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Transcript: The Briefing 03-24-14

The Briefing

 

 March 24, 2014

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

 

It’s Monday, March 24, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

 

At present seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, and since the US Supreme Court struck down the defense of marriage act in its decision known as the Windsor decision last summer, federal judges have struck down same-sex marriage bans in Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, Illinois, and Tennessee, and, as of Friday, add another state to the list. That state’s Michigan.

 

On Friday, a Michigan federal judge, Judge Bernard A. Friedman of the Federal District Court in Detroit, struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage amendment and ruled that it was a violation of the constitutional rights of Michigan’s same-sex citizens not to have access to legal marriage. As Erick Eckholm reports, this is “the latest in a string of court decisions across the country to rule that denying marriage to gay and lesbian couples is a violation of the Constitution.” In his decision, Judge Freidman wrote, “The guarantee of equal protection must prevail.” But this judge also makes another point very clear. What is becoming more and more evident is the fact that the judges who are now ruling on these kinds of cases are ruling in a way that is inherently political. It is not an accusation of the fact that they’re acting in a political matter when they follow the actual decision handed down by the Supreme Court in the Windsor decision last summer. In other words, in so doing the courts at the lower-level are simply doing what the courts are supposed to do, and that is, to follow the lead set by the US Supreme Court in the actual decision that it hands down. That is, after all, a binding decision from the nation’s highest court. No, the political part comes in where you see these federal judges and some state judges as well trying to do their very best to figure out where the court is going, that is, where the Supreme Court is going to go in the future. Judges hate to be overruled and they also hate to be running the risk that future generations may see them as anything less than the enlightened creatures they think themselves to be. And in the case of Judge Friedman, he offers an opinion handed down on Friday that is dripping with sarcasm and outrage. It also is dripping with political intent. Erick Eckholm, writing in The New York Times about the trial that took place over the last several weeks, wrote this:

 

The two-week trial, which ended March 7, drew special attention because it was the first in several years to include testimony from social-science researchers on the potential impact of same-sex marriage on families and children. The state [that is the state of Michigan], arguing that it would be risky to change the definition of marriage, cited studies concluding that children raised by same-sex couples had worse outcomes in life.

 

This is where Eckholm’s report gets very interesting and the judge’s decision becomes even more clearly political.

 

Lawyers for the plaintiffs described the scholars who appeared for the state as religiously motivated and part of a “desperate fringe,” and subjected them to withering cross-examination. Judge Friedman agreed with the criticism, describing the state’s witnesses as “unbelievable” and calling their studies deeply flawed.

 

He wrote with particular animus about the best-known — and most widely discredited — of the researchers, Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas. Mr. Regnerus was the author of a 2012 report that, he said, raised questions about the prospects for children of same-sex parents.

 

Judge Friedman, citing evidence that the study had been commissioned and paid for by conservative opponents of same-sex marriage, wrote, “The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged.”

 

That is judicial slander pure and simple. I happen to know Mark Regnerus and I know the quality of his work, and I happen to know that this kind of accusation made in a judge’s opinion like this really isn’t a scientific statement about which, by the way, the judge is incompetent to rule. Rather it is a political statement and it is intended to be the kind of political statement that, as Eckholm recognizes, will reverberate in other court decisions as well. What we have here is a question that isn’t essentially an issue of social science. It is the other side that argued that social science research is what has to be brought into the equation and, yet, when it’s brought in, even by someone who is a scholar of the rank of Mark Regnerus, it is rejected and, in this case, because the research was at least partly funded by a conservative organization. That’s a fair accusation if indeed you then turn on the same fair basis and disregard and discount all the other research on the other side of the equation that is funded quite straightforwardly by liberal and progressive organizations. This is a case in which you have a judge slandering a researcher and doing so from the safe confines of his bench.

 

Another explicitly political angle, in terms of this judge’s decision, is made clear where he makes this statement:

 

“Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage. Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law.”

 

What’s the problem with that statement? Where’s the political intention? It’s this: what other citizens? The judge wasn’t ruling that Michigan will have no laws restricting marriage; that the state is going to allow marriage by any consenting adults under any considerable circumstances. No; the judge is very clearly saying this applies to same-sex couples. In other words, he continues to draw the line even as he says the line shouldn’t be drawn. An article that appeared on Sunday’s edition of The New York Times by John Eligon and Erick Eckholm records the first same-sex marriage that took place, one of those 300 that took place, between the time that the district court judge ruled and the appeals court put that ruling on hold. According to this, the judge in this case had a female couple before him—this is Judge Judith Ellen Levy of the Federal District Court for Eastern Michigan. She was wearing a black robe. She officiated at the couple’s wedding. As the two women exchange vows and rings, Judge Levy said at 9:26 a.m., “I now pronounce you legally married,” and the room erupted in cheers. What should we note there? “I now pronounce you legally married.” You’ll notice that there’s no reference to the two people. The historic legal reference, as well as the reference in traditional Christian marriage or Jewish marriage or any other form of conceivable marriage, is “husband and wife.” That’s missing here. And that demonstrates something of the transformation of marriage that is taking place with the legalization of same-sex marriage. You no longer have a husband and a wife; you simply have two people who are addressed simultaneously with the statement, “I now pronounce you legally married.”

 

In a news analysis that was published with this same article. Eckholm also makes a very important statement in this paragraph:

 

With a slew of cases barreling toward federal appeals courts, almost certainly including the decision Friday that overturned Michigan’s restrictive marriage amendment, the legal battle over same-sex marriage is entering a new and climactic phase. Decisions in the coming months will resonate beyond individual states across entire regions and may impel the Supreme Court to revisit the issue sooner than it wished.

 

That’s profoundly true at every conceivable point. His language there is interesting and it is certainly right. The battle over same-sex marriage is entering a new and climactic phase. What happens in the next several months, even in the next several weeks, even as we see what happened just over the last weeks behind us, is going to represent the crucial turning point in this battle for the legalization of same-sex marriage. We are now watching it. We’re witnessing it with our own eyes. Erick Eckholm’s analysis piece ends by citing Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry. He’s a longtime proponent of legalization of same-sex marriage. He said, “Our eyes are not only on this marriage spring; our eyes are on the marriage harvest.” That is the language of a man, indeed a moral revolutionary, who is at this point absolutely confident that he is winning and winning fast.

 

This week President Obama is slated to be in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom that is one of America’s key allies in the Persian Gulf, and, yet, in anticipation of that visit, Nina Shea writes for the Houses of Worship column in The Wall Street Journal:

 

When President Obama visits Saudi Arabia next week, he will have an opportunity to follow through on his inspiring words at the Feb. 6. National Prayer Breakfast. There, he told thousands of Christian leaders that “the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose” is central to “human dignity,” and so “promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy.”

 

We’re about to find out if it is. And, by the way, political fairness requires me to say that this is true in terms of the test that President Obama now faces, but previous presidents have faced the same test and most of them have failed. Political reality, including trying to hold together a coalition there in the Persian Gulf, has trumped religious liberty and in a horrifying way, in terms of the results of the impact upon Christian churches and individual Christians. Nina Shea writes:

 

The freedom so central to human dignity is denied by the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia]. The State Department has long ranked Saudi Arabia among the world’s most religiously repressive governments, designating it a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act. Yet the Obama administration, like its predecessors, has not pressed Riyadh to respect religious freedom.

 

That’s a very important statement. Every word of it’s important. The president has not pressed this case even after his own state department has made this very clear declaration, but neither did his predecessors. Nina Shea then writes:

 

Saudi Arabia is the only state in the world to ban all churches and any other non-Muslim houses of worship. While Saudi nationals are all “officially” Muslim, some two to three million foreign Christians live in the kingdom, many for decades. They have no rights to practice their faith. The Saudi government has ignored Vatican appeals for a church to serve this community…”

 

And on and on the denial of freedom to Christians in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is documented.

 

Christian foreign workers in Saudi Arabia can only pray together clandestinely. Religious-police dragnets against scores of Ethiopian house-church Christians, mostly poor women working as maids, demonstrate the perils of worshiping: arrest, monthslong detention and abuse, and eventual deportation.

 

Shea points out that it is difficult to hide a worship service in the tightly controlled kingdom. There’s an official religious police known as the Committee to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice. They’re looking for where they find people gathered together; especially women gathered together who aren’t wearing traditional Muslim garb. It is illegal in Saudi Arabia to distribute a Bible. Priests themselves have to go undercover and every other minister as well. They have to pretend to be cooks or mechanics. If they celebrate worship services, in this case for approximately 1.5 million Filipino, Indian, and other Catholics working and living there, she documents this, they have to do so clandestinely. They have to do so under fear of arrest. The same is true for evangelical Christians. And as she writes:

 

The fanatical intolerance of everything Christian extends to a crackdown on red roses on Valentine’s Day. Visiting European soccer teams with cross logos must blur the icon on team jerseys. At one holiday party in the American school in [the kingdom’s capitol], a Santa Claus had to jump through a window to escape religious police.

 

This illustrates a fanatical anti-Christian persecution that is almost impossible to take at face value, and yet the president of the United States is about to make a state visit to that kingdom this week.

 

We should note that other kingdoms and sheikdoms there within the Persian Gulf allow open Christian worship, even as they are explicitly and officially Muslim lands. Nina Shea gets it right when she writes:

 

President Obama on his visit could ask King Abdullah to allow churches in the Kingdom. As the president explained in February, the right to worship is an essential human right that “matters to our national security.” Allowing a church would help foreign Christian workers and instill in Saudi society a sense of peaceful coexistence with the religious “other.” That may help us all.

 

Well, she points out something very important here. When President Obama got all those headlines for speaking on behalf of religious liberty back in February at the National Prayer Breakfast, she’s exactly right when she says he was speaking to the choir. Now we’re going to find out what the president will say to America’s supposed friends when these friends are key military allies in one of the most tense portions of the world, and, at the same time, as the kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s identified as one of the most repressive states on the entire planet in the history of humanity when it comes to anti-Christian intolerance. It would not be fair to President Obama to hold him to a standard his predecessors were not also held to, and history will record they failed, and they failed miserably. We’ll see what the president is going to do in Saudi Arabia. He might complain that this is something he didn’t ask for in this job, but he did ask to be elected. The job is now his and now so is this responsibility. We’ll find out whether or not he really meant what he said when he said that religious freedom is a matter of our national security.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was flying from California to Florida in order to speak at the 2014 Ligonier Ministries National Conference, and the person sitting in the seat next to me was also headed to Orlando, quite obviously. He was not attending Ligonier Ministries National Conference; he was attending the Global Pet Expo, and he was a salesman for a pet company, and it was very interesting to have a conversation with them as we rode along in the air. He also, as it turned out, is a fellow believer, and we had a very interesting conversation about what was bringing the two of us respectively to Orlando. He was interested in the conference in which I was speaking; I was at least somewhat interested in the Global Pet Expo, and I got a lot more interested when there was a great deal of coverage of that expo over the weekend in The New York Times.

 

You see, it turns out this particular expo exposes a great deal about the contemporary worldview held by many Americans, and as Penelope Green, reporting for The New York Times, makes clear, there is a lot of interest in pets. The Global Pet Expo included 985 exhibitors of pet products. They were spread over thirteen football fields’ worth of real estate in the Orange County Convention Center there in Orlando. It turns out they love other kinds of animals, including cats and fish and other pets, but, as she says, this expo makes very clear that when you look at the spending and the consumer products, it is dogs that rule. Just in terms of the numbers revealed in terms of worldview significance, consider this: last year, Americans spent $55.7 billion on their pets. That’s $55.7 billion on pets; that according to the American Pet Products Association. That’s the group that sponsored the big expo there in Orlando a couple weeks ago. This year it is expected that the total will be above $58.5 billion. There were 3,000 new products just this year, the expo demonstrated there in Orlando, and even though the Pet Expo attempts, she says, be a big tent that includes all pets, it’s clear that most of these products are actually directed towards dogs. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all this is that there is a huge growing category for dogs of what is referred to as “pet fashions.” As a matter fact, fashion designers for pets showed up. One of them talked about the fashion industry for pets and spoke of pets saying, “Imagine their embarrassment if they weren’t properly attired when you called to talk to them,” speaking of the dogs. And talked about going to the dogs, here you have an entire industry supposedly devoted to clothing dogs in fashion.

 

A big new area of products for dogs has to do with wireless products enabling dogs to call up their owners during the workday such that they can trigger some kind of interaction. I won’t call it a conversation between the dog and the dog’s owner, but in this point it’s hard to tell which is the pet and which is the owner. It’s hard to tell which is which in terms of this kind of engagement when the dog can call you up at work. Three generations of a family known as the Hamill family were presenting what is described as the adorable iFetch. It’s about a hundred dollars, by the way. It’s an on-demand, battery-operated ball launcher. It’s made for relentless fetch obsessed canines, you know who they are. Clever dogs, she writes, can learn to drop a small ball in the opening on top and then the iFetch, which has an appealing biomorphic design like a white plastic teakettle, shoots the ball out another opening. Judging by the video provided by the company, she says most dogs are driven to ecstasy by the device. Another product is the Brush Your Teeth Wipes. They’re about nine dollars from Pet Head, and also the nifty Slow Bowls, about $25 each, described as brightly colored, hard plastic food dishes shaped like mazes and labyrinths to stop dogs from inhaling their food. “Live fast, eat slow,” is the company’s slogan.

 

But last Thursday’s edition of The New York Times didn’t have just one article on the Global Pet Expo, there were actually two: one was in the home section; the other was in the business section. Now just in terms of how you read a major newspaper like this, you have two different editorial staffs making these assignments, looking at stories from two different angles. The home section is looking for interesting consumer-products angles; the business pages are looking for, well, you guessed it, business; and that is actually the article with the more revealing Christian worldview implications. Writing on the same Pet Expo, reporter Eilene Zimmerman writes that one of the things that this expo demonstrates is what she calls “evolving trends in the pet industry.” One, she says, is the extent of pet ownership. According to the American Pet Products Association, a trade group, there are now more than 80 million dogs owned in the United States. In an USA Today analysis of census data found more households with a dog than with a child. This is where the worldview significance gets really intense. Eilene Zimmerman then writes:

 

Perhaps more important, many pet owners are treating their dogs and cats as if they were children — quite a shift from the days when the dog slept in the garage, ate table scraps and “occasionally got their burrs taken out,” said Clay Mathile, who built the pet food company Iams and sold it to Procter & Gamble for $2.3 billion in 1999.

 

That changed mind-set is driving billions in spending — $55.8 billion last year, according to the American Pet Products Association — and has encouraged a wave of innovation, with many products and services incorporating sophisticated technologies.

 

The worldview significance embedded in this has to do with the fact that here you have a reporter for The New York Times saying that the really important angle in this is that many pet owners are treating their dogs and cats as if they were children. In other words, buying and equipping and now dressing their pets as if they were children. These pets are taking the place of children. Even years ago it was noted that some cities of great affluent, such as San Francisco, actually counted amongst the inhabitants of that city more dogs than children, but now you have the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrating that American households demonstrate that there are more households with dogs than households with children. And you have this article in The New York Times saying that the explanation for this explosion of consumer-products for animals and the explosion of the spending for animals has to do with the fact that for many people these dogs, not just animals in general, but in this case dogs, have replaced children as the focus of consumer attention. And, as that reveals, the focus of a great deal more as well.

 

Every dimension of this news story cries out for a worldview analysis. What worldview allows for this kind of spending on pets? What worldview allows for treating pets as children? What worldview allows for the development of relationships between human beings and, in this case, dogs that are replacing the relationships that previously existed between parents and children? Now they’re all kinds of things that go into this, including the fact that in our highly mobile society and in a society with there are many people living far beyond childbearing years, there’s a natural sense in which some of this is going to take place. But when it is becoming the rule rather than the exception, we face big trouble. I did a Thinking in Public conversation with Jonathan Last, and in that conversation last year, Mr. Last pointed out that in some suburban areas of cities like Washington, DC, stores selling products for children are disappearing and store selling products for pets are appearing in their place. That is more than parabolic; it’s frightening. It tells us not only where our priorities are becoming misplaced; it tells us that we entered some new phase in which the confusion of these things has grown to a deep and ominous level. I say that as one who dearly loves his dog, and Baxter the Wonder Beagle is home right now even as I’m speaking to you, but as someone who understands that we have to know continually the distinction between the pet and ourselves, between the animal kingdom and what it means to be human. One of us is made in the image of God and the other was also made for God’s glory, but in a different status altogether. It’s the other half of this equation that’s actually so ominous. When it’s pets that begin to take the place of children, not only in our spending, but in other great aspects of our lives, there we see the problem. And if we don’t see it, that’s a problem.

 

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember Ask Anything: Weekend Edition released every Saturday, and remember to call with your question. Just call 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.