September 8, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, September 8, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
My brother the mom? TIME preaches the moral revolution
The horizons of medical technology seem to be always expanding, and the moral universe around us is being turned upside down. This creates a context in which the unimaginable can become the all too real. And that is all too evident in the current edition of Time Magazine. In that magazine we find an article with the headline,
“My Brother’s Pregnancy and the Making of a New American Family.”Show Full Transcript
Once again we face the fact that no previous generation of human beings could’ve understood what was even intended in this headline, but of even greater concern perhaps is the fact that we really do understand. We understand what Time Magazine is trying to convey. We understand a moral revolution that is at the intersection of all kinds of medical possibilities. We understand that we’re living in an age in which people may plausibly claim, according to their own worldview, that a man has become the mother of a child, but of course behind all of this is a transgender revolution. And the revolutionaries have insisted, and of course they are gaining ground in this culture, that there is an absolute distinction that can be made between biological sex and one’s preferred gender.
Gender, we are now told, is a matter of simple social construction, and it is endlessly malleable and mixable. And now we have the images that are accompanying this article in Time Magazine showing a bearded person nursing a child. We look closer at the story, and Hempel tells us,
“My brother Evan was born female. He came out as transgender 16 years ago but never stopped wanting to have a baby. This spring he gave birth to his first child.”
Now if you’re looking at a moral revolution, you simply need to look at the opening words of that sentence. I repeat,
“My brother Evan was born female.”
There you see the entire transgender ideology reduced to just the opening phrase in the opening paragraph of an article in Time Magazine. Now let’s be honest. Time Magazine did not run this article in order for people merely to shrug. They ran this article in order to make a point. They consider the article newsworthy and no doubt provocative, and it is both of course. But it’s not so newsworthy as it is provocative. It is intended to provoke us, to provoke us into seeing what is implied and explicit here. And that is the messaging that this is something that is to be celebrated, the images and the narrative of a bearded person nursing a child, the revolution that is reflected in the fact that here you have an author writing of a sibling say,
“My brother Evan was born female.”
She goes on to describe,
“My brother Evan, 35, is a stocky guy of medium height with a trimmed, fuzzy blond beard and two gem studs in each earlobe.”
But Hempel is particularly writing about the day when her sibling Evan received a phone call announcing pregnancy, and that is the revolutionary news that led to the news story. But of course, we look further at this and we come to understand that here we’re being told that this is a man, repeatedly, even in the opening paragraphs the author speaks of the sibling as her brother, even acknowledging that her sibling was born female. But then she turns around and makes very clear that this same individual gave birth to a baby and is now nursing that baby. And what does that tell us? It tells us that if you put all the fog of the moral revolution behind us, this is an individual that is still recognizably, biologically female.
Hempel actually surveys the contemporary controversies, considering the transgender movement, looking at issues such as the North Carolina legislation on bathrooms. She describes all of this as a backlash to the inevitable victory of the entire LGBT movement and, in this case, most particularly the “T,” transgender. She then writes,
“Pregnancies like Evan’s—and the many that are likely to follow—will stretch our cultural perceptions of gender norms even further. Americans are just starting to open up to the idea that you may be born into a female body, but believe that you are really a man. But what if you are born into a female body, know you are a man and still want to participate in the traditionally exclusive rite of womanhood? What kind of man are you then?”
She asked the question, and operating out of the biblical worldview we have to respond to her question. She asked, what kind of man are you then? And the answer is, you are not a man. You are simply declaring yourself to be a man, and the society is cooperating in a massive act of self-delusion to declare that a person who can get pregnant and carry a baby to full term and then deliver that baby and nurse that baby is a man. That is a biological impossibility, and this is the inevitable result, however, of a moral revolution that has severed itself from every form of objective truth.
This article’s rather long, especially for a journal like Time Magazine, and it’s making a point. It’s making a point by running the article. It’s making a point by drawing attention to the article, and the article itself suggests that this moral revolution is coming with complications that the society is just going to have to face and with which society is going to have to deal. She writes for instance,
“Medical care of all kinds is complicated for trans Americans.”
We have faced this before on The Briefing when we have considered accounts by doctors who are perplexed when they face a patient who declares to be a woman but still has very clearly a prostate gland, and that means they have to treat the internal organs of the patient as the biological sex, even though they have to address the person in terms of the chosen gender identity. And of course when we get into hormonal treatments and we get into sex assignment surgeries and all the rest, the situation still gets more complicated. But even when it comes to the most radical of current approaches—that is the sex reassignment surgery—there is still a prostate gland that still identifies the individual as male. And when it comes to the female that is born biologically female, it is only those who are born female that have the reproductive capacity that this individual, her sibling, clearly has and has exercised in getting pregnant and carrying the baby to full term.
We still have to wonder even if those who were so enthusiastic about this revolution actually believe what they’re saying or, in this case, what they’re writing. Later in the article, Hempel writes,
“I asked Evan if childbirth had changed how he thought about his gender. Wasn’t there some part of him that questioned his masculinity?”
Now, again, just consider what’s embedded in that very short segment from a paragraph. Here you have a sister asking if her sibling who has given birth has reconsidered gender.
“Wasn’t there some part of him that questioned his masculinity?”
We should seriously and pastorally with great sensitivity and concern ask ourselves if we are not now witnessing a massive act of self-rationalization that amounts to a society that has rushed headlong into this moral revolution, trying to convince itself that it actually makes sense and furthermore, that it can actually work.
As Christians operating out of a biblical worldview, we also have to point to the center of moral gravity in this article that is not given much attention at all except as the reason for which the article was written, and that is the child. And one of the things we need to note is that this child, clearly, will look to this individual, Evan, as the child’s mother. How could this otherwise be? It was from this womb that he emerged. Furthermore, even as the pictures in Time Magazine make clear, the baby is looking to Evan for its sustenance even in the process of nursing.
Now what this tells us and what nature is testifying in the midst of all of this is that even through all the fog of confusion, even through all the hormone treatments, even through the beard, the baby knows who his mother is, even if the mother actually identifies as a man. As a society we’ve got a lot to work through on these issues, and Christians have some very hard thinking to do as we imagine how we’re going to respond to our neighbors who just might show up, not in the pages of Time Magazine but in the delivery room very near to us. We do know this: every single child is a gift from God. The child himself is to be celebrated. But what to think about the entire moral revolution? This is where Christians have to understand that we cannot bless what we know will not lead to human flourishing, but instead to grave injury to the very image of God in humanity. One final thought about this article: we’re often told that it’s Christians who are caught preaching to the society. Well, of course, there’s truth in that, but there is no form of modern preaching in this postmodern digital age more preachy than what Time Magazine is attempting to do in this article—text, photograph, and all.
Jesus vs. Christianity? The New York Times defines the new Christianity
Next, shifting from Time Magazine to the New York Times, influential columnist Nicholas Kristof had an article in Sunday’s edition entitled,
“What Religion Would Jesus Belong To?”
He begins by writing,
“One puzzle of the world is that religions often don’t resemble their founders. Jesus never mentioned gays or abortion but focused on the sick and the poor, yet some Christian leaders have prospered by demonizing gays.”
This is an argument we’ve seen before, and we’re going to see it again and again, so we need to understand what’s at stake here. We have confronted this argument in the form of the so-called Red Letter Christians. Some of you will remember those red letter New Testaments. Those were Testaments that were printed with what’s identified as the direct words of Jesus—that is, what would be in quotation marks printed in red. Those who believe in the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture should be very concerned about a Red Letter Bible when it is used to insinuate that somehow that which is printed in red is of some more authority than that which is printed in black. We hold to the view that every single word of Scripture is inspired and that not only that every word is inspired, but that every word is equally inspired. But what we confront here is an effort to divide Christ from the apostles and most specifically from the apostle Paul.
Now we have Nicholas Kristof making the argument, and it’s found in the form that one puzzle of the world is that religions often don’t resemble their founders. Now here before we go any further in this argument, we need to note the quandary. The quandary is this: What access do we have other than the New Testament to who Jesus was and what Jesus said? Furthermore, we have almost no independent historical evidence concerning Mohammed or virtually anyone else who would be credited as the founder of a world religion. Of course, Jesus didn’t intend to establish a world religion. Rather, he said he came to seek and to save the lost and to establish his church. But granting Nicholas Kristof the point, we have in Jesus someone that we will either understand in terms of the totality of the New Testament or we will try to abstract Jesus from the New Testament and in particular, from those red letters in a red letter New Testament that will be far less offensive and angular in a postmodern and secular society.
But as you might expect, Nicholas Kristof has an authority to cite here, and that authority is no great surprise Brian D. McLaren, identified in the article as a former pastor and the author of what Kristof says is a provocative and powerful new book entitled, The Great Spiritual Migration. McLaren writes,
“Our religions often stand for the very opposite of what their founders stood for.”
Now Kristof goes on to say,
“That tension is especially pronounced with Christianity, because Jesus was a radical who challenged the establishment, while Christianity has been so successful that in much of the world it is the establishment.”
This kind of argument reoccurringly confronts us with the reality that there are people who want to abstract a Jesus and construct a Jesus who is not the Jesus revealed in the totality of the New Testament, whose teaching was given to the apostles and then from the apostles given to us, but is rather Jesus that turns out to be something of a social revolutionary and spiritual guru and nothing else.
Now there’s some sleight of hand here, for instance, when it is suggested that Jesus never spoke about gays or abortion. That is where biblical Christians have to understand that it’s Jesus who pointed to the totality of Scripture himself. He didn’t have to speak about all those issues because the Scripture itself was very clear.
Furthermore, Jesus did not explicitly talk about any number of issues that are in contemporary debate because they were not in debate in the first century. But the Scripture gives us principles whereby we draw divine wisdom for how we are to apply the word of Scripture to life today, even to issues that couldn’t have been imagined in the first century, even in the very last story we discussed on The Briefing.
Brian McLaren’s been a leader in the so-called emerging church or emerging Christianity. That’s a migration in itself from something of evangelical identity to something that is now far past evangelical identity. And as I’ve noted at several points in the past and with articles that are posted on my website, in Brian McLaren you see that migration towards what can only be described as an updated Protestant liberalism of the 20th century, now newly dressed up for the 21st century.
Brian McLaren is a gifted communicator and writer. And with striking words, he writes,
“No wonder more and more of us who are Christians by birth, by choice, or both find ourselves shaking our heads and asking, ‘What happened to Christianity?’” McLaren writes. “We feel as if our founder has been kidnapped and held hostage by extremists. His captors parade him in front of cameras to say, under duress, things he obviously doesn’t believe. As their blank-faced puppet, he often comes across as anti-poor, anti-environment, anti-gay, anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant and anti-science. That’s not the Jesus we met in the Gospels!”
Well, here we have to simply note that that would require a very selective reading even of the Gospels. Because in the Gospels, Jesus makes some statements that absolutely run into direct contradiction with the moral revolutionaries of our time. You have to have a Jesus who is drawn from the Gospels, not the Jesus of the Gospels. The most important aspect of this column by Nicholas Kristof is that it is a gift to us in the sense that he establishes and sets out the terms for an acceptable Christianity in the 21st century—acceptable, we can presume, in the conversation of the New York Times and elsewhere. That’s very important for us to know, and what we find out is that the boundaries that are set for that kind of acceptable Christianity in modern America is a Christianity that is reduced with the apostle Paul clearly sidelined along with much if not most of the New Testament, and the Jesus who is left as a social revolutionary.
Kristof is always provocative and often insightful in his columns, and he writes in this one,
“This may seem an unusual column for me to write, for I’m not a particularly religious Christian. But I do see religious faith as one of the most important forces, for good and ill, and I am inspired by the efforts of the faithful who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters.”
Now Christianity in terms of the motivation of the gospel in love of neighbor is often translated rightly and to be celebrated into soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and we should note that soup kitchens and homeless shelters are not offensive to the moral revolutionaries, at least not yet. But what is offensive is a clear gospel proclamation, and that offensiveness is made clear by the fact that you’ve got regulators and activists and legislators and judges in any number of states who are telling the very Christians who are running soup kitchens and are running other forms of ministry that they must come to terms with the moral revolution or get out of the business. Just ask Catholic charities in Massachusetts, which at the time of the legalization of same-sex marriage in that state was the largest adoption agency in the state. It was put out of business simply because it would not bend the knee to the sexual and moral revolution. That’s perhaps the most ominous aspect of this article by Nicholas Kristof. I don’t think he intends for it to be ominous at all.
But what we have here is a reduction of Christianity to the bland theological liberalism of the 20th century. It wasn’t all that interesting then; it’s a lot less interesting now. With the liberal churches emptying out and liberal institutions collapsing, why would there be any further attractiveness to trying to repackage theological liberalism for the 21st century? And the answer is that it is an alternative to biblical Christianity, and the message here is this: it is the preferred alternative by many people in the culture who want to have the sexual revolution but continue to have some form of Christianity as an ongoing part of the culture. Again Nicholas Kristof identifies himself saying, “I’m not a particularly religious Christian,” so that at least signals to us that what we have here is an argument about what Christianity should be by a man who identifies himself as not particularly religious as a Christian.
But he does see religious faith, Christianity included within that, “as one the most important forces, for good or for ill,” he writes, and that’s why he considers it an issue of continuing significance. Perhaps the argument that is endorsed by Kristof and put forth here by Brian McLaren will gain some traction. If it does gain traction, it may turn into something significant. But whatever that is, it won’t be Christianity.
Star Trek at 50: The worldview behind the Enterprise
Finally today marks a 50th anniversary, a genuine cultural milestone. Some of you know already what this milestone is, and you know who you are. It was on September 8, 1966 that the first episode of the television series known as Star Trek aired on American television screens. The program was originally not a success. It came out of Desilu Studios connected with Lucille Ball. It was intended by Ball and her associates to be a new endeavor in television that just might fill a need and fill a slot that would attract advertisers, but it was Gene Roddenberry’s space adventure from the beginning. And once he got the green light, he went way over budget, and it is something of a miracle in terms of television that the show actually survived. It is even more shocking that 50 years later the show is a multibillion-dollar asset, primarily not in terms of the television series, but rather in terms of its commercial application through big budget films. But there’s something else that Christians ought to note.
In 1966 when the first episode of Star Trek arrived, it arrived as a form of narrative, a way of telling a story that was considered from the beginning to be an alternative to Christianity. In Star Trek, the entire worldview is based upon what was envisioned as a pure rationality, a society entirely ruled by human reason. The iconic representation of this was the character known as Spock. As the Financial Times of London reports,
“Roddenberry used Star Trek, he said, to talk in allegorical terms about the pressing social problems of the 1960s. He insisted on the multiracial composition of the Enterprise crew, not without network resistance. He loved happy endings, but the resolutions of his delicate fables were acquired through strife, debate and meticulous moral reasoning.”
Christians thinking about this 50th anniversary of Star Trek need to understand something. God made us as creatures who desperately have to understand our lives in terms of a story, in terms of a massive story that is rightly defined as cosmology, a story that involves how the universe itself came to be and what it means, and then of course this planet and those of us who inhabit it. Star Trek began as entertainment to be sure, but also as an alternative way of telling the story of the cosmos. Christians need to understand that there will always be a story that’s dominant in the culture. Star Trek is just one of them. It wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last.
The star of the television series is William Shatner. He’s now 85 years of age.
“Together with Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley as fellow officers Spock and McCoy, who gave those early episodes their dramatic pulse. Roddenberry had studied the archetypes of classical Greek drama and turned virtually every show, via its three principals, into a philosophical inquiry into the limits of rationality, the dangers of hyper-emotionalism and the importance of achieving a moderating synthesis between the two.”
Star Trek is often described as being ahead of its time, and no doubt in some sense it was, especially now at this late after the development of the space-age. But from a worldview perspective, perhaps what’s most interesting is the fact that when the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times and other papers look at this 50th anniversary, they note the fact that the very serious television program of the 1960s was not all that successful. It is the blockbuster films of later decades that have brought the real wealth to the Star Trek brand, but as virtually every major observer has noted, those blockbuster films came without all the moral seriousness of the television series. When it comes to the big budget of blockbuster Star Trek films, it turns out that in terms of worldview there’s less there than meets the eye. But 50 years ago there was a television series in which the opposite was true, there was more there than often met the eye.
Star Trek of course became not only a television series and a series of films, it also became a subculture in America and that may explain why today on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek you may see some people dressed up in costumes you don’t see that way in everyday life. Like I said, you know who you are.