The Briefing 06-07-16

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No matter the outcome of today's primaries, Bernie has redefined the Democratic Party

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How many LGBT Americans? No one knows, which is why Uncle Sam is trying to find out.

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Atheists venture show of force in D.C., instead reveal demographic and identity problems

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"Ah... Dear Millennials, please insist on using WORDS to translate the Bible, not emoji."

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Transcript

The Briefing

June 7, 2016

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

It’s Tuesday, June 7, 2016, I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

No matter the outcome of today's primaries, Bernie has redefined the Democratic Party

We’ve been watching a developing identity crisis in both of the two major political parties in this country. 2016, it turns, out is the year of the identity crisis. And for the Democrats, today is a big day, because the nation’s most populous state, the state of California, is holding a Democratic primary that most people didn’t think would even happen, or if it did happen, wouldn’t really matter. But it will matter, and here’s the reason why: It is still a race between the front runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and as we are looking at the contest developing, it is clear that Bernie Sanders, now running an insurgent race against the front runner, has no intention of declining the popularity in the limelight. He intends to continue making his argument, he declared over the weekend, all the way to the Democratic National Convention the summer.

Now what’s really interesting in this is that Mrs. Clinton is 28 delegate votes by most counts from actually clinching the Democratic presidential nomination. That puts her in a position in which she has a more commanding lead even than Barack Obama had when she dropped out of the race. At this point it’s a matter of sheer math. The comedian Stephen Colbert, speaking of Bernie Sanders, said that,

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“Senator Sanders was determined to campaign in all 50 states.”

He then added,

“51 states if you include the state of denial.”

What Colbert was pointing to is that as a matter of math, this is a matter of denial. Bernie Sanders has no hope mathematically speaking of wresting the Democratic presidential nomination from Hillary Clinton. So why is he still in the race? It is because that identity crisis we’ve been talking about is a matter of such now-fundamental and basic importance that this is an argument that has begun that he intends to take all the way to the convention, even if there is no mathematical possibility, given the role of super delegates in the Democratic Party, that he can actually gain the nomination.

But of course to this point, Senator Sanders is still insisting that he can wrest the nomination from Hillary Clinton and that he can do so by presenting those so-called super delegates—that is, delegates who have the voting power at the convention solely because of their role within the party, that is, they are not tied to the results of the primary campaigns—those super delegates, Bernie Sanders argues, can be compelled by the force of his argument to actually switch their allegiance from Clinton to Sanders. And what is his argument? His argument is now threefold. The first point of his argument is this: Hillary Clinton can’t beat Donald Trump. The second point of his argument is that the Democratic Party needs new leadership in a far more liberal direction. And the third argument he’s making is directly against Hillary Clinton in terms of her character and her economic policy and, in particular, her ties to big business.

But what we are noticing here is that even as the Republican Party is certainly in the midst of its most historic identity crisis in American political history, it’s not a coincidence that the same thing is now taking place among the Democrats as well. And we’re also looking at the fact that most people had actually expected that the Republican race might come down to something like the California primary. It’s now clear that’s not going to be an issue at all. Surprisingly enough, it’s the Democrats who are on the front burner today, and they’re going to be in the headlines in the morning.

As the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday, for all intents the primary season will come to an end today with voting in six states, from California to New Jersey. Senator Sanders pledged anew on Saturday to take his fight to a contested convention in Philadelphia. Still, says The Times,

“The California campaign seemed a visible pivot what looms as a hugely divisive November election.”

So we are looking at a political dynamic that right now has two major fronts, but very quickly will have just one. The two major fronts are the looming general election—that’s the huge story that’ll almost assuredly pit Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump—meanwhile, you still have the battle for the Democratic nomination, which is a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. That also was made clear by Senator Sanders, in terms of his insistence of carrying his campaign all the way to Philadelphia in the summer.

Writing about this in the New York Times on Sunday, Timothy Egan explained that this may be Bernie Sanders’s last stand. Given his age, it is likely to be his last campaign for the presidency. Historians are likely to look at the candidacy of Bernie Sanders and point to the fact that he actually could have won the Democratic nomination in 2016, but he didn’t seem to believe that he could when the primary season began. He did not have a well-developed game plan in terms of a ground game and he also seemed to be surprised, as were so many other Americans, including prominent Democrats, by the support he received and by the eventual tide that seem to turn in his direction.

But the point made by Timothy Egan in that essay on Sunday was that regardless of what happens today, Bernie Sanders has already succeeded in pulling the Democratic Party significantly to the left. And that is the big worldview significance, not only in Bernie Sanders, but also in terms of the Democratic Party and its story unfolding today. Timothy Egan’s point was that even if today is Bernie’s last stand, politically speaking, when it comes to the electoral politics, the reality is that in terms of policy and ideology, Bernie Sanders can declare mission accomplished by pulling the Democratic Party so much further to the left than anyone could have imagined in the beginning of this important election year.

If you go back to the beginning of 2016, most analysts had understood that the Democratic nominee for this year would run to the left of the incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama. If you go back a year before that, that would’ve come as a surprise to most Americans, who would’ve consider Barack Obama one of the most conceivably liberal politicians in terms of any political aspirations of the presidency. But now, looking at Bernie Sanders, it is clear that the old rules are off. Even as the Republican Party is operating by entirely new rules, the Democratic Party is as well. It turns out that right now, the trajectory of the Democratic Party is so far to the left that if anyone is going to gain attention in that party, it will have to be to the left—and not only of President Obama, not only of Secretary of State Clinton, not only to the left of Bernie Sanders, but at this point to the left of any conceivable fixed point in the Democratic Party. Any way you look at it, today is going to be a very interesting day, and not only for Democrats, and not only for the citizens of California.

How many LGBT Americans? No one knows, which is why Uncle Sam is trying to find out.

Next, another big story, this one in Time magazine. The headline in the story by Katy Steinmetz is this:

“Why Uncle Sam wants to know how many LGBT people are in America.”

There’s a big story here, and that story comes with all kinds of complications and no shortage of questions. How in the world, we would ask even looking this headline, would our federal government come to know how many LGBT people are actually living in America? Now the federal government has many powers at its disposal; certainly there are many ways the federal government can gain information, most centrally when it comes to information about citizens. It is the Census Bureau that is tasked with the responsibility of providing information, not only to the government, but to the American people.

But there are limitations upon the Census Bureau, and some of those limitations have been enforced by Congress in terms of what kinds of questions the census may ask of Americans. For instance, you may note that the Census Bureau is constitutionally prohibited from asking questions about the religious identity of American citizens. Now we’re told that Uncle Sam wants to know how many LGBT people are living in America and as Katy Steinmetz of Time tells us, that’s because many LGBT activists believe that,

“Data saves lives.”

Steinmetz writes today,

“As the LGBT population moves into its full and equal place in public life, many people are asking an old question with new urgency: just how many LGBT Americans are there?”

We pause here to point out that this is an essentially political question, and that’s why so many politicians are interested. That’s because when it comes to counting data, politicians are very good at making their arguments based upon how many or how few persons are supposedly involved in the population of their current conversation. That’s a big question now with the LGBT community and it is an evolving question, even today, simply because even as you define those letters L-G-B-T, you are leaving out some that many would want to include, and you are also raising huge questions about how anyone can actually know how many LGBT people there are now in America. Steinmetz writes,

“Many experts believe that we need a full accounting of the nation’s LGBT population and how they live for legal, economic and health reasons. Now, for the first time, a group of experts from 21 federal agencies are working on a project to figure out how to do just that. The results could pave the way for first-ever surveys of America’s sexual orientations and gender identities and influence everything from local laws to military policy to health care.”

Now note carefully that just about every time there is a major headline story on any LGBT issues, the numbers and the percentages are actually a matter of the argument. And yet now we’re being told that no one actually knows how many LGBT people are living in America, or to state it another way, how many Americans would identify as LGBT.

But as you look to this important story in Time, there’s actually a very important back story that Time does not acknowledge. These numbers have always been a matter of controversy. If you go back to the middle of the 20th century, you can look at the so-called research undertaken by Alfred Kinsey in the research later published in two major volumes that became themselves a part of the moral revolution. You come to understand that scientists and politicians began using Kinsey’s numbers in terms of those with all kinds of sexual orientations as if they were to be taken seriously in terms of mathematics and science. It turns out they were grotesquely inflated and dishonestly presented.

The political context behind the story in Time doesn’t exactly give us confidence that we would actually be able to trust the numbers that this group of experts from 21 federal agencies might eventually come up with. But that raises some other questions. How will they know and whom will they ask if indeed, as the Census Bureau is now being pressured to consider, the census begins to ask questions about sexual orientation? Who do we trust with asking those questions, and who do we trust with answering them?

Furthermore, even as you have the argument here that LGBT people will be assisted by an actual survey and documentation of their numbers, the reality is that assumes that even LGBT people want to be asked by the federal government to identify themselves by gender identity and sexual orientation. It is also clear as a part of the story that it is the “T”, it is the transgender community, that may be looking at this with the greatest urgency. Steinmetz writes,

“Today, many transgender people feel they need a similar affirmation. In heated political battles all over the country—largely over the use of public bathrooms—transgender advocates can be heard making arguments about their very existence that echo ones made by gay and lesbian Americans decades ago.”

“The actual size,” she writes, “of the transgender population, however, is unclear.”

She then states in the Time article—one frequently cited number 0.3% also comes from previous research, but that researcher says—

“It’s an educated guess largely based on two state level surveys.”

Kris Hayashi, identified as executive director of the Transgender Law Center and a transgender man, said,

“We know that we’re in every community and if we had data to actually back that up, it’d make us that much stronger.”

Now that points to the political significance of the numbers and to the role of this kind of research in the moral revolution, in the affirmation of the sexual revolution happening all around us. This group of so-called experts from 21 federal agencies has not yet released its report, but you can expect that it will come with no shortage of controversy and with no shortage of very important questions, including what kind of questions will be asked, who will be asking the questions, and just what confidence do we have in the answers.

Atheists venture show of force in D.C., instead reveal demographic and identity problems

Next, speaking of numbers, over the weekend a large group of atheists and secularists intended to hold a major rally in Washington, D.C. they called the Reason Rally in order to flex their political muscles and show Americans, especially America’s politicians, the strength of the growing numbers of unbelievers in America. Well it turns out it didn’t go exactly to plan. Looking before the Reason Rally, as it was called, was held on Saturday, Laura Meckler, writing for the Wall Street Journal, says that the rally was supposed to be a major display of power. One spokesperson, Lyz Liddell, the executive director of the rally, said,

“This will be the moment where people start to see the secular voting bloc in the same way they talk about Jewish voters and Catholic voters. We’ll matter. They’ll realize we’re organized, they’ll realize we’re voting, and our perspective will be considered and taken into account.”

Meckler then wrote,

“Nationally, in 2014, 23% of all American adults identified themselves as atheists, agnostics or said they had no particular affiliation, up from 16% in 2007, making the nones the fastest-growing religious demographic, according to large-scale surveys by the Pew Research Center.

“Their numbers are now just short of the 25% who identify as evangelical Christian, the largest single group. Nones now represent the largest religious segment of the Democratic Party—just as evangelicals have long been the largest slice of the Republican Party.”

But what’s really interesting about this is how this group is identified. It is an accumulation of positions that even according to this Wall Street Journal article and the Pew research undergirding it includes people ranging from atheists and agnostics merely to those who answer no particular religious affiliation. That’s a very large conglomeration; it’s a very loose confederation you might say, and even though on The Briefing we are constantly pointing to the reality of the increased secularization among us, it is still the fact that most Americans identify themselves by some religious affiliation, and it is also true that the number of actually self-declared atheists and agnostics remains very, very small in American culture.

Adelle M. Banks, reporting for Religion News Service after the rally was held, writes,

“Organizers had hoped for an attendance of 30,000, higher than the estimated 20,000 at the first Reason Rally in 2012 — when crowds contended with pouring rain. They estimated by mid-afternoon that 15,000 to 20,000 were in attendance on a warm, sunny day. But observers said the numbers seemed strikingly smaller in number than the previous event.”

One individual cited who had attended both events said,

“The first time had the uniqueness factor, the historical factor, so that could be part of it. This is still a good-sized crowd.”

