The Briefing 03-16-17

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What does it mean to be male and female? New push for Equal Rights Amendment would have courts decide

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Rise of the personality cult and prosperity theology: Widow of cult leader "Father Divine" dies at 91

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Transcript

The Briefing

March 16, 2017

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

It’s Thursday, March 16, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

What does it mean to be male and female? New push for Equal Rights Amendment would have courts decide

Over 30 years later, it’s back. The Equal Rights Amendment is back on the front page of a major American newspaper. The newspaper is USA Today. Yesterday reported,

“Rep. Jackie Speier wants to complete the fight for women’s equality that began almost 100 years ago in the U.S. — and she thinks this is a good year to try it.”

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The report goes on to say,

“Women in Rwanda, Iceland, Vietnam and 131 other nations have constitutionally guaranteed equal rights, but American women do not, and activists have been pushing for decades for passage of an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

USA Today goes on to say,

“It’s among the issues gaining momentum from the rise of American women in civic participation, including the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington. Polls show a majority of Americans falsely believe the Constitution already guarantees women equal rights.”

Now here you have a news story that demands closer scrutiny. For one thing, that last sentence said that many Americans wrongly believe that the United States Constitution guarantees women equal rights. Now one of the background issues to this is the fact that there is no necessity for women’s rights to be articulated separately from the rights of men in the U.S. Constitution in order for them to be recognized. An entire tradition and structure of American law makes that equality very clear—that is equal standing, equal opportunity before the law. The most well-known legislation to this effect is what is known as Title IX. It applies most specifically to colleges and universities and schools that receive tax dollars, but it makes very clear that there can be no discrimination in those institutions with very rare exceptions on the matter of gender, or for that matter also racial or ethnic identity. And here you have the reality that cries out, why do we need an Equal Rights Amendment? And behind that is a massive story, a story that helps explain how we have arrived at this moment in the American age.

The story goes back to at least 1923 in the aftermath of the Women’s Suffrage effort when there was an attempt to write in an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That was an effort to go beyond gaining for women the right to vote and to guarantee for women equal standing in terms of American public life and, for that matter, American life in general. But the modern effort to pass something known as Equal Rights Amendment actually goes back to 1972. Now keep in mind what that means in terms of American history. 1972 saw the reelection of Richard Nixon as President of the United States. The very next year would see the Roe v. Wade decision that would legalize abortion. Remember, that was in the name of the equality of women. The argument was in terms of the proponents of abortion in Roe v. Wade that abortion rights were necessary in order for women to achieve equality with men.

The United States Constitution can be amended in two different ways. Throughout our history, it’s basically been one of these two ways. In the way the Constitution has been amended, both houses of Congress have to adopt legislation proposing the amendment, and it has to pass by a two thirds majority in both houses of Congress. It then goes to the states where the Constitution mandates that three quarters of the states through their legislatures must also approve. Given the fact there are now 50 states, that means that 38 states must approve any proposed constitutional amendment. The Equal Rights Amendment, as it was known, was passed by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states. There was an expiration period in terms of just how long the states had in order to either turn the amendment up or down. That was originally going to expire in 1979, but at that time Congress actually passed an extension. But the Equal Rights Amendment failed to gain the requisite number of states, and thus it failed in 1983, having been adopted by 35 legislatures, but not the necessary 38.

One of the pressing questions certainly from a worldview perspective is why in the world such an amendment would fail, and here’s where we need to be clear: It failed because of what it would open up as a tidal wave of cultural change and of litigation if the amendment were to be passed. Straightforwardly, it’s clear that the vast majority of Americans would be in favor of establishing the rightness of the equality of women with men as citizens of the United States. But the opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment back in the 1970s and 80s understood that if that amendment were to be pass, it would put the United States Supreme Court in the position of imposing its own vision of equality between the sexes on the entire culture.

This came with the warnings of many in the argument back in the 1970s and 80s that if the Equal Rights Amendment were to be passed, it would mean the elimination of gender distinctions in situations such as sports or even in facilities such as bathrooms. There were those who warned back then that it would require the inclusion of young women along with young men in any form of conscription or a military draft. There were warnings that there would be a massive tsunami of litigation because one of the huge questions in this kind of issue is whether or not this means equality of opportunity or equality in terms of status. In other words, is this equality at the front end of the cultural equation or at the back end? Here is where the issue turns in a very contemporary fashion. Representative Speier said,

“If there ever was a time when it was right for us to finally get serious about passing the ERA, it’s now.”

She went on to say,

“We have awakened a sleeping giantess.”

Well that remains to be seen. In terms of the actual status of women’s equality, equality of opportunity is guaranteed by federal statutory law. It’s backed up with the kind of legislation, as we’ve said, that is now known as Title IX. But what’s really at stake here is not so much equality of opportunity as equality of outcome, and therein lies the problem. The ideology behind the Equal Rights Amendment is not merely the equal rights or the equal status in terms of opportunity of men and women in American society. As was warned back in the 1970s, what this really means is that it would put the courts in the position of deciding what distinctions or differences should be recognized between men and women, if any, and not only would there be a tidal wave of litigation, there would also be a massive instrument handed to the courts to bring about massive cultural change. And that cultural change would come right down to issues such as the definition of family and also the definition of marriage and beyond that the reality of any distinction whatsoever between male and female, men and women, boys and girls.

Now just pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that when the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed in 1972, nothing like same-sex marriage, nothing like the transgender revolution was even on the screen. When you think about going back to 1972, you have to recognize that almost any intelligent person who was confronted then with arguments for what is now the sexual revolution would’ve said not only that that revolution must not happen, but that it would not happen. But of course it did happen. But at this point we have to ask yet another question, and that is this: If indeed we are to take the transgender revolution at face value, how can an Equal Rights Amendment for women be the end of the discussion? Because after all, the entire logic of the transgender revolution is to put all human beings on a continuum of gender, which would include from male to female any number of infinite permutations.

The larger moral context of this argument also comes down to the report on the front page of yesterday’s edition of USA Today,

“The battle is more than symbolic, says Speier, with implications for how gender-based violence and workplace sex discrimination are addressed and litigated; for corporate standards involving accommodations for pregnant women; and for guaranteed access to prenatal care and contraception.”

Now just think about those last words, “guaranteed access to prenatal care and contraception.” So this really isn’t just about equality of opportunity unless we understand that the ideology behind the specific conception of equality of opportunity is that somehow the federal government has to level the playing field so that men and women are actually equal. Given the fact that it is women who become pregnant and bear children and bear the primary responsibility, clearly that comes with motherhood, especially when it comes to younger children, the only way that can come about is requiring a massive coercion of the entire society in order to remove those burdens from women. That makes the abortion mandate of the center of modern ideological feminism very clear. But here you also have straightforward reference to government payment for contraception and for prenatal care.

Now just consider that what this really represents in terms of worldview is not so much equality of opportunity as a matter of somehow coming up with a way to liberate women from the condition of being female. There’s also what has to be described as an anti-democratic impulse behind this. The USA Today reports said this,

“While the spotlight is often on the wage gap between men and women, the most striking imbalance is when it comes to leadership. Women account for just 20% of members of Congress and just 4% of Fortune 500 chief executives. Men outnumber women in senior positions more than 2-1 among top White House staff appointed by the Trump administration.”

Now just remember that those statements came in an article about the reintroduction of the Equal Rights Amendment, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Why in the world would that particular set of paragraphs be in this article, except for the implication that somehow the Equal Rights Amendment, if it were to be adopted, would make it impossible for the majority White House staff to be men, would make it impossible for the majority of Fortune 500 corporate executives to be men, and would even make it impossible for women to account for only 20% of the United States Congress? But wait just a minute, the United States Congress is not imposed upon the American people, it is elected by the American people. So in order to solve this problem as perceived in this situation, if the amendment were to be passed, it would somehow have to remove the electoral authority of the American people in terms of electing their own representatives.

But from a historical perspective we also have to recognize that a great deal of the energy of what became the modern conservative movement was birthed in opposition to the equal rights amendment. Conservative leaders such as Phyllis Schlafly very clearly understood that the ERA was about more than adding a few words to the U.S. Constitution. It was about adding constitutional authority to an effort to completely reorganize American society and even to redefine marriage and the family. Molly Murphy MacGregor, identified in the article as head of the women’s history project, said that she thought this was the time to bring the ERA back. She referenced the death of Phyllis Schlafly last year and said “many of the arguments they”—meaning Schlafly and her allies—“used then are gone.”

That’s an interesting assessment, and it’s at least partially true. A lot of those arguments are now gone because they were swept away, completely won by those who were advocating the sexual revolution and brought about those massive changes. Just think about the legalization of same-sex marriage, for example. They also have won in terms of much of the legislative history of the last several decades, but the issue is back. The ERA is back in the public conversation, and it’s back on the front page of USA Today. And this is where Christians need to think very, very carefully. Are the distinctions between male and female something that can be successfully addressed in terms of the U.S. Constitution and healthily litigated by the United States Supreme Court? Without doubt in our nation’s history, some of those issues have indeed unavoidably come before the court. But the greatest damage that has been done to our society in recent decades, it can be argued, was at least fueled by and driven by the Supreme Court’s usurpation of the democratic process in deciding to adjudicate these issues on its own authority. The ERA is not about just some words that might amend the U.S. Constitution. It’s about driving further a moral revolution that many of its proponents believe has only just begun. And in terms of that title wave of litigation, those who are behind the new conversation of the ERA are entirely for it. USA Today’s report said this,

“Another criticism might be that it could create new legal hurdles for companies. “The argument on the other side is this will generate more litigation.”

Said Representative Speier,

“Darn right it will, and why should one worker be treated different than another worker doing the same job?”

Well, the response has to be, if only the issue were so simple. But one of the main reasons that men and women continue to have different trajectories in the workplace is because they tend to have a different experience when it comes to having and raising children. The Christian worldview also has to remind us that a part of the problem here is separating men and women in a way that simply will not sustain closer scrutiny. According to the Scripture, both men and women are equally created in the image of God. “In the image of God created he them,” Genesis says. “Male and female created he them.”

But you’ll also note that the biblical worldview says that we are created for each other. The man and the woman are created for mutuality and complementarity. There is no way to bring a secular conception of equality and make that absolutely consistent, much less mandated, because it stands in violation of the necessary complementarity and mutuality upon which a biblical understanding of the equality of men and women is actually established. It’s not that biblical Christians do not believe that men and women are equal, it’s just that we believe there’s a lot more to what God created human beings to be, male and female, than just that.

Rise of the personality cult and prosperity theology: Widow of cult leader "Father Divine" dies at 91

Next, one of the most interesting obituaries of recent days came yesterday in the New York Times. The headline,

“Mother Divine, 91, Dies; Took Over Husband’s Cult.”

Well, first of all, we have the use of the word “cult” in a New York Times obituary and quite accurately so. It was Father Divine, the husband of the late Mother Divine, who had established the culture that became known as the International Peace Mission. William Grimes, telling us the background in this obituary, wrote,

“It came as a bolt from the blue. On Aug. 7, 1946, Father Divine, the charismatic leader of the International Peace Mission Movement, introduced his new wife as ‘the Spotless Virgin Bride’ to a gathering of stunned followers at a Philadelphia banquet.”

Father Divine, as he was known, was actually the Reverend Major Jealous Divine. As Grimes says, he was “regarded as God incarnate by his disciples.”

He went on and “had further news. Sweet Angel, as his 21-year-old former stenographer was known to the movement, had taken into herself the spirit of Father Divine’s first wife, Peninnah, or Sister Penny, who had died in 1943. The two women were one and the same, he announced. Moreover, his union with the woman henceforth known as Mother Divine would be chaste — a marriage in name only, he said — because ‘God is not married.’”

The movement, by the way, that was known as the International Peace Mission Movement was committed to abstinence from sex and also was committed to non-reproduction, which is one of the reasons why the International Peace Mission Movement was a short-lived movement. The obituary goes on to say,

“Mother Divine, who led the movement after her husband’s death in 1965”—let’s just note here, that’s over 50 years ago—“died on March 4 at Woodmont, the Peace Mission’s estate and headquarters in Gladwyne, Pa., outside Philadelphia, the organization announced. She was 91.”

The paper then goes on to say,

“Mother Divine was a mysterious figure. Little is known about her early life. She was born Edna Rose Ritchings on April 4, 1925, in Vancouver, where her father, Charles, ran the Strathcona Floral Company …. At 15, she became fascinated by Father Divine and his religion, which preached a gospel of self-help, abstinence, economic independence and social equality. By providing cheap meals and social services during the Depression, he attracted a large following in Harlem, where he maintained his headquarters, and through his many missions, known as heavens, elsewhere in the United States.”

The paper then says,

“The revelation came to her, she wrote in Ebony magazine in 1950, ‘that Father Divine is God Almighty personified in a beautiful, holy body.’”

Shortly thereafter she began working with them, and then she became his wife first in secret and then, as the obituary announces, openly declared to the followers of Father Divine. Now why are we talking about this on The Briefing? This is not just some exotic obituary that appeared yesterday in the New York Times. This is a time capsule of something that was taking place in American religion at the middle part in the early decades of the 20th century: The rise of so many personality cults that we now take for granted was really aided and abetted by the rise of modern media. Father Divine, for example, was most known to his followers by means of the medium of radio.

So we have a lesson here when it comes to help modern technologies can facilitate the transmission of all kinds of ideas and ideologies and religious groups as well. So all of these technologies, beginning with the printing press and how that aided the Reformation all the way through to social media and the digital world today, these technologies can be used by those who want to serve the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ, and those who wish somehow to build an alternative movement and to push an entirely heretical or, for that matter, completely bizarre belief system. It’s hard to come up with a belief system more bizarre than Father Divine who claimed actually to be God in human flesh.

Another lesson learned from the cult that was established by Father Divine and later led by Mother Divine is the fact that many of these religious groups, bizarre as they are, not only take advantage of modern technology. But they also seize upon the despair that often seems to be accompanied by mass populations. In the United States that was especially true given the depths of the Depression.

But next we also need to remember that it was figures such as father divine who actually gave birth to the modern movement of prosperity theology. Father Divine was clearly outside of institutional Christianity, but there were those who claimed a much more orthodox Christian identity who began to take on many the teachings concerning prosperity and the principles that lead to prosperity and before long of prosperity theology at odds with the biblical gospel had supplanted orthodox Christianity in many of these circles. The danger of many of these cults and the fact that they take on a mind-altering power in terms of their members was made abundantly clear when the International Peace Mission Movement was almost overtaken by a man by the name of Jim Jones in 1971.

Jones, you’ll recall, went on to establish his own cult modeled much after Father Divine. He then moved that cult to the nation of Guyana, and then you may remember that ended in a mass suicide. That mass suicide was probably the biggest news story of 1978, and those alive at that time might consider that it would be impossible that anyone would forget the lessons of that cult. And yet, now almost 40 years after 1978, an obituary like this in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times reminds us that those lessons are all too quickly forgotten.

As a boy I can still remember hearing the sermons of Father Divine as they would sometimes be broadcast on late-night radio even after he had died. There was an enormous power to his rhetoric. He understood how to turn radio as an instrument of his authority. And his words, his use of vocabulary, were always fascinating. I can still remember as a young person hearing Father Divine say on the radio that “the problem with us metaphysicians is that too few of us know how to tangibilitate.” And that came from a man who, I remind us, claimed to be God in human flesh.

Looking back, what’s most amazing is not that Father Divine existed nor that he found his way on the radio, but that he had gained so many followers. How can anyone plausibly believe someone who teaches something so strange and bizarre and unbelievable as this? But let’s remind ourselves that human beings are made to believe something. And if they do not believe the truth, then they’ll believe something even this bizarre, even when a metaphysician such as father divine goes on the radio to “tangibilitate.”

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing