March 3, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, March 3, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Two rival visions of religious liberty: Debating religious freedom and freedom from discrimination
The inevitable collision between religious liberty and the sexual revolution has not always brought out the best in terms of the media, in terms of both coverage and analysis. But an excellent counterexample to that neglect was found recently in National Public Radio. It was a report that was aired on NPR’s Morning Edition program on February 28. The reporter was NPR’s Tom Gjelten. Just over a year ago when my book “We Cannot Be Silent” was released, one of the major emphases that I was making was that there is this inevitable collision between religious liberty and the sexual revolution. I’m glad to say that this NPR report picked up on that very same theme. Tom Gjelten wrote,
“The collision of two core American values — freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination — is prompting a showdown in legislatures and courts across the country.Show Full Transcript
“For some conservatives, religious freedom means the right to act on their opposition to same-sex marriage and other practices that go against their beliefs. LGBT advocates and their allies, meanwhile, say no one in the United States should face discrimination because of their sexual orientation.”
“President Trump is said to be considering an executive order to bar the federal government from punishing people or institutions that support marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.”
And as he points out, the President’s proposed executive order is similar to legislation initiated by Republican Senator Ted Cruz and also Senator Mike Lee, the first of Texas, the second of Utah. That bill is known as the First Amendment Defense Act.
Gjelten then writes,
“Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Congress is barred from enacting ‘an establishment of religion,’ but neither can it prohibit ‘the free exercise thereof.’ The question under current debate is what it means to ‘exercise’ [that word is put in quotation marks] one’s religion.”
He then says this,
“If a football coach is not allowed to lead his team in a public prayer, or a high school valedictorian is not given permission to read a Bible passage for her graduation speech, or the owner of a private chapel is told he cannot refuse to accommodate a same-sex wedding, they might claim their religious freedom has been infringed.”
“Others,” Gjelten continued, “might argue that such claims go against the principle of church-state separation, or that they undermine the rights of LGBT people to be free from discrimination.”
Now that’s a fair set up of this kind of story and, furthermore, the illustrations that were given here, the examples, weren’t figments of someone’s imagination. Every one of these is effectively drawn not just from recent headlines, but from a slew of recent headlines. For his classic example of this inevitable collision, Gjelten actually went back several years to a case that emerged right after the Commonwealth of Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in that state. That was years before the Obergefell decision by the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. He wrote,
“One of the thorniest cases involves Catholic Charities, whose agencies long have provided adoption and foster care services to children in need, including orphans. Under Catholic doctrine, the sacrament of marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman, and Catholic adoption agencies therefore have declined to place children with same-sex couples.”
But he says,
“When Massachusetts (and other jurisdictions) redefined marriage to include same-sex couples, making it illegal to deny adoption to them., the Catholic agencies closed down their adoption services and argued that their religious freedom had been infringed.”
Gjelten then cites Stanley Carlson-Thies, who is founder of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, who said,
“One of the major activities of the [Catholic] church, going way back, was to look after the orphans. For that to be illegal unless the religious people change their standard, seems to me … unfortunate.”
After that very clear quote from an authority in defense of religious liberty, Gjelten then explained,
“But to the LGBT community and its supporters, a refusal to place a child for adoption with a same-sex couple is unacceptable discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.”
“Those who oppose anti-discrimination efforts are often portrayed as out of step with the growing public acceptance of same-sex unions.”
So here in this report Gjelten cited an advocate for religious liberty, then he offered an explanatory paragraph. Then he offers a statement, a clear quote from someone who is opposed to this definition of religious liberty and is instead representing the LGBT movement. Karen Narasaki, identified as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said,
“I can’t think of a single civil rights law that doesn’t have some people who are unhappy about it. But once the country has said, ‘Well, we believe that people who are LGBT need to be protected from discrimination, then how do you make sure that happens?”
Now at this point I want to underline that this is exactly what any fair-minded person should expect from this kind of media report. You have an accurate and very clear statement from someone on one side of the issue, and you have an explanatory paragraph that’s fairly constructed, and then you have a statement from the opposing viewpoint. That’s very fair. It gives listeners or readers the opportunity to understand the actual arguments that are at stake.
Gjelten went on then to point back to last September when the U.S. Civil Rights Commission handed down a report, now considered by many Christians to be nothing short of infamous, in which it clearly declared religious liberty to be a form of discrimination rather than a basic and fundamental human right respected by the U.S. Constitution. Gjelten cited the statement inside that report made by the commission’s chairman Martin R. Castro who said,
“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.”
What we really see here is the language of intolerance used in order to be intolerant. At this point Tom Gjelten turns to someone who offers something of a neutral perspective, or at least a perspective from outside of the fray. In this case it’s Charles Haynes, Director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum Institute in Washington, who’s making the point in the article that religious conservatives should be entitled to make claims of conscience in these cases before courts. He said,
“We may not like the claim of conscience, but you know, we don’t judge claims of conscience on whether we like the content of the claim. We are trying to protect the right of people to do what they feel they must do according to their God. That is a very high value.”
Now that’s a fairly admirable statement coming from someone who functions as an authority in this sense, but it takes on a particular importance when you consider that Charles Haynes even in this article comes out squarely in support of LGBT rights and the larger revolution. But he doesn’t believe that in this collision between religious liberty and the sexual revolution there have to be predetermined winners and losers. And furthermore, it seems that he’s arguing it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Haynes said further,
“Nondiscrimination is a great American principle — it’s a core American principle — as is religious freedom. When you have two important American principles coming into tension, into conflict with one another, our goal as Americans is to sit down and try to see if we can uphold both.”
My only real criticism of that statement is that it puts these two sides, these two claims, on an equal footing when there’s no question that religious liberty is foundational and clearly called for as respected in the U.S. Constitution, right there in Article I of the Bill of Rights. But remember that’s exactly where Gjelten went when he took up the issue of the free exercise of religion and asked the question, what does exercise mean?
Now in this article he cites Bishop Michael Curry, who is the leader of the Episcopal Church in the United States who appeared before the Council on Foreign Relations. He said that he has witnessed the persecution of Christians in other parts of the world and he doesn’t see anything like an infringement of religious liberty here in this country. He said,
“I’m not worried about my religious freedom. I get up and go to church on Sunday morning, ain’t nobody stopping me. My freedom to worship is protected in this country, and that’s not going to get taken away. I have been in places where that’s been infringed. That’s not what we’re talking about.”
Well, indeed, that’s not what we’re talking about, but we’re not talking about merely freedom of worship. We’re talking about freedom of religion; we’re talking about religious liberty; we’re talking about the free exercise of religion, and that is not limited to freedom of worship, even though this became rather commonplace during the Obama Administration when officials inside the administration and in his Department of State began to redefine religious liberty as nothing other than, nothing more than, freedom of worship. We need to recognize that what this effectively does is to say that you can be permitted to do whatever you want to do, teach whatever you want to teach, say whatever you want to say, inside your church building, but not outside of those confines. You can’t bring your theology nor your moral arguments into the public square. But that is not the free exercise of religion and to Gjelten’s credit, he understands the issue here. He says,
“Curry’s reference only to ‘freedom to worship,’ however, missed the point, according to some religious freedom advocates. They say they want the freedom to exercise their faith every day of the week, wherever they are — even if it means occasionally challenging the principle of absolute equality for all.”
Those of us who are very much concerned about the future of religious liberty in this nation, about the future of America’s respect for the Constitution’s definition of the free exercise of religion, will find plenty to distress us in terms of the issues addressed in Tom Gjelten’s report. But the report itself is a model of what Christians, thinking Christians, should hope for and expect from major media. Thus far, Tom Gjelten’s report is just about the only of which I am aware in the mainstream media that understands the distinction in the current debate between mere freedom of worship and the free exercise of religion. NPR’s headline for the segment was this,
“In Religious Freedom Debate, 2 American Values Clash.”
Well, that’s true and accurate, but it could just have easily have said that what we see in this clash are two rival visions of religious liberty, or the free exercise of religion. That’s just as big a story, and religious liberty truly does hang in the balance.
Morality and economics: When investing according to biblical values is viewed as "intolerant"
Next, it just might be that economics is about as clear an x-ray into our worldview as is possible, and keep that in mind when yesterday the New York Times ran a front-page story in its business section with this headline,
“Funds Invoke Bible Values in Choosing Investments.”
The continuation of the article on the inside had the headline,
“Funds Invoke Bible Values, Others See Intolerance.”
As you might expect, there’s a pretty big story here. Liz Moyer reporting for the Times tells us,
“Serving both God and money has long been an aim of fund companies that exclude “sin stocks” of companies dealing in tobacco, guns, gambling and the like in their investments.”
