Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018

Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018

The Briefing

February 15, 2018

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

It’s Thursday, February 15, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Today, we’ll look at seeing heartbreak when the world shouts only headlines. We’ll see why arguments about reputational damage often end up being arguments over mere money. We’ll see author J. K. Rowling face very angry, very liberal young readers. We’ll ask the question: Who decides who tells children dark truths? And, then we’ll see how a school dance in Utah went awkwardly wrong.

Part I

Seeing heartbreak when the world only shouts headlines after Florida school shooting

Once again tragedy stares us in the face. One again the images and the sounds are coming from the campus of an American school. Once again we have the report of numerous fatalities and an even larger and expanding number of those who are wounded. Once again the questions come, the questions that are inevitable in the aftermath of this kind of headline, the questions that vex us because of all the moral questions that we handle, the most difficult are those that seem to have no easy solution at all, and we’re looking at a reality that is playing out over and over again.

It might happen from a high rise in Las Vegas. It might happen in a public school in Parkland, Florida, west of Coral Springs. It might happen on one of the coasts. It might happen in the interior of the country, but it is happening in such a way that we have to ask basic questions about whether or not even the necessary inevitable talk about these tragedies may increase the likelihood that someone will think about conducting one. The conversation that takes place not only in the news media but around dinner tables in the United States after this kind of a tragedy involves a vocabulary that would include everything from the availability of weapons to what we described as psychological or psychiatric pathologies. This is the kind of conversation we have when we don’t know enough to explain what has taken place. The inexplicable is the foundation here.

How in the world could any human being, in this case, we were told that the suspect is believed to be about 18 years old, how could any human being under any circumstances at any time enter into a school and begin shooting children and teenagers at random? How could this possibly be understandable? Of course in one sense the biblical world view reminds us that evil itself remains inexplicable. It remains not understandable, beyond our understanding. It is, in its very essence, irrational rather than rational. But, in the cold calculation of how fallen human beings carry about wrongdoing, irrationality is conducted along the lines of the rational. Planning goes into this and irrational motivations are translated into what appears to be at least to the perpetrator a rational act.

There will be those who will immediately argue that the answer to this is gun control or increased armed security in the schools. There is an ideological predictability to some of the arguments that will come but what unites all of these arguments is a basic inadequacy for the problem. What marks all of these arguments is that every single one of them falls short of ensuring that nothing like this will ever happen again.

Societies tend to respond to this kind of a pattern with an eventual action and that requires some kind of cultural consensus. One of the hallmarks of America in this age of polarization is that that kind of consensus has become ever more difficult to achieve. Furthermore, when these issues are played out in public, in debate that is instantaneous in the digital and cable world, when this kind of incident becomes the catalyst for nonstop chatter that may lead to no substantial analysis or understanding whatsoever, in this context, the already polarized nature of the American discussion about even an issue so urgent and important as this, it seems to become almost impossible and that’s one of the greater tragedies of our age.

Even as there is an immediate clamor to try to analyze, to explain and to prescribe, what we need to understand is that there are right now very real families, very real relatives, friends, peers. There are very real patients who are wounded. There are very real human beings who are grieving in Parkland, Florida. For Christians, we do understand that the discussion that will include argument and analysis and prescription should surely come but not right now, not yet, not when the more urgent issue are the very real human needs present in Parkland, Florida and to people who aren’t connected to it. Wherever they may be found, that is the more urgent issue and Christians know that our first responsibility is to pray. Our first responsibility is to minister and let’s be thankful right now for evangelical churches there in South Florida, especially in Broward County who are poised to respond to this tragedy with ministry rather than with immediate analysis and argument. As hard as it may be to convince the larger world that this is true, the most important issue here is not headlines but human hearts.

Part II

Why arguments about 'reputational damage' end up being arguments over mere money

Next, as we look around the world, we have discussed recent headlines out of Bermuda having to do with the fact that that island became the first jurisdiction to reverse an approval and legalization of same-sex marriage, and we saw the kind of response that came from Great Britain, that is the patron country, to Bermuda and we saw the kind of response that came with the warnings that Bermuda was putting its economy and its reputation at risk by taking this action. We saw the government in Bermuda explained that it did so because of the widespread sentiment amongst the people of Bermuda against the legalization of same-sex marriage and, yet, that’s placed over against widespread pressure for the legalization of same-sex marriage coming from European courts and also from North America and, put quite bluntly, pressure that was coming in purely economic terms.

Now, you have the very interesting intersection of Bermuda, this legislation and the international cruise industry. The reason why that last is added to the mix is itself really, really interesting. It turns out that one of the major cruise lines internationally, Cunard, has its registered votes out of Bermuda, at least three of them, three identified as their iconic ships. On those ships, Cunard has been advertising the availability, because of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Bermuda, of same-sex marriages legal and ceremonial on its cruises.

