September 15, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, September 15, 2016, I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
US Civil Rights Commissioner Religious liberty must take a back seat to sexual liberty
Last week the United States Commission on Civil Rights—that’s an official federal commission—handed down a report entitled,
“Peacefully Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties.”Show Full Transcript
The report has received little public attention to this point, but that’s a huge problem. The report should land like a bombshell, because a bombshell it is. Included in the introductory letter to the report is this sentence:
“Civil rights protections ensuring nondiscrimination, as embodied in the Constitution, laws, and policies, are of preeminent importance in American jurisprudence.”
On first hearing, that might sound like a rather innocuous or innocence statement. It might sound indeed like the kind of language you would expect from a government agency, from a bureaucrat. But when you look at this there’s actually an entire legal revolution that is embedded in that statement. The statement claims that civil rights protections, those particularly ensuring nondiscrimination,
“Are of preeminent importance in American jurisprudence.”
The key phrase there is “of preeminent importance”—that means more important than anything else. Well, what could be at stake here? Well, the “anything else” is religious liberty. That’s not just an inference or an assumption in terms of the language of this report. It’s the very clear claim of this report, especially as the report is introduced by its chairman, Martin Castro. The second enumerated item in the introductory letter of the report says,
“Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights.”
What was implied in the first statement is absolutely indicated in the second. Now we’re told that religious exemptions to what are identified as protections of civil rights, those particular protections of civil rights that are declared to be of the most current controversy, including sexual orientation and gender identity,
“Significantly infringe upon these civil rights.”
Now, here you have a conflict that is made very clear, a worldview conflict, a legal and policy conflict. You have here conflict between what’s identified in the very title of this federal report as a conflict between nondiscrimination principles and civil liberties. The key civil liberty at the very center of the issue is religious liberty, and that becomes abundantly clear when religious exemptions are identified so early in the letter as the problem.
Once again, we see what I described as the inevitable conflict between religious liberty and erotic liberty or, that is, a sexual liberty. What we see in our culture today is that sexual liberty, especially as now identified with those initials LGBT, and also a sexual liberty that is extended to gender identity, trumps everything else—that despite the fact that LGBT issues are not in the Constitution mentioned at all, and religious liberty is explicitly affirmed and protected in terms of what we know as the First Amendment. But what we see in this particular story that has received too little attention is the fact that we are looking at a moral revolution that is taking place right before our eyes in the actual report that was handed down by the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Furthermore, the chairman of that very commission, Martin R. Castro, released a statement in which he dared to say,
“The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”
Now we’ll come back to the last part of that sentence, but first let’s look at the fact that when he identifies “the phrases religious liberty and religious freedom” he puts both of them in scare quotes. That’s a way of saying, indirectly, so-called religious liberty and so-called religious freedom. It’s an actual denial that they are objective constitutional realities. This is a very rare form of candor. It’s so rare that it is perhaps the main point that is evident in this report. This report handed down when a majority of the commissioners had been appointed by President Obama is not all that surprising; although, it should be a matter of deep concern. But what we’re looking at here is something so shocking in terms of its candor that it caught the attention of William McGurn writing at the Wall Street Journal. His article’s entitled,
“A Liberal ‘Gets’ Religion.”
He puts “gets” in quotation marks in order to make the point. He’s not saying that this liberal understands religion, but rather that he gets it the way you might talk about a dog getting a bone. He writes,
“Martin Castro has just performed an enormous public service for his country. But it’s not the one he thinks. Mr. Castro is chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a venerable institution dating to 1957 that has helped America kill Jim Crow and make good on our founding promises.”
But now he makes clear that this commission has become a blunt instrument of the extreme left. He goes on to cite the very same paragraph I just read from the statement from Mr. Castro, that is the statement that the phrases religious liberty and religious freedoms will stand for nothing except hypocrisy for so long as they remain code words, as he calls them, for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamaphobia, Christian supremacy, or any form of intolerance. But then Mr. McGurn gets right to the point when he writes,
“Mr. Castro’s is the prevailing view among progressives. Barack Obama alluded to it when he derided small-town Americans bitterly clinging to guns or religion.”
He went on to say,
“Ditto for Mrs. Clinton, who in a remark about reproductive rights declared that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”
You will note that in this case, the former Secretary of State and current Democratic nominee and the current Democratic President of the United States identified religion as the problem, as the impediment to social progress as they see it. And of course that means Christianity. McGurn then writes,
“Mr. Castro’s contribution, by contrast, is so bad it’s good. For he confirms that the progressive argument is mostly about insulting Americans with differing views.”
He cites that introductory letter to the report where the chairman said that the civil rights issues that he claims are of “preeminent importance in American jurisprudence,” and then McGurn explains by saying that rightly translated means this:
“Nuisances including the First Amendment’s ‘free exercise’ of religion guarantee take a back seat to the rapidly multiplying non-discrimination causes such as the ‘right’ to coerce any baker you want into baking the cake you want for your same-sex wedding.”
That was also noted by Gail Heriot, who herself is a University of San Diego law professor. And she says that she could,
“Easily imagine a case for Mr. Castro’s position. But instead of an argument, she says, the commission offers a decree.”
In her direct words, she said,
“By starting with an assertion that antidiscrimination laws are ‘pre-eminent,’ she writes, ‘the Commission’s analysis essentially begins with its conclusion. Why should anyone accept it? The Commission said so.’”
That is its argument. Once again, the Commission is serving as a blunt instrument for the political left. Then, Mr. McGurn notes,
“The reasonableness of Ms. Heriot’s contribution almost makes this awful report worth its price. Here is a civil rights commissioner who takes the clash between nondiscrimination and religion seriously, who appreciates that these clashes are the result of government going places it never went before—and who recognizes that the questions raised are more complicated than Mr. Castro’s good guys versus bad guys caricature.”
He also says that Ms. Heriot,
“Recognizes the public-service aspect of publishing the chairman’s prejudice: Though she first thought of asking Chairman Castro to remove his statement, she writes, on further reflection she concluded that it “might be better for Christians, people of faith generally and advocates of limited government to know and understand where they stand with him.”
That’s a profound statement, and we should appreciate this commissioner’s courage. She had the courage to stare down the chairman of this commission and make very clear that he is operating as a tyrant and that religious liberty is very much at the center of his target. And, as she says, she decided to let his letter stand without protest simply so that Christians will understand where we stand in this culture. That’s a very important issue, because it seems that so few Christians really do seem to understand where we stand at this cultural moment.
So here’s where we stand. We stand at the place where last week the United States Commission on Civil Rights could issue a report, with the federal government’s authority, clearly stating that, contrary to the Constitution of the United States, religious liberty is going to have to take a back seat to erotic liberty or sexual liberty. And then we go back to that opening letter and we come to understand just how ominous this could turn out to be. Because after all, the religious exemptions that are here understood and recognized are claimed to be the problem so that even these religious exemptions should be held to be suspect. And they should be very limited, he says, in scope. And in every case, Chairman Castro made clear, there’s simply a form of prejudice and discrimination.
McGurn also writes with a very valid concern that not one major candidate in the presidential election of 2016 seems to understand much or care much about religious liberty. When it comes to the former Secretary of State, she has been very dismissive of religious liberty and very supportive of every demand made by the LGBT community. McGurn concludes his article writing,
“We’re left with this: The melancholy spectacle of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issuing a report trashing the first civil right enumerated in the Bill of Rights.”
When the Chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights puts the phrases “religious freedom” and “religious liberty” in scare quotes, that’s a clear indication that he intends to consign them, regardless of the U.S. Constitution, to the dustbin of history.
With news that middle class incomes are on the rise comes hope for families and democracy
There was also good news in the major media yesterday, bigger good news as a matter of fact than most in the media and in the society yet recognized. As the Wall Street Journal reported on its front page yesterday,
“A surge in U.S. incomes last year delivered the first significant raise for the typical family after seven years of stagnant and declining earnings, the result of sustained job growth finally lifting a broad swath of American households.”
Specifically, they wrote,
“The median household income—the level at which half are above and half are below—rose 5.2%, or $2,798, to $56,516,”
And that’s almost $3000 more than just a year earlier, even after adjusting for inflation. As the Journal says,
“The increase was the largest annual gain recorded since the yearly survey of incomes began in 1967.”
The big news here, although it didn’t show up in all the headlines, is that this represents significant income growth for what’s described as the middle class. Now this is news. It’s political news and economic news—there’s every reason to expect that President Obama and Secretary Clinton will claim this as a victory in terms of the Obama Administration; The Wall Street Journal and others instead credit it to a robust economy in terms of business adjusting to new opportunities—but regardless of who deserves the credit for this, it is very, very good news. But the big, good news is actually bigger than the headline, because it has to do with the fact that this is a strengthening of the middle class in the United States.
That might not sound like such a big deal to some, but it is the existence and the thriving of the middle class that is, sociologically speaking, one of the most important protections of democracy. The reality is that democracy is really only found, certainly over time, where there is a thriving middle class. How do we define that? Well in virtually every previous culture, without a middle-class, you had a bifurcated class system. You had those at the very top and the vast majority of those who were at the very bottom. A tiny elite minority were the landowners, and of course here we’re talking about the landed gentry as they’re sometimes called in the English tradition. The vast majority of the population owned virtually nothing at all—they were the serfs and the workers and the laborers, and before the rise of the middle class they had no purchase upon ownership at all.
When you have a situation in which you have only a landed gentry, a very small elite that owns property, and then the vast majority of the population who own nothing, you’re stuck in a situation of feudalism. There’s really no opportunity for democracy. Democracy arises where there is a genuine middle class—that is, those who are not especially in the elites. Certainly they’re not those who are amongst the most wealthy; but they do nonetheless have a real purchase on the economy. They have real property.
Now the background of this explains why the United States government and other major European governments as well have made a priority of middle-class home ownership. That’s because the very process of owning a home, for example, provides that more than the elite—the middle class by definition has to be a very broad class populated by many if not most in the society to actually own real property and to have a real investment in the society. Middle-class cultures are the only cultures over time that have sustained democracy.
Francis Fukuyama, one of most influential intellectuals in America today, writing in the January February 2012 edition of the journal Foreign Affairs, pointed out that the future of history in terms of democracies has everything to do with the future of the middle class. One of the big questions of the 20th century is why socialism failed and why democracy didn’t. As he points out, Karl Marx, the founder of socialism and communism, believed that the middle class “would always remain a small and privileged minority in modern societies.”
That’s why he thought that socialism, indeed communism, would be the inevitable victor. But as Fukuyama analyzes, it wasn’t socialism that won in the 20th century, much less communism. It was democracy. Why? Fukuyama wrote,
“What happened instead was that the middle class more generally ended up constituting the vast majority of the populations of most advanced countries, posing problems for socialism.”
So the success of democracy—and that was a success that surprised so many liberal elites in the world—actually spelled the doom of communism as a worldwide experiment. It still continues in some nations such as China, but very modified in terms of its economy. It remains communist almost entirely now in terms of its totalitarian dictatorship that remains in power. As an economic system, communism was clearly defeated and its energies are clearly spent. Socialism hasn’t worked and democracy has, but democracy requires that the middle class not only not disappear, but grow and be strengthened.
In the United States, the middle class has also been tied to the security of family. To put it another way, it is the intactness of a family that is often indicated whether or not a family unit emerges out of poverty and into the middle class or remains in the middle class and doesn’t decline back into poverty. There is a very clear historical linkage between the natural family and respect for that family and the endurance of the middle class. And there is every historic argument to make that the middle class itself is necessary for democracy. So yesterday’s good news in the headlines is even better news than many observers may recognize.
The story might be recognized by some people as primarily about economic good news. For some in the political class, it will also represent an opportunity to claim credit. We should expect the politicians and the economists to think just along those terms. But when it comes to the rest of us, there’s a very clear worldview dimension that is revealed here. This is really good news. But it’s bigger good news because it points to the centrality of the family as the basic structure of civilization and to the fact that when that family is honored, respected, and left intact, it produces not only a strengthening of the economy but a strengthening of the entire society. And furthermore, the strengthening of the middle class is good news for the survival of democracy. That’s big news indeed.
The LGBT revolution is coming to a video game console near you
Next, the New York Times also had an interesting story lately by Laura Parker entitled,
“In Videogames, Inclusiveness.”
This particular article points to the fact that in popular culture, moral change is driven by every dimension of that culture, including entertainment—in this case, video games. Parker writes,
“In the popular simulation game The Sims, players have long been able to create male and female characters — but only up to a point. That changed this year. In May, Electronic Arts, the publisher of The Sims, released a patch for the game that removed all gender barriers, freeing players to create virtual characters with any physical attribute.”
Now before we go further into the details of the story, what’s really interesting is that here you have a video game company that clearly felt under cultural pressure, under moral and political pressure, to join the moral revolution and to do so in such a way that it changed characters or character attributes that would’ve been understood throughout every single year of human history going back to creation, in order to allow the possibility of characters who have no physical attribute whatsoever. For Blair Durkee, she writes,
“The shift was significant. The day after the patch was introduced, Ms. Durkee, a student at Clemson University in South Carolina, logged into The Sims and started designing her first transgender character. She named the character Amber, gave her a deep voice and broad shoulders, and made her infertile, “which is really the only attribute that all trans people have in common.”
Now that’s also really interesting in itself. Later, we are told that this individual had,
“Transitioned to female at age 24.”
As I said, there’s something deeply interesting embedded in this, and that is that in an article about a videogame and the gender reality, we are told that being infertile,
“Is the only real attribute that all trans people have in common.”
That’s not exactly true, as we saw the recent Time Magazine story when a woman wrote about how her brother is now a mother. But nonetheless, that’s a really interesting statement to be inserted into this article. Parker goes on to report,
“This inclusive attitude toward gender and sexuality, once a rarity in video games, is becoming more common as games take on more diverse and weightier subject matter, beyond flesh-eating zombies and alien attacks.”
Parker went on to describe other products she says are representative of this new inclusive trend, and then she details what she calls the “Proteus effect.” She says it’s a concept introduced in the year 2007 by two researchers at Stanford University. This is the idea that the online appearance of a person’s avatar can actually have an impact on his or her behavior. It’s interesting that at this point in an article about the eclipse of gender, this reporter perhaps inadvertently uses those old-style words, his and her. And apparently, the editor didn’t correct that either.
The article tells us about a major driving engine of social change. We don’t often think of video games in those terms, but we should. Because video games, it turns out, not only consume millions and millions of hours of American’s time every day, but they also become themselves both representative of and producers of the vast moral change taking place around us.
This is important, of course, for Christians thinking about the larger culture. It’s important for video gamers, Christians in particular, who should be thinking about the moral content of those games. It raises huge issues for parents as parents come to understand that video games are not only sometimes dangerous for their sexual content and their violence, but are also dangerous because of the worldview assumptions that are now very clearly, if not proudly, embedded within them.
The Christian worldview established in Scripture honors art; it honors music; the Christian worldview honors culture, understandings that culture is actually a graphic and continuing representation of the fact the God made us in his own image, and thus he gave us the capacity to create culture. But Christians also understand that culture is affected by human sinfulness, and Christians must understand that culture is never merely about culture. It always points to something more fundamental. Art is never merely about art. Music is never merely about music. And here’s perhaps the most important news from this story in the New York Times: video games are never simply about video games. There’s actually always more to a game than mere play.