August 11, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, August 11, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Good news for Christian higher education in California as lawmaker drops proposal—for now
There was very good news out of California yesterday—it’s not all good news, but it’s very important news. As Anshu Siripurapu of the Sacramento Bee reported,
“After intense opposition from the state’s religious schools, the author of a controversial bill that would have exposed private religious colleges in California to anti-discrimination lawsuits has agreed to remove a key provision.”Show Full Transcript
Siripurapu went on to report,
“Pushed by gay rights organizations, Senate Bill 1146 would have required religious schools receiving state money – including those that enroll students with Cal Grant scholarships – to comply with California’s anti-discrimination laws or risk private lawsuits.”
Now there is actually a great deal more to the bill before it was revised significantly yesterday. It posed a genuine threat to institutions beyond those that received Cal Grants or other forms of state financial aid. It effectively would have removed the Title IX exemption that had been granted to religious institutions all the way back decades ago by action of the United States Congress. As we said, if this bill had gone forward as it looked like yesterday, it would’ve required Christian schools to give up the very idea of a Christian worldview education, restricting hiring on the basis of Christian conviction to departments and to schools and programs that were only directly related to the training and education of clergy.
And furthermore, in terms of the moral issues, as Siripurapu reported again for the Sacramento Bee, if it had been adopted as proposed and as it had gone forward until yesterday, the law would almost surely have required Christian colleges to provide housing for same-sex married couples and allow persons to declare their own gender identity, using the facilities of their choice.
As I said, however, there was very good news out of California yesterday. Senator Ricardo Lara, who is the author of the bill, significantly changed the bill to remove the most dangerous provisions, those are the provisions that would have eviscerated Christian higher education, provisions that would’ve made it almost impossible for Christian schools to hire faculty on the basis of Christian conviction and on the basis of very clear definitions of doctrine. Also, those provisions would’ve included the inability of Christian institutions to operate on the basis of biblical belief when it comes to issues such as sexual morality and gender identity.
As we have seen yesterday, Senator Lara removed those provisions from the bill. That’s the good news. Also removed was the language explicitly authorizing students and alumni of institutions to sue if they felt that somehow the religious message from the institution had been injurious to them. Those were direct threats to religious liberty at the most fundamental level. But what remains—and here’s where the good news is not all good—what remains is the provision in the law that would require any school that will stand over against the sexual revolution to announce this to the state in a publicized statement available to the public. As the Sacramento Bee reported,
“Now the bill requires the schools to publicly disclose their exempt status from non-discrimination laws so prospective students are aware of the rules. The amended bill also requires colleges to notify the state Student Aid Commission, which oversees Cal Grants, each time a student is expelled for violating a school’s moral code of conduct.”
In a statement released yesterday, Senator Lara, the sponsor of the bill, said,
“With SB 1146, we shed light on the appalling discriminatory practices LGBT students face at private religious universities in California. These provisions represent critical first steps in the ongoing efforts to protect students from discrimination for living their truths or loving openly.”
That’s an announcement that this battle is hardly over. As a matter of fact, Senator Lara announced that he would be reconsidering even the crucial issues dropping legislation yesterday and might bring those very provisions forward as early as next year. That’s an announcement that not only is this battle not over, it may come back in an even more intensive form.
The most important aspect of the statement from Senator Lara I just cited is its open antipathy to Christian higher education in the state of California. Again, he refers to what he describes as the “appalling discriminatory practices” that LGBT students face at what he identifies as private, religious universities in California. Again, he also pledged,
“Ongoing efforts to protect students from discrimination for living their truths or loving openly.”
That language is so very crucial: “for living their truths or loving openly.” That, once again, is the language that would spell the very end of Christian higher education. The bill, as revised yesterday, is expected to go forward rather quickly through the General Assembly and then to be signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown. It will go forward with those two very important provisions that remain.
In the first place, the requirement that exempt schools must disclose this, and it’s described as thus, allowing students and parents to understand the rules before a student enrolls—that’s actually not a problem, and that’s not what this is about.
