June 2, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, June 2, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
1) Supreme Court ruling on Abercrombie headscarf case religious liberty win for all Americans
In a major victory for religious liberty in a rather subtle case, the United States Supreme Court didn’t so much decide as send a clear message by sending the case back to the lower courts. In this case at the center of the situation is a Muslim young woman. She was 17 years old when she applied to work for the retailer, Abercrombie and Fitch, and found herself turned down for the job. The young woman, Samantha Elauf, came to the conclusion and it turned out she was right that she was turned down for the job because she was wearing, during the interview, a Muslim hijab or headscarf.
As Abercrombie and Fitch was to argue before the Supreme Court she did not announce even as she was wearing the scarf that she was a Muslim and therefore the company wasn’t guilty of religious discrimination. However, in a massive decision basically 8-1 on all the merits, the Supreme Court said that the employer had erred by making the assumption that she was a Muslim and by not hiring her because the wearing of the headscarf violated the company’s now notorious so-called look policy. Abercrombie and Fitch is undoubtedly a part of this story. They lost big at the Supreme Court yesterday. Samantha Elauf is a part of the story. She’s at the center of this situation and she emerged victorious and at least able to continue to argue her case in court. Religious liberty was also a winner. A winner for all Americans.
In looking at the company Abercrombie and Fitch and its so-called look policy, it’s important to recognize that the policy and the company was in controversy long before the issue of religious discrimination had emerged. Abercrombie and Fitch for the better part of the last two decades has made its corporate reputation by rather scandalous often almost pornographic advertising and by having in its advertising and in its retail personnel a look policy that stipulated exactly the kind of aesthetic appearance that an individual as an employee must have. The policy went all the way down to the fact that in their mall stores the retailer used open sexuality, including shirtless young men, and also included sexuality with the look the young women were to exhibit as employees and obviously as models. But we’re also looking at the fact that this infamous look policy also brought about a diminishing set of returns largely on a retail basis. Abercrombie and Fitch announced just in recent months that it was going to be abandoning that policy, not we should note, as a matter of principle. They did not leave the policy behind because they knew that it was morally compromised and corrupt. They did not plead guilty to having used sexuality and even pornography in an effort to attract teenagers and young adults, they didn’t apologize for anything. They simply said that the advertising retail strategy is bringing diminishing returns; therefore, it is going to be abandoned.
The Supreme Court entered into that conversation on Monday, delivering a very clear nearly unanimous decision that the company had violated religious liberty, which is something that before this particular case wasn’t the issue with Abercrombie and Fitch, but it is of a single piece with the larger issue of the company’s look policy.
We should recognize as Christians that one of the most fundamental errors that sinners can make is to confuse the good, the beautiful and the true as three different things. The Christian biblical worldview affirms that because God ultimately is the only beautiful, the only true and the only good, the good, the beautiful and the true, the so-called transcendental to the Christian worldview are exactly the same thing. This is a revolutionary understanding of beauty and truth and goodness that reveals the cosmetic aesthetic insanity of the modern world for what it is, a highly sexualized, often pornographic, always confused attempt to divide the beautiful from the true and the true from the good and the good from the beautiful.
The religious liberty aspect of this case is what’s gaining most of the headlines and it deserves to do so. Religious liberty is a major issue in terms of our cultural conversation these days, and given the trajectory of the culture, there are good reasons for anyone as an American citizen to believe that religious liberty is being subverted and threatened in our time. Most particularly now in terms of the moral revolution and its redefinition of marriage. Though religious liberty sometimes comes down simply to a matter of dress, and for all Americans when religious liberty is affirmed, in this case affirmed for a Muslim young woman who won her day in court and won the opportunity to continue to press her suit against Abercrombie and Fitch, because they didn’t hire her because she was a Muslim young woman and we should note, because her religion's understanding of female modesty, ran into a head-on collision with the retailer Abercrombie and Fitch and its look policy, then very much in place and now still very much in memory.
2) Bruce Jenner ‘coming out’ as woman denial of human status as creatures, not personal Creators
Some days it is very difficult to know just what should be discussed on The Briefing. Sometimes there are issues I certainly do not want to discuss - but nonetheless, I must. That is the case today, in terms of the headlines that emerged yesterday, this headline from yesterday’s edition of the New York Times,
“Caitlyn formerly Bruce Jenner introduces herself in Vanity Fair.”
Ravi Somaiya, writing for the New York Times tells us,
“Caitlyn Jenner made her public debut on Monday on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. A photograph of Ms. Jenner, shot by Annie Leibovitz, accompanied an article on her transition to a woman after long identifying as a man named Bruce.”
As the New York Times says,
“It immediately became a sensation on social media when the magazine posted the article online.”
A couple of things just in terms of the minor background, Vanity Fair magazine is a very interesting periodical. It is one of the most interesting indicators of elite culture in the Metropolitan sense and what’s going on in terms of those who follow a more highbrow version of a celebrity worship. Vanity Fair magazine is for those kind of people who wouldn’t be caught dead buying a tabloid in terms of the supermarket checkout but they basically want the same kind of information, but in a more rarefied form about a more limited set of cultural icons and celebrities. Minor note number two, Annie Leibovitz is one of the most celebrated and popular photographers amongst the most elite in the United States and beyond. The fact that you have the intersection of Vanity Fair magazine and Annie Leibovitz is no surprise. The fact that the cover of the current edition of Vanity Fair magazine features someone identified as Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce, that’s a far deeper worldview significance. It is perhaps worthy of our note that the story of this gender transition as it is called began in the tabloids in America having to do with Bruce Jenner. It then began to migrate to more mainstream media and now once again, as I said yesterday, this was a headline from the New York Times. Also yesterday, ESPN announced in a Tweet that came from James Andrew Miller,
“Bruce, make that Caitlyn Jenner, will receive this year’s Arthur Ashe award for courage.”
We’re watching here, one of those very interesting confluences of events in terms of America’s popular culture. Even as the sexual revolution led to a gender revolution and even as that gender revolution led to a revolution in terms of sexual morality, including most especially same-sex relationships and now the whole question of the larger LBGT movement, including most particularly the idea of transsexualism and the transgender, including the idea that all human beings are not basically male and female, that’s been discarded as an antiquarian binary understanding of human sexuality and gender identity. Rather we’re now being told that all human beings are on a continuum and that any singular human being may declare himself or herself to be any gender or some other gender given any particular day or any particular moment in time. But Vanity Fair and the individual now known as Caitlyn Jenner have now found their moment of time in the release that came yesterday and it really came not so much as a cultural surprise, but to Christians as something of a heartbreaking acknowledgment of what’s happening here.
Bruce Jenner had won the gold medal in the decathlon at the Montréal Olympics in 1976 becoming an American hero. In more recent years, Bruce Jenner had joined with so many other Americans and basically now being famous for being famous. In those years, he had migrated toward the celebrity culture and had married into a family that was and is infamous for its involvement in the reality TV industry. Indeed a family that has become a major industrial complex in terms of the celebrity reality TV issue. In one of the saddest but most predictable extensions of the news that came yesterday, the New York Times says,
“Ms. Jenner began shooting a new reality series for the E Network in May.”
According to the E Network, this new reality television series, remember that’s what they’re calling it, will cover Ms. Jenner’s life as a transgender woman.
How should Christians think about this? In the first place, the most important issue here, most certainly is the issue of gender transition or the transgender movement itself and the understanding that someone who had won the Olympics in 1976 as a male can now be presented in the cover of Vanity Fair magazine as a female. One of the saddest aspects of this is the candor with which the story is actually told. Like so many others, Bruce Jenner speaks about how unhappy he had been as a man at various points in his life, eventually determining that he had a true identity as a woman and then attempting to move in that direction by means of gender reassignment surgery and other treatments; some of them cosmetic, some of them far more than cosmetic.
Even as celebrity culture focused on this as a matter of sensationalism we’re looking at a very tragic human drama. One that should bring about the compassion of Christians in terms of our thinking, but also the most keen biblical analysis of understanding what’s really at stake here. The biblical worldview makes very clear that God, for His glory, has made every single human being as male or female because of his intention for us and for our good. He establishes our identity. One of the most profound contrasts between the biblical worldview and the worldview that is now becoming so popular around us, if not pervasive, is that the biblical worldview tells us that our identity, in terms of the most fundamental questions of our lives, is established by God as an intentional act, and not by ourselves.
To state the matter bluntly, the Scripture is clear, we do not decide when we are born and we are not to decide when we die, we certainly do not decide to whom we are born or the circumstances into which we are born, we don’t decide whether we are male or female. All of these things are revealed to us in terms of the circumstances of our birth. Jesus himself said to his disciples that they could not add, even an inch to their height. They simply have no power or sovereignty over themselves in that sense, nor do we. To be human is to understand that we are made, we are creatures, we are not the creator. We are not even the individual creators of our own identity, as if it’s a project that is simply left to us. Let us just know clearly that if you do abandon the biblical worldview and if the worldview you have explains everything simply in terms of the natural world, then there is no reason why you would not see your own identity as your own personal project with your own right to determine at any given time what that identity might be. Now that project has gone so far as to reach the question of gender identity and thus the revolution taking place around us. Bruce Jenner isn’t the first nor the last, now identified as Caitlyn Jenner, the entire world in terms of entertainment and media, politics and the rest, the elite culture is doing its best immediately to change every reference from Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner and as the cover photograph by Annie Leibovitz chose in Vanity Fair, this is an attempt for this individual to present a new identity in stunningly contrasting terms to the young man who won the decathlon for the United States in 1976.
Christians need to understand that this is simply not a possibility, biblically speaking, we do not actually acknowledge in terms of the biblical worldview, our ability to change our gender. That is simply something that the world recognizes now not only as a project and the right but as a privilege we have to recognize it is actually an impossibility. But Christians also have to recognize that what we’re looking at here is not some kind of freak show. That is exactly how the celebrity entertainment complex is presenting it even though they’re trying to dress it up as a modern morality tale. This is not a freak show. Because in reality, Bruce Jenner, is not a freak. He is a human being made in the image of God. And even though he is here attempting a revolt against even the way that he was made by his creator, what he’s doing is actually the very essence of sin, which means that he is a sinner, which means he is a sinner just like every one of us. Christian compassion and Christian humility should lead us to understand that the confusion that we now see in Bruce Jenner is a confusion that is actually writ large in humanity. It is taking a particularly striking form in his case, but we delude ourselves if we think that in our own fallenness and in our own confusion, left to our own devices we would actually do any better.
We are also seeing what happens when the lid, morally speaking, comes off the culture and when all restraints are gone. This will not be the last salacious cover story in Vanity Fair magazine, of that you can be absolutely certain. Even as in recent days, there’s been controversy over a reality TV program featuring evangelical Christians. I pointed out so many times on this program; the problem in that sense is with the very idea of reality television. As soon as you start to commercialize the product to bring cameras into the room, you are no longer looking at a normal reality and in one of the saddest developments that was also released yesterday you find out the human drama here is as you suspected far deeper than may first appear. It’s very revealing that two of Bruce Jenner’s sons are refusing to appear on the new reality program. To put the matter simply, in terms of the biblical worldview real reality, as Francis Schaeffer referred to true truth,
“Truth is simply too much for us to ignore.”
Reality television is actually a way of often trying to ignore the reality, or at least to distort the reality rather than to face the reality, but before leaving this issue we simply have to note there is another element to this that is deeply revealing and that is that every reference to Bruce Jenner, in terms of the politically correct culture, in terms of the dominant moral perspective of this age, is going to be to the past tense. It will be as if Bruce Jenner now no longer exists. Now you have the debut on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine, of an individual unknown to the world until very recent times, indeed, until Monday, identified as Caitlyn Jenner. How in the world is it possible that with a straight face the culture can all of a sudden begin speaking of a living person in the past tense and now speaking of a new person in the present and toward the future – who knows for how long? But in its essence that actually points to the impossibility of the whole transgender project. It speaks to the fact that the secular worldview behind this and even those who are the religious enablers by terms of their argument can’t deal with the fact that Bruce Jenner, is still very much alive and is still very much in public view. Now going by the name Caitlyn, but referring to Bruce Jenner in the past tense, isn’t actually fooling anyone, including the people who insist that’s exactly how Bruce Jenner should now be addressed.
3) Transgender baptism liturgy proposed to Church of England symptom of theological confusion
But leaving that particular issue, an even more tragic dimension comes that isn’t a part of America celebrity culture, rather, this one hits even closer to home in terms of the Christian church. The headline in The Guardian a few days ago, “The Church of England to consider transgender naming ceremony”, Karen McVeigh reports for The Guardian, a liberal newspaper from London. The Church of England is to debate plans to introduce a ceremony akin to a baptism to mark the new identities of Christians who undergo gender transition - well there you have it. We saw Bruce Jenner now moving into the past tense and Caitlyn Jenner now introduced on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. That’s what we should expect now in terms of America’s secular celebrity culture - but what about the Church of England? Here you have the Church of England declaring that it is going to consider a new ceremony that at least some Anglican priests are already using, whereby an individual is being reintroduced to the church and even as one cleric said, to God with a new identity, complete with a new gender.
According to The Guardian, the Reverend Chris Newlands, the vicar at Lancaster priory has proposed a motion to the General Synod of the Church of England to debate the issue after he was approached by a young transgender person seeking to be rebaptized, in the word used by the individual, in his new identity. The priest said:
“I wanted to bring it to the General Synod as a commitment that bishops will take seriously and for them to take the next step of getting a liturgy, which parish priest can use for people who do the transition where they can be affirmed in the church.”
In amazingly revealing language The Guardian then writes,
“Newlands was asked by a church member who had undergone gender reassignment if he could be rebaptized.”
Recalling the conversation, Newlands said,
“I said, once you have been baptized you’re baptized.” He said, “But I was baptized as a girl under a different name.” The priest then said “Let me have a think about it.” And The Guardian says, “So we did. And then we created a service which was an affirmation of baptismal vows where we could introduce him to God with his new name and his new identity.”
So here we’re not talking about Vanity Fair magazine, we’re talking about a priest of the Church of England officially making an overture to that church’s General Synod saying we need a ceremony whereby we can introduce an individual who is new, formerly a male now a female, or formerly a female now a male, and reintroduce them into the church, but you’ll notice the exact language he used,
“Introduce him to God with his new name and his new identity.”
Once again, one of the most fundamental issues of the biblical worldview is that we are known by God before we know ourselves. David makes it very clear in the Psalms, where he speaks of God knowing him in the womb even as he was being knitted together. Before he had a single day of life, David says, he was known by the creator and he was known intimately. As David understood the creator, then and now and forever, would know him better than he knows himself and yet here you have a priest of the Church of England suggesting that a ceremony is now needed because of the transgender revolution in which individuals can be introduced to God with their new name and with their new identity. I honestly can’t think of any development that would more demonstrably indicate the insanity of what we’re looking at here, but let’s be honest it’s one thing to see that kind of moral insanity on the cover story of Vanity Fair magazine. That is what we should expect. But to see that kind of insanity coming from someone who is taken ordination vows in an historic Christian church, that is not only insanity that is an unspeakable sin against the creator and against the Christian church, against the Scripture and against the very understanding of what it means for God to be the creator of heaven and earth, and the creator of every single human being made in his image.
In one sense it’s nothing less than scandalous to see this cover story in Vanity Fair magazine, but we’re actually just watching a very natural and predictable progression in terms of the moral insanity of a secular age. This secular age basically has no moral boundaries it can maintain by its own will. It has no fixed understandings and in many ways rebels even against the notion of fixed understandings, whereas that first emerged in terms of a moral relativism on sexual issues, now it is reached an absolute relativism when it comes even to gender identity. But as we have remarked so many times on The Briefing, even if you commit yourself to this worldview, it’s not going to work. And even if you were to look at this cover story in Vanity Fair magazine, this much is clear, they can’t really keep their argument straight and it is also incredibly revealing that they have to keep talking about an individual still very much alive as if he is not, referring to Bruce Jenner always in the past tense. But it is one thing as I say to see that kind of scandal in terms of the secular world, but when you see that kind of thinking invade the Christian church even to the point where you have a Church of England priest making an overture to that church’s General Synod to come up with a ceremony whereby people who have undergone gender transition can be introduced to God with their new name and their new identity, you have to wonder just how long any theological sanity will remain within that church.
But finally, the really scary thing is that this kind of thinking will not be limited to one church or one denomination. It won’t be limited to a conversation now taking place on the other side of the Atlantic. No, this is a kind of theological virus that is extremely contagious if it isn’t confronted directly, and if more importantly, the full wealth of biblical conviction is not taught in your church, then don’t be surprised when you hear this kind of argument coming to the person sitting next to you in the pew.
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. 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.