June 12, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, June 12, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Religious liberals back in the political game? The left's complicated relationship with religion
How’s this for a front-page story in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times?
“Liberals fighting for their faith.”Show Full Transcript
“Seeking to break right’s grip on nation’s moral agenda.”
Laurie Goodstein is the veteran religion reporter who’s on this particular story. She writes,
“Across the country, religious leaders whose politics fall to the left of center, and who used to shun the political arena, are getting involved — and even recruiting political candidates — to fight back against President Trump’s policies on immigration, health care, poverty and the environment.”
She goes on,
“Some are calling the holy ruckus a ‘religious resistance.’ Others, mindful that periodic attempts at a resurgence on the religious left have all failed, point to an even loftier ambition than taking on the current White House: After 40 years in which the Christian right has dominated the influence of organized religion on American politics — souring some people on religion altogether, studies show — left-leaning faith leaders are hungry to break the right’s grip on setting the nation’s moral agenda.”
Now that’s a great deal of material in just a few sentences, but let’s take stock of what we’re looking at here. Laurie Goodstein reports that after decades of shunning the political process, religious liberals are now interested in getting back in the game. But there’s a huge problem with that analysis. In the first place, it’s a factual problem. Religious liberals by no means left the political landscape. As a matter fact, they were the most important factors in terms of religious and political involvement for most of the 20th century. Religious conservatives, Christian conservatives in particular, were fairly late to come to the game. What is really behind this particular news story is a building frustration on the religious left that they’re not being taken seriously. But here’s where the story gets a great deal more complicated and, as you might expect, also more interesting. One indication is the very next paragraph from what I read earlier. I quote,
“Frustrated by Christian conservatives’ focus on reversing liberal successes in legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage, those on the religious left want to turn instead to what they see as truly fundamental biblical imperatives — caring for the poor, welcoming strangers and protecting the earth — and maybe even change some minds about what it means to be a believer.”
Now just a minute. In the earlier sentences we were told that the religious left wants to get back in the political game, having been out of it for several decades. But then it’s made abundantly clear in the very first sentence of the next paragraph that it is the liberals who in the main have been winning over and over again. Just in recent days on The Briefing we’ve discussed that massive Gallup organization study indicating that on almost every major moral issue of controversy over the last several decades, Americans have moved markedly to the left. And of course on these controversial questions, it’s the left that can count the big political victories, including judicial decisions on issues ranging from abortion to of course same-sex marriage, the very issues that are referenced in the last sentence.
So what we’re really confronting here is the kind of story that erupts periodically telling us that the religious left really isn’t dead. But as I said, the story is more interesting than that, because the big question is whether or not the left in any sense needs a religious left. That’s where there really is something potentially newsworthy here. Because what’s disappeared is not the left, the left has been winning. What has disappeared has been the religious left, in particular the liberal Christian left. And the reason for that is that the left has become so driven by secularism and by an overwhelmingly secular worldview that is hostile to any theological arguments, even liberal theological arguments. And of course we discussed on The Briefing the fact that when you have a society that is rapidly secularizing, especially in terms of the intellectual elites, they don’t believe themselves to need any religion, even liberal religion.
Oddly enough that point is often made by secular liberals themselves, but in this article it’s made by a religious liberal, in this case one very well-known in terms of the historic evangelical conversation since the 1960s. The Reverend Jim Wallis, as he is identified here, was in the 1960s at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School as a part of the leftward politics of the 1960s and 70s. He and others established movements such as the one he leads known as the Sojourners Community with its magazine known as Sojourners. It’s a predictably very politically liberal magazine, but Jim Wallis has contended for a religious left, in particular a Christian left. But speaking to the very question at the center of this article, Jim Wallis says,
“Most progressive religious leaders I talk to, almost all of them, feel dissed by the left. The left is really controlled by a lot of secular fundamentalists.”
Now what’s significant there is that that comment doesn’t come from a conservative, it comes from a political liberal. One of the individuals profiled in the article is the Reverend William J. Barber II. He is identified as the president of the North Carolina NAACP and also as the pastor of a small Disciples of Christ church in Goldsboro. He began staging what were known as moral Monday protests in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2013, and he went on to be in this article identified as something of a paragon of the new religious left. But it turns out that when you look closer at what’s going on here, it’s very much a continuation of the old religious left. If there’s anything new here, it might be a new set of issues and perhaps even a new public attention. But there’s something else in this article that is really interesting. For example, listen to this paragraph, I quote,
“Issues on which the religious left is at odds with Democratic doctrine include military spending and the death penalty, though the most polarizing is abortion — the main barrier, for many liberal evangelicals and Catholics, to voting as Democrats — as could be seen when the party split recently over whether to endorse an anti-abortion Democrat running for mayor of Omaha.”
So in that paragraph, embedded deep within the article by the reporter, we are told that there are still differences between even theological liberals and the Democratic Party. Abortion is one of them, but on other questions the religious liberals here identified as being more liberal than the Democratic Party at least as represented by its most significant national officeholders. But then there’s the next paragraph, and I read,
“Setting abortion aside, political appeals based on religious beliefs continue to carry risk for Democrats, given the growing numbers of Americans who claim no religion: Secular voters overwhelmingly vote Democratic, and younger voters are far more secular than older voters.”
So in the next paragraph we are told that it’s the Democratic Party that might be running a risk even to be associated with religious liberals, because their own base is growing increasingly secular and thus might be alienated by those very arguments and influences.
There are a lot of fascinating aspects of this particular report, but I think in the bottom line what we’re looking at is the fact that the left desperately wants assistance in any form it can be found. And if that assistance can come from the religious left, then so be it. But there’s also the very clear sense that the secular left would have to hold its nose in order to allow religious leaders and religious arguments into the liberal tent. But there’s something else here that should have our attention, and that’s the acknowledgment even in the beginning of this front-page article in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times that it has been claimed over and over again that there is a new resurgence of the religious left in terms of politics in particular.
But as the New York Times story concedes, this announcement of a resurgent political religious left has been made over and over again, but that movement tends to disappear almost as quickly as it has been announced. And in terms of secular hostility, it’s hard to see any statement more clarifying than that in this article from Jim Wallis. I repeat what he said,
“Most progressive religious leaders I talk to, almost all of them, feel dissed by the left. The left is really controlled by a lot of secular fundamentalists.”
Perhaps what’s also interesting there is that the word fundamentalism appears in a way we’re not accustomed to seeing in the New York Times, the expression ‘secular fundamentalists.’
Amazing new study shows that unborn babies can recognize faces while still in the womb
Next, we shift to another story that made the front page of a major American newspaper over the weekend. We shouldn’t miss this. On the bottom half of the front page of the weekend edition of USA Today here’s the headline:
“Womb with a view: Fetuses can recognize faces while still inside mom.”
Doyle Rice is the reporter. The story begins,
“We know babies love looking at the faces of their mom or dad. Now, for the first time, researchers have discovered that this preference develops in the womb several weeks before birth, according to a study published [last week].”
As Rice reports,
“By projecting light through the uterine wall of pregnant mothers, British scientists found that 34-week-old fetuses will turn their heads to look at face-like images.
“We have shown the fetus can distinguish between different shapes, preferring to track face-like over non-face-like shapes.”
That according to psychologist Vincent Reid of Lancaster University in the United Kingdom; he is one of the co-authors of the study. He continued,
“This preference has been recognized in babies for many decades, but until now exploring fetal vision has not been attempted.”
The scientific journal in which the research is published is known as Current Biology, and according to USA Today this research is the first to show it’s possible to explore sight and cognition in babies before birth.
Now let’s take stock of the fact that this article appeared on the front page of USA Today. Let’s ask the question, why? Well, one of the things we come to know from the media is that people are very, very interested in knowing about babies, and so baby stories, one way or another, tend to make the front pages from time to time. But this isn’t just about a baby story, this is about an unborn baby story, and that makes the situation altogether more fascinating.
First of all, without the media attention, let’s just consider the research. Who knew that babies in terms of their vision could be evaluated in the uterus? Who knew that a test could be arranged whereby it would be determined that babies are more likely to turn to images of faces than to other images? Now here you have a matter of research that’s documented, published in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s interesting just in and of itself, it’s fascinating to think about the fact that an unborn baby even at 34 weeks has this cognitive and visual ability.
But let’s also think for just a moment about what that tells us about that unborn child. First of all, it just affirms loudly and clearly that this is a child. This is not some kind of mere collection of cells, it’s not just some kind of potential human being. When we’re talking about recognizing facial shapes in the womb, we are talking almost any honest person would have to concede about a person, and if this child is a person at 34 weeks, then this child was clearly a person long before 34 weeks. Of course, here is where the Christian biblical worldview indicates that this person in the womb, this child was a person from the very beginning in terms of the fertilization of the egg and what we would rightly call the very moment of conception. From that point onward, this is a child, this is a person, not just a potential person. Potential people don’t have the ability to recognize faces and facial shapes. People do, persons do.
As a matter of fact, Christians must remind ourselves that the biblical worldview doesn’t even allow the category of potential persons, even of almost persons. Instead, we have persons, human beings made in the image of God, and God declares this life at the very beginning of that process. We know that that’s how Christians consistent with a biblical understanding would think about this issue, but what would a secular person think operating from a secular worldview? That is the worldview that has made it increasingly clear that millions and millions of Americans do not believe that the unborn child is a person, but only a potential person. How do they handle this kind of research? What does it mean to them, rationally or emotionally, intuitively for that matter, to be told that here you have very credible scientific research not undertaken in order to make a pro-life point that nonetheless points to the cognitive ability even in terms of recognizing faces already documented in present in babies at 34 weeks of gestation?
It’s moving to look a little bit further at the research. I quote from Doyle Rice’s report in USA Today,
“The ultrasound showed developing babies turned their heads to look more often at upright, face-like stimuli than those presented to them upside down.”
Kirsty Dunn, also at Lancaster University said,
“The behavior of the fetus’ here shows that they did see the shapes that we presented as they distinguished between the two patterns.
“It turned out,” she goes on to say, “that they responded in a way that was very similar to infants.”
Dunn went on to say,
“We have been able to explore the use of all the fetal senses except vision up until now. This includes touch, taste, smell, balance and hearing. But we wanted to move forward with understanding fetal vision.”
Just think about that. Here you have a team of secular researchers indicating that already long before the publication of this research or the arrival of this news article, researchers have been able to explore the use of all the fetal senses except vision including, let’s just look at that list, “touch, taste, smell, balance and hearing.”
Now add to the list, vision. As we think about this story, let’s realize one very big fact. Ever since the arrival of abortion on demand—just date it for instance to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court—every single scientific research project that has revealed anything to us about the unborn baby has been ultimately devastating to the claim that it is anything other than a child and a person. I guess in the end the big question comes down to this: What will the readers of this front-page news story in the weekend edition of USA Today make of it? Will it change not only what they know about the unborn child, but what they believe about the morality of abortion? If not, this is a fatal disconnect. But we also have to think about something else. Even if this kind of story does not reach some of their minds, it just might reach some of their hearts. We can pray so.
Military transgender policy, a pregnant "man," and the experiment in social self-deception
Next, we shift to another news story, another big issue. This one also reported by USA Today, Tom Vanden Brook reports that the armed services will be asking to delay the policy on transgender inclusion in the military that had been announced by the Department of Defense and the Obama Administration just about a year ago. Tom Vanden Brook writes,
“The Army and Marine Corps are requesting delays as long as two years in implementing a policy to accept transgender applicants into their ranks, according to government officials.”
The request for delays have been made to top Pentagon officials in advance of what was established as a July 1 deadline. The reason for the request? It turns out that several branches of the armed services really are admitting now they don’t have a clue as to how they’re going to meet the requirements of this policy. For example, as we read later in the article, the Army in seeking its delay has raised concerns about the ability of transgender troops to deploy to war zones while under treatment for gender transitions, this according to sources identified as three government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the policy since it’s still under consideration. The Navy we’re told is ready to implement some kind of policy, but there’s no indication it’s actually a policy consistent with the goals and ambitions announced by the Obama Administration. In terms of the Marine Corps, well, like the Army, leaders of the Corps are not at all yet clear how they could possibly pull off what was announced as the goal of the policy, the full inclusion of transgender persons.
Now stepping back from the headline and from the article, here’s what becomes very clear. We’re talking about the impossible in this case, we’re talking about asking the military—and of course the Obama Administration celebrated the announcement just last year—we’re talking about the armed services being turned into a vast laboratory for moral experimentation, and we’re also talking about the armed services of all things, the branch of American life that perhaps more than any other has to deal with the cold hard facts of reality. We are asking the armed services to embrace what is in terms of the calmest, the most mild-mannered language we could imagine, a myth. It’s actually a vast exercise in social self-deception.
And speaking about that giant social experiment in self-deception, how about the headline that seemed to ricochet all over the United States in recent days? For example, here’s one from KOMO-TV in Portland, Oregon, we are told in the headline,
“Portland transgender man pregnant with son.”
Now let’s just be honest. When you look at a headline like that, your first impulse is the right impulse. It’s to respond to the headline with, ‘I don’t think so.’ At this point we have to state the obvious, and yes it is the obvious. It is women who give birth to children, not men. You might call an individual giving birth to a child a man, that would not make that individual a man. It is women who give birth to children and only women who give birth to children. And furthermore, any individual who gives birth to a child has a chromosomal pattern that is undeniably female that identifies that individual as a woman. In terms of the transgender revolution, the society at large is being asked not only to accept but to celebrate what runs directly into conflict with reality. There is no such thing as a pregnant man giving birth to anyone, whether it is a son or a daughter. But what you see here is this giant societal experiment in self-deception that is being reinforced with this kind of media report that Americans are supposed to view and chalk off as one more step in terms of an inevitable moral progress.
Furthermore, I’ve commonly pointed on The Briefing to the fact that there are massive contradictions in terms of the claims of the sexual revolutionaries and here’s one example. The media reports concerning this couple and the child that they are having—that’s the language that is used here—and the very same news articles that claim that here you have a pregnant man giving birth to a child, we’re also told that this pregnant man is married to another man, and that they are in a gay marriage. Well, the law may say so, the media may say so, but the genetics will not say so.
What new science caused Bill Nye to censor an old show where he connected gender to chromosomes?
Finally, an almost quintessential statement of the kind of irrationality that is now celebrated in this society comes from the pages of National Review magazine. Again, referring to a story that’s also made its way across the country. The editors of National Review write and I quote,
“We’re into the Soviet revisionism portion of Bill Nye’s career. As part of his new Netflix show, ‘Bill Nye Saves the World’, Nye recently aired a segment titled, ‘My Sex Junk’, which features Nye who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering, gyrating in the background as actress Rachel Bloom sings about how sexuality is a spectrum.
“But,” says the magazine, “in a 1996 episode of Nye’s previous show, ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’, a young woman explains that ‘inside each of our cells are these things called chromosomes, and they control whether we become a boy or a girl. See there are only two possibilities, XX, a girl, or XY a boy.”
Well, as we often say, that was then and this is now. National Review says,
“There is some dispute about who did the deleting, Netflix or Buena Vista TV, which holds the program’s distribution rights. But the episode in its Netflix version no longer includes that scene. Hypothesis,” say the editors, “what’s changed in the two decades interim between shows has nothing to do with science.”
So Bill Nye the Science Guy, who most Americans don’t recognize merely has a baccalaureate degree in mechanical engineering, posing as the great spokesperson for science in this country, well, it turns out that Bill Nye the Science Guy in 1996 holds a very different position than Bill Nye the Science Guy in 2017. This is just about 20 years’ time as the editors of National Review indicate and understand. But in those 20 years we haven’t experienced a scientific revolution on these issues, it’s a moral revolution. Again, to cite the last sentence of their analysis,
“What’s changed in the two decade interim between shows has nothing to do with science.”