April 21, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, April 21, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Money, morality, and the media: Bill O'Reilly out at Fox News amidst accusations of sexual harassment
In recent days some of the most interesting and urgent headlines have concerned a television personality, that is the now former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. He had been host to the program known as the O’Reilly Factor. It had been announced in recent days that O’Reilly was taking a vacation, and on Wednesday Fox News announced he would not be returning from that vacation. This is an enormous turnaround in the course of just a few weeks. Just a matter of weeks ago, Fox News and Bill O’Reilly sealed a new contract; it was estimated to bring him at least about $20 million a year. By any estimation he was the leading host on Fox News and furthermore, on cable news. His nightly audience for his 8:00 PM Eastern Time program was about 4 million and his program was the big moneymaker for Fox News.
Over the course of the last two decades, Bill O’Reilly had emerged as a major force in American politics and a major force in American media. A former network news reporter and then host of a celebrity program, O’Reilly ricocheted into the national political forefront in terms of his news coverage and analysis. He was unquestionably conservative, although his conservatism leaned into libertarianism. One of the interesting things, the most interesting thing from a Christian worldview concern in terms of this story, is what it tells us about morality and the media and the larger culture and leadership.Show Full Transcript
The controversy concerning Bill O’Reilly had been simmering for years, but it exploded just in recent weeks and the immediate cause was a series of articles, investigative reports in the New York Times. There was no question that the liberal media had put a target on Bill O’Reilly. But there are further lessons to be learned here.
One of the lessons is that eventually if one becomes too costly, one’s employer decides someone else can take the job. Even though Bill O’Reilly had the biggest ratings of any Fox News anchor, by the time you came to Wednesday of this week, Fox News had decided that 8 o’clock slot would go to Tucker Carlson. Now that’s putting that audience at risk. That means that Fox had to have a tremendous motivation for doing so. And it was the revelations that multiple millions of dollars had been paid out to multiple women who had made allegations against Bill O’Reilly and the network concerning sexual activity and harassing phone calls.
Now here’s the big issue from a Christian worldview perspective. When you’re looking at a public figure like this, there of course is the opportunity for any number of false accusations to be made. But the thing that eventually led to the firing of Bill O’Reilly or, we should say, the severing of the relationship between Bill O’Reilly and Fox News, was that this wasn’t an isolated case. And even though there might be any number of reasons why there would have been a payout to someone making an accusation against O’Reilly, it simply didn’t add up that the multiples involved could be explained away. That’s the big moral point here, the big lesson from a Christian worldview.
When an accusation like this is made against a leader, an individual, the question is, is this plausible or not? The reason Bill O’Reilly had his relationship severed with Fox News is that over time it became implausible to say these stories can’t be true. In order for someone to remain in leadership in a position like this in the public eye, it is necessary not only that these charges appear at the first glance to be implausible, but that over time they remain implausible. Once this kind of charge becomes plausible, and once it is documented that multiple millions of dollars have been paid out to multiple women making such charges, eventually people begin to do the math and eventually the math added up at the Fox News network.
From a Christian worldview perspective, of course, there are issues here, such as a reminder of that biblical principle: to be certain, your sins will find you out. But there’s something else, and that is just a reminder of the fact that the news is a commodity. That is to say, it’s a market and it is not done merely for information and entertainment, it is done in order to sell advertising. And when advertisers get nervous, well, that’s when you are reminded of just how commercial a product the network news—and that includes the cable networks—really turns out to be.
Sometimes in a controversy like this it’s hard to say why a decision was actually made. Was it about the morality or the money? It’s the Christian worldview that explains you can’t evenly and easily separate the two. In terms of the Scripture the point is this: eventually, the money points to the morality.
New York Governor Cuomo mandates insurers cover infertility treatment for singles, same-sex couples
Next, we shift to a story in New York State, this has to do with an action taken by that state’s government under the leadership of its Governor, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. New York Magazine had a headline story that ran this week. Here’s the headline,
“Andrew Cuomo’s New Promise to Women: Infertility Protection.”
The article is written by Rebecca Traister. Now the article is actually a good deal more interesting than that headline would suggest. The headline is interesting enough The story, well, far more so. It turns out, as Traister explains, that New York is one of just 15 states at present to mandate that insurance coverage must include infertility cost. She then writes,
“[That] might seem progressive until you look more closely at how infertility has been defined.”
