The Briefing 09-16-14

The Briefing 09-16-14

The Briefing


September 16, 2014

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


It’s Tuesday, September 16, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Wave of transgender children’s books reminder sexual revolutionaries are targeting your children

From time to time an article seems to come almost out of the blue, and when it comes, it arrives with an incredible clarification – sometimes a shocking clarification. That was the case in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal where the article in question was written, not by a reporter nor by a normal opinion columnist, but by the newspaper’s reviewer of children’s books. In this case the reviewer is Megan Cox Gurdon, and what she writes about is a sudden proliferation of books for very young children about the transgender issue – the title of her article, “Heather Has Two Genders.” You may recall that back during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the society was awakened to the reality of at least one aspect of the gay revolution when a book arrived, intended for children, entitled Heather Has Two Mommies. Well now we’ve gone far beyond Heather Has Two Mommies, now Heather has two genders. Gurdon writes,


It is not a wholly new thing for a transgender person to appear in children’s books, but soon they will abound. Last February, Susan Kuklin’s “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” brought a series of riveting first-person accounts of teenagers who are grappling—some successfully, some less so—with sexual dysphoria, or the profound dissatisfaction with the gender of one’s biological DNA.


But now she says, the audience is trending downward – from adolescence to very young children. She writes about Ami Polonsky’s new novel about a 12-year-old boy undergoing sexual transition, its entitled Gracefully Grayson, and is set to come out November. In January, Alyssa Brugman’s Alex as well features a conflicted male-female character – that is male-to-female character. Another book intended for even younger children is Michael Hall’s red/blue crayon brook – it going to come out in January of 2015.


Now the fact that Megan Cox Gurdon is telling us this has to do with the fact that publishers are trying to get to major periodicals like the Wall Street Journal because they want advance publicity for these new books – and of course, in this case, that’s exactly what they got. Summarizing the wave of new book she has now discovered, Gurdon writes,


So we are entering a miniboom in children’s books about a particular type of sexual identity, or mis-identity. It will surprise no one [she writes] that these books refrain from skepticism about the transgender condition or, in the memoirs, about the appropriateness of adolescents undergoing genital surgeries and powerful hormone treatments. These are books that seek to engage the sympathies of young readers on behalf of people who believe themselves imprisoned in alien bodies, and [as she writes], in doing so, to nudge the needle of the culture.


That’s a very interesting sentence. Gurdon writes that the purpose behind these books is to reach the hearts and minds of very young children, and adolescents, in order – hear her words again – to nudge the needle of the culture. And the needle of the culture is nudged, to use her expression; one might at a time, one heart at times. And that’s exactly the strategy behind this plethora of new books coming in a wave, beginning in the summer and extending well into next year. And furthermore, as Gurdon helps us to understand, this is a concerted effort. There has been an effort for the part of the last 25 years to try to get books like this into public school libraries, in the public libraries, and into the hands of children and teenagers. Stories have a powerful effect, just about everyone who considers the impact of the story in their own lives knows that there is a vulnerability and openness that comes by the form of narrative that often could not come in any other way.


The author of one of these new books, presenting a celebration of the transgender identity – that’s Jessica Herthel – her book is entitled I am Jazz. She writes,


The window of time in which children are truly open-minded is startlingly small.


In stating the issue just this way, Jessica Herthel is actually stating something that Christian parents should already understand. There is a vulnerability to the hearts of children, there is an openness to the power of the story and the kinds of stories that get read to our children, and are read by our children, do have an important outsized influence on the development of their hearts and their minds – and especially of their moral intuitions. Just consider the fact that as Christian parents we often find ourselves considering a story that we understand is affecting is emotionally in a way that is not consistent with our own biblical worldview. We see something on television, we observe something in the cinema, we read something in a book, or in any other format whereby a narrative comes to us, and we discover that our emotional response, our moral intuitions, are actually responding a way that is implied by the story but is inconsistent with our own worldview. We understand at that point that our responsibility is to bring our moral intuitions into accountability to biblical truth. But that is something that is accessible only to adults, in terms of an ability, and to later adolescence. The development of critical thinking, or abstract thinking, is not generally accessible to children – who find no way of distinguishing carefully between their own emotional response and their moral intuitions and the truths to which they understand themselves to be absolutely committed. They understand that something is wrong because they had been told by moral authority such as parents that it’s wrong ,they may even understand that the Scripture, very definitively, declares it to be wrong, and yet they find themselves confronting a story in which the opposite claim is made. And the opposite claim is made with the impact of a narrative that grabs them at the heart and creates a very confusing experience.


Let’s be brutally honest – that experience can be difficult enough for adults, much less for children and young teenagers. There’s a great deal to be concerned about in this article by Megan Cox Gurdon in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, there are also some crucial lines to be appreciated. One of those lines is this, she says:


Alas, for decades this has put them [speaking of parents who oppose this moral revolution] at odds with the gender-industrial complex, those busy feminist academics and journalists who insist that societal messages, not innate sex differences, make children behave in masculine or feminine ways.


