August 28, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, August 28, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’ll consider the meaning of Hurricane Harvey, the morality the new campus sex codes, and we’ll come to see that the long-term trajectory predicted by the moral revolutionaries simply isn’t long-term enough.
As Hurricane Harvey makes landfall, the best and worst of human nature is on display
On Friday night and Saturday morning the storm we now know as Hurricane Harvey charged on to the Texas coastline. By the time the storm hit it was a category four hurricane. As we know, it hasn’t yet left. Just putting it into perspective, a category four hurricane is one of the most massive storms that human beings can track or can imagine. We’re talking about such massive power concentrated in a cyclonic storm, and it is not a surprise that a category four hurricane would bring devastation and that the devastation would defy imagination — just in terms of the pictures one would see. The particular damage of Hurricane Harvey is actually coming less on the force of winds — though they had an enormous impact, a devastating impact, especially right along the coastline and it was the winds that qualified the storm as a category four hurricane — the most devastating factor in this storm is going to be the rain. The estimations are that some areas of Texas near Houston may receive as much as 50 inches of rain. That seems all most biblical in its proportions.
We are amongst the first to have the advantage of satellite technology in order to see these storms and to see them developing. Especially given the velocity of this storm and its development, it would have been even more deadly before the advent of satellite technology and the ability of institutions and organizations such as the National Hurricane Center to predict the how, the when, and the why of this storm. But still, amongst the big issues related to a storm like this is not just the power of weather, it is also certain patterns of human behavior. For instance, one of the things that became very evident in the early hours of the storm is that despite evacuation orders for many low-lying areas people were determined to stay. As someone who grew up in Florida experiencing, many hurricanes, I understand the temptation of persons to say, ‘We’ve seen these storms before, we will ride this one through, too.’ In all too many cases that can eventually become famous last words.Show Full Transcript
But there’s something else, and that is the fact that we as human beings control so much of our environment. We are able to do so much in terms of technology. We are able to know so much about these storms. Somehow we extend that to the idea that we should be able to do something about them. And that’s just a part of our human finitude measured over against the cosmos or even just over against one of these massive cyclonic storms not only is every single human individual quite small and therefore also quite vulnerable so is an entire human community even a Metropolitan area such as Houston, the fourth-largest in the United States in terms of population. Yesterday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was defending himself over against accusations that he should have ordered an evacuation of the entire Houston Metropolitan area. The mayor retorted that that would be impossible.
And by the way that triggers something else that most Americans don’t know. Back during the time of the intensity of the Cold War, when the reality of nuclear war was something that was very much on the American mind, our civil defense authorities assured Americans that there were plans to evacuate major American cities in the likelihood of an incipient nuclear attack. Actually, no such plans existed. Why? Because we do not have spare cities or any mechanism for moving millions of Americans anywhere. We know now what Americans back during the 50s and 60s did not know, and that is that all of those plans were basically just a way of offering some frail comfort to the American people because even if there were to be a nuclear war there would be know where to send Americans, especially, for example, in Washington DC, where as it turns out to be virtually impossible to evacuate not only all the people but even anything close to most of the people.
We do learn something from every storm in terms of a leadership lesson. One of the things to note here is just how fast politicians and government leaders were to try to get a head of the storm and to warn people and to come up with ways for an immediate response in order to help persons in the wake of the devastation of such a storm. Hard lessons learned, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the fact that the government and its leaders then at various levels were clearly unprepared for storm of that magnitude and its aftermath.
Another worldview dimension of a disaster like this is that you see it bring out morally and behaviorally both the best and the worst in terms of human nature. On the low side of the equation, you see persons who will seek to take advantage, you will see that there will be isolated examples of looting, and of course persons who will try to take advantage financially of those who have suffered devastation damage and loss. On the high end of the equation, there are also examples of those who at risk to themselves and their own property even their own lives have sought to help others and to rescue those who are in distress in the aftermath of the rising waters and the raging winds of this kind of storm.
Yet another worldview dimension comes down to who will be of greatest assistance in the aftermath of the storm. Certainly government has a responsibility here and government at every level. That will mean the local level and the state level there in Texas. It will also mean involvement of the federal government. But there are severe limitations not only to how much government can do, but how well government simply being government. And this is where as Americans have learned there are those who are driven by an even higher motivations who seem to show up and do remarkable work, absolutely necessary work, organizations such as the Disaster Relief Ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention and others, where you see people on the front lines actually able to help persons quite directly in ways that otherwise might not happen at all. All that highlights not only the motivation of so many Christians to be involved in this kind of assistance, but it also underlines the fact that the nonprofit volunteer sector in America is a part of what holds this society together and makes it strong. This is not a society that relies entirely upon government, and that is a part of the strength of America, a strength that is seen very clearly in the aftermath of this kind of storm.
But as we think about hurricane Harvey, Houston, and the larger Texas area today, we need to remember that the storm is not over. A part of the unique damage and devastation of this storm is the fact that it is camped out over this area and is still releasing unprecedented levels of moisture and rain. As of this morning, reports indicate a limited number of deaths far less than would’ve been the case had there not been the warnings about this storm and for that we should be thankful. But there are millions and millions of persons whose lives and property and loved ones are very much at risk, and for them we should not only be concerned, as Christians know, the one thing we can do is to pray.
Moralizing on a college campus: A new sexual ethic emerges at Wesleyan University
Next the Bible reminds us not only that we are moral creatures but we are also moralizing creatures. What does that mean? It means that we are creatures who not only have a moral impulse and a moral knowledge, what we might even say is a moral instinct, we are also creatures that simply can’t stop making moral judgments over and over again. And those moral judgments reveal a great deal about ourselves. Yesterday’s edition of the New York Times featured an article that looks at Wesleyan University, and it’s written by a graduate of the university. And it reflects what she says is a shift to more ethical sex on that prestigious university campus. Vanessa Grigoriadis writes,
“Over 20 years ago, I drove to the small liberal arts college Wesleyan University in my parents’ station wagon, a microwave-size computer and a dot-matrix printer in the trunk. Equally renowned for its academics and its social life,” and she mentions some of the alumni. She says, “Wesleyan was and is a bastion of radical politics.”
She then goes on to say,
“Like many elite campuses, Wesleyan has more than doubled in price since then, with tuition and fees upward of $50,000 per year, and has been spit shined to brochure-worthy gloss. A sprawling $47 million student center has landed on the grounds, replacing a flying-saucer-shaped cafeteria with an affectionately remembered smoking area.”
So she’s looking back to when she was a student at Wesleyan now almost a generation ago. She says the times of change and especially when it comes to sexual ethics. She says if you look at the students they look pretty much the same. Her “20-year nostalgia cycle” reminds her that the students still come with their backpacks, their “Dr. Martens boots, black chokers, Converse sneakers” and well you can imagine it goes on. But she says there’s a big difference in terms of her generation at Wesleyan and the current generation at Wesleyan when it comes to sexual ethics. Her argument is the students at the university now are far more moral in thinking about sex and sexuality. She says,
“In the 1990s, my feminist friends and I had a fervent anti-sexual assault movement, including Take Back the Night,” movement with marches down the rows of fraternities, and she says, “a list of guys to stay away from.” She says, “we talked about sexual assault as an affront to the patriarchy, and universities did not like it.”
But then writing about the students she discovers at today’s campus, she says,
“As much as you may read about the angry cries of ‘social justice warriors’ in current news, today’s students discuss sexual assault in a completely new way. Their primary concern is sexual ethics. Debates about what is consensual and what is not, what type of sex is fair and what is immoral, are essential to life at Wesleyan, I learned during visits to the campus a few semesters ago. ‘There’s a difference between illegal and unethical,’” that said by an undergraduate who, “Life is not about doing whatever you can do. It’s about not doing what is traumatic to another person.”
And then Grigoriadis goes on to write,
“What few older people see in today’s ‘P.C.’ students is their overwhelming urge to be kind to each other. They may have spent their middle and high school years being bullied, or bullying others; for kids in their low-to-mid-teens, the internet is a bullying machine. But by college, their sense of morality has blossomed.”
Well she goes on to say that it has blossomed in terms of how they look at sex and in particular at sexual behavior. Now consent is everything, and it has been entirely redefined. Now what she writes is pretty much consistent with what you may have heard is happening on college and university campuses, especially the most elite and the most politically liberal. Now recall the fact that Grigoriadis has said that this generation stands out from previous generations because,
“their sense of morality has blossomed.”
Now what is that blossoming? What does it look like? Well it looks like a redefinition of sexual ethics. She calls it a heightened ethical sensitivity that is now applied to sexual behavior,
“an activity whose standards have long been mutable and often lax.”
She says that what she and her Gen X friends may have called a bad night. Today’s students call sexual assault. In considerable detail she then talks about the contemporary sex codes, and she actually uses both arguments and language that I can’t use on The Briefing. Suffice that to say, that’s one big shift in terms of how these issues are dealt with on most college and university campuses today. Everything comes down to consent and to rather technical definitions of consent. And as you look at it, here’s what I see from a Christian worldview perspective. You have the moralizing impulse. It shows us that even the people who believe they have overthrown sexual morality in terms of that old traditional biblical Christian sexual morality they continue to moralize when it comes to sex and sexual behavior. All that to say that given the fact God has made us as moral beings there’s no way we can just overthrow that moral dimension. Instead having overthrown and rejected a Christian biblical understanding of sexual morality, the moralizers come on with even greater force in terms of these new sex codes and new rules.
So in this article when the author says that looking at the contemporary generation of college students “their sense of morality has blossomed,” what she means is they’re entirely with the new sexual morality. But of course it won’t stay new for long. It will be replaced by yet another sexual morality, and yet another generation will be already out of date. The bottom line here is that everyone moralizes about sex. The question is: what is the basis of that moral judgment? That’s the unavoidable question and the biggest question.
Why the long-term view of the LGBT revolutionaries is not long enough
Finally, yesterday’s edition of the New York Times also ran an opinion piece by Frank Bruni, an openly gay columnist for the paper. The headline story,
“America’s Worst and Best Places to be Gay”
In summary, he makes very clear the fact that even though we have same-sex marriage legalized in all 50 states by action of the Supreme Court when it comes to LGBTQI, you go down the list, issues there is still a big difference between states, such as say, Oregon and Alabama. He says there are some fabulously good places to be gay, such as New York City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. There are by his description less good places to be gay in terms of say states like Texas or Alabama and Mississippi. He’s pointing to the fact that there are huge moral divides in this country, and that’s a geographic divide as well as a moral divide. But our main interest in this article has to do with the statement made near the end. Bruni’s just made a reference to some legislation in the state of Alabama, and he says,
“Fifty years from now — heck, maybe just 20 — that kind of thing won’t happen.”
He then says this,
“There’s only one long-term trajectory here. But in the meantime, it’s not O.K. for the federal government to be as cold to L.G.B.T. Americans as the one we have now is, because some of those Americans live in Alabama — or Texas. And those places don’t exactly brim with love.”
Well, again, that’s his language pointing to this very big moral divide in the country. But what’s interesting is that sentence where he says this kind of debate has an expiration date on it. It’s going to pass away. He goes on to say, 50 years from now this will not be a matter of debate, meaning the whole range of LGBT issues. He says it won’t happen maybe just 20 years. And then this significant phrase,
“There’s only one long-term trajectory here.”
I draw attention to that because here you see the confidence of those who are pushing the sexual revolution. So far as they’re concerned, they can reassure each other with the fact that all of this will pass away,
“There is only one long-term trajectory here.”
That’s quite a statement, and you have to understand Frank Bruni believes he’s absolutely on solid ground in making that statement. A thinking Christian looking at that statement will have at least two observations to make. The first one is he’s probably right when he says there’s only one long-term trajectory here when it comes to this liberalizing trajectory in the culture. But the other thing we have to observe is, I don’t think the long-term he’s concerned about is long enough. When Christians think about a long-term trajectory, we’re not just thinking about what might or might not take place in the next several decades. We’re looking at the entire expanse of human history in God’s purposes as are made very clear in Scripture. That long-term trajectory is very different than the prophets of sexual liberation intend. They see the future as going in their direction, the long-term trajectory. The problem is their perspective is simply not long-term enough.