January 4, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, January 4, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
What is a boy? Boy Scouts of America refuse membership to transgender "boy," controversy ensues
Those who are driving the moral and sexual revolution taking place around us tell those who have not yet joined the revolution that we must cease and desist any opposition and get in line, get on the right side of history, as they say. But sometimes it’s interesting to watch those who think they have joined the revolution when they hit a brick wall of reality. One situation that brings that to our attention is a story that ran recently in the New York Times having to do with the fact that the Cub Scouts, that’s a group for younger boys sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, has denied membership to a transgender boy—that’s how the child is identified in the New York Times article.
One of the interesting things we have here is the shock on the part of the New York Times and others that this just might be an issue and furthermore, that it might be an issue for any agency or part of the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts, you may remember, in recent years offered a near total capitulation to the sexual revolutionaries. They dropped their long-standing policy, a policy that they had previously defended successfully all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and instead announced that they would drop any concern about sexual orientation, at least in terms of heterosexuality and homosexuality, when it came to the involvement of boys in the Boy Scouts of America. In other words, they announced that they would accept openly gay boys into the organization. It wasn’t long before they then extended that policy also to accept openly gay scouting leaders. But evidently a certain amount of reality has prevented the Boy Scouts from taking one step further, and that is joining the transgender revolution.Show Full Transcript
One of the things we need to note at the onset is that the revolutionaries will not accept not for even a minute those who will join the revolution halfway. They demand nothing but total capitulation and this evidently has put the Boy Scouts in a very interesting predicament. Daniel Victor reporting for the New York Times tells us,
“In 2013, the Boy Scouts of America ended its ban on openly gay youths participating in its activities.
“Two years later, the organization ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders.
“Now, after an 8-year-old in Secaucus, N.J., was kicked out of his Cub Scout pack about a month after joining, scouting leaders are confronted with the decision to extend the welcome to transgender boys.”
I read the article just exactly as it is published in the print edition of the New York Times. The child at the center of the story is identified as an eight-year-old boy, and then comes the issue that the child is identified as a transgender boy. The boy, Joe Maldonado, quoted in The Record, that’s a newspaper in north New Jersey, said,
“It made me mad.”
The child continued,
“I had a sad face, but I wasn’t crying. I’m way more angry than sad. My identity is a boy. If I was them, I would let every person in the world go in. It’s right to do.”
Now just to state the matter as plainly as is possible, there is no possibility of having an organization known as the Boy Scouts of America that lets, as this boy now demands, “every person in the world go in.”
To any previous generation of human beings on planet earth, this would’ve made absolute sense, because after all, not every person in the world is a boy or can be defined as a boy and recognized as a boy, and without that there is no sense whatsoever to the Boy Scouts of America. Predictably, the point about the sexual revolutionaries demanding total capitulation was made by Zach Wahls, identified as a co-founder of Scouts for Equality, a group that the Times says “has fought for gay rights in scouting.”
“The Boy Scouts just spent several years trying to make right a decades-old policy that discriminated against gay people. The last thing they should be doing in this moment is creating a new, discriminatory policy that is out of touch in the 21st century.”
Responding to the controversy, the Boy Scouts of America offered a bit of moral sanity they stated that in this case the child “did not meet the eligibility requirements to participate.”
That’s bureaucratic language for the fact that the Boy Scouts of America does not recognize this child as a boy. The organization went on to state,
“If needed, we defer to the information provided for an individual’s birth certificate and their biological sex.”
The woman who responded for the Boy Scouts of America added that,
“Scouting teaches its youth members and adult leaders to be respectful of other people and individual beliefs.”
But at least on this issue, who knows for how long the Boy Scouts of America says that it intends for the Boy Scouts of America to include only boys in terms of its membership. This, by the way, stands in contrast with the Girl Scouts of America, who according to the Times directly answered questions about transgender members saying that,
“Placement of transgender youth is handled on a case-by-case basis, with the welfare and best interests of the child and the members of the troop/group in question a top priority.”
“That said,” according to the Girl Scouts of America, “if the child is recognized by the family and school/community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, then Girl Scouts is an organization that can serve her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe.”
At this point the New York Times article rather abruptly and surprisingly ends. It ends without any resolution whatsoever. It ends without a very specific call for the Boy Scouts of America to abandon their policy of reverting to biological sex in a birth certificate. But it also doesn’t end with any affirmation of that policy; it seems to be leaving in the balance the question of just how long and with what firmness the Boy Scouts of America might intend to continue with this policy against public opposition.
But that raises a different question, what kind of public opposition would come to this rather commonsense policy on the part of the Boy Scouts of America? It is unlikely that there will be any demand on the part of the Boy Scouts or of the parents of scouts for a change in this policy. This points to the fact that in this kind of a social and moral revolution most of the revolutionary energy comes from outside this kind of organization. It comes from those who are members of the cultural and intellectual elites, and that was the case in the capitulation of The Boy Scouts of America in 2013 and then again in 2015.
And one of the things that all of us should have at least in mind at this point is that Rex Tillerson, at least until recently the CEO of Exxon, was the man who as the head of the board of the Boy Scouts of America largely drove that change in policy. Now, we simply need to note, President-elect Donald J. Trump has nominated Tillerson to be the next Secretary of State of the United States of America. Some have tried to assure social conservatives that the State Department really has nothing to do with morality, but that flies in the face of the fact that for the last eight years, the administration of President Barack Obama has used the State Department precisely to further this kind of moral revolution. Just ask the people in a nation such as the Dominican Republic where the Obama administration through the State Department sent an openly gay and then openly gay-married ambassador to that nation with the explicit and overt message that the Dominican Republic and other nations had better get with the moral revolution as well or lose crucial American support. It is simply implausible to say that the Department of State of the United States of America doesn’t take sides in this kind of a moral revolution. It has for the last eight years and, given the volatility and centrality these issues, it will continue to do so. The question is, what will be its policy under President Donald J. Trump?
What is a woman? National Women's Hockey League accepts biological men in new transgender policy
This brings us to yet another very interesting story that ran in the New York Times on a similar issue, this time not about the Boy Scouts of America or the Cub Scouts, but rather about the National Women’s Hockey League. In the sports pages of the New York Times, Matt Higgins writes that a league with a transgender player has come up with a transgender policy. Higgins writes,
“With social change moving quickly across the professional sports landscape, the National Women’s Hockey League was playing catch-up. For the past three months, the only professional sports league in North America with an openly transgender player had no transgender policy in place.”
But Higgins says all that has changed.
“Now, the architects of new guidelines for such players in the [National Women’s Hockey League] say the fledgling four-team league, in only its second season of existence, is prepared to take a leading position when it comes to treatment of transgender players.”
Of course, there’s a huge issue here. It’s the same kind of issue that appears with the question of whether or not you can have the Boy Scouts of America when you don’t know what a boy is. The same issue is raised by the National Women’s Hockey League. How can you have such a league with the name women right in the name of the league if you don’t know what a woman is? And it turns out that even though this very young league has come up with now a very new policy, there are those who already understand that there is something amiss here. Just consider this paragraph in the article in the New York Times.
“The guidelines are three pages with a stated purpose of supporting ‘athletes choosing to express their gender beyond the binary of female and male.’”
According to the Times, the most restrictive conditions relate to those who make a transition from male to female.
“Circumstances that typically have raised questions about fairness. An athlete cannot change her gender again for a minimum of four years and must demonstrate that her testosterone level is ‘within typical limits of women athletes,’ subject to testing.”
Now notice here that the word ‘women’ is used in an altogether different sense than throughout most of human history until at least very recently. But remember that the sexual revolutionaries say that we have to buy into the entirety not only of the sexual revolution, not only of the LGB, but also of the T that is the transgender revolution.