She then goes on to define exactly how the state of New York defines infertility treatment at the point at which insurance coverage would have to start paying out for those infertility treatments. The issue is this: without going into the incredible detail of the New York policy, suffice it to say we’re talking about an explicitly heterosexual relationship. We’re talking about infertility defined as a man and a woman being unable to achieve fertility. That explanation should be sufficient, but the thing to understand here is that that’s just where this story begins, not where it ends. It turns out that in the state of New York, Governor Cuomo has decided that he must expand the definition of infertility—and you can almost see this coming, I’m sure. The new definition of infertility for which insurance coverage must be mandated in the state of New York now is to be extended to single persons and to same-sex couples. They too are going to be covered by this new policy under the rubric of infertility treatments.
Now at this point from a Christian worldview perspective we need to stop and look very closely. Because the one thing that certainly has to be true is that a single individual, either male or female, being a single individual without reference to any other individual, and specifically to an individual of the opposite sex, does not have an infertility problem. That’s because a single individual is not fertile in terms of the ability to achieve fertility alone. Now expand that as New York state is now expanding the definition of infertility to couples of the same-sex. You’re talking about two men or two women. Once again, if they are unable to achieve fertility, it is not because of an infertility problem. It is because fertility is not in the equation.
Traister gets right to the point in her article, celebrating the Governor’s new directive when she writes,
“New York took a stand for nonhetero, non-coupled, nontraditional families this week when Governor Andrew Cuomo sent a circular letter to the state’s insurers informing them that it will no longer be legal for them to exclude same-sex or single prospective parents from infertility coverage.”
She went on to say that the Governor’s letter, which was sent on Wednesday of this week, instructs that state’s superintendent of financial services to enforce a new definition of infertility, which expands beyond the normal means, the heterosexual means, whereby fertility has been achieved to include the inability over a matter of months for fertilization to happen by therapeutic donor insemination. Now we’re looking at in vitro fertilization, and we’re looking at that entire process in terms of new reproductive technologies, but here’s the bottom line. We are also up against the fact that even that does not cover every one who is now covered in terms of this state-enforced policy. Without going into more detail than is necessary, let’s just say that in terms of this IVF technology, it might apply, we would understand, to a single woman, at least in terms of the technology. It might apply even to a same-sex couple, both of whom are women, but it seems to be impossible to apply this on an individual basis to a man or to two men, that’s simply a matter of biology. But, of course, that brings in the fact that there we must be talking about, in one form or another, some women serving as a surrogate mother in order for a single man or for two supposedly married men to have a baby.
Speaking to the Governor’s letter, his legal counsel said,
“This is in direct response to a problem that we know exists.”
And according to the article, he was describing the problem as the way in which insurance companies were writing policies designed “to discriminate against single women and same-sex couples.”
Now let’s just step back for a moment and understand what this means in terms of the moral revolution we are experiencing. Here we have a revolution that has attacked so many other words, subverting them and evacuating them of their meaning. Now you can add another word to that category. The word has been a word that in one way or another has been central to human existence and of course to human reproduction. We’re talking about the word “fertility.” Now just to state the obvious again, a single person is not in this context infertile. It’s impossible for a single person acting solitarily to become pregnant. The same thing is also true of same-sex couples. We’re talking here about the very process that used to be described quite naturally as “having a baby.” That “having a baby” is now redefined in ways that are entirely dependent upon technology and even the intervention of someone outside what is now defined legally at least as the marital relationship. You’re talking at the very least about a market for gametes, but you’re also talking in the case of a single man or what is now defined as two married men, you’re also talking about a rented womb as well.
Showing how this moral revolution has turned an entire world of meaning on its head, the Governor’s Council went on to say,
“Just like we have a definition of marriage that can’t by its language discriminate against people based on who they are,” he went on to say, “you can’t have a definition of infertility that by its language discriminates against people based on who they are or whether or not they’re in a relationship.”
That’s one of those statements you have to read; you almost have to see it in black and white to understand that the general counsel for an American Governor of a major state like the state of New York actually said those words and meant for them to be taken seriously. But of course he did mean for them to be taken seriously and we must take them seriously, because this is now the official policy of the state of New York.
Now remember that another aspect of this moral revolution is that it has no breaks. What we see is one boundary after another that is falling, one word after another that is evacuated of meaning, one institution after another that is forced to bend the knee to this moral revolution. But we also see that even as the Governor made this statement this very week, advocates, sometimes self-declared advocates, in the media for what are defined as unmarried rights and protections for those who may be in the LGBT-defined movement, it turns out that this isn’t going to be enough. One spokesperson who identifies herself as an advocate for unmarried rights and protections said,
“Relative to a couple with two incomes it’s a bigger expense for a person relying on one income.”
Now in this context, you have to realize that the state of New York, and in this case, New York Magazine, is citing a woman who is saying even this policy doesn’t go far enough, because as it turns out there’s still discrimination because two people can bear an expense better than one. Well, even as that is certainly true for what’s here being defined as fertility treatments, it’s also true for a single individual or a married couple buying a gallon of milk. What you really have here is a complete dissolution of any common sense, and it’s coming in the form of a new state regulation in the state of New York.
By the way, Bella DePaulo, that advocate who was identified in the New York Magazine article, went on to say that this change is part, she said, “of the long unraveling of the components that all used to be tied up in the one package of marriage: sex, having children, living together.”
That’s an amazingly candid and quite accurate statement. She is celebrating what she calls this progressive unraveling of what we would otherwise know as the order of the universe. That’s exactly what she is now celebrating, I repeat, she says that this change, though it doesn’t go far enough, “is part of the long unraveling of the components that all used to be tied up in the one package.”
What’s the package? “Marriage: sex, having children, living together.”
Now note carefully. Here she is celebrating the taking apart of what had previously throughout human history, unquestionably, belonged together. Remember her four things? “Marriage: sex, having children and living together.”
Those things are now unraveling, she says, and that’s progress. Speaking of those things that had previously been held together, she said, “the whole bundle is coming undone.”
And at this point, even though we lament what she celebrates, we have to acknowledge she is exactly right. The whole package is coming undone.
New York's latest offer of tuition-free college at state schools: A government takeover of higher ed?
Next, staying in the state of New York we turn to another announcement made recently by that state’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. He made the statement in calling for the state’s assembly to adopt legislation that would provide for free tuition to public universities to families in the state who qualify by making less than $125,000 a year. Now you look at this for just a moment, that sounds like a very good deal if everyone basically defined even in the middle class up to $125,000 of annual income could be assured of free tuition in the state’s colleges. Now there are a couple of ways that might become possible. First of all, if those colleges reduce the cost of education, perhaps that would at least give some opening for the taxpayers in the state of New York to offer this kind of program. But as it turns out, the state of New York is doing no such thing. The state’s institutions have instead escalated, indeed escalated tremendously, the cost of education. It doesn’t have the funds to offer this kind of scholarship assistance, free tuition, you’ll remember, in the state universities for families making at present less than $100,000 a year, but very quickly less than $125,000 a year.
The Governor’s estimate of what this will cost is just a down payment on what it would actually cost, and some looking very much closer at the Governor’s proposal have noticed that it wouldn’t cover a lot of students who would imagine they would be covered under this policy. Students have to be full-time students, they have to be enrolled in the state universities, they have to continue as full-time students and graduate relatively on time, and they have to work in the state of New York for the same number of years that they were on the tuition assistance program after graduation. It turns out that the program doesn’t cover books, doesn’t cover fees, doesn’t cover housing, and I can simply guarantee you that these state universities will find a way to sneak the money in by means of those fees and other sources of income. But the bigger issue is this: why what Governor Cuomo make this proposal?
Now, politically, it is openly debated that the Governor has made this proposal because he intends to run for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. In the 2016 Democratic race it turned out that Bernie Sanders was making a proposal for free college tuition. It got a lot of traction. You might expect that it would because when you can offer taxpayers something for nothing, that appears to be a very good deal. And yet, of course, when you look closer at the technicalities, we’re talking about something which if real would be far too expensive for any government to pay, and if unreal is basically a way of telling taxpayers you are offering them a deal that doesn’t turn out to be so good in the end.
But beyond the politics I think there’s something else that is going on here. If you are a private college or university in the state of New York, you must see this as a direct attempt to try to get students not to go to your private university or college, but rather to go to the state universities, which alone are covered by this program.
