November 30, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, November 30th, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Authenticity in advertising or hypocrisy in posturing? Down Syndrome and recent advertising trends
The New York Times recently ran an article by Jeanne Bonner. It was entitled,
“In Toy Ads and on the Catwalk, Models With Down Syndrome.”Show Full Transcript
“In a new commercial for the Fisher-Price Little People Sit ‘n Stand Skyway, Lili Boglarka Havasi claps and smiles as the cars zoom down the plastic raceway. It’s a typical holiday toy ad except for one fact: Lili has Down syndrome.”
Bonner then writes,
“While many advertisers over the years have featured people with disabilities from time to time, models with Down syndrome recently have become more visible. In addition to Lili, the 2-year-old model from Budapest featured in the Fisher-Price ad, people with Down syndrome have appeared in ads for Target, McDonald’s, the crafts chain A. C. Moore and the online retailer Zulily. Models with Down syndrome have even been spotted recently on New York catwalks.”
Christians looking at a story like this understand that a great deal more is at stake than advertising and popular culture, and that’s actually made very clear in the article. Bonner writes that,
“For advertisers, people with Down syndrome are not a large constituency — only about 6,000 babies with the condition are born in the United States each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 250,700 people with Down syndrome were living in the United States as of 2008. However, advertisers say that using models with Down syndrome or a physical disability allows them to communicate their values and connect with customers, particularly millennials, who respond to inclusiveness and are looking for [here’s the word] ‘authenticity’ in advertising.”
It tells you something that the word authenticity is itself put in quotation marks. Here’s the great problem with this ad: there is nothing but good news in the fact that the ad and the newspaper articles are giving attention to the humanity of those with Down syndrome. That is by any measure a good thing. The problem is the context, and the context tells us that there something less than an actual commitment to the full humanity and dignity of those with Down syndrome on the part of those who are looking for, the word was “authenticity in advertising.” The advertising context here is made clear when Bob Witeck, a former executive with the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton and a communications strategist in Washington, D.C., said that millennials,
“…expect to see a broad cross-section of families, couples and individuals, including people who are developmentally disabled as a matter of truthfulness.”
Well, truthfulness is also undoubtedly a good. The question is just how much truth is here being embraced? Teresa Gonzalez Ruiz, the vice president for brand marketing at Fisher-Price said that,
“The company began using child models with Down syndrome last year in response to the increasing diversity of its global customer base.”
“The consumer mind-set has really changed. Millennials are so in tune with causes. The biggest shift I’ve seen as a marketer is that in the past three to five years of talking to moms, they care about the product but they also really want to know where the company stands.”
Some parents of children with Down syndrome are celebrating this trend saying that it affirms the distinctive beauty of people with Down syndrome.
“My goal is simply to raise awareness that these kids can be models, too, and then the world sees them.”
Those words were stated by Megan Nash of Buford, Georgia. She’s the mother of 15-month-old Asher who has Down syndrome and, we are told, will soon be modeling for the Oshkosh children’s clothing line.
On The Briefing we regularly talk about the reality of Down syndrome and we affirm the fact that the Christian worldview, that biblical worldview is actually the only worldview that can undergird the claim that every single human being at every point of development, at every year of age and under every genetic condition, is an individual made in God’s image and thus is to be respected and welcomed into the human community and is to be seen simply by virtue of being made in the image of God as genuinely beautiful. Increased attention to those with Down syndrome and the affirmation of their humanity is to be genuinely welcomed, but the problem is signaled in the fact that this is now presented as an advertising trend, and one that’s actually tied to a single generation, the millennials who evidently are demanding—and there’s that word in quotation marks—“authenticity in advertising.”
The vice president for brand marketing at Fisher-Price said that the advertisement using a child with Down syndrome was a signal of where the company stands and, furthermore, we’re being told that millennials and other Americans now demand truthfulness in advertising. Well, here’s a bit of truth for us. The vast majority of unborn children diagnosed as likely being affected by Down syndrome are now being aborted. You have to wonder where Fisher-Price stands on that.