But as much as this league is now applauded for the new policy, it’s very revealing that this very policy makes a crucial distinction between men transitioning we are told to be women and women transitioning we are now told to be men. And the reason for this is biology. It turns out that biology isn’t merely a social construct. It turns out that even right down to skeletal structure genetics and, for that matter, even when it comes down to hormones, there still is a crucial difference, and that difference turns out to have an athletic application in meaning. That point was made most tellingly in the article by Joanna Harper identified as a medical physicist at Providence Portland Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, also identified as a transgender woman. According to the article, this physicist has advised the International Olympic Committee on its gender guidelines. The medical physicist said,
“‘Transgender women will have advantages.’ [Indicating] that transgender women had never dominated in any sport. ‘Specifically, transgender women are taller, larger, they have more muscle mass. Those are all facts.’”
Just consider those last words.
“Those are all facts.”
That’s an exceedingly important statement.
“Those are all facts.”
And facts, after all, are crucially important because truth is important. One of the interesting things here to note is how reductionistic many people are in this kind of moral revolution when it comes to facts. And yet there’s a certain point at which the facts can’t be denied. The truth becomes exceedingly obvious. And even in a league, in this case the National Women’s Hockey League, that is being applauded for its open-mindedness in coming up with these guidelines, there still is a crucial distinction between what is claimed to be a man transitioning to be a woman and a woman transitioning to be a man. Why? Well, it’s because the sporting league has to be concerned not only with the court of public opinion, but with the hockey rink and what happens on the ice.
At this point trying to think through a Christian worldview, one of the things we need to note is the inherent limitation upon this kind of sexual revolution. The revolution hits a wall when it comes to the transgender claims and with those who claim and demand absolute and total capitulation. That’s because certain very important and central institutions in society become untenable. Society itself, the culture as a project becomes unworkable if you eliminate the meaningful distinctions between man and woman, between male and female, between boy and girl. So even those who claim to be champions of this moral revolution find themselves running up against opposition sometimes just in the form of facts, even facts that have to be recognized in a three page detailed policy that is celebrated as representing an advance in professional sports leagues, in this case a very young and very small league known as the National Women’s Hockey League.
It turns out that just as it is very difficult to have any kind of coherence to the Boy Scouts of America if you don’t know what a boy is, you really can’t have the National Women’s Hockey League if you are uncertain or are unwilling to stipulate what you genuinely believe a woman is. The policy itself is confused but the distinctions found in the policy indicate the conundrum.
When it comes to the transgender revolution, the rhetoric outpaces the realistic
Secondly, we also need to note something else—not only the persistence of this kind of truth, but the persistence of reality as reflected in language. This point was made brilliantly in a recent article by Natasha Vargas-Cooper published in the American Conservative in the January/February 2017 edition of the magazine. The main point of the article by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, who is herself an acclaimed feminist, is the fact that as we have pointed out again and again there is a head-on collision between the worldview of feminism and the worldview of the LGBT revolutionaries. Vargas-Cooper argues forcefully that modern feminism requires an understanding of biology and gender that is incompatible with the transgender revolution and the demands of those revolutionaries. This is that head-on collision. Writing about many on the contemporary left, Vargas-Cooper argues,
“There has long been a strain in leftist utopian thought that biology is largely a myth or, in the college dorm parlance, a construct. The notion is embedded in the language used by many women on college campuses today.”
“But,” says Vargas-Cooper, “you can’t have feminism if you are uncertain what a female is or if you’re arguing that to be female or male or anything in between or anything otherwise is simply a matter of social construction rather than of biology.”
At this point, Vargas-Cooper brilliantly inserts a distinction. It is in different words than we have used previously on The Briefing, but it is exactly the same argument. In her words, there’s now a distinction between what she calls “the realistic” and “the rhetorical” when it comes to the transgender revolution. The argument she’s making is actually quite simple to understand. The rhetoric of the transgender revolutionaries outruns realism, even their own applied realism. Considering the rhetorical claims of the transgender revolutionaries, Vargas-Cooper simply notes it can’t happen. It won’t happen. And in that judgment, we wholeheartedly concur.
On America’s college and university campuses today, the very idea that gender, even biology, is a social construct has become something of the norm. But the thing we also need to note is that that’s simply a matter of the rhetoric. In terms of realism it isn’t that way at all. On these campuses, it is taught in the classroom and often it is affirmed in the dormitory conversation that gender is merely a social construct that really doesn’t exist. But when it comes to the sexual mores, when it comes to the actual way that students relate to one another, it’s really clear that being male or female is still the norm and that those distinctions continue.
