s massive. What you have here are two social science researchers telling us that the divide is not over just how people marry or do not marry, it’s also over the social norms that shape the entire civilization. They went on to say,
“Each generation is more liberal on average when it comes to issues like premarital relationships, same-sex marriage, and divorce.”
Let’s stop there for a moment. That is true if you’re looking at recent generations. It would not be true if you’re looking at previous generations, where there was not only often a period of moral stability generation to generation, but also, in some cases at least, a more conservative younger generation than the older generation, sometimes with those experiences forged by things such as plague or war or other major social upheavals.
But now these researchers go on to say that “generational averages can obscure other divides, including ideology—which in many cases,” they say, “is a more powerful factor.”
Well, here we’re onto something really interesting.
These researchers are looking at what they call prerequisites for marriage—that is, what should come before marriage. As their study indicates, for an increasing number of Americans, now a clear majority of younger Americans, cohabitation is expected to come before marriage. We’ve looked at this equation before. One of the most interesting things, and it’s affirmed in the study, is that cohabitation now actually no longer predictably leads to marriage. In many cases, it is now a substitute for marriage or even a way of avoiding marriage altogether. There had been the expectation amongst the sexual revolutionaries that cohabitation—that is living together in a sexual, residential relationship without marriage—would eventually lead to marriage; but increasingly it is demonstrated that is not the case. Cohabitation is instead becoming an alternative to marriage.
Nonetheless, what’s really interesting in the study is the divide amongst generations. In general, younger Americans are far more likely to say that cohabitation is morally acceptable before marriage. This is true, we should note, for both Democrats and Republicans—younger are more likely to affirm cohabitation than the older. But this is where an even more important and interesting factor enters in. It turns out that among Democrats, a majority of both younger and older—yes, more younger than older, but still a clear majority—both younger and older Democrats affirm the morality of cohabitation—that is, living together without marriage.
Meanwhile, even though more younger Republicans affirm cohabitation than older Republicans, it’s still the case that the vast majority of both younger and older Republicans believe that it is not right to live together in cohabitation without marriage. Let me make the picture even more clear. It turns out, according to this research, that younger Republicans are actually more sexually conservative than even older Democrats. That’s an astounding finding, and it’s something that has caught the attention of the Brookings Institution.
What this tells the social scientists at Brookings is that ideology is a more important factor in terms of judging and norming sexual morality than even age, and that comes as a shock to social science. It comes as a shock to many who observed this research, but it affirms something that every thinking Christian should keep in mind. What is defined here as ideology is at least a part of, an inherent part of, what we would call worldview. What this tells us is that worldview trumps other issues, even including generational identification. That’s really something very significant and at least in part unexpected.
The reality is that this tells us that worldview is more important than any other single issue in predicting not only how people live, but in the moral convictions that explain how they live. These findings run parallel to a study that was released in recent years by Investor’s Business Daily and TIPP indicating that the major moral divide in America could be explained in part by partisan identification. Democrats were far more likely to affirm everything from adultery to cohabitation and any number of other sexual relationships outside of marriage than were Republicans of any age.
Now at this point, Christians are called upon to think just a little more deeply. What is the predictive factor here? Is partisan identification the predictive factor for sexual morality, or is it the other way around? Looking at this research, there is actually no evidence to answer that question. But I think Christians reflecting upon this are likely to understand that it is sexual ideology, or, that is, convictions concerning the morality of sex, that are more likely to identify partisan identification than the other way around. That’s because the biblical worldview would affirm that matters of sexual judgment are actually pre-political—that is, they are prior to political judgments and political identification. When you’re thinking about America in terms of the 2016 presidential race, partisan issues, and the contemporary political debate, recognize, as Christians must, that there is something even more basic to this than politics. But it does show up in politics, even as it now shows up in this very important study from the Brookings Institution.
Gender, religion, and politics: How who we are and what we believe inform our voting
Next, along similar lines, a very important study published in The Economist, one of the most influential periodicals in the world, this one published in London. The headline in the article:
“How gender is trumping religion in American politics.”
Once again, this story is on to something very big. In terms of recent American politics—and in this we mean recent decades, not just recent years, going all the way back to the end of the Second World War—religious identification has been the single most effective predictor of voting patterns.
This was affirmed in recent years by a pair of Harvard researchers in a study that was entitled American Grace. In that study, they predicted that if you could identify a person’s habit or non-habit of attending church, you would be in a very high likelihood of predicting whether or not that voter would’ve voted for the Democratic or the Republican presidential nominee in a presidential election. The reason for that, they explained, is that the religious divide in America is now the major partisan and political divide. It’s not just a religious divide in terms of whether or not one identifies with this religious group or that, but rather with whether or not there is any religious participation at all.