The world is filled with moral posturing. It’s a form of sin that comes to every single human being. We want to be seen as holding to the right position. But what exactly is the right position here? The right position is not merely about the beauty of a child with Down syndrome playing with a toy, the issue is the beauty of every single human being, including emphatically those with Down syndrome, simply by virtue of being made in the image of God. If we’re actually going to lean into authenticity and truthfulness, then we have to admit our sins as a society in aborting the vast majority of those who are here being celebrated in terms of authenticity in advertising. Again, we can only welcome this affirmation of the dignity of those with Down syndrome. But we have to be willing to affirm that dignity at every cost and at every opportunity, and we have to point to the deep hypocrisy in a society that wants to congratulate itself on one hand while aborting the vast majority of those diagnosed with Down syndrome on the other.
About two years ago, all of this came to our attention in particular with the blog post by the leading if not most influential atheist in the world today, Richard Dawkins, a scientist formerly of Oxford University. When raising the scenario about a child to be born with Down syndrome, Dawkins said,
“I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down syndrome. Real ethical dilemma.”
He then tweeted just a few seconds later,
“Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into a world if you have the choice.”
Now note very carefully. There’s so much here. We have this child reduced even hypothetically to an it, merely an it. ‘Its’ are not made in the image of God, he and she is made in the image of God, every single human being is made in the image of God, not an it. When controversy ensued Dawkins fired back,
“Parents who care for their children with Down syndrome usually form strong bonds of affection with them as they would with any child.”
He went on to say, diabolically,
“I have sympathy for this emotional point, but it is an emotional one not a logical one.”
Dawkins in the most chilling phrase then continued,
“If your morality is based as is mine on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.”
That calculation of happiness or a lack of happiness is likely to be immediately refuted by those with Down syndrome and by those who love them. But the important thing to note here is that the basic problem is with the worldview. Richard Dawkins admits that, according to his worldview, the world would simply be better off without those who have some form of deficiency or deformity. Those who are not perfect, well, they’re simply not a part of the picture. The psalmist David reminds us that we are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. That is every single one of us. Those with Down syndrome, no less fearfully and wonderfully made, no less display the glory of God in every possible respect.
Bonner’s article goes on to say that a spokesperson for Target, Jenna Reck, said that,
“The use of children with Down syndrome in its advertising is part of a ‘concerted effort’… [in order to] reach out to various communities within its customer base.”
“It does not happen on a whim. Target always wants to reflect its customers. As society changes and people’s views change, Target reflects that in its advertising, including using models with disabilities and Down syndrome.”
Now let’s hope, let’s indeed pray that this advertising trend might lead, might even be used in order to bring about a more fundamental change, a change not just in the eyes of Americans, but a change in their heart and a change in their worldview. And we should certainly affirm the demand for authenticity and a truthfulness not only in advertising, but in life. And that means that if we’re going to be authentic and we’re going to have to be truthful, we’re going to have to tell the truth about this society and Down syndrome. And then we as Christians have to tell the even more fundamental truth about the reality of the image of God and the dignity of every single human being. Without an understanding of the biblical worldview and an affirmation of the Scripture’s definition of what it means to be human and thus made in the image of God, this is merely an advertising pattern, a trend that has appeared and will just as quickly go away.
A new kind of evangelicalism? The Doctrine of Scripture and Red Letter Christianity
The New York Times also entered our cultural conversation in a different way yesterday on the opinion pages with an article entitled,
“The Evangelicalism of Old White Men Is Dead.”
The authors of the article, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne, both of them very well known for writing and speaking from the so-called evangelical left, they write,
“As the election retreats like a hurricane heading back out to sea, first responders are assessing the damage left in its wake. One casualty is the reputation of evangelicalism.”