Further evidence of this argument becomes very clear in a series of articles that appeared before the end of the year, telling us that many colleges and universities looking at the imbalance of registration between women and men, especially in their freshman classes—the norm is inching up towards 65% women, 35% young men—many of these colleges are deciding to add new athletic and sporting programs in order to attract the attention of more young men who might apply for admission to these colleges and universities. To state the matter just as clearly as I can, you have one page in a major newspaper saying that colleges are trying to recruit more young men, making very clear the commonsense assumption that everyone knows what they’re talking about when they use the expression ‘young men’, while in the other pages, especially the editorial pages, they are championing the rhetorical claims of the transgender revolutionaries and those who claim that gender in general simply is a social construction.
As a final piece of evidence in terms of this review, I look to yesterday’s edition of the Boston Globe. Here on the front page of the Metropolitan section is a headline,
“Cambridge School tackles gender climate.”
“New curriculum designed to help boys treat girls with more respect.”
Now before we even look at the article, just consider the subheading and the headline. Also consider the setting. We’re talking about Cambridge, Massachusetts. Perhaps you could simply add Berkeley, California for the bipolar centers of the kind of ideological revolution we’re talking about in terms of the academic elites. But even in Cambridge, Massachusetts it turns out that most people still depend upon the distinction between boy and girl, and even a paper as liberal as the Boston Globe uses the word boys and girls in the subhead of an article without any scare quotes around the words, that is quotation marks indicating that these words are merely terms of art.
Reporter Jeremy C. Fox tells us that the historic Rindge & Latin School there in Cambridge is poised to become one of 18 schools across the country’s to introduce a new curriculum called “LiveRespect,” which was developed by the violence prevention organization, A Call to Men. Simply note the use of the word ‘men’ quite casually and comfortably within that paragraph. Later we read,
“The LiveRespect curriculum will join a series of other measures educators have taken since April’s student walkout to address relations between boys and girls.”
Again, this means at the Rindge & Latin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, again, the use of the word boys and girls in a commonsensical way. Why would the paper use these terms in this way if they’re merely terms of art? It’s because they’re absolutely necessary to any commonsense understanding of the world and furthermore, they are mandated by reality.
Remembering the distinction made by Vargas-Cooper between the realistic and the rhetorical, we simply have to note, as you might expect, that this curriculum is a curriculum that itself seems to be quite at peace with the kind of rhetorical excesses that might come from the sexual revolutionaries. But even in describing this program and the school’s decision, well there you have it, the word boys and girls, as if we’re supposed to know what those words mean and why they matter, because of course they do, even in a newspaper like the Boston Globe trying to write an article about a school at the epicenter of the moral revolution in America in Cambridge, Massachusetts, of all places.
This is where Christians operating out of a biblical worldview have to remind ourselves that we too must be very careful about falling into our own pattern of failing to distinguish between the rhetorical and the real, that is between the rhetorical and the realistic in terms of Vargas-Cooper’s language. And we also have to remember that realism in this case is not merely an artifact of some kind of physical existence. It is that, of course, but Christians operating out of a biblical worldview also understand the cosmos itself was created by our sovereign and providential, perfect Creator as a reflection of his own glory, and that he created human beings in his image, as the Scripture says, “male and female created he them,” as a reflection not only of his glory in the single creature made in his image, but also of his purpose for the very creation of humanity in the first place, always from the beginning as male and as female.
The transgender dimension of the sexual revolution taking place around us is sad evidence of the reality of the Fall and of the confusion that falls upon the human creature by the very fact of the Fall and the reality of human sinfulness. But we must be very careful as Christians to remember that the distinctions between male and female, between man and woman, boy and girl, are not only real because they’re natural, but they’re natural because the supernatural Creator made us this way. And it is also very important in terms of those operating from a biblical worldview to understand that a revolution, no matter how much cultural energy that is behind it, that tries to accomplish what nature simply will not allow will not itself succeed, certainly not in the long run.