August 10, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, August 10, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
What the NIKE ad featuring a trans athlete tells us about the culture and ourselves
Advertising is a very important barometer of a culture. It tells us a very great deal about two important dimensions: first of all, what Americans actually want to see, what interests us, what is likely to move us—that’s what an advertiser is aiming for; but secondly, it also tells us how advertisers want to position themselves, how they want to be seen and understood in the midst of a culture with consumer issues very much to the fore. But as we shall see, it’s not just consumer issues that are of importance here. Consider Us Magazine. Last night,
“Chris Mosier stars in an inspiring new Nike ad that praises his ‘unlimited courage’ as the first transgender Team USA athlete.”Show Full Transcript
The Nike ad was timed to coincide with the opening of the Olympics in Rio. As the magazine went on to report,
“In the 30-second clip, the duathlete is asked a series of questions: ‘How did you know you’d be fast enough to compete against men? Or strong enough? … How’d you know the team would accept you? Or that you’d even be allowed to compete?’”
After each question, we are told, Mosier replies,
“‘I didn’t,’ as he runs, bikes and works out as part of his training for the U.S. men’s national team.”
I am using the nouns and pronouns exactly as they are found in the article. The magazine went on to say,
“In an interview with Nike, Mosier said that at age 4, he was already aware that his gender identity as a male didn’t align with his biological sex as a female.
“Everything that I’ve done in the last five, six years since I started to transition, has been with [a] ‘Just Do It’ mindset,” he said of the company’s famous slogan. “I didn’t know if I would be competitive against men; I just did it. … I’ve learned a lot about myself and also had the opportunity to further the conversation on trans inclusion in sports.”
The report on Mosier also tells us that the athlete qualified for a spot on the men’s team in 2015 at the national championships. Mosier challenged the policies on transgender competitors and he had to,
“Fight for more inclusive guidelines, which the International Olympic Committee adopted in January.”
Celebrating inclusion on the team, Mosier said,
“Being the first trans man on a U.S. men’s national team was a dream come true for me,” he said. “I always wanted my name on a jersey. To represent our country at the highest level, in my sport, is just outstanding. It’s just such an amazing opportunity — and an amazing opportunity for other people to see themselves reflected in someone succeeding in sports as a trans man.”
The historic significance of the ad was underscored by an article in Ad Week, the major magazine concerned with the advertising industry. Now when talking about an issue like this and citing articles like those in these two magazines, we have to gain our bearings. We have to remind ourselves that we’re talking here about an individual who was born clearly as biologically female, and we also have to remind ourselves that even to this day, this individual remains biologically and genetically female. The testimony of this individual is about confusion that appeared even at age 4; in which Mosier consider herself to be a boy, even as she was biologically a girl. In Mosier’s understanding, completely consistent with the modern transgender revolution, she was a girl at age 4 who discovered herself to be a boy and is now a member of the U.S. Olympic men’s team in Rio.
The modern—shall we say, postmodern—division of biological sex and gender is made very clear in the fact that this is not only presented as a reality, but as something to be celebrated and something to be understood as a barrier breakthrough in terms of the LGBT revolution. Nike also understands that it’s in its corporate interest to triumphalize this and make it a matter of telling the story as if they are a part of the story themselves. It is Nike positioning itself in order to appear as what it actually is: a champion of the LGBT revolution and now a champion of the athlete who is identified as the first trans member of the U.S. Olympic men’s team. According to the modern ideology, Chris Mosier transitioned from being a woman to being a man and is now on the U.S. Olympic men’s team.
In this age of massive confusion, we now face a very interesting set of issues just related to the Olympics and to the entire world of sports at the intersection of the transgender revolution. It is less a matter of long-standing concern that a woman would transition to a man and seek to be competitive among men. That happens to be the story, at least, that we’re presented with, with the athlete identified as Chris Mosier. Far more controversial is a transition in the other direction, in which someone who was biologically male would transition to being a woman and then seek to compete among other women in terms of the Olympics and other organized athletic competitions. The understanding of a long period of time now has been that that would grant to the person born as a biological male an athletic advantage in terms of bone structure and muscular structure and strength and height that would be unfair in terms of the competitive environment of women’s sports.
What we need to understand is that the transgender revolution so celebrated in this ad will mean inevitably the eventual end of any meaningful distinction between men’s sports and women’s sports—and that also means the eventual disappearance of any meaningful distinction between boy sports and girl sports.
The transgender revolution hits the Olympics … but not consistently
Monday at the Washington Post, Steven Petrow, a columnist for the newspaper, wrote an article entitled,
“Do transgender athletes have an unfair advantage at the Olympics?”
He went on to say he wasn’t surprised that the issue would come up, especially with the question as to whether or not someone who was “born male”—and that’s often put in scare quotes—would actually have an unfair advantage if allowed to compete presenting as a woman. Explaining what we’re supposed to all know and believe about these things, Petrow wrote,
“Indeed, there was a time when all this seemed pretty simple. We had men and women, boys and girls — but we now know that gender is anything but simple.
“This charged debate is timely because of a landmark rule change instituted by the International Olympic Committee this year. In Rio, transgender men (female-to-male athletes) will be allowed to compete without any restrictions. Trans women, meanwhile, are no longer required to undergo gender-reassignment surgery to compete in female divisions, and the previously mandated two-year wait after transitioning has been jettisoned.”
Interestingly, he suggested the distinction in terms of those who are transitioning from female to male versus those who are transitioning from male to female is a lingering sexist assumption. Under the new guidelines adopted by the international Olympic Committee, an athlete who had been a man but is now presenting as a woman,
“is required only to declare her gender as female and have testosterone levels comparable to or below those of non-transgender women.”
To make the matter plain without going into unnecessary detail, the International Olympic Committee has decided that all that is necessary for this directional transition is that the athlete announce it and then be tested in terms of hormone levels, which can of course be adjusted by medication.
Here’s the issue as the Washington Post recognized on Monday: there are some women born biologically female and still very self-consciously female who consider trans athletes who are biological male who have transitioned to be women as having an unfair advantage because even as they now present themselves as women and even if their testosterone levels now are those effectively of other women, they still have a skeletal structure that is undeniably male, which grants in terms of many sports and events an advantage. Some female athletes have been very, very clear in their displeasure in having the possibility, if not the actuality, of transgender athletes who are biologically male opposing them in events.
One of the most interesting developments in this Washington Post article is the citation of a book entitled, Fair Play: How LGBT Athletes Are Claiming Their Rightful Place in Sports; it’s by author Cyd Zeigler. Also cited in the article is the same argument made by none other than Chris Mosier. Mosier said, and I quote,
“People come in all shapes and sizes,” he said. “We don’t disqualify Michael Phelps for having super-long arms; that’s just a competitive advantage he has in his sport. We don’t regulate height in the WNBA or NBA; being tall is just an advantage for a center. For as long as sports have been around, there have been people who have had advantages over others. A universal level playing field does not exist.”
Now, make no mistake, that is a manifesto for the absolute end of any meaningful distinction between male and female sports, men and women in competition, or, as we have said, inevitably also boys and girls. It simply disappears. The argument that is not only implicit here, but very explicit, is that individual differences have nothing to do with gender whatsoever or with biological sex and are to be simply eclipsed by the fact that everyone is different, everyone has certain advantages and certain disadvantages.
Again, understand exactly what’s at stake here. That means it really doesn’t matter if you’re biologically male or female or even what you consider yourself to be, everyone just is different. Thus, as you knew would be the case, the entire LGBT revolution arrives at the Olympics as at every other major cultural arena. And as we’ve seen over and over again, the International Olympic Committee, like so many others, simply capitulated to the transgender revolution. But even though the ideological capitulation is wholesale, the capitulation at the policy level is not yet complete, and here again we find the inner contradictions of the transgender revolution.
The ultimate outcome of their ideology is the end of gender as a meaningful distinction. But that is not exactly what they want. What we see here is the effort to force the Olympics to be a method of validation of their own claims of gender identity. We also understand, once again, the power of advertising and what advertising reveals about the culture—not only by the advertiser, but about the audience that is expected to see and to experience the ad itself. As Christians look at this we have to understand that our response must be compassion towards those who were confused as such a basic level of identity. But Scripture simply doesn’t allow our capitulation to the ideology. Buying the modern myth that somehow biological sex and gender can be two completely different things, or that having been born male one can somehow become a woman or vice versa—the biblical worldview simply doesn’t allow for the possibility.
Nike wants us to accept the message that embracing the transgender revolution represents,
The Christian simply can’t see it that way, no matter how much Nike wants to preach the message.
College football and the sexual revolution: LGBT groups demand Big 12 deny BYU membership
Next, closer to home, yesterday Fox News reported that a coalition of national LGBT advocacy groups is urging the athletic conference known as the Big 12 not to admit Brigham Young University as a new member. We are told by Fox’s Stewart Mandel that,
“On Monday, Athlete Ally, a non-profit that conducts LGBT awareness campaigns for sports leagues, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, sent a letter to Big 12 administrators detailing what they believe are discriminatory policies by BYU, a religious institution owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, [better known as Mormons].”
According to Fox News, the letter was addressed to Commissioner Bob Bowlsby of the Big 12. The authors wrote,
“BYU … actively and openly discriminates against its LGBT students and staff. It provides no protections for LGBT students … Given BYU’s homophobic, biphobic and transphobic policies and practices, BYU should not be rewarded with Big 12 membership.”
Well, let’s look at this argument carefully. How did BYU gain the reputation, according to this letter, of being homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic? Well, as Fox News reports,
“BYU students and faculty are expected to follow the school’s Honor Code, which includes a section addressing ‘Homosexual Behavior.’ While ‘same-gender attraction’ is not itself an Honor Code violation, taking part in a same-sex relationship is.”
According to BYU,
“Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code,” it reads. “Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”
Fox then says that the logic of the letter is this:
“Under that definition, an openly gay individual cannot be a BYU coach or athlete unless that person practices chastity. BYU students found to be in violation of the Honor Code can be suspended or dismissed.”
Now let’s just step back for a moment, as we often need to do. We’re here looking at an institution that tells its students right up front and their parents that every single student, every single faculty member, is required to sign the school’s honor code that is considered to be an essential and central part of BYU’s Mormon convictional identity. Then that honor code very specifically spells out exactly, morally and ethically speaking, what is expected of those who accept admission into the University or accept a position on its teaching faculty. No one is forced either to be an employee of BYU or to be a student. Now notice that the same parallel argument would fit virtually any religious institution. Here you have Brigham Young University, which isn’t disguised as anything other than a Mormon institution. As a matter of fact, it is the crown jewel of the academic empire of the Mormon Church. I’ve had the honor more than once of speaking on the BYU campus, and I can offer personal assurance that no one visiting that campus, for that matter anyone who knows anything about Brigham Young University, would suffer under any illusion that it is anything but a Mormon institution.
The requirements in its honor code are what you would expect, precisely what you would expect, of a Mormon institution. The right of Brigham Young to be an authentically Mormon institution is precisely the same religious liberty of an evangelical Christian institution to be genuinely, convictionally, and authentically evangelical in conviction. And we can see the opposition will take the same shape as well. But when it comes to BYU, there is a particular angle having to do with the fact that Brigham Young University won the National Championship in football in 1984 and produced a Heisman Trophy winner—that is, Ty Detmer in 1990. Its stadium seats 63,470, placing it in the most serious tier of national intercollegiate football.
The current handbook of the Big 12 conference includes what’s identified as a policy on diversity that reads,
“It is the obligation of each Member Institution to refrain from discrimination prohibited by federal and state law, and to demonstrate a commitment to fair and equitable treatment of all student-athletes and athletics department personnel.”
Fox News reports that,
“A Big 12 spokesperson said Monday the policy applies to LGBT members. He could not confirm whether conference officials had received the letter.” (Nor how they would respond to it if indeed it is received).
From a biblical worldview perspective, there are some huge issues here. First we see the centrality of sports in American culture and that centrality explains why, if you’re pushing and driving this kind of moral revolution, you have to drive it both towards the arena of sports and through that very same arena. We also see the specific targeting here of institutions that will not join the revolution. In this case, the opportunity was simply Brigham Young University because it was understood to be a candidate for membership in the Big 12 conference. It could just as well be any other institution that would stand against the cultural tide. Here’s where we need go back to the article at Fox News because it gets really interesting. According to the article,
“The Big 12 already has two religious universities, Baylor and TCU.”
TCU has a very minimal representative relationship with its host denomination, the Disciples of Christ, itself trending in a very liberal direction. Baylor University is quite different. Baylor University has been historically Baptist and was, at least historically, related to the Baptist General Convention of Texas. That convention no longer elects the trustees who actually govern the institution. As Fox News reports,
“Baylor, a Baptist university, previously had language similar to BYU’s in its sexual misconduct policy.”
Fox then explains,
“Last year the school removed a specific reference to ‘homosexual acts’ from a list of ‘Missuses of God’s gift’ that could result in disciplinary action.”
Fox then said,
“The revised policy does not reference any specific acts, rather that “physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity.”
A Baylor spokesperson was quoted at the time as saying,
“These changes were made because we didn’t believe the language reflected Baylor’s caring community.”
The open question then about a year ago is whether or not this represented Baylor’s total capitulation to the moral revolution.
“However,” Fox says, “other language in Baylor’s policy indicates that same-sex marriage could still be construed a violation. The school says its policy ‘will be interpreted by the University in a manner consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963,’ which defines marriage as the ‘uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.’”
Well, here’s an interesting twist: it actually turns out that the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message includes no such statement whatsoever. That statement was actually added in the year 1998, when Southern Baptists were responding to many of the issues that are now at the forefront of the moral revolution. And Southern Baptist then adopted this amendment to the 1963 statement that set the stage for the eventual revision of the confession of faith in the year 2000. It is extremely doubtful that Baylor University as a whole wants to embrace all of that amendment in terms of the 1998 addition to the 1963 statement.
Eventually, Baylor is going to have to answer some interesting questions related to exactly where it stands and exactly what its policies concerning marriage and sexual morality turn out to be. In the meantime, the spotlight from the Big 12 conference is on Brigham Young University. It won’t be limited to that school, the spotlight will keep moving.
Deliberate childlessness celebrated: A really bad argument moves to the mainstream
Finally, one of the interesting aspects of noting cultural change and trying to think from a biblical worldview is noticing arguments that were once either nonexistent on the periphery that move more to the center; they are heard over and over again. One of these new arguments is the argument for deliberate childlessness, often offered with the irritation that other people, especially in the millennial generation, make too much noise about celebrating their kids. There’s too much fuss about children altogether. Enough of it, many argue. Writing at Toronto’s National Post, Calum Marsh writes,
“A few weeks ago one of my oldest and closest friends told me that she planned to have children. Or rather she mentioned it, almost in passing, with the idle nonchalance of a remark about the midday heat: she planned to have children – and she planned to have them soon. I was dumbfounded. Children? Those fleshy barnacles of snot and mutiny? Those extortionate burdens? Those shrieking, dribbling, bawling horrors? Not for me, thank you. And not – I rashly assumed – for anyone else in my peer group. That my friend could want a child seemed to me unthinkable. It was as if she’d said she planned to invade Poland.”
The announcement by the friend at least prompted in Marsh some basic questions requiring him to at least somewhat rethink his position considering what he called the sake of the biological imperative. But now he says,
“As I conclude the overture and approach the main event – whether or not I plan to have children has become a matter of apparently universal concern.”
He’s irritated that people both older than he and in his own age group ask him whether or not—or more likely when—he plans to have children. Concluding his article, Marsh writes,
“I don’t want kids. I am quite sure about this. And so, as far as I can tell, is my wife. We’ve resolved to remain contentedly childless as long as we’re together. We’ve been with one another for nearly eight years now – nearly eight years of inquiry, of urging, of pressure – and neither of us have had our minds changed by the onslaught of the pro-child campaign. We are quite sure that we don’t want kids. What we’d really like is for you to stop asking us about it.”
He then concludes;
“Let’s briefly address my reasons. I’m afraid they’re not especially insightful: I value my lifestyle, and I like having the means to maintain it. I value my free time.”
He also writes, and I quote,
“I also enjoy the freedom from responsibility childlessness affords me. I can’t begin to imagine the burden not only of time and money but of authority and influence – of being accountable for a human life. It’s lunacy that so many people are comfortable with it.”
Well, just note that this is the total end of civilization if everyone followed his example, which of course they will not. And it’s not just a biological imperative, it is something that God put inside us that makes us want to have children. The valuing of autonomy and free time and all that is celebrated in this article at the expense of children will mean that civilization would cease to exist. But the fact that arguments like this are appearing now more commonly and are heard more frequently tells us a great deal about the state of our culture and of our responsibility as Christians to respond.