Well, in a small town, a group of 10- to 15,000 would indeed be a very large crowd, but in Washington, D.C. that is not exactly the stuff of which headlines are made. And especially when you consider that the organizers had hoped that the so-called Reason Rally, backing science in their description rather than religious faith, even as they hoped that it would have larger numbers this year, it turned out there were markedly smaller numbers this year.

Now that does not mean that there’s been a reversal in the trajectory of secularization. What it does mean is that even more secularized Americans are not yet at the point they in large numbers want to identify as atheists or agnostics. And here the strain is beginning to show. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, another key organizer of the event on Saturday, as Adelle Banks says,

“…took his turn at the mike to encourage people who do not believe in God to stick to one word to describe themselves instead of the many other terms that are used — such as secularists, freethinkers and agnostics.

“‘We need to understand that we have a social responsibility to call ourselves atheists,’ he urged, saying people should overcome ‘cowardice’ [that’s his word] and it would help others like them come out into the open. ‘When we hide behind euphemisms, we help nobody but religion.’”

Well, if you detect some frustration there, you are, of course, exactly right. Here you have the leader of the group known as American Atheists complaining that even the more secular Americans whose numbers are rising still resist the identification as atheists. And that in itself raises a very important issue in terms of the organized atheist movement in America. It is overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male. Sometime back, Professor Stephen L. Carter of Yale University, writing at Bloomberg View, pointed out that in a 2012 report from the Pew Research Center, only 3% of U.S. atheists and agnostics are black; 6% are Hispanic; 4% are Asian; some 82% are white. Furthermore, women may be 52% of the U.S. population, but they’re only 36% of declared atheists and agnostics. As Carter says,

“The gender split has led some male atheists to muse about differences between the male and female brain, which in turn unsurprisingly generated sharp responses.”

So now you have Stephen Carter, an African-American faculty member at Yale, pointing out that there are too many frustrated white male atheists who are frustrated that there aren’t more women joining the atheist movement and explaining—because somehow they do have to explain it—that it must be because of some basic biological difference between the male and female brain. Well, here’s a hint for you: If you have to describe the small numbers of your movement in terms of differences in brains between men and women or on the other hand cowardice, that’s probably not a winning argument.

"Ah... Dear Millennials, please insist on using WORDS to translate the Bible, not emoji."

Meanwhile, over the weekend I happened to see a news story telling of the emergence and release of what is now known as the Emoji Bible. In response, I put up a statement on Twitter that said,

“Ah… Dear Millennials, please insist on using WORDS to translate the Bible, not emoji. Please. It’s important.”

My tweet brought about an almost immediate response and, of course, ironically, many of them came with emoji. Elle Hunt, reporting for The Guardian in London, writes,

“One of the most widely translated works in history”—that’s an understatement about the Bible, of course; she continued—“has been given a 21st-century update with the publication of the Emoji Bible.”

“Described as a ‘great and fun way to share the gospel’, it interprets all 66 books of the King James Version with Unicode-approved emoji and commonly-used internet slang and contractions.”

By the way, it totals just under 3,300 pages. Here also there are some interesting stories. Emoji emerged from Japan, but Japan is one of the most secular nations on earth, and the emoji in Japan included virtually no spiritual emojis. Meanwhile in the United States, spiritual emojis, as they are called, are the best selling in the entire emoji clan.

The argument behind the release of the Emoji Bible is that it is somehow good news just to get the good news of the Bible in any translatable form so that people will read it. But here Christians need to note something. There are limitations to the process of translation. Even as the Reformers were absolutely right in insisting on the translation of Scripture into the vernacular, they were also right to insist that Scripture must be translated into words.

It’s bad enough that there are so many inferior translations of Scripture available to the public. It’s worse when you have a new so-called translation that actually isn’t dependent upon words at all, but rather merely cute symbols. It’s also declared in terms of this release that the Bible for emoji’s will be a very important way to reach Millennials—thus, how I addressed my tweet. But I think it is very condescending, indeed I would say insulting, to millennials to be told that they’ve now reached the point where they can’t even handle words.

In Romans chapter 10, the apostle Paul reminds us that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. Biblical Christianity, where it is found, has always been found in words, and without words it cannot exist.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing