May 29, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, May 29, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Religion News Service is out with a very interesting article by Kevin Eckstrom. The title is this: “5 Reasons Gay Marriage is Winning.” All five of these reasons deserve our attention. He says the first reason is this—for this massive cultural shift with fast momentum—he says the first is rapid cultural shifts. In other words, the culture itself is now sending very different signals. As he writes:
The culture changed faster than conservatives thought possible. Led by the popular gay characters on “Will & Grace” and “Glee,” gays and lesbians are more visible in public life, and Americans are growing increasingly comfortable with that. A generation ago, coming out as gay was a career-killer; now it’s almost trendy.
That’s true, of course. He’s writing about the massive impact of popular culture. This points to the fact that Hollywood is massively important, the entire entertainment industry is massively important in fueling this kind of a moral revolution.
But they are not alone. Liberal religion is also a part of this rapid cultural shift. As he says, “The 2003 election of openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson dramatically shifted the conversation about gays and leadership.” It did do that in liberal Protestantism. The liberal Protestant denominations now are uniformly for virtually any kind of gay activity or gay relationship. The only holdout in that is the United Methodist Church and there are efforts to make that denomination also get in line with the rest of mainline Protestantism.
But the second issue, he says, in terms of explaining why there’s been this massive cultural shift is, as he says, an ally in the White House. Eckstrom writes:
It’s hard to overestimate the power of a bully pulpit, and there’s no bigger microphone than the chief executive’s. While President Obama may be the country’s first black president, he will also be remembered as the most pro-gay occupant of the Oval Office — even if it took him time to get there.
That refers to the fact that President Obama in 2012 ran as an advocate—he was running for reelection to the presidency—he ran as an advocate for same-sex marriage, but that was after in 2008 when he ran as an opponent to same-sex marriage. And that was after just years before that, as he was running for the state Senate in Illinois, he ran as someone who was for gay marriage. So he was for it, then against it, and for it again. But he’s now for it in a big way. And he, of course, has used the Justice Department and has instructed Attorney General Eric Holder to intervene in virtually any way possible in order to further the cause of same-sex marriage and other issues very important to the normalization of homosexuality.
The third issue that Eckstrom points to is what he calls a problem of overreach. He says:
Starting with the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, conservative activists concluded that the only solution to stopping gay marriage was a nationwide ban.
I think this is the weakest point of his entire article because, after all, it was not conservative activists who were solely behind the Defense of Marriage Act back in 1996. It passed with very little opposition in both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. That’s not well described as the effort by conservative activists. But he cites gay-rights activist Jonathan Rauch who said it was a critical mistake to try for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. But I would just have to say, once again, I think that’s a weak argument because conservatives never actually coalesced around that agenda.
But he gets back on track in the fourth point when he says religious influence rises and falls. He writes:
In 2004, popular support for same-sex marriage was stuck in the low 30s. According to the latest Gallup Poll released this week, that number is now at 55 percent. It’s now rare to see a poll that finds only minority support for gay marriage.
That’s a rather awkward sentence, but what he means is most polls indicate that at least a bare majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. But he goes on to write:
Another poll number may be more telling about the underlying cultural shift: A decade ago, 71 percent of Americans said religion was “increasing its influence” on American life. Today, nearly the exact opposite is true — 77 percent of Americans say religion is “losing its influence” on public life.
So, in other words, secularization plays a very important role here. But it’s not just secularization itself. Eckstrom’s main point—and this is very interesting—is that the perception of secularization also plays a point. Americans believe that America is becoming more secular, and so they also tend to believe that its laws and its cultural and moral values are also going to become more secular. It’s a chicken-and-egg question, but it’s a very interesting point.
Fifth and last, he argues that one of the main reasons why momentum for same-sex marriage is building is because opposition to it has now been categorized as hateful and bigoted. Now that’s a very interesting and informative point because what you have here is an acknowledgment that the opponents of same-sex marriage, that is, the defenders of natural marriage, of what we might call traditional marriage, have been successfully demonized in the court of public opinion.
Those five points are very, very instructive. I think Kevin Eckstrom is onto something of great importance. Something has to explain this vast cultural shift and the momentum with which it’s happening. I thought one of his points was very weak, but four of them were very strong. That’s, all in all, a rather strong article.
But you need to keep that in mind when we move to Slate.com where William Saleton, a very intelligent observer, suggested what we’re now seeing is what he calls the collapse of anti-gay religion. He goes to an event sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a very influential think tank in Washington, DC, and he points to that conversation as evidence of what he suggests is the collapse of anti-gay religion. But what I want to point to in his article is one key paragraph. It’s so important I want to read it in full. He says:
That’s how fundamentalists retreat. They relocate their fundamentalism to less vulnerable terrain—all the while proclaiming their defiant adherence to the literal word of God—until the new position, too, must be abandoned. In the case of homosexuality, my guess is that the relocation will happen in two stages. First, churches will find ways to acknowledge faithful same-sex relationships. Then they’ll decide that these couples ought to get married, because sex outside of marriage is wrong. The new fundamentalist position will be that sexual activity is moral only within the confines of marriage, gay or straight, just as the Bible always taught us.
