The Briefing 10-17-17
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, October 17, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see the religion of contraception, buyer’s remorse for religious liberty among the revolutionaries. We’ll see the Associated Press go to war on human nature and we’ll see a warning about warnings.
The religion of birth control and it’s doctrinal enforcers
The religion of birth control, it is indeed a religion, became very evident in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times in an article by Linda Greenhouse. The article was entitled,
“On Contraception, It’s Church Over State”
Now what makes this article important is not just its placement in the New York Times and it’s not just the worldview, indeed the religion of birth control, that is reflected here, but the incredible honesty that eventually comes out in the article. But even more significant than that is the author of the article. Linda Greenhouse is one of the most familiar names amongst the readers of the New York Times. For almost 30 years she covered the United States Supreme Court for the nation’s most influential newspaper. Furthermore, she is now a senior fellow at the Yale Law School based upon her experience as the nation’s foremost journalist covering the Supreme Court. She also in the course of her journalistic career was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. But Linda Greenhouse is writing this article. And as it becomes clear, it’s not as much about the law as you might expect. It’s about far deeper issues and that’s the real story.
Even in the very beginning of the article, it’s clear that Greenhouse understands the contraception and birth-control issue, especially in light of President Trump’s announcement of reversing the Obama Administration so-called contraception mandate. It’s very clear she understands that we are in the midst of the sexual revolution. And clearly it’s a revolution of which she is very proud. She writes,
“Saudi women are gaining the right to drive. American women are losing the right to employer-provided birth control.”
But let’s just consider that opening paragraph for a moment. Is it true that Saudi women are finally gaining the right to drive? Yes in a qualified sense no doubt, a certain form of a moral revolution, a gender revolution there in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. But the second sentence says that American women, on the other hand, are losing the right she says to employer-provided birth control. Is that right or is that wrong? Well it’s mostly unquestionably wrong. The vast majority of American women in the workforce will not indeed lose their employer-provided birth control by means of the Affordable Care Act and its associated health insurance. There can be no doubt that the action by the Trump Administration is indeed big news, and it’s very good news for religious liberty. But it’s bad news for those whose main religious doctrine is birth-control, under any circumstance, free-for-all.
Because what the Obama Administration had done was to insert this contraception mandate within the ObamaCare legislation known as the Affordable Care Act, and in such a way that the only limited recognition of conscience rights would be granted to churches and to other institutions that are basically legally just like churches. This cut out religious nonprofits and in particular Christian schools, colleges and other employers. They were forced against conscience to provide this kind of birth-control coverage and remember that this mandated coverage included birth-control forms that are suspected at least at times to operate as abortifacients. The mandate absolutely demanded it.
Even in the face of pressure from the United States Supreme Court, even in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, the Obama Administration refused to yield leading to other cases, including the fact that the Administration was sued by the Catholic group of nuns known as the Little Sisters of the Poor. Now just to state the obvious, when you have a presidential administration in this case the Obama Administration sued by an organization as venerable and as understood in the culture as the Little Sisters of the Poor, you’ve got a very interesting situation. Of course it was an entirely avoidable situation, but the Obama Administration, especially in its Department of Health and Human Services, was pretty much sold out to the religion of birth control. And that became its central doctrine and thus it was unyielding. And that’s why the Trump Administration’s reversal of the mandate has made very big news. But it isn’t a reversal of the entire mandate. That’s the important point. It is simply the Trump Administration saying that employers who have bona fide, long-standing religious or moral objections can opt out of the birth-control coverage.
Linda Greenhouse explains the rules this way,
“The new rules, which went into immediate effect, create exceptions that are anything but limited. They are,” she said, “in fact, there for the taking.”
Churches have always been exempt. Now she says any,
“‘entities’ that claim not only religious but also ‘moral’ objections to birth control are entitled to refuse to comply with the federal contraception mandate that,” was she argues, “enabling 55 million women to receive birth control without charge as part of their work- or college-related health insurance coverage.”
Now what makes this really important in terms of intellectual honesty is that we know that the vast majority of the employers of the vast majority of those 55 million women are not likely in any sense to make a change the policy. For one thing, many of these employers voluntarily provided similar coverage long before the Affordable Care Act even came into existence. And at this point, those operating from a Christian worldview would simply have to say that the relationship between an employer and employee in deciding to offer this kind of coverage is very different than a mandate being handed down by the White House and coerced by means of all the power the federal government. To put the issue plainly we can and should expect that some Christian colleges and schools, other Christian employers, others motivated by other religious beliefs with similar concerns are likely to opt out. But let’s just look at the major employers in America: Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Microsoft, Apple Computers, you go down the list. There’s absolutely no way that any of those employers are going to make any move towards restricting birth-control coverage or the inclusion of birth control in their qualified insurance plans for employees. It’s irrational and deeply dishonest to argue or insinuate otherwise.
“Buyer’s remorse” for religious liberty among supporters of the sexual revolution.
But it is another portion of Greenhouse’s article that has my main concern, my main interest. In a later paragraph she writes this,
“The real point is that the Trump administration has outsourced a crucially important building block of national health care policy, enabling,” she says, “a fanatical fringe of the Republican base to exercise raw political power, clothed in religiosity under cover of the grandiloquently named Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
Mark very clearly her next sentence, I quote,
“That 1993 law, passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities and signed by President Bill Clinton, is the object of growing buyer’s remorse on the part of liberal and moderate Americans — and should be.”
That’s an absolutely stunning statement. Here you have Linda Greenhouse, the most influential observer of the U.S. Supreme Court in the mainstream media, for almost 3 decades telling us that liberals and moderates in the culture now have buyer’s remorse over a law that simply, note just how simply, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act simply said that Congress and the federal government has no right to trample the religious liberties of the American people without a sufficient reason. And now that statement simply supporting what the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution recognizes as religious liberty is now the object of buyer’s remorse. Why? Because of the issue of birth control. Make no mistake that’s the issue here. That’s the doctrine here. That’s the real religion here.
But this is where we also have to point to that inevitable collision between religious liberty and the new sexual liberties claimed as part of the moral revolution taking place all around us. But there’s another very interesting change, a change of argument, a change of terms that occurs even within this single article by Linda Greenhouse. In that section I read about her protest of the Trump Administration’s announcement. She referred to birth-control as an important part of national healthcare, the issue their health care. But after insisting that the issue is healthcare. She concludes her article by saying, speaking of the Trump Administration and its leaders and those who were arguing against the contraception mandate in general,
“The problem they have is with what birth control signifies: empowering women — in school, on the job, in the home — to determine their life course. That’s what they don’t want to normalize.”
But notice how she’s changed the terms of her own argument. Earlier, she argued that the birth control mandate was important as,
“a crucially important building block of national health care policy”
But at the end of her article she says, instead, the big issues signified by birth control is empowering women. Now there is no doubt that demanding and providing birth-control to all women of reproductive age, regardless of cost and without any sense of a question of moral importance or urgency here, is simply one of the primary doctrines of modern secular feminism. But as we know in analyzing worldviews, the most secular worldviews turn out not to be as secular as might first appear. Every single worldview has its presuppositions, its foundational beliefs, its convictions and its key cardinal doctrines. And for the modern secular worldview that worldview underpinning and driving the sexual revolution, birth control is one of its most cherished doctrines. But the argument for birth control it turns out as this article makes transparent by the end is really not so much about healthcare. It’s rather about changing the morality.
And just in case we missed it twice in the last column of this article, Linda Greenhouse uses the term “normalize.” She said that what conservatives don’t want is to normalize birth control. She says that the problem is that they don’t want to normalize a woman’s empowerment by means of birth control. The big issue there is not even the argument of the tie between women’s empowerment in birth control. The big issue there is the fact that she uses a moral term “normalize.” That means norms are changed, big norms, fundamental norms, the most basic moral norms of a society. That’s what they desperately, insistently want to change. And of course, once they thought they had changed it to defend it at all costs.
The AP Stylebook goes to war against human nature
Next as we’re thinking about the terms of our current moral revolution, we need to note that one of the most important weapons in this revolution is vocabulary, its language. If you change the language, you in effect change the reality. And that’s what’s behind what the Associated Press acknowledges is the current pronoun war. Summarizing the announcement from the Associated Press, Sohrab Ahmari, at Commentary writes,
“The transgender movement is at war with the English language. With a new set of style guidelines, the Associated Press has joined the trenches—on the transgender side.”
Ahmari’s absolutely right as he analyzes this new policy of the Associated Press, and we dare not underestimate the importance of a policy. The Associated Press and its style guide have an inordinate influence on the way public conversation takes place, certainly in terms of the style guide to use by major American media, especially newspapers. So if you change the rules and you change the vocabulary, then eventually of course you change the conversation, and you’ve made serious headway towards changing the fundamental reality. But wait just a minute. They’re really not going to be successful in changing this fundamental reality, the fundamental reality of biological sex and the fact that for the vast majority people on the earth those two if they are indeed two at all are one in the same. That is gender identity and biological sex, and those two, male and female, well, they are very resistant matters of vocabulary. As much as the modern sexual revolutionaries may want to destroy them, they still remain rather indispensable at least in terms of normal, sensical human conversation.
Sohrab Ahmari writing at Commentary tells us that the new guidelines handed down by the Associated Press are very clear telling editors and reporters that they are to,
“avoid references to being born a boy or girl.”
Now, again, don’t underestimate the importance of this kind of guideline. It will immediately show up in virtually every single newsroom and on every television or broadcast set. But notice the fact that it isn’t going to change the conversation that takes place in the announcement that a baby boy or a baby girl has been born. And that’s because, and here we should simply say thanks be to God, parents are not bound by the Associated Press style guide, nor will they be. Tiringly now, in a series of tweets the Associated Press last Tuesday announced that,
“gender refers to a person’s social identity, while sex refers to biological characteristics.”
And in yet another tweet announcing the new policy, this one’s really important. The Associated Press introduced a new rule in which the expressions sex change or gender transition are now to be replaced with “gender confirmation” referring to surgery in terms of the transgender revolution and identity. But note carefully that when the term is mandated “gender confirmation” that’s not in any sense a neutral term. That’s a terms that is specifically intended to reinforce the moral revolution, to reinforce and let’s use Linda Greenhouse’s term to “normalize” transgender identity as “gender confirmation” when it comes to surgery.
Sohrab Ahmari points out that just to take one of the most interesting and celebrated cases, symbolic of transgender identity, the individual born as Bruce Jenner, who now goes by the name of Caitlyn Jenner, according to the new AP style guide any reference to the early years, indeed the birth of the person known as Caitlyn Jenner, would have to refer to that person being “born” male. Put quotation marks around the words born male. But as Ahmari says that is both absurd and theological. Furthermore, it doesn’t even correspond with the way most transgender people tell their own stories. Ahmari concludes quite sensibly and truthfully,
“The AP’s new style rules won’t change a reality which is written into human nature”
That’s absolutely true. But what we need to note here is that the Associated Press is trying to join the revolution. It is trying to join the sexual moral revolution, and it has set itself at war with human nature.
A warning about warnings: Why we should make our warnings fewer and make them stick
Finally, another interesting aspect of human nature revealed in an editorial published in the Los Angeles Times. As we well know to live in the modern age is to drown in warning statements. So many, that it’s hard to sort them out to know where we should rightly be warned and where we should ignore them. This has caught the attention of the editors of the Los Angeles Times. Interestingly, they admit that at least in the past they have been part of the problem. The editors wrote,
“Starbucks, Whole Foods and about 80 other places in California that sell coffee may soon be forced to put warning labels on grande lattes and coffee bean packages to alert consumers that the product within contains acrylamide, a chemical that may be carcinogenic.”
The editors then ask,
“Wait a minute. Coffee causes cancer? Actually,” they reassure us, “research increasingly points to the opposite conclusion.”
They point to two specific broad scale research projects indicating the health benefits not the detriments of drinking coffee, but then they turn to California’s Proposition 65. It was adopted as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. It’s one of those rather complicated and draconian laws there in California, and the editor say,
“it requires businesses with 10 or more employees to warn the people when they may be exposed to any of about 850 chemicals that are confirmed or suspected carcinogens, regardless of whether that particular exposure might be dangerous.”
What’s the issue? Well as it turns out, if you work at Starbucks coffee, you’re working with, well here’s a stunning revelation, coffee, and it turns out that that coffee is likely to contain trace elements of acrylamide. But it’s not just working there. It’s consuming there. The editors say,
“Starbucks and some of the other businesses that were sued under the law have already put up the warnings signs the law requires, even though the case is still being argued in a Los Angeles courtroom. Consumers who pause to read the signs might reasonably conclude that their morning fix could harm or even kill them. But,” according to the editors, “Proposition 65 warnings have become such a common sight in the Golden State,” here I’m reading from the editorial, “in parking lots, hotels, office buildings, amusement parks and gas stations, to name a few places — that they're not so attention-grabbing any more.”
The editors of the Los Angeles Times want to make the point that there are dangerous substances and chemicals out there about which there should be posted warnings. The most obvious example is lead. But they also point back to that law adopted in 1986, and they acknowledge, well, what they said wouldn’t happen has actually now happened. And even though it’s very revealing, it’s also we need to admit quite humorous. In 1986 supporting what was then known as Proposition 65, the editors of the Los Angeles Times had written then,
“To be sure, the potential problems would not approach the grossly exaggerated levels predicted by the anti-Proposition 65 campaign, led by oil and chemical companies and the agriculture industry.” The concluded, “Passage of Proposition 65 will not lead to the banning of ordinary table salt or require warning labels on every apple sold or cup of coffee served in California.”
But of course, now it does. And thus the editors conclude,
“The fact that the most outlandish prediction may now come true only underscores the need for fixing or replacing this law.”
The old fable of the little boy who cried wolf certainly comes to mind, and it’s revealing that the editors of the Los Angeles Times are so honest about the fact that what they were for in 1986 has done exactly what they said it wouldn’t do. And yet the most interesting thing here is simply what it reveals about human nature. It turns out that when we are inundated with warnings we start to tune them out, both the important ones and presumably the unimportant ones as well. Whatever the case, we ought to make our warnings fewer and then make them stick.
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 Raleigh, North Carolina, and I’ll meet you again on tomorrow for The Briefing.