The Briefing 04-12-17

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A tale of power, opportunity, & moral failure: Alabama Governor resigns amid unfolding scandal

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Study shows millennials more traditional than previous generations when it comes to family life. Why?

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When heroes are no longer heroic: Is progressivist agenda to blame for Marvel Comics sales slump?

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Transcript

The Briefing

April 12, 2017

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

It’s Wednesday, April 12, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

A tale of power, opportunity, & moral failure: Alabama Governor resigns amid unfolding scandal

Big headline news came out of the state of Alabama on Monday when that state’s Governor, Robert Bentley, resigned his office in the wake of an escalating scandal. It all came to a head just before the weekend when a special investigative panel brought a report indicating the likelihood that the governor had committed felonious crimes not only in terms of the affair, but most importantly in the cover-up and the aftermath.

But once the Governor resigned after weeks and weeks of insisting he would not resign, his office was filled by the former Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey, who was sworn in as the Governor of Alabama shortly after 6:00 p.m. on Monday evening. The Governor’s eventual removal from office became all but in evitable in the wake of the scandal, especially as over the weekend the state’s highest court, the Alabama Supreme Court had removed the final obstacles towards the state’s House of Representatives moving ahead with impeachment proceedings. The evidence against the Governor was clear and mounting political pressure had come from legislative majorities of his own party in both the Alabama House and the Senate.

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In the last several months this scandal has rocked the state of Alabama, and as mounting evidence came against the Governor, especially in the form of recorded conversations between the governor and a female staffer, it became evident that the majority of citizens in Alabama were appalled by their Governor. But the Governor tenaciously held to office even after his wife had left him and divorced him, his wife of 50 years.

When he was elected to office, Robert Bentley was known as a medical doctor and as a Sunday school teacher at a Southern Baptist church, a very influential church in the state of Alabama. But by the time he left office, the Governor had been revealed to have been a hypocrite. And the question of course from a biblical perspective is, when did that begin? As we look at this story you can see how the political class immediately makes a political calculation and at the very least, it’s evident that leaders, political leaders in the state of Alabama, came to view this governor as a liability they wanted to do without.

The Governor in effect delivered himself on a platter to those who intended to remove him from office because he committed what would be undeniably crimes in the course of the cover-up of this scandalous, adulterous affair.

As reporters Brian Lyman and Andrew J. Yawn reported for the Montgomery Advertiser, that’s the major newspaper there in the Alabama state capital,

“Alabama Governor Robert Bentley resigned Monday after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of campaign finance law violations, ending six years in office and giving a dramatic ending to a sex scandal that consumed his administration for more than a year.

“In a finish to a political career almost as surprising as its beginning,” the reporters wrote, “Bentley pleaded guilty to charges of failing to file a major campaign finance report and converting campaign funds for personal use. He was sentenced to a 30-day suspended jail sentence and 12 months of probation; ordered to surrender all campaign funds and about $16,000 in other fines; and ordered to serve 100 hours of community service. Bentley also gave up his right to seek public office again, the ability to appeal [this conviction] and [he gave up] all retirement benefits.”

In his public statement made in the old House Chamber in the Alabama State Capitol on Monday, the Governor said,

“There have been times when I have let you and our people down, and I’m sorry for that. The consequences of my mistakes have been grievously unfair to you, my dedicated staff and my cabinet.”

Well, just to state the obvious here, here you have the Governor of a state admitting that he has let everyone down—the voters who voted for him, the citizens of his state in general, those who were on his staff and those who served on his cabinet. But of course the moral failure is much broader than that. We are looking at the fact that when someone in this kind of office has this kind of moral failure, when there is this kind of public sin and scandal, it serves to undermine public confidence in the entire political system. Because our political system is not a system of tools, it is a system of individuals, of human beings, every one of them fragile and frail as well as talented. We are looking at a political class that is like the rest of humanity, but what makes the political class perhaps especially susceptible to this kind of sin and scandal is the intersection of opportunity and power and the aggrandizement of personality in the midst of the political process.

You look at the office of governor and here you have someone who was a fairly innocuous medical doctor and, as we’ve said, someone who was known basically as a Sunday School teacher in a Baptist church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who was all of the sudden a major figure on the political stage coming out of almost nowhere to be elected governor of Alabama. He went into the governorship and into the Governor’s mansion with a wife to whom he had been married for many years. When their divorce was eventually terminated in recent months, they had been married a full half of a century, 50 years. And yet we are now looking at the fact that after having been elected, and then in 2014 reelected, we have a governor who has left office in scandal, who has admitted to criminal wrongdoing. And, by the way, the plea agreement indicates that the Governor knew there were far larger, more consequential charges he would avoid by pleading guilty to these lesser misdemeanor charges. And we also have the complete moral collapse of an individual and of a marriage and of a family and with effects throughout an entire state.

But that does raise the question, and that is, where were the seeds of this scandal actually sown? In one sense it might be comforting to think that those seeds were sown only after Governor Bentley entered into the Governor’s mansion and into the state’s highest political office. In retrospect, it’s actually hard to believe that that can actually be so. But what does become clear is that opportunity was afforded to him as Governor that might well not have been afforded to him otherwise. And there is also the inflation of his own ego and the emergence of an opportunity for pride that certainly might have emerged after he was elected Governor and then reelected.

To the political class and those observing the fall of Governor Bentley, this appears to be just another in a series of political scandals that have become, frankly, somewhat expected, and the reason for that is quite simple. Human nature has not changed since Genesis 3. We are looking at the fact that where you have a concentration of power and pride and opportunity and lust, well, there you have the opportunity for a massive sex scandal, and something is common to every one of these scandals that needs to be noted. The Governor and the woman with whom he was having the relationship clearly did not believe that they would be found out.

But as this story unfolded, the Governor and his mistress were found out by a very simple means, the governor basically announced this to his wife. He was using a cell phone in order to text with his mistress unaware of the fact, evidently that was tied to the text that showed up on the iPad used by his own wife.

But it is really interesting to ponder even some recent headlines having to do with another political leader who is being criticized, not because there was any rumor whatsoever that he might have had an affair, but precisely because he operated in terms of policies that prevented him from having an affair. We’re talking about the current Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, who has been roundly criticized in recent weeks for his following of what was known as the Billy Graham Rule, a rule quite common to evangelical leaders and, as I said before, for very good reason. It means that a man does not meet alone with a woman who is not his wife or a member of his immediate family—not that a man doesn’t meet with a woman, the key issue there is alone. Let’s just state what should be then obvious. If the now former-Governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley had followed this rule, we wouldn’t be talking about this scandal, because it wouldn’t have happened and the state of Alabama would not have gone through this trauma, not to mention a family, a destroyed marriage and the ramifications of all of this throughout not only the state of Alabama, but the larger nation.

Study shows millennials more traditional than previous generations when it comes to family life. Why?

Next, we turn to yet another story about marriage, this one having to do with the fact that research is indicating that millennials are not following the trajectory that was expected of them in terms of feminism. It turns out, as recent headlines have indicated, that millennials are less likely than those before them to want to follow the feminist ideal of the family, or to put it in the opposite direction, millennials are actually more likely to state affection for the traditional family than the more feminist generations that preceded them.

Now this is where the alarms are going off, because according to the liberal progressivist understanding of history, every generation is to be more socially liberal than the one that came before. Now there have already been problems with that idea. The first and most glaring of those problems is the issue of abortion, where every successive generation since 1973 has been more pro-life rather than more pro-abortion. But now we’re seeing that on the issue of marriage as well. And operating from a Christian worldview, I think we can understand why. There’s not only a sense of nostalgia amongst millennials when it comes to the traditional family—after all, many of them never saw it or experienced it in order to have their own nostalgia about it—there is likely to be a deep yearning which is reflected in the emptiness of following this feminist ideal.

Now this is a complicated story, but the most interesting way to get into it might well be an article that appeared in the New York Times by one of the primary feminists who has been arguing now for decades for the moral and structural redefinition of the family. That’s Stephanie Coontz, identified as the Director of Research at the Council on Contemporary Families. She’s the author of the book, “The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap.” Now to understand the title is to understand her thesis; but now we understand that she’s quite alarmed. She says this,

“Using a survey that has monitored the attitudes of high school seniors for nearly 40 years, the sociologists Joanna Pepin and David Cotter find that the proportion of young people holding egalitarian views about gender relationships rose steadily from 1977 to the mid-1990s but has fallen since.”

Now that’s a stunning sentence. Here we are told that the feminist interpretation of the family—it’s identified here with the term “egalitarian”—it began to grow among high school seniors between 1977— that’s the year I graduated from high school—all the way through the mid-1990s. But here’s what’s interesting. She says that since then it has steadily fallen. Now let’s just remember our dates here for a moment. 1995 is not yesterday, we’re talking about a pattern here of over 20 years which indicates that millennials and, frankly, those who came even in the generation before them, are actually a lot less feminist than it had been assumed they were or had been. In terms of even the generation before the millennials, Stephanie Coontz concedes that when she says,

“It’s not just the youngest millennials who seem resistant to continuing the gender revolution. Overall, Americans aged 18 to 34 are less comfortable than their elders with the idea of women holding roles historically held by men. And millennial men are significantly more likely than Gen X or baby boomer men to say that society has already made all the changes needed to create equality in the workplace.”

Stephanie Coontz then asked a question that of course she must be asking herself,

“Are we facing a stall or even a turnaround in the movement toward gender equality?”

Now it’s interesting that Stephanie Coontz argues that if you look at the data with a more complex analysis, you come to understand that there are millennials and, well, there are millennials. She’s indicating that there is considerable diversity among millennials, and that’s borne out by other studies showing for example that Hispanic millennials along with the larger Hispanic culture are far more likely to reflect traditional understandings of the family, to be far more complementarian than egalitarian. But the most interesting aspect of Stephanie Coontz’s column is the fact that she seems to be intent above all else in arguing for the superiority of the two-wage earner family.

Now here let’s just note that still assumes, in terms of this analysis, a husband and wife married to one another in terms of a household. That’s remarkably traditional in and of itself in terms of our current social revolution. But the other interesting thing she wants to insist upon is the fact that the traditional family in which the man would work and the woman would stay at home is still inconceivable, even though it was seen that many millennials have a longing for it. Now we should raise the question as to why? Why would that be the case? One quick answer to that would be that many of these millennials have actually grown up in homes where they felt the absence of a more traditional and secure family structure. And many of these millennials grew up as latchkey kids when there was no one at the home when they came home. There are many evidences about this. One of the things we come to learn in terms of the sociological analysis is that those who experience what they themselves define as a deprivation have a longing for a family structure that would not include that same deprivation.

Writing about this at the Washington Post, sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox and Samuel Sturgeon point out the liberal imagination tends to assume not only that history unfolds in a progressive direction, but also that progressivism’s disparate values and groups need not contradict one another. But as they point out, what we’re looking at in this situation is a contradiction. For example, there’s a contradiction between those who are multiculturalists, after all they would celebrate the kind of diversity that would be reflected in an expanding Hispanic population that turns out to have very traditional family understandings and, on the other hand, feminism. But you can’t have both. You can’t have a commitment to multiculturalism and a commitment to feminism without it running into an inevitable conflict, and that’s exactly what we see here.

But Wilcox and Sturgeon also point to a deeper issue. They say this,

“New research indicates that young millennials, who many assumed would be torchbearers for a more progressive approach to family life, actually take a more traditional view of family arrangements than Generation Xers and baby boomers when they were young adults. After embracing increasingly feminist family attitudes from the 1970s to the 1990s, young adults are more likely to embrace traditional attitudes about male breadwinning, female homemaking and male authority in the home.”

Wilcox and Sturgeon then say that the study and researchers note that although millennials have not backed off their support for opportunities for working women, they are less likely to embrace egalitarianism at home compared with young adults two decades ago. In other words they say,

“The gender revolution in attitudes among young adults has stalled out or even shifted course.”

These researchers also point to the growing Hispanic population in America as at least part of what’s behind this pattern. But they go on and look further when they write,

“But the gender attitudinal reversal that appeared in the 1990s is not only about the shifting character of America’s racial and ethnic fabric. It also seems to be fueled by the rise of choice feminism, a style of feminism that emphasizes women’s right to choose the lives they want without judgment. According to Cotter and colleagues, the increasing popularity of intensive mothering in the 1990s, frustrations over the stresses associated with balancing work and family, and a media and pop culture backlash to feminism in the 1990s — think of it,” they write, as the, “‘you can’t have it all’ meme from the era — made 1970s-style feminism, with its insistence on moms combining full-time work and family life, less appealing to a growing minority of young adults.”

Wilcox and Sturgeon go on to cite the fact that sociologists have long been observing this stalled gender revolution, and they go on and say that it has marked much of American life since the 1990s and “is probably shaping how some of today’s young adults think about gender roles.”

Wilcox and Sturgeon also point out that despite all the changes in family life over the last half-century,

“Most young adults have grown up in a world where two-parent families, at least, have a ‘neotraditional’ character. Thus, rather than embrace a ’70s-style feminism where everything is supposed to be split 50-50 in the home, a growing share of young adults embrace an ethic closer to matching two-parent families as they really are in 21st century America: That is, millennials may take a more favorable view of gender specialization in the family because it remains quite common in their own experience and, in an era of choice feminism, less problematic.”

Now that takes us back to some stories we’ve also been watching in which older feminists, the more traditional feminism of the 1970s, now insist that many younger feminists are making a mistake by deciding not to “lean in,” so to speak, but rather to give primary attention to their families—remember Simone de Beauvoir who said that the reason why choice couldn’t work here is that if women are given the choice to stay at home, far too many will.

In considering how so many of these issues are discussed in the popular culture, it is not a coincidence that headlines like this and even research studies like the ones cited here come in some close proximity one to the other. It’s because that’s the way that researchers often work, that’s the way that the public conversation often works. There is all of the sudden the focus on a question. The question here is, why in the world would millennials be more traditional than their parents? The expectation was it would’ve been the other way around. And then it’s interesting to see how many different people operating from different worldviews and even different academic disciplines come to at least congruent and mutually interesting answers, even if they do not come to agreement.

Operating from a biblical worldview, we can understand a more fundamental question why many millennials in the aftermath of this sexual and gender revolution might actually be more conservative than their parents, and that is that the very structures of creation eventually make themselves known, that God’s gift of marriage and the family and the importance of the family unit and devotion to the raising of children makes itself known. That’s nothing that can be actually quantified in terms of sociology. But when it comes to this issue the answer is, as is so often the case, almost assuredly more theological than an increasingly secular world once to think, much less to understand.

When heroes are no longer heroic: Is progressivist agenda to blame for Marvel Comics sales slump?

Finally, along similar lines, the New York Times had another interesting article,

“Don’t Blame These Heroes for Slumping Sales.”

What could that be about? Well, it’s about a very difficult story for Marvel Comics, and that is collapsing sales of comic books. The question is, why? George Gene Gustine, writing for the New York Times, says,

“By the mighty hammer of Thor, it has not been a good week for Marvel Comics.”

The company has taken a beating on social media and in the news media since one of its executives seemingly linked poor sales to a lack of enthusiasm for newer characters who were female or who had diverse backgrounds like a black Captain America or a Korean-American Hulk or a female Thor.

Now without going into detail on this story, let’s just say that this has set off a raging controversy within the culture of comic book collecting and the larger industry—and make no mistake, we’re talking about a very big industry and we’re talking about an industry that requires persons for its very expansion to buy more and more comic books. We’re also talking about something that is very tied to popular culture. We’re talking about the commercial sales of a commodified product known as the comic book that used to be basically for amusement, often an entrée into science fiction, usually first addressed to those in middle school and high school ages, but now often actually collected by adults who do so with an avid fervor and often with a commercial interest. But that commercial interest has been falling off, and one of the reasons suggested by this executive at Marvel Comics is that diversity is simply not being accepted or celebrated or, you might say, bought by comic book collectors.

When the report about the slumping sales came out, David Gabriel, Marvel’s Vice President for Sales, made a statement that has now reverberated across social media,

“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity.”

Now from a biblical perspective, let’s just step back for a moment. This would be a deeply troubling story if it were actually a rejection of racial and ethnic diversity. But a closer look at the story indicates that’s not really what we’re talking about here. We’ve been watching as diversity, the mantra of diversity, has been used to explain why, for example, comic books should accept gender bending, should get over gender stereotyping, should actually celebrate alternative sexual lifestyles and identities. And of course there are other moral dimensions to the stories that are told.

It turns out in this article that one of the reasons why there’s been a slumping interest in at least one character is because the character was increasingly morally debased. The real ideological roots of the problem are likely to be most revealed in this story when we read about the fact that there has been controversy over the female character Thor, that is the creation of a female Thor, and the fact that Captain America had been largely debased by the fact that he was no longer understood as a patriotic American, but rather had been “reimagined,” is the word used here “as a longtime agent of Hydra, a Nazi like organization.”

There’s no doubt more behind this story, but this much is abundantly clear. When you debase heroes and enter into an age post-heroic, you’re not likely to sell many comic books. And frankly, while we’re thinking about changes in the culture from a moral perspective, it’s interesting just how dark many of these comic books have become. It says something about us that there is very little that’s comical in our comic books.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing