The Briefing 05-02-14

The Briefing 05-02-14

The Briefing


 May 2, 2014

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


It’s Friday, May 2, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.


Whether you’re trying to sell a message, sell a candidate, or sell a product, you have to know how the changing landscape in America is going to affect your challenge. And that’s why the front page of yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal included this headline: “Political Ground Shifts in Suburbs.” The headline: “More Like Cities. Now this article by Elizabeth Williamson and Dante Chinni is a very interesting analysis of how political change in a nation like the United States points to other changes as well because politics is never just completely separated from the rest of our lives and certainly not from the remainder of our worldview. The worldview determines the politics, and the politics indicates far more than political choice because as this article makes very clear in The Wall Street Journal—and let’s remember, they put it right in the center of their front page—those who are trying to understand what’s happening in America have to look to the suburbs and to the changing nature of the suburbs. And for those who have a great interest in American Christianity, this leads to an immediate interest as well. The reason is quite simple. American Christianity, as well as American retailing and American political dynamic, has been primarily isolated in America’s suburbs. And if America’s suburbs are changing, that tells us that Americans are changing the way they live, and perhaps even where they live and how they think when they live where they are now congregated. And it is clear that some of the most interesting action in America is taking place in what The Wall Street Journal calls “mature suburbs.” These are suburbs in the near regions of America’s great metropolitan cities, and even though they are still suburbs (they’re not a part of the city center core), they nonetheless are including people who would otherwise be urbanites. And they’re acting like urbanites; they’re shopping like urbanites; and they’re voting like urbanites.


Now when you look at America’s traditional demographic pattern, those who were in the cities are more likely to be educated, more likely to be liberal, more likely to be secular, and this means that what many people in America’s suburbs are thinking they’re experiencing is actually the case. They think that their suburbs are also becoming more liberal, more democratic, more secular, and perhaps even more highly educated, and that’s exactly what The Wall Street Journal’s pointing to in this particular cover story. As Williamson and Chinni report from Leesburg, Virginia, they write:


This was a pastoral, conservative Washington suburb until a decade ago, when new jobs sprouting in and around the U.S. capital began drawing younger, more affluent people [into that particular suburb].


It was previously a small town in Virginia, but it is now basically a suburb of Washington, DC, and it is increasingly what The Wall Street Journal is calling a “mature suburb.” In other words, it’s made up of an urban people who want to live a basically urban lifestyle; they just want to live it not in the urban center core, but in the suburbs, where there is more land, more opportunity for space for raising children, and the opportunity for the kind of lifestyle that would combine the flexibility and mobility of the suburbs with the intensity, culture, and lifestyle of the city urban core. As they write:


These neighborhoods—so-called mature suburbs that sprouted in the decades after World War II—have become so densely populated over the past decade that they more closely resemble the big cities nearby. The U.S. census now classifies the counties that contain them as “urban.”


Now that’s a very important data point in itself. If the U.S. Census Bureau now classifies those suburbs as urban, then they’re reflecting the fact that as these suburbs live, act, vote, buy, purchase, send their kids to college, and all the rest, they are basically mirroring the urban core.


In terms of numbers, The Wall Street Journal reports that the population of these mature suburbs in the US grew to about 16 million in 2010. It was only 51 million in the year 2000. So there’s a huge population shift towards these new mature suburbs. How is this reflected politically? As they write:


The newer residents look, shop and vote more like urban dwellers than suburbanites of the past. They bring money and diversity to their neighborhoods, supported by jobs in government, academics and technology.


A little footnote there: those are the areas of the economy least likely to be affected by a recession. And, as a matter fact, it’s no coincidence that this article is being written from the suburban Washington, DC area; the portion of the United States that due to government funding was also the least affected by the recession. They go on to write:


Politically, Democrats see opportunity; Republicans see a challenge. Growth in mature suburbs has helped the Democrats in presidential contests. George W. Bush, the most recent GOP president, built his two election victories, in part, on broad suburban support. To win the White House in 2016, Republicans must retain their exurban and rural strongholds, while beating back the growing Democratic tide in the suburbs.


The political, moral, and worldview shift reflected in this demographic reality was commented on in this article by former Congressman Thomas M. Davis, III. He’s formerly a Republican congressman from Fairfax County. He said that these new residents of these mature suburbs near Washington, DC, are not in love with the Democrats, he says, they’re just not in love with the Republicans either. They are voting their own class interest, but as they understand their class interest and personal concerns, they are now more closely identified and aligned with the Democratic than the Republican Parties. And as a matter fact, Davis said they are economically more aligned with the Republican Party, but they’re turned off in many ways by the social policy. That points out the moral change that is reflected here.


But as I said, this is not just about politics. It’s not just about marketing. It’s not just about selling a message. It’s also about the future of the church in America’s suburbs because evangelical Christianity has been, by and large, for the last 150 years and more, a largely suburban phenomenon, and as a suburban phenomenon, that means that the future of evangelical Christianity, at least in terms of demography, has a lot to do with the future of these suburbs. And as the suburbs tend to be more secular, this represents a challenge not just for those who are concerned about politics, but for those who are concerned about churches and evangelism and reaching a neighborhood and the missiological efforts of a church within its own neighborhood and beyond.


The changes in America’s suburbs are going to change the way America votes, the way America thinks, the way America buys. They’re also going to change the way America conceives of Christianity, patterns of churchgoing, and all the rest. And these mature suburbs that are discussed here in this Wall Street Journal cover story—and those are the ones around Washington, DC—are mirrored by the same kind of mature suburbs around cities like Charlotte and Atlanta and Dallas and Houston and San Diego and Los Angeles and beyond. In other words, this article is just the kind of information you need if you care about America’s future, as America’s evangelical Christians must certainly care.


And writing about political and moral change in America, sometimes evidence appears in unlikely places. One is in an article in yesterday’s first page of The New York Times by Amy Chozick, and she’s writing about former President Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton, she says, is having to defend his legacy. Why? Because the political party he represented as president and as the central symbolic figure for almost a decade—as a matter fact, influencing that party not only for a decade, but for far longer. He’s now on the defensive because his party has moved to his left, considerably to his left, and he is being accused of political expediency and trying to move to the left with it and to carry his wife with him. In other words, trying to position Hillary Rodham Clinton for a race for the White House as more liberal than he was when he was in the Oval Office himself. As Chozick writes:


Former President Bill Clinton, who has grown increasingly frustrated that his economic policies are viewed as out-of-step with the current focus on income inequality, on Wednesday delivered his most muscular defense of his economic legacy.


He said, “My commitment was to restore broad-based prosperity to the economy and to give Americans a chance.” He was speaking at his alma mater Georgetown University in Washington. Chozick writes:


For nearly two hours, the former president defended the impact of policies like welfare overhaul and the earned-income tax credit, and displayed a series of charts detailing the number of people his policies lifted out of poverty. “You know the rest,” he said of the 1990s. “It worked out pretty well.”


But even as Bill Clinton and his policies were once the bragging rights of the Democratic Party (politically speaking), now they become something of an embarrassment. And in terms of his wife’s electoral prospects for the White House, the Clinton economic policies, welfare reform policies, and other populist centrist policies are now out of step with the very party whose nomination she might try to gain. Chozick gets right to the point when she writes that “Mrs. Clinton has come under criticism from some left-leaning Democrats who view her as too cozy with Wall Street.” In particular, the political rival to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic Party now is Elizabeth Warren, the fairly newly-elected senator from Massachusetts; a clear economic populist on the far left of Mrs. Clinton.


Well the Clintons and the Democratic Party are going to have to work out those issues, but the most interesting statement in the article comes at its conclusion. Chozick goes back to a statement made by Bill Clinton on CNN last fall when the former president was asked if the election and re-election of Barack Obama meant the end of the Clinton Democrats. He said this:


There’s probably something to that. America is growing more liberal culturally and more diverse. But, again, let’s not get carried away here. I ran on income inequality in 1992.


Now no one really remembers that Bill Clinton ran on income inequality in 1992, but he’s counting on Americans having a very short attention span. But he’s certainly right about this: the former president nails it when he says America’s growing more liberal culturally and more diverse. That’s a fact that is verified in the very article that was on the front page of The Wall Street Journal on the changes in America’s suburbs. The former president was right. As to whether he can now position himself to the left to where he was as president, well, that remains to be seen.


But ours is a time not only of moral change, but of grave moral confusion. And as you look at the media over the last week, one big story points perhaps more than any other to that moral confusion. That big story is the fact that the White House and President Obama have said they are going to give increased attention to the problem of sexual assault on America’s college and university campuses. Now let’s be clear. Everything that can be done by anyone to stop the plague of sexual assault anywhere must be done, and there is a clear moral scandal here as many colleges and universities have been hiding the fact that there have been many assaults, rapes, and other sexual crimes that have taken place on their campuses and have been hidden and unreported and covered over. That is a scandal. But there’s another scandal here, and that is the actual approach taken by a society that tries to act as if sexual morality doesn’t matter until it comes to the point of rape or assault. In other words, that tries to act as if the only significant moral issue at stake is consent. Let’s be clear here. If you rewind American history a half-century and you go on America’s colleges and university campuses, those colleges and universities—private, public, Christian, secular, otherwise—all uniformly had rules that made very clear that sexual activity and sexual contact between students was forbidden. The issue of consent was not even the fundamental reality because there was a sexual morality in terms of right and wrong that clearly understood that sex was to be limited to marriage and marriage was the defining issue. Married couples were expected to act and live like married couples, and those who were not married were expected to follow the sexual rules established not only by the college or university, but by the larger culture as well. And, of course, those rules were policed not only by the campus authorities, not only by the campus minister or chaplain, not only by the dean of students, but by the police, and not only by the police, but also by the parents. That’s the moral revolution in a nutshell right there.


Now you have parents sending their kids to universities, expecting that their kids will have sex. And what they want to say now is just have safe sex, and what they want to say to their sons is ‘don’t get arrested as you have sex’. They want to act as if sexual morality doesn’t matter in this postmodern, post-Christian secular age until the issue comes to consent. Furthermore, you have the rampant use of drugs and especially of beverage alcohol in these campuses; you have a hooking-up culture that celebrates rampant misbehavior; and you have a recipe for disaster. And now on the other side of this insanity, you do not have the Obama Administration led by the president saying let’s recover some moral sanity here; let’s recover some sexual sanity here. Instead, they’re saying let’s go ahead and accept the sexual insanity of believing that consent is the only issue and then let’s draw our line at consent and let’s try to hold everyone accountable simply at the level of consent. And then you end up with all these sex codes and investigations and policies and all the rest, the sole purpose of which is simply to determine whether or not someone gave consent to an activity that may later alleged to have been nonconsensual.


Now that’s going to put America’s colleges and universities, but also the larger society as a whole, on trial here. How is it possible that you can draw the line and say the only significant moral issue is consent? How then are you going to measure this? How are you going to write adequate rules for this? The reality is you can’t write enough rules. How are you going to define where consent does and does not exist? You can’t possibly come up with a failsafe operation that will always ensure that. How are you going to come up with an adequate investigative or judicial process in order to protect all persons involved? You can’t. This is a charade. It’s an exercise in absolute nonsense. This is the kind of moral debate that would make sense in Alice in Wonderland, but doesn’t make sense in the real world. And you have college campuses that, furthermore, are holding things like “sex week” in which they celebrate all kinds of pornography and explicit sexuality and then they want to say, “But remember: all that’s good. All you have to worry about is consent.” It is nonsense. It is irrational. But as the nation’s major media trumpeted all during this week, it makes sense to someone who puts it on the front page of their paper and it makes sense to someone in the White House who says let’s make this a matter of national policy. In sexual assault, you bet, punish those guilty; absolutely. But will that solve the problem if the sole sexual moral issue that is held forth is consent? No, it will not. You cannot create chaos and then try to create one little neighborhood of order.


Shifting from college students to a generation younger, there is a very interesting article in The New York Times by David Leonhardt. It appeared on April 29, entitled “A Link Between Fidgety Boys and a Sputtering Economy.” That’s the kind of headline that should have your attention. And it should have the attention of parents, educators, ministers, and all others who care about the future of America, and especially the future of boys in America, because this article has some devastating data within it. Leonhardt writes:


The behavior gap between rich and poor children, starting at very early ages, is now a well-known piece of social science. Entering kindergarten, high-income children not only know more words and can read better than poorer children but they also have longer attention spans, better-controlled tempers and more sensitivity to other children.


Well if you knew that already, consider the next paragraph:


All of which makes the comparisons between boys and girls in the same categories fairly striking: The gap in behavioral skills between young girls and boys is even bigger than the gap between rich and poor.


Now this is a really interesting article. As a matter of fact, one of the interesting aspects to it is that, evidently, to some people in the nation’s intellectual elites, the fact that boys and girls are different comes as something of a great realization. Now there’s a lot of really interesting material in this article, including some very important data, but perhaps the most interesting insight you get from reading this article is the insight that at least for some amongst the intellectual elites in our country, the fact that boys and girls are different comes as something of a surprise, for which this kind of research was necessary in order to prove the point. Leonhardt writes:


By kindergarten, girls are substantially more attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, more persistent, more flexible and more independent than boys, according to a new paper from Third Way [a think tank in Washington]. By eighth grade, 48 percent of girls receive a mix of A’s and B’s or better. Only 31 percent of boys do.


And here’s the economic angle by Leonhardt:


In an economy that rewards knowledge, the academic struggles of boys turn into economic struggles. Men’s wages are stagnating. Men are much more likely to be idle — neither working, looking for work nor caring for family — than they once were and much more likely to be idle than women.


Now one of the things to note is that the cultural left has resisted, steadfastly resisted, any acknowledgment of the fact that there really is a boy problem in America. But Leonhardt, here writing for The New York Times, is an exception, and for that we should be thankful. He writes:


These depressing trends have many causes, but the social struggles of men and boys are an important one. If the United States is going to build a better-functioning economy than the one we’ve had over the last 15 years, we’re going to have to solve our boy problems.


In other words, he’s got the message. Elaine Karmarck, a resident scholar at Third Way, a former administrator in the Clinton Administration, said quote, “We know we got a crisis and the crisis is with boys. We’re not quite sure why it’s happening.” But here is really important data, and this is where anyone who cares about the family and cares about children must pay very close attention.


Two of the leading theories involve single-parent families and schools. The number of single-parent families has surged over the last generation, and the effect seems to be larger on boys in those families than girls. Girls who grow up with only one parent — typically a mother — fare almost as well on average as girls with two parents. Boys don’t.


Now those particular studies are looking at things such as success in school that points to success later in life. If you take on larger issues, the reality is that the absence of a father shows up in very devastating ways in young girls as well. But when it comes to those key issues of concern to the studies, the two words that concluded that paragraph are absolutely essential: boys don’t. In other words, girls, they say, are faring almost as well, having two parents or one in respect to school success, but boys don’t. The absence of a father means that boys are seriously hampered in terms of their experience and success in school and later in life, especially in the workplace.


Leonhardt’s article continues looking at the problems that may exist in the schools themselves. Indeed, looking at the fact that at least several critics point out that the schools are so feminized, not only in terms of the fact that the teachers are mostly women, but the fact that the classroom experience itself tends to be far more naturally mastered by girls than by boys. That’s where the word fidgety in the title comes in. In other words, boys do not naturally sit still for long periods of time and their attention span is not what is naturally fed by the kind of classroom experience that is the norm in most schools—at least not over any significant duration of time. David Leonhardt concludes with this very interesting paragraph:


The problem doesn’t simply involve men trying to overcome the demise of a local factory or teenage boys getting into trouble. It involves children so young that most haven’t even learned the word “gender.” Yet their gender is already starting to cast a long shadow over their lives.


Well this article involves both clarity and confusion, but it is a victory of sorts, an achievement in one light. At least, you have the nation’s most influential city newspaper, The New York Times, acknowledging several times over in this article that one key issue for America’s future is what they identify as the boy problem. But parents, those who teach in schools, and especially those who are Christians observing what’s going on in our society have known this all along. When you create the kind of gender confusion that now marks America and when you begin to take the family apart and try to make it something it has never been, well, then you end up with a phenomenon like this and with all the pathologies that come.


The boy problem didn’t occur just overnight and it will not be easily solved. And it won’t be resolved until America comes to understand the importance of the family as God designed it and gave it to us for human flourishing; the importance of having both a mother and a father in the house, actively engaged with their children, functioning not only biologically, but in terms of nurture and discipline, in teaching and example as mother and father. Until we get back to that, well, the data will only become more depressing.


Earlier this week, we looked at the controversy in North Carolina where the very liberal United Church of Christ has filed suit against the state of North Carolina, alleging that that state’s amendment that identifies marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman violates religious liberty by preventing clergy from performing same-sex ceremonies and weddings. Now as we have considered over the last several days, there could well be religious liberty complications in such a law, but in the case of the amendment in North Carolina, there is no such concern, and the statutory law there in North Carolina should not operate in such a way that it would violate religious conscience and it never has. In other words, that law in North Carolina has never been employed or used in any way but to regulate how legal marriages are performed by ministers in North Carolina. Analyses by Ryan T. Anderson at the Heritage Foundation and by Mollie Hemingway, writing at the Federalist, have made this point very clear. But we also see in this situation that there are religious liberty complications on the horizon every time the intersection of marriage and law comes about because as the church operates on its understanding of marriage and as Christians committed to the Bible operate on an exclusively biblical understanding of marriage, we see a conflict on the horizon. And even a law like that on the books there North Carolina could, if in the wrong hands, in the wrong way, be used against evangelical ministers. The principle is simply this: what the law enjoins, the law can also require. And that’s why we’re going to have to look at these things very, very carefully. What happens, for instance, when a state says to a minister, if you’re saying, “By the authority granted to me by this state, I declare you man and wife,” if that minister as an agent of the state says, “I will refuse to say your husband and husband or wife and wife,” how long is it before the state shows up, as it has in the offices of county clerks, and says, “As an agent of the state, you’re going to have to do what the state says and you’re going to have to be nondiscriminatory when it comes to marriage.” That hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. And that’s why those who care for religious liberty, who want to defend marriage as a pre-political institution that has and must always mean the union of a man and woman, are going to have to watch these things very, very carefully. The debate in North Carolina is just one indication of the kind of conversation we’re going to be having state-by-state in years to come. This too is the chaos spawned by moral revolution.


There’s been a lot to think and talk about this week; just an indication of the world we live in. It’s not going to get easier.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember the release of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition tomorrow morning, and remember to call with you question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Political views of ‘mature suburbs’ reflect deeper cultural shifts

Shifting Demographics Tilt Presidential Races in American Suburbs, Wall Street Journal (Elizabeth Williamson and Dante Chinni)

2) Bill Clinton’s politics now out of step with increasingly liberal Democratic party

Bill Clinton Defends His Economic Legacy, New York Times (Amy Chozick)

3) Sexual assault on college campuses cannot be contained by addressing only consent 

U.S. Lists Colleges Under Inquiry Over Sex-Assault Cases, New York Times (David S. Joachim)

4)’Boy problem’ in education key issue for economic future

A Link Between Fidgety Boys and a Sputtering Economy, New York Times (David Leonhardt)

5) Religious liberty issues arise every time the law and marriage intersect

Laws Defining Marriage as Union of Man and Woman Do Not Violate Religious Liberty, Ryan T. Anderson (The Foundry)

Suit Against NC Marriage Law Has Activists Excited. Should They Be?, Federalist (Mollie Hemingway)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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