May 18, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, May 18, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
What we know, what we don't know, and why both matter: Crisis of credibility at the White House
We have hardly ever seen a media whirlwind like this, especially one having to do with the President of the United States, and just a matter of weeks into a new presidential administration, open calls for all kinds of investigations and of course even the use of the word impeachment in terms of the mainstream media. There are several big questions here, but one of them comes down to this: just how rational at this point is this discussion? There’s another angle to this, and this has to do with presidential credibility. All of these are now in line, most especially those two questions. To the first question, what exactly is going on here? The answer is, we simply don’t know. And the other sobering conclusion at the moment is that there might be an inverse relationship between the velocity of the national media conversation and the speed at which we actually learn what has taken place.
There are huge issues at stake here. Christians understand these issues indeed are very huge. We understand that questions such as justice and truth, that facts really do matter. We understand that there are now huge issues out there that are swirling about the White House and the President of the United States. We understand that a lot of the speculation that is now driving the news media is, in a political context, unavoidable. But we also understand that we really do not know much right now, not in terms of the facts related to at least some of the suspicions or allegations that had been made, and we need to note that even as some of these allegations have been quite specific, so also have been the disavowals that have come from the White House and from the President himself.Show Full Transcript
But the second thing we need to look at here is the reality that leadership and credibility are inseparable, and so at the very least, we do notice that we are in a political crisis of sorts here, a political crisis the blame of which may be impossible at present for us to fully determined, but the reality of which is simply undeniable. And that reality points to the fact that there is a central responsibility that comes with leadership at every level and especially when that leadership level is the leader of the free world, the President of the United States. There simply must be an establishment of adequate credibility in terms of leadership, in terms of character and decision-making, and that is true regardless of the incumbent in the White House, of the political party, or even of the political philosophy that is behind the President.
So right now we’re looking at a situation in which there is a crisis in this nation concerning its government and concerning the presidency. But it’s not at all clear at this point just what exactly that crisis might be. At the most fundamental level, what we must hope and pray for is the establishment of the adequate level of credibility in terms of leadership and in terms of the statements that are swirling around from just about everyone in the political class. We also need to recognize that it is irresponsible at this point to say more than we actually know and furthermore, it’s even more irresponsible to act as if we know more than we actually do.
What seems to be emerging in the last couple of days in America’s public life is that there is an increased bipartisan assumption that we have to find out exactly what we’re looking at here, and we have to find out sooner rather than later. Once we know more, we will indeed be able to say more. But until then, we need to be very careful to watch and to listen and to process the news, trying to understand that at least a part of what is going on is that people are trying to talk to the maximum about what is at this point known to the minimum. But Christians also understand that it really does matter that we really do come to know what has happened and then as a nation take responsibility for what we know.
Is refusing to print gay pride t-shirts discrimination? KY appeals court says no; but will it stand?
Next, a very interesting story has emerged from right here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In recent days as the Courier-Journal and the Associated Press have reported,
“A divided Kentucky appeals court panel ruled Friday that a Lexington business did not discriminate against an organization by refusing to print T-shirts for a gay rights festival.”
As the background to the story becomes more clear, what we find is a company that prints t-shirts at the center of a human rights violation allegation coming from members of the LGBTQ community. They were charging that this particular company known as Hands On Originals had violated the human rights statutes there by refusing to print a t-shirt for a gay rights festival. As the Associated Press story tells us,
“Chief Judge Joy Kramer wrote in her opinion that the city’s ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation does not prohibit the owners of Hands On Originals from ‘engaging in viewpoint or message censorship.’ Kramer said the business objected to the message of gay pride, not anyone’s sexual orientation.”
Now this reverses a decision that had been handed down by the Human Rights Council, and it has set up what is almost assuredly going to be an appeal both to the Kentucky Supreme Court and eventually perhaps to the United States Supreme Court as well. But there is a distinction that was made in Judge Kramer’s decision that needs to have our attention. It is a distinction between establishing a viewpoint and discriminating against a person. The argument made by this appellate court judge in the majority is that what you’re looking at in this case was that a company refused to join in a message but did not discriminate against the customer. The reality is that the company says they would have printed t-shirts for this customer regardless of the customers sexual orientation, but they would not print a t-shirt that required the company to express a viewpoint in terms of what would be printed on the t-shirt.
