The Briefing, Friday, November 2, 2012

TODAY: Human nature revealed by a storm, ill-timed climate arguments, U.S. birthrate at all-time low, 40% of all U.S. babies born to single mothers, ex-gay men decry enemies of “reparative therapy,” marriage on the ballot and a pressing question — Were evangelicals once pro-abortion? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Hurricane Sandy is now just a weakened storm headed northward through Canada, but there is horrible devastation in its wake. It is now clear that the state of New Jersey bore the brunt of the massive storm. Ocean-front communities along the Jersey shore were largely dismantled. Photographs after the storm reveal missing boardwalks, submerged roller-coasters, windowless hotels, and broken homes. Insurance analysts now estimate that total losses may exceed $50 billion — making Sandy the most costly storm after Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew.

In the aftermath of a devastating storm, a basic fact of human nature is revealed. Even in the midst of storm and tragedy, humans reveal themselves to be amazingly resilient. Within hours of the blasting winds and flooding rains, New Yorkers were already on the streets, clearing debris and salvaging what they could. God made us with an amazing capacity to respond to danger and loss with courage and determination. These will be desperately needed in days ahead.

Watch for this — You can count on a barrage of ill-timed arguments about climate change in the wake of a big storm. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo lost no time declaring that Hurricane Sandy was an omen of things to come, due to climate change. They may or may not be right. But this is not the time for either side in the climate wars to manipulate the issue.

Writing in The New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof said that Sandy now forced the issue: “Isn’t it time to talk not only about weather, but also about climate?” Even is this is the time for that talk, it is not due to Sandy. Kristof admits as much when he carefully (and rightly) notes that no one weather event is evidence of climate change. He cites William Solecki of the New York City Panel on Climate Change who admitted as much, but then stated: “But [Sandy] is illustrative of the conditions and events and scenarios that we expect with climate change.” That is a clear admission of intellectual opportunism. That kind of opportunism, we should note, can happen on either side of of the intellectual divide.

One problem with this kind of weather argument is our lack of historical awareness. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado reminds us that Hurricane Sandy is not unprecedented in any sense. He then explains that in just two years (1954-1955) the Northeast and the Atlantic coast were assaulted by three deadly and devastating hurricanes (Carol, Hazel, and Diane). Each of these storms was twice as destructive as Sandy.

Furthermore, we are now in what Pielke calls a “hurricane drought.” The last category 3 storm to hit the U.S. was Wilma in 2005. The period since then, he reminds us, “is the longest such span in more than a century.”

Ominous news was released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. birth rate is now the lowest of the nation’s history. Only 3,953,593 babies were born in the U.S. in 2011, indicating the lowest birthrate ever reported for the nation. Add to this the fact that more than 40% of these babies were born to unmarried mothers.

These statistics point to a massive and potentially irreversible demographic trend, and that trend points to an even more dangerous moral shift.

In another development, “ex-gay” men who are upset at the denunciations of reparative therapy were given voice in The New York Times. The paper and its reporter, Erik Eckholm, deserve credit for this fairness.

In the article, men who were sexually attracted to other men, but considered this attraction sinful, spoke of the help they had received from reparative therapy — therapies designed to correct same-sex sexual attraction. This comes after California became the first state to criminalize the use of such therapies with adolescents. As one of the men stated: “If I’d known about these therapies as a teen I could have avoided a lot of depression, self-hatred, and suicidal thoughts.”

The psychological and psychiatric associations may condemn the idea that sexual orientation can be changed, but the New Testament insists that nothing is beyond the power of the Gospel.

As Paul writes:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

Note the past tense — “such were some of you.” This is a vital biblical teaching.

Writing at, a young medical student and author accuses evangelicals of a politically-driven change of heart on the question of abortion. He argues that evangelicals were one “pro-choice,” but changed their position in order to make common cause with Roman Catholics and the emerging New Religious Right. Instead of operating on pro-life conviction, Jonathan Dudley argues that American evangelicals were conned by “a well-organized political initiative only a little more than 30 years old.”

Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today responded to Dudley:

“A careful reading of our history suggests not that evangelical convictions are the result of a “well-organized political initiatve,” but that these initiatives grew out of our increasingly wide spread and deeply held moral convictions and deepening awareness of the number of lives being cast away (over a million a year since 1976). To be sure, once the evangelical anti-abortion movement got started, politics reinforced ethics, and vice versa. But as one embedded in the movement for nearly half a century–and one who has been often troubled by the ham-fisted anti-abortion politics of the Religious Right—there is no doubt that the ground of anti-abortion politics is moral conviction and a bloody historical reality.”

I discuss the issue and affirm that Dudley is at least partly right. Many evangelicals did hold to embarrassingly liberal positions on the abortion issue (including, I must admit, the Southern Baptist Convention). He is wrong, however, when he argues that the reason for the shift on abortion was political. Galli sets that record straight.

In Maine, Minnesota, Washington State, and Maryland, same-sex marriage is on the ballot. In an editorial, The New York Times decries the fact that same-sex marriage is on the ballot at all. “The freedom to marry is a fundamental right that should not have to be won or defended at the ballot box,” the paper argued. The problem with that statement is the fact that, in a democracy, every political or legal question is eventually a ballot question. Most issues are not decided by a direct citizen vote, but that vote does determine the eventual shape of the government. This is necessarily so if the government is truly “by the people.”

Similarly, the paper asserts that “ballot initiatives are a bad way to write or rewrite laws of any kind.” That is a truly unfortunate statement. Ballot initiatives are always clumsy, but the editors of The New York Times claim that citizen initiatives are the wrong way to go for “laws of any kind.” This is a dramatic overstatement, and it represents an undiluted and dangerous form of elitism

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here.    Links to all articles cited are also provided.