June 8, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, June 8, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Stanford rape controversy points to the larger erosion of society's ethical mores
An almost perfectly horrifying parable of our modern moral confusion is found in the national conversation that has emerged after a judge in California handed down a sentence in a case having to do with sexual assault and sexual violence. As the New York Times reported in its headline:
“Outrage in Stanford rape case over light sentence for attacker and statement by his father.”Show Full Transcript
Liam Stack, reporting for The Times, tells us,
“A sexual assault case at Stanford University has ignited public outrage (and a recall effort against a California judge) after the defendant was sentenced to a mere six months in jail and his father complained that his son’s life had been ruined for ‘20 minutes of action’ fueled by alcohol and promiscuity.”
In court, says The Times, the victim had criticized her attacker’s sentence and the inequities of the legal process. Stack went on to write, the case has made headline since the trial began earlier this year, but seized the public attention over the weekend after the accused Brock Allen Turner, age 20, a champion swimmer was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky of Santa Clara County to “what many critics denounced as a lenient sentence, including three years’ probation, for three felony counts of sexual assault.”
We’re looking here straight on at the current moral confusion, and we are also looking at what happens in a society when a sexual morality based upon realism and an understanding of right and wrong instead turns into a form of moral relativism and a postmodern sexual morality that now comes down on America’s college campuses to nothing more than a morality of consent.
The moral terms of what we confront in this case are incredibly distressing. You’re looking at a woman who was incapacitated by legal definition because of her use of intoxicants, who was taken advantage of by a young man who came from a background of incredible privilege and had a very promising future. He had gone to Stanford University, one of the nation’s most respected and elite universities, on a scholarship for swimming and was considered to be a hopeful for the upcoming U.S. Olympic swimming team. But now this young man has ruined his opportunities educationally speaking at Stanford University, where his scholarship has been revoked and also he has ruined his chances to swim for the United States at the Olympics. Instead he has now become a matter of our national conversation because of the sentence that he received from this judge, a sentence of six months in jail and three years of probation for what are very euphemistically called three counts, three felony counts, of sexual assault on which he was convicted. The actual legal terminology of the counts against him are too much in terms of explicit terms for The Briefing. And yet it is safe to say in summary that this is a young man who is now convicted of not just one, or two, but three counts of sexual assault, and in a case that has drawn national attention because he was sentenced only to six months in jail.
This has raised all kinds of questions. One of the questions has to do with how someone from this kind of privileged background may have received a more lenient sentence than someone who would come from another background. Here you have a very young male who comes from a very wealthy background who could afford by means of his family’s wealth the kind of legal defense that other defendants coming from less privileged backgrounds could not have afforded. Here you also had a judge who, in his own statements, appears to have been swayed by the defendant’s father—and after the defendant was convicted of crimes, the father’s statement that the young man’s 20 minutes of misbehavior, he merely called it action, should not ruin over 20 years of life. And here you’re talking about a young man who is only 20 years old at present. The father’s statement is morally remarkable, mostly for the fact that it does not seem to take the son’s crimes with any moral seriousness. We also have the fact that here you have a court judge in California facing a recall effort with hundreds of thousands of California citizens signing a statement saying that he should be removed from office because of the leniency of the sentence.
One of the reasons this particular case reached the nation’s headlines is because both the father in this case and the victim had extended arguments that were released in terms of the public documentation provided to the court that was eventually also provided to the court of public opinion.
All this comes in terms of the larger background that included controversy in recent days at Baylor University also over sexual assault. In this case, Stanford University has defended its handling of the case and that does not appear to be a major issue of controversy. Rather it is the decision made by the judge in terms of handing down the sentence that has been the focal point of this controversy.
The moral issues involved, however, in this controversy deserve careful Christian attention. In the first place, it does point to the role of privilege in terms of the legal system and the fact that there are persons who can buy legal defenses that are not available to others and, in this case, a legal defense that apparently was quite convincing to the trial court judge.
