May 21, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, May 21, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Yesterday, a federal district court judge in Pennsylvania struck down that state’s constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. That came just one day after another federal district court judge did the same thing in the state of Oregon. Thus, in two successive days, first the state of Oregon became the 18th state in the union to have legal same-sex marriage and then Pennsylvania became the 19th. But there are a couple of very important issues related to these two developments. The first is this: though only 19 of the 50 states currently have legal same-sex marriage, it is certainly true that a majority of Americans now live in those states that have legal same-sex marriage. The geographic distribution of the population is uneven and given the size, the population size, of several of the states that have legal same-sex marriage at this point, it is without doubt that a majority of Americans now live where access to same-sex marriage is available.
The second issue is this: with the state of Pennsylvania now joining the rest of the Northeast, there is not one single state in the northeastern United States that does not have legal same-sex marriage. The state of Pennsylvania was for the last several months the holdout, but now that is the case no more. Another thing to note with both of these decisions is that these federal district court judges issued no stays of their decisions until the respective states can appeal. In other words, this is now going to become the law in these two states. In Oregon it happened immediately. As the decision was announced on Monday, a significant number of county clerks began to issue same-sex marriage certificates, and same-sex marriage ceremonies began within minutes. That will not be the case in Philadelphia. Not because the judge issued a stay, but simply because the state of Pennsylvania requires a three-day waiting period after a marriage license is issued before the ceremony can take place.
There were other similarities between the decisions handed down in the two states and the political context of the two states. Both of them have fairly large homosexual populations and the gay activist community has had a significant amount of influence especially in the Metropolitan areas of the two states. This is certainly true, especially true, in the case of Portland, Oregon. Portland is a famously leftist city and it has been in the situation of wanting to have legal same-sex marriage for some time. As a matter of fact, some may remember that back just a slight bit over ten years ago, in March of 2004, Multnomah County, that’s the county where Portland is located, attempted to issue same-sex marriage licenses in a very brief period of time before legal authorities shut it down. But ten years later, same-sex marriage is legal not only in Multnomah County, Oregon, but throughout the entire state.
Something else is of interest in terms of the political context. The two attorneys general of the respective states (both Democrats) indicated that they would not appeal and they would not issue any defense of their state’s constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. That’s a development that was certainly encouraged by the Attorney General of the United States Eric Holder who said that, upon the encouragement of the president of the United States, he would suggest that the attorneys general in each state should consider whether or not one should fail to uphold or to support, to defend in court, a constitutional amendment or any provision of a state constitution that the attorney general believed was unconstitutional. That is a recipe for legal anarchy, but that’s exactly what is taking place in state after state.
Finally, a very interesting and revealing statement came from Pennsylvania’s attorney general, that is, Attorney General Kathleen Kane. She previously had announcement she wouldn’t seek to defend the ban on same-sex marriage in court, and yet on Tuesday, she tweeted, “Today in Pennsylvania the Constitution prevailed. Inequality in any form is unacceptable and it has never stood the test of time.” Let’s just note something very carefully. This is a very un-nuanced statement. It’s a statement meant for political consumption. It’s a form of ideological triumphalism. But the attorney general of Pennsylvania can’t possibly mean what she wrote. When she says, “Inequality in any form is unacceptable,” does she means then that any romantic relationship is to have an equal status with heterosexual marriage? Of course she doesn’t mean that, but that’s exactly what she stated. And furthermore, it just may be that the logic that is set loose in terms of the legalization of same-sex marriage means that the logic that she certainly did not mean to imply may nonetheless be inevitable given the kind of revolution and morality that she, along with so many others, have helped to bring to pass. They have opened Pandora’s Box. Once opened, it is very hard to see how it can ever be closed.
Shifting the context to the workplace, one of the impacts of the kind of revolution and morality we are now experiencing is going to be a constriction in employment. In other words, there will be people whose moral views will preclude them from having or from holding jobs, positions for which they are trained, professions to which they had aspired, jobs for which they are otherwise well-qualified, and jobs in which they have performed very well until, all of the sudden, they find themselves on the outside of a moral revolution.
Now remember that the sociological category of a moral revolution means a complete reversal. In other words, this isn’t just a shift in morality. This is an absolute reversal. That which had been condemned is now celebrated. That which was celebrated is now condemned. So when you’re thinking about the kind of moral convictions that Christians have traditionally held on the basis of biblical authority and the consistent teaching of the Church, you’ll understand that holding to those moral positions was, until recently in Western societies, celebrated. Homosexual relationships and behaviors were condemned. But now in many sectors of our society and increasingly—this is the trajectory of the society as a whole—the reversal is now coming into view. Holding that homosexuality is sinful is now to be condemned and homosexual behavior and relationships are now to be celebrated and normalized. This moral reversal is just the kind of thing that we have been watching come to pass and we’re now at the point in which it is almost now fully in view.
