The Briefing 11-20-15
Tags: Audio, China, Gender Identity, Jerusalem, One-child Policy, Prayer
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, November 20, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Jewish prayer at shared holy site sparks controversy due to theology of prayer of Judaism, Islam
Sometimes we see headlines and we are relatively unaware of what is behind those very headlines that scream at us. There are so many headlines coming at us in the Middle East and from Israel in particular, that many Americans know that there is a deep-seated conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but they often do not know what is really at stake, that’s why a recent article in USA Today is so shocking and so important. Shira Rubin, writing from Jerusalem gives us an article entitled,
“Jewish activists secretly pray at Muslim Holy Site.”
Now the words behind that headline are interesting enough, but the article is even more important as we get into it. Rubin writes,
“In a move that could further inflame recent Palestinian violence, Jewish activists are defying Israeli law by secretly praying at a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.”
Now she’s talking about the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque that is on that site. It is believed to be one of the most holy places in all of Islam and after the 1967 war and Israel gained control of all of Jerusalem, the big question was how would the temple mount be understood and identified and who would have access to it? In an agreement struck then in the aftermath of the war, Israel passed a law designating that the Temple Mount would be open to both Jews and Muslims, but it would be restricted to a place of exclusive Muslim worship.
The news story coming at us here tells us, as USA Today is reporting that some Jews are now defying that law by praying covertly and secretly at the Temple Mount. Just imagine the scene as Rubin describes it here,
“On a recent Sunday at the hilltop complex known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, dozens of religious Jews shoved ahead of a line of tourists.”
“While being closely monitored at the site by security guards, who questioned anyone suspected of engaging in prayer, a number of visitors from a group of about 15 mumbled prayers quietly as they pretended to speak on their cellphones and cupped their hands over their mouths.”
“They recited the prayers from memory, as they had been instructed to leave behind their prayer books before entering.”
This language seems almost fictional, but it’s not, this is an actual report from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. We are told here that in defiance of Israeli law, even as they were being monitored by security guards who were trying to make sure that no Jew prays under any circumstance in this location. Some of these so-called religious Jews were actually trying to pray while hiding the fact by appearing to be talking into their cell phones, but they were caught doing so and this has led to an international controversy.
Even at first glance looking at a controversy like this, Christians need to keep a couple of theological issues firmly in mind. In the first place, there is this - there is no place on planet earth that has any of kind of theological significance to Christians that is in any way matched by the kind of significance that is now granted to the Temple Mount, or what the Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem. We hold certain places to be very special and to be particularly cherished because of their ties to decisive events in biblical history. We speak of walking where Jesus walked and there is a particular cherishing that is extended from Christians to, for instance, the area around the Sea of Galilee where even today you can look right at the particular villages in terms of ruins and the very places where Jesus spoke and Jesus taught and Jesus healed. But we do not believe that there is any particular holiness attached to that particular land. There are places in the city of Jerusalem that are particularly honored and cherished by Christians but we do not attach the same theological significance to them as do both Jews and Muslims, and in this case with life itself on the line. That’s what’s made very clear in this article.
The most concerning part of this article is not the controversy about these particular so-called religious Jews that were offering their prayers covertly into their cell phones on the Temple Mount. It is rather a statement that follows later in the article, in which I read,
“Palestinian leaders, however, have linked the attacks against Israel to what they describe as defense of the Temple Mount. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in September that Jews are [this is his word] “defiling” the complex with their “filthy feet” and that he blesses “every drop of blood that has been shed for Jerusalem.”
So now we’re looking at the reality that the elected President of the Palestinian Authority is blessing those who killed Jews because of the supposed offense of defiling the Temple Mount, or what they call the Noble Sanctuary by even covertly offering prayers mumbled into an open cell phone. This is one of those things that simply defies our theological imagination. But the very violent language here,
“Blessed by the head of the Palestinian Authority”
Reminds us of the challenge that Israel faces. It reminds us of the theological reality that though we cherish land, we do not worship it, nor do we want to associate ourselves with worship in any one place in such a way that there would be any kind of dynamic such as what we see here between the Palestinians and the Israelis over one very small piece of land on all of planet Earth. It is a place that is filled with theological and religious significance, but for Christians, not so much about worship, but about the fact that in space and time and history all the events recorded in Scripture took place, and not only that, all the events promised in Scripture will take place in space and time and history. And here’s the issue for Christians, nothing is going to keep those events from taking place in fulfillment of all that is promised in scripture.
Finally, one other issue on this topic before leaving it, let’s consider the very nature of prayer as is reflected in this particular controversy. The Muslim authorities are evidently murderously driven to derision by the fact that Jews would actually pray Jewish prayers on this particular property, thus, defiling it. That’s something Christians need to keep in mind. We are not threatened by any such action, symbolic, substantive or otherwise, we would simply have to note that it is a very strange and distorted notion of prayer that leads to this controversy in the first place. These headlines put that biblical admonition that we are to pray for the peace of Jerusalem in a whole new light and a whole new perspective.
Significance of sibling-relationships to later life underlines tragedy of one-child China
Next, part of God’s grace to humanity is the institution of the family, especially the natural family as defined in scripture, centered in marriage as the union of a man and a woman and then their children that come to them either by reproduction or by adoption, and then of course there’s also extended family. But it’s that family unit living together that is the source of so much joy and so many blessings that come beyond even what most people think about. A recent study indicated that in terms of men and women, they do better in their romantic lives when they are adults if they had a sibling of the opposite sex. In particular, one very fascinating piece of this research indicated that boys who have sisters are more likely to have happy romantic lives than boys without sisters or boys without siblings. The reason for that is actually easy for us to understand. If you grow up around a sister you have an understanding of women and a confidence around women that those who do not grow up with a sister may very well not have. That’s just one of those common grace affirmations of the importance of the family and the gift of the family. But in particular, it points to the gift of siblings and that directs us to another recent article that appeared this one in the New York Times, an article by Javier Hernandez and Amy Qin. And the title of the article,
“End of China’s One-Child Policy Stings Its ‘Loneliest Generation.”
“China’s One-Child Policy Stirs Isolation Felt by Only Children.”
This is such a sad article. The reporters tell us of those who are now numbered in the hundreds of millions in China who do not have and have never had a brother or sister. The reporters take us to a man by the name of Wang Hailei, a 36 year-old who they say belongs to one of the most privileged generations in Chinese history.
“Raised without siblings under China’s One-Child Policy, he was lavished with attention and pampered with gifts like computer games, martial arts novels and music lessons.”
But then they write,
“But these days, he does not consider himself fortunate. As he wandered around a bookstore here one recent Saturday in a fur coat and suede shoes, he described his generation as “pathetic” and “miserable,” ignorant of family love and exceedingly self-centered.”
Mr. Wang said,
“We were sacrificed because of a political mistake. We were used.”
The reporters then write,
“Many people in China celebrated the decision by the Communist Party last month, after more than three decades of the one-child policy, to allow married couples to have two children, calling it a rare human rights victory in a country where freedoms are tightly restricted.
“But for some of the more than 150 million young people who grew up as only children, the announcement has reawakened feelings of isolation and regret, according to interviews with more than two dozen of them.”
So what’s important here is to recognize is that the New York Times saw a huge story in the aftermath of the decision of the Chinese Communist Party to change the one-child policy to a two-child policy. They interviewed, according to this article, at least 24 of the young Chinese who are a part of the generation affected by this. One of the young persons interviewed was an engineer living in Xi’an, a city in northwest China. He said,
“In 5,000 years of Chinese history, we will have been the only generation made up of almost all only children.”
Later in the article, the reporters tell us that,
“Members of the one-child generation said they grew up hearing that they were among the most blessed generations in Chinese history, having avoided the poverty and brutal conflicts experienced by their parents and grandparents, only to realize later that they would have to shoulder the burden of taking care of aging parents, in-laws and children without the support of siblings.”
I mentioned earlier the research indicating the benefit of a sister to boys in terms of their later romantic and marital lives. There is a similar reflection coming from a young woman in China. In this article she said,
“Being a female only child is too much pressure. Every girl wants to grow up with a big brother.” Several people mentioned that an older brother would come in handy if you got into a fight.”
There is that horrifying math formula behind this as well. Mei Fong writing in the Wall Street Journal identifies the ratio as 4:2:1. She describes it in this way,
“That is an aging population with little familial support.”
4:2:1 describes the future of millions of Chinese couples, two adults supporting four elderly parents and one child, 2:4:1. That is a diabolically wrong math. It demonstrates what happens when a government places itself in the idolatrous position of determining the romantic and reproductive lives of its citizens. China’s One-Child policy led to abortion and forced sterilization and infanticide. It led to an imbalance in family life and to all kinds of problems that even now the Chinese Communist party is not coming to grips with. The Chinese Communist Party has announced that it is relaxing the One-Child policy, only to shift to a two-child policy. And as numerous media inside and outside of China have indicated, there is no sense in which the Chinese party is relaxing its control, even on the most intimate relationships between its citizens, including the issue of procreation and reproduction. As Mei Fong writes,
“China’s birth-planning machinery remains a bloated behemoth, employing some 85 million part-time employees at the grass-roots level, as well as some half million full-time employees at the State Family Planning Commission. The agency has its fingers in everything from pharmacological research to film production.”
This sounds like something out of 1984 or Brave New World. It sounds like something out of a dystopian science-fiction future, but it’s not, this is the present in China and it’s been that way for a long time. What kind of diabolical government would employ 85 million agents of the state at the grassroots level to control the reproductive lives of its citizens, even right down to forced sterilization, infanticide and abortion? What kind of state would have a half-million full-time employees, just to keep their fingers in everything, according to this article, from drug research to film production? Just in order to understand how this works, the reporter takes us to Huangjiapu in Yicheng. There the reporters identify Ma Qingju, a cluster leader, one of these 85 million part-time agents for the state. She’s identified as,
“A cheery 45-year-old woman,”
Who, listen to this carefully,
“Keeps track of the reproductive habits of 10 households.”
Here are the words,
“In a chart she keeps at home, she tracks whether women are single or married, pregnant or sterilized, and what contraceptives they use. No family in her group has exceeded the two-child limit, she proudly told me.”
Many Americans know enough about communism as a system of government to note that the communist state claimed an idolatrous supremacy and even a sovereignty right down to the most intimate details, invading the family, redefining marriage, marginalizing family rights in terms of the power of the state. But a sentence like that embedded in a paragraph in a story about China’s one-child policy shows us how that really takes tangible form. In a woman, a cheery middle-aged woman who has a chart in her home in which she tracks the reproductive situation of every woman in her district. Honestly, if it hadn’t been reported in a newspaper as trustworthy as the Wall Street Journal, I’m not sure I would have believed it. But here it is in black and white, and when it comes to abortion and infanticide, in red.
Sociologists argue next step in sexual revolution for men to take up more feminine roles
Next, by now most of us are at least aware that the moral revolution taking place around us is extended to gender identity and of course also to gender roles, but that might not prepare us for a major article that appeared in recent days in the New York Times by Richard V. Reeves and Isabel V. Sawhill. Both are Senior Fellows at the Brookings Institution in Washington. The Brookings Institution is one of the most influential Think Tanks in Washington, very much involved in the formation of public policy. That’s why you should pay attention to this article. The article is entitled,
And what’s his point? Well, it’s more shocking than you might think. They write,
“So far the gender revolution has been a one-sided effort. Women have entered previously male precincts of economic and political life, and for the most part they have succeeded. They can lead companies, fly fighter jets, even run for president.”
“But along the way something crucial has been left out. We have not pushed hard enough to put men in traditionally female roles — that is where our priority should lie now.”
Later they write, getting right to the point,
“The old economy and the old model of masculinity are obsolete. Women have learned to become more like men. Now men need to learn to become more like women.”
Their proposal is genuinely as shocking as those words would make it to appear. There’s some genuine and important economic and sociological research behind what they’re proposing here. Indeed, in terms of economics and jobs, a great deal has shifted towards traditionally female sectors of the economy. There’s huge growth in personal assistants jobs and jobs for teachers and other things that have largely attracted women rather than men. There is a burgeoning need for nurses, traditionally at least, primarily a female occupation. And there is also the reality that in the last recession, it was often referred to even as a he-session because of the disproportionate impact upon sectors of the economy traditionally identified as male. So before throwing away their argument entirely as just a part of the moral revolution, behind it there is some pretty hard data indicating some major shifts in the economy. But when you look closer at the article, this just isn’t about sociological and economic analysis. It’s about something far more fundamental. Because even as you note the reporter saying that there’s been a disproportionate effect upon traditionally masculine sectors of the economy in terms of construction jobs and similar kinds of occupations. They also say that the old model of masculinity is now outdated and that’s what make this article more revolutionary than even the headline might imply.
Later, the authors explicitly tied their proposals to the larger moral revolution when they write,
“America now seems to be experiencing a renewed bout of cultural turbulence over what it means to be a woman, or a wife; a man, or a husband.”
Then they get right to the point,
“Gay marriage, even after legalization, sharply divides opinion. Women’s reproductive freedom is being curtailed. The growing confidence and strengthening rights of the transgender community are causing wildly disproportionate anxiety.”
That’s not the absolute conclusion of the article, but in many ways that’s the climactic part of the argument and there it is not merely the reader, it is the writers in this case that tie their argument explicitly to a transformation, not only in terms of gender identity, but of gender roles and it is they who tie it directly to the moral revolution and they shockingly enough tie it not only to the legalization of same-sex marriage and to the transgender revolution, but to the issue of abortion.
In the final paragraph they write,
“The way forward, we believe, is for men to embrace and adapt to the new, more androgynous world. There is no point in harking back. The world in which high-paid manufacturing jobs could support a family, and where women were expected to focus only on being wives and mothers is gone. Women have shown they are ready for this transition. But what about men?”
Well, here we need to look really closely at the actual language in this proposal and the most shocking part of this paragraph is where they describe the future as more androgynous. Now that’s a very interesting word to use here because androgyny means a mixing of the genders, an intentional confusing of the genders in which male and female no longer have any clear cultural moral meaning. That’s the real impact of this moral revolution and inevitably that’s where the logic of this revolution leads. In all honesty, you have to wonder just how seriously these two writers intend their argument to be taken, even in a newspaper like the New York Times. To put the matter simply, it’s hard to imagine that even many men reading this article are going to hear the argument that men need to become more like women and say, you know that sounds exactly right. It’s hard to believe that they expect many men or for that matter, many rational women to look at the argument that we all should embrace this new more androgynous future and say that’s exactly where we want to go.
Those Christians who are operating out of a biblical worldview understand not only the wrongness of this proposal, but the basic irrationality of it embedded in this is not only a misperception of gender in terms of our identity, but also a latent rebellion against the created order. That’s an important thing for Christians to recognize, but we also need to recognize that even as this argument is being pushed by Hollywood and so many in terms of the culture manufacturing industry, the reality is that I don’t believe most people are buying into it. Even on the streets of Manhattan it’s still usually clear that we’re talking about men and women. And when it comes to the young, those who are supposed to be the most eager to embrace this new moral revolution and the androgyny that goes with it, a close look at your local high school is going to indicate that the vast majority of boys and girls still want to be identifiable as boys and girls. As I said, there are some serious economic and sociological issues that are genuinely embedded in this article. But what’s more important is that there’s a moral message embedded in this article as well and it’s far more radical and far more dangerous.
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’m speaking to you from Birmingham, Alabama and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.