You also secondly, however, have the basic moral confusion that abounds on America’s college and university campuses, driven by policy and ideology and driven even from the top echelons of American society, including the current administration’s Department of Education and Department of Justice. The plain fact is that when you reduce sexual morality merely to the issue of consent, you destroy any basis to make adequate moral judgments about human sexual behavior or, in this case, human sexual misbehavior. You also, in the name of a moral revolution, undermine the seriousness of the crime called rape. And that’s another major issue in this trial. Just about everyone on every side of the controversy here recognizes, at least tacitly, what they would claim to be the seriousness of rape; but the circumstances of this case point to the fact that we’re living in the midst of a society that is making it virtually impossible to make clear moral judgments about any kind of sexual behavior.
In one recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is the Wall Street Journal of academia in the United States, there were a number of articles that made this confusion abundantly clear: Robin Wilson, writing an article with the headline,
“‘Yes’ to Sex? How Students deal with that policy.”
Coming as the 2015-2016 academic year is coming to an end and as commencement has been observed on most college and university campuses, The Chronicle of Higher Education is looking at the past year and looking to the future, asking the question of how the new policy, ensconced in policy from the U.S. government and also in terms of the sex codes of America’s colleges and universities, this policy known as affirmative consent, how it is faring and even how it is being explained and defined. The whole idea of affirmative consent is to move from the previous relativism of “no means no” to the new, sliding moral morality of “yes means yes.” It is the requirement, now made a matter of policy by the United States government and also by most colleges and universities, that in order for sexual contact or for sexual behavior to happen, it has to come with the affirmative consent that is registered in words, gestures, and other forms by all participants in that said sexual behavior.
The moral background to this is the rejection of the traditional Christian understanding of sex to be reserved for the context of marriage, and marriage alone, and marriage defined as the union of a man and a woman. The moral revolution and the sexual revolutionaries premise their entire argument on the fact that that Christian sexual morality was a limiting, patriarchal, intolerant relic of the past that had to be overcome in order for humanity and for human sexuality to be liberated. But in the name of that liberation, we now face the kind of absolute moral confusion that is a part of this week’s American conversation. Just to make the current moral situation crystal-clear in terms of the replacement of a Christian sexual morality with a postmodern relativistic sexual morality, consider the statement in terms of the student policy book from Oklahoma State University that defines affirmative consent in these words, saying that consent must be asked for every step of the way and it should be, in the words of Oklahoma State University,
“A voluntary, sober, imaginative, enthusiastic, creative, wanted, informed, mutual, honest and verbal agreement.”
Now evidently at Oklahoma State University, it takes that many words to say what informed consent is; and most people, most intelligent people, would still have virtually no idea of exactly how that is to be documented. Oh and by the way, just to make the modern confusion even more clear, the United States government by means of the Title IX office, so often discussed these days, has made clear that affirmative consent cannot be given if one party is incapacitated by intoxication, such as alcohol. But as Robin Wilson writes for The Chronicle,
“It’s not clear in terms of policy or the law that a person who would be considered legally drunk in terms of driving would not be able to give the so-called affirmative consent.”
Perhaps the most revealing line in the Chronicle of Higher Education is this:
“Gauging sexual interest can be tricky for anyone, not least young adults. How to give and get consent — particularly when alcohol is involved — is something students are still trying to figure out.”
Well, “they,” according to this article, are still trying to figure it out, referring to students, because “they,” which includes the administrators, judges, and others, also clearly haven’t been able to figure this out. But this is where the Christian worldview reminds us that no one is going to be able to figure this out. Because once you abandon a sane, rational, objective sexual morality in terms of right and wrong and try to replace it with nothing more than a morality of consent, well, this kind of moral meltdown is inevitably to follow.
Now to take this conversation to the next step, it is abundantly clear that what this young swimmer did at Stanford was wrong. It was illegal; it was a crime. Any sane society would recognize what he did as a crime. But the Christian worldview has to press further and say that even if there had been something other than coercion here, even if this young woman had not been incapacitated and had given consent, the Christian worldview would still say that sex outside of marriage is wrong. The Christian worldview wouldn’t argue in any sense that consent is morally irrelevant, it would absolutely insist that consent is a part of the moral equation and must be a part of the moral equation. But that moral equation must be premised on something greater than the question of consent, and that is in the context in which sexual behavior takes place. And the biblical context, the only allowable context, is that sexual behavior must take place within the covenant of monogamous marriage.
The Christian worldview profoundly does not argue that consent is not important. The Christian worldview would argue that consent is not enough, that consent outside the covenant of marriage is just another way of getting to disaster. We’re also looking here at the fact that American culture at large, and especially American colleges and universities, have launched upon a massive experiment in terms of human behavior and even human nature.
If you look back at previous generations in terms of American higher education, young men and young women did not live in the same dorm and young men and young women were not encouraged to be in any situation in which illicit sexual behavior could take place. To the contrary, the parietal rules and the understanding that the school’s administration substituted for parents—in loco parentis, that is, in terms of the Latin—that the authorities in the colleges and universities do it in responsibility in the place of parents, all of that has been rejected in terms of the claims of individualism and autonomy that have been central to the entire project of the sexual revolution.
Now, in the vast majority of America’s college and university campuses, the assumption is that young people will have sex, should have sex, the only question is under what conditions should they have the kind of sex that the university can celebrate. This court case out of California is just one added piece of evidence to the stack that is already growing and every day seems to be growing higher.
Millennials are putting off marriage because they can afford to. Or can they?
Next along similar lines, the Washington Post yesterday ran an article asking the question,
“Why are millennials putting off marriage? Let me count the ways,”
Gabriela Barkho, writing for The Post, cites a 26-year-old young woman by the name of Kaitlyn Schaefer who said,
“I can’t even imagine paying for a wedding right now.”
As Barkho says,
“The grad student splits her time between teaching special education kids and running to class, all while accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. Oh, did I mention she just celebrated her 10th anniversary with her boyfriend? But no, marriage isn’t on the table at the moment.”
Now that’s the opening paragraph in this article in yesterday’s edition of the Washington Post; but what it announces is actually a massive moral revolution distilled into just a few words, in the opening paragraph of a news story that takes its place in the context of thousands of news stories that came out just yesterday. But what you’re hearing in those opening words is the fall of an entire civilization. You’re looking here at a young woman, she’s age 26, still involved in her college education, still piling on student debt. She is clearly romantically involved, and the implication of this article is that sexual involvement is to be assumed in romantic involvement, she is now celebrating a 10th anniversary with her boyfriend, and yet marriage isn’t on the table.
Now the great civilizational shift we’re talking about is evident here in the fact that if you go back just a few decades in American life, that kind of opening paragraph would’ve been inconceivable. But as Barkho now writes,
“For many young people across the country, putting off marriage — or even settling down with a partner long term — has become the norm. The average age for first marriage is 27 for women and 29 for men; in urban areas such as New York and Washington, those averages are higher. It seems that everyone has a different answer for why: Blame it on the economy. Or dating apps. Or women’s ability to delay childbearing.
“But the less sexy answer is that it’s all of the above.”
The article cites Andrew Zuppann, assistant professor of economics at the University of Houston, who said,
“There a couple of reasons why people choose to get married, one is to have two people in the household to share the housework and finances. A big change between 2016 and 1950 is that a lot less people rely on this and have opportunities to afford to be on their own.”
Now let’s just look at that for a moment. Here you have marriage, by the way, reduced to a simple economic calculus, the suggestion that there are a couple of reasons why people have gotten married through all the millennia of human existence, but evidently, according to this economist, the main reason is so that there could be a division of economic labor in terms of the two parties to the marriage—conceivably throughout most of human history, otherwise known as a husband and a wife. But he goes on to say that there’s been a huge economic change and that now a lot of people can basically afford to live on their own. They no longer economically need to be married.
Now we just need to point out that that flies in the face of the very kind of reporting that has been made available in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and any number of other endless American periodicals making clear that the breakdown of marriage has led to an economic crisis in this country. And yet now you have the celebration that so many young people can afford not to be married. But then you look at the opening sentence of this very article and it’s of a young woman saying, “I can’t even imagine paying for wedding right now,” and the reason that is given in the article that so many people aren’t getting married because they can’t afford to.
