The Briefing 05-13-15

The Briefing 05-13-15

The Briefing


May 13, 2015

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


It’s Wednesday, May 13, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Warp speed of American secularization evidenced in declining religious landscape

The secularization of America is one of the great facts of our time and it doesn’t come out of a vacuum because long before America began showing the explicit signs of the secularization we now see it was already evident in much of Europe – especially in northern Europe. The historical trajectory goes back to the enlightenment of the 17th century and then gains speed as you go forward – especially in the 20th century. By the time you got to the 18th and 19th century a very thin slice of the intellectual elites were showing already that they were being secularized, that they were exchanging the Christian worldview for a secular worldview. But it took the last half of the 20th century for this to gain much speed in the general population; first looking at Europe and then also at North America.

When secularization first began to appear it was largely a phenomenon of the elites. And those who showed the earliest evidence of this secularization amongst the elites, they didn’t just become nonbelievers, they became in general atheist or skeptics or agnostics. Now we have new evidence coming from the Pew Research Center that what’s happening in the United States is a very different phenomena and it’s happening very fast. We are watching millions of Americans shift from some religious affiliation to no religious affiliation – and the numbers are very stark. They are gaining headlines all over the world with the release of this study yesterday by the Pew Research Center.

For instance, perhaps one of the factoids that has led to the greatest conversation is the fact that according to this massive pew study the number of non-aligned, that is nonaffiliated – religiously speaking in America – now exceeds the number of American Roman Catholics. That’s a rather stunning development. For the better part of the last century Catholics have numbered about 25% of the American population. And even as those numbers are not falling in terms of the absolute count, they are falling behind in terms of the growth of the American population.

So if religious groups don’t gain new converts, given the fact that America’s gaining new citizens, eventually they become a smaller proportion of the total population. That’s happening across the board when it comes to American religion. It happened very quickly within American Judaism with of vast majority of American Jews identifying no longer with the theistic truth claims of Judaism, but rather with Judaism as a cultural identity. Then it also happened in mainline Protestantism where vast numbers of members of what had been the most establish churches and denominations in America began also to be highly secularized; first turning to a very liberal version of Christian theology, and eventually themselves or their children and grandchildren simply departing those churches and denominations altogether.

It is happening now in other sectors of the American population. Nate Cohn writing for the New York Times tells us,

“The Christian share of adults in the United States has declined sharply since 2007, affecting nearly all major Christian traditions and denominations, and crossing age, race and region,”

Then again citing the Pew Research Center,

“Seventy-one percent of American adults were Christian in 2014,”

Now that is clearly a majority, but it’s a much smaller majority than what was true just a matter of a few years before 2014.  There is an absolute decline in numbers here of about 5 million but there’s a larger decline when it comes to percentage – a fall of about 8% since 2007. Alan Cooperman, the director of religious research at the Pew Research Center, the lead editor of this report, said,

“The decline is taking place in every region of the country, including the Bible Belt,”

Cohen then goes on to explain,

“The decline has been propelled in part by generational change, as relatively non-Christian millennials reach adulthood and gradually replace the oldest and most Christian adults. But it is also because many former Christians, of all ages, have joined the rapidly growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated or ‘nones’: a broad category including atheists, agnostics and those who adhere to ‘nothing in particular.’”

In terms of this study, the biggest insight is the pace, or the velocity, of the change. Tamara Audi writing for yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal cites Greg Smith, one of the lead researchers for the project, as saying that the trends have “been underway for some time,” He himself went on to observe,

“I am struck by the pace at which that group [the religiously unaffiliated] continues to grow.”

According to the study, the share of Americans who are unaffiliated by their own self designation has risen to 22.8% from 16.1% – that’s from just 2007 to 2014. In terms of a massive social change this is something like warp speed, we’re talking about the kind of change that has generally only been experienced in a time of severe cultural crisis such as in various turning points in human history famine or war or poverty or plague. We’re talking about something that is explainable only by other rapid changes taking place in our society and as you’re looking at the great moral revolution, so many things happening around us, those developments only makes sense in light of this development.

One of the most important things to look at here is generational change and we will be taking a look at that in coming days. This massive study demands a lot of our attention and it tells us a great deal about the massive shift in worldview taking place around us. But in looking at this generational change one of the most interesting things is how successful – this is good news – how successful evangelical Christians have been in retaining millennials as over against virtually every other group – most importantly mainline Protestants and even Roman Catholics.

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra writing for Christianity Today points out that one of the insights from this study is that evangelical Christians convert many of their kids and then retain many of their kids. Pew found what it calls a remarkable degree of churn in the larger American religious landscape, but says Zylstra, evangelicals are the major exception to the national pattern of Christian decline. Evangelical Christians were the only major Christian group in the entire study that gained more members than evangelical Christians lost through religious switching. That again is a very important issue.

Now evangelical Christians could find some false confidence in this because even as we look at the fact that were doing remarkably well in retaining our own young people, as compared of virtually every other religious group in America, the reality is we’re not doing all that well when it comes to understanding that were losing at least an enormous percentage of our own young people. And one of the things the becomes clear as we look at this research is what we talked about all the time: how much theology matters, because the central truth is that it matters whether or not young people gain an active and eager convictional self -identity with the truth claims of the religious organization. That’s what’s clear; whether you’re looking at Judaism or mainline Protestantism or evangelical Christianity or Catholicism. And as it turns out, the less theology you have or the less theology you share and transfer, the less frequently it turns out the younger generation stays around.

So there’s a very clear message for us here about doctrine and theology, about the gospel and conversion – it’s not enough that evangelical young people come at some point to identify with the gospel of Christ and even with evangelical Christianity. If they do not come to an open intellectual embrace, a heartfelt embrace, of Christian truth, they are not going to continue to identify as the Christians their parents at some point think them to be.

One of the interesting facts that comes out of this study is the fact that 60% of those who identify as evangelicals were raised as evangelicals, 14% were raised his mainline Protestants, 13% as Catholics, 7% as the unaffiliated, 3% as black Protestants, and 2% as other non-Christian faith. So one of the things that it also tells us is that evangelical Christians, though more successful in retaining our own and that converting others than the other groups that are documented here, we honestly are not reaching as many of those outside our own evangelical circles as we might think we are. Let me just point to that last number – only 2% of those who currently identify as evangelical Christians in this study were in any non-Christian faith before they identify as evangelical Christians.

Finally, as I said, we will be looking at other facets of this study in days ahead. It is worthy of that kind of attention; it so effective in helping to explain the world around us. But finally, in terms of covering of this issue today, I want to point to what might be called a new Pauline Kael moment. Pauline Kael was the theater critic of the New York Times. In 1972, after Richard Nixon was reelected in a landslide, Pauline Kael was famously quoted as saying, ‘it couldn’t have happened,’ because no one she knew had voted for Richard Nixon. There are questions as to whether she actually said that, although it’s been authoritatively traced to her, but she did say in her own newspaper just a matter of days after the election,

“I live in a rather special world. I know only one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know, they are outside my kin, but sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them,”

Now the reality of that Pauline Kael quote is that it doesn’t tell us anything about America, it tells us a lot about Pauline Kael. It tells us that even when Richard Nixon won 49 states, losing only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, she knew either no one or at least just one person who had voted for Richard Nixon. Which tells us what kind of world Pauline Kael lived in. And thus that quote has been famous ever sense because it points to the increasing secularization, the political isolation of those in the intellectual elites, including Pauline Kael.

But a similar moment came yesterday, in the aftermath of the release of the pew report, when Byron Tau, who is the White House reporter for the Wall Street Journal, tweeted:

“From anecdotal experience, the number of people my age that I know who are Christians is close to zero,”

Now just step back for a moment and realize what was there communicated. Here you have a major young figure in the intellectual elite of America; after all he is the White House reporter, or at least a White House reporter, for the Wall Street Journal, one of the nation’s most influential newspapers. And he writes, in all honesty and candor, that so far as his own experiences concerned, let me repeat the words,

“…the number of people my age that I know who are Christians is close to zero,”

