The Briefing 10-28-15
Tags: Audio, Boyhood, Common Grace, Millennials, Parenting
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, October 28, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Influence of parenting in indicating and determining worldview evident in millennials
Few things so reveal and influence worldview as the experience of being and becoming a parent. That’s what makes the cover story of Time magazine and its October 26 cover so important. The cover story is this,
“Help! My Parents are Millennials.”
The subtitle of the article by Katy Steinmetz,
“How this generation is changing the way we raise kids.”
The Millennials are now the largest generation in American history. They are now largely teenagers and young adults in their 20s and they represent the largest single generational cohort yet and they are also entering into those years of becoming parents. But before turning to them as parents, Steinmetz describes them in terms of their generational experience. She says,
“These young adults, having been raised to count individuality and self-expression as the highest values”
She describes them as parents now saying,
“They are attempting to run their families as mini-democracies, seeking consensus from spouses, kids and extended friend circles on even the smallest decisions.”
She says that,
“Until now [that is recently], members of the millennial generation have mostly been busy following themselves. Helicopter-parented, trophy-saturated and abundantly friended, they’ve been hailed by loved ones as “special snowflakes” and cast as the self-centered children of the cosseting boomers who raised them. Now millennials have a new challenge that has shifted their focus: raising kids of their own.”
Now Christians operating out of a Christian biblical worldview can understand why the experience of parenting would so reveal worldview and so influence worldview as well. There is nothing quite so sobering and nothing that makes one quite so serious as the understanding that we are responsible for another in particular for an infant, later for a child, then the experience of raising adolescence into young adulthood. It is an experience that test one’s worldview and reveals one’s worldview. There are several issues that come out very clearly in this article, one is the influence of social media. Back during the time of the baby boomers so many of them were raised by parents who were influenced by singular authority such as Benjamin Spock, known more popularly as Dr. Spock. Spock himself was important in terms of a liberalizing trend back in the 1950s and the 1960s toward a more permissive mode of parenting. But Dr. Spock has now been replaced by thousands if not millions of friends in terms of social media, each of whom apparently is willing to offer advice and judgment in terms of even the smallest issues of parenting and these parents are willing to share their parenting with the world.
As it turns out with the advent of the smart phone and digital social media, parents are now able to document virtually every moment in a child’s life and to post it in order that it might be shared and judged by their peers. One of the realities of that that comes out very clearly in the story is that these millennial parents are very sensitive to how they are seen by their peers as parenting. One of the realities that comes out very clearly in this article is the extent to which millennial parents are extremely sensitive to how they are understood as being perceived as being parents, how their peers understand their parenting and even as we have said in the most minute purchases and decisions. Specifically to the influence of social media Steinmetz writes,
“Social-media platforms have become places where it’s acceptable to brag, as parents have done since they had kids to brag about. But whereas previous generations had five minutes to whip out their wallets at the water cooler, millennials have a platform that operates 24/7, with HD video—one that they’re not shy about using.”
She goes on to say,
“The pressure among millennials to be great parents is fierce.”
It’s not enough in terms of this article for Millennials to be seen as being good parents, they want to be seen as being great parents at least the parents who are the focus of this article. She writes,
“And yet for all the bickering and sizing up, the vast majority of millennial parents remain online.”
And she says,
“Every post that invites judgment is also an opportunity to receive support from relatives and friends no matter where they are.”
But looking at the article, the social media dimensions actually the less important issue that is confronted here. That’s not unimportant, but it’s not as important as the shift in terms of the worldview of parental authority that is at least at this point clear in the article. Speaking of parental authority, one observer of this generation as parents, that’s Jeff Fromm, identified in the article said,
“The command-and-control model is not there. Millennials are just at their core believers in democracy. It’s not uncommon for parents to poll the jury on what we are going to do this weekend.”
The article actually gets worse,
“Running a family democracy, of course, is a lot of work. Kyle Eichenberger, a father of two in Oak Park, Ill., says he lets his kids choose what to eat and how to dress—and admits that it can be tiring. “Lately it’s been driving us nuts. We’ve been getting a lot of ‘Can I have a special treat? Can I have a cookie?’” he says. The kids don’t always get the cookie, but the parents also never make them finish what’s on their plates. “I’ve heard older people make disparaging comments about my generation, that parents are so lenient,” Eichenberger says. “It’s not that we don’t have rules and guidelines. We recognize that what works for my family might not be what works for your family.”
The most important thing I can say about that paragraph is that having read it I actually have no idea what he’s talking about in terms of his actual parenting philosophy and my fear is neither do his kids. As I said it gets worse,
“Sari Powazek, who’s been running a toy store in Scottsdale, Ariz., for nearly 40 years, has observed this back-and-forth. She says the parents she sees in the store’s play area today are more hands-on than previous generations of parents—and they are also looking to their children for direction. “They question themselves, they question the child. ‘Are you sure? Are you sure? Is this what you want?’” she says.”
At least as presented in this article what this indicates is that a significant percentage of millennial parents are unsure of the answers they are asking the questions, are you sure? Are you sure? The center of attention and the center of decision-making, at least according to Time magazine’s cover story is shifting from the parent to the child. The article also cites an elementary school teacher that is a first grade teacher in Massachusetts. She’s taught children, according to the article, for the past 29 years. She indeed taught some who are now the parents of the children who are now in her first grade classroom. She explained this shift by saying,
“You have to do more to hold their attention.”
She also adds,
“They are also more engaged with their learning and flexible in how they interact with the world [than were their parents].”
But she gives an example about spelling,
“In the old days, she just put a single list on the board, and everyone was tested on that list. Now she uses a spelling program that is much more individualized. The kids help come up with the spelling words; they each get their own “special list,” and they choose to do different exercises. “I couldn’t even imagine doing something like that with their parents,” she says.”
One of the things we’ve seen reflected in recent research and this just fundamentally make sense from a Christian worldview is that when you take individuals and you measure their positions on many issues before the experience of parenting and after, there is generally a significant new seriousness and even a more conservative understanding in terms of morality and authority when it comes to the parents now rather than their experience before parenting happened. But this article also makes clear that worldview continues in terms of the direction that parents understand themselves to take with their children and the philosophy behind their parenting. One of the most important issues of the Christian worldview is the importance of parents to children with parents being an authority and that authority is authoritative rather than authoritarian in a biblical mode. But it clearly understands the authority to reside with the parent rather than with the child. Going back to Dr. Spock and the baby boomers, there was a shift in the 1960s and the 1970s in particular, towards the authority of children, but that pales in significance over against this cover story in Time magazine. If you take the story at face value it might scare you to death, because if you’re looking at these parents as described in this article and you generalize it to America’s largest ever generation and then you extend it to the influence on their children, we could be in very big trouble.
But here’s the good news. There is no actual indication that a cover story in Time magazine tells us anything about how a generation is actually parenting. When you look at the story and you look at where the people live who are quoted in the story they are in an unbalanced way located on the West Coast and in particular, in cities like San Francisco. One of the millennial parents that is featured in the article is featured with his children, four-year-old Astral Defiance Hayes and his twin brother Defy Aster Hayes. Now just to state the obvious, when you put the word ‘defy’ or ‘defiance’ in the name of your child you shouldn’t be surprised with what you get. And there probably is no question that the Millennials are going to parent at least in terms of the digital dimensions in which they live differently than their parents and their grandparents beyond them. But there’s always the danger that someone will look at a cover story like this in Time magazine and believe that it accurately represents a generation as a whole. One of the things we can trace over time is that generations actually parent in a sense that is at least continuous with how they were parented. There can be no question that the digital and social media revolution is having an impact on parenting like everything else, but at the end of the day we’re going to find out how the Millennials parented their children when we find those children parenting children of their own.
Recognition of importance of fathers for boys in New York Times evidence of common grace
Next, common grace explains why the truth sometimes shines through even in unexpected places. And one of those unexpected places was recently the New York Times with a story that had the headline,
“A Disadvantaged Start Hurts Boys More Than Girls.”
The article is by Claire Cain Miller and she writes about boys falling behind. She says,
“They graduate from high school and attend college at lower rates than girls and are more likely to get in trouble, which can hurt them when they enter the job market. This gender gap exists across the United States, but it is far bigger for poor people and for black people. As society becomes more unequal, it seems, it hurts boys more.”
What’s really important is the next paragraph. She writes,
“New research from social scientists offers one explanation: Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage. Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters. That realization could be a starting point for educators, parents and policy makers who are trying to figure out how to help boys — particularly those from black, Latino and immigrant families.”
Now the disproportionate impact of many of these social pathologies on boys is now demonstrable. It’s demonstrable in statistics you can find in just about any credible study. It’s also indicated in just about any neighborhood or community in America. It shows up on America’s college and university campuses where the freshman class is now vastly disproportionately female rather than male. It shows up in all kinds of social pathologies. What usually doesn’t show up in a newspaper like the New York Times is what we saw embedded in that second paragraph. It was the acknowledgment that one of the issues of disadvantage that has a disproportionate impact on boys is the absence of a father. Now wait just a minute, this is a newspaper that at virtually every turn, indeed at every turn imaginable, has championed the issue of the marriage revolution, of the moral revolution, of the redefinition of marriage and the legalization of same-sex marriage. This is a newspaper that editorially has suggested over and over again that there is no indication that children raised in the homes of same-sex parents are in any way disadvantaged from those who are raised with the mother and a father in the home. And yet, on page 3 in this edition of the New York Times comes an article in which as early as the second paragraph there is an honest assertion and acknowledgment that the absence of a father, not just of a second parent, explicitly of a father in the home has a disproportionate negative impact on boys.
This leads to an issue that I think is very revealing in terms of this moral revolution. We find ourselves facing the fact that millions of Americans now say they are for the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage. Many of these people are the very same people who just a matter of seven to 10 years ago said that same-sex marriage should not be legal. They have changed their minds. But one of the questions we have to ask is whether or not they have actually changed their minds. Have they actually come to embrace the implications of the policy decision they say they affirm? For example, how many of these people are actually ready to say that it doesn’t matter if a boy has a father? How many are actually going to be ready to say that? They may now lack the moral courage, or for that matter, even the clear conviction to say that they believe that marriage should be the union of a man and a woman, they may lack at this point the clarity of being willing to make a public argument that every child deserves a mother and a father. But at the end of the day, they are increasingly hard-pressed to say it doesn’t matter if a father is out of the picture and in this case it’s becoming increasingly difficult to say that it doesn’t matter if a father is not in the home with a boy.
The article is filled with other morally important information, such as the fact that even prenatally it turns out that boys are more environmentally sensitive than girls. It turns out that if the mother is overly stressed during the time of pregnancy, it has a worse impact on boys than on girls. It turns out that in terms of verbal deficit before arriving at school, it turns out that the school experience itself if you have a disadvantaged situation, including the disadvantage of being without a father in the home, there is a greater impact negatively on boys, statistically speaking, than even on girls. In what would seem to most parents like a giant understatement, the article says,
“Boys, meanwhile, might need more oversight and discipline than girls to learn things like controlling their emotions and focusing on school.”
The fact that that is page 3 news in the New York Times tells us just how much confusion has been sown in the culture all around us. That is something that is verified right in the Bible, you might think of the book of Proverbs, but now you find it in page 3 of the print edition of the New York Times as news. But before leaving the story, we have to recognize that it is a welcome sign. I began by calling it a sign of common grace, the common grace of understanding that the truth sometimes comes out even when it is resisted and so even in a newspaper that in terms of its editorial position has been consistent in arguing that it doesn’t matter that a father is not in the home, now comes evidence on page 3 that it does matter. At this point, at least we should be able to hope that the editorial-page will be reading the news section of their own newspaper.
Objections to national slogan reflect understanding of its inherent theological sense
Also, in terms of recent news, next, we turn to USA Today, which had an opinion piece written by Ken Paulson, its title,
“When police embrace 'In God We Trust'.”
The subtitle of the article,
“1970 court ruling was wrong to declare national motto a non-religious expression.”
Now when you see a headline like that you’ve just got to take a closer look at the story. And here you find Ken Paulson who is president of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, he is arguing that a federal court in 1970 made a mistake when it ruled that the motto, let’s remind ourselves it’s the national motto, ‘in God we trust’ does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s principal of the non-establishment of religion because it is not in itself a religious expression. In the case known as Aronow v. United States, the ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1970,
“It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character,”
Now that decision was handed down 45 years ago and that tells us something. It tells us that even 45 years ago, there are those who were suing in federal court to get the national motto with the words 'In God We Trust' taken off of the nation’s currency in its coinage. That was a failed effort and it failed in part because one of the most liberal courts in America, that’s the ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California, ruled that 'In God We Trust' didn’t violate the non-establishment cause of the U.S. Constitution because it really isn’t a theological statement. To go back to the decision handed down in 1970 they said,
“Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character.”
Now as I said, Ken Paulson in writing this article thinks that that was a mistake made by that court 45 years ago and he says that it’s revealed to be a mistake by the fact that now as we discussed on The Briefing in recent days there is an increasing number of police departments that are putting 'In God We Trust' on police cars and even as there are efforts to resist it, it turns out that it’s very hard to argue that it’s unconstitutional because after all that is the nation’s motto that has been now upheld 45 years ago by the ninth U.S. circuit Court of Appeals, and really hasn’t been revisited by any court since and then Paulson raises a very interesting question, why not? It is because the courts don’t want to touch it. They don’t want to get anywhere near it. They don’t want to face the inevitable fallout if they were to order the removal of the words 'In God We Trust' from America’s public currency and from its public life. But it is at that point, that Paulson makes his most interesting argument. He says,
“If the use of "In God We Trust” decals was really about patriotism and not honoring a deity, you’d likely see bumper stickers with an earlier national motto, a Latin phrase for unity, translated as “out of many, one.” [that’s E Pluribus Unum].”
But Paulson says the fact that they’re putting ‘In God We Trust’ on these police cars indicates that they actually want to say something about God, not merely about patriotism and you know I think he’s right. I think it was absolutely ridiculous that the ninth U.S. circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the words ‘In God We Trust’ do not constitute a theological statement. I think Paulson’s exactly right. That’s ludicrous on its face. I think he’s also right that no court thereafter has had the political courage to address the situation. Where I differ with Paulson is that he obviously thinks that if it were to be a theological statement it would have to be rendered unconstitutional and removed in reputation of that argument all we have to do is go back to the Declaration of Independence and to the kind of language that was used during the time of the founding including by the founders at the time of the ratification of U.S. Constitution, where they were quite willing to use this kind of language, even as they formally adopted the Constitution of the United States that Paulson here cites.
The real danger in removing the words ‘In God We Trust’ is what it would represent not as a court decision, but as a moment in terms of our nation’s life. If we were to remove those words, it would remove one of the last barriers against stateism in the United States, one of the last barriers against the understanding that the state itself is the ultimate end and the ultimate power and authority. But that raises another issue that Christians need to understand, when we confront a phrase like ‘In God We Trust’ on the coin, even when we hear it from someone, we don’t necessarily know what they mean theologically. We don’t know the God their referencing, we don’t know if they actually believe in God. So at the same time that we would argue that it’s irrational to suggest that the words ‘In God We Trust’ are not a theological statement. We would also have to come back and say it is not a particularly clear theological statement until we get to the identity of the God in whom we trust and we speak of the authority by which we know the God in whom we trust, until we speak of the character of the God in whom we trust and until we demonstrate what it means to trust him. We are living in interesting times. Times in which an argument like this can find its way into USA Today without much public comment. An article that reminds us that the secularization of this culture around this isn’t a particularly new development, even as it has reached a particularly advanced stage. And an article like this that reminds us that even the most intentionally secular around us, turn out often to be more theological then they intend. So long as God remains in the words ‘In God We Trust’, the statement remains essentially theological.