Now there’s a good deal of wisdom in that paragraph, but it’s embedded within a massive misunderstanding. He’s onto something alright, but he’s not on to the logic of conservative Christianity. But rather he’s onto the logic of liberal and moderate forms of Christianity because what he’s talking about is exactly what the Protestant left has been doing for well over a century. It’s exactly what the Protestant liberals did with issues, whether it’s the virgin birth or the claim of the physical and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ or virtually any other major Christian doctrine, and it’s what the Protestant left has done to the Bible’s very clear teachings on homosexuality and marriage as well. And they have been followed by those who describe themselves as moderates; those who are somehow in the middle in terms of the American Christian equation. They increasingly, forced by the culture to make a decision, are shifting left and not shifting right.
But what Saleton is really arguing is that conservative Christianity is going to find a way to come to peace with the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage. And I think on that issue he’s profoundly wrong because conservative Christians can’t relocate truth claims to what he describes as a less-vulnerable terrain. As a matter of fact, even as conservative Christians proclaim what he describes as defiant adherence to the literal word of God, we can’t shift to that position because the text itself isn’t going to shift. He is describing brilliantly the tactical moves undertaken by liberal Protestantism. As he says, the church has found ways to acknowledge faithful same-sex relationships. Then they argue that the people who are in them need to get married in order to normalize those relationships. That is exactly what is happening on the Protestant left, but it’s not what is happening in biblically faithful congregations. He’s onto something; he’s just not on to what he thinks he has. He’s not on to the logic of conservative Christianity. He’s onto the logic of Protestant liberalism, and, furthermore, the Catholic Church, or at least large parts of it, may follow in the same trajectory. But as for those who are bound by Scripture, there’s nowhere to go because Scripture isn’t going to change; the text isn’t going to shift. And if the Scripture doesn’t change, we can’t change our position; no matter how hard the culture may press against us.
Next, we shift to the relationship between the culture and politics, and we remind ourselves of the basic biblical insight that it is the culture that produces the politics. The politics cannot produce the culture. In other words, especially where you have a Democratic system of government, where you have citizens voting, they’re voting according to their worldview that represents the culture. That produces the political equation. It doesn’t work the other way around. Conservative Christians sometimes mislead ourselves on this. We do understand that politics is important; it’s just not as important as even the politicians believe it to be because they’re produced by the culture, not so much the other way around.
Now when you’re thinking about that, consider an article that appeared in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times. It’s by Lynn Vavreck, who is a professor of political science at UCLA. She writes about the power of political ignorance, and this is one of those articles that’s so important you ought not to be ignorant about it. It comes down to this. When you think about contested elections, you realize the fact that there are a good many people who, when you think of an election between two candidates, already know for whom they’re going to vote. They are politically active. They are politically informed. And by the time it comes to election time, they know exactly how they’re going to vote, especially when it comes to something—and it’s the concern of this article—like the United States Senate and when you consider an election of the United States Senator. Most people highly identified with either party are rather politically informed. As a matter of fact, this political scientist says that being actively involved in the political equation, being actively identified with either of the two political parties, is the greatest single indicator of whether or not one is likely to be politically informed. The more party identified a citizen is, the more informed they turn out to be.
But the reverse of that is also true; maybe even more importantly true. And as Professor Vavreck points out, when you look at the American political equation, you have a significant number of Americans, let’s say about 45%, who are highly identified with the Republican Party. And then you have another cohort of the population, say about another 45%, who are highly identified with the Democratic Party. That leaves about 10%. But this is where it gets really interesting. As it turns out, it’s that 10% who turn out to be the least informed and most ignorant, to use her language, about the politics and about the positions at stake. They’re the ones who actually decide the elections. Here’s the horrifying reality. The people who end up making the difference in elections by swinging one way or the other, these are the people who are likely to know the least about the impact of the vote they are casting.
She writes about the fact that when you look at people who split their tickets in terms of their voting—they’ll vote for a Democrat here and Republican there—they turn out to be far less politically informed than those who vote straight ticket. And that just points to the fact that the so-called swing voters are actually a huge problem because they are the least informed. The decisions, the big decisions in terms of our elections, are actually being decided by the people who have the least interest and are the least knowledgeable about what’s actually involved. As Professor Vavreck writes:
Despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, it is tempting to think that something as important as control of the Senate lies in the hands of voters who carefully pick and choose which candidates to vote for in each race on the ballot, but this seems unlikely. It is more likely that split-ticket voters are buffeted by idiosyncratic factors, like incumbency status, recent campaign advertising, and the tone and share of news coverage candidates receive.
All of this makes the quality of the campaigns and the fund-raising it takes to wage them very important. If the early ads for the midterm elections are any indication, cross-party voters are in for several months of intense appeals, whether they are interested in them or not.
Of course, the main importance from the Christian worldview here is, once again, the affirmation that it’s the culture that produces the politics. It just doesn’t work the other way around. And that means that whether you’re a liberal or a conservative you’re likely to invest too much hope in the politics because by the time you arrive with political success, you probably already won the argument.
But the other part of the Christian worldview that kicks in here is just the reality that in a fallen world sometimes it’s the people who know the least whose votes count the most. It’s a very interesting and somewhat depressing realization, but it also points out why when it comes to politics it’s not just about winning elections; it’s about winning arguments. And for Christians, that’s a good reminder anytime.
Finally, an incredibly revealing article appeared in Tuesday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal. You’re going to love the headline. It appeared in the personal journal section. The headline is “Very Little and Acting Mean.” The scare quote under the headline points to the fact that by the time some children are ages 2 ½, they’re already using what is called relational aggression. They’re withholding relationships to punish those with whom they are displeased. They are aggressive in terms of their relationships and they are downright—well here’s the word in the headline—mean, at just age 2 ½. Does that shock you? Well evidently it’s shocking a lot of people who work with children today. That’s why it’s headline news in Tuesday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal. As reporter Sumathi Reddy writes:
Children still in kindergarten or even younger form cliques and intentionally exclude others, say psychologists and educators who are increasingly noticing the behavior and taking steps to curb it.
Special programs are popping up in elementary schools to teach empathy as a means of stemming relational aggression, a psychological term to describe using the threat of removing friendship as a tactical weapon.
And she goes on to be very clear that while both boys and girls exhibit relational aggression, it’s thought to be a lot more common among girls because they are generally more socially developed and verbal than boys. Laura Barbour, a counselor at Stafford Primary School in West Linn, Oregon—she’s worked in elementary schools for 24 year—says, “I think it’s remarkable that we’re seeing this at younger and younger ages. Kids forget about scuffles on the playground, but they don’t forget about unkind words or being left out.” Well as Sumathi Reddy goes on to report, this was generally—this form of psychological relational aggression—was thought to be more common amongst middle schoolers, especially middle school girls, but, as it turns out, it’s being reported at younger and younger ages, even as young as toddlers at 2 ½ years of age. And, of course, what is called for, according to this article from a secular perspective, is another program to teach children, even those 2 ½ year olds, empathy so that they would feel guilt about withholding that kind of relationship and practicing that kind of relational aggression.
But even embedded in this article is a bit of subversion of its very idea—the fact that this is news that children as young as 2 ½ are actually practicing this relational aggression. It turns out that a good many mothers are saying, “No, we see this early. We see it even earlier than 2 ½.” And there are others who are saying, “I don’t think this is new at all.” Why? Because it’s not new; it’s Genesis 3 old. What we’re looking at here is the fact that these children are, as the secular worldview fails to understand, sinners. They are not morally neutral. They’re not morally good. We shouldn’t be surprised to find any kind of sinful impulse coming out in any of us at any age, but somehow there’s the idea that children have to learn bad behavior; that something has to happen to them that turns on a switch for bad behavior, for evil intent and sin. It’s the Christian worldview that comes along and very importantly affirms the biblical understanding of sin that doesn’t say we learn how to be sinners. It says we are sinners; we just learn how to sin more boldly and perhaps with greater complexity and sophistication. A Christian reading this article can understand that from the secular viewpoint, the secular worldview, it might come as a surprise to people that toddlers can be mean. But, as it turns out from the Christian worldview, we find out really early that toddlers can be mean.
Of course, as is usually the case, there’s a lot more embedded in this. Maybe some moms need to read this article in order to understand why sending their little boy to timeout doesn’t have the effect that they want. As this article makes very clear, relational aggression doesn’t work with boys. It rolls right off of them. As a matter of fact, they’re quite happy not to have that kind of relational pressure put on them. Being sent to their room and timeout can be exactly what a little boy sees as victory, not as punishment. Girls, on the other hand, they learn quite early, as this article makes clear, how to use relational aggression in order to be very mean. This isn’t to say that one gender is morally superior to the other—we know that’s not true—but as the article makes clear, boys are far more prone to physical aggression and girls to relational aggression. And what explains aggression? That simple, very short, three-letter word indispensable to the Christian worldview: sin. That one word, the secular worldview having rejected, that simply makes secularism unworkable, so unworkable that when they look at toddlers and they see relational aggression, they have to ask themselves, “How could this happen? Now what are we going to do about it? What program is going to solve this?” Sorry, folks. No program is going to solve this problem. It’s not a program problem. It’s a theological problem. It’s the sin problem.
Of course, looking at this we also realize that even as it shows the shortcomings of the secular worldview, it requires us also as Christians to remember how important it is that we actually think like Christians because a good many Christians reading an article like this, operating out of a basically secular worldview without perhaps even realizing it, they themselves may wonder how in the world did this child that I seem to know so well, how did this child all the sudden turn into such a sinful little critter? Well that’s where you need the Bible to correct our misperception and to let us know that that critter that looks so cute in the crib was a sinner all along. Now comes the opportunity, and, as the apostle Paul says in Romans chapter 7, once it had the opportunity, it took it, which is to say, I took it. But once again we reflect upon the fact that it’s one thing for the secular world to be confused about this; it’s altogether a greater tragedy for Christians to be confused in the same way.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. Remember the periodic releases of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. The season for the spring of 2014 has come to a close, but we’re still taking your questions. We’ll try to use your question when we start the new series later in the summer. Call at 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. 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.