They are openly arguing that evangelicalism as a movement and as an identification mark has simply lost its moral cogency in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. They went on to say,
“As white male evangelists, we have no problem admitting that the future does not lie with us. It lies with groups like the National Latino Evangelical Coalition… or the Moral Monday movement… [which they say] has challenged the news media on its narrow portrayal of evangelicals. For decades, we have worked within evangelicalism to lift up the voices of these ‘other evangelicals.’”
But it’s not an understatement to say that the evangelical left has been trying to redefine evangelicalism not just in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, but ever since the evangelical movement emerged right after the end of the Second World War. In one crucial paragraph in their argument they write,
“We want to be clear: We are not suggesting a new kind of Christianity that simply backs the Democratic Party. Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican — even if, as William Sloane Coffin Jr. once said, his heart leans left. Many faithful Christians did not vote for Hillary Clinton because of their commitment to a consistent pro-life agenda. True faith can never pledge allegiance to anything less than Jesus.”
Well, that last segment, of course, includes a great deal of truth. True Christian faith can never pledge ultimate allegiance to anything less than Jesus. But I think they’re actually saying a bit more than that. But what’s really interesting is that even as Campolo and Claiborne note that many evangelicals didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because of their commitment to a consistent pro-life agenda, they don’t actually affirm that decision in the slightest. They continue by writing,
“True faith can never pledge allegiance to anything less than Jesus”—without any obvious connection to what they had just written.
But then they go on to say,
“But Jesus-centered faith needs a new name. Christians have retired outdated labels before. During the late 19th century, when scientific rationalism fueled the questioning of Scripture, ‘fundamentalism’ arose as an intelligent defense of Christianity. By the 1930s, however, fundamentalism was seen as anti-intellectual and judgmental. It was then that the term ‘evangelicalism’ was put forward by Christianity Today’s first editor, Carl F. H. Henry, as a new banner under which a broad coalition of Jesus followers could unite.”
Well, there’s a statement that also has a great deal of truth in it. Carl Henry was one of the founding fathers of the modern evangelical movement, but Henry would likely not identify with the fact that that movement was a new banner under which a broad coalition of merely Jesus followers could unite. That evangelicalism was very defined in theological terms, and no one sought to be more precise in that theological definition in terms of affirming the full measure of biblical orthodoxy than Carl Henry himself.
Those familiar with Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne will not be surprised with how they conclude their article. They’re continuing an argument that they have been making together for years. It comes down to this:
“The words of Jesus — which are printed in red in many Bibles — could not be more relevant today. Despite the terrible things done in the name of Jesus, a Christianity that stays true to his words has survived for 2,000 years. Maybe this is a moment in our history for evangelicals to repent and be ‘born again’ again as Red Letter Christians.”
Well, here’s the huge problem. We are not given the Scripture as red letters and black letters. Here’s a little problem with that entire idea. The very conception of a red letter Bible is problematic for two huge reasons. I’m not saying you should abandon them, but you need to listen very carefully to these two warnings. The first warning is this: we’re not absolutely sure in terms of the Gospels where the words of Jesus would be in direct quotes and thus would be printed in red. One example of that is simply to look at John chapter 3. Where in the course of John chapter 3 do the words of Jesus as direct quotations end and where does the Holy Spirit inspire John to begin explaining what Jesus has said? It is impossible for New Testament scholars or for any fair reader of Scripture to be able to make an absolute determination of that. That’s the first problem. The second problem is what a red letter Bible implies. It implies that there are certain words of Scripture which are more inspired, more truthful, and more authoritative than others.
Jesus himself warns against the very idea of a red letter Bible when pointing to the Old Testament. He said that “These are they”—that is the Scriptures—“that testify of me.” But we also need to recognize that even the four Gospels include a great deal of what even in a red letter New Testament is still black text, and it remains just as authoritative as do the red words. And the same thing is true for the entirety of Scripture, and especially as we understand, for the remainder of the New Testament. That’s the real problem here. You have an embarrassment on the part of many on the evangelical left of virtually the entire Old Testament, but also of a great deal of the New Testament. And you have something that appeared as a pattern early in the development of Protestant liberalism, and that is a massive embarrassment, in particular with the apostle Paul. You’ll hear many people on evangelical left speak of issues such as abortion or for that matter sexuality, in particular same-sex relationships, and say Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. Well, that’s not exactly true, as we’ve often repeated here on The Briefing. But what’s also abundantly clear is that the apostle Paul does speak directly to issues including homosexuality, and that’s the real problem.
Many who are affirming becoming what they call red letter Christians mean leaving the rest of the Scripture behind as an embarrassment. Here we need to remind ourselves that the church doctrine of Scripture affirms that every single word of Scripture is inspired and every word is equally fully inspired. We do not believe that the Holy Spirit merely inspired the direct quotations which are printed in red in a red letter New Testament. We believe that the Holy Spirit has inspired every single word of Scripture, and we believe that a full affirmation of the Scripture principle is necessary for the orthodox shape of evangelical theology and for the continued convictional fidelity of the church.
There can be no doubt that evangelicalism is a diverse movement and that the word evangelical is a contested term, but if it is to mean anything it must start with a theological definition. And that theological definition cannot be reduced to the portions of Scripture we wish to retain even in the name of the authority of the red letters. That theological conviction has to be deeply rooted in the entirety of Scripture. Writers such as Campolo and Claiborne have every right to call evangelicalism to a consistent affirmation of every word of Scripture, but what rings false is the elevation of certain words over other words, because we eventually note what that surely will mean the abandonment of much of Scripture in order to reshape not only evangelicalism, but the historic teaching of the Christian church.
Is it wrong to subject gorillas to captivity? Man, the image of God, and creation
Next, while we’re thinking about human dignity, the Financial Times of London recently had an article entitled,
“Gorillas deserve more than captivity for human thrills.”
Anjana Ahuja writing for the Financial Times tells us that there is a moral change taking place in terms of what’s happening at the zoo or who is inhabiting the zoo. When it comes down to gorillas and other primates, she says there is an evolving new worldview that says that it might just be wrong for them to be subject to captivity and then to our observation in a zoo. She writes,
“A recent, albeit failed, attempt to ascribe personhood to pet chimps, and fresh Californian laws against the use of killer whales for entertainment, also shows how our attitudes towards other species are evolving.”
Now the most interesting thing about this is the affirmation of the fact that the subversion of human dignity, the compromising confusion of human dignity, comes from more than one direction and at the service of more than one cause. The Christian worldview would affirm that there is every reason, indeed responsibility, to be careful faithful stewards of all that God has given us in creation, and that would include all the creatures in creation. But that biblical worldview also makes a very clear unmistakable distinction between the human creature and every other creature, and once again that goes back to the fact that human beings and human beings alone are made in the image of God.
It is important, however, for us to recognize the relative amount of outrage or the lack of outrage from certain quarters when it comes to the distinction between abuse of animals and the abuse of a human being. What animal rights activists don’t actually understand is that all of their moral concern for animals can actually only be undergirded by the reality of the biblical worldview that makes a clear distinction between the human creature and all other creatures, but also makes the point that every creature is important in the eye of the creator, but not equally important.
As wildfires blaze across the American South, we should pray for the first responders and rain
Finally, in terms of human dignity and the value of human life, we need to be very concerned, indeed urgently prayerful, for all those in the region of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Tennessee, where raging wildfires are now encroaching into those towns. And even though it is not yet clear exactly what damage has already come about and may come soon, it is clear that this is a major disaster for those in that region. And it reminds us of the truly horrifying threat of fire. We should pray for those who are in the inhabitants of that area and we also need to pray for first responders. As Representative Jason Zachary, he’s the U.S. Representative of Tennessee’s 14th district, said perceptively,
“We evacuate, they run toward the danger.”
We must pray that the Lord will send relief and rain.