The Briefing 10-28-16

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"Emma is a boy": Atlanta paper features mother's story of 12-yr-old daughter who wants to be a boy

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Pansexual? Miley Cyrus and our cultural confusion

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Media and young hearts: American Academy of Pediatrics updates screen time recommendation

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115 boys to 100 girls: Armenia outlaws sex-selective abortions to avoid looming demographic crisis

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Transcript

The Briefing

October 28, 2016

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Friday, October 28, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

"Emma is a boy": Atlanta paper features mother's story of 12-yr-old daughter who wants to be a boy

The headline in Sunday’s “Living and Art” section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution included this headline,

“Emma is a boy.”

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The subtext,

“An Alpharetta mom adapts to life with a transgender child.”

This essay written by Melissa McWilliams was the winner of the second-annual Personal Journeys writing contest for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It’s a very moving article written by the mother of two teenage girls, one of whom has declared that she is a boy. Of course, that’s the child Emma in terms of the headline of the story, the story, “Emma is a boy.” This mom tells us that she was noticing changes in one of her daughters, so she asked the other what was going on and the daughter said, “Isn’t it obvious?” The mother then writes,

“In recent months I’d noticed that Emma had become moody and withdrawn, which was in stark contrast to the fun, energetic kid I was used to. I thought it was just part of being in middle school and the start of puberty. I hoped homeschooling would help.

“A few days after the conversation in the car, I found Hannah alone in her room and asked her again what was going on with Emma. She hesitated at first, but finally came out with it.

“‘Emma is transgender,’ she said matter-of-factly.

“‘What does that mean?’ I had heard the term, but never thought much about it.

“‘Emma is a boy,’ Hannah said.

“‘But Emma’s a girl. She can’t be a boy,’ I said. It sounded ridiculous.”

The sister then said,

“She feels like she was supposed to be a boy instead of a girl.”

That sets the stage for this first-person essay about how this mom came to terms with a teenage daughter who declared that she was a boy. In the unfolding story, the mother encourages the girl as she gains a very short haircut, cutting her hair in order to look like a boy. In one lengthy section of the article, the mom writes about taking her daughter to Target to the boys department in order that Emma could buy boxer shorts that were intended to be worn by a teenage boy, because she now wants to identify as a boy. It’s clear that the judges of this essay contest chose this very emotionally packed essay precisely because of its emotional power. In the most emotionally powerful section of the article, the mom writes about thinking and driving alone in her car when she began asking God how this could have happened.

“‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ I cried out.

The response she says from God was immediate,

Love her.

“It wasn’t audible,” says the mom, “but it was clear as day in my head.”

The mom says,

“The tears kept coming, and I asked the question again. Again the answer was the same.

Love her.

“Once more, ‘What do I do?’

“I heard it again in my head and in my heart.

Love her.”

The mom then says that,

“The tears finally slowed. I thought about the answer to my question, and I felt my spirits lift. I could do that. It’s what I had always done. It was that simple. I didn’t need to add anything else to it. It was the unconditional love of a parent for a child. For the first time since this journey began, I felt the burden ease off me.”

As I said, this is a very emotionally powerful essay, and of course it would have to be. Consider what we’re dealing with here. We’re dealing with the mom of two teenage girls who encounters one of her daughters declaring that she isn’t a girl, but a boy. And here you have this mom’s effort to try to help her daughter in terms of dealing with this situation. But notice also that in terms of this conversation that she recounts, the imperative that she received from the Creator was love her, love her, love her. Notice the pronoun, and notice how the story really doesn’t make sense without it.

The saddest thing in terms of this essay to me from a biblical perspective is that this mom clearly feels the pressure to be nothing other than affirming of a teenage daughter declaring that she’s actually a boy. The fact is that, according to the biblical worldview, this child is not a boy, rather she is a girl. That is not something that was simply a medical or biological accident. That is something that is a part of God’s plan in terms of this girl’s identity and his intention for her not only as a girl, not merely as some kind of gender nonspecific human being, but as a girl who would become a woman.

Upon further reflection this kind of article would’ve been unthinkable just a matter of years previous, especially in a city like Atlanta. This is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But the clear context and implication of this article is that all parents are supposed to think like this parent, that this mom in writing this first-person award-winning essay is actually serving as a moral example of the way that other parents should think as well. And that raises a very difficult question for us. Have we finally reached the point when we understand that it is only the Christian worldview established in Scripture that can possibly withstand this kind of moral revolution and gender nonsense?

We’ve been noticing how institution after institution, government after government, organization after organization, be it the NCAA or the ACC, has come about saying that the transgender revolution simply has to be embraced in all of its fullness and in all of its continuing fluidity. By the time you get to this kind of major article appearing in a newspaper in Atlanta, Georgia, you have crossed some kind of massive moral boundary. We’re now on the other side of something that isn’t about to happen or is just now happening. We’re on the other side of something that this article declares has already happened. We’re on the other side of a great cultural cataclysm and a tremendous moral reversal.

Pansexual? Miley Cyrus and our cultural confusion

Similarly, there is probably no media barometer that is more indicative of Middle America than USA Today. Previously dismissed as “McPaper,” the USA Today has become something of the nation’s national newspaper. One of the things that demonstrates is that there is at least some capacity for the exchange of ideas, but it turns out to be a limited capacity. USA Today has rather short articles that are intended to have coast-to-coast application and relevance. And of course that means that one of the major issues of our national obsession is celebrities, and if you can create the intersection of celebrities and the LGBT revolution, well then, you might just sell some newspapers.

USA Today earlier this week, ran an article with the headline,

“What our reaction to Miley Cyrus says about the future of gender”

It turns out that Miley Cyrus, now buckle your seatbelts, has announced that she is pansexual. She said this in the pages of Variety magazine and in a video posted to the magazine’s website. And according to USA Today, when Miley Cyrus declared herself as pansexual,

“The media clamored to define the term.”

Well, all you need to note is that “pan” is the Greek prefix that means “all,” in other words this is all sexuality. The media may have clamored to define the terms, but USA Today defines it,

“The elaboration on her sexuality — that she is attracted to all different kinds of people, regardless of their biological sex or gender identity — wasn’t overwhelmingly dismissed as youthful experimentation. It isn’t becoming a patronizing footnote in her personal reinvention,” that the declaration of USA Today.

“This, however,” the paper says, “tells us something powerful about the moment we’re in.”

Well, on that score, I am in emphatic agreement. The paper says that,

“The public’s reaction to Cyrus, much like its handling of Bruce Jenner’s transformation to Caitlyn, underscores a significant change in how we treat gender in America and signals,” note this language, “a more nuanced understanding of just how complex it is to discover and define who we are.”

Well, you bet its complex, and this article in USA Today indicates the cultural complicity in making sure that every American, regardless of age, is to understand that it is complex. This is the great invitation, no, indeed, it’s the great imperative that every one of us is on a quest to figure out who we are in terms of sexuality and gender and, evidently, that’s a wide-open experiment.

Of course, as you might expect, USA Today is ready to quote experts, and the other thing to note is that there are evidently experts aplenty ready to talk about this. One of them is identified as a women’s studies professor at Harvard University by the name of Michael Bronski. He said,

“We are embracing more complicated thinking that is allowing all of us as a culture to think about multiplicity rather than binaries.”

Don’t you love this kind of academic verbiage by the way? Now we are being told that we are liberated to think about multiplicity in terms of gender, rather than mere binaries. He went on to say,

“We as humans know that nothing is simple. The 40-year-old man in a heterosexual marriage may not be happy and that 13-year-old tomboy might not be a lesbian.”

I’ll just interject at this point that that sentence taken by itself would not be understandable just a few years ago. USA Today says that part of the question, “Who am I?” has always been tied to gender, but now that question is simply wide open—“especially,” they write, “for younger Americans.”

The paper says,

“The gender binary, experts say, is a cultural construct. It does not capture the rich and varied arrangements available for one’s sexual and gender identities. And it does not align with the unfettered attitude of a rising generation of young people who are increasingly gender fluid, eschew fixed labels and experiment with a host of new terms to explain who they are and how they live.”

Here we simply have to interject; there isn’t widespread evidence that a fairly large percentage of American young people are doing any such thing. At this point we’re not really talking about any kind of sophisticated or fair cultural analysis, we’re talking about a conversation that was prompted by a celebrity who was performing a publicity stunt, and evidently it was quite effective.

Another expert cited in the article is Sarah Richardson, a professor of social sciences at Harvard. Evidently, Harvard is the place where you can certainly go to find people ready to claim to be experts on this issue. She said,

“Young people will lead us in directions we have never imagined.”

She went on to say that she “studies what she calls gender’s ‘proliferating spectrum.’ On it,” she said, “we can move in many directions.”

Now here we need to note the evolution of this transgender argument or the evolution of the entire understanding of gender in terms of our contemporary structure. We’re now being told that it’s an alphabet of possibilities; it’s not just LGBT or male and female. It is now a proliferating spectrum. It is an endless set of options in terms of finding one’s self identity.

But according to USA Today, even as more and more young people are “transcending gender norms,” we are to understand that gender fluidity, get this, is nothing new. Now where is the evidence for this? They go back in terms of history to some isolated anecdotal examples in which someone was caught identifying as someone of the other gender or perhaps even wearing non-gender conforming clothing. But to state the matter clearly, there is no point in Western civilization in the past in which there was an understanding of pansexual or for that matter, an understanding of a proliferating spectrum of gender and sexual identities.

But to state the obvious also, there’s a basic contradiction within this article. You can’t do an article saying that this is new and unprecedented, it’s entirely characteristic of a new generation that never lived before, and then say, “Oh it’s actually not new at all. It was always there embedded and encoded, if sometimes hidden in terms of Western history.” No, it is a new thing.

But the big question is, is this new thing actually a thing? One of the realities we see about this transgender revolution is that it isn’t a stable project. It’s not even a stable project, not as a matter of over generations, but even over a matter of weeks or months, and increasingly, perhaps even hours. You can’t keep up with his argument, because the argument isn’t stable.

We also need to note in this USA Today story the kind of emotional language that is used, not just about those who are the cheerleaders for this moral revolution, but those who would dare to oppose it.

“As with all social change there is backlash.”

USA Today said,

“The slow demise of a long-established gender order has agitated those who view the binary as normal, natural and essential to America’s way of life.”

Now here we have to take this apart for just a moment. We’re being told that those who will not join and celebrate this moral revolution are not doing so precisely because we are agitated by the social change around us. Now, no doubt there is no shortage of agitation. But what the paper doesn’t recognize is the fact that this revolution is turning upside down the entire gender and sexuality understanding of Western civilization. We’re being told that not joining it, not celebrating it, perhaps even questioning it, is just evidence of being agitated by this moral revolution and the social change it is producing.

The other problematic part of that statement is that we’re being told that those of us who are agitated by this new social development are those who see the binary—remember that’s that old language of male and female as being—“normal, natural and essential to America’s way of life.”

Let’s be really careful. We are not arguing that this gender binary of what it means to be male and female is essential to the American way of life. It’s essential to the human way of life. We’re not grounding this in 1776 and arguing that this is normative for America, we are grounding it in creation as Scripture does, making very clear that this is God’s intention for all humanity throughout all time, regardless of where they might live. Making this an issue of American identity is completely to miss the point, except for one thing. America has now become one of those nations recognized around the world as cheerleading for, and even using political coercion to bring about, this moral revolution. USA Today makes clear that it’s cheerleading for this revolution in the very last line of this article,

“In a country where individual freedom is a fundamental component of its own identity, it seems the answer should be obvious: Anything you choose.”

Now just think about that for a moment. Here you have the absolutely ludicrous suggestion that in the name of American libertarian freedom, human beings, citizens of the United States included particularly, now have the right and the power to define ourselves entirely as we choose. When it comes to gender and sexuality, we can be “anything you choose.” Except, of course, you can’t. One of the saddest things about this moral revolution is that it will not be able, it won’t come even close to delivering on its promises. Where are the moral revolutionaries going to be when lives are devastated and hearts are broken, when a revolution they promised would bring human happiness fails to deliver?

Media and young hearts: American Academy of Pediatrics updates screen time recommendation

Next, looking to another sign of the times, the Washington Post reported,

“A major update relaxes screen time rules for some kids.”

The article is by Ariana Eunjung Cha. It again appeared in the Washington Post. She writes,

“In a world where we are surrounded 24/7 by all kinds of digital media from iPhones to electronic billboards, trying to figure out the maximum — or better yet optimal — amount of screen time that’s good for kids has been a challenge.”

Now the historic background to this isn’t very historic at all. It has to do with the fact that just in the last couple of years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that children under age 2 should have no, absolutely zero, exposure to electronic screens. But now the report is coming back from the very same group, the American Academy of Pediatrics, that, after all, it just might be possible that those children under age 2 could have some screen time. But they still warn about any extended screen time. The saddest thing about this article is the fact that even as its suggestions might be commonsensical, it basically admits the fact that there was no change in the medical research. There is rather the resignation of the fact that it’s simply going to happen. This isn’t actually about anything that pediatricians supposedly have discovered in terms of what’s good for children. It comes down, we might say, to the argument that if you can’t beat them, join them. And you might as well join them in a way that just might preserve at least some limitation upon screen time for children—not only those under age two, but all the way through adolescence.

The article in the Washington Post and the major study that is behind it from the American Academy of Pediatrics makes very clear that screen time for children and teenagers is more massive and pervasive than even we might have imagined. We’re being told that screen time, by the way, is not just in terms of smart phones and digital media, but it is also videogames, and it’s also really clear television still consumes much of the day for many if not most American children.

Looking at the youngest children, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that its official position is that it just might be okay for children up to about age 18 months or two years to have some very limited screen time in terms of digital devices, but it should be limited, they say, to the kind of face-to-face conversation that comes by products like FaceTime and Skype, and in particular they gave the example of children that age being able to communicate face-to-face with grandparents by means of this kind of digital media. As a grandparent, I’m the first to say I think this is a tremendous idea. It’s a great step forward for civilization. Except of course, it’s unlikely that many parents will stop there. And we also come to understand that the use of these screens might be, indeed probably is, more pervasive than even parents intend or might even know. That’s especially true for older children.