Now simply note this. We talked yesterday on The Briefing about the reality of threats to homeschooling, and we have talked about the freedom of parents to make decisions concerning the education of their children. But what we should note in terms of this expansive proposal from Governor Cuomo is that he is basically proposing a state takeover of most of higher education, if not eventually of all of it. While we’re talking about the danger of government control, especially at the highest levels in terms of education for children, you need to recognize that this is now an effort to transfer that all the way up the educational ladder to the university and college education as well.
If you are a statist committed to the state taking over virtually every level of the society—and that would include of course its educational level—then this is exactly how you might do it. The big lesson for all of us, of course, is that what’s offered as free almost never is free, and what’s offered as a way of offering assistance often turns out to be a way of creating an entirely new sense of dependence. And we also have to note that what this amounts to is a massive state takeover of higher education in the state of New York.
According to a commission assigned to study the issue, it is estimated that Governor Cuomo’s proposal would boost enrollment of public colleges by 116,000 while reducing the head count at private institutions. According to the commission’s analysis we read in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, the plan would ship $1.4 billion away from the nonprofit educational private sector to the state university system.
You look at these two stories coming from New York and it turns out that they share a commonality. The center of both of them is the Governor of the state, Andrew Cuomo. And at the center of both is speculation that these decisions have something to do with the fact that he just might intend to run for President. From a Christian worldview perspective, though, the biggest issue here isn’t politics or any political calculation. It’s what these stories tell us about the state of our culture and even more frighteningly about the state of our culture in the future.
Is the Bible's position on women in ministry sexist? Complementarianism in the New York Times
Finally, we turn to an interesting pattern that emerged in the editorial pages of the New York Times. In the course of the last week, not once but twice that paper has taken up the issue of women serving in the pulpit. And in both cases it’s dealing with an issue that this paper assuredly thought was dismissed long, long ago. In Sunday’s edition of the paper, Nicholas Kristof, the influential columnist, asked former President Jimmy Carter, “Am I a Christian?” And in the course of that article, as we considered it this week on The Briefing, he made very clear, that is President Carter, that he interprets the Scripture in such a way that he dismisses words of the Apostle Paul to affirm the service of women in the pulpit.
But in Wednesday’s edition of the paper, Julia Baird, a prominent author, wrote an article asking the question,
“Is Your Pastor Sexist?”
And in so doing, she draws attention to the controversy that had to do with Princeton Theological Seminary intending just weeks ago to present an award to Pastor Tim Keller of New York City. Keller is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church of America that does not ordain women to the pastorate. The firestorm that was created by the award led to the fact that Princeton withdrew the award. Tim Keller did go on to speak at Princeton Seminary, though he did not receive the award, and the entire firestorm had to do with the fact of his PCA ordination and the fact that he’s a minister of a church that does not allow women to serve in the pulpit. That is simply unthinkable at Princeton Theological Seminary, it was unthinkable to many alumni and faculty and students, and clearly it’s also unthinkable to the editorial page of the New York Times.
What makes this story really interesting is the use of vocabulary. Julia Baird actually makes the distinction between complementarianism—that’s the position held by the PCA, the SBC, and other conservative evangelicals—and what’s known as egalitarianism—and that’s the position, the revisionist position, that does argue for women to serve in the pastorate.
The interesting thing is this: these two articles appeared in the course of less than one week in the editorial pages of the New York Times. In both cases, of course, the paper itself has taken a very clear position, and that’s noted even in the headline of this article. The central argument of the article is clear. The argument is that complementarianism is a form of abuse. It is a dangerous theology. Of course at that point we simply have to note that it continues to be the theology held by the vast majority of Christians and Christian churches throughout space and time, throughout church history and all over the world, even at present.
Baird’s article seems to celebrate the efforts of the first-wave feminists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton to actually rewrite the Bible so as to remove the prohibitions that are found there. It’s extremely telling that in this article, fidelity to Scripture is dismissed as a damaging theology and the church’s historic position is simply dismissed as an undisguised form of sexism. But when you think about it, what else would we expect? An increasingly secular age finds itself unable to make any judgments at all except in terms of this kind of category: sexism or nonsexism, that’s all they have.
One other fact embedded in this article is that even in the more liberal mainline Protestant denominations that do ordain women, only 11% of American congregations are led by women, a number reported in 2012 that has, according to this article, remained unchanged since 1998. Now remember, that’s in the liberal denominations. How do they explain this? Simply in terms of sexism? I think we all know there’s a great deal more to it than that.