Instead, this is about the public shaming of any Christian institution that would refuse to join the sexual revolution and that revolution in toto. The goal of this legislation is not to shame Christian institutions for somehow being covert in terms of their convictions. No, rather, it’s to shame Christian institutions for holding to those convictions in the first place.
The second provision, requiring schools to report every time a student is expelled for violating a school’s moral code of conduct, that’s just another point in the public shaming, and it’s an effort—a very legally suspect effort—to try to build a database that can be used against these very colleges. Schools do not discipline students, much less expel them, simply because they want to. Instead, this comes as a part of student discipline in which the school, if indeed it’s operating by Christian conviction, fulfills the responsibility to require every member of the institution—faculty, staff, and students—to abide by those very regulations. Of course the issues here are in particular addressed to students.
Before leaving this, a couple of interesting notes: Reason magazine is traditionally associated with American libertarianism. Scott Shackford, writing for that magazine, described what’s going on in California as,
“Nothing so much as activism that can’t acknowledge that it has won the day and relax for even one second.”
That’s a really important insight, and it’s something we’re seeing not only in California but elsewhere. What we’re actually seeing is that after winning their victory, the victors in this cultural revolution are out to punish those they have defeated. Furthermore, we have to understand that legislative developments like this are part of an unfolding story. A lot of people will consider what happened yesterday to be a rescue of sorts and then move on. But the legislature doesn’t work that way. It continues to grind out legislation, and as we have already seen, even as was announced by Senator Lara himself, this is an issue that isn’t over. Not by a long shot. As he himself promised, it’s likely to come back.
No such thing as a "male body"? Transgenderism and the eclipse of biological sex
Next, in terms of the enormity of the issues we face in terms of the LGBT revolution, an article appeared at Slate that helps to clarify the issue considerably. It’s by Chase Strangio. It’s entitled,
“What Is a ‘Male Body’?”
—with the words “male body” put in quotation marks. Strangio is writing about the citizen repeal of Houston’s gay-rights ordinance that would’ve allowed persons to use the bathroom in terms of the public there in Houston in terms of their own gender identity rather than their biological sex. Strangio then asked the question, how did transgender advocates fail? The proposed answer:
“We could have explained that protecting transgender people from discrimination does not increase public safety risks. We should have explained that when a transgender woman uses a women’s restroom there are still zero men — biological or otherwise — in that restroom. This is straightforward: Transgender women are women; transgender men are men.”
The really important thing to recognize here is that the argument has come full circle. We’re being told, even now, that we are to make a critical distinction between biological sex and gender identity. The transgender revolutionaries have insisted that the two issues—gender identity and biological sex—are distinct and are not necessarily related whatsoever. But now we see the argument come full circle in which the argument is that all that exists is gender identity; there is no such reality as biological sex. That is the straightforward argument made in this essay.
Strangio argues that the transgender revolutionaries have made their arguments wrongly.
“Most insidious, we use the same language that opponents of transgender people use, carelessly referring to women who are trans as … being ‘born with a male body’ or being ‘anatomically male.’ This language is both factually wrong and dangerous.”
Then this statement:
“There is plainly no one type of body that we could accurately label a ‘male body.’”
But wait just a minute. This would actually mean the virtual annihilation of the very idea of biological sex. But that’s exactly the point, as is made clear in this astounding paragraph:
“At birth, we classify infants as male or female based solely on the appearance of their external genitalia. Notably, this classification serves population control and surveillance and not medical purposes.”
Let’s just stop there. We’re being told that the classification of human beings as male and female based upon anatomy has nothing to do with medical purposes, but rather with surveillance by the authorities.
“The medical experts I have spoken with,” says the author, “could not identify a single medical purpose for assigning sex at birth and explain that the components of sex are far more complex than just external genitalia and include, at least, chromosomes, genes, hormones, internal genitalia, gender identity, and secondary sex characteristics.”
Then this conclusion:
“By embracing a narrative that one is born with a ‘male body’”—again that’s put in quotation marks—“we reinforce the idea that only the bodies we assign male at birth … are male.”
Now what we must not miss is the radicallity of this argument nor the urgency of it. Here you have a major shift in the logic of the transgender movement. And as we have seen, you now have the absolute argument that there is no such reality as biological sex. That is merely an illusion. What happens when a baby is declared to be male or female is simply illusory, the argument is made here.
Furthermore, there is the insinuation that identifying babies as male and female is somehow part of a subversive conspiracy. Strangio argues that the very idea of being biologically male or biologically female is not scientific; it’s not a scientific fact but rather is an ideological position. Understand the argument here. This means that when an ultrasound technician says, “It’s a boy” or, “It’s a girl!” that’s not a biological fact; it’s not a scientific reality; it’s merely an ideological expression.
Again, the argument at Slate is important because it shows us what happens when an argument begins to take on a life of its own, which is exactly of course what’s happening with the argument set loose by the transgender revolutionaries. They have begun a revolution that they now cannot control. The argument now shifts from a critical distinction between gender identity and biological sex to the denial of the very reality of biological sex.
Now from a Christian worldview perspective, this is not only flatly wrong, but it’s also something that will run up against human nature, which is to say, parents are going to continue to make what this author describes as ideological statements in saying that their baby is a boy or a girl. That’s a very important insight. The revolutionaries here are gaining ground in the elites, and they are certainly gaining ground in the courts and in terms of public policy. But that doesn’t mean that they’re actually gaining ground where it matters most, for example, when parents come to understand that they have a boy or a girl and they understand that’s not just ideological as male or female.
American College of Pediatricians: gender dysphoria debate is primarily about worldview, not science
Next, this takes on a very haunting perspective when we recognize and welcome a report that was released in recent days by the American College of Pediatricians. Now, this group stands over against the larger American Academy of Pediatrics. That’s the group that certainly trends very liberal in terms of largely joining the LGBT revolution. But in response, the American College of Pediatricians released this month the statement entitled,
“Gender Dysphoria in Children.”
This is a very brave and courageous and important statement. And it stands over against those who are trying to press—even on children and adolescents—the LGBT ideology, particularly when it comes to gender and the transgender phenomenon. Rejecting the current protocol of the sexual revolutionaries, the pediatricians bravely pushed back by saying that the protocol,
“…is founded upon an unscientific gender ideology, lacks an evidence base, and violates the long-standing ethical principle of ‘First do no harm.’”
In one of the most important leading paragraphs in this report, the pediatricians say that the debate over how to treat children with gender dysphoria—again that’s the term that was invented by those who are trying to make the distinction between gender identity and biological sex—and for the fact that the only problem is society’s unwillingness to allow persons to fully identify in terms of their chosen gender identity rather than their biological sex—with this ideology, comes an entire set of medical protocols, and these include the use of drugs that would block the development of puberty and of course even sexual reassignment surgery with all that that entails not only for adults, but now increasingly for adolescents and even children.
In a stunningly clear statement, the American College of Pediatricians writes,
“The debate over how to treat children with GD is primarily an ethical dispute; one that concerns physician worldview as much as science. Medicine does not occur in a moral vacuum; every therapeutic action or inaction is the result of a moral judgment of some kind that arises from the physician’s philosophical worldview. Medicine,”
“Also does not occur in a political vacuum and being on the wrong side of sexual politics and have severe consequences for individuals who hold the politically incorrect view.”
Now decidedly in terms of the sexual revolution, those who are members of the American College of Pediatricians hold the politically incorrect view. The American College of Pediatricians goes on to identify the postmodern worldview, the relativistic worldview, behind the gender revolution. They wrote,
“Advocates of the medical interventionist paradigm,”
That’s the sexual revolution we inject,
“Are also post-modernists but hold a subjective view of ‘First do no harm.’”
Before we go further, let’s remind ourselves that goes all the way back to the Hippocratic Oath as a first principle of medicine, that the doctor is not to do harm. That’s the very first rule. But, the American College of Pediatricians writes, and I quote,
“Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and leader in pediatric gender transitioning, has stated that ‘[First do no harm] is really subjective. [H]istorically we come from a very paternalistic perspective… [in which] doctors are really given the purview of deciding what is going to be harmful and what isn’t. And that,’” says this doctor, “‘in the world of gender, is really problematic.’”
The pediatricians go on to say,
“Not only does she claim that ‘First do no harm’ is subjective, but she later also states that it should be left to the child decide what constitutes harm based upon their own subjective thoughts and feelings.”
These pediatricians respond by reminding us that we’re talking about children and adolescents in which the proposal is “highly problematic and unethical.”
These doctors are right to point to the basically postmodern worldview behind the sexual revolutionaries. The sexual revolution itself cannot have taken place unless there was a denial of objective reality—first in the realm of morals, but increasingly now we see even in the realm of biology. These pediatricians bravely stand over against the tsunami of the moral revolution and argue that the issue of biological sex is still a constant and that the right therapeutic intervention will be to help the child who may be confused about gender to understand gender identity in alignment with biological sex. And yes, these doctors still believe very clearly in the category of male and female as biological and medical realities.
In an interesting note, the pediatricians tell us that when it comes to many teenagers who are confused about their gender identity it turns out that the confusion shows up after “binges on social media sites.”
These pediatricians also look to an ideological lockdown in terms of the larger medical establishment in which they write,
“Therapists are not allowed to ask why an adolescent believes he or she is transgender; may not explore underlying mental health issues; cannot consider the symbolic nature of the gender dysphoria; and may not look at possible confounding issues such as social media use or social contagion.”
This category of social contagion reminds us of the fact that one of the surest ways in today’s adolescent environment to gain a wave of undiluted affirmation is to declare oneself transgender. These pediatricians openly worry that many of these adolescents are getting themselves into something far larger than they intend. This is a really important report. It would be important if only for the first page of this document from the pediatricians, reminding us that when it comes to any major medical issue, especially the intersection of medicine and gender and biological sex and sexual identity, it’s not just about medicine. It is more fundamentally about worldview.
Is it political to address social issues like abortion from the pulpit? Pew says "yes"
Finally, with the 2016 presidential race very much in view, the Pew Research Center this week released a report with the headline,
“Many Americans Hear Politics From the Pulpit.”
Well that is interesting, if unsurprising, but what’s even more interesting is how the Pew Research Center identified what is a political issue that was heard from the pulpit. Right under the headline, the researchers say,
“Nearly two-thirds of recent churchgoers say their clergy a spoken out about at least one social or political issue.”
The issues are identified as religious liberty, homosexuality, abortion, immigration, environmental issues, and economic inequality. The research indicates that of the adults who reported having attended church lately,
“64% say they heard clergy at their church or other place of worship speak about at least one of the six social and political issues mentioned in the survey, with nearly half (46%) indicating that religious leaders had spoken out on multiple issues.”
From a Christian worldview perspective, the really interesting thing here is how this is defined as a set of political issues inside the research, sometimes social and political issues. It’s as if the only reason why a pastor would raise any of these issues is because somehow it’s related to politics and in particular, perhaps, to the 2016 presidential election. Now, no doubt there are at least some preachers who enjoy talking about politics in the pulpit. But the point we need to understand is that one who would address the issues identified in this research will not necessarily have to say anything overtly political at all. But it tells us that these issues are increasingly politicized in our culture, so that even when this kind of research is undertaken, to talk about abortion or homosexuality or even the care of the earth all of a sudden becomes basically political.
Biblically defined, the preacher is to preach the Word, to preach the Scripture, and to teach and to preach the whole counsel of God. This research released reminds us that, at least in the eyes of many, particularly in the intellectual elites, pastors are actually being political when they touch on anything that has to do with public policy or oppressing moral controversy that includes involvement in the public square.
By the way, when this kind of research is done, it’s often in order to demonstrate the supposed politicization of conservative, evangelical pulpits. To the credit of the Pew Center, they look to both liberal and conservative churches and look to the issues that are more likely to be heard in each of those environments. But what’s really interesting also is that the researchers indicated that actual political endorsements of candidates are very rare. But it turns out that the researchers discovered that where these endorsements do take place, they are more likely to take place with those who would endorse the Democratic nominee for president. At this point, it’s not the more conservative churches that are likely to be more overtly political.