Now just to put the matter bluntly, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have the fact that people aren’t getting married because most of them can now afford to be single and the fact that in the same article you have people arguing that they’re not getting married because they can’t afford to be married, not to mention can’t afford to hold the wedding. I think Zuppann actually gets to the moral basis of this delay in marriage when he says that we’re also able to delay parenthood. In his words,
“Contraceptives and abortion are letting women put off pregnancy and marriage longer. In general,” said the professor, “the reasons why marriage age is much later now are: birth control, technology, abortion, changes in female pay and household technology, like appliances.”
Now I’m simply going to let slide the argument that appliances and abortion are somehow belonging together in a moral argument, but we are looking here at the fact that most of this comes down to a moral reality. Even though technology is mentioned, the bigger issues in the argument made by this particular professor are abortion and birth control. And an even bigger moral point was made by Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist who is cited in the article, who said,
“People don’t see marriage as necessary for a good life.” He says, “There used to be one clear path to happiness, with strong moral expectations and having children. Now there are all kinds of legitimate choices.”
Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that even though this professor says this, and even though his statement is considered important enough to be included in this Washington Post news story, I really doubt that even most of the people who make this argument believe it. If they didn’t believe it, I don’t think the article itself would even exist. I don’t think the Washington Post would’ve run an article asking the question, “Why are millennials putting off marriage?” unless there is some kind of concern about that delay in marriage. And of course, when you look to the fact that so many young Americans are not moving into the stable responsibilities of adulthood, marriage in virtually every conversation is at the center of that concern. Even though we’re living in a time that seems to insist—society around us seems to be absolutely insisting— that marriage really doesn’t matter, here comes testimony after testimony of the fact that marriage really does matter. And as much as the society seems to want to insist that marriage can’t matter, doesn’t matter, won’t matter, it comes back to matter more and more.
So here’s another massive moral experiment in terms of rejecting a biblical pattern of life, sexuality, marriage and relatedness, in favor of the kind of postmodern, do-whatever-you-want mentality that now marks America’s culture. Oddly enough, the more you try to argue that marriage doesn’t matter, the more you point to the fact that marriage always matters.
Nothing remains unscathed by the LGBT revolution—not even the real estate market
And finally, yet another interesting piece of evidence about the moral confusion of our times, and another affirmation of why the Christian worldview and the Christian worldview alone provides the place for sexuality in a limited zone in terms of human concerns. Once you take sexuality out of that moral context and you set it loose, it becomes a dominating figure in virtually every dimension of human life.
And so the odd evidence I bring you is the “House and Home” section of the Financial Times weekend edition. Virtually every single article in terms of this 14 page edition of the Financial Times tells us how the real estate market has been changed by the LGBT revolution. On page 3 of the section I find this headline:
“Not a run-of-the-mill place. Northern textiles town Hebden Bridge is known as the ‘lesbian capital of the UK.’”
On page 4 we find the headline,
“There Goes the Gayborhood.”
“Gay people once sought refuge in poor areas, but will liberation and gentrification cause these spaces to disappear?”
Page 6 includes the headline,
“Countries off the gaydar.”
On page 11, we find an article telling us that a famed architect of centuries past was actually sending subliminal homosexual messages by means of his architecture, and on page 12 we are told why one neighborhood in London is now becoming a hot property precisely because of its art scene and diverse community. Pages 1 and 2 include gay angles when it comes to life and real estate in Berlin and in Seattle.
The articles in the special section aren’t all that interesting, but they are revealing. And when you take this section as an entirety, what does it tell us? It tells us that once sexuality is celebrated at the center of a civilization, it becomes everything, even a guide to how to buy real estate. It also reminds us of that statement I cited on The Briefing some days ago from the Dean at Yale University saying that a lot of this is about public signaling. Here you have the Financial Times signaling to the public that it intends to push the LGBT agenda in every section, including the real estate section.