USA Today has reported, “There was much fanfare in August when Cunard announced it would soon host its first legally binding same-sex marriage at sea. As the line touted in a press release, a recent Supreme Court ruling in Bermuda, where Cunard’s ships are registered, suddenly had made such marriages possible.” “But,” says USA Today, “the window for legally binding same-sex marriages on Cunard ships, as well as most of the vessels operated by the sister line Princess Cruises, appears to be closing almost as soon as it opened.” That because of the new law in Bermuda. This has led to something of an embarrassment for the cruise line and what you see now is the tourism bureau, they’re in Bermuda pushing back saying, “See? This is exactly what we told you would happen. We’re going to lose reputation and we’re going to lose business.”

The cruise line, by the way, still has up its press release offering its packages for international same-sex marriages with legal status in Bermuda conducted at sea. In some of the packages available, according to the website, same-sex couples could arrange for a romantic ceremony at sea conducted by the captain. That comes with an asterisk by the way. The asterisk continues, “If the captain is unable to conduct the ceremony, the deputy captain will be asked to conduct on their behalf.” The ceremony would also include a wedding ceremony venue with floral arrangements, traditional wedding music, services of the onboard wedding coordinator, attendance of a professional photographer at the ceremony, commemorative wedding certificate and official copy of the marriage certificate, the cost of the license fees, a bottle of champagne in the cabin on arrival, champagne for the toast after the ceremony, invitations and thank you notes provided along with a wedding outfit pressing service.

All of these after the Bermuda Tourism Authority had warned before the vote that legislators would be bringing harm to Bermuda by means of the domestic partnership legislation. In an official statement dated December 12, 2017, the Bermuda Tourism Authority said that its interest in the situation was “restricted to economics.” The agency said, and I quote again, “That’s our lane. The consumer economics of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travel are this: $165 billion spent worldwide per year, $65 billion of that is spent in the United States alone.” The statement went on to say, “The Bermuda tourism economy, and the workers and businesses who make it thrive, deserve their fair share of the LGBT market as we all continue the uphill climb toward tourism resurgence.” Just as if playing their song on cue, the tourism agency also warned legislators in Bermuda that if they were to take this action rescinding the legalization of same-sex marriage, they would cause the island “serious reputational damage.”

What’s really urgent here from a Christian worldview perspective is that the two issues that are raised are, number one, economic pressure and, number two, what is identified here explicitly as reputational damage. Here we note that the two are tied together in an argument coming from the tourism bureau and this is the argument that we should expect in context after context, in issue after issue where we are warned that if we do not get on the right side of history and do what future generations will demand was right, then we will find ourselves experiencing reputational damage. But beyond that, eventually the statement gets to the bottom line. The bottom line is not so much moral reputation as it is absolute dollars. It comes down to the fact that as is argued in this article, we deserve our share of the LGBT tourism market. It is really interesting that the Bermuda Tourism Agency begins by saying, “Its concern is with reputational damage,” and then ending by saying, “Oh, actually our lane is purely economics. That’s really all of our concern. This is going to cost us our fair share of a market.” That’s the bottom line.

Part III

J.K. Rowling faces very angry, very liberal young readers

Next, we shift from Bermuda to Great Britain, also on the issue of reputational damage, but this is a very different context. In this case, it’s not about reputational damage to an island, it is rather reputational damage to an author and this is one of the most famous authors on planet Earth today, J. K. Rowling. According to the New Statesman, a center-left news magazine in Great Britain, “Rowling’s fans are now an army of Liberals.” According to the New Statesman, “They are turning against her.” The reference here is to a generation shaped by reading the Harry Potter novels who had come to believe that J. K. Rowling was a moral progressive and furthermore was someone who was very affirming when it came to LGBT issues and identities. Why? Well, it’s because in 2007 as the series was still unfolding, Rowling had announced that one of the main characters in the Harry Potter series, Hogwarts’ headmaster Albus Dumbledore is gay. Even as we are told that pro-LGBT fans affirmed and celebrated her statement, it was never going to make its way into either the books or the movies.

The argument that becomes transparent in the New Statesman piece is that J. K. Rowling is now being accused by some of those readers now grown to adulthood of trying to play the argument both ways, trying privately to give assurances that Dumbledore is gay while at the same time making certain that the value of the franchise was never compromised by any one who might be offended by that reality ending up in a storyline.

The New Statesman piece included statements by a young reader who says of Rowling, “I strongly dislike her. I just think she wrote many beautiful things in Harry Potter, but she doesn’t live up to them in real life.” But the most interesting aspect of the New Statesman piece, the reason why this is coming to our attention today is because the article documents the fact that this issue aside, there is ample statistical documentation available to researchers there in the United Kingdom that children and young people who read the Harry Potter series actually hold more liberal social views than children and teenagers who did not. The New Statesman piece then goes on to say that Rowling has embraced politics, including the fact that she opposed the Brexit vote several months ago, and she went on even to make political arguments using the characters included in her fictional writing. In essence, says The New Statesman then, “Rowling taught a generation liberal values. Now, they’re using them against her.”

Later in the article one young person said, and I quote, “When the news broke that Dumbledore’s sexuality would once again be kept out of the canon,” that is out of the books and out of the movies, “I was furious.” This young person said, “This is a series I’ve dedicated years of my life to, and one that continually let me down.” Her young liberal fans are also throwing back at her a line she put into the voice of Dumbledore. This is the line, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” But now this newly liberalized generation of J. K. Rowling readers in Great Britain is saying, “She doesn’t make the hard choice. She tries to have it both ways.”

It’s also interesting that it becomes clear that international pressure was a part of what may well have influenced J. K. Rowling and those who produced the movies to keep this out of the storyline. According to the New Statesman, “If there had been an openly gay character in the Harry Potter series, the movies would not have been broadcast in either China or in Russia, two vast markets for the franchise.”

A 20 year old who spoke in the article said, “I won’t burn my Harry Potter books or anything ridiculous like that because she has already made that money from me. However, her actions make me upset and I don’t think I’ll support any further series she creates.” Now of course J. K. Rowling is not likely to suffer too much in that kind of sentiment having made not only millions but now over a billion dollars in the literary franchise.

The New Statesman article ends by saying, “Rowling has created many armies in her fiction. In Harry Potter, giants, spiders, werewolves, wizards, and mermaids are all prepared to fight for what they believe is right.” “But,” says the magazine, “the largest army she has helped to create, a generation of millennials who grew up reading her books and have fiercely liberal values, is now out of her control.”

Part IV

Who decides who tells children dark truths?

Next, also dealing with books and children and teenagers, we turn to an article that appeared recently in Time Magazine. It’s by Matt de la Peña. The headline: The Importance of Darkness in Kids Books. It raises the issue of young readers and how the responsibility of dealing with really serious and potentially sad issues, how that should be incorporated in books for children. It deals with the fact that one recent book shows a boy and his dog sitting under a piano as parents fight and it turns out that the publisher pushed back on the idea saying that it was a bit too dark for young children. But some authors are pushing back saying, “If we don’t tell young children the truth, then who will?”

I raise this on The Briefing today because there is a very clear message coming from both of these stories, the New Statesman on the one hand and Time Magazine on the other, and that is the fact that what children read, the stories they hear, and this is not just children but adolescence and teenagers, has an effect upon their hearts. Of course that same principle is extended not only from the young but to persons of any age. What we read, the entertainment we consume, but most importantly the stories that become a part of our lives, they have an inevitable power of shaping us.

Parents, all of us must take full consideration of the responsibility for those stories. But there is another point here and that is the fact that you have book publishers and you have an entire industry and you have authors who believe that they are the key to how those issues should be introduced to children, how big questions should be introduced to young people, how even the most heavy, sad and potentially tragic and difficult issues should be introduced to the youngest of eyes and the youngest of ears.

We all know that there’s a battle for the mind going on out there and the fiercest battles are often for the youngest minds. But it’s good to know what we’re up against and it’s good at least to have the affirmation of the fact that when you’re looking at one particular literary series, you’re looking at what even secular sociologist say is a demonstrated liberalizing effect. When you look at others, even potential new series, books yet unwritten, this article in Time Magazine reminds us that someone is coming for our minds and, even more urgently, for the minds of our children and grandchildren.

Part V

How a school dance in Utah went awkwardly wrong

Finally, sometimes it’s hard to know a real story from a tempest in a teapot but there’s something going on in Ogden, Utah. An elementary school there had a Valentine’s Day dance for 6th graders, presumably 12-year-olds and the girls were told that they could not say no to the boys who ask them to dance. Some parents were outraged. This is after all the #MeToo generation where yes means yes and no means no and consent is the only morality known by many people. But now girls are being told they could not say no to boys who ask them to dance at this school event for 6th graders. School authorities told The Washington Post that they came up with the policy because they didn’t want any children to feel disappointed or excluded. But here you have the collision of two of the great moral principles held by our secular society. One is that the only moral issue in any kind of romantic question is consent and the other is that no one must feel ever excluded or disappointed. Inevitably, you can’t hold to both of those.

The Washington Post article says that the school district has rescinded the you can’t say no policy. “Now students are allowed to reject another student. School officials told CNN they will reexamine their previous method and look for a way in the future to make students feel included but also feel free to make their own choices.” If this seems odd to you, well, I think it’s because it is odd. Here you have a school system making the announcement that parents should be relieved because now a student can reject another student.

But even as the idea 6th graders dancing at a school event in Ogden, Utah may appear a bit cute, as a veteran of a social finishing school, when I was a kid that age in the South following the Southern tradition, I can tell you it’s simply too much to expect 6th graders to understand what in the world is going on when there is a boy and a girl and a dance floor. Putting 6th graders in a room and telling them that it’s an orchestrated dance is probably putting a great deal too much social pressure on 6th graders in the first place. It’s not just about students asking students. Maybe in this case the school district should have asked the question about the event in the first place and then just said no.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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