The Briefing 06-18-15

The Briefing 06-18-15

The Briefing

June 18, 2015

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


It’s Thursday, June 18, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Culture no longer asks ‘whether’ but ‘when’ gender reassignment should occur

As Christians we are accountable not only for how we think but also for how we feel. One of our responsibilities is to discipline our feelings to train our emotions in ways that are consistent with Scripture and the gospel. We need to keep this in mind when we consider the front page of yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, several stories of importance there but one of them is particularly important. The headline is this, “The New Girl in School: Transgender Surgery at 18.”

Anemona Hartocollis is writing about a young person who is identified in the article as Katherine Boone. The article begins with her recovering in April from an operation,

“That had changed her, in the most intimate part of her body, from a biological male into a female.”

Now recall the fact that we’re talking here about a young person who was 18 years old. The process of this so-called gender transformation took place beginning at age 16 ½ medically speaking. As I speak about training our emotions, I want to make clear that those who are operating out of a Christian worldview seeing this headline and the story and the way the story is presented will respond and should respond with a sense of moral dismay but there is more to it than that and we know it. We also need to respond with a sense of genuine heartbreak, with a sense of heartbreak that any human individual, whatever age, whatever situation would feel the kind of anguish that is reflected in this article. There’s more to it but there’s certainly not less to it than that.

Explaining the story Hartocollis writes,

“It is a transgender moment. President Obama was hailed just for saying the word “transgender” in his State of the Union address this year, in a list of people who should not be discriminated against. They are characters in popular television shows. Bruce Jenner’s transition from male sex symbol to a comely female named Caitlyn has elevated her back to her public profile as a gold-medal decathlete at the 1976 Summer Olympics.”

I read that paragraph exactly as it was written or exactly as it appeared in the newspaper. Because the way that paragraph is constructed tells us a great deal in terms of the names and the pronouns of how the new sexual revolution taking place around us will present itself and will make its vocabulary demands. But the main point of this article is about this sex reassignment surgery that has been undertaken on a very young person, in this case an 18-year-old just getting ready to graduate from high school. But as you look at the story, it’s about even younger children and it’s about this society trying to come to grips with the logic of the transgender revolution. And it’s about even the New York Times in a front-page story finding it difficult to know how and where to draw appropriate lines. Here’s a crucial paragraph in the front page article,

“With growing tolerance, the question is no longer whether gender reassignment is an option but rather how young should it begin.”

Well that’s a rather ominous and frightening question. How young should it begin? It begins with a cultural consensus according to this reporter and she’s onto something here, that in the larger society the logic has now switched from whether or not this kind of gender reassignment surgery is legitimate or for that matter, obligatory when it comes to medical coverage, but at what age it should become so. That’s the clear question that’s addressed in this article. And as we note, it is a morally distressing question, but even more so it’s a heartbreaking question.

The article is actually quite graphic in terms of its language. It’s dealing here with some pretty graphic material biologically and medically speaking, but one of the major points that is made by the article should interest us from a worldview perspective. Here we are told that it is more complicated to conduct or to complete, that’s the word used here, a gender reassignment process if it begins later in life. Speaking of those who have transitioned according to this language from male to female, Irene Sills, an endocrinologist said,

“Some of these women are passing, but barely, when they transition at 40 or 50. At 16 or 17, you are going to have such an easier life with this.”

Now that’s an astounding statement in itself, but here you see the logic of the transgender revolution working its way out, it’s working its way younger, that’s a very clear point. We shouldn’t really be surprised by this. After all, when you’re dealing with younger and younger people you’re dealing with people who have less and less settled understandings of many these issues. The reporter said,

“Given that there are no proven biological markers for what is known as gender dysphoria, however, there is no consensus in the medical community on the central question: whether teenagers, habitually trying on new identities and not known for foresight, should be granted an irreversible physical fix for what is still considered a psychological condition.”

Now that’s a blockbuster of a paragraph because here you have the New York Times acknowledging that this idea of gender dysphoria is still basically and essentially a psychological category. You also have the straightforward admission made in the first sentence of this paragraph, “that there are no proven biological markers for what is known as gender dysphoria.” I’ll give the New York Times credit for asking at least some of the most important questions,

“Is gender dysphoria governed by a miswiring of the brain or by genetic coding? How much does it stem from the pressure to fit into society’s boxes — pink and dolls for girls, blue and sports for boys? Has the Internet liberated teenagers like Kat from a narrow view of how they should live their life, or has it seduced them by offering them, for the first time, an answer to their self-searching, an answer they might later choose to reject?”