As I said, this is something of a new Pauline Kael moment because that statement made by Pauline Kael in the aftermath of the Nixon reelection is rather echoed in the statement made by a White House reporter for the Wall Street Journal. But I don’t raise the young man’s statement in order to criticize him for making it. Rather I simply want to point out that in all honesty, apparently he doesn’t know any Christians, or at least he doesn’t know anyone who identifies as a Christian, who identifies as a Christian to any extent at least that Byron Tao would know that that individual is a Christian. That tells us again what Pauline Kael statement has told us about the New York Times, those who have these kinds of jobs tend to be rather isolated from the rest of the country. That’s made clear even in the pew report.

But this also tells us something else, here you have a young man in one of the most privileged media positions in America who is honestly just reflecting upon this report saying, ‘I don’t know anyone my age who is a Christian,’ in his words,

“…the number of people my age that I know who are Christians is close to zero,”

Without any doubt, that makes a certain statement of reflection upon Byron Tao. Without a doubt it also makes a certain statement about Christians.

2) Calls for full coverage of contraception evidence of pervasive nature of moral revolution

Next, two articles that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times tells a great deal about the revolution taking place around us, about the worldview significance of the headlines that just pop up in the newspapers. In the first place, in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, page A12, you find the headline: White House Warns Insurers about Surcharges and Gaps for Contraception. This has been widely reported in the media, the New York Times tells us along with others, that the White House has been issuing directives to insurance companies – this has to do with authority granted under the ObamaCare legislation – telling these insurance companies that they have to cover all forms of contraception without any kind of copayment required from anyone that has the coverage.

As Robert Pear reports for the New York Times,

“The Obama administration on Monday put health insurance companies on notice that they must cover all forms of female contraception, including the patch and intrauterine devices, without imposing co-payments or other charges.”

This comes after group such as the National Women’s Law Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation; it issued reports indicating that there had been gaps in the coverage from several of the insurance companies. One of the most important sections in this article by Robert Pear includes these words and I quote,

“The new guidance also makes clear that insurers should cover preventive services for transgender people when a doctor finds that the services are medically appropriate.”

That gets into the whole transgender revolution and it tells us here that you can expect this moral revolution, on the issue of gender and sexuality, to be translated – this article also makes clear – into an insurance revolution. Another sign that the Christian worldview affirms, and that is if you make a moral change, it inevitably realigns the entire society. So people who were thinking about the transgender issue probably aren’t first thinking about how this will impact insurance coverage, but now you have the Obama Administration saying not only must insurers cover all forms of female contraception without any copayment, but also these insurers should cover transgender or sex reassignment surgery when advised that such surgery is medically appropriate by a physician.

Now we enter into a whole new terrain in terms of insurance coverage, we enter into a whole new conversation about what medically appropriate means, we enter into a whole new conversation about the economic effects not only on those who are seeking this kind of surgery, but for the rest of the insurance pool paying for it. We now look at the fact that the Christian worldview reminds us that we live in a social whole, we live in a situation in which worldview always works its way out. And we operate from a biblical understanding that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. The biblical worldview starts out with a very clear understanding that if you change the most basic framework of thinking, you’re eventually go to change everything. You are going to change law; you’re going to change social custom.

Yesterday we looked on The Briefing at the fact that people are trying to come up with Mx as a way of replacing Mr. and Mrs. and Ms. and Miss simply because in the transgender revolution, in a denial of what’s being called the binary separation of human beings into male and female, we got an absolute confusion about how to even to address one another. Every portion of the society will be changed. What happens in the school room is going to be changed. What gets published in the textbooks is going to change. How children’s books are published, what kinds of pictures appear in them, that is going to change. And the rules of insurance coverage, that’s going to change too. The entire economy will eventually be changed as well. The biblical worldview affirms what Christians must understand. If you change the way a society thinks morally, eventually you will change everything about that society.

3) Gov. Cuomo attempts to strengthen thin sexual morality of consent on campuses

The second article also appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, this time on page A18, the headline: Cuomo Taking Aim at Campus Sexual Assaults, Calls for a Stricter Law. In this case the Cuomo is New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and as Elizabeth Harris reports for the Times,

“[The] Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, appearing at a Manhattan college with Representative Nancy Pelosi, on Monday called for the passage of ‘the toughest law in the nation’ on campus sexual assault, a message aimed at state lawmakers who have expressed some reservations about his proposals.

Harris goes on to tell us that the Gov.’s proposed policies, which are already in place in New York’s public colleges, would require the states private colleges to adopt so-called affirmative consent policies as the standard of student behavior. As Harris says,

“…putting the burden on an accused student to show that the other person had agreed to the sexual activity, rather than making accusers prove that they had said no; silence or lack of resistance would not be considered consent.”

Now the point we’ve made over and over again on The Briefing is that when you deny, when you try to eradicate, a Christian morality based on Scripture when it comes to sex, you’re going to replace it with some morality and this is the sole insufficient, the very thin morality that is left as all a secular society can eventually muster. And that is a morality of sexual consent.

But you’ll notice how this consent has to be renegotiated and redefined all the time. There is something absolutely ludicrous and heartbreakingly tragic about a law that says sexual morality just comes down to consent and that consent now has to be affirmative consent where both parties have to somehow affirmatively consents to a specific act or no consent is given. There is no definition you may note about what that might represent, there is no legal definition yet of what affirmative consent might require. And whether or not the governor gets the law he calls the strictest in the nation, what is abundantly clear is this: it won’t settle the issue, it will not resolve the problem – it can’t.

Oh, and by the way, there are some other incredible moral insights in this article. Let me just read to you this paragraph,

“Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has also proposed that students reporting sexual assaults must not be punished if they were violating a campus policy on drinking or drugs, with the goal of removing the fear that by coming forward, those reporting might be reprimanded, administration officials say.”

So, now students coming forward – and the only morality here is consent – now they are going to be forgiven any alcohol or drug offenses that might have been combined with the incidents simply because that might prevent someone from coming forward. Once again, we just see the confused morality when you have the absence of a coherent biblical ethic.

Just a couple of other quick insights, at least some legislators are complaining about the language of the bill because it defines the two people, the first person as victim and the second as accused. But as some legislators a pointed out, just using common sense, if one is identified as a victim, it is then impossible to say that there is merely an accusation. If one is the victim, then evidently something happened. This is a problem that has already shown up in the media and now you have at least some legislators, undoubtedly some of them attorney, saying these words simply don’t work when put together.

On the other hand, the last insight from this article comes in these words,

“In a statement after the speech, Mr. Cuomo said, ‘As a father of two college-aged girls, with a third on the way next year, this isn’t just an important issue for the state, it’s a personal issue for me as it is for many parents who every fall say goodbye to their children with an expectation that their schools are doing everything they can to keep them safe.’”

Now I close by speaking not only as an observer of the governor’s statements but also as a father. Does any father actually think, in any honest way, that the adoption of these policies will make daughters safe? Safe from what? Presumably so-called safe sex? What we’re looking at here is the meltdown of morality once a Christian biblical ethic is abandoned and denied. Once that biblical ethic is displaced something is going to take its place and this is very sad evidence of evidently the best a secular society can do in trying to come up with some replacement.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to Remember we are taking questions for Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Just call with your question, in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058.

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Warp speed of American secularization evidenced in declining religious landscape

America’s Changing Religious Landscape, Pew Research Center (Staff)

Big Drop in Share of Americans Calling Themselves Christian, New York Times (Nate Cohn)

Americans Unaffiliated With Any Religion Outrank Catholics, Study Says, Wall Street Journal (Tamara Audi)

Pew: Evangelicals Stay Strong as Christianity Crumbles in America, Christianity Today (Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra)

2) Calls for full coverage of contraception evidence of pervasive nature of moral revolution

White House Warns Insurers About Surcharges and Gaps for Contraception, New York Times (Robert Pear)

3) Gov. Cuomo attempts to strengthen thin sexual morality of consent on campuses

Cuomo, Taking Aim at Campus Sexual Assaults, Calls for a Stricter Law, New York Times (Elizabeth A. Harris)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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