Now there you have one of the central collisions in terms of the legal logic of our contemporary moment. You have persons who say that it’s an active, invidious discrimination to refuse to print anything in terms of a message if indeed your company is making t-shirts. The same kind of argument is being used against Christians who are florists and cake bakers and photographers who are being told that even as they will take persons of any sexual orientation as clients, they cannot on conviction participate in a same-sex ceremony, thereby joining in the celebration of what they believed to be wrong and sinful. That distinction in terms of the two logics comes down to whether or not it is legitimate to make the distinction between a customer and the message. The argument that came from the Human Rights Commission is that the distinction is false, that it was an act of discrimination violating the Lexington Human Rights Amendment for this particular company to refuse to print the t-shirt.
But at least at this point, the appeals court majority, reversing a lower court decision, came to the conclusion that the distinction is valid. Now that might sound like something of an abstract legal argument, but it isn’t. It comes down to whether or not people are going to be violating the nondiscrimination law if they refuse to join in the expression of a message. The issue is perhaps easier to understand if we just try to abandon for a moment the entire context of the LGBTQ issues.
Let’s just assume that instead we’re talking about politics, and let’s just say that the person who is asking for the t-shirt is asking for the t-shirt maker to print something that is either an inherently very conservative or very liberal message. Would the company be required to print that t-shirt? Or would the company, if it declines to print the t-shirt, be discriminating against the potential customer or making a decision about whether or not it would join in a particular message? Or just imagine that here you have this company making t-shirts that is presented with a customer that demands that, for example, the company print a t-shirt that would have a statement advocating communism or some similar ideological argument. The argument that was made by this company and by the attorneys for the company was that it cannot be forced to endorse a message against conviction and conscience, especially since the company was willing to work with the customer, just not on endorsing this message.
When we see a case like this, we always have to ask the question, what would it mean if the case went the other way? That was actually made quite clear in a dissenting opinion that came from Judge Jeff Taylor. He said that he thought that the business did discriminate against the organization, the customer, since its decision was “based upon sexual orientation or gender identity.”
But that’s where we have to note that the argument used by this judge in this case, thankfully in the minority, but barely in the minority, is that it’s an act of discrimination if one judges against a message, not just in terms of a person. Blaine Adamson, one of the owners of Hands On Originals, said to the Lexington newspaper, the Herald Leader,
“I don’t leave my faith at the door when I walk into my business. In my case, fortunately, the legal system worked.”
He also told the newspaper that he would not object to printing shirts for gays or lesbians as long as the message didn’t promote homosexuality. Now again, that distinction that he made was upheld narrowly by the majority in this Kentucky appeals court decision. If the decision had gone the other way, it would set a very dangerous precedent. But that’s exactly the kind of precedent that has already been set in states all across this country where plaintiffs such as this one have already lost their case. Now the question as to whether or not the distinction is legitimate between the message and the customer, it is likely that that question, legally speaking at least, will not be settled until some case just like this one eventually arrives at the United States Supreme Court. At that point we can only hope and pray that the nation’s highest court will follow the very clear and I think proper logic of the Kentucky Court of Appeals just last Friday.
How many Americans believe the Bible is the literal word of God? Parsing data from a new Gallup poll
Next from a theological perspective, it’s hard to imagine a story more important than the one that recently came out just a matter of this week. The headline from the Gallup organization—yes we’re back at Gallup again,
“Record Few Americans Believe Bible Is Literal Word of God.”
Lydia Saad writing for the Gallup organization tells us,
“Fewer than one in four Americans (24%) now believe the Bible is ‘the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word.’”
She says that’s “similar to the 26% who view it as “a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.”