Now keep that in mind when you consider two articles that appeared within 24-hours of one another in major websites and media outlets in the United States. The first was an article by Jacquelyn Smith that appeared in The Business Insider. The headline: “What to Say When the Hiring Manager Asks About Your Religion in a Job Interview.” The article is indeed interesting, and Jacquelyn Smith, an expert in terms of business hiring policy, makes very clear that it is wrong—not only wrong, it’s illegal—to ask questions of a discriminatory nature when it comes to hiring people on a religious basis in the secular workforce. And yet, as she says, it happens. She suggests that one of the reasons it happens—she even says the main reason right now that it happens—is because prospective employers want to know about your availability in terms of the weekly calendar. They want to know if there are any particular religious practices or religious holidays that might intrude upon scheduling, but even as that is wrong to ask—and, again, not wrong in terms of etiquette, but wrong according to the law—she does acknowledge that there are other issues that could well intrude into the discussion as well. There are many reasons why a prospective employer might decide to ask about one’s religious beliefs and practices because, after all, given the agenda, in terms of this revolution and morality that we are now experiencing, many employers have simply decided that the way to ensure their posture in the society and in the consumer marketplace is going to be to join the revolution and to do so wholeheartedly. Increasing numbers of corporations, including almost all of the Fortune 500 corporations, have hiring policies and nondiscrimination policies that make it very difficult for someone who holds to a biblical understanding of homosexuality to be scored high in terms of commitment to the corporate value of diversity. This comes down to the fact that many employees are now being asked not only to do what would be natural, that is, to work with persons in terms of collegiality and teamwork regardless of sexual orientation or marital status, but employees are now being demanded to celebrate sexual diversity, a diversity of sexual orientations. Things like Gay Pride Day or Gay Pride Week are now becoming major features of large corporations and, for that matter, many smaller companies as well. I know of one person who simply working at his desk discovered that the gay pride team had planted a gay pride flag on his desk. He was glad to work with persons regardless of their sexual orientation, but he could not as a biblical Christian celebrate homosexuality as a lifestyle, and for that reason he was marked down by the corporation’s diversity team. As a matter of fact, his future prospects, as his supervisor told him, became very bleak within the company.
I mentioned there were two articles. The first was the article by Jacquelyn Smith. The second is an article by Brynn Tannehill. Brynn Tannehill is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and she is currently the director of advocacy for SPARTA, that’s Service Members, Partners, and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All or SPARTA. Writing in The Huffington Post, she speaks of freedom of religion in the workplace and in her view, as she makes very clear, there is limited freedom of religion in the secular workplace. Remember the example of the young man I just mentioned when she writes:
Private businesses most certainly can fire or punish people for expressing their sincerely held religious beliefs when it conflicts with corporate policy or civil rights laws.
But the main point of her article, her emphatic point, is basically this: her side has won the argument. As she writes:
Fundamentally, though, what social conservatives fail to understand is that they have lost the cultural war on lesbians and gays. For most Americans being rabidly anti-gay is a huge turn off. This shift in public opinion has trickled up into the business world as well.
Now we should note when she speaks of something being “rabidly anti-gay” (those are her words), she’s explicitly referring, for instance, to a moral judgment that homosexuality is sinful. She makes that clear in the preceding passages. As she sees it, it just makes good business sense for corporations to hire people who are on the right side of this new Cultural Revolution. She says:
Companies perceive appearing to support anti-gay causes, ideas or people is bad for their bottom line. They see having an inclusive workforce as good for attracting top talent.
About social conservatives—and she means conservative Christians—she says this:
Those people who rail about their right to say offensive things about lesbians and gays are becoming increasingly embarrassing.
And she means embarrassing to virtually everyone: embarrassing to corporations, embarrassing to the Republican Party, embarrassing to the society at large. But even as she was speaking about “rabidly anti-gay” a moment ago and here she speaks about those who “rail about their right to say offensive things about gays and lesbians,” remember she’s just simply talking about something like stating that one believes that homosexuality is sinful behavior. That is what is now considered absolutely out of line. That’s what breaks the diversity commitment of the company. That’s what places you on the wrong side of the moral revolution. And as both of these articles make abundantly clear, that’s just the kind of thing that can now get you fired or prevent you from being hired.
We need to face the fact that younger Christians in America are going to face a world that most of us as older adults have simply never had to face. They’re going to routinely face, for the entirety of their employment lives, the reality that they can easily be on the wrong side of a cultural controversy that can cost them their jobs, harm them in terms of their professional prospects. This is something that those who are Christians in their 60s and 70s never had to fear. Those of us in 40s and 50s are probably at least safely in the workplace, but when you think about those who are in their 20s and 30s, much less those who are youngsters and teenagers coming along, we realize that for those Christian young people there may well never be a day when they are not constantly aware of the fact that they may not get a job or may lose a job or may not even be able to enter a profession simply because they’re biblical Christians. That’s a new thing in this society and we ought not to let it pass without very sober notice.
We shift now to talk about the impact of popular culture in terms of American civilization. A Christian worldview perspective leads us to wonder, how is it that people shape their worldviews? What kind of information, what kind of cultural messaging is getting to our neighbors, the people we meet in the shopping mall, or at the little league park? What is shaping the way they think? We need to recognize that for many Americans, millions of Americans—some sociologists suggest the vast majority of Americans—most of what they think is shaped by their local community and by the larger world of popular culture. They rarely enter into any kind of academic conversation. They’re not given to intellectual pursuits. Instead, they are consumers of popular culture. And America is in essence a vast cornucopia of popular culture; therefore consumer demand. It is so much around us, so pervasively surrounding us that most of us fail to recognize just what an ocean it is, an ocean in which most of us swim, the only ocean in which many Americans swim.
We need to recognize that it was 20 years ago this year that there was a major development in terms of American popular culture. It was 20 years ago that what we now know as reality television was born, and it was born given a certain circumstance. That circumstance occurred in June of 1994. And that circumstance was, as Vanity Fair magazine’s Lili Anolik says, a car chase watched by over a hundred million people, and in that car was O.J. Simpson. As her article says, “It all began with O.J.” The article is really interesting. It’s extremely informative in terms of how the reality television movement developed after the incident that had to do with the car chase with O.J. Simpson, the background of the brutal murder of two people that led to his sensational trial, and the fact that television began to be swept by different kinds of imitators of the basic format of what became known as reality television. Now, again, reality television should be understood as an oxymoron because if there’s one thing that television virtually never is and cannot be it is reality. But for many Americans that reality on the screen is the only reality they watch for any considerable amount of time. And reality television has had a massive impact on our society and, for the most part, a pernicious impact.
That’s recognized even in Vanity Fair magazine, which is the magazine of the cultural elite. Lili Anolik writes that according to one poll at the time, going back to the O.J. Simpson trial, 74% of Americans could identify Kato Kaelin, a very minor figure in the trial, when only 25% could identify the vice president of the United States, then Al Gore. In other words, 20 years ago, reality television was so much a part of American culture that three quarters of Americans could identify a minor figure in a criminal trial when only a quarter of Americans could identify the one who is second in line to be president of the United States, the then-sitting vice president.
But she also notes that much more was swept away in terms of the development of reality television. For instance, one of the things reality television killed were the soap operas that had dominated midday television and it dominated the lives of many midday-television viewers for well over half a century. As it turns out, reality television killed the soap opera, which also tells us a great deal. And, by the way, the soap operas were called soap operas because they were basically advertising media for selling soap to housewives who were at home and, first on radio and later on television, were available either to listen or to watch.
But the main point of Vanity Fair’s coverage of this 20th anniversary of reality television is to point out that American television has now gone from bad to worse. As Anolik writes:
In the years following the [O.J. Simpson] case, not only did the high-low blend skew more and more toward low, and not only did the bar on low drop, is still dropping, but the feelings of shame that accompanied a low binge vanished.
In other words, American television is now at even lower standards than it was 20 years ago when it took this plunge and, as she says, the plunge is continuing. And if there’s anything new, it’s that television producers now feel absolutely no guilt about the binge and nor do the viewers. They simply binge on this kind of television and demand more.
Keep this in mind as well when you consider that just this past Friday, Barbara Walters retired (again) from television. This time from the show that she pioneered, The View. But in many ways she was a pioneering woman in television at large. It was in 1964 (50 years ago) that NBC hired her as the “Today Girl.” Her first job in television was selling dog food; the brand was Alpo. But she retired at the top of her game in terms of television. She eventually became cohost of The Today Show and later was cohost of ABC Evening News. That was a brief stint and somewhat controversial, but her main impact on television was not even through The View, but through her interviews. Barbara Walters has interviewed every sitting president to the United States from Richard Nixon forward. Her interview during the Clinton controversy with Monica Lewinsky is recorded as the most-watched television event in American history.
But Barbara Walters should go down in history as one who, perhaps more than anyone else, blurred the lines between reality and unreality, between celebrity and the news. If O.J. Simpson is credited, in terms of starting reality television, with tanking the television culture, then Barbara Walters has to be recognized as a major figure in debasing the news. Her interviews were far more often about pandering to celebrities and often with rather salacious content. She did talk to sitting presidents of the United States, she also interviewed Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro, but many if not most of her most-watched interviews were with people who were, as Daniel Boorstin, the late librarian of Congress, said, “merely famous for being famous.” In other words, she was highly addicted to the cult of celebrity. But, of course, it wasn’t enough that she was addicted. There had to be millions of Americans watching her programs who were perhaps even more addicted. That may also explain why on her final appearance on The View she was told goodbye with appearances by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, both of whom told her that she had changed the world. And in the oddest way, given the power of popular culture, maybe she actually did.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember the weekly release of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 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’m speaking to you from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.