August 23, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, August 23, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Obama administration's transgender bathroom guidelines blocked by federal judge — for now
Once again, the federal courts are ground zero in terms of the cultural issues in this country, and the reason for that is quite simple. So much of what is happening in this nation, especially on the leading edge of cultural and moral change, has been forced into a litigious and legal environment—and that means the courts. That is partly due to the fact that the courts have themselves usurped so much authority, in particular the United States Supreme Court going back to the 1960s. The Court in terms of a majority of its sitting justices increasingly and more repeatedly decided to take on a basic legislative function.
But the second reason for that is the retreat of the legislature. The legislative body, in particular the United States Congress, has been less ready to enter into these debates, perhaps because they do not want to face the electoral consequences, also because the political and cultural and moral divide in this country is increasingly represented by a deadlock when it comes to the ability of Congress to even address many of these issues legislatively. In any event, the headline in the New York Times yesterday was this:Show Full Transcript
“Federal Transgender Bathroom Access Guidelines Blocked by Judge.”
Erik Eckholm and Alan Blinder reported,
“A federal judge has blocked the Obama administration from enforcing new guidelines that were intended to expand restroom access for transgender students across the country.”
We also find out the Judge Reed O’Connor of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a 38-page ruling in which he said there would be no ability of the federal government to enforce this because the Obama Administration had failed to comply with federal law when it issued what the Judge called,
“Directives which contradict the existing legislative and regulatory text quote directives which contradicts the existing legislative and regulatory text.”
Now this has to be matched with a recent essay that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. That essay made the point that the Obama Administration has increasingly and more aggressively taken on this regulatory function. In the case of the decision handed down by this federal judge, there is a specific issue of federal law that is in contention, and that is the fact that the federal government is forbidden by law to move forward with this kind of regulation without taking two issues into account. The first is the response of the states in terms of their own ability to comply with whatever the regulation may involve, and secondly a period in which there is some public debate and the ability of interested parties to at least respond to the proposed guidelines. Neither of those realities happen.
Instead, the Obama Administration pressed forward with what can only be called a regulatory ambush, requiring all tax supported higher educational institutions and all public schools to immediately comply with regulations that forbade those institutions and schools from requiring students to use the bathroom that would be assigned by their biological sex. Predictably, the response to the judge’s decision fell entirely along the lines of the moral divide in this country. Those who were offended by the Obama Administration’s regulations immediately celebrated the action by the judge, and the judge at least insisted that his decision for now would not be enforceable nationwide. On the other hand, those on the other side of the moral divide, on the other side of the sexual revolution, rushed to insist that this was an aberrant decision made by a single federal judge.
Now here’s something that Christians need to watch in order to think intelligently and fairly about these issues. There is the temptation and there is the pattern whenever a single judge like this U.S. district judge rules in our favor to claim that this is a massively important decision. At the same time, if you oppose that decision, the automatic argument comes, this is just one of hundreds of U.S. district court judges. So the fact that it’s one judge, regardless of where the judge may sit, is less significant than what happens on appeal. And that, you can imagine, is going to be virtually automatic.
But the second thing we need to note in terms of a worldview analysis of this story is the fact that there remains right now, regardless of which side one is on in this particular revolution, two very well-defined sides who define the issues, who define the law, and who define biology, and who define sexuality in fundamentally different, if not absolutely opposed, terms.
We also see, third, that there is a very defined geographical dimension to this. It matters greatly where one lives in terms of the likelihood that a majority of those living in the community will be either for or at least not against the sexual revolution. That tells us that this kind of case is more likely to come out of Texas, more likely to come out of Utah, less likely to come out of Massachusetts.
And finally on this issue, we see a fourth dimension, and that is that underlying all of those previous considerations, even when it comes to the matter of geography, is the fundamental issue of worldview. Because when you look at the states that are more likely to be supportive of the sexual revolution, they’re also less likely to involve a high percentage of residents who are active churchgoers. And the reverse is also true. Theology matters. It always matters, and it even shows up in just how one responds to a single decision by a single federal judge issued on a Sunday afternoon.
The power of consumers: After dim sales report, Target announces new bathroom initiative
Next, at the end of last week a story broke, and it wasn’t immediately clear if this was a big story or a not so big story. But it turns out, it’s bigger than might have first appeared. According to the Wall Street Journal’s headline,
“Target Yields in Restroom Debate.”
Khadeeja Safdar, writing for the Wall Street Journal, reports,
“Target Corp. said it will spend $20 million to add a private bathroom to each of its stores by next year, after customer protests of its policy allowing transgender individuals to use whichever restroom corresponds with their gender identity.”
The Journal went on to report,
“Most of Target’s 1,797 locations already have single-occupancy or unisex restrooms, but it will add the option to 277 stores by November and to about 20 remaining stores by March 2017, the company said on Wednesday.”
That news came in the middle of last week. Almost immediately officials of Target insisted that the decision in the announcement had nothing to do with any fall in sales figures for the previous weeks in which Target had been—pun intended—the target of a self-inflicted controversy. But the Wall Street Journal almost immediately saw it otherwise. Again Safdar reported, the corporation made the announcement,
“Customer protests of its policy allowing transgender individuals to use whichever restroom corresponds with their gender identity.”
This raised all kinds of questions about the possibility of an organized boycott against Target. Boycotts like that, by the way, have genuinely not proved to be very effective, but that’s not to say that economic pressure isn’t effective. It wasn’t an organized boycott; it appeared to be an unorganized decision by thousands if not millions of Target customers that they did not want to do business with the store that had so publicly decided to join the sexual and moral revolution and frankly did not offer them a place where they felt comfortable going to the restroom.
Now here’s what makes the story really interesting. Target made the announcement Wednesday of last week. The story I just cited was in the “Business and Tech” section on the front page of the very next day, Thursday, August 18, 2016. That was on page one. On page B5 of the same section was an article that was co-authored by the same reporter. The headline in this article:
“Target Cuts Profit Forecast.”
Now if you look to this editorially, you might assume the two things are completely unrelated. But in terms of how they fit in the larger cultural equation, you can’t separate page B1 from page B5 on the same day, with at least one reporter involved in both of the stories. Here’s how that second story begins,
“Sales at established stores fell for the first time in more than two years and warned of further declines, signs that Chief Executive Brian Cornell’s turnaround push has stalled.
“Fewer shoppers visited the company’s locations. Target cut its annual profit target and warned that same-store sales would be flat to down 2% for the fiscal year.”
Now let’s look at those numbers a little more closely. During the period of immediate consideration, the total sales, retail sales, at Target’s 1800 stores, fell 1.1%. Now just do the math. That’s an enormous amount of money. To put it a little more graphically, if a company lost 1.1% of its retail operation every quarter, it would begin to shrink visibly before our eyes. Keep in mind the fact that Target, on the very same day that it announced the bathroom change, it also announced that even worse sales figures may appear in the next two quarters with a fall of about 2%. Add that up. That’s at least 3.1% in a matter of three quarters in a single year. Coincidence? Well, you be the judge. But it’s hard to believe that it’s a coincidence when the announcements come in the very same day and when the two articles appear in the very same section of the very same paper, with the very same reporter involved in both.
Bigger lotteries mean bigger losers: When the government preys on the people
Next, one of the major moral issues in this country is one that many people put out of sight and out of mind until, perhaps, they have to pay for a tank of gas or stand in line at a convenience store. And that’s the abuse of the American people and the abuse of American citizens by our own government in terms of organized gambling in the form of lotteries. Now Jeff Sommer reporting for the New York Times tells us that states are offering even bigger jackpots and that results in, even his headline says, “even bigger losers.”
The subtitle of this article,
“Redesigned for larger payouts, lotteries are attracting more people who can’t afford to play.”
Now here you have the New York Times running an article about the moral dimensions of the lottery. Of course, you could expand this to the larger issue of gambling. But when it comes to the gambling enterprise, the particularly dangerous and insidious part of the lottery, is that it makes available to people who are least likely to afford to be able to lose money the opportunity to dream of riches by means of a jackpot unavailable to them by any other natural means. And the New York Times recognizes this is a big story.
It is to the shame of many Christians that they ignore this until they get frustrated standing in line at the convenience stores, as I’ve said. But the story by Jeff Sommer begins this way,
“If you’ve noticed that colossal lottery winnings are becoming almost common this year, it’s no accident. Four of the 10 biggest jackpots in United States history have already occurred in 2016,”
Then he continues describing this is as,
“An engineered outcome intended to generate mind-bogglingly big winners.”
“That’s thrilling if you are the rare winner of hundreds of millions of dollars. But whether it’s a good thing for scores of millions of other people who play government-sponsored lottery games is highly questionable, as a close look at the numbers reveals.”
We’re indebted to the New York Times and to Jeff Sommer for taking that closer look at the numbers. And that closer look reveals a very troubling picture, a picture of governments increasingly and more bloodthirstily predatory upon their own citizens. After taking this closer look, Sommer writes,
“Those gigantic jackpots set people dreaming. I’m not immune to lottery fever. I hadn’t bought a lottery ticket of any kind for years, until last January, when the Powerball jackpot amounted to nearly $1.6 billion. That was one awesome number. We began talking about it at work. Two colleagues and I split a few tickets. We understood that we had almost no chance of winning, and didn’t care: It was fun.”
Well at this point, you might say no harm no foul. But the story continues,
“Behavior like ours seems to account for the rapid surge in lottery sales, bringing jackpots to a higher and higher level. Once,” he says, “the jackpot reaches a certain threshold — somewhere in the hundreds of millions, these days — people begin talking and rushing to buy tickets, including people who don’t typically buy lottery tickets, and the jackpot soars even higher.”
But now, Mr. Sommer says the problem really isn’t people who buy tickets in the midst of that kind of fervor who otherwise could afford to lose several dollars some other way or spend it in some other pursuits. The problem is the millions of people who are enticed to buy lottery tickets who clearly cannot afford to do so and cannot afford to lose the money.
Furthermore, there’s another major moral divide here. Mr. Sommer and his colleagues understood, even as they bought the lottery tickets, that they faced almost no chance whatsoever of winning a lottery, not winning the jackpot, not even winning a smaller price. But the reality is that they are advertised to people who would not otherwise understand this as bearing the very real possibility that someone who goes and buys one of these lottery tickets may win.
You recall that about two years ago when one of these Powerball lotteries reached a multi-hundred-million dollar jackpot that one mathematician came up with the statistic that you are more likely to be killed by being hit on the head by a coconut than winning one of these lottery jackpots. The numbers, the chances, the odds are just absolutely infinitesimal.
There’s a bit more that’s related here when it comes to how states in particular are now preying on people by means of the lottery. For example, most citizens of the states probably don’t recognize that fully 40% of every dollar spent on these lotteries is simply retained by the state. Only about 60% is translated into the prizes awarded at any level of the enterprise. And if you’re following the logic, or at least the statistics, when it comes to the math here, the involvement of so many new people in the lotteries does not increase the likelihood of any single citizen winning. It vastly decreases it. Again, that’s not something the states are telling the very people they’re trying to entice to buy lottery tickets.
I have seen a lot of these reports before, but this particular report in the New York Times included one mathematical and financial distinction I had not seen before, and I quote,
“For some of us, it’s a paltry sum, $10 or $20 a year”—he’s writing about losses—“and a handful of people win multimillion-dollar pots. But for the millions of regular lottery players, it’s a different story.”
He goes on,
“It takes a while to figure this out. But using publicly available lottery and census data, I estimate, very roughly, that millions of adults, perhaps as many as 50 million,”
Americans, he says, “are swallowing net losses that average $1,000 a year.”
He goes on to explain how he came up with the statistic. He says,
“I used lottery estimates suggesting that roughly 20 percent of all players account for about three-quarters of all sales, and proceeded from there.”
In other words, it’s a simple matter of the math. If you take the reports coming from the lotteries, you’re not going to see that kind of statistics either highlighted or publicized. But it’s important to understand the moral dimension behind this. This tells us that the people who are most likely to buy lottery tickets are likely to buy a lot of them, and those who buy a lot of them are in many ways exactly the people who shouldn’t by any at all, financially speaking.
There’s yet another moral dimension in terms of the lottery that I also had not seen addressed before, and that is the fact that there is, in effect, double taxation. As Sommer explains, one spends money out of income which has already been taxed by lottery tickets, and then if there is a winning, there is an additional tax on top of this. This is the government winning however the story turns out. The government simply can’t lose. It’s much like the house in terms of a gambling enterprise like a casino, but in this case it’s like the house gets to win twice.
The biggest issue here is government turning to prey on its own people. This predatory behavior is nothing less than absolutely immoral and shameful, and yet it isn’t often discussed, even by Christians, as a major moral issue. But when it comes to preying upon those who are the least able to afford this kind of endeavor, the poorest among us, this is one most insidious forms of a government turning on its own people. As Sommer writes,
“I’m not a puritan. I have no problem with gambling as a form of entertainment. If anybody wants to spend money this way, fine.”
But he continues from his own worldview,
“But few people run these numbers themselves or, really, are equipped to do so: A recent study suggests that most Americans are not really financially literate. I suspect that few people fully understand the trade-offs they are making.”
I believe he’s absolutely right, and it says a great deal about the desperation of our state governments that the vast majority of them are ready to ask their citizens, even the least able of their citizens, to take money out of their pockets and give it to the state in the vain hope of a big win.
Russian anarchist convention illustrates the best argument against anarchy—implementation
Finally, in terms of worldview still very much at play in this world, we need to remember that anarchy is still a threat, and that it is increasingly alluring to many on the left. There was at least an anarchist strain to support for Bernie Sanders, the Independent Vermont Senator, who surprised the Democratic Party during the presidential primaries, with their surprising support especially among the young, especially on college campuses.
College campuses have long been the incubators of anarchist sentiment. Anarchy is the worldview that suggests there should not be any coerced authority and structure in civilization; that means even a democratically chosen structure of government. Anarchy argues for no government at all, no law at all, no constraints upon human behavior. You can understand why that might be popular to a population that begins with those aged 18 to 22. Set loose from the environment of parental authority and home, anarchy can seem like quite an attractive worldview until you try it.
In one sense we might even argue that anarchy is the natural worldview to the period of life known as adolescents, and yet you would think humanity would at least grow out of adolescence and grow out of any attraction to anarchy. But the Wall Street Journal, in a really interesting front-page story, tells us that there was an anarchist convention that took place in Pryamukhino in Russia. That anarchist convention took place there because it is the home village of the most famous anarchist of the last several centuries, Mikhail Bakunin. He’s known as the father of modern anarchism. He was born there in 1814. He was described by one of the leaders of the meeting there in Russia as,
“Our inspiration, a candle for what could be a better life.”
We’re told that each year, in order to keep Bakunin’s memory alive, there’s the organization of a convocation known as readings that typically draws about 50 to 100 anarchists to this little hamlet 150 miles, we are told, west of Moscow. The story gets really interesting when we’re told that,
“Uniting anarchists is a tough challenge in Russia, where they are facing headwinds. The Kremlin, with its well documented authoritarian streak, has met their cause with increasing hostility. Beyond that”—here’s a crucial sentence—“beyond that, of course, is their own penchant for disorder and disagreement.”
Now, every time the issue of anarchism comes to the fore, and it did so several years ago with the Occupy movement in the United States, and even more recently when we consider the hippies and their influence in the 1960s, every time it comes up we simply have to point out that it runs contrary to human nature. God made us as creatures who understand there is the necessity of a certain level of structure and order in our lives. And if you want to find out just why anarchy is such a bad idea, all you have to do is try it.
In the Bible, the rebellion of Korah is described in terms of judgment, where “every man did what was right in his own sight.” That’s presented in the Scripture as the ultimate judgment to be avoided, not a political goal to be attained.
My favorite sentence in the article is attributed to a PhD student from Moscow. His name is Nikolai Malinin, and he said,
“Anarchists can be difficult to unite, but here, there was a specific thing we could work on—to try to keep the house from collapsing.” That is the house of anarchy.
That young man was an anarcho-individualist. Another worldview present among the anarchist was anarcho-primitivism, which we are told excludes many trappings of civilization, including things like electricity and modern plumbing. It turned out that wasn’t the most popular variant of anarchism, even at this convention of anarchists. One attender at the meeting said,
“In Russia there is a fear of anarchy. I don’t know where it comes from.”
Well, I can tell you where it comes from. It comes from human history and human experience, but it also comes from the fact that human beings are made the image of God. And there is something inside us that tells us anarchy simply won’t work. And if you try it, you’ll verify that theory. Eventually all worldviews based upon lies fail. This one just fails really, really quickly.