Importantly the reporter goes on,

“Some experts argue that the earlier the decision is made, the more treacherous, because it is impossible to predict which children will grow up to be transgender and which will not.”

Now at this point keep in mind an article we referenced in recent weeks. It appeared in the Wall Street Journal by Dr. Paul McHugh, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School and that hospital’s former psychiatrist in chief. Now you’ll recall that in that article in the Wall Street Journal, he pointed out that it was his hospital that was the first to perform this gender reassignment surgery. He also pointed out that most assuredly from his psychiatric and medical perspective, this kind of surgery is not the answer. He pointed to the fact as the New York Times acknowledges here that at least one major study and at this point the only study undertaken, indicates that individuals who have undergone this sex reassignment surgery have a 19 times more likely indication of being suicidal after the surgery. That’s a very alarming issue, Paul McHugh also pointed out that when it comes to younger people in particular, young adults and teenagers, the vast majority who indicate some interest in gender reassignment generally drop the interest before they enter actual adulthood. That also should be very informative here.

This article in the New York Times cites the fact that doctors have for some time been using so-called puberty blockers in the cases of some children to prevent them from entering puberty until they can decide whether they intend to be male or female. But puberty blocking drugs are one thing, now you have an open call in this article for discussion as to just how young individuals might be to request and receive gender reassignment surgery. As I said the article is quite physically graphic, I won’t go into to that detail but keep in mind that we’re talking here about a surgical effort actually to reassign and reconstruct sexuality and gender. It’s hard to exaggerate exactly what we’re dealing with here. And we have to keep in mind the fact that we’re talking here about very young people, we’re talking about teenagers but the logic of this article goes back even before the teen years. After all, when you’re talking about a puberty blocking mechanism, you’re actually talking about that which takes place before the teenage years. This is really dangerous territory, but it’s inevitable once the society embraces this idea of the transgender revolution. And if the transgender moment has arrived as Time magazine declared and now the New York Times as well, then the moments going to come with these kind of moral quandaries. And the most interesting aspect of that in looking at it from the perspective of this news story that arrived yesterday is that even those who embrace this revolution don’t know exactly what to do with it.

We pointed to the conflicting moral absolutes that put for instance, feminism over against the transgender ideology. They are people who want to join this revolution but they find themselves unable to adopt its logic and even if you do adopt this logic there are no logical answers to many of these questions. At least the New York Times representing that secular culture here recognizes that this is a huge moral issue. But once they have accepted the transgender ideology that moral issue is basically reduced to who has the right to demand this kind of surgery and then to demand that insurance companies pay for it – who has the right to do that at what age? Once you enter into that logic, you’re going to go back younger and younger and younger. There is simply no moral boundary to keep that from happening and once you accept this ideology it’s going to continue to unravel an entire structure of personal identity, of the understanding of what it means to be human, not to mention what it means to be male and female. Those very categories are simply going to dissolve because a society that accepts this logic can’t even use them with a straight face, or for that matter, with a straight list of editing rules.

But before leaving this article, I need to go back where I began; to heartbreak. Reading this article – even seeing the headline – there is a certain level of heartbreak about a society that has given itself to this kind of insanity which in terms of the Christian worldview is a form of moral rebellion against even God’s intention revealed in creation. But the heartbreak actually reaches far deeper than that. It’s extremely personal because we’re looking at what should be our heartbreak at the anguish that some of these people are undergoing in terms of their daily lives, in this news article some very, very young people. We’re looking at anguish that has come into the lives of individuals and families and in anguish that a secular society is trying to handle in the way that makes sense to it. That’s what’s perhaps most frightening about this article. All this makes sense according to the new wisdom of the new moral regime and what we’re looking at here is a heartbreak that needs to be acknowledged. We need to acknowledge with deep heartbreak of our own that there are people right among us, right around us who are undergoing this kind of anguish. Our response to them has to be based in the truth. The undiluted truth of God’s word, but it also has to be based in an understanding that this kind of anguish must be truly horrifying. This is where Christians have to understand and understand very clearly, there is no answer for this other than the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. For the one who died in our place knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves and loves us all the same. He loved us all the way to the cross.

2) Rachel Dolezal furor reveals race as far more fixed than gender in modern society

Another front page article in yesterday’s New York Times has a similar worldview implication and oddly enough, though it’s not acknowledged on the front page of the times, it is linked to the previous story. This one is by Kirk Johnson, Richard Pérez-Peña and John Eligon, it is datelined Spokane, Washington. It’s about a woman by the name of Rachel Dolezal and as America now knows she is no longer head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. What we don’t know is whether or not she is black. She now quite infamously claims to be. I say infamous because she’s become a very clear center of public attention but when it comes to her racial identity she still insists she’s black.

As the New York Times reminds us there is no hint of any black ancestry whatsoever in terms of her background, but she still claims and has claimed that she is black. She claimed to be black when she took a public role in the city of Spokane and when she became the head of the chapter of the NAACP there. But when she was a student at Howard University, an overwhelmingly African-American University, she didn’t identify as Black but as white. Confronted with evidence that she had no African-American ancestry she simply said,

“I identify as black.”

She appeared on NBC’s Today Show with host Matt Lauer and when he asked,

“When did you start deceiving people?”

She responded,

“I do take exception to that because it’s a little more complex than me identifying as black, or answering a question of, ‘Are you black or white?’ ” she said. Over the course of the day, she also described herself as “transracial” and said: “Well, I definitely am not white. Nothing about being white describes who I am.”

In an understatement, the New York Times article says,

“Her story has set off a national debate about the very meaning of racial identity, with some people applauding her message and goals and others deploring her methods and actions.”

Now how is this story tied to the previous story? Well the story on the transgender issue, especially as related to teenagers, reminds us that that logic tells us, insists as a matter of fact, that the gender or sex we are assigned at birth in terms of biology has no necessary bearing on the gender that we must now be recognized to have, because in our personal autonomy we claim the identity as male or female or virtually anything now in between. But when Rachel Dolezal tried to apply that to the issue of race, well, she found that the society is not yet ready to embrace that logic. So while we’re being told that sex in terms of gender is not a biologically lasting category, race or ethnic identity is, especially this case as related to skin color.

Now, the article is actually quite honest and indicating that this woman’s skin color darkened over time, it’s insinuated by some means of treatment. We see that the categories here seem to be far more fixed in this society’s thinking when it comes to race. Dorothy Webster identified as a longtime member the Spokane NAACP said,

“The issue for me has been the deception, the lie, portraying herself as someone she isn’t. I cannot rationalize it.”

Well I think the society really can’t rationalize the entire issue. And when it comes to issues of race, there are very deep sensitivities here. Writing also in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, this opinion piece, Tamara Winfrey Harris, the author of the book “The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America,” says that Rachel Dolezal is morally wrong because she has appropriated someone else’s story and someone else’s identity.

As she wrote,

“Rachel A. Dolezal, who stepped down Monday as president of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., could have been a powerful ally to African-Americans. The participation of white allies has always been important to anti-racism work. By most accounts, she is educated about black cultures and an advocate for black causes. But empathy evolved into impersonation. And Ms. Dolezal’s subterfuge, made easier by the legacy of racism in America, undermines the very people she claims to support.”

She cites Dolezal who said,

“I identify as black.”

And then Harris writes,

“But actual black people, like me, don’t have the option of choosing.”

Now at this point I need to acknowledge that I don’t believe I can adequately unpack and think through this issue, not on my own. With humility, I need to acknowledge that I need the help of African-American brothers and sisters in Christ to think this issue through and adequately to understand it. But from a Christian worldview perspective, this much is clear to me. Here you have two different articles that appear on the front page of the same day’s edition of the New York Times. Both are about personal identity and claims that biology alone can’t tell us who we are. Now there’s a sense in which there’s a link between these two articles, but one of them is following the logic that the individual has an absolutely unfettered right to say I’m a male or I’m a female, you must acknowledge me as such and even use my chosen pronoun of the day (that’s actually even cited in the article on the transgender issue and teenagers). But at the same time, the other article says on issues of race what you are born to be is who you are.

The point to me seems very clear here you have one article in which the clear ideological worldview is personal autonomy means you have to deal with me as I claim to be. Then you have another article in which on the issue of race we’re told that same logic does not pertain. It tells us a great deal that both of those articles appeared on the same day on the front page of the New York Times. The editors of that paper might not have recognized what links these two stories together but Christians reading the headline to the Christian worldview had better.

3) 200th anniversary of Waterloo reminder of the sin of hubris

Finally, today marks a very important historical anniversary; the Battle of Waterloo was fought 200 years ago today. It was one of most important battles in terms of Western history, or for that matter the history the world. It raises one of those very interesting questions, how would the history of the world be different if this battle had ended differently? The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday, the 18th of June in the year 1815. The battle is name for Waterloo, which is now part of Belgium, and in it the Emperor Napoleon of the French and the French army were defeated by the armies of the so-called Seventh Coalition. This was a group that was led by England and with combined armies under the command of the Duke of Wellington. Also involved in the battle was the Prussian army, later a part of Germany, under the command of Gebhard von Blücher. You’ll recall that Napoleon who had established his Empire had been deposed and in exile. But then he came back for a 100 day reign that was eventually ended finally, at the Battle of Waterloo.

Actually when we ask the question, how would history be different, we do know this – Napoleon was assembling one of the most ravenous and ambitious empires in world history. And of course, he was asserting even though he was not ethically French, he was from Corsica, he was asserting French supremacy over all of Europe, and he was largely winning the argument by means of military strategy and his armies. He believed that his army was largely invincible, he believed in a sense of historical destiny that had brought him back to power and to glory and if anyone understood martial glory it was the Emperor Napoleon. But Napoleon met his end at Waterloo in terms of his military and imperial ambitions, and he did so by what historians will argue was an act of military hubris. He went into the battle believing he would win but he didn’t, instead the allies won under the control of the Duke of Wellington and his Prussian allies.

In one sense it was a victory for democracy over imperial monarchial rule. In another sense it was a victory for civilization over against the despotism that Napoleon actually represented. Napoleon is one of those complex figures in history. Most of us if we come to know of him are fascinated by him. In terms of his personal story, in terms of his ambition, in terms of his leadership style, of his military exploits, but Napoleon the man is also a reminder to us of the sin of hubris, of overweening ambition, of the sin of pride and of the false sense of individual destiny.

How important was this battle to history? Well the French novelist Victor Hugo said,

“It wasn’t really a battle. It was a change of direction in the universe.”

That may be a bit of French oversimplification, but if anything it does point to the fact that the nation most affected by the defeat of Napoleon was France itself. As many have indicated in recent days, the French government and the French people seem to show very little interest in memorializing the Battle of Waterloo. I guess that makes sense. But those of us who are looking at this anniversary have to recognize how we read history as Christians, through the lens of divine providence. We come to understand that even as the industrialist Henry Ford said, there are some people who believe that history is just one thing after another, but that’s not true. History is not just a sequence of days and events, instead it is an account and an understanding of what has happened in a moral framework. Moral because God created human creatures as moral creatures made in his image and moral because we see the basic laws and principles that God has implanted in the universe, in creation for his glory and for our good, working their way out quite inevitably in history. The history of Europe would most assuredly be very different if Napoleon had won the Battle of Waterloo. Perhaps he might have been defeated at some later point, who knows? We do know that what happened at Waterloo matters, not just because it’s an historical fact but because history has meaning.


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 Columbus, Ohio and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Culture no longer asks ‘whether’ but ‘when’ gender reassignment should occur

The New Girl in School: Transgender Surgery at 18, New York Times (Anemona Hartocollis)

Transgender Surgery Isn’t the Solution, Wall Street Journal (Paul McHugh)

2) Rachel Dolezal furor reveals race as far more fixed than gender in modern society

Rachel Dolezal, in Center of Storm, Is Defiant: ‘I Identify as Black’, New York Times (Kirk Johnson, Richard Pérez-Peña, and John Eligon)

Black Like Who? Rachel Dolezal’s Harmful Masquerade, New York Times (Tamara Winfrey Harris)

3) 200th anniversary of Waterloo reminder of the sin of hubris

Battle of Waterloo, Wikipedia

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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