April 14, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, April 14, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The big news in the United States over the weekend was the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. As Michael Shear of The New York Times reported, Kathleen Sebelius resigned “ending a stormy five-year tenure marred by the disastrous rollout of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act.” Now when the lead paragraph in The New York Times describes your departure as having been tied to a “disastrous rollout of a major legislative achievement,” this is how you can expect historians will remember your legacy. Shear continued to report, Mr. Obama accepted Ms. Sebelius’s resignation, and then on Friday morning nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace her. He then reported:
The departure comes as the Obama administration tries to move beyond its early stumbles in carrying out the law, convince a still-skeptical public of its lasting benefits, and help Democratic incumbents, who face blistering attack ads after supporting the legislation.
And he’s helping them, supposedly, to “survive the midterm elections” in the fall.
But what makes this really interesting, from a Christian worldview perspective, is what this tells us about leadership on the one hand, and what it tells us about this legislative matter on the other. Kathleen Sebelius comes, on the one hand, the fall person for the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare, but as virtually every major newspaper and news sources indicated, her resignation came after an excruciatingly long period in which she bore a good deal of responsibility for this disastrous rollout. Leadership always comes with major responsibilities. That’s what leaders do. Leadership in a public context with this kind of massive responsibility comes with even closer scrutiny. One of the big questions that has hovered around Kathleen Sibelius ever since she took this job is the extent to which she would become the administration’s front person for the Affordable Care Act. It’s an interesting question when you consider the fact that the legislation is most often name for the president. It’s often called ObamaCare. But Kathleen Sebelius was the leader. She was the manager that had responsibility for the rollout of this major legislation; legislation that by the intention of the administration covers one-seventh of the entire American economy.
And the disastrous rollout was nothing less than disastrous. It still is disastrous, and that’s why many people are pointing to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, currently the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the nominee that President Obama announced for the position to succeed Kathleen Sebelius, as someone who is primarily known as a manager, not having any particular expertise in the field of healthcare. Kathleen Sebelius was the opposite: a great interest in healthcare, but no ability in terms of managing this kind of massive program.
Foreign Affairs magazine, looking at the issue of the ObamaCare rollout, pointed out that the Obama Administration itself is woefully short on management talent. The president himself has demonstrated very little attention or attentiveness to management. As a matter fact, as Foreign Affairs points out, the largest management skill that he had ever demonstrated was managing thirty people, roughly, who worked in a senatorial office before he became the chief executive officer of the United States of America, the president of the United States. So from a leadership perspective, there are huge lessons to be learned here. Responsibility follows that kind of title, that kind of role. When you’re the Secretary of Health and Human Services, you do bear responsibility for what happens in your department. And that is a massive department, and its failure was absolutely massive. But there are other elements to this that are also very important. One of those has to do with the fact that Kathleen Sebelius, as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, is also responsible for the disastrous policies that are related to ObamaCare. And here I am not speaking about the policies directly related to the health insurance issue, in terms of the coverage, but rather the items that are included within the coverage, the infamous contraception mandate.
One of the things in retrospect that comes to our mind is why in the world the Obama Administration would’ve adopted this kind of draconian policy that was sure to bring all kinds of opposition. It could’ve accomplished the same thing, the same end, making sure that all women have access to free contraceptive through ObamaCare, by a means other than requiring employers, including Christian and other religious employers, to violate their consciences in so doing. But the Obama Administration led by Kathleen Sebelius in this lead role has defended the very way that it put that contraception mandate together, even as this has placed the administration in the embarrassing position, you would think, of being sued by everyone from Hobby Lobby to the Little Sisters of the Poor. But Kathleen Sebelius will also have that on her record as she leaves office as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The Wall Street Journal points to a very important issue in its Review and Outlook Editorial Page over the weekend. It says that the United States Senate must look very, very closely at Sylvia Mathews Burwell as the proposed new Secretary for Health and Human Services. She was confirmed by the United States Senate by a vote of 96 to 0 last April when she became the White House budget director. That tells you that she has at least the ability to garner a great deal of support from within the United States Senate, but when it comes to this role, she’s taking on a responsibility that is on the front lines of every major cultural controversy you can think of in terms of America’s political life right now, and this is going to place her appropriately under much greater scrutiny. She received 96 votes for and none against her confirmation last April. I think it is a safe prediction to say she’s going to have a much more difficult time being confirmed as this position is now the issue before the Senate. But you can count on the fact that this is why the founders of our Constitution gave the United States Senate the role of advice and consent on this kind of presidential appointment. Regardless of the president, regardless of the composition of the Senate, the Senate has a constitutional responsibility to offer both advice and consent. This is going to be a very lively conversation. You can count on it.
A hugely interesting article appeared in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times. It was a large piece by Adam Grant, who is a Professor of Management and Psychology at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s the author of a book entitled, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. He asked the very interesting question: How can parents raise moral children? That’s an important question, an especially important question for Christian parents. The article is devoid of a Christian worldview, and that becomes a very important point, but there is a great deal of material here for our thinking. Adam Grant writes:
What does it take to be a good parent? We know some of the tricks for teaching kids to become high achievers. [But] although some parents live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments, success is not the No. 1 priority for most parents. We’re much more concerned about our children becoming kind, compassionate and helpful.
Now at that point, I simply want to say I want to agree with Adam Grant on that assessment; I’m not sure if I can agree with him. I think that if many parents were asked what they really want for their children and if we’re looking not just at what they say, but what they do, how they treat their children and how they reward them, I think there’s every indication that for a good many parents raising a moral child would take a decidedly second-place to raising a successful child.
But let’s consider for a moment that he’s right; that what most parents want to do is to raise a moral child—nd he’s looking at morality in terms of certain moral assets, including such things as generosity. He writes, “When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring.” And, yet, he writes, despite this significance, it turns out that most parents seem to be somewhat confused about how we can actually raise our children to be generous and otherwise moral. He asked a very interesting question: Are some children simply good-natured or not? In other words, are they simply made that way and born that way? Here’s where his research gets really interesting from a worldview perspective. He writes, “Genetic twin studies suggest that anywhere from a quarter to more than half of our propensity to be giving and caring is inherited.” Now let’s just pause for a moment. That’s a genetic argument. In other words, he’s arguing that our genes have at least 50% to do—that’s what he says here—have to do with whether or not we are generous people.
Now this is evidence of the naturalistic fallacy that is very much in the driver’s seat of so much of our contemporary conversation and is right now the dominant worldview that is taking the form of the authority within the larger academic community. The idea is that we are essentially biological creatures, and that our biology determines our thinking and our consciousness as well. This leads to host of issues, including how in the world you can hold someone responsible if decision-making and morality are simply biological products, but in this case, Professor Grant says that approximately 50% of whether or not a child will be a moral person is determined by genetics.
Now Christians have to reject that kind of mathematical formula. We would not reject the argument that our genes have a great deal to do with who we would become, but we also recognize that genes are limited in terms of the kind of impact they can have on character and personality, and especially when it comes to the issues of morality. But Professor Grant goes on, arguing that if half is tied to this kind of genetic background, then, as he says, that leaves a lot of room for nurture. And the evidence on how parents raise kind and compassionate children, he says, flies in the face of what many of even the most well-intentioned parents do in praising good behavior, responding to bad behavior, and communicating their values. There follows a very interesting and long essay in which he argues that by the time most children are two, they have at least some kind of rudimentary morality. They understand that being generous is, at least in the eyes of most parents, a good thing. He then asked the question, “Should be praise them? Should we reward them?” He argues, based on the evidence of his scientific studies, that children, even at those youngest ages of two and then perhaps five, when they show generosity, they should be praised, but they should not be rewarded. In other words, you don’t want to give them rewards for just baseline moral behavior. He then writes:
Many parents believe it’s important to compliment the behavior, not the child — that way, the child learns to repeat the behavior. Indeed, I know one couple who are careful to say, “That was such a helpful thing to do,” instead of, “You’re a helpful person.”
