June 28, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, June 28, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Geographic virtue signaling: Four more 'discriminatory' states added to California's state travel ban
Looking at a map of the United States, we are at least told there are 50 states in a federation, a constitutional republic, one nation, the United States of America. But what if certain states declare other states to be morally unacceptable? That’s exactly what’s happening in a front-page news story in the Washington Post in which Peter Holley tells us that California has added four more so-called “discriminatory” states to its state government travel ban. As Holley writes,
“Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed controversial legislation into law that allows child welfare providers — including faith-based adoption agencies — to refuse adoptions to hopeful parents based on ‘sincerely held religious beliefs.’”Show Full Transcript
The Post then tells us,
“In response, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Thursday that his state will prohibit its employees from traveling to Texas because Texas has enacted laws that, he said, discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals and their families.”
We’re then told,
“Texas, home to the nation’s second-largest economy, joins California’s growing list of states — Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota were added at the same time — to which state-sponsored travel has been curbed because of similar legislation.”
Previous states include Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Kansas. So here you’re talking about a serious subset of the total number of 50 states that the state of California now declares are off limits in terms of official state travel. What you have here in the language used by the California Attorney General and similarly by his predecessor Kamala Harris, who is now a United States Senator, is language by which the state government in California has decided that these other states are morally inferior to the point that they will not send any state official and will not fund any state travel for California persons to these affected states. That’s a major moral statement; it’s of course intended to be a major moral statement.
The Attorney General of California is grandstanding in terms of the LGBTQ issues and is doing so while very politically safe in the state of California. And the state of California’s travel ban is very extensive. Arguably, it might actually extend to the state universities and their athletic teams. The San Francisco Chronicle is saying that the state might consider an exemption for these collegiate sporting events, but that exemption is not guaranteed in terms of the legislative authority by which the Attorney General of California has acted. This is really a radical development, and in one sense it threatens our entire federal system of government. We’re talking about one state, in this case the state of California, declaring that other states, for example as in this news story the state of Texas, to be morally inferior to the point that the state does not intend to allow its own officials even to visit on state-funded travel. That’s very significant. As a matter fact, I think it’s hard to overestimate the actual importance of this decision.
I think many people looking at this kind of news story will say that’s kind of predictable, politically speaking, and furthermore it’s kind of eccentric. But we actually need to consider what this means in terms of our political compact, the compact between the 50 states who are at least in name the United States of America. And we’re talking about the fact that we have already addressed the geographic disparity in terms of worldview. It’s very real. If nothing else, here you have the state of California declaring just how real that worldview disparity is. You’re talking about a radical distinction in moral worldview between the majority in the state of California and the majority in the state of Texas. You’re talking about the most prosperous economy in the United States, the state of California, and the second most powerful economy in the same nation, the state of Texas.
Now if you were looking at this kind of development, for instance, in Europe between European nations, we would say, well, there are good historical reasons for that. We can understand why there is no United States of Europe and why we would consider that, on social issues, Poland, for example, and France are not going to be on the same page. But they’re not also the same nation. But in the United States, California and Texas are decidedly in the same nation, and let’s just remind ourselves we fought a civil war over these questions over a century ago.
On the one hand, this tells us a very great deal about the revolution in morality that has been brought about by this massive shift in human sexuality as represented not only in terms of the LGBTQ movement, but by the massive shift in sexual morality that preceded it on questions such as divorce and even cohabitation in terms of heterosexual marriage. But on the other side of that revolution we’re looking at the fact that Americans are now operating by separate worldviews that can even be defined in terms of a map and are now defined in terms of state policy coming in this case from the state of California.
But there are further developments to the story, as you might imagine. I’m speaking to you from Louisville, Kentucky, and Louisville, Kentucky is in, after all, one of the states identified by the state of California as being forbidden in terms of state travel in these travel restrictions. But the mayor of the city of Louisville, Greg Fischer, has appealed to the state of California to make an exception for Louisville even in the midst of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, because even though Kentucky has adopted this religious freedom act that very clearly the state of California finds objectionable, the Mayor of Louisville was very clear to say the city of Louisville is very LGBTQ friendly and thus should be respected as such, even over against to the travel ban for the entire state.
As the Louisville Courier-Journal said, Fischer had a somewhat different spin on it when he asked the California Attorney General for a waiver. The Mayor said,
“It is my belief that cities like ours should be rewarded for an inclusive behavior, not penalized; a waiver would highlight our inclusivity and encourage other cities to follow accordingly.”
But before leaving this story on that note, we need to also observe that there are other issues at play here, issues that have not made it into most of the major media coverage of the action taken by the California Attorney General. There is an economic issue, and the economic issue is huge. Over the last decade, there has been an economic war between the states of Texas and California. And by any measure, Texas has been the big winner. Individuals and corporations have been leaving the state of California and relocating to Texas, largely because of the extremely high cost of living in California, and in particular the high individual and corporate tax rates.
All of this, as some in Texas have observed, has led to an enormous economic drain, a transfer of wealth from California to Texas. This news story having to do with the Attorney General’s announcement of a travel ban with Texas leading the states might, if read correctly, be as much about the state’s coffers in terms of his taxes as much as it’s moral posturing. But don’t expect the officials in California to tell you that. It’s at least interesting that in this case you have the state of California doing its own form of moral signaling, also known as virtue signaling, but in a way that also might just tend to affect its economic interests as well. All too often, you’ll discover that the one is not disconnected from the other.
'No religion' now Australia's number one religion? No, but new census data reveals secularizing trend
Next, we shift from California and Texas, for that matter from the United States of America, to a very different nation joined by the same language, in this case Australia. We’ve often discussed the fact that Australia is a distinction in terms of the English-speaking nations probably mostly because of its history, but it has never experienced the kind of evangelical awakening that has marked North America and the United States specifically. So Australia in this sense has been on the leading edge of secularization but in a way that fits its own identity and history. But the major media across the world trumpeted this very fact in terms of headlines in the last several days, including the headline that ran at BuzzFeed News,
“‘No Religion’ Is Now Australia’s Number One Religion.”
I actually went to the webpage of the Census Bureau there in Australia; it’s better to go to the authoritative source. Here’s what the Census Bureau report released on the 27th of June tells us,
“The results of the latest national Census today reveal we’re a religiously diverse nation, with Christianity remaining the most common religion (52 per cent of the population). Islam (2.6 per cent) and Buddhism (2.4 per cent) were the next most common religions reported. Nearly a third of Australians (30 per cent) reported in the Census that they had no religion in 2016.”
The Census Bureau then summarized,
“The religious makeup of Australia has changed gradually over the past 50 years. In 1966, Christianity (88 per cent) was the main religion. By 1991, this figure had fallen to 74 per cent, and further to the 2016 figure. Catholicism,” in the summary statement we are told, “is the largest Christian grouping in Australia, accounting for almost a quarter (22.6 per cent) of the Australian population.”
Now just reading that much, here’s something we would observe. Many in the media are telling us that nonbelief is now the biggest single religious group in Australia. Is that true or false? Well it’s blatantly false, not when you consider the lede in the Census Bureau statement that tells us that Christianity has remained the most common religion at 52% of the population. Now you can simply do the math. 52% is a majority. It’s impossible for any other group to be the largest single group. So how in the world have many in the media leapt upon the fact that ‘no religion’ is now the biggest single religious identity in Australia? It’s because they have taken apart all the denominational affiliations and stripped them out.
So looking at the chart that comes from the Census Bureau, it is ‘no religion’ that stands as the largest single group at 30.1%. By the way, that’s a radical increase in just the last five years where ‘no religion’ was just 22.3% in 2011. But the groups are broken out in such ways that the identifications include these: Catholic, Anglican, Uniting Church, Christian not further defined, Presbyterian and Reformed, Eastern Orthodox, Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, other Protestant, and it goes on through what is very clearly a list of different denominational and different theological identities. Now to be sure those are very, very important.
One of the things Christians, by the way, need to observe here, evangelical Christians particularly, is that when we are looking at this kind of data we are not reading hearts. We are not making a theological judgment in specific terms about whether or not any of these persons reflected in the Census Bureau are actually regenerate believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is not the kind of question that’s even asked; it’s a question of religious affiliation. And furthermore, even as you look at this list, it is clear that some of the churches on this list would not consider others of these churches even to be legitimate Christian churches. So you have the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, and all Protestants grouped together. That’s inevitable if you’re going to look at the question as to the influence of historic religious traditions on a nation. Thus, evangelical Christians would not protest when you have the reference to the Christian heritage of Europe, for example, even though that would include many persons we would not actually understand to be believing Christians, but they clearly do represent the clear identification with the Christian tradition, and in cultural terms that’s what’s most important.
Now there can be absolutely no question that Australia is in some ways on the leading edge of this process of secularization, and a more secular population is growing quite quickly, as we’ve said up at least 5%, displacing Catholicism as the largest single identity. But there’s more to the story and less to the story. One of the things we note is that there are many in the media who immediately pick up this kind of listing and say look, this means that the largest single religious identity is no religion. Thus, secularism is effectively the dominant religious posture in the country. But even in Australia, it turns out, just looking at the data, that’s not true. It’s not even close to being true. The very first paragraph in the actual Census Bureau report says that Christianity at 52% continues to be the dominant single affiliation of Australians responding to this question from their own government’s Census Bureau.
But at this point an interesting question entered my mind. If there are winners in terms of this 100% equation, then there have to be losers as well. So I looked at the chart to see between the years 2011-2016 who made the most major movement. And ‘no religion’ was the big winner, up from 22.3% to 30.1% just in that five-year period. So where were the losses? They were primarily in two specific categories. Number one, Roman Catholics: in 2011 they were the largest single group at 25.3%, five years later just 22.6%. Now that’s about a 3% loss. It might not sound like that much, but in five years in this kind of data that’s absolutely massive. The other group that had a very significant loss was what is known as the Uniting Church; those are the liberal Protestants in Australia. Now that simply mirrors what we have seen in Europe, and specifically in the United States where liberal Protestantism has collapsed right before our very eyes. Here we’re just looking at a five-year period. In terms of church growth and church records, five years is just the blink of an eye.
In terms of worldview analysis, we need to recognize that there is profound data here indicating the secularization of Australian society and, by extension, of other Western societies. The big number is one that hasn’t largely appeared in the mainstream media coverage. That big number has to do with a shift not just in 2011 to 2016, but rather from 1966 to 2016. There you’re talking about a 50 year period. And in that period the number of unbelievers who identified has gone up from less than 1%, actually .8%, to over 30%. That’s massive. There you’re not talking about five years. You’re talking about 50 years, and that 50 years is one within the lifespan of many people now living. That is to say, you have people who were alive in 1966 on Australia who are now inhabiting what is, theologically defined, a very different nation and society. The corresponding loss over the same half-century in terms of Christian identification means a shift from 88% claiming to be Christians in 1966 to just over 50%, 52% in 2016.
Those are the really significant figures. So secularization is happening, but it is not happening as fast as many of its advocates now claim. One of those advocates, Tosca Lloyd, she is the executive director of the Rationalist Society of Australia, wrote an opinion piece reflecting on the census data in the Sydney Morning Herald in which she said the clear message is this: Australia’s government now has a responsibility to secularize itself in order to match its secularized citizenry. She writes about the pressure, the proper pressure in her view, “for governments to take seriously the need for our society to secularise.”An urgency, she says, that is now more powerful than ever.
What do we need to note there? We need to note how persons taking advantage of this kind of data then offer it not just as research, not just as physical information, but as a moral mandate, the mandate for the government to disestablish all influence of Christianity in order to embrace quite boldly its responsibility to secularize the larger culture. So in that story from Australia there is more and less than what the mainstream media would indicate. But it is a big story, and not only for Australia, a story with big lessons for Christians in the United States and elsewhere as well.
NPR highlights importance of fathers for children's well-being—are they listening to their own report?
Next, coming back to the United States, a really interesting story ran by Claudio Sanchez on National Public Radio. NPR’s headline,
“Poverty, Dropouts, Pregnancy, Suicide: What The Numbers Say About Fatherless Kids.”
Now before we even go beyond the headline, we need to note that the most important and potentially the most controversial word in that headline is “fatherless.” Notice it doesn’t say “parentless.” It doesn’t even say “second parentless.” It says “fatherless.” Here you have an NPR report on the documentation concerning the negative effects on children who have absent fathers. They experience what is identified in the headline as fatherlessness. Sanchez writes,
“The growing number of fatherless children in this country poses one of the most serious problems in education today.”
The authority cited for that fact is best-selling author Alan Blankstein. According to Sanchez,
“He has spent most of his life advocating for kids who struggle in school. He wrote Failure is Not an Option” in order to encourage schools to create high-performing cultures.
So Sanchez then asked the question, “How many kids are fatherless?”
That question, when put to Blankstein, indicated that 24.7 million children in the United States do not live with a biological father. Now hold on just a moment. Now you have a situation in which we’re not only talking about “parent” or even “second parent” and we’re not just talking about “father,” we’re actually talking about “biological father.” Now in today’s culture, those are fighting words. We are told that it doesn’t matter, it can’t matter officially whether or not children have a mother and a father, all they need are parents, and sometimes it’s even argued they need two parents. But whether it’s a man and a woman, a father and a mother, those, we are told, are extraneous, even politically impossible questions to ask.
But this is National Public Radio, and NPR is running the story in which it boldly uses the word “fatherless” and then documents the problem. Citing Blankstein the story goes on to say that fatherlessness is having a great impact on kids and teenagers, most importantly in this case with a focus on education.
“Children,” according to this article and NPR, “are four-times more likely to be poor if the father is not around. And we know,” says Sanchez, “that poverty is heavily associated with academic success. [Fatherless kids] are also twice as likely to drop out.”
But the story goes on as the headline indicated. Blankstein in the interview says,
“You know, I’ve been in this for 30 years, and when I speak to superintendents, social service people and counselors in schools, they’ll easily acknowledge that at the root of kids’ [academic] problems, is the lack of a relationship with their father.”
Now just hang on. I don’t know whether NPR recognized just how inconsistent this story is with their general editorial philosophy, very clearly championing the LGBTQ revolution that makes it impossible at least in terms of consistency to even treat fatherlessness as a reality, much less as a problem. The question is asked,
“Does fatherlessness affect boys differently than girls?”
“The research that I’ve seen says that girls are twice as likely to suffer from obesity without the father present. They’re four-times more likely to get pregnant as teenagers. Boys are more likely to act out, which is why we’re more aware [of how they’re affected], but if a young girl is imploding, we don’ t see it.”
So there’s a distinction between boys and girls and a distinction that comes down to whether or not the biological father is in the household and actively fathering.
Looking at a news story like this, Christians understand this is a testimony, indeed a heartbreaking testimony, to God’s plan for the family and God’s plan for children to have a mother and a father, both of them actively and energetically engaged in the raising, the nurture, and the teaching of children. And the absence of a father, according to the biblical worldview, should be expected to come with a significant loss to the child. That’s one of the reasons why in the Old Testament in particular and in the experience of the New Testament church there was a deep concern for how the church or how Israel in the Old Testament should make up for the absence of a father in the lives of children considered to be uniquely vulnerable and in need. The very fact that the biblical worldview understands that, well, it’s rooted in the doctrine of creation.
But when you’re looking at the contemporary moment, we are looking at cultural authorities, including National Public Radio, who tell us that it doesn’t matter if the child has a mother and a father in the home—until, evidently, they run their own news story based upon an argument that runs exactly in the counter direction. You simply have to wonder, does NPR listen to itself in these broadcasts and news stories?
As Christians however, we should be thankful for truth wherever truth is found. And I’m thankful that Claudio Sanchez and NPR produced this report, and I am thankful for the common grace found in the fact that fatherlessness is a word that’s included even in the headline news story. The story, as I have said, is heartbreaking. It’s a form of journalistic realism that should not be missed. But the story is also simultaneously an affirmation of God’s intention for the family, and the cost of breaking that intention, and of the political correctness that now affects so many in the media. We’re living in a time in which we’re almost shocked to see the word father, much less fatherlessness, appear in a news story from the mainstream media.