That phrase she coins here, the gender industrial complex, is sheer brilliance, and we’re indebted to her for making the industrial complex scale of the gender revolution very clear to us. In another paragraph Megan Cox Gurdon makes another very interesting observation. She writes,


This brings us to an ironic possibility: The new crop of books for children featuring transgender people may have the effect of validating traditional sex differences.


After all, as she comments, the moral revolutionaries say we simply have to accept people in terms of the gender identity they claim. So if that means that a boy who claims to be feminine is to be respected for that, she argues that the same must be true for a boy who claims to be masculine. But that just points out something that Megan Cox Gurdon seems not to understand – the impossibility of this moral revolution, there simply is no end to it. That becomes abundantly clear when you understand the scope and scale of her article. The argument behind the moral revolutionaries on the transgender revolution, leads them into conflicting absolutes, as we noted in the past. You can’t have the total eradication of gender differences and then claim transgender identity. You can’t claim, as the feminist claim, that gender means everything and then argue that gender means nothing. But the main importance of this article that appeared in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal is to remind every single American parent, they’re coming for your children – this time, they’re coming with books.

2) American congregations report reveals rapid acceleration of demographic trends

Another major study in the future of American religion is coming out. This time it’s going to be released in December in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, but the study is already released to the media. The study was undertaken by Mark Chaves of the Department of Sociology at Duke University and Shawna L. Anderson of the NORC Center at the University of Chicago – its title, “Changing American Congregations: Findings from the Third Wave of the National Congregations Study.”  If that doesn’t sound very interesting, it should – because the third wave of the study means that we now have one of most comprehensive analyses of American congregational life, reaching back into the 1990s, into the first decade of the 21st century, and now updated through about 2012. And what this study documents in the third wave of its analysis is a very significant pattern of change and one that actually demands our attention.


The researchers found that there are five primary changes that need our attention. The first is more ethnic diversity. America’s congregations are becoming even more internally diverse, and at the same time even as most congregations still have a predominant ethnic identity, the reality is that our own neighborhoods and our own communities are changing so fast that even those congregations that have not determined to become ethnically diverse, increasingly find themselves becoming so. For evangelical Christians looking at this, we should see this not only as a matter of measurement but as a mandate, because after all, we are those who understand that the gospel is for everyone, that our responsibility is to take the gospel to people of every nation, and we should aspire to see our congregations increasingly look like the kingdom which will one day include men and women from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. To no one’s surprise, the big change in terms of ethnic composition in American congregations is that across the board most congregations are, if nothing else, less white. About 80% of congregations are less white than they had been in the past, even though the same 80% is still predominantly marked by membership and attendance from one ethnicity. But the indication of the trajectory here is very clear – that is going to change. The vast majority of America’s congregations will look increasingly less white, and some of them at rather fast speed.


The second trajectory is increased acceptance of gay and lesbian persons. Now at this point we simply need to make very clear that this study of congregations is not a sample of evangelical congregations, or even of Christian congregations, but of congregations in the major religious groups including Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish. The authors write,


In just six years, the number of congregations whose leaders said that gays and lesbians could be full-fledged members increased from 37.4 percent to 48 percent. The number of congregations whose leaders said that no volunteer leadership positions were closed to gays and lesbians increased from 17.7 percent to 26.4percent.


Repeatedly we come back to make the observation on The Briefing that the moral revolution we are now experiencing is rather unprecedented in terms of its velocity. It’s happening faster than any kind of moral change on this scale ever, in terms of human history. That’s now something rather easy to document. This study is one way of documenting this, because here we’re talking about a vast moral change. Remember, we’re not talking about a slight shift, we’re talking about the reversal of the church’s historic teaching, and the fact that the number of congregations repudiating their own churches or traditions teaching on human sexuality has increased from 37.4% to 48% in just a matter six years, points to the unprecedented velocity and speed of this moral revolution. At this point, Chaves and Anderson actually answer a question you may have been asking: is this across-the-board? The answer is no. As a matter of fact, the authors point to the fact that among white conservative Protestant congregations, there’s actually been very little change. But as they write,


The increased acceptance of gays and lesbians among black Protestant churches, white liberal churches, and non-Christian congregations were large enough to offset these patterns and produce an aggregate change that is remarkably large for just a six-year period.


So putting the research altogether, it appears that the change on the issue of homosexuality among white evangelical congregations was relatively small, but the number of those congregations is very large. So looking at the rate of change in the total aggregate of congregations, it becomes clear that among black Protestants, white liberal Protestants, and non-Christian congregations, the acceptance of homosexuality experienced a massive shift – a shift large enough to overcome the fact that there was only a small shift among the enormous number of conservative Protestant congregations. That again tells us something, it tells us for one thing that conservative Evangelicals in America are going to find ourselves quite isolated on this issue. Fast-forward to another 5 to 6 years along this trajectory and evangelical Christians may be standing virtually alone in terms of defending a biblical vision of human sexuality and marriage.


The third great shift documented in this study is a shift towards more informal worship. And Chaves and Anderson are pretty specific about the kinds of hallmark issues they are looking for. For instance, fewer people attend services that include choirs or use a written program for worship. More are attending churches that include drums, raising hands in praise, visual projection equipment, and a time during the service when people greet one another, and other issues of contemporary worship are also included. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this research is that this change towards more informal worship is now affecting everyone, including the denominations and congregations that had been in the past most liturgical and most formal in worship. Everyone is apparently being affected by this trend towards more informal worship, and as the researchers indicate, there’s no sign at all that any kind of reversal of that trend is on the horizon.


The fourth change documents the decline in church membership and total attendance. But it also comes with an interesting twist. Even though most denominations and most congregations are either stable at best or declining, that’s more likely the norm, the average churchgoer or attender at a congregation is likely to be attending a congregation that is larger than it was just a decade ago. If that seems to be counterintuitive, I guess it is. What it tells us is that there has been a major shift towards increasing numbers of persons attending decreasing numbers of churches, or to put it the opposite way – there are fewer total worshipers, but they’re worshiping in larger congregations, congregations fewer in number but larger in size.


The fifth trend is one that should surprise no one who has been observing American religion for the past two decades or so – the decline of denominationalism is the fifth great fact documented by Chaves and Anderson in this very important research. They document that increasing numbers and percentages of congregations say that they are identified with no denomination or specific tradition. And of course, many of these are not using any denominational label; no denominational name appears in the congregation’s self-identification. But as the researchers also make abundantly clear, denominations are anything but dead. The vast majority of American congregations are still very denominational, and denominations continue to play a rather regular part in the lives and ministries of most American congregations. Still, there is a distancing of congregations from many denominations, and there’s also something that might be described as a wait-and-see attitude – waiting to see if the denomination is truly relevant for the church and its future.


There were certainly few huge surprises in this massive research project, but there was one big lesson. And that lesson is velocity or speed. What we’re looking at is the fact that the trends that have been developing over the last several decades are actually accelerating in the present. Just consider the fact that the period of study for many of these trends was six years, and both historically and sociologically speaking, six years is just the twinkling of an eye. That’s just how fast the world is changing around us, and as this study makes clear for many congregations, within the congregation as well.

3) Impact of Pres. Obama on the courts represents long-lasting importance of elections

And speaking of the future, what should we expect as we look to the future of the American courts? The answer to that question came rather definitively in a front-page story in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times. Jeremy Peters writes,


Democrats have reversed the partisan imbalance on the federal appeals courts that long favored conservatives, a little-noticed shift with far-reaching consequences for the law and President Obama’s legacy. [He continues,] For the first time in more than a decade, judges appointed by Democratic presidents considerably outnumber judges appointed by Republican presidents. The Democrats’ advantage has only grown since late last year when they stripped Republicans of their ability to filibuster the president’s nominees. Democratic appointees who hear cases full time now hold a majority of seats on nine of the 13 United States Courts of Appeals. When Mr. Obama took office, only one of those courts had more full-time judges nominated by a Democrat.


The main thrust of Peter’s article is that this is now a major part of President Obama’s legacy, and furthermore it is a likely way of perpetuating his agenda once he is long gone from office. That’s the way the federal courts work. Federal judges are appointed by the President, they are confirmed by the Senate, and once they take their seat, they have a lifetime term. That means that the President of the United States, through judicial appointments, can have far-reaching impact that can extend even more than a generation after the President leaves office. As this article in Sunday’s front-page edition of the New York Times makes abundantly clear, President Obama has decided to perpetuate his legacy through the courts. As we often observe, usually in the aftermath of an election, elections have consequences and when it comes to the election of the President of the United States, and now we are reminded of the Senate when it comes to which party holds the majority in the Senate, the reality is that American voters think they’re voting for the President the United States or their voting for one of their two senators, when in reality, directly and indirectly, they’re actually voting for the future of America’s courts. Given what so many have observed as the judicial usurpation of politics, the courts have taken on the answering of more and more political and policy questions. And that just means that this issue is more dramatically important than many voters can even concede or understand. But the writers and editors of the New York Times understand, and the Obama White House understands, and it’s about time anyone who cares about the future of this culture also understands the profound impact of the courts.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 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’m speaking to you from Little Rock, Arkansas. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Wave of transgender children’s books reminder sexual revolutionaries are targeting your children

Heather Has Two Genders, Wall Street Journal (Megan Cox Gurdon)

2) American congregations report reveals rapid acceleration of demographic trends

Changing American Congregations: Findings from the Third Wave of the National Congregations Study, National Congregations Study (Mark Chaves and Shawna L. Anderson)

US churches feel beat of change: More diversity, more drums, Religion News Service (Cathy Lynn Grossman)

3) Impact of Pres. Obama on the courts represents long-lasting importance of elections

Building Legacy, Obama Reshapes Appellate Bench, New York Times (Jeremy W. Peters)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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