In their study, the two Harvard researchers, David Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, suggested that religious belief and participation now constitute the major partisan religious line in America. What the study that is published in The Economist is pointing out is that that appears no longer to be the case. This means this is a major change in the American political scene. What The Economist now argues is that gender is a more important political line in America than religion, that gender now has a higher predictive function when it comes to voting than any other consideration now, including religion.
When you consider recent American electoral choices, this is a huge development and it’s one that has been building for some time. Going back to the 2012 and 2014 elections, it became increasingly clear that the divide between men and women was apparent in the electorate. Once you look more closely, it’s also evident that it’s a divide between women and women. It’s a divide, in particular, between married women with children on the one hand and unmarried women on the other hand. That major divide is appearing between men and women, but it also places women who are more likely to be married and have children as being in some cases more closely allied with the voting choices of men than with single women. The increasing numbers of single women in the electorate means that this now constitutes a major political factor, and it is one that—this study makes very clear—is drawing the nation and its culture increasingly to the left. Among those predictably liberal voters in America are unmarried women.
The Economist cites Mark Silk of Religion News Service making the point most clearly. They cite him as arguing that polls were suggesting that in a race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the so-called God gap was far less important than the gap, as they described it, “between Adam and Eve.” In the expected race between Trump and Clinton, there is a gender gap of 34 points.
Of course, the actual voting in the 2016 race is out before us by several months, and lots of things can happen between now and then. But it is significant to note that the gender gap in America is in many ways a worldview gap. The major gap is not just between men and women, but as a closer look at the data will make very clear, a gap between unmarried women and married women. This also points to something else. We go back to the previous study: It raises the question, Is one more likely to be married because one is conservative, or is one more likely to be conservative because one is married? The biblical worldview would remind us that it’s almost impossible to answer that question because we cannot separate our lived selves from our thinking selves. Because, as the biblical worldview makes very clear, we are eventually one and the same. It is from a biblical worldview important for us to recognize that it turns out that more conservative people tend to get married, and that being married tends to make one more conservative. The biblical worldview would also explain that, reminding us that the obligations of marriage, the obligation of a husband to a wife and a wife to a husband, and the obligations of parents to children, change the way one looks at moral choices and the larger culture. That change in perspective is what explains both of the sets of headlines we have discussed in these two very recent and important studies.
Inversion of moral order: "Nice" Canadian parents defer to children on matters of religion
Next, shifting to Canada, a story about children and parents that tells us a great deal not only about what’s happening in Canada, but almost assuredly what’s happening across that nation’s southern border here in the United States. The article is by Douglas Todd, it was published in the Vancouver Sun. The headline tells us a very great deal indeed:
“Nice Canadian parents defer to children on religion and most everything.”
It reminds me of a statement made a generation ago by the infamous, or famous, Duke of Windsor of the United Kingdom who, visiting the United States, said he found the United States so interesting because parents were so, as he said, obedient to their children.
Now you have a headline from a major Canadian newspaper saying that this is very much the case across the northern border.
“A researcher,” according to Todd, “has discovered that Canadian parents, unlike many others around the more patriarchal world, defer to their children when it comes to religion.”
In a scholarly article entitled “Kids, You Make the Choice,” the researcher Joel Thiessen argued that,
“Deferring to children is part of what it means to be a nice, inclusive, tolerant Canadian, even in one’s home.”
This is one of those articles that should both shock us and demand our attention. Here we have an inversion of the moral order, and you’ll see it is packaged in terms of what it means, as this researcher says, to be “a nice, inclusive, tolerant Canadian parent.”
You can take the word “Canadian” out because there are certainly parallels here in the United States as well.
What we are seeing is that parenthood is being undermined by an entire constellation of cultural forces in which it is now the case that the child is at the center of the universe and even at the center of authority rather than the parent. This is a very confused situation. It is explained by all kinds of cultural confusion in the background, and it will certainly lead to all kinds of confusion in the foreground. What’s really interesting is the very candid language used by the researcher who, by the way, teaches at Ambrose University in Calgary, Alberta there in Canada. Writing in the journal Secularism and Non-religion, he writes,
“Research in Canada demonstrates that to impose religious or secular views onto another, even one’s own children, is un-Canadian.”
Well, at this point, going to this extreme, Canada is probably something of an outlier; but it also may point to directions in the future that will affect not only Canada but other Western nations as well. You’ll note that this researcher is writing to an audience primarily interested in secularization and secularism, and that should tip us off to something really significant here. This is telling us that in a society that is now increasingly identified with secular ideals, parenthood as an ideal is being redefined in terms of a very careful avoidance of inflicting any particular set of beliefs on children.
Now, here we also have to note that that’s impossible. That is to say, children are like sponges. They pick up the ideologies, the convictions, the choices, and the thinking of parents, even when those parents think they are operating by a very inclusive and tolerant way of thinking. What they’re actually doing is imposing that very postmodern morality on their own children.
Theissen says that what many Canadians are doing is actually allowing children to raise themselves in what is defined as a sibling society “in which children are basically raised by their peers.”
Perhaps in the background here we should hear the threat coming from new atheist Richard Dawkins and others who have argued that raising a children in one’s own religious faith is a form of child abuse. But perhaps we should also say that, without that kind of threat, there is simply the intimidation and the culture affecting formation that is coming from the society around us from the very air that we breathe, from the signals that are being sent to us by entertainment, from the advice that is being given to us by doctors and educators, and others.
All of this tends to put the child as an autonomous creature at the center of the universe. The problem with that, of course, is the child is not an autonomous creature. That is why children need parents. It is also why Christian parents should not apologize in the least for raising their children in what the Bible describes as the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That is not just presented in Scripture as a parental right, but as a parental responsibility.
While we’re thinking about what all of this means in terms of the changed relationship between parents and children, we should also think about the fact that it just may be that this form of what’s described as nice, inclusive, tolerant parenting may be the latest import to come from our neighbor to the north, from Canada.
When it comes to sexuality, what happens when a society's only moral factor is consent?
Now shifting to Great Britain, The Telegraph in that nation published a major article entitled,
“Without compulsory sex education, our girls are facing a lifetime of online abuse” There is no question that sexual abuse is a problem at every level, and online abuse is just another manifestation of that problem that is enabled by technology. One of the most interesting and revealing debates in recent years has to do with so-called revenge porn and with the inversion of morality in which it is now argued that there’s nothing wrong with pornography, just with pornography that is posted on social media as revenge.
Now along comes this article by Cathy Newman, it is pointedly addressed to British society, but it also has moral applications in the United States as well. The same arguments are basically taking place here. Newman is arguing that the answer to the problem of online abuse and revenge porn is compulsory sex education for girls. Now at this point, we simply have to back up and ask the question: Is this really a problem that can be solved by sex education? It seems that’s not really the problem. There is an underlying moral problem, and this article is not only not getting at the problem, it is deliberately avoiding it.
In her article, Newman writes,
“An entire generation is growing up without any understanding of the respect that should underpin any sexual relationship. Girls,” she writes, “need to know that the crucial word here is consent. Whether or not sharing naked pictures is your thing, you’ve got to know it’s okay to say no.”
Now, there’s the moral revolution in a nutshell: the argument that what is required is compulsory sex education in order that every girl in the British schools will get the message that it is okay to say no when it comes to posting sexual images online. The problem with this should be obvious to Christians. It should never be right to say yes.
Once you abandon any objective sexual morality that comes with rules such as those that are given to us in Scripture, once you make consent the only important moral criterion, then you’re left with the conundrum that is evident in this article. Here you have a woman saying that if posting sexually explicit images is your “thing”—that’s her term—then you just go ahead and do it; that’s okay because you’re an autonomous individual. If that’s to what you give consent, then that’s just fine; but if you don’t give consent, then it’s not fine; it’s okay to say no. Here you have the confusion that is inevitably spawned when you say it’s okay to say yes to something that is in itself on its face immoral and wrong.
The really sad thing is when you consider how many girls’ lives are put at risk by the very sexual morality that is here being packaged as the requirement for compulsory sex education. We also see here what would actually be taught in this compulsory sex education. It is a moral education as well, a moral education that says that all that’s really important is consent.
Those who are arguing for this kind of compulsory sex education are actually the agents of a sexual revolution who are packaging their message as if it offers protection. But even on its face, this offers no promise of protection at all. Once those explicit pictures are online, it is virtually impossible to make certain that they are not available. The only sane answer is a sex education that would instruct students that it is never right to take sexually explicit pictures, and it is never right to post them online. As troubling as this article is published in The Telegraph in London, I can assure you there are sex educators very close to wherever you live who are trying to argue the very same line.
Yale's eager unveiling of gender neutral bathrooms on campus an act of "public signaling"
Finally, with commencement season in just about every major academic institution this time of year, USA Today published an article, the headline:
“Yale’s”—meaning Yale University’s—“gender neutral bathrooms part of a changing climate”
It’s pretty much exactly what you would expect. Joining the moral revolution and explicitly the LGBT revolution, Yale has decided that it is going to create gender inclusive bathrooms. They’re now available at the map on campus, ready for the commencement exercises. They are identified as an “all-gender restroom,” and they are identified with a sign that describes a figure “wearing pants on one leg and a dress on the other.”
The most important part of this article is a statement, a very revealing statement, made by Tamar Gendler, identified as Dean of Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Dean said this:
“Yale aims to be a leader on this front. Part of what is important about the all-gender bathroom project and about putting it at the top of our commencement site, is this is about public signaling.”
Well, something tells me the President of Yale University probably wasn’t really thankful for the Dean letting the cat out of the bag. Yale here is admitting that it’s doing this because it wants to be seen as doing this. It’s about “public signaling,” those are the very words the Dean used. Well, Yale, you sent the signal. Signal sent, signal received.