It’s now abundantly alarmingly clear that most American teenagers now have access to a smart phone and that smart phone has access to the Internet. We’re also told in this report that parents should know that American children and especially adolescents have what is called here a social media portfolio in terms of both platforms and devices. That is to say these children, especially teenagers, are spread over many kinds of digital media in terms of their interests, and of course screen time again includes also television. According to this article television remains the main consumption in terms of eye times of American children and teenagers, alarmingly so, with multiple hours a day. We’re also told that videogames are part of that social media portfolio, especially for boys.

“Boys are the most avid videogame players, 91% of boys reported having access to a game console.”

Again, that’s 91%. Frankly it’s hard to imagine how any technology could have become this pervasive among young children and teenagers quite so quickly.

“91% have access to a game console, 84% report playing video games online or on a cell phone.”

You simply have to wonder how many parents have any knowledge whatsoever of what their boys are doing in terms of these videogames and what their children are doing in terms of online entertainment and engagement. We should also note that the American Academy of Pediatrics actually this week released three different reports and policy statements. One of these releases, the one identified as the pediatrician’s policy statement, is entitled,

“Media and young minds.”

That really gets to the heart of the issue, except for Christians we understand it’s an even deeper issue than that. It’s not just media and young minds, it is perhaps even more importantly media and young hearts. If nothing else, we might say these three releases indicate a cry of the heart from pediatricians to America’s parents not to simply give in to the pervasive dominance of media in the lives and in the eyes of their own children and teenagers. That’s a cry that needs to be heard, and heard very quickly.

115 boys to 100 girls: Armenia outlaws sex-selective abortions to avoid looming demographic crisis

Finally, we need to note a very sad story telling us about the devaluation of human life and how there is a legacy from generation to generation that extends and builds upon this devaluation. The dateline in this story is from Yerevan in Armenia. It appears in a London-based newspaper The Guardian. The headline in the article,

“Law to cut sex-selective abortions in Armenia ‘putting lives at risk.’”

The article is by Florence Low writing from Yerevan. She says this,

“A new law designed to cut the high rate of sex-selective abortions in Armenia is inadequate, limiting women’s reproductive choices and putting lives at risk, according to women’s rights groups.”

Now, by the way, when you look at this kind of lede, you’ll notice that this is according to women’s rights groups. We shouldn’t be surprised that pro-abortion groups are pro-abortion and that they complain against and oppose every single law that would restrict abortion. What’s morally revealing, in this case most revealing, is the fact that this includes sex selective abortions. That is the specific targeting of a child in the womb according to gender, and that gender is almost always the gender female. It is almost always girl babies who are targeted for murder in terms of sex selective abortions, and it’s because of a preference in so many cultures for sons. It turns out that Armenia is second only to China and Azerbaijan in terms of countries in the world were sex selective abortions are now known to take place.

Authorities in Armenia are trying to reverse that nation’s disastrously low general birthrate, but they’re also trying to prevent or at least to discourage sex selective abortions by means of this law. And the sex ratio in Armenia is now radically out of sync. Whereas the birthrate, that is the ratio, should be very close to one-to-one in terms of 100 births, in 1991 there was an out of balance number of 105 boys for every 100 girls. But fast forward to 2015 and it’s fully 115 boys for every 100 girls. In China, successive generations of boy preference has led to the fact that there are now in Chinese culture so-called broken branches, that is the family tree that cannot be continued simply because there are now millions and millions of young men in China who will never have wives and can never be married. But it’s not only a matter about the imbalance of marriage, it’s also about the devaluation of human life and specifically of female human life.

I spoke about what this reveals about the generational pattern of the devaluation of life. The Guardian traces Armenia’s history here back to easy access to abortion as “one of the legacies of the Soviet Union,” which was, says the paper in reminding us, the first state, the first government to legalize the procedure in 1921. They go on to say that,

“Armenia’s birthrate has also dropped in the post-Soviet period: at present, 1.5 children are born per family, compared with 2.5 in the 1980s.”

There’s a larger pattern that is evident here, and it’s not limited to Armenia. And that is when any part of human life is devalued, in this case the lives of unborn girls or of girls and women in general, eventually all human life is devalued and the dignity and sanctity of every life is undermined.

We shouldn’t be surprised that this comes as the confluence of several points of evidence. One of them is the evidence of the continuing influence of the atheistic culture and abortion liberalism of the Soviet Union that is continuing even generations after the Soviet Union has fallen. But we also need to note that we’re looking here at the devaluation of all life, specifically in the sex selective abortions targeting girls, but also at the general drop in the birth rate. It’s not a coincidence, the biblical worldview would remind us, that these things tend to come together. After all, from a biblical perspective, the fact that they come together simply makes sense, very tragic sense.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing