March 31, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, March 31, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The perennial "rise" of the religious left: Why the secular left doesn't need the religious left
A really interesting development in recent days, Reuters, the international news agency, ran a story with the headline,
“‘Religious left’ emerging as U.S. political force in Trump era.”Show Full Transcript
This is a story we’ve seen in recurring cycles. In this case, Reuters is telling us that in the aftermath of the inauguration of President Trump there is a resurgence of the theological left, identified here as the religious left. Scott Malone writes,
“Since President Donald Trump’s election, monthly lectures on social justice at the 600-seat Gothic chapel of New York’s Union Theological Seminary have been filled to capacity with crowds three times what they usually draw.
“In January, the 181-year-old Upper Manhattan graduate school, whose architecture evokes London’s Westminster Abbey, turned away about 1,000 people from a lecture on mass incarceration. In the nine years that Reverend Serene Jones has served as its president, she has never seen such crowds.”
The President of Union Theological Seminary said,
“The election of Trump has been a clarion call to progressives in the Protestant and Catholic churches in America to move out of a place of primarily professing progressive policies to really taking action.”
Now let’s just say at the beginning here that this is one of those stories which if true would be important. It would be important to know that there’s now a resurgent theological and religious left, a liberal wing of American Protestantism, that is now newly activated and perhaps even growing in numbers and in influence. That would be an important story. And if you go back to the midpoint of the 20th century, that would be an actually real story. Back in the period just after the Second World War, there did emerge this great split in American Protestantism. It didn’t begin in the period after World War II, it began in the period just after World War I. The so-called fundamentalist-modernist controversy split conservatives and liberals, especially in mainline Protestant denominations, over such basic questions as the authority and truthfulness of Scripture, the question about the truths concerning Christ, even his virgin birth and his bodily resurrection from the dead.
Theological liberalism had infected many of the seminaries and indeed many of the most prominent pulpits in liberal Protestantism. Thus, we shouldn’t have been surprised that the liberals primarily in control of the bureaucracies and the hierarchies of those denominations won. And when they won, they largely excluded conservatives from positions of power and influence. The conservatives largely withdrew, creating an entire new network of organizations that really did not at all come into its own until after the Second World War. It was then that we saw the rise of the then called neo-evangelical movement or the new evangelicalism. This was a movement that coalesced after the Second World War, and it included big names such as Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, Harold John Ockenga, among others. Big institutions were established, a range of periodicals such as Christianity Today and also of new missions and educational institutions—all of this was a part of the new and resurgent evangelicalism. But by the time you get to the second half of the 20th century, you’ve got an open divide in terms of politics, and of course there was a partisan identification as well.
By the time you to the 1980s more conservative Protestants are very clearly identified with a conservative set of concerns that was largely organized politically within the Republican Party. The Democratic Party became the house of Protestant liberalism, and not only of Protestant liberalism, but of liberal Catholics and others as well, including the vast majority of the Jewish population in America, also overwhelmingly more politically and theologically liberal. But by the time you get to the end of the 20th century, it’s becoming a very different story. The mainline Protestant denominations, those more liberal churches and their denominations, were in rapid decline. And when we say rapid decline we mean a decline from the 1950s to the end of the 20th century that was nothing less than catastrophic. We also saw the fact that even as there had been a very clear influence on American politics coming from the religious left, that was especially true perhaps in the 1950s and 60s, that began to dissipate.
By the time you enter the 21st century, the religious left has not entirely disappeared, but it has very little political influence. The reason is, it turned out that when the left secularized it really didn’t need the assist that might come from the theological left. This is one of the larger lessons of the last several decades. As a matter fact, the religious left has largely disappeared because the left doesn’t need the religious left. That’s in contrast to the more conservative dynamic in America, which clearly does depend upon conservative Christians amongst others as the backbone of that moral movement.
In explaining what Reuters champions as the rise of the new religious left, Malone writes,
“Although not as powerful as the religious right, which has been credited with helping elect Republican presidents and boasts well-known leaders… the ‘religious left’ is now slowly coming together as a force in U.S. politics.
“This disparate group, traditionally seen as lacking clout, has been propelled into political activism by Trump’s policies on immigration, healthcare and social welfare, according to clergy members, activists and academics. A key test will be how well it will be able to translate its mobilization into votes in the 2018 midterm congressional elections.”
Cited in the article is J. Patrick Hornbeck II, identified as chairman of the theology department at Fordham University, that’s a Jesuit school in New York; he said,
“It’s one of the dirty little secrets of American politics that there has been a religious left all along and it just hasn’t done a good job of organizing.”
Well, in this case you have an academic suggesting that the dirty little secret is that there has been a religious left, it’s just been not so good at organizing itself. But that’s a problem, because the religious left was well organized long before there even was a religious right, much less anything like we know as the contemporary American political scene. The reality is it’s really hard to accept at face value that there is much to the religious left. It certainly has venerable institutions, including Union Theological Seminary, the institution that was cited here at the beginning of this story by Reuters. Union Theological Seminary in New York City has been a paragon of theological liberalism since the last decades of the 19th century, and it has also seen its influence declining not only in the city of New York, but within the precincts of Protestant liberalism—and that’s because that’s becoming a very small neighborhood.
And once again, just to be clear, this doesn’t mean that the left is small or insignificant without power and influence or even without numbers in America. It is to say that the political left, the secular left, really doesn’t need the theological left. To their credit, at least some on the left, including what’s left of the religious left, are honest enough to admit this. For instance, writing at Religion Dispatches, which is a part of the University of Southern California’s website, Daniel Schultz writes the article,
“Is the Religious Left Emerging as a Political Force?”
Right in the headline. Schultz cites the Reuters report and then he asked the question, is indeed the religious left emerging as a political force in the Trump era? He says,
“Oh, yeah? Is that like the time they were emerging in 2006? Or 2008? Or 2009? Or 2013?”
With every one of those years he cites an article, gives a link to an article claiming that the religious left was resurgent back in those years, ’06,’08, ‘09 and 2013. He then says,
“Those are links I found in about 30 seconds’ worth of googling. Some time spent with Lexis-Nexis would no doubt turn up many more. In case the point is not obvious, the same people have been selling the same story about this Religious Left that’s going to be here any minute now! for a very long time.”
He goes on to say he was once “even been a part of some of those efforts. And yet the movement never does arrive.”
He then explains,
“It never arrives because the left (or at least the Democratic party) is too diverse and its priorities too different for anything like a mirror-image of the Religious Right to coalesce. Also, nobody on the left wants anything like the obnoxious authoritarians of the Religious Right to appear on the left. Democrats are secular-minded and they like it like that, thank you very much.”
He then goes on to say,
“If you don’t believe me, check out the book sales of religious progressives, mine included.”
Later Schultz writes, and I quote,
“So no, there isn’t really a Religious Left to emerge beyond the groups mentioned in the Reuters piece pushing out press releases and holding rallies in D.C. They may have been ‘astounded’ [they put quotation marks around that word] when 300 clergy showed up to protest the AHCA, but that does not a movement make, sorry.”
Schultz, by the way, rightly criticizes the Reuters piece for its historical review indicating where it identifies some religious progressives. Schultz is honest enough to point out, judged by contemporary standards, they really weren’t very progressive. Schultz then concludes,
“I suppose we could say that the Religious Left (such as it is) is forever emerging, like the Kingdom of God, which is perennially at hand and yet never fully realized. But truth to tell, not even that much is true. There is a religious left, just not the one the activists would like to imagine. It’s called the Democratic Party, nearly three-quarters of whom have some religious affiliation—and who don’t vote on ‘moral issues’ so much as the economy, foreign policy, and terrorism, just like everybody else.”
There’s a good deal of truth there, it’s the kind of analysis that even conservative Christians should pay heed to. There’s an honesty there that we can all appreciate, but the honesty doesn’t go far enough in this sense because it’s not just that the religious left is very diverse, it’s the fact that the religious left has undercut its own authority. The most interesting portion of this article is where Schultz makes the argument that the religious left likes it like it is, meaning secular. It doesn’t want those identified here as religious authoritarians on the right to show up. What does he mean by that? He means that the left is now so secular that it doesn’t want anyone showing up claiming a moral mandate on the basis of divine revelation, or even for that matter of divine authority. As it turns out he says, the left doesn’t need liberal priests or prophets or, for that matter, pastors, because it’s quite happy being secular now, thank you.
Finally, on this issue we have to note that the reason this story comes again and again and again—as Schultz said, ’06,’08,’09, 2013, the very same story with the religious left that never quite seems to emerge—the reason the story comes again and again is because even secular reporters wake up and understand there is a protestant left, what’s left of it, and that’s a story in itself. But more than that, these stories seem to be invested with hope, the hope on the part of the reportorial establishment, the media, that there just might be a religious left out there that could rescue the situation from the religious right as its perceived by so many in the media. That too tells us something that shouldn’t go without our notice.
The horrifying intersection of assisted suicide and organ donation: Culture of death advances in Canada
Next, we turn to yet another story that reminds us that worldviews always have consequences and eventually those consequences reach the questions of life and death. Michael Cook of the news source BioEdge—that’s a news source dealing with bioethics news from around the world—reported back in January,
“Well, that didn’t take long. Euthanasia became legal in Canada in June and by December Quebec bioethicists had already published an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics calling for organ donation after euthanasia. In fact, they were reflecting the positive opinions of the both the Quebec government and Transplant Quebec.”
As Cook reports, this journal article that was written by Julie Allard and Marie-Chantal Fortin, both identified as bioethicists at the University of Montréal had argued that what they called,
“MAID (medical aid in dying) [otherwise known as assisted suicide] has the potential to provide additional organs available for transplantation.”
They went on to argue in this article that,
“Accepting to procure organ donation after MAID is a way to respect the autonomy of patients, for whom organ donation is an important value.”
They went on to argue that,
“Organ donation after [assisted suicide] would be ethically acceptable if the patient who has offered to donate is competent and not under any external pressure to choose MAID or organ donation.”
Cook then went on to cite a policy statement by the group Transplant Québec, also from an ethics committee of the Québec government, that according to May 11, 2016,
“Considering that a request for medical help in dying is a right, that organ donation is socially acceptable and it is an express request of the patient, and considering that the Commission has always praised organ donation in preceding position statements, the Commission recommends that all the institutions responsible set in place the necessary conditions for making these two requirements compatible.”
Now let’s face squarely what we’re talking about here. We’re looking at the government in Canada authorizing assisted suicide—they rename it here medical assistance in dying. It’s a form of euthanasia. It is the intentional ending of a human life, and we should note that as the issue has progressed in Europe, it has progressed in many countries from what was called passive euthanasia to active euthanasia. That means from merely the withdrawal of medical treatment to the active intervention to end a life. That’s what’s now legal in Canada, ending a life by means of the lethal injection. But then you have the shift from what is called voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia. Here you have the issue of personal autonomy and competence raised up as the central moral issues. But we simply have to ask, how long can that last?
We also have here the very horrible tying together of assisted suicide and organ donation. Now you have persons who will profit by someone deciding to end his or her own life. That adds a completely immoral level to this entire discussion, but you’ll notice in the culture of death those kinds of obstacles are very quickly overcome, overcome right now in the nation of Canada.
Then this week, Baptist Press and World Magazine both broke the story that in Canada there have already been a significant number of persons whose organs have been harvested after assisted suicide. Samantha Gobba reports,
“A recent push in Canada to encourage euthanasia patients to donate their organs appears to be working.”
She goes on to report,
“In Ontario, the first province to report data, 26 people who died by lethal injection decided to donate tissue or organs since the Medical Aid in Dying Act (MAID) came into effect last June, according to the National Post.”
She goes on to report,
“A total of 388 people have chosen to die by lethal injection in Ontario, over half of the 744 total Canadians who have been euthanized.”
She then says,
“Proponents of linking organ harvesting to euthanasia point to the shortage of organ transplants readily available and the lower cost associated with euthanasia than with end-of-life care.”
Now wait just a moment. The tying together of those two issues is nothing less than absolutely deadly. Here you have persons claiming that assistance in dying, this medical assistance in dying, physician-assisted suicide, would help society by eliminating some of the excessive costs that are detailed here in terms of end-of-life care and, oh, this comes with a benefit, a benefit that even as transplant organs and tissues are scarce, here is a new source.
Now remember the fact that Western nations were rightfully outraged with the news that China was using organs and tissues taken from executed criminals in order to procure them for medical use. That was considered to be absolutely abhorrent. Why? Well, because we were told the prisoners could not exercise consent to their organs being taken. Why were they unable to exercise consent? Well, the argument rightly enough pointed to the fact that a criminal waiting to be executed was really in no position to offer any meaningful consent. But now in this chilling story coming out of Canada we see that those who are aiding the spread of the culture of death can overcome those objections, even when it would be absolutely sensible to say that there could be no meaningful consent given by someone who’s under the emotional duress of making a decision for physician-assisted suicide.
From a Christian worldview perspective it’s not just the issue the sanctity of human life that should be understood is at stake here, but also the idolatrous notion of personal autonomy that drives so much of contemporary culture. But there’s something else too, and that is that when a Christian form of moral reasoning is rejected, what’s left in its place is overwhelmingly going to look pragmatic. It’s going to be one form of pragmatism or another. You’re going to make the argument that if this serves the greater good, there must be some way to come to a moral validation of the act, in this case the act is procuring donor organs from those who are about to undertake physician-assisted suicide. The story is troubling in every conceivable way in terms of the Christian worldview, but here’s yet a final warning on the story. This has come less than a year after physician-assisted suicide was legalized throughout Canada. It came in less than a year. That tells us just how fast the culture of death leaps forward.
AP updates style guide to include genderless "they" as Oregon grants citizen "right" to be genderless
Next, speaking of lurching forward, here’s a headline that appeared this week in the Washington Post,
“The singular, gender-neutral ‘they’ added to the Associated Press Stylebook.”
The reporter: Travis M. Andrews. He tells us,
“The Associated Press Stylebook, arguably the foremost arbiter of grammar and word choice in journalism, has added an entry for ‘they’ as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun in its latest edition.”
Paula Froke, who is the lead editor for the Associated Press Stylebook, said in a blog post,
“We stress that it’s usually possible to write around that. But we offer new advice for two reasons: recognition that the spoken language uses they as singular and we also recognize the need for a pronoun for people who don’t identify as a he or a she.”
Andrews then explains,
“Some journalists ‘write around’ it by simply using the person’s name with each reference to avoid a jarring construction such as, ‘They is going home.’”
He goes on to say,
“The decision, announced Thursday at the American Copy Editors Society conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., now appears in the online stylebook and will appear in the 2017 print edition on May 31.”
Now we knew this story was coming, in one sense in terms of vocabulary it’s inevitable because of the moral revolution that is already so well underway. There was indeed a prior linguistic turn here to people in an informal sense using ‘they’ as a stand-in pronoun for persons when he or she was actually far more accurate. But when you’re looking at the formal usage by the Associated Press stylebook, you’re looking at something altogether different. And you’re looking at the fact that in written expression things are quite different than in a spoken expression. In a conversation in which an individual has been cited it might make sense though it’s not grammatically correct to say that they are going to town. But when you put that into print, it comes with an altogether new confusion as evidenced by the illustration given in the Washington Post that will now allow a statement such as, “They is going home.”
That is a huge problems. But, of course, the problem isn’t merely the Associated Press stylebook, it’s the confusion that stands behind it, a confusion over what it means to be human, certainly what it means to be male and female, and the acknowledgment coming from the lead editor for the Associated Press stylebook that one of the major reasons why the stylebook is changed is because of the transgender revolution or the revolution in gender itself. And you’ll also note that the prior change in terms of spoken language was cited, but you simply have to note that the Associated Press doesn’t go about changing it stylebook in order to match how people speak, rather it is to determine how individuals should write, journalists in particular.
This comes the very same week that NBC News reports from Oregon,
“History was quietly made in Oregon this month when a judge granted a Portlander’s request to become genderless.”
Mary Emily O’Hara reporting for NBC tells us that,
“Patch, a 27-year-old video game designer, is likely the first legally agender person in the United States
“The Multnomah County Court granted Patch a ‘General Judgment of Name and Sex Change’ on March 10. In the same judgment, Patch was also allowed to change names, becoming mononymous — meaning only having one name instead of a given name and a surname.”
Now you’ll notice in that very sentence, I read it strategically precisely because this is one of those so-called write-arounds. It’s where there’s no pronoun that seems to work, so instead the individual’s name is just repeated over and over again. Patch, we are told, was also allowed to change names. You can’t say his name or her name given this gender revolution as reflected in this court order.
There’s more to it, of course. Here’s one of my favorite sentences from the story,
“The judge who signed off on Patch’s a-gender petition is ahead of the curve: She also presided over the nation’s first non-binary gender change last year.”
That tells us something about what’s going on here.
“In a June 2016 decision, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Amy Holmes Hehn granted Portland resident Jamie Shupe a legal change from female to non-binary — casually setting off a nationwide third-gender movement that sent dozens of residents in other states into courthouses seeking genders other than male or female.”
The article then openly celebrates Facebook giving the opportunity for unlimited genders. And then Patch is cited as saying,
“Even gender-neutral pronouns don’t feel as if they fit me.”
He then went on to say,
“I feel no identity or closeness with any pronouns I’ve come across.”
Well, of course, there’s a problem with how he said that, because ‘me,’ we recall, is also a pronoun. It’s the only pronoun that actually makes sense according to this worldview, and that should tell us something. When the only pronoun that make sense is ‘me,’ we have a problem, and sad to say, that problem really isn’t first and foremost even about language.