But now she says,
“Two new exchange traded funds offer a conservative evangelical — what is called ‘biblically responsible’ — tilt to that investing approach. The funds explicitly say in their regulatory filing that they will avoid buying shares in companies that have ‘any degree of participation in activities that do not align with biblical values,’ including what they call the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ‘lifestyle.’
“The approach is squarely at odds with that of nearly all of corporate America.”
Now, if we didn’t go any further in the story, that last sentence would be pretty explosive. We are told that this particular moral perspective is at odds, “squarely at odds” says the reporter, with that of merely all of corporate America. Indeed, as we’ve been watching the progression of this moral revolution on issues of marriage and sexuality and gender, we’ve noted that at some point, some point in the past now, corporations considered that they had reached the point at which it was to their advantage, to the advantage of their company and its interest and their brand, to be seen as champions of this sexual revolution. They had been opposed to it at some point, and then they went quiet for some years, and then they became vocal champions. In that sense, the New York Times is exactly right. Anyone who stands to any degree, any company that stands in any way against this revolution is really setting itself apart from the larger corporate community. And in this case, it takes the form of ETF’s, that is exchange traded funds. To make the trend in corporate America perfectly clear, Moyer wrote,
“Ninety-two percent of the Fortune 500 companies include ‘sexual orientation’ in their nondiscrimination policies and 82 percent include ‘gender identity.’ For the first time, half of Fortune 500 companies offer transgender-inclusive health care benefits, including for surgical procedures.”
Now one of the most interesting aspects of the story is the turn that it takes where we’re told that the main interest of these funds is not the very issues that were just articulated, that is benefits for employees or even employee hiring policies, but rather it is whether or not these companies become vocal advocates for one side in this moral revolution, and we all know what side that is. As a matter of fact, the executive behind these funds said,
“As Christians, we love our neighbors in the L.G.B.T. community and encourage companies to provide equal employee benefits for all.”
But he went on to say,
“A company deciding to spend money and time to pursue a hard-line activist agenda that has nothing to do with their core business is a different issue, and is a waste of investor dollars.”
Now this is really interesting because here you have these funds who say they’re really not at all particularly concerned with the hiring policies, nor the benefits packages of these major companies. What they are concerned with is whether or not these corporations turn themselves into agents for the sexual revolution, whether they take sides and invest corporate capital interest and time in this particular kind of cause. Now that’s a very different thing than the headlines might express, and it’s a very different thing that even the opening paragraphs might insinuate. Well, who would be in and who would be out? Who would be on the naughty list, who would be on the nice list? The explanation made by Robert Netzly, the CEO of the company, was summarized by the New York Times in this way,
“Shares of Berkshire Hathaway, whose chief executive, Warren E. Buffett, has been a major donor to Planned Parenthood, would not make the cut, he said. Nor would Apple.”
And then in this case Mr. Netzly claims,
“That pornography can be purchased through iTunes.”
Even as an Apple spokesman said,
“Pornography is not permitted.”
I’ll simply interject at this point, my guess is the big issue here is how one would define pornography. The Times then concluded,
“Companies like Amazon that have publicly supported gay marriage also would not pass muster. ‘Any company that takes a hard-line approach’ to the issue would not pass the test.”
But the Times said,
“On the other hand, shares of Tesla Motors and Under Armour would [indeed make the cut].”
That’s not because of the hiring policies or the benefits packages, even though many people at first glance would assume those are the issues, but rather it’s about whether or not these companies have put themselves in a position as activists advocating for the LGBT revolution and other issues, including abortion. Christians have to understand that every dimension of the economy and every economic decision we make eventually does reveal our worldview, as Jesus himself said,
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
That’s a fundamental Christian truth. But the existence of this story in the first page of the business section of the New York Times yesterday tells us that even corporate America finds this kind of development at least interesting, if not troubling. It’s interesting to the degree that they’re giving it some attention and it should be interesting to us that in response to this, you can anticipate this, they label this kind of fund and its approach intolerant. That appears increasingly to be the only word left in the moral revolutionaries’ vocabulary when clearly they don’t know what else to say. It seems to be the only argument they have left.
"Not your dad's marijuana": Pediatricians amplify warnings against pot use for teens
Next, the Associated Press was out with a story that especially parents should note with attention. The headline,
“Pediatricians Warn Against Pot Use [that’s marijuana use].”
And then the subtext,
“Not Your Dad’s Marijuana.”
The Associated Press report begins like this,
“An influential doctors group is beefing up warnings about marijuana’s potential harms for teens amid increasingly lax laws and attitudes on pot use.
“Many parents use the drug,” the story says, “and think it’s OK for their kids,” but Dr. Seth Ammerman said, “we would rather not mess around with the developing brain.”
Well, let’s just stop there for a moment. Here you have a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, you have a leading pediatrician, Dr. Seth Ammerman, who puts the issue so mildly saying merely,
“We would rather not mess around with the developing brain.”
Now context for quotation is very important here. My guess is that this pediatrician wasn’t trying to make light of the issue at all, but just drawing attention to it, but it does point to the fact that the adolescent and young adult brain we now know amply documented is still developing and that marijuana interferes with that development. As the Associated Press report says,
“The brain continues to develop until the early 20s, raising concerns about the potential short- and long-term effects of a mind-altering drug. Some studies suggest that teens who use marijuana at least 10 times a month develop changes in brain regions affecting memory and the ability to plan. Some changes may be permanent.”
Now we’re also told in other research that there is likely an actual decrease in I.Q. or in operational intelligence in teenagers and young adults who use marijuana. But there’s something else here that’s really important. We’re also told that adolescents are far more likely to overuse marijuana and they’re more likely, it is believed, to become addicted to marijuana. It’s also likely that marijuana becomes more of a genuine gateway drug when it comes to teenagers and young adults than potentially even maybe in terms of older adults. But there’s something else here and that is in the last part of this headline,
“Not your dad’s marijuana.”
We’ve made mention of this before, but it needs to be mentioned again. The marijuana that is currently available is considerably more potent than the marijuana that the children of the 60s came to know when they were in high school and college and young adults themselves. Many of these now baby boomers have rather romanticized notions or memories about marijuana. There might be a drug problem there as well, but the fact is that THC, that’s the active hallucinogenic agent in marijuana, is now found in current marijuana at far higher levels and much greater potency than was the case in the past.
When you think about generational patterns of moral influence, I simply have to look to a statement made at the end of this article by a pediatrics professor at Yale by the name of Dr. Sheryl Ryan. She said that,
“Marijuana ‘is the drug of choice’ for many of her teen patients in New Haven, Connecticut.”
The story then says,
“Some think daily use is safe, noting that their parents or grandparents smoked pot in college and turned out OK.”
The article then concludes,
“But today’s marijuana is much more potent and potentially more risky.”
Now just consider this, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen it quite so explicit as is found in this article. Here you have teenagers in Connecticut justifying their own use of marijuana by referring to the marijuana smoking of their parents or their grandparents. Now there’s something new for Americans. How many of those grandparents or parents for that matter actually understand that their own use of marijuana is now becoming the justification cited by their own grandchildren? You might simply say that in moral terms, what goes around comes around again. But in this case it’s coming around in an altogether more dangerous and more potent form.
"It was inhumane. It was barbaric." Lester Tenney, survivor of the Bataan Death March, dies at 96
Finally, an obituary worth our note, this in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. John Wilkens and Peter Rowe report on the death of Lester Tenney born in 1920, died in 2017. The headline,
“Bataan Death March Survivor.”
As the reporters tell us,
“Lester Tenney, an Army tank commander who survived one of World War II’s signature horrors, the Bataan Death March, and spent his later years pushing Japanese authorities to apologize for their country’s war atrocities, has died at age 96.”
Tenney said in 2002 on the 70th anniversary of the Bataan Death March,
“I’ve learned to forgive, but I’ll never forget.”
Now the Bataan Death March was an infamous act of the Japanese during World War II, in which having taken over the Philippines in the weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese forces forced Americans, including many American soldiers and sailors, to march through the wilderness in a situation in which very few actually survived.
“On the march that followed, they went the first four days without food or water. Temperatures soared past 110 degrees. Stragglers and complainers were stabbed with bayonets, shot or beheaded. ‘If you fell down, you died,’ Tenney recalled later. ‘If you stopped walking, you died…
“Tenney said he survived by setting small goals for himself as he walked. Make it to that stand of trees. Make it to that herd of water buffalo. By the time he and the other survivors staggered into Japanese prison camps, thousands had died…
“It was awful,” Tenney said. “It was inhumane. It was barbaric.”
Well, indeed, it was. It’s one of those stories from World War II that we dare not forget, even as we note with this obituary that many of those who put their lives on the line for our freedom during World War II are now passing from the scene. There is one more, a man at the age of 96, one of the last survivors of the Bataan Death March. We must remember that debt, lest we forget.