Friday, Mar. 9, 2018
Tags: Audio, Australia, Corporate America, Mardi Gras, Moral Revolution, Pornography, Sex Education, Sexual Revolution
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, March 9, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
New pressure on CEOs to become social activists presents a unique challenge for corporations
One of the signs of a society that's not particularly well is that it is always and everywhere highly politicized. The encroachments of politics and politically divisive statements and messages coming to us from all different directions and from every sector of society is not a sign a political stability or cultural health. Just a few days ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about this new pressure on CEOs, the leaders of major American businesses, to make statements and to position themselves on political, social, and moral issues. The kinds of issues that business persons have studiously avoided commenting on in the past.
Michael Dowling in the article, identified as CEO of Northwell Health, it's the biggest hospital chain in New York State said according to the journal that he feels more responsibility now to speak up on social issues than when he became CEO in 2002. He said, and I quote, "We are, at the end of the day, community leaders. We are people that other people look up to." Well, maybe or maybe not. But just may well be that what Americans are not looking for is political signaling, coming constantly from businesses and from the leaders of those businesses.
An interesting analysis, indeed, something of a warning on this pattern, came in the New York Times on Monday in an opinion piece written by Aaron K. Chatterji, who's an associate professor of business and public policy at Duke University. He warns that American businesses, major American corporations, are now beginning to segment themselves politically and perhaps to identify with only part of the American electorate. He sees the dangers. He writes about CEOs and the new-found CEO activism which he says now, in fact so many corporations and the pressure on their chief executives is to, to quote, "pick a side in the culture war."
Now, Chatterji goes on to describe companies that have done so on the right and on the left. Some companies are proud supporters of Planned Parenthood; others, of the National Rifle Association. But are Americans supposed to decide where we shop, where we eat, from whom we buy on the basis of this kind of political and moral signaling? Well, it's something new and as Chatterji makes clear, what's disappearing are companies that have stayed out of the fray and intend to be understood in the American mainstream.
Is this a smart move or not just in crass financial terms? Well, as Chatterji points out, virtue signaling seems to work for Apple but has certainly backfired on Target. Chatterji asks whether or not this strategy is going to work in the short term or in the medium term. Is it going to add to the bottom line or is it simply going to offend people? He points out that much of this CEO activism is far more divisive than it is unifying.
But then he says the real story is what he calls the long game. Quote, "CEO activism represents a historic shift in the way corporations intersect with national politics. Rather than chief executives shaping political discourse, however, our toxic political environment is dictating corporate strategy. Instead of being cast as practical technocrats who could unite us, chief executives will be swept up in our cultural war, just like university presidents, professional athletes and religious leaders before them."
He also goes on to warn that one of the significant things we may face is that quote, "Brands are likely to become even more segmented into red and blue, strengthening the association between, for example, liberals and Priuses and conservatives and Cracker Barrel." "Corporate brand campaigns," he says, "could soon resemble political campaigns, with efforts to identify the most intensely loyal consumers for repeat purchases as opposed to attracting new ones."
I'll admit that I find all of this very interesting. The Christian worldview informs us that every dimension of our lives is laden with meaning and our economic lives are particularly demonstrative of that. But it is very interesting that you've got American corporations deciding that they're not just out to sell a product or perform a service or even to make money and add shareholder value. They're now out on a moral mission. Some on the left, some on the right. Some attracting blue customers; some attracting red customer. Fewer and fewer companies in the middle. I find it really interesting that Chatterji's able to use the examples and we all immediately recognize them. Liberals driving their Priuses and conservatives eating at Cracker Barrel.
But it's really interesting that Chatterji understand there's something even more significant at stake. It's buried in one of the final sentences of his article. He says this: "Much of this is a reflection of who we have become. Corporate America thrives by selling us what we want, and they do that by appealing to our identities." That's profoundly important. We identify ourselves increasingly by the companies we do business with, by the brands we buy and wear, and by our preferences related to consumer choices. We are buying and we are selling identities. The corporations understand that's what they're selling more importantly than anything else. This kind of virtue signaling, whether on the right or the left by major American corporations is a way of saying, "You want to be the kind of person who wears our apparel, buys our products, uses our services, eats at our table."
Christians at the very least ought to understand that it is identity that's been marketed to us. And often times, sold to us. We got to understand what that means before we buy. While thinking about the importance of these kinds of corporate relationships and CEO activism is a new phenomenon, we ought also to look at a pushback from some unlikely sources.
As corporations flock to sponsor Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gras, activists push back
And the New York Times reported distant recent days, a headline story, quote "Sponsorships of Gay Event in Australia Stir a Debate". The reporters are [Tracey Rikter 00:06:20] and Isabella [Qui 00:06:21]. They report from Sydney, Australia, quote: "They were there for the sissy ball. A Vogue-style dance off that was last weekend's contribution to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a two week gay pride festival that will culminate in a parade." But they say, "As dozens of gay and transgendered dancers popped and sashayed on the catwalk before a cheering crowd, the ball's MC reminded everyone what made the bash possible." "Shoutout," said the MC, "to Red Bull." Well, the story goes on to tell us that Red Bull, the energy drink, was indeed a major corporate sponsor of the event. But the pushback is this. Many gay activists in Australia who just recently won the right to legal, same-sex marriage, they are very concerned that gay pride in Australia has been taken over by success. That's what's important here, by the success reflected in the fact that so many major corporations are falling all over themselves to be seen as sponsors of major gay pride events.
We've seen the same pattern in Great Britain and in the United States, where gay pride festivals, the accusation being made by many gay activists, those in the LGBTQ community, is that they must not be bought out by corporate interests. And of course with those corporate interests, come something of a mainstreaming in the culture. Which points to another moral confusion. Many in the gay rights' movement as it was then called, now in the movement for LGBTQ rights, they are demanding nothing less than normalization and mainstreaming of their sexual behaviors and relationships. But there is a divide in that same community between those that are clamoring for mainstream acceptance, they're the ones that have primarily been behind the push for legalizing same-sex marriage, and those on the other hand who want the outlaw moral status. And that is what forged the gay rights' movement and the gay pride festivals.
But others are worried that the LGBTQ is simply losing its edge and selling out. As the New York Times article says, "Organizers see corporate involvement as a sign of increased acceptance and acknowledgement of gay spending power and necessary to keeping the festival alive and growing. But critics contend that corporatizing the event risks losing its activist roots and community spirit." The article in the Times tells us that for some of the festival, it's political activism, not mainstream acceptance that is the very core of the idea and the event. But the New York Times tells us this is also interesting, "Mardi Gras is a hugely popular and visible staple on Sydney's cultural calendar. There are family friendly carnivals, a film festival, and a sold-out party headlined by Cher." We're told that about 300,000 people are expected to participate in the carnivals.
But the real moral issue here is found in a statement made by one of the activists and reported in the story. According to the New York Times, back in the past, corporations "didn't want to know us." That was said by one activist, Tracey Adkinson, age 60. "But now," says the activist, "we're the darlings of the free world." That tells you a great deal about how moral change takes place in a society. Corporations that wouldn't get within dozens of miles of this kind of event are now falling all over themselves, trying to get the biggest exposure and to be seen as most supportive. "Yes, indeed," as this activist says, "There used to be a cultural outsider movement to the LGBTQ community but now we are the darlings of the free world." As this article demonstrates, the advertising and the corporate sponsorships are enough to tell that story persuasively well.
Fifty years after ‘Sex Invades the Schoolhouse’ why all sex education is still moral education. The only question is, ‘Whose morality?’
Next, we'll be looking back regularly to the moral revolutions that are marked by the anniversary of 1968. Fifty years later, a half century after the tumultuous events of 1968, just about every thoughtful person, every major newspaper, authors, intellectuals, you name it. There's going to be a lot of looking back over the last 50 years and what's happened and what matters.
Well, for one thing what matters is sex education. That becomes abundantly clear in an article that recently ran in the Atlantic. The article's by Conor Friedersdorf and he writes about the fact that prior to 1968, there really wasn't much sex education in American public schools. Since then, it has become constant and ubiquitous. Christians also understand the changes in sex education reveal far more fundamental changes. Tracking the story is thus, very important. Friederdorf points back to 1968, when the then very influential magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, ran a cover story with the words "The Truth about Sex Education" but the article itself was headlined "Sex Invades the Schoolhouse". As Friederdorf said, the story documented the rapid shift in attitudes. The cover story actually reflects even more than that. It's suggests that back in 1965, even biology students in schools like public schools in Chicago, "might scarcely have imagined, for all the teachers ever told them, that humans had a reproductive system." According to the article in the Saturday Evening Post, a principal in a Miami Public School said that only recently then a pregnant pet rabbit couldn't be kept in the classroom.
But if that was true in 1965, it wasn't true for long. By the year, 1968, sex education had indeed invaded America's school rooms. That article in the Saturday Evening Post stated, "America seems to have suddenly discovered an urgent need for universal sex education, from kindergarten through high school." And, according to the article, America was galloping off at all directions to meet it. The journalist, John Kobler reported, "The trend is nationwide. Nearly 50% of all schools, including both public and private, parochial and nonsectarian, are already providing it, and at the present rate the figure will pass 70% within a year." The impetus behind the change according the journalist, “parental panic”. That panic was tied to what were reported to the Time as skyrocketing rates of venereal disease and sexual activity amongst American teenagers.
Also, the issue of unwed teenage mothers, about 90,000 a year in 1968. According to the article, one out of every three brides under the age of 20 goes to the alter pregnant. Now step back for a moment and recognize one of the amazing factors in that statement is that it is talking about brides under age 20. That was no so uncommon in America in either 1965 or 1968. But huge moral changes were clearly afoot. From a world view perspective, what's most important in this article, looking back to 1968, is the fact that the article indicated that moral values were very much at stake and that was understood then.
According to the article, the morality was shifting from what Mom and Dad said to a "morality of the relative". Now that simply points to moral relativism. And moral relativism was certainly the order of the day. It was such in the American academic circles, where Joseph Fletcher's book about situational ethics began to mainstream moral relativism in the society. But they came from other directions as well and other cultural authorities. Moral relativism is the idea that all moral claims, all moral principles, all moral facts, if moral facts indeed exist at all, are situational. They are relative. There are no absolute rights. There are no absolute wrongs. Everything depends on the situation. On the context, all morality is relative. Relative over time, relative over distance, relative over different communities, and especially relative where it would be very convenient for all morality to be relative.
The most important aspect of this article isn't even the article's major purpose but for Christians, thinking Christians, operating out of a Biblical world view, the more important insight is the realization that there is no such thing as sex education that isn't moral education. Why? Because the Biblical world view reminds us that we as human beings, made in God's image, are made moral creatures even as we are made sexual creatures. And there is no way to separate sexuality, sexual issues, even sex education, even when sex education is merely supposedly reduce to reproduction, to anything other than moral education. The only question is, which morality? Perhaps more accurately, who's morality?
It's good for Christians to recognize that moral progressives, moral libertarians understood that if they could get control of sex education in the public schools, they would be able to transform the nation. And this was understood even in the early decades of the twentieth century. As this article in the Atlantic makes clear, the National Educational Association has been contending for sex education since 1912.
Interestingly in this article, Friederdorf writes, "While the spread of sex education in the late 1960s undoubtedly changed the socialization of young people, giving progressive educators more relative influence and social conservatives less, claims that the curriculums were sex positive or grounded in moral relativism were very much exaggerated, as scenes from the Saturday Evening Post feature and other contemporaneous accounts illustrate." Well, that's a generalization that just doesn't hold up over consideration. For one time, even looking at the 1960s, even though those sex education programs would look rather unambitious by contemporary standards, that's not where we should look. We should understand that the agenda behind those sex education program was often very visible, tangible, not even disguised at the time. There were those who were trying to bring about a sexual revolution and central to that sexual revolution was an understanding of sexuality, of sexual behavior, of the inevitability of young persons having sex, of contraception and of abortion. It was all other in one massive, yes, moral package.
Why a society that tries to look for the good in pornography is a society that has lost all moral sense
And next, if all of that is not revealing and interesting enough, along comes the New York Times this week on Monday, where an opinion piece ran written by a pornographer. Yes, a major American newspaper and an opinion piece right there in the newspaper by a pornographer. The headline in the article, "Can There Be Good Porn?" The author of the article is identified simply as Stoya and Stoya's identified as a pornographer. That's a profession, according to the New York Times. And of course, it's a major component of the American economy. Stoya writes against a background of that recent cover story we discussed on The Briefing from the New York Times magazine indicating that millions and millions of American teenagers are getting some form of sex education by means of internet pornography. But as Stoya writes, "Pornography was not intended as a sex education program." It's really impossible and impractical for me to give any detail about the arguments used by this pornographer in defending pornography other than to say that it appears that one of the major ambitions is to abdicate any moral responsibility for the impact of pornography on American teenagers and young people, not to mention the entire society.
Stoya writes, "But porn is also not going anywhere. That means that we have a choice to make. We can hide our heads in the sand, or we can -- in addition to pushing for real lessons on sex for young people again -- tackle the job of understanding the range of what porn is, evaluating what’s working and what we can qualitatively judge as good, and try to build a better industry and cultural understanding of sex. I choose to try." Well, to summarize all of this, what we have is a major cultural phenomenon signaled in the very appearance of this article. But notice the article appeared in the New York Times. It's written by an individual identified as "a pornographer and freelance writer." It is a defense of the pornography industry and it is a straightforward argument that porn isn't going anywhere so we, as a society, should choose how to identify good porn and encourage that. And well, though it's not mentioned, supposedly I guess, to try to minimize bad porn, however that would be defined.
But let's just look clearly at what we face here. As a society, we are now facing an argument in the nation's most influential newspaper that what's needed in the face of pornography is to identify the good, the better, and the best. And conceivably also, the bad, the worse, and the worst. To try to encourage the former and to try to marginalize the latter. A society that is making this kind of argument is a society that has lost all moral sense. Remember that the profession identified here is pornographer. What does that mean? Well, the very idea of pornography goes back to a word found in the New Testament, pornea, which means a distorted and corrupted desire for sex.
Now just remember that here we have someone identified as a pornographer. Even if that means one who's profession is to distort and corrupt God's gift of sexuality, to height and to incite and to celebrate the wrong desires. To distort and to corrupt rather than to preserve, to honor, and to protect. That's what we're looking at here. And this article, the very appearance of it in the New York Times, well, it tells us where we stand. And it tells us that we are a society that is simply giving up the very idea that pornography is wrong and that it should be avoided. It's now simply a matter of taste. And when you ask how that happened, well, just remember that it's all traceable to moral relativism and then remember, you know how that got mainstreamed in American society. If you have the authority in the culture to define sex or even sex education, you are defining sexual morality. And that's what we're really observing here.
This pornographer ends the article by calling for a better cultural understanding of sex. And now we're fully aware of what that call really means.
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 today in Orlando, Florida, and I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.