“This is the first time in Gallup’s four-decade trend that biblical literalism has not surpassed biblical skepticism. Meanwhile, about half of Americans — a proportion largely unchanged over the years — fall in the middle, saying the Bible is the inspired word of God but that not all of it should be taken literally.”
Well, what we have here is quite literally a problem. The first problem is the use of the word literally. The word customarily should not be used in this sense, suggesting that as we look at the headline and at the study and at the report what is really being measured here is whether or not people believe that the Bible is the actual word of God, that it is to be read as if it is the very word of God. The word literal here confuses things because, of course, the most proper use of the word literal has to do with literature, and anyone who affirms the full inerrancy and infallibility of the Scripture also understands that there are different literary forms in the Bible. There are forms in the Bible that are poetic, some are prosaic, some are historical, some are narrative. There are all kinds of different literature found in the Bible. The word literal in that literary sense applies to a great deal of the Scripture, but it really doesn’t measure what this poll is reporting to be trying to get at. And that is whether or not people actually the Bible is the word of God.
But let’s not get too far from the headline because what the headline tells us is a trend line. It tells us that this is the first time in the Gallup organization’s four decade history that the percentage of persons who indicate that they believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, to be taken literally, is actually almost the same, indeed slightly smaller than the percentage of Americans who hold an extremely anti-supernatural, extremely liberal view of Scripture, simply defining the Scripture as a collection of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts, a merely human book.
Now as the story says, unsurprisingly actually, the vast majority of Americans belong somewhere in a middle position. But let’s leave the muddled middle for a minute and look at the two positions that lead the story. That is the position that the Bible is in reality the word of God and the argument that the Bible is merely a human book, a collection of fables, legends, and some historical material. What you have in those two positions is at least an honest disagreement, at least what you have there is an adequate contrast of what’s at stake. In the muddled middle these issues are very confused and, of course, as you start to look at the data, you discover that there are Americans who say, yes I believe the Bible is to a greater or lesser extent inspired to a greater or lesser extent the word of God. But at this point we need to understand that what Christians historically and rightly believe about Scripture is that it is the verbally inspired word of God. That it is indeed the word of God to the extent that as a theologian B.B. Warfield said,
“When Scripture speaks, God speaks.”
The word literal, as we’ve already said, is not the best word to describe this position. Rather, let’s just put it this way: the Bible is the word of God. When the Scripture speaks, God speaks. Behind that is an understanding of what is revealed in Scripture, which is verbal plenary inspiration, that God inspired the human authors of Scripture such that the very words of Scripture are inspired and the word plenary in terms of the church’s historic understanding of verbal plenary inspiration means that not only is every word inspired, but that every word is fully inspired. That is to say, we’re not looking in Scripture for the inspired parts. All of it is inspired.
So stepping back for a moment even from the church’s historic understanding of Scripture and even from comparing that with very liberal positions, what’s most important here is the movement. It’s the trend line. That’s why Gallup ran the story. That’s why Gallup wrote the story as they did. What has changed is the trend line. For the first time in the 40 years Gallup has been asking this question, the skeptics slightly outnumber those who affirm the church’s historic understanding of Scripture. Is that a surprise? In reality probably not. As a matter fact, one of the interesting things is that even if you look back over the trend lines, more Americans at least said in terms of answering the poll-taker’s question that they believe the Bible is the literal word of God than certainly lived in any sense as if they believe the Bible would be and is the literal word of God.
So one of the things you have to measure here is that what’s actually recorded in this kind of research is what Americans say because they think it’s what they ought to say when a pollster asks them about their beliefs in Scripture. So that’s what’s really going on here. It’s not most interestingly a fundamental question about the authority of Scripture. It is really our society that’s being judged in terms of this question. What we see is that the secularization of this society has continued to the point that now fewer Americans, a record few, indicate that they believe the Bible is the literal word of God. That means that only a minority of Americans either think or think they’re supposed to say that the Bible is the literal word of God.
Now there’s something else that’s also interesting here, and that is that the number of skeptics really hasn’t increased all that much. So if you take what you might call the right wing and the left wing, the more liberal position really hasn’t grown all that much. It’s the muddled middle that is growing, and there again we simply have to understand that’s what we would expect.
We would expect in the middle this kind of cultural confusion for an increasing number of Americans to simply say, oh I think the Bible is in some way the word of God to some extent; it is in some places, maybe not in other places. And you also note for that middle how convenient that position now appears to be because it allows them to say, I believe the Bible’s both a divine and a human book, which means there are divine parts and human parts, meaning that if there’s a verse that is particularly inconvenient, a text of Scripture that’s particularly awkward in the year 2017, I can say, well, I know that the Bible is basically God’s word, but when it comes to that text I can simply, safely, set it aside.
Finally on this topic, we simply have to note that it is of interest to Christians what our neighbors believe about Scripture. That is certainly not unimportant, and here’s another sign of the times. But the greater issue for Christians is what Christians believe about the Scripture, and in particular, what the Christian church believes about Scripture, and it is at that point that we should direct our greatest concern. We shouldn’t be surprised by confusion in the world. But when it comes to the church, the church’s affirmation of the total perfection of Scripture, the total authority and trustworthiness and truthfulness of Scripture, the inerrancy and infallibility, the verbal inspiration of Scripture, those must be very, very clear. If not, it’s only a matter of time before we too join the muddled middle.
No man will do: Why secular economists are alarmed at the recent decline in marriages
Finally a story that came from the Washington Post in recent days once again the subject of research, this time it has to do with women and marriage. It’s a major study. But the most interesting thing about it is that it indicates that for an increasing percentage of women in America, it’s not only that many men will not do when it comes to getting married, it turns out that evidently no man is going to do. This is a refutation of what had been noted in recent years in terms of the notion of the marriageable male. That is to say, women were indicating that they were increasingly choosy about the men they would marry. Marriage is no longer such a social obligation and expectation that women had to settle for the man who might ask them to marry. So over the last several decades, women have become more specifically choosy when it comes to choosing men to marry.
So why the news story this week? Because as this story indicates, an increasing number of American women don’t intend to get married, period. No man will do.
Economics professor Melissa Kearney and her co-author Riley Wilson did this major study, and what they found is that the decoupling of childbearing and marriage has become almost absolute in some sectors of American society. That’s to state that women are not saying that they do not want to have children, they are saying they will not be limited in having children by the question of whether or not they are married. Seth Sanders at Duke University, a public policy professor, pointed to Appalachia in particular just as one example, saying that in that American region for decades there had been an exception to at least many of the trends in the larger culture because there had been a union of the understanding of when children should be born and in what context. That is to say, there was little acceptance of having children outside of marriage.
But as the Washington Post says,
“Times have changed.”
And this professor makes that very same point saying,
“There has been growing acceptance of having children outside of marriage.”
Now all that is really interesting, just further evidence of the renegotiation of morality in America right down to the institution of marriage. But the really surprising thing in this article hasn’t even been mentioned yet. It comes down to this: even some of these secular researchers, including some that are unquestionably advocates of the moral revolution and the redefinition of marriage, are now concerned about the very data about which we’re talking. Why? They are concerned because it is economically destabilizing for marriage to becomes an increasingly unpopular option. Why? Because having two adults in the household that are earning and contributing to the life of the family turns out to be stronger than just one. And, by the way, this is not just wage earning. This has to do with total economic power, including the economic contribution that is made to the family by a stay-at-home parent as well.
So what you have here is really interesting. Now you have some of the secular researchers who have been saying all along that marriage might not matter all that much, that we can certainly redefine marriage and sexual morality. They’re now saying, wait just a minute, what exactly have we unleashed in the society? It turns out that it’s economically destabilizing for marriage to be undermined. But of course Christians knew that already, understanding that marriage is essential to human flourishing because the Creator gave it to us indeed in creation in order that his human creatures would flourish. To violate marriage is therefore to undercut human flourishing. Now there’s evidence of this coming in the form of concern even from secular researchers who on the other hand still are not about to make one negative judgment about the moral revolution. But at least they register the concern. Maybe that’s at least one step towards increased honesty on the question.