But then he points out most children can’t separate those two things. Most children at very young ages can’t separate, “You’re a bad person,” from, “You did a bad thing,” or, “You’re a good person,” or, “You did a good thing.” They see themselves as unitary holes. And, by the way, that’s something that in one sense is a reality we should not outgrow. But as children reach older ages when analytical thinking takes place and they become more complex moral creatures, he says that you should certainly praise the behavior and you should also, when a child makes a bad moral decision, you should try to parent them such that they feel guilt but not shame. A very interesting category distinction from a secular worldview. He quotes research by June Price Tangney, a psychologist, in arguing that “shame is the feeling that I am a bad person; whereas guilt is the feeling that I have done a bad thing.” He continues:
Shame is a negative judgment about the core self, which is devastating: Shame makes children feel small and worthless, and they respond either by lashing out at the target or escaping the situation altogether. In contrast, guilt is a negative judgment about an action, which can be repaired by good behavior. When children feel guilt, they tend to experience remorse and regret, empathize with the person they have harmed, and aim to make it right.
If we want our children to care about others, we need to teach them to feel guilt, he says, rather than shame when they misbehave. That’s a very interesting dichotomy: shame on the one hand, and guilt on the other.
From a Christian worldview perspective, we need to note that this is the kind of distinction that the secular worldview has been working at for the better part of a century. And it goes back to exactly what Professor Grant is arguing here; that a child who misbehaves is not a bad person—this doesn’t say anything about the child’s core self, to use his language—but, rather, it is merely evidence of a behavior, a bad behavior. But what this worldview can’t explain is why a supposedly good person would do any kind of bad thing. Bad actions turnout by this worldview to be nothing more than barely disguised accidents that tend to happen to a moral person. And that’s a problem because the reality is that whether we’re thinking about our children or ourselves, we know that the reason we do bad things is because of something that is in us right at the core. Of course, the Christian worldview explains this. It explains that we are sinners and that sin has corrupted every part of who we are. It doesn’t mean that sin has destroyed the image of God within us; to the contrary, we must be very thankful that even as it has corrupted the image of God, it hasn’t destroyed it, but we also need to understand that the problem, the problem that we know within ourselves, isn’t merely that we do bad things, but rather that those bad things come out of a heart that is anything but purely good. That’s why for Christians the indispensable category is sin, and that’s why as Christian parents, we have to lead our children to understand that things aren’t bad merely because they break some kind of human moral code, nor are they merely bad because they make us feel bad when we do them. They’re bad because they grieve the heart of God, they violate His law, they fall short of His glory. And this comes down to that indispensable word to the Christian worldview which is sin, and sin, as it turns out, is also the category offered to us by God’s revelation in Scripture to explain the link between what we do and who we are. That’s why it’s very important that as children grow older within Christian homes parented by Christian parents, when the Christian worldview is what animates and drives what we hope to communicate to our children, the key insight comes when that child comes to the understanding that is virtually the opposite of what Professor Grant hopes for. In other words, we have to hope that our children come to understand not only that they sin, but that they are sinners. That’s a very crucial biblical category. We need salvation—the salvation that comes only to us by the atonement encompassed by Christ—not because we merely do bad things and sin, but because we are sinners. We are sinners by disposition. As David says in the Psalms, it was in sin that his mother conceived him. Sin wasn’t something that happened to him; sin is something that he is.
And this is why from a Christian worldview perspective, when a Christian parent answers the question, how to raise a moral child, we have to deal with that category of sin, and we have to understand that this should lead to a child that understands that shame is something that is always associated with sin, but because of the grace and mercy of God extended to us in Christ, that shame can be translated into the knowledge of our salvation and the forgiveness of sins, and the issue of guilt, while somewhat lexically, that is, in terms of vocabulary, distinguishable from shame, guilt is the immediate response we have which is not merely an emotional response. It is also a response that tells us that we are judged, and that’s why from a secular perspective, the word guilt is really a big problem. As a matter fact, most secular psychologies try to overcome both shame and guilt by suggesting that one somehow behave better and, furthermore, come to understand that inside we’re really not bad; we’re really good. The problem with that is that it flies right in the face not only of the biblical reality, but of common sense. As G.K.Chesterton said a long time ago, the one empirically verifiable Christian doctrine is original sin. As he says, if you can understand anything you meet in humanity or you see in the mirror, the one necessary category is the one thing alone that explains who you are and that is original sin. But the other problem with the merely secular understanding of guilt is that it acts like it’s merely an emotional disposition or a social response. The guilt is actually from the biblical worldview, an objective reality. Guilt is something that is real because it points to a real transgression of a real law and it points to a real judgment that is coming. In that sense, the healthy response to guilt and shame is to turn to the grace and mercy of God extended to us in Christ, and apart from that atonement, there is no rescue. Guilt and shame cry out to us we are sinners in need of a Savior, and, thus, the good news of the gospel is infinitely good and it’s infinitely necessary. And that’s why this very interesting article by Adam Grant in the pages of The New York Times about how to raise moral children may indeed help some secular parents to understand how to raise children who are at least to some degree better behaved.
But it won’t get to the heart of the problem, and this also points to the fact that hell will be filled with many moral people, at least in terms of the human understanding of morality. The problem here is that being moral in this sense simply isn’t enough. The gospel isn’t moralism. That’s an article I published at albertmohler.com last week. The gospel isn’t moralism and moralism isn’t the gospel, and only the gospel explains how by the grace and mercy of God we can actually be in the right and proper gospel sense moral people and raise moral children. The article by Adam Grant is not to be disparaged and disregarded as simply offering no wisdom whatsoever. It does offer an invaluable window into the secular thinking and the limitations of that thinking when it comes to an issue as basic as raising our children and a question as basic as guilt and shame.
Finally, a brilliant article—and we’ve come to expect this kind of insight from Naomi Schaefer Riley. She writes that “extended families are like gold to working moms.” Working moms have been so much in the news in the last several months, especially in the last several days. She writes in the pages of The New York Post:
The minds of working mothers are a constant jumble of responsibilities, each demanding our attention at the same time. You know who doesn’t live in this same state of constant frenzy? People who live near their extended families — people who can call grandma when things get too much.
It’s a very, very interesting article, and, by the way, it doesn’t apply just to working moms, that is, those who work outside the household, but the working moms who are working inside the household. Because it comes down to the basic fact that we have lost a great deal of wisdom, a great deal of support, a great deal of health, and a great deal of helpfulness when we have become so socially isolated and we have disrupted the natural family and divided it away from the extended family because the natural family naturally produces an extended family. When I think back to my childhood, I realize just how much I received from four grandparents who loved me and who actually helped to parent me. I was at home in their homes almost as much as I was in the home of my own parents, and to know my parents was to know their parents. And their parents loved me and cared for me. My two grandfathers were like, well, additional fathers to me, and especially my father’s father who played such a big role in my life, and never at the expense of my father, but as an extension of my father. And I think immediately to what Naomi Schaefer Riley is writing about here. The loss of extended families, the distance of so many grandparents from their grandchildren, explains why so many moms—and you might add to that dads—are frazzled and frenzied. Because, as it turns out, God’s plan was not merely for us to be a natural family, but for natural families to live in situation with other natural families, and, where possible, and not disrupted by all the things that happen to us these days, you have extended family close by. I realize that full well as I think about the fact that my wife and I raised our children further than we would’ve liked from their grandparents. We would’ve liked for them to have been close. We feel the loss that they were not. The call of God took us over 1,000 miles away from where the grandparents lived when our children were young, but we do feel that loss and we do celebrate the gain when you can have families and extended families living in close proximity.
But this raises a further issue when it comes to the Christian church. The church is after all a family of families, and the church is made up of those who are family to each other even beyond the bounds and the boundaries of the natural family. The church should be, in the representation of its life as a local congregation, an extended family of sorts, and so a Christian response to this very insightful article by Naomi Schaefer Riley might well be that wherever God calls Christian families to be, our churches should become, in so far as possible, extended families. That’s a sweet thought and an important thought when we think about all the stresses and strains of everyday life and the needs of our own families. There’s a real loss in the loss of the extended family and there’s real wisdom in the knowledge of what benefits come when extended families live in proximity.
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