The Briefing 08-16-17

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Head of Scotland’s national arts agency calls for gender inclusivity by coercion in church leadership

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Pot paradise in California desert? Marijuana company buys California town for cannabis resort

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College and cannabis: Students perform better after losing legal access to marijuana

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Transcript

The Briefing

August 16, 2017

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

It’s Wednesday, August 16, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Today we’re going to here an influential figure in Scotland call upon the Scottish government to coerce churches to call women as pastors and priests. We’re going to ask what it means that a marijuana company has bought an entire small California town. And we’re going to find out in a story from the Washington Post that it is now documented that the use of marijuana among college students causes cognitive impairment.

Head of Scotland’s national arts agency calls for gender inclusivity by coercion in church leadership

Just in recent days an alarming story has come out of Scotland. The basis of the story comes down to this: the head of Scotland’s National Arts Agency, a very prominent figure in the country, has called for religious groups to be forced by law to ordain women clergy by law by legal coercion. It turns out that in this case Ben Thomson, the head of the national arts agency, has written an opinion which he forwarded when the Scottish government is now considering revising its laws on gender inclusivity and required diversity. His argument shocked people in Scotland and beyond because his argument is that religious groups should not even be tolerated if they do not ordain women to senior positions of leadership.

The focus of a lot of the conversation has been on what this would mean for Catholics and Muslims, but of course it would also mean coercion by the state for evangelical churches that simply operate by a biblical understanding of the order of ministry. Articles dealing with Ben Thomson’s comments appeared all over the media even in newspapers such as the Times of London. But I have to wonder could this be taken at face value? So I actually was able to find a copy of the document of Ben Thomson’s advisory addressed to Lesley Cunningham, the Gender Equality Policy Department of the equality unit of the Scottish government. He wrote in this advisory that he offered to the government,

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“To be clear, I fully support board diversity in all forms including gender diversity. My track record has emphasised this”

But then he moved on to the truly alarming portion of his advice to the government when he wrote,

“If we are really serious about gender diversity then in my opinion we need to fight against legislation that condones it in parts of our society. If we are to really get a better diversity and fairer treatment of women in society then we need to address the elephant in the room, that of sexual discrimination in religion. We would not tolerate murder, violence, racial discrimination or sexual abuse in any religious organisation so why do we not only tolerate but legislate for gender discrimination?”

Now Thomson’s comment there about the so-called elephant in the room is the fact that there are exclusionary allowances written into Scottish law concerning gender for religious organizations and churches. Thomson noted this when he writes,

“All religious organisations are exempt from gender discrimination. Schedule 9 of the Equality Act 2010 specifically states that there is an exception for sex discrimination if,” and here he italicizes the words, “the employment is for the purposes of an organised religion.”

He goes on to say,

“Therefore women are not afforded the same rights as men in the religious work place.”

He continues,

“There seems to be a huge focus by politicians and media on the importance of the number of women in cabinet or on corporate boards.”

But he says there’s little attention given to the fact that there are no female Catholic priests. He writes,

“Most of the religions practiced in the UK to some extent discriminate on the basis of gender and it is time we time we stopped supporting this exemption in our legislation.”

As might be expected Thomson’s comments gained a good deal of attention and incited controversy, and we should be glad of that. But it’s also interesting that in response to the controversy an official spokesperson for the Scottish government responded with these words,

“Scotland is a forward-thinking country with equality at its very heart and we do not tolerate prejudice in any form.”

Now that’s one of those statements made by a government spokesperson that says everything and nothing all at once. But what’s most dangerous about it is that the speaker assumes that it must mean something, or at least that the public will except that it means something. I repeat it because it’s important. The spokesperson said,

“Scotland is a forward-thinking country with equality at its very heart,” note the final words, “and we do not tolerate prejudice in any form.”

Well the thing is it’s really clear that Scotland in the form of its government does take positions on many issues and the alternatives to those positions it does not tolerate. That’s a form of prejudice. Every single intelligent person is making discriminations all the time in choosing the good, the better, the best, in making moral determinations. Anyone who is genuinely, totally nondiscriminatory is a person who has no opinion about the difference between good and evil. Now that’s moral insanity, and at least we should be comforted by the fact that most people who say they do not discriminate in any way don’t actually live by what they say nor do they recognize the insanity of it. The discrimination and prejudice Christians should oppose would be discrimination and prejudice on the wrong bases or for the wrong reasons. That’s very important for us to recognize. That’s one of the reasons why, for example, racial prejudice is so contrary to the Scripture and should be so offensive to all Christians as well as others. Where we find it offensive to others, we should celebrate it.

Years ago a prominent European philosopher wrote on tolerance, arguing that the only conception of tolerance that would really liberate humanity would be a conception of tolerance that would be intolerant of any position that was not totally tolerant. That’s not just a play on words. It’s a threat against anyone who is standing for say a traditional biblical understanding of morality and in particular of sexual morality. But here you have a major figure in Scotland offering his own advice to the Scottish Government, representing in one way or another the Scottish National Arts Agency when he says that it’s high time that the legislative provisions honoring religious liberty in Scotland should be scrapped because of the far higher priority of gender equality even if this means, as he acknowledges it will mean, forcing churches to have women as pastors and priests.

That’s simply the price you’re going to have to pay he argues if Scotland is really going to live up to its ideals of equality. And then you have a spokesperson for the Scottish government responding by affirming that equality in the words of the spokesperson is at the very heart of Scotland and Scotland doesn’t tolerate any form prejudice for any reason. Of course, the Scottish government is going to have to respond one way or another to this proposal. It will either follow Ben Thomson’s advice or it will reject it. If it follows it, it’s going to be prejudiced towards accepting his argument. If it rejects it, it’s going to be prejudice against the moral argument he has made. Either way you look at it, there’s no way that one can be tolerant of all positions and maintain any sanity or for that matter run a government. But here we see what is happening in the inevitable collision between the modern secular worldviews and religious liberty. If churches have to be coerced Ben Thomson argues in order to have women as preachers and priests, then let them be coerced. We cannot say we haven’t been warned.

Pot paradise in California desert? Marijuana company buys California town for cannabis resort

Next we turn back to the United States where a story gained international attention when, as for example, the Daily Telegraph of London reported,  

“One of the largest marijuana companies in the US has bought a California desert town, promising to turn it into a “cannabis-friendly hospitality destination.”American Green Inc. said it is buying all 80 acres of Nipton, which includes its Old West-style hotel, a handful of houses, an RV park and a coffee shop.”

Later in the article we read,

“The town’s current residents number fewer than two dozen and one of its major sources of revenue is the California Lottery tickets the general store sells to people who cross the state line from Nevada because they can’t buy them there.”

David Gwyther, American Green’s president and chief executive, said,

“‘We are excited to lead the charge for a true Green Rush. The cannabis revolution that’s going on here in the U.S. has the power to completely revitalize communities in the same way gold did during the 19th century.’ Indeed,” we’re told in the story, “it was a gold rush that created Nipton in the early 1900s.”

By the way, just in economic terms, no one seems to notice that the gold rush was exactly that. It was a rush, a spectacular bubble that then collapsed. There’s a reason that Nipton now has only a few dozen residents. It’s because the economy fell with the fall of the gold economy after the gold rush. The same thing is almost sure to happen when it comes to the groom rushed promised by American Green. This article at least tells us something about the ambitions behind this green rush of cannabis.

But something else came up in terms of an article that was published as an opinion piece in USA Today. The author was Jeff Hunt, vice president of public policy at Colorado Christian University. He points out that Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat of New Jersey, has announced he wants to introduce legislation known as the,

“Marijuana Justice Act in an effort,” it’s explained, “to legalize marijuana across the nation.”

Now Hunt goes on to say,

“This is the furthest reaching marijuana legalization effort to date and marks another sad moment in our nation’s embrace of a drug that will have generational consequences.”

Now it’s important to recognize that Senator Booker’s concern, and no doubt it’s a deep moral concern behind his Marijuana Justice Act, is the fact that there is a disproportionate number of African-Americans and in particular young African-American men who have been arrested for cannabis or marijuana related crimes and they have spent time in jail. And of course they have developed a criminal record. But Hunt argues in the USA Today piece that the actual result of Booker’s legislation will not be what he hopes and intends. He points to the 2002 legalization of so-called recreational marijuana in the state of Colorado, and he writes,

“Colorado has seen an increase in marijuana related traffic deaths, poison control calls, and emergency room visits. The marijuana black market has increased in Colorado, not decreased. And, numerous Colorado marijuana regulators have been indicted for corruption.”

He also points out that now four years after the vote to legalize marijuana in Colorado, remember the premise was not only that recreational marijuana would be enjoyed but that it would enrich the state in terms of its tax coffers, even though Colorado may brag of the $156,700, + thousand that was brought in 2016 in terms of the marijuana tax, the total tax revenue for the state was over $13 billion as Hunt remarks,

“making marijuana only 1.18% of the state’s total tax revenue.”

It also turns out that records from the Colorado Department of Public Safety indicate that after legalization the arrest rates for young African-American and Latino citizens in Colorado increased 58% and 29% respectively. Recall that that’s because Colorado didn’t completely legalize marijuana. It intends as a state to regulate the sale otherwise it will not be gaining that much vaunted tax revenue. Citizens of Colorado were told that legalizing marijuana would mean the minimization of black market, but the opposite has been the actual result.

College and cannabis: Students perform better after losing legal access to marijuana

But that leads us to another story having to do with marijuana. This one appeared in the Washington Post, the author of the piece is Keith Humphreys. Published on the 25th of July, Humphreys tells us in this article,

“The most rigorous study yet of the effects of marijuana legalization has identified a disturbing result: College students with access to recreational cannabis on average earn worse grades and fail classes at a higher rate.”

Now it’s important in an article like this to source it. The source is the Washington Post. This is not an article that was published by some kind of Christian activist organization. This is a very liberal newspaper. It’s the liberal newspaper, which is the most influential newspaper in the nation’s capital. The Washington Post article then tells us about research undertaken by two economists. They were looking at the decision of Maastricht, a city in the Netherlands, to change the rules for cannabis cafés, which had legally sold recreational marijuana.

“Because Maastricht,” writes Humphreys, “is very close to the border of multiple European countries (Belgium, France and Germany), drug tourism was posing difficulties for the city. Hoping to address this, the city barred noncitizens of the Netherlands from buying from the cafes.”

Then says Humphreys,

“This policy change created an intriguing natural experiment at Maastricht University, because students there from neighboring countries suddenly were unable to access legal pot, while students from the Netherlands continued.”

They did research on more than 4000 students published in a peer-reviewed journal that is known as the Review of Economic Studies, and according to the report, they,

“found that those who lost access to legal marijuana showed substantial improvement in their grades. Specifically,” writes Humphreys, “those banned from cannabis cafes had a more than 5 percent increase in their odds of passing their courses. Low performing students,” he writes, “benefited even more, which the researchers noted is particularly important because these students are at high-risk of dropping out. The researchers attribute their results to the students who were denied legal access to marijuana being less likely to use it and to suffer cognitive impairments (e.g., in concentration and memory) as a result.”

Now, again, this is the Washington Post saying that these researchers, economists looking at the impact of a withdrawal of legal marijuana for group of college students, found that there was a decrease in cognitive impairments. Now what’s most important there is the acknowledgment that with the use of marijuana comes cognitive impairments. Now a Christian should just take very seriously those two words – cognitive impairments. At least a part of the stewardship of our own bodies given to us by God should mean that we should not seek cognitive impairments in concentration and memory or for that matter in anything else.

The last paragraph of the Washington Post article is very interesting in a very different way, Humphreys writes,

“Although this is the strongest study to date on how people are affected by marijuana legalization, no research can ultimately tell us whether legalization is a good or bad decision: That’s a political question and not a scientific one. But,” he concludes, “what the Maastricht study can do is provides highly credible evidence that marijuana legalization will lead to decreased academic success — perhaps particularly so for struggling students — and that,” he summarizes, “is a concern that both proponents and opponents of legalization should keep in mind.”

Now let’s not rush past that initial sentence in the paragraph. He said this is the strongest study to date on how people are affected by marijuana legalization. But then he says, oddly enough,

“no research can ultimately tell us whether legalization is a good or bad decision.”

He then states it’s a political question and not a scientific one. The reason I draw attention to those words is that it’s rather arbitrary to make this argument now because many people in terms of public policy argue that science should be the determinative issue. But when it comes to marijuana, it turns out that some of the people who said science should rule are now saying well it’s basically a political not a scientific question. Remember that the Post article concludes in this last paragraph that what the study certainly does do is provide,

“highly credible evidence that marijuana legalization will lead to decreased academic success.”

For Christians that can’t be the only issue or even the ultimate issue, but it certainly is a legitimate issue. And we should take note that this was published in the Washington Post.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing