The Briefing 06-01-17

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New Illinois policies mandate foster parents and staff be "LGBTQ-affirming," "facilitate" exploration

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Is "Drag Queen Story Hour" coming to a public library near you?

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Our changing moral landscape: When gambling is within driving distance of virtually every American

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Christ-haunted culture: "Redemption," "salvation," and "a fallen world" in the pages of the NYTimes

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Transcript

The Briefing

June 1, 2017

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

It’s Thursday, June 1, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

New Illinois policies mandate foster parents and staff be "LGBTQ-affirming," "facilitate" exploration

This is not a story that has yet reached much of the attention of the mainstream media, or perhaps putting it differently, the mainstream media doesn’t appear too interested yet in the story. But The Federalist is, and Mary Hasson of The Federalist offers us a story with the headline,

“Illinois Purges Social Workers And Foster Families Who Don’t ‘Facilitate’ Transgenderism.”

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“Facilitate” is put in scare quotes. Now the story is really interesting because as Hasson reports, Illinois has now adopted regulations that would in effect make it impossible for anyone to be a foster parent in that state, much less to be employed even as a volunteer in the system, without entirely affirming the entire LGBTQ agenda and most particularly facilitating—that’s the word that’s used in the document—the transition of children and teenagers in terms of their gender identity. Anyone who would hold to any positions that would to any degree not endorse the idea of transgenderism, well, that individual is simply out in terms of foster parenting or volunteering, much less working within the state’s system.

Hasson reports,

“The science-deniers are running the LGBTQ show over at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and dissenters will not be tolerated. The department’s new ‘enhanced,’”—that again is in scare quotes—“policies promoting the “well-being of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) children and youth in the Department’s care”—all that’s a quotation—“ratchet in one direction only: encouraging children towards LGBTQ identities. DCFS has drawn a rainbow-colored line in the sand, announcing it “will not tolerate exposing LGBTQ children and youth to staff/providers who are not supportive of children and youths’ right to self-determination of sexual/gender identity.”

It turns out this is all traceable to what the department calls its newly enhanced standards and policies referring to child welfare and in particular to the foster care system. Hasson gets it exactly right when she tells us,

“The new DCFS policies are less about safety and wellbeing and more about using state power to “overrule” basic, empirical (and common sense) truths about human beings and to replace them with ideological assertions that validate adult feelings rather than benefit children.”

I would actually put it a bit more strongly. This is actually a set of policies that rules out all believing, convictional Christians from participation in the foster care system there in the state of Illinois. Now keep in mind also that state-by-state there are recurring patterns in which it is Christian churches and Christian parents who are particularly given to offering these kinds of services to children. This goes well back in terms of the nation’s history where most of the childcare systems and orphanages that existed before the state began taking over these services in the 20th century were explicitly Christian. The new regulations in Illinois will require all adults, whether volunteers or employees, to simply “facilitate exploration of any LGBTQ matters through an affirming approach.”

Notice the phrase “affirming approach” is stipulated required in the policy. It also says that these volunteers must be open, nonjudgmental, and they must express empathy. Looking to the policy myself in terms of what’s available on the website there in Illinois, section 302, appendix K is entitled,

“Support and Well-Being of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Children and Youth.”

Again LGBTQ. Reading from the policy the state demands,

“Children and youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning are protected by the Illinois Human Rights Act. Children and youth have many legal rights while in care, including the right to be free from verbal, emotional and physical harassment in their placements, schools, and communities. The adults involved in their care have a legal and ethical obligation to ensure that they are safe and protected. These children and youth also have the right to be treated equally, to express their gender identity, and to have the choice to be open or private about their sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity.”

Now of course, every morally sensitive adult and certainly everyone who’s involved in the adoption or foster care enterprise must be absolutely committed to the well-being of children and youth. But the question is, who defines that well-being? It’s clear that in the state of Illinoi it is the sexual revolutionaries who alone have the power and authority to define the well-being of young people and children. But also note this: there’s the use of the word hurt or harm, which is expressed even to giving something less than full enthusiastic support in terms of the transgender revolution.

Insofar as those who by Christian conviction cannot give such enthusiastic approval of this new sexual ideology, the statement says,

“DCFS will not accept the services of volunteers who fail to abide by Appendix K, and will not contract with private agencies who fail to adopt LGBTQ policies that are at least as extensive as Appendix K (including, without limitation, policies providing for employee discipline, up to and including termination, for conduct in violation of the non-discrimination policy.”

Now that’s something that I didn’t expect to see even in this kind of draconian policy completely given over to the new ideology of the sexual revolutionaries. It’s here demanded that any agency with whom the state of Illinois might partner must have policies that are at least as extreme as the Department of Children and Family Services there, and if they’re not exactly the same, they must actually goe further in terms of compliance with the demands of the sexual revolutionaries. Also made very clear in the detailed Appendix K is the requirement that all the adults who are involved in the system must be willing to use the preferred gender pronoun for the minors who are addressed to their care.

And furthermore, it is also very clear in terms of the details of Appendix case that the sexual revolutionaries are continuing to push the boundaries. For example, there is a new expression that is found here,

“Gender Expansive: Having or being perceived to have gender expression and/or behaviors that do not conform to traditional or societal expectations.”

The next sentence,

“Gender-expansive individuals may or may not identify as LGBTQ.”

Taking all of these policies in their details seriously word by word, it becomes apparent that all the adults in the foster care system there in Illinois are basically going to have to treat every single child as somewhere on the LGBTQ continuum, if not actually then potentially, and if not now then perhaps in the future. So let’s take the measure of what we’re facing here. At the very time that we face an unprecedented number of young persons and children who need care, at the very time that states are reaching out saying they need more parents to participate in the system, more adults to volunteer in the foster care system, at the very time they are trying to reach out to the community saying we need help, they’re making very clear that help is not going to be welcomed from anyone who holds to his worldview anything close to biblical Christianity.

We’re not just looking here at the ominous pattern of government using its coercive power in order to further of the moral revolutionaries. We’re looking at the fact that they are quite willing to sacrifice children and the well-being of children to that very revolution. This development in Illinois also serves as a very brutal reminder of the fact that there is no way to escape the impact of this tremendous moral divide in the United States. We’re looking at a divide over the very definition of what it means to be human, what it means to be male and female, and what it means to care for rather than to harm children. This story is a very tragic way to underline the fact that there is nowhere to hide.

Is "Drag Queen Story Hour" coming to a public library near you?

Next, as I said, that story really isn’t yet headline news. The secular media seemed to be avoiding it entirely, but they’re not avoiding other stories. A recent edition of the New York Times actually came with a headline story. Here’s the headline,

“Story Hour at the Library, Presented in Drag.”

No this is not satire. This is a straightforward news reports in none other than the New York Times. Una LaMarche writes,

“Story hour, long a mommy-and-me staple, had never looked so colorful. She stood well over six feet tall, the reader at the Hudson Park branch of the New York Public Library in Greenwich Village, her height aided by six-inch heels on purple patent leather boots. Her outfit was an oxymoronic neon camouflage bodysuit and a purple tutu. A tuft of fuchsia hair curled from under a spandex headdress with fabric-covered cylinders lined up in a row, like a Keith Haring-inspired Mohawk. As she entered,”

We are told,

“The adults clapped politely, but the preschool- and kindergarten-age children huddled on a rug went wild. With the elation typically reserved for a ‘Frozen’ character, one toddler screamed ‘Yay!’ and clapped furiously, squirming in his mother’s lap. ‘My name,’” said the reader, “‘is Harmonica Sunbeam,’ the reader said, in a voice used to loud rooms. As a warm-up, she had the children sing ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and then march vigorously in place. ‘I’m getting you ready for Zumba’…. She sat down and read aloud from ‘Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress’ by Christine Baldacchino. The book,” we are told, “is about a boy who wore a beloved dress to school every day. At one point, Morris’s friends inform him that he isn’t allowed to play on their imaginary spaceship, because ‘astronauts can’t wear dresses.’ ‘Yes, they can!’ one child cried out. ‘No, they can’t,’ said another. ‘Boys can’t wear dresses,’ a third added.”

We are then told,

“The debate continued as Harmonica Sunbeam listened. Then she leaned down, addressing the children in a conspiratorial stage whisper.”

Now at this point, just remind yourselves that this is a public library in the United States of America. LaMarche then tells us,

“This is Drag Queen Story Hour. The brainchild of the writer Michelle Tea and Radar Productions, it is exactly what it sounds like: drag queens reading stories to children. It began in San Francisco in December 2015 and spread to Brooklyn last summer, thanks to social media attention.”

The New York Times then excitedly reports,

“Later this spring and summer, the Drag Queen Story Hour will expand to Harlem and I     Inwood in Manhattan and to the Bronx.”

Eva Shapiro, the early literacy coordinator for the New York Public Library, said,

“At first we identified branches that we thought would be excited by it. We didn’t want any surprises. Some neighborhoods are less familiar with the concept. But so far everyone has been thrilled.”

LaMarche then tells us,

“After reading a few more books from the library’s preapproved list”—notice I’ll simply insert here “the library’s preapproved list”—“some, like ‘Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress’ or “It’s Okay to be Different’ by Todd Parr, address themes of diversity and gender expression, while others are simply story time favorites — Ms. Sunbeam distributed scarves and asked the children to shout out their favorite ice cream flavors, an exercise that inspired a more contentious debate than that over the astronaut’s dress. Then they broke for a paper crown decorating session.”

The most telling sentence in the entire article comes at the end where the person identified as Ms. Sunbeam says,

“We all learn every day in life. And there’s a lesson in everything you do. Sometimes we just have to sneak it in.”

Well that’s exactly what’s going on here—sort of. This is sort of sneaking in the message. But if you’re actually sponsoring a program at public libraries on both coasts in several locations and you’re calling it the Drag Queen Story Hour, maybe it’s not so much that you are trying to sneak in a message as you are barging in with the message. Now looking at a headline story like this one from the New York Times, it’s all too easy to say the obvious this is where the moral revolution leads. But there’s more to it or I wouldn’t be talking about it.

The more to it is this: at this point, many Christian parents or informed Christians even looking at this story will say, well, we are talking about Greenwich Village, we’re talking about San Francisco, but you have to go on to notice that they are introducing this program neighborhood by neighborhood. And furthermore, if you’re in a city like Dallas or Houston or Phoenix or Atlanta, maybe Charlotte, North Carolina, it’s easy to say this isn’t New York City. But when it comes to the agenda we’re looking at here and when it comes to the kinds of programs that are being presented as what the public library wherever it is located should do, well, then don’t be surprised if the Drag Queen Story Hour actually does show up in Tampa or Atlanta, or for that matter, Birmingham or Nashville or just about anywhere else. Just as the new norms in terms of childcare and foster care are expanding coast-to-coast—remember that first story was from Illinois—in the same way the agenda that you see in this story coming from New York City certainly isn’t limited to New York City. The ideology that has infected just about every dimension of public life, including the public libraries, it spreads like a virus, and it will not be contained.

Our changing moral landscape: When gambling is within driving distance of virtually every American

Next in terms of tracing the cultural and moral change in the United States, sometimes it shows up on the business and financial pages of the newspaper, such as recently in the Wall Street Journal. The headline story,

“Caesars Rolls With Changes in Casino Scene.”

This has to do with Caesars International emerging after struggles including bankruptcy trying to find its way in modern America. The business issues behind this story have to do with a lot of things, most importantly, the changed business and financial landscape of organized gambling in America today, an America in which organized gambling remains a very big industry. But this is an industry that is having to face new realities. It’s having to squeeze more profit from things like hotel rooms and from meals and alcoholic beverages and entertainment, but what’s really interesting is what’s simply mentioned in the story as if we should all know this and move on. In the second paragraph of the story by Chris Kirkham we read this,

“Now it,” meaning the gambling industry, “faces a new challenge: How to grow when gambling is within driving distance of virtually every American, and even international opportunities have diminished.”

Let’s go back over that sentence. What we’re told here is that gambling is facing a new challenge because now gambling “is within driving distance of virtually every American.”

We can pass over that pretty quickly without pausing to reflect what a massive change in American life that actually represents. As recently as 20 years ago, that was hardly the case. Going back even to the last decades of the 20th century, organized gambling in the United States, the casino industry in particular, was found only in two major locations outside of Native American reservations. Those were Las Vegas, Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey. But over the course of the last half of the 20 century, state-by-state accelerating in the 1980s and 90s began to adopt certain forms of gambling, including one of the forms most pernicious to their own citizens, which is the form of a state-sponsored lottery.

But after that the expansion in terms of gambling income, both for the industry and for the states looking for revenue, it turned increasingly to other forms of gambling that the states had avoided steadfastly. The very idea that most of these states would allow casino gambling would’ve been unthinkable just a matter of a quarter-century ago. Now the big problem is gambling, as the Wall Street Journal tells us, is now accessible within a half day’s drive to virtually every single American. It’s at least worth the observation that that sentence alone in a matter of just a few years ago would not have been buried on the business page as something we’re all supposed know and factor into the business equation. It would have run on the front page because it would’ve been front-page news. It would have been understood then that this would represent an entirely different America, morally speaking, than that which was then known. At the very least, we ought not to let a story like that pass without any attention whatsoever. This might not be big news in any sense to those who are writing the business pages of the Wall Street Journal. But morally speaking, it’s huge news if indeed it really is news.

Christ-haunted culture: "Redemption," "salvation," and "a fallen world" in the pages of the NYTimes

Next, we live in a world that is increasingly distant from the Christian biblical worldview but is still in an odd way haunted by it. Saturday’s edition of the New York Times included an obituary notice for one of America’s most famous writers and poets, Denis Johnson, who died last Wednesday at age 67. Of great interest to the New York Times in terms of this obituary about Denis Johnson is the fact that this writer had directed so much of his attention to the moral boundaries in the United States, often writing very openly about moral outcasts and all of their moral complexities. As Michiko Kakutani writes in that front-page story for the New York Times, Denis Johnson wrote about “the lost, the dispossessed, the damned — with empathy and unsparing candor.”

Kakutani later in the article writes,

“Mr. Johnson’s America, past or present, is uncannily resonant today. It’s a troubled land, staggering from wretched excess and aching losses, a country where dreams have often slipped into out-and-out delusions, and people hunger for deliverance, if only in the person of a half-baked messiah. Reason is in short supply here, and grifters and con men peddling conspiracy thinking and fake news abound; families are often fragmented or nonexistent; and primal, Darwinian urges have replaced the rule of law. And yet, and yet, amid the bewilderment and despair, there are lightning flashes of wonder and hope — glimpses of the possibility of redemption.”

Now wait just a minute, the word redemption almost cries out from the page here. This is the New York Times, but there’s another word that leaps out at us from even earlier in the story. Kakutani writes of Johnson’s stories that they “depict people living on the edge, addicted to drugs or adrenaline or fantasy, reeling from the idiocies and exigencies of modern life, and longing for salvation.”

Longing for salvation? That’s earlier in the article. Hoping for glimpses of the possibility of redemption, that’s later in the article. But here’s the headline of the article,

“Denis Johnson’s Poetic Visions of a Fallen World.”

Now let’s just think about this for a moment. Here you have the words salvation and redemption following in a headline story that speaks of a fallen world, but what’s so heartbreaking in this is that there’s no theological definition of what it means to live in a fallen world. No one seems to be asking the question, fallen from what or from whom? But why, we have to ask, would an increasingly secularizing society find stories such as these so absolutely compelling, so endlessly fascinating? Why are we drawn even as a secular culture to so many of these themes that all of a sudden show up as if shouting out loud from the text of the New York Times using words like salvation and redemption and tying that to hope?

And what about that front-page headline speaking of Denis Johnson’s stories, his poetic visions of a fallen world? Well it tells us something. It tells us that even in this very confused age there is still an understanding that this is a civilization and that we are a species fallen. A secular society apparently is not ready to ask the question from what state are we fallen, against whom have we sinned, but there is a clear understanding that the world is not right. And this comes with a reminiscence somewhere in terms of a haunting memory that it must have been otherwise in the beginning. This article certainly doesn’t speak of sin. The word is nowhere in the article. But notice how even sin comes through with references to the lost, the dispossessed, and the damned, “people living on the edge, addicted to drugs or adrenaline or fantasy, reeling from the idiocies and exigencies of modern life,”

What binds them all together? Her very next words are: “longing for salvation.”

Some of the most powerful literature of the modern age addresses very directly the fact that we are still in a Christ-haunted culture. Much of that literature goes back to that second half of the 20th century, but here’s an obituary dated in the month of May in the year 2017 with “a fallen world” in the headline and hopes and glimpses of salvation and redemption in the body of the story. Christians looking at this kind of article need to remember that this is why the Bible itself calls the Gospel good news, the evangelium. And in this article tells us that in, yes, this fallen world, people, even people in today’s very complex postmodern, post-Christian